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Leadership Lessons – March Madness

While channel surfing the other night, Mary Kay and I found ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Survive and Advance.” This is must viewing during March Madness. You can watch it via the link below:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1iABroUWU0

Here is the “Reader’s Digest” version of what you’ll see of the 17-10 NC State team before they entered the ACC Tournament:

  • ACC Tournament:      Beat Wake Forest by 1
  • ACC Tournament:      Beat #5 North Carolina by 7 in overtime
  • ACC Tournament:      Beat #2 Virginia by 3
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat Pepperdine by 2
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #6 UNLV by 1
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat Utah by 19
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #4 Virginia by 1
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #18 Georgia by 7
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #1 Houston by 2 (National Championship)


Quite a run! How could something like this happen? Their leader. Coach Jim Valvano was an amazing leader, as you will see if you watch “Survive and Advance.”

If you don’t remember him perhaps you remember his speech from the ESPYs in 1993 as he was dying of cancer:  https://www.google.com/search?q=jim+valvano+speech&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=Jim+Val&aqs=chrome.2.0j69i57j0l4.5007j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8. Since that speech, his foundation has raised more than $150 million to fight cancer.

I knew Jimmy V. I was driving him back to the Cleveland airport and asked him for an autograph, and this is what he wrote, “You are the best at what you do. Now if I could just figure out what you do. -Jim Valvano.” This is displayed on my desk today.

That was 1984. I was in charge of a convention for Kinetico Water Softeners. Being a basketball fan, I watched NC State advance through the tournament and win the national championship against a Houston team that was heavily favored – lead by Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon.  Four team members got drafted by the NBA. There was no way Valvano’s team should have won.

My goal was to find a speaker for our Convention. I thought of Valvano. Back in those days we didn’t have the internet. Celebrities often would respond to letters. His assistant called me and said he was busy the week of our Convention. So, I changed the Convention date. It worked. We hired him for only $5,000. Imagine.

Valvano taught me a great deal about leadership. I had already learned a great deal about him by reading Sports Illustrated stories about him when he was coaching at Iona. He was a one-of-a-kind motivator. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the video.

I have a cassette from his speech to Kinetico recorded by one of our franchisees. I listen periodically to it. Just as he did in the speech in the above link, Valvano spoke then about his “big three”:

  • “There are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

He spoke to us 34 years ago. When I watch the video it seems like yesterday. The good news is that his message will last a lifetime for me. I hope it does the same for you.

Leadership Lessons—It Just Takes One Leader

Last Friday my wife, Mary Kay, and I had a chance to join a Mission Waco appreciation breakfast for 600 people at Waco’s convention center. The Dwyer Group sponsored a table and it was great to go back and see some of the people we joined in Haiti late last year. Even our Doctor was at the breakfast. He has gone to the same village we visited, Ferrier, to volunteer his services a few times.

How does something like this happen?

It all starts with one person, or in this case one couple—Jimmy and Janet Dorrell. In 1978 they bought a house in one of the worst sections of Waco and found their calling. They changed the world for so many in Waco while touching lives in Haiti, India and Mexico. Each week a group of volunteers offers a free breakfast for the poor in Waco who can’t afford a meal. On Sundays Jimmy holds a church service for the poor and homeless under one of Waco bridges. “Church under the Bridge” often attracts more than 300 people.

On Wednesday night my wife and I watched the kickoff of the Rio Paralympics which were held at the same stadium where the Olympics kicked off last month. This year more than 4,300 athletes will compete in 528 events in 22 sports. Opening ceremonies were much more inspiring than their counterpart held August 5th. Also, it was just as extravagant!

I wondered how these games started. Again, it was one leader.

After World War II, Dr. Ludwig Guttman opened a spinal injury center in Great Britain at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. It was to help the large number of war veterans who were injured fighting for their countries. The Olympics were held in London that year and Dr. Guttman held a competition at those games for 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in an archery competition. The doctor called it the “Stoke Mandeville Games.”

By 1960, the first official Paralympic games were held in Rome, again, simultaneously with the Rome Olympics. Four hundred athletes from 23 countries competed. In 1976, the first Paralympic Winter games were held in Sweden.

I assumed, wrongly, that the word “paralympic” had something to do with being paralyzed. Instead, the word comes from a Greek word “para” meaning beside or alongside and the word Olympic. Paralympic simply means games that are parallel games to the Olympics.

Thank God for Dr. Guttman—another example of one leader making a difference.

This weekend 2,000 individuals will meet at the JW Marriott in San Antonio for The Dwyer Group’s 35th annual Reunion. Glass Doctor has been part of The Dwyer Group since 1998. This all started when one leader, Don Dwyer, got fired from his previous partnership and started the company with one concept—Rainbow.

So often it just starts with one leader.

Speaking of the Marriott, I looked back and realized I’ve stayed at five different Marriott brands in the past year. They have more than 4,100 properties in 80 countries. How did it start?

With one leader—J. Willard Marriott opened up a root beer stand with only nine stools in 1927. He had a philosophy to take care of his associates knowing then they would take care of the customers. For the next 58 years he built the Marriott brand on that principle. It remains part of the company’s culture today.

These are four examples of leaders that changed the world. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to change our own world. Who knows what can happen then?