When was the last time you were able to get directly in touch with a CEO, celebrity or perhaps the rock star of your industry? No gatekeeper, voicemail or email auto-responder -- real, direct unfiltered access. Ever?
That level of access and personal attention is not only uncommon, but it’s incomparable. When Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association franchise he put his personal email address on the Jumbotron asking fans for feedback and suggestions on how to improve the in stadium experience. To this day, instead of sitting in the owner’s luxury suite as virtually all other sports team owners do, he sits court side next to the fans and connects with them.
It’s something he does that no one else in his position does. He makes himself accessible, and it’s transformed his business and cemented his fans loyalty. They see and hear him cheering for the team, questioning the referees calls and his passion is contagious. He is widely considered one of the best owners in sports.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that the best of the best are connectors. It’s what elevates them to stadium status in their industry. They understand that before they are in the business of whatever profession they’re in, first they are in the relationship business. They’re accessible and responsive. They connect.
It’s a powerful lesson I was reminded of earlier this year, when I spoke at the 2015 Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches National Convention on career advancement. An example I gave in my talk was Ken Mannie, long-time strength coach at Michigan State University football. He is the incomparable expert and rock star of that profession, hands down. What Richard Branson is to entrepreneurship, Ken Mannie is to strength and conditioning.
I shared with this group of his colleagues how Ken became the foremost authority in their industry. Shortly after the conference, Ken called to thank me -- not for mentioning him, but for the fact that my speech was exactly what their profession needed to hear. I was blown away. The closest comparison I could make for you as an entrepreneur would be if Warren Buffet called you to say you give great financial advice.
Note -- in an audience full of thousands of coaches, his was the only response I received. I responded right away with a handwritten note and copies of my books as a thank you. Not just for his thoughtful call but for his help many years ago.
On our call, I asked him if he remembered a young coach writing to him in 1997 in response to an article he wrote on how to make a one-man wooden conditioning sled. He said of the thousands of people who read the article, he only got one response. I reminded him it was me and how impressed I was that he responded right away with a blueprint, parts list and a hand-written note wishing me the best of luck as I began my career. He remembered my letter and our ongoing conversation from back then and sent me a very thoughtful gift of some Michigan State apparel and and a very kind handwritten note.
Most people are too busy to notice or care about the little things. What separates the stadium status professional is that they realize everything matters -- and the little things are really big things. Little things like accessibility, connection, follow through and personal touch. I never imagined that back in 1997 the incomparable expert my profession at a major university would bother to respond to a nobody like me, a first-year coach at a small college.
I’ve carried that lesson Ken taught me back then with me through to my career today, and I hope you can carry it with you into 2016. Be who you say you are. Answer your own emails and phone calls. You can’t outsource personal attention and connection. Ken’s personal slogan is “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." It was on his letterhead in 1997, and it’s on it today. The same can be said for entrepreneurs -- we need to sharpen one another, because a rising tide raises all ships.
The lesson within the lesson
We each impact a lot of people but often receive very little response or thanks. Focus instead on those who do respond. A lack of response doesn’t mean apathy or disinterest, sometimes like in the case of my talk, you learn it’s because you hit them right between the eyes with a reality that was helpful yet outside their comfort zone. Keep serving, because the right people will reach out to you. Just be sure to respond to them.
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