THURSDAY, JANUARY 25, 2018
Would it be helpful to know some of the most valuable characteristics shared among America’s most competitive professionals? Then join Prism Insurance Agency Inc. and our guest author, who assembled 16 characteristics of greatness from over 2,500 interviews with America’s top sports figures. Listen to what sets these people apart from their peers, and learn how to apply these characteristics to your everyday life.
JIM: Did you ever wonder what leads people to levels of accomplishment that far exceeds their peers? Where are the characteristics of greatness? Joining us today is an award winning keynote speaker, business leadership coach, seven-time New York Times best-selling author and long-time associate editor for Sports Illustrated Don Yaeger whose fashion in his career is one of America’s most provocative thought leaders. He has had the opportunity to interview several of the great leaders in sports to find out what their secret is to achieve such great success. These characteristics are easily transferrable into your own lives if only you want to make the commitment. Learn what Don has learned as we explore these characteristics of greatness. Welcome Don.
DON: Well, guys, thank you so much for having me.
JIM: It’s great to have you. We had so many people at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisor conference that heard you speak that have requested that we have you as a guest so that you can share it with their clients. Today we’re going to be talking about the different characteristics of greatness that you identified. Maybe start out by telling us what prompted you to even put this together.
DON: Sure, when I was a young journalist that came out of college many, many years ago; I’m not young anymore, but young journalist. My father who was such an amazing influence on my life actually had a conversation with me one day in which he was talking about the idea that because I had chosen the profession I had chosen in journalism, I was going to end up in the company as he said of some really fascinating people. That’s just what journalists were to do, right? His challenge to me was that every time I had an opportunity to be face-to-face one-on-one with someone, that I try to learn something from that or take something from them that I might not even ultimately share with the audience I was writing for at the time. Certainly it would hopefully that would impact my daily living. Kind of talking to him, I kind of settled in on asking all of these amazing champions over the course of the last 25 years if you could pick one thing, one characteristic, one trait that allowed you to separate yourself from your competitors, what would that be? I just kept a whole series of notebooks. At 2500 interviews later, I get an opportunity to take an early retirement from Sports Illustrated and I do that. One of the first things I did was I sat down with all those notebooks and just started calculating out what answers came up most frequently when these great winners were asked what allowed them to do what their competitors couldn’t. That would be the genesis of it. Certainly it created an opportunity for me to sit down and study champions. There are an awful lot of things to study in life, but studying champions is pretty exciting.
TONY: No doubt. Obviously you identified 16 characteristics of greatness. Of course, this can apply anywhere in life. You don’t have to be in sports to apply these things I’m sure so let’s start out with some of the key ones because with our limited time today we may or may not get through all 16. You first kind of characterized them between different areas of how these figures think, how they prepare, how they work and how they live. Let’s start with some of the key ones and give us some of the characteristics of how these sports figures think and what can we learn from that.
DON: Sure, two out of that little grouping that I would throw at your listeners there one is that when the truly great ones are asked if they could actually name the number one reason, the number one answer that comes up in this conversation that allowed them to separate themselves from others is that they learned to hate losing more than they love winning. Winning for truly successful people is expected. It’s almost not thrilling like it is for some. Failure at just about everything has a level of pain to it that they don’t want to feel or recreate so actually in the way you get there and that’s always a big piece of this, is how do you take that phrase that lesson and then turn it into something that others can use and do something with. The big answer there is that the truly great ones learn to take excuses off the table. When you can make an excuse anytime you fail, you don’t ever really own it; it belongs to someone else because you blamed it on a referee or a slippery court or blamed in on somebody else. If you can blame it on someone else, you don’t ever really feel the full effects of losing. When you take excuses off the table, you’ll learn how to hate losing more than you love winning and almost every one of them will tell you that that’s a driver, a driver, and would allow them to become exceptional. The second one out of that list that I would really point to is that the truly great ones understand the value of association. They get that they’re only as good as the circle around them and that if they are not constantly improving their circle, that’s their loss. The truly great ones are always looking to improve their circle either through improving the people who are in the circle, how can I improve those people, or by maybe making some changes to the people that are in your circle. Big lesson there. John Wooden, the great basketball coach, said to me when we were talking about that; he said you will never outperform your inner circle. If you want to achieve a higher level, always be improving your circle.
JIM: That’s impressive. I know in life outside of sports, all those lessons are so true especially when it comes to succeeding and taking responsibility for your own actions and then rubbing elbows as another way of saying networking and always putting yourself in a good position to work with people. It always works with team. They always say there is no I in team and I think teams can accomplish so much more than the individual can.
DON: Without question. I think those are huge, huge opportunities there in both of those areas. If you were to take anything out of this conversation, if you were to work in those two areas and say I’m going to take excuses off the table and I’m going to constantly be looking at the team I have around me. How can I improve that team either through addition or subtraction or maybe working in the investment of those people? If you do that, you have a pretty powerful lesson.
JIM: Let’s talk about how do they prepare that’s different than the average people:
DON: Well a couple of things. Number one, the truly great ones understand that the little details matter, right? Too often we blow through the little details because we want to get to the big things. John Wooden again, I use him often. I had an amazing opportunity to work with him for 12 years and to write a book together with him, and his first exercise with the freshman players when they arrived on campus was to work with them on putting on their shoes and socks. These players were like, are you kidding me? One of the greatest players of all time coming here and the first thing you want to do is teach me to put on my shoes and socks? It’s nutty, but Coach Wooden would make the point to them that the big things happen when the little things are handled well. Most people don’t do a good enough job of handling the little things. He was a big proponent of managing your little details early in the day; shoes and socks moments he used to call them and how do you improve daily through that. Another one that I would pull out of that list is that the truly great ones use adversity as fuel. They understand that tough things and tough times happen. They happen to all of us, but it’s what you do with those times. The truly great ones often use tough times to go places they wouldn’t otherwise go, maybe even do things they wouldn’t otherwise do; but how do you manage tough times? If you look at a real moment of crisis as an opportunity to try something different, to do something different, you’re putting yourself in that championship mindset.
TONY: It’s kind of like avoiding procrastination or what you might feel is uncomfortable because you haven’t been down that road before. New is okay, right?
DON: New is extremely okay. It’s a great fear factor for most of us. You know, how do we feel about new, but when you get there and you realize what it takes to be exceptional you realize that it’s about trying those new things.
TONY: That’s awesome. Listen, we’re going to take a short break and when we come back, let’s continue discussing some of these characteristics of greatness so please stay tuned.
TONY: Welcome back as we continue to have a great conversation with Don Yaeger who is an award-winning, keynote speaker, a business leadership coach, a seven-time New York Times bestselling author and long-time associate editor for Sports Illustrative. You got this opportunity of collecting, did I get that right, 2500 interviews?
TONY: That’s just incredible, Don. You certainly deserve to write a book no question, and to gather all that data and take the time to break it down to these 16 great characteristics and share it with us today so that we can learn what makes these people excel is greatly appreciated. We’ve been talking about before the break how these sports figures think, how they prepare. Let’s move to another category to explore some more of these characteristics of greatness. How do they work? What’s their work ethic?
DON: Two that would jump out at me there is the first one which is a reflection of a little bit of what we were talking about right before the break and it’s that they’re not afraid to take risks. They understand that a thoughtful risk is an important place in your development in your pursuit of greatness; your opportunity to kind of achieve that high level. That you have to be willing to try things and maybe even put yourself in a place that’s a tad uncomfortable in order to be able to achieve the level that we’re talking about here. That ice in their veins, that willingness to not fear making a mistake. Too many of us fear failure more than we want success and so that is a driver for them. That fear of failure isn’t as great a piece of who they are as it is for most of the rest of us. The next one I would probably mention there is that they don’t play just for the money; they don’t do it just for the money. The best of all of them and clearly they want to be paid what they’re worth or at least what they’re worth in their market place and then we can argue about value and values in market places, but they don’t do it just for the money. If it was just for the money frankly, they probably wouldn’t bring to it the passion that it takes to play at that level. They don’t do it just for the money; they often understand that if it’s an opportunity to have a great team around you, then you want to make sure you spread the wealth and that you’re not busy trying to make sure that every dollar that’s available comes your way. You want to make sure there is enough money that your team is well developed around you.
JIM: You know, Don, it’s sad how many people in this world are afraid to take chances, make a move. They’re in their comfort zone where they almost get into a rut and what you just talked about, I always tell clients when they say why do you do what you do? I just say I just love going to work each day and those people are blessed because they really have a passion for what they’re doing and it’s being reflected in these sports figures as well. They really feel they have a purpose in what they’re doing. How many people are unhappy in their job, but are afraid to make that change. How short is life if you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing?
DON: I’m telling you. I have a sister who regularly talks about how miserable it is to work where she works and is uncomfortable in the place that she works. She looks at me as an obnoxious brother who just always has that answer of if it’s really that bad leave. My sense is that we should all be willing to go find that place where we can thrive and do more than just survive. I do believe there is a place out there for all of us that will allow that to happen. Most of just don’t ever get there.
TONY: Has she ever attended one of your talks?
DON: You know, I don’t know if she has. When I think about, I should.
TONY: Invite her.
DON: I should put it on the list.
TONY: I understand sometimes working with family is like talking to a wall, but I have great respect for the information you’ve gathered so hopefully you’ll break through to her because life is too short to be miserable in what you’re doing. Let’s explore some of the characteristics of how they live their lives and how we can apply some of those things to our own lives.
DON: This is the part that’s really fascinating to me because one of the beauties of this discussion is that I got to define greatness for the purposes of the writing of the book and the speaking that I do. I get to define what is great. To me, there are multiple components and it’s not just about how you approach your life on the field, right? It’s just how you approach your time at work. How you live to me impacts whether I define you as great. How you live impacts how I see the entire concepts of greatness. Two that really out of this little grouping that would stand out to me is the importance of what you do for those who can’t give you anything in return. What do you do? I had this amazing experience living with Walter Peyton, the great running back, during the last 10 weeks of his life as he was dying a few years ago. During one of our discussions, Walter talked a lot about the importance of what do you do for those who can give you nothing in return. If you don’t have that as a daily and regular piece of your being where you’re constantly looking at and thinking about what can I do, what did I do today that wasn’t for something in return; to not get a chance to be as great as you have the opportunity to be if you do it. Then I love the one in that list of the importance of being a role model; of wanting others to look at you and the way you conduct yourself in a way that they would be able to mirror it in some way, to learn something from you. If you don’t have that willingness to want that, to desire others to look at you and say what can I learn from that person, wow, that’s someone I would like to be more like then you probably struggle at greatness.
JIM: I’ve always heard it said, I’ve felt this myself, you can never out give what you receive. The more you give, the more you seem to get in return. One thing that I wanted to go back to that I think is worthwhile today, with all the negative news that we have. I mean all we have to do is put the news channel on for a half hour to be thoroughly depressed about the status of the situation because they don’t seem to have good news. Talk about the point of contagious enthusiasm.
DON: Oh my gosh, I have to tell you that is in many ways it plays with the characteristics that’s right nearby there about the being the ultimate teammate as well, that if you have these places, when you are so enthusiastic it’s infectious, it’s a disease practically. People can’t help but be impacted by your attitude, people want to work with you, people want to be around you. When you’re in this industry, there’s nothing that’s more importantly frankly than the ability to have people say I want that person around me. Why do I want them around me? It’s not necessarily because of some ridiculous wisdom. A lot of wisdom can be found on the internet these days, right? It’s about what people feel when they’re in their presence. Enthusiasm is infectious. Tug McGraw, the former baseball pitcher whose son, Tim McGraw, and along with Tug did a book together. Tug used to say all the time attitudes are infectious, is yours worth catching? I love that idea.
TONY: That’s great.
TONY: What about maybe the final point is does this make sense certainly in the sports world, but it should apply across anyone’s profession is greatness requires proper nutrition. Why don’t you just touch on that.
DON: Yeah, by that we don’t mean what you eat in the morning or what you eat at lunch though those things are important. What the great ones talk about when they’re talking about nutrition is what they feed themselves. What are they listening to? Are they listening to shows like this? What are you reading? Who are you talking to? Are you governing what you feed yourself? It’s an absolute among those who achieve in high level. They are masters at what they put in their body and that’s not just what they put in their digestive system. Congrats to those of your listeners who are hopefully taking something from this. Hopefully there is a little nutrition from here and I hope from that we get a chance at least with some of your listeners to stay in touch.
JIM: Before we wrap up with those 2500 interviews, I’m sure there are maybe three or four stories that maybe you can share with us that really struck you.
DON: Yeah, I think it would be pretty tough to bring it down to that number, but I can just tell you is one that I tell that really is always impactful, when I share it it’s always impactful to me is while we talk about how you manage diversity. I tell the story of an NFL running back, a young back by the name of Ward Dunn. He played 13 years in the NFL. Amazing young man who was 18 years old when his mother who was a police officer was shot and killed in a robbery at a bank. Ward actually went on to raise five younger brothers and sisters which is in its own right pretty powerful. Imagine taking that on at 18 years old. Leads his college football team to a national championship and becomes a first round pick in the NFL chosen by Tony Dungy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All of that and he’s only 5 foot 8 and weighs 178 pounds so he’s tiny, right? Ward actually goes in the league, does extremely well, becomes only the 22nd player in the history of the NFL to ever rush the football for 10,000 yards. Then he also as a rookie he stars doing something that was pretty extraordinary. He starts buying homes for women like his mother; single moms, single parents. He wanted them to experience something his mom never did. He understood the power of home ownership. Anyway, he wings a big award, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award when he was toward the end of his career. At the end of that time period, he gets the opportunity to write a book and asked me to be the writer with him. To finish his book, he and I went to death row to sit down with his guy that killed his mom. The single most impactful hour of my entire life; to sit in a death row cell with one man who killed another man’s mother. At the end of the hour, Ward Dunn looked at the man and said, I know this not why you came here today, but I came here to forgive somebody which was just incredible just to watch one man forgive somebody for something else, for doing the unforgivable frankly. There are so many lessons I learned there; not just about how you manage diversity, but how you manage yourself with grace and class and honor and how proud his mother would have been. Life-changing moment for Ward in that he was able to forgive, life-changing moment for the inmate and frankly life-changing moment for me.
TONY: Absolutely incredible. I truly have chills. I mean what an opportunity for you to experience that. I can’t imagine managing my rage let alone finding opportunity for forgiveness so that’s just incredibly powerful. I think it’s fantastic the information that you’ve compiled. Are there any resources, Don, that our listeners could reach out to or obtain some of your writings or books that you put together? Is there a place to go?
DON: Sure, my website which is donyaeger.com. There are newsletters, articles, copies of my articles from Sports Illustrated, there are links to all 23 of my books. There are opportunities there to engage too if you have questions or if any of your folks are working at a place where I might fit and be of value to them, I’d be honored. I think there’s nothing I’ve enjoyed more over the last few years than the public speaking side of my life where I’m leaning to tell stories to audiences from a stage which I used to tell just in written form so it’s been pretty awesome.
TONY: Excellent, well this has been a fantastic time together and I know our listeners greatly learn from your experience. Appreciate you sharing the time with us today.
DON: Great deal, thank you very much.
JIM: Thanks for joining us this week. Tune in again next week as we explore another phase of the Real Wealth process. Remember if anything you heard in today’s show you’d like to get more information about, contact your Real Wealth Advisor. Also, if you feel that any of this information would be helpful to a friend or family member, just click the forward to a friend button.