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Don’t Ever Give Up

I’m a big ESPN fan. The other night I saw the show “30 for 30 – Survive and Advance.”  It is the story of the 1983 NC State basketball team and its march to the national championship. Jim Valvano was their coach.

If you haven’t seen the speech that Valvano gave at the ESPYS, go to YouTube.com and type in ‘Jimmy’s 1993 ESPY Speech.’ It is only 11 minutes but it has been watched more than 1.7 million times. Warning: Grab a handkerchief or a tissue before you watch it. In fact, do it before you read the rest of this blog.


The story goes back almost 29 years for me. I was in charge of a convention for Kinetico Water Treatment. We called it our Family Reunion and I had to find a speaker. While reading Sports Illustrated a few months after NC State won I decided that I would do whatever it would take to get Valvano as our speaker. And we got him!

In June 1984 I had the pleasure of picking him up at Cleveland airport to bring to our reunion. I’ll never forget his speech. (In fact, I have a bootlegged copy of it that someone recorded on their cassette tape player underneath our head table. I still listen to it.)

He talked about leadership. He was passionate about remembering where you came from, where you are today and where you are dreaming of going tomorrow. In his ESPY speech he told some of the same stories — but with the same passion and enthusiasm he had 10 years previously at our family reunion.

The “30 for 30” show taught me more about how Valvano shared that passion, particularly with his team. Valvano had the team believing they were a team of destiny.

At the first very practice at NC State he told the players that he was going to win a national championship and was going to ‘cut down the nets’ — the pinnacle of his profession. In fact, the team spent one whole practice session in the beginning of the season rehearsing that feat!

Along the way to that fateful game he finally got all of his players believing in themselves that they could accomplish this. It didn’t matter who they faced — they knew they could win.

Watching the show one could see the importance of faith, in believing that you could overcome any adversity, of becoming a team.

Here is your leadership challenge. Have you stopped believing in the dream that you had when you got into this business? Have you stopped believing that you can overcome the challenges you had during the past year?

At the end of his ESPY speech Valvano, with less than two months to live, introduced the V Foundation for cancer. Since then they have raised $120 million plus in his honor. He closed his speech with the immortal words, “Don’t Give Up … Don’t Ever Give Up” — words that should propel us as leaders.

Leadership: What Are You Overcoming?

Saturday was the Bearathon in Waco – a half marathon raising money for Baylor University scholarships. In the Waco paper was a picture of a runner. On the back of his T-shirt:

On January 10, 2008 while running I was run over by a truck. I broke my neck, back, shoulder, 20 ribs, pelvis, and punctured a lung. My heart stopped twice. What are you overcoming?

The story went on to tell about what happened that fateful day. He needed 12 pints of blood and besides everything documented on his T-shirt, he had a concussion and still can’t remember three weeks of his life. He had to learn to walk again and went from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches and then a cane. Five months after the accident he was running. Yes, it was very slow, but he was running.

As I think about “leadership” in our industry I ask you this question – “What are you overcoming?”

As I look back, I realize that the only thing I ever needed to overcome was myself. My attitude, my pity parties, my inabilities to make the tough decisions – even they were the right decisions. I needed to stop ignoring the red warning flags of hiring the wrong employee or, especially, not becoming a better manager.

So what do you need to overcome? Is it that you have competition? Grab a phone book (it is that yellow thing you use to keep the door open – that yellow thing we used to use before Google) and check out “attorneys.” Think there is competition there? Drive down the street and check out the restaurants. Think there is much competition in that business?

Do you need to overcome your inability to find the right employees? The first franchise I sold, while at Batteries Plus in the early `90s, was to a man who owned four McDonald’s. I thought at that time owning a McDonalds franchise was the as good as it could get. He told me 10 percent of his employees call in sick every day and he spent his time in a small office trying to get kids to come in to fill the shifts. I don’t know of one business on the planet, that serves people, that doesn’t cry out for good employees. It is always their number one challenge – regardless of the industry.

Three of my good friends are in the midst of cancer treatments. I find they have better attitudes than most people I know. Guess they figured out they must have a good attitude to try and beat this dreaded disease. And, yes, they are overcoming.

The challenge with leadership is that it is an every minute thing. What you did yesterday counts, but what’s more important is what you will do with your challenges today. Good leaders understand there will be challenges every day.

Good leaders know that inspiration means perspiration. Whatever you face in the next two weeks will, in most cases, be much easier than being run over by a truck! Continue being a leader in all you do!