Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Hank Aaron and Larry King

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting the week with my typical Monday WIG calls. On Wednesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Weekly Executive team meeting. My WIGs for this week were to film seven videos, present Time Management (virtually) to the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Keys Real Estate and hold three virtual interviews for the regional mortgage manager position at Prosperity Home Mortgage.

In between meetings, I also got a call from Bob LeFever. I’ve known Bob for years, since we were both senior vice presidents of NRT. (But more on Bob later because he’s really the connection to everything I’ll write about in this post.)

As you might have heard, we lost a broadcasting legend this week—Larry King—who hosted more than 50,000 interviews during a celebrated career that included two Peabodys, an Emmy and ten Cable ACE Awards.

And back in the day, Bob and I had a chance to have breakfast with Larry King at the iconic Beverly Hills deli, Nate n Als. If you look it up, Larry King was famous for his breakfasts at Nate n Als, and it was a morning I’ll never forget. In part, I’ll never forget it because, well, it was breakfast with Larry King, but I’ll also never forget it because I remember so vividly, as if it were yesterday, when the waitress asked him what he wanted to drink, he ordered a half a glass of Coca-Cola and to my surprise, filled it to the top with half-and-half.

Larry King once said, “The secret to success is an absolutely ungovernable curiosity,” and his breakfast drink of choice certainly sparked curiosity within me. There are so many lessons we can take away from Larry King’s life—his emphasis on really listening instead of just talking that made him a great interviewer, as well as his belief that it wasn’t enough to listen; we should truly be interested in what someone else has to say.

If you think about it, his well-honed skills as a journalist make him the ideal template for what a leader should be. The best leaders listen more than they speak, and they listen with the intent to understand. They’re also empathetic when they listen and care about what team members, customers and clients have to say. It was unending interest and curiosity that produced some of the most unforgettable interviews Larry King conducted, and it’s what can transform any leader from adequate to amazing.

In other sad news, we also lost baseball superstar Hank Aaron last week, a player who will forever be remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record on April 8, 1974 when he hit his 715th career home run. Hank Aaron would go on to rack up a grand total of 755 home runs, an MLB record that was held until 2009.

Bob and I spoke about this tremendous loss, too, because as it turns out, Bob has a connection to Hank Aaron. Before his real estate career, Bob was an FBI agent, and in the early 1970s he received a report on his desk that detailed all the threats sent to Hank Aaron. His superiors had tasked Bob and his team to review the threats and figure out who might be involved. “It was horrible,” Bob told me.

Despite the threats, Hank Aaron became a baseball legend. And his story began when he was just 14 years old, and he listened to a speech by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB. Right then Hank Aaron committed to becoming a major league baseball player, (you could say it was his Wildly Important Goal). Growing up, Aaron often played for segregated teams, and was only picked up by the Braves after the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns asked them to scout Aaron. His fearlessness and drive, and lack of fear of failure drove him to break barriers and succeed greatly in his baseball career. (He once said, “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.”)

In the end, Hank Aaron’s story is one marked by perseverance over adversity, of triumph over tribulations, of love over hate. After retiring as a player, Aaron became one of the first Blacks to hold a role in Major League Baseball upper-level management when he served as Atlanta’s Vice President of player development. He is featured on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, a testament to his work and support in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in sports. In 2002, he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2005, he received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Hank Aaron was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Aug. 1, 1982.

So, what’s the message? Listen, learn and love. From Larry King, we understand the importance of listening and learning. From Hank Aaron, we know when curveballs are thrown our way, we must find the strength within us to hit them out of the park with love.

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