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16 Characteristics of Greatness: An Entrepreneur Studies Don Yaeger

by Jill Foster on December 10, 2009

Ice Drip

Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to hear Don Yaeger speak. Don is a four-time New York Times best-selling author and Editor of Sports Illustrated. His professional and life experience really made an impression on me – in regard to personal and professional leadership.

His insight relates to how we can impact our companies, as women and innovators in business and more.

In addition to actually getting past Michael Jordan to make a three-pointer during a charity sport weekend, Don has experienced some other life-changing circumstances that have taught him what it truly means to overcome adversity, muster strength from deep inside at the times you need it most when you don’t think you have anything left, and live a life of intention and passion.

Some of these experiences include:

  • Walking into Afghanistan with the mujahadeen as they fought the Soviets
  • Going into Baghdad with the victorious Iraqi soccer team as the battle between insurgents and the US Military waged around them
  • Visiting China in pursuit of underworld characters counterfeiting American golf clubs
  • Heading to Damascus to find the last living terrorist from the 1972 Olympics
  • Living with football legend Walter Payton and his family as Payton was dying to write Payton’s biography
  • Roaming around Europe and the Middle East interviewing Iraqi athletes tortured by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee

Shaping his perspective
Throughout his exceptional career, Don has developed deep, lasting relationships with the most elite athletes that you and I will only get to admire from afar. From Tiger Woods and Tom Brady to Serena Williams and Shaq, these are the people that has shaped Don’s perspective on life… and now Don is sharing those insights with the rest of us.

16 Characteristics of Greatness
Throughout Don’s entire speech, I was engaged in every story of both triumph and adversity… his own as well as the stories of others. But the greatest take-away for me that I want to share with you is what Don has identified throughout his journey as Sixteen Consistent Characteristics of Greatness. These traits describe the sports leaders that are the best in their field – the people that we admire every day.

How they think:

1. It’s personal
They hate to lose more than they love to win. People that aspire to greatness know that defeat just isn’t an option.

2. Rubbing elbows
They understand the value of association. I always say that we become the people that surround us. Those of us who are aspiring to greatness, it is our job to rub elbows with the right people and to learn what makes them successful and what keeps them going. In turn, it is up to them to help us better ourselves. And if you can’t change the people around you, then choose different people to be around. Think about it.

3. Believe
They have faith in a higher power. It is proven that a strong spiritual commitment, and a strong belief in faith is linked to a positive outcome. In our current economic state, always remember the power of a positive mind-set and the importance of belief in beating the impossible.

4. Contagious enthusiasm
They are positive thinkers… They are enthusiastic… and that enthusiasm rubs off. When you’re trying to work through your challenge-professional or personal – do so with the belief that the best is yet to come. Stay positive.

How they prepare:

5. Hope for the best but…
They prepare for all possibilities before they step on the field. I am an eternal optimist. But I am also a realist. When I enter into any situation, I am excited about the possibilities it may bring. But I also know that there are a lot of variables beyond my control. So I contingency-plan.

6. What off-season?
They are always working towards the next game… The goal is what’s ahead, and there’s always something ahead. if you visualize where you want to be and work backwards from there, you can always be moving the ball forward.

7. Visualize victory
They see victory before the game begins. Positive visualization is a proven ingredient of a successful outcome.

8. Inner fire
They use adversity as fuel.One thing in life is certain… none of us gets through without adversity. What matters is that we find the strength to work through it. When we are knocked down, it may take hours, days, weeks, or months, but we need to get back up. For me, I’m at the point where challenging situations invigorate me. I’m mentally tough enough to embrace the adversity heading my way, overcome it, and learn from it.

How they work:

9. Ice in their veins
(Image Ice Drip by Scott Kinmartin, Creative Commons)

They are risk-takers and don’t fear making a mistake. Failure is one of our greatest teachers. I’m amazed at how much risk-tolerance I have acquired. But it’s the one component that enables me to keep growing. If I stopped to think about how much I have on the line, I would be paralyzed.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” NBA legend Michael Jordan, who was known for his late-game heroics in addition to six national titles, once said. “I’ve lost almost 300 games – 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

10. When all else fails
They know how – and when – to adjust their game plan. Flexibility and adaptability is essential to survival. I wrote a previous column on this exact topic… the ability to shift when everything around you is shifting too.

11. Ultimate teammate
They will assume whatever role is necessary for the team to win. Individual accomplishments are important, but the sum is always greater in value than the individual parts. How much do you step up to help those around you? When others around you thrive, you thrive as well.

12. Not just about the Benjamins
They don’t play just for the money. It’s never about the money. And if it is, it’s about the wrong thing. The money will come if you follow your passion… if you become a part of something bigger than yourself. As a business owner, I view our profits as a catalyst to build a greater organization.

How they live:

13. Do unto others
They know character is defined by how they treat those who cannot help them. One of the greatest sources of satisfaction is helping others, from a truly altruistic standpoint. We all have something to give… our time, our experiences, our compassion.

14. When no one is watching
They are comfortable in the mirror… they live their life with integrity. I always tell my kids… “What matters is not what you do when everyone is watching. What matters is what you do when no one is watching.” Your ultimate accountability has to be to yourself.

15. When everyone is watching
They embrace the idea of being a role model. As leaders, we have an obligation to promote positive leadership, and demonstrate the positive influence we can have on others. Our actions shape those coming behind us.

16. Records are made to be broken
They know their legacy isn’t what they did on the field. They are well-rounded. A legacy isn’t what you took from this world. A legacy is what you leave behind.

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Guest contributor Marissa Levin is Founder and CEO of Information Experts. Launching a new Women Grow Business series on sales strategy, Marissa was named a 2008 BRAVO Award winner by SmartCEO Magazine (which honors the region’s 25 most influential women CEOs) and recently was listed in Washington’s 100 Technology Titans by Washingtonian Magazine. Describing her true passion as “helping other business owners be successful with their own business growth”, Marissa can be reached through her blog Marissa Levin.

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