Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, participating in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by leadership WIG calls. My WIGs for the week are to prepare for the T3 Sixty roundtable I’ll participate in soon and take two days at the end of the week to attend my niece’s out-of-town wedding. Of course, this morning, I sat down to write this post to you.

Last week we talked about mentors, and how you can have mentors you’ve never even met – such as from a book, podcast or documentary. I’d like to tell you about another mentor of mine. Let’s rewind a few years …

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

One of the benefits of staying at home during COVID was watching TV shows I didn’t have the time to watch before. After a few weeks of this new habit, I got concerned I was spending too much time watching mind-numbing Netflix series. I’ve always had a morning routine, but I decided I needed an evening routine that would consist of doing some sort of cardio for 30 minutes, walking after dinner, going in my infrared sauna, and watching a series for at least one hour that would teach me something new.

So, with this mission in mind, I started the “Cosmos” series (highly recommend it), which is how I first became enamored with a mentor I’d never met: Neil deGrasse Tyson. When I finished the “Cosmos” series I was so interested in how the universe works that I started the aptly named series “How the Universe Works.” It was through this series that I discovered and later met Hakeem Oluseyi, who became another mentor of mine and was the keynote speaker at our HomeServices of America Stronger Together conference and the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Summit conference.

But let’s get back to the cosmos. A brilliant educator, Neil deGrasse Tyson has inspired so many – including myself – to think bigger (like the entire universe bigger) and analyze complex ideas with a different frame of mind. Here are a few leadership lessons from this fascinating astrophysicist:

Be careful with the word “nothing.” In leadership, a tiny task might seem like nothing, or a small win might seem insignificant but as Neil deGrasse Tyson explains, our concept of a “true nothing” is harder to find than one might think. What is nothing? Is nothing what separates the empty space between the device you’re using to read this post and yourself? No. That’s air. Let’s then move to a place where there’s no air, outside of our atmosphere. Is that nothing? No, deGrasse Tyson says there are “still a few particles floating there between the planets.” What about between the stars? There may be less there but there is still something. How about between the galaxies? Well, there’s less than between the stars but still, deGrasse Tyson says a “few particles per cubic meter lurk there.” If you could hypothetically remove those particles, is what’s left considered nothing? He says, according to quantum physics: “In the pure vacuum of space there’s something called virtual particles that pop in and out of space.” Ah, again that’s not nothing. To get a true nothing, deGrasse Tyson says you’d have to arrive at a place where there is no space and no time; however if the laws of physics apply, then “there’s still something there” he says. A true nothing would be a place where there’s no matter, no space-time, and no laws at all. So, the next time you say, “Oh that’s nothing” or dismiss a small accomplishment as “nothing,” think about the true definition of nothing, and it will bring much more meaning to the topic at hand.

You lead by providing understanding, not by exercising authority. deGrasse Tyson says he wants his lasting impact on the world to be that people no longer think of him when they think about the things he’s taught them. With his guidance, they have arrived at a whole new way of understanding how the world works because he gave them the tools to think differently. “I become irrelevant,” deGrasse Tyson says. Instead of leading with authority – do this or say that – he wants to teach. Then, he says, “They can run off and don’t even look back.”

Never lose your sense of curiosity. As a kid, “everything is new” deGrasse Tyson explains, relaying a tale about a mother he saw walking with her small 3- or 4-year-old child approaching a “big, juicy puddle” on the ground. “I said, ‘please let this kid jump in the puddle,’” deGrasse Tyson explains. But instead, the mother pulled him away. “It was an experiment in cratering,” deGrasse Tyson says. If the child had jumped in the puddle, the child would get to see the impact of a downward force operating on a fluid, but because he was prevented from experiencing the puddle jump, the child can’t see it at all. “It was a bit of curiosity in that moment that was extinguished,” deGrasse Tyson says. With his own kids, if it was something that wasn’t going to severely harm them, de Grasse Tyson let them jump in puddles and experiment with the world. “I have pretty high confidence they will retain that curiosity,” he explains, defining an adult scientist as “a kid who has never lost their curiosity.” Similarly, the best kind of leaders are ones who never lose their curiosity to explore and learn about the world around them.

There’s a difference between opinion and objective fact. Interestingly, deGrasse Tyson isn’t a big fan of debates, which he thinks are mostly won on charisma and the strength of a debater’s communications skills. “If I’m good at saying, ‘the sky is green’ and I have charisma and I win the debate, that doesn’t make the sky green,” he explains. He says debating is grandstanding an idea rather than arriving at an actual solution. Instead, he separates debating opinions from objectively analyzing a solution and arriving at a decision based on fact and truth, which is the basis of scientific discovery.

So, what’s the message? In the spirit of learning something new every day, I encourage you to google Neil deGrasse Tyson, read his books and listen to his StarTalk podcast. I’m amazed and learn so much every time I do.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leveraging Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me traveling to Dallas on Monday to participate in a HomeServices leadership meeting, then flying home Tuesday evening to attend meetings for the rest of the week. And of course, earlier this morning, I sat down to write this post to you.

Today I want to talk about change. When HomeServices was founded in 1998, it was on a mission to do things differently: to change the brokerage model and to embrace an ongoing commitment to innovation. That mission has led to years of financial success and a legacy that’s unstoppable, and that 1998 mindset is one we must still embrace today.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Leveraging Change

Twenty-five years ago, the world was much different. To give you an idea, here’s what life in 1998 was like:

  • Top movie: Titanic (no reflection on today’s real estate market)
  • Top TV show: ER (no reflection on today’s interest rates)

The top Fortune 500 companies changed a lot, too. In 1998, General Motors, Ford Motors and Exxon ranked in the top 3, respectively. Today, the top 3 Fortune 500 companies include Walmart, Amazon, and Apple. Do you know how many of the top 10 companies from 1998 made the list today? Two. In fact, Google was founded on September 4, 1998! A total of 179 of the current Fortune 500 companies didn’t exist in 1998, and more than half – exactly 291 – of those Fortune 500 companies on the 1998 list are no longer in business today.

In life and in business, there will always be someone who’s better. There will always be another level to achieve your stretch goal. Please understand that your stretch goal is someone else’s baseline … but the truth is, you should have a baseline that’s a standard people can’t even aspire to achieve. You should have goals so big they scare you, goals that the person reading (or writing) these words right now doesn’t even yet have the capacity to achieve.

Every goal you accomplish in your life means that you have become a better version of yourself to achieve it. And that means setting a standard higher than anyone else’s. There will always be another level. There is no “I’ve arrived.” That’s when complacency sets in. Complacency is the most insidious disease in the world. It just sits up on your shoulder and says, “Everything’s fine, I’m doing great. No need to improve.” That’s when we stop learning. That’s when we stop growing.

To prevent complacency, here’s how adopting the mindset of embracing change has defined HomeServices over the last 25 years:

Number 1 – Know that there’s always somebody who is playing at a higher level. There’s somebody who is creating distance from you, and your job is to catch up and pass them. You must create goals that inspire you to become even more than you are right now.

Number 2 – Find mentors. A mentor will take you from where you are today to somewhere entirely new. They’ll move you in ways you can’t move yourself. And a mentor doesn’t have to be a physical person standing in front of you or someone texting you every day. It can be a book, a podcast, an article you read online or a YouTube video. Mentors don’t have to know they’re mentoring you to do it. For me, Earl Nightingale was a mentor with his recording of “The Strangest Secret.” John Wooden was a mentor of mine with his pyramid of success, which became the foundation for the Intero Value Pyramid. Jim Collins became a mentor with his book, “From Good to Great,” which was integral to the original vision of Intero. Jim Rohn became a mentor. Brian Tracy became a mentor. Zig Ziglar, Anthony (Tony) Robbins, Jack Welch, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Warren Buffett, Greg Abel … you must have mentors in your life because you must have leaders in your life who have been where you want to go.

Number 3 – Remember that inspirational discontentment is your friend. You will never make any dramatic change in your life until you become so upset with where you are that you finally do the things you’ve been avoiding doing. When you’re discontented enough, you will do them. You can complete all the busy work in the world, but as Jim Rohn would say: “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Once you become frustrated enough with your life, you’ll make the significant changes necessary to become better and finish the work you’ve been avoiding. Inspirational discontentment is not a setback, it’s a tool for transformation beyond your wildest dreams.

Number 4 – Commit to doing the work. The people who have made it to the top – superstars, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, activists, athletes – they outworked, out sacrificed, outgrew, and out hustled everyone around them.

This is our season of change. To get better for our agents. Our offices. Our teams. Our clients. Our family. Ourselves. Managing change is a myth. Who would want to manage change? That’s like managing fear. We must leverage and harness the power of change. In Jim Rohn’s famous “The Set of the Sail” speech, he talks about how all of us are on a little sailboat and it’s not the blowing of the wind, but the set of the sail that will determine where we go.

The same wind blows on all of us – the winds of disaster, favorable winds, unfavorable winds, political winds, social winds, economic winds … it’s all the same. Where we arrive doesn’t depend on the winds, it depends on the set of our sail. We can set our sail in the same direction, or we can set it in a better direction. It’s entirely up to us. We can correct the errors of the past and develop new disciplines for the future. And anyone can do this. There’s no law or rule that says one person can do this and another can’t. It’s about wanting to make the change, getting so fired up about your current sail that you know in your heart you must go somewhere new. Jim Rohn says, “For things to change you have to change.” It’s why you meet new people. It’s why you’re reading these weekly posts and why I listen to new books and podcasts every day. I try to learn one thing new every day.

Together, we must be committed to changing our thinking in a way that will change our lives. Jim Rohn says, “Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.”

So, what’s the message? The challenges you face today provide you with the wisdom necessary to grow. You can’t fly without gravity, just as you can’t achieve your goals without leveraging the difficulty, the struggle, the complexities, and the knowledge that comes from the ever-present winds of change.

Thoughts on Leadership: The Transformative Power of Rivalries

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. Tuesday was all about meetings with the team, and Wednesday I participated in the early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call, got caught up on email then took the remainder of the day to recharge.

On Monday, I also had the opportunity to attend the Giants-Dodgers game with my friends Kevin Barrett, Kraig Constantino and Jordan Mott, celebrating an amazing baseball rivalry. On the drive to the game, I just had to call Chris Sears, vice president of partnerships at HomeServices, my good friend and New York Yankees fan. Going to a Giants-Dodgers game is the equivalent of Chris going to a Yankees-Red Sox game — the rivalries are just that long-standing and intense.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: The Transformative Power of Rivalries

Rivalries are sometimes seen as a bad thing, but really a rivalry is one of the most invigorating components of competition and one of the most motivating factors in a leader’s gametime decision-making process. What would technology be without the famous rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? Or how would the history of basketball be changed without the games played between “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird? Would heavyweight championship boxing be the same without the epic trilogy of fights pitting Joe Frazier against Muhammad Ali?

If psychological scientist Gavin J. Kilduff from New York University’s Stern School of Business has anything to say about it; these historic matchups probably wouldn’t exist without the world-class rivalries that defined them. Kilduff’s pivotal research supports the idea that rivalries generate higher levels of performance among players. A rivalry also makes players take more risks. Studying the fourth downs of 2,000 NFL games played between 2002 and 2010, Kilduff and his colleagues found that a player was more likely to go for it on the fourth down or go for a two-point conversion when they were playing a rival team. Why? Because a strong rivalry shifts things into high gear – winning (however it’s defined for you) means more than it ever did before.

The same can be said about the San Francisco Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers rivalry, which dates back to the 1889 World Series when the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later known as the Dodgers) played the New York Giants – the only two professional baseball teams in New York City.

One iconic moment of this cross-town rivalry was “The Shot Heard Round the World” (listen to it in the voice of Russ Hodges here), which happened on October 3, 1951 at the Polo Grounds in New York City during the decisive third game in a three-game pennant playoff series. New York Giants outfielder and third baseman Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning, his team trailing 4-2 with two players on base. And what happened next? He hit a game-winning home run off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca and the Giants won the National League pennant.

The rivalry between the two teams became so strong that in 1957, when the Giants and Dodgers were facing difficulties and exploring options to move, National League owners approved a relocation to California – if both teams moved together.

As a young boy, I had my first opportunity to witness the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in action at Candlestick Park on August 22, 1965, sitting with my dad among the at-capacity crowd of 42,807 fans. The infamous Marichal-Roseboro “bat incident” occurred that day. It was the third inning and Giants pitcher Juan Marichal had stepped up to the plate. After the second pitch, Marichal hit Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with his bat after the catcher returned a low ball to Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax by throwing it close to Marichal’s head.

What I took away from the 14-minute brawl that followed wasn’t the chaos on the field or the anger between the players but the heroism of my idol Willie Mays who immediately rushed from the dugout to be the peacemaker among the rival teams.

Later describing the incident, the Boston American Herald reported: “Except for the majestic presence of Willie Mays, several players could have been maimed. Willie was out of the dugout in a flash to help disarm Marichal … this could be the year Mays wins the MVP award and Nobel Peace Prize, too.”

I saw Mays dart in and out of the players, pulling them apart, and removing a bat from the hands of Giants’ on-deck hitter, Tito Fuentes, while calming both teams down. His peacemaking efforts were so powerful that when the Giants traveled to L.A. to play the Dodgers again – just 15 days after the incident ESPN called “arguably the ugliest moment in MLB history” – the San Francisco players were all booed by the crowd, except for Mays, who received a standing ovation. Back in 1965, the only Giants’ games that were televised were the games against their rival Dodgers, so I was able to see my hero Willie Mays get his standing ovation from the Dodgers fans. So, what’s the message? Roseboro and Marichal famously patched up their differences while reconnecting years later at an old-timers’ game. Roseboro then visited Marichal in his native country of the Dominican Republic and even lobbied for Marichal to be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. When Roseboro passed away in 2002, Marichal was a pallbearer at his funeral, proving that at the heart of the very best rivalry is nothing but love.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from NCAA Women’s Basketball

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by meetings in Los Altos. On Wednesday, I had several meetings and conference calls and then this morning, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy “Our Familia” Employee Resource Group (ERG) panel with facilitator Angelica Silveyra, current Chair of the panel and director of Customer Contact at NV Energy, Amy Key, Principal Engineer with Mid-American Energy and Antoine Tilman, Vice President of Customer Operations with NV Energy. Now, I sit down to write this post to you.

It’s been a while since we covered any sports news on the blog, and if you know me, you know I love sports and the lessons they can teach us about life and leadership. So, this week, I thought we’d dive into some lessons from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. On Sunday, Louisiana State University defeated the University of Iowa 102-85 to win the 2023 NCAA women’s college basketball national championship, claiming its first-ever national title – not only in women’s basketball but also in collegiate basketball for the university.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from NCAA Women’s Basketball

In other history-making updates, the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes combined for the most points scored in title game history, and LSU set a record for the number of points scored by a team in the final.  Here are a few key leadership takeaways from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament this year:

Play by your own rules.

After winning the tournament, LSU’s Angel Reese said: “Just keep being you. Never let anybody tell you no or that you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” She talked about how people tried to create an image of her that was unlike the way she really was – or saw herself. But as Reese explained, nobody can define who you are but you.

Yahoo! Sports writer Shalise Manza Young wrote in a poignant article published earlier this week: “Reese [is] smart enough to see the game for exactly what it is and insistent that she’ll play by her rules, thank you very much.”

I was sent Young’s article by Johnnie Johnson, my good friend and former All-Pro for the Los Angeles Rams, author of “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for All.” In his note to me, Johnnie said when he wrote his book, he knew that talking about race would cause discomfort for a great many people. He also knew that sports at all levels of the game would continue to provide an outlet for these necessary conversations.

Reese’s “just being you” mentality is an excellent example of the kind of straightforward, honest discourse we as leaders must embrace for our team members and organizations. Diversity is as much about togetherness as it is about individuality, and Reese’s insistence that she is defined by no one but herself celebrates the progress-making combination of the two.

This tournament was more than just a collection of fantastically played games; it was a movement toward greater equality.

Caitlin Clark, a star player for the University of Iowa, helped take her team to their first championship appearance. She was named Naismith Player of the Year and was also the first player ever – in women’s and men’s NCAA basketball – to earn a 40-point triple double in tournament history. For my non-sports readers, a triple double is when a player scores at least ten points, ten rebounds, and ten assists in a single game (i.e., double digits in three categories).

The history-making, record-breaking games translated into bigger audiences than ever before. A reported 2.5 million people watched Iowa defeat Louisville in the Elite Eight, and to put that number into perspective, televised NBA games this season have averaged about 1.6 million viewers, according to Nielson data.

Yet as fantastic an athlete as Clark is, she still faced microaggressions and inappropriate comments on her highlight reels and videos. The uncalled-for comments raise serious questions about the connection between the rise in popularity of women’s sports and why they were less popular in the first place. These women are extraordinary athletes, with passion, commitment, and talent that’s incredible to watch. Everyone should tune in with just as much enthusiasm as they do for the men’s tournament – if not more. I was on the edge of my seat watching Iowa play South Carolina, texting with Iowa Realty General Manager John Dunn. At exactly 8:49 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, I texted him and asked if he was watching, to which he responded: “Epic. I can’t wait for your Thoughts on Leadership.” So, if you like this post, you have John Dunn to thank.

Sports should bring people together, not tear them apart.

This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament experienced a 42% jump in viewership compared with last year. And the championship game was the most-watched college women’s basketball game in the history of the sport, peaking at 12.6 million viewers.

In a Harvard Crimson article, staff writer Marley E. Dias said: “Sports are meant to bring communities together, teach children important life skills in cooperation and discipline, and entertain. The suggestion that history-making athletes like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are anything less than extraordinary is more than false. It is a harm to the young girls on the court striving for excellence.”

So, what’s the message? The truth is, I wish this was one leadership post I didn’t have to write. Women athletes don’t just deserve their day in the spotlight because of this tournament, they deserve their day in the spotlight because they work hard, fight for every win, and commit to greatness in a way that will inspire generations to come.

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