By Gino Blefari
This week my travels found me in Northern California where on Monday afternoon I had the opportunity to have lunch with my good friend, Dwight Clark, former All-Pro wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and five-time Super Bowl champion. We were joined by another friend of mine, best-selling author Carmine Gallo, who wrote some of my all-time favorite business books, including: Talk Like Ted, The Storyteller’s Secret and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Together, we spoke about the challenges and rewards of business, sports and life in general.
Carmine had just come off the heels of a fascinating Forbes interview with Steve Young, Hall of Fame quarterback, who wrote a book about leadership called QB. In his memoir, Steve talks about overcoming obstacles and reveals the habits that turned him from an eighth-string back-up quarterback at BYU to a Hall of Fame pro ball player. (You can watch the interview here.)
Dwight told us he had just attended a party that past Saturday night for Eddie DeBartolo, former owner of the 49ers and recent inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and was planning to attend another party Monday night hosted by U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, also organized to honor Eddie’s induction. Both celebrations provided Dwight and his past 49ers teammates the chance to reminisce about their days playing and winning championships. “We weren’t just a family on Sundays,” Eddie had said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “We were a family every single day.” The camaraderie at that party, decades after these players won their Super Bowl rings, further proves Eddie’s point.
Another important point Eddie stressed was how significant every single person in the 49ers organization was to the success of the team as a whole.
“I understand that our success wasn’t just on the owner and the players, but on everybody,” he said. “I stand here today for the equipment managers and the groundskeepers, and the laundry crew who worked hard every day. I stand here for the executive assistants, the PR team and the interns who worked through the weekends. I stand here for the scouts and the bus drivers, and the cooks and the schedulers and (hot) dog vendors, and the community reps who might never ever see their name in lights, but who are every bit as important to building a winning football franchise, as the players we root for on Sunday.”
(During our meal with Carmine, Dwight also shared how Bill Walsh, former 49ers head coach, played a hugely important role in Dwight’s NFL career, a story you can read in its entirety here.)
As I sat there at lunch between two great men—the first, arguably one of the best communicators in the game and the second an All-Pro wide receiver—I couldn’t help but think how thankful I was to be among such inspiring leaders in their respective fields.
To be a great leader, one must learn from the wisdom of others, who hold experiences and knowledge that varies vastly from your own. That’s how you grow and ultimately, how you can lead with a smarter, more open and more holistic approach.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Inherent in the concept of learning from those around you is the concept of gratitude because we must always be thankful for the lessons these leaders so selflessly impart for no other reason than to help us improve and succeed. As Thanksgiving approaches, this concept of generous idea-sharing is especially significant for me, and one I hope you all consider as you gather with loved ones for your turkey dinner this year.
So what’s the message? Leaders, as you know, are not born, they’re made, and the fabric of leaders is sewn from all the intelligent, inspiring people around them. Listening to Carmine and Dwight talk about what they do best during our lunch, I realized there is nothing more I could be thankful for than every single leader who has inspired me from the beginning of my career to this very moment, sitting here writing this blog post to you. On Thanksgiving, be thankful for your family, be thankful for your friends, be thankful for every single person in your life because they’ve all played such an important role in shaping who you are today … and who you’ll be tomorrow.