Episode #1260 Don Yaeger: The DNA of Greatness

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Moe Abdou is joined by award-winning journalist, longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, and eight-time New York Times Best-selling author, Don Yaeger to deconstruct the DNA of great teams, great leaders and winning entrepreneurs.  


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Don Yaeger

9-time NY Times Best-selling Author; Contributor for Forbes View Full Profile

Insights & Perspectives from Don Yaeger

Walter Payton via Coach John Wooden - “You can’t spend a perfect day without doing something for someone who can not repay you.”  So, if you really want to build a perfect day, you have to consistently find ways to do something for people who can’t repay you.

Bill Walton - Our job as people is to find a master coach who can teach us how to be special.

Mike Krzyzewski - To succeed at the highest levels, you have to be part of something that’s much bigger than yourself.  

  • Always find creative ways to constantly remind people of the bigger purpose

  • When you’re winning, don’t sleep in your trophy room.  Yesterday’s success doesn’t guarantee tomorrow’s achievements.

  • The greats don’t spend a lot of time in celebration of their past achievements

John Wooden - You can’t lead people you do not know.  “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation.  Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

  • On perspective - Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

  • On adversity - Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.

  • On mentorship - A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.  

The superiority of The San Antonio Spurs’ stems from two unwavering beliefs - A trust-centric culture, and a top-down mentoring philosophy.

  • A trust-centric organization is not a sometimes thing - its a 100% belief in the best interest of the collective, all the time.  

  • A mentoring rich environment is the best succession plan for any size team/company.

The very best leaders always put a face on their vision; for unless you’re able to transfer the feeling of a bigger purpose, it’s just words.

Alabama’s Nick Saban is an insatiable learner - he’s always in the study of others, regardless of whether or not they’re in his profession.

  • Recruit only the talent that fits his culture; keep in mind that …

  • Mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.  

The recruiting philosophy of Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is to first ask his team to identify what it takes to succeed in the Spartan environment, and then present their answers to each recruit to evaluate potential fit.  

All great teams deal with internal conflict, the difference is that it stays in their locker room.  Dysfunction is real, and its the leader’s job to shorten the cycle by bring everyone together to co-create alternatives.  “I see —, I don’t like it, and I want talk about it so that we can come up with some answers….”

Admired athletes and their teams thrive under pressure because they understand that seldom will they win in critical situations that they don’t prepare for.  They practice for moments that don’t matter so they prepare themselves for the moments that do.

Every critical situation is an opportunity to rise above and to do something special.

Great teams speak a different language - “As a leader it is so important to be precise with your language,”  Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll says “…we don’t like synonyms around here.  We say whatever it is, it is.  We want to keep the message clear for the players so they can own it.  It doesn’t matter if we have good ideas; they have to be able to utilize them.  So we try to be real specific with our language and knowing the power of talk - the positives and the negatives of self talk too.  If you’re unclear, they have unclear thoughts.

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