I recently read Coach K’s Keywords for Success by long-time Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzykewski and his daughter Jamie K. Spatola. The premise of the book is a selection of words that Coach K uses to inspire his players. He shares a story about each one. There’s another post around story-telling to get your point across, but I’ll save that for another day. At the end of the book, he challenges the reader to identify their own key words and I wanted to share five that were meaningful to me.
Adaptability: I thought about my own upbringing and opportunities that present themselves. My parents lived modestly. My alcoholic grandfather forced my Dad to quit school at age 16. Dad started his career by painting window frames at a Ford plant before World War II. If the war had not happened, my father would not have had the opportunity to go to New London, CT for a 90-day training program to become a merchant marine officer. Merchant marines are the ships that provide the cargo needed for the war effort. That experience gave him the confidence to demonstrate his leadership talents. It also illustrates his Adaptability, one of Coach K’s key words. Dad could have stayed with the “known”—painting in a factory rather than stretch himself and learn new skills at a very rapid absorption rate. He got out of his comfort zone and spent the majority of his career as a sea captain.
Belief: My mother was severely handicapped physically. Her condition continued to deteriorate over the years but she maintained her sharp intellect and servant’s heart. I learned much later that doctors told her that having children would be harmful to her physically but mom had a strong belief that with God’s help she could be a full-time highly functioning mother. My sister and I are sure glad she did!
Failure: Every failure has enabled me to appreciate success even more. Some of us focus on the negative “glass half empty.” Fortunately, my mother ingrained in me the concept of seeing a “glass half full.” I recall a direct mail promotional campaign we did. I hired a marketing firm, spent what was for me a significant amount of money and really felt proud of the message we developed. Results—Nothing! Soon after, a friend approached me about buying ads together on a national radio talk show. Looking at the demographics of their listeners, I saw that the audience was very close to my “ideal” candidate for our services. Rather than dwell on my mail campaign failure, I realized my message had been sent to wrong market—like fishing in a pond with no fish.
Culture: My parents instilled in me a love of reading which I passed on to my children. While my wife and children are digital readers, I still love holding a book in my lap. I love the feel of the pages and I like to linger on the words and flip back to something that caught my eye. Being a modest author and regular writer of blog posts, I appreciate the effort it takes to move dreams and ideas from brain to paper. That process of reading, writing, and doing has manifested itself in the work culture of our company. We give each person adult levels of responsibility and authority to make decisions. Whenever possible, I try to credentialize each person to the client or prospect. Our staff members are carefully selected to utilize their natural skills for the work that they will perform. (see www.kolbe.com) My operating team invests a lot of time thinking about the specific strengths we want for each position. This creates a strong “want to help make a difference” culture in our firm. Both clients and vendors have commented to me that our time spent developing our culture is obvious.
Empathy: No one I have ever known listened as well as my mother listened. She gave people her full attention and made them feel important. At her funeral, people talked about her ability to focus fully on them when they spoke. Because she was so limited in her mobility, people came to her and sat to converse. Perhaps the adversity of her handicaps contributed to this—I just know that I learned the importance of listening and empathy at her knee. It’s a major part of my emotional make-up.
Today, one of the most gratifying things I do is help care receivers journey through crisis. My own life experiences have helped to prepare me to be used by God to have empathy for those deep in a pain journey. (See www.stephenministries.org)