There was so much great material covered on this first day of the EntreLeadership Summit 2016, but before I get to any of it, this recap has to start with the bucket-list highlight of the day: an hour-long Q&A between Dave Ramsey and America’s 43rd President, George W. Bush.
First, the security restrictions:
- Uniformed Dallas PD were sprinkled among the common areas of the hotel during the end of the morning session in preparation for Pres. Bush’s 1:00 session.
- Bicycle racks were set up during lunch to serve as barriers surrounding the stage.
- Secret Service were noticeably stationed at key points around the ballroom.
- No purses or other bags were allowed inside — all had to be valet checked during the session. (No surprise…)
- No audio or video recording of any kind. (Again, no surprise…)
- No note taking allowed during the session. (WUT??)
We didn’t see this last one coming. For anyone wanting to hang on to some takeaway keepers from likely the only time in their life they will get to hear, in person, a US President speak unscripted on issues like leadership … well, memory was the only tool you would be allowed to use. It was somewhat comical to see so many (self included) whip out their notebooks and phones as soon as it was over to document what they remembered as fast as possible before the memories evaporated. This is what I was able to capture.
Biggest Surprise: Pres. Bush has a hilarious sense of humor and a terrific sense of timing and delivery. I lost track at the number of times Dave Ramsey’s attempts to have a conversation with a former President got derailed with Pres. Bush’s ad-libbed jokes. His humor is largely of the self-deprecating kind, which speaks well of his own humility-infused confidence. It was evident that Pres. Bush knows who he is and is very comfortable in his own skin, both of which are necessaries for great leadership in my book.
Most Poignant Moment: Listening to Pres. Bush describe in person the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was nothing short of surreal. The image of the moment when Chief of Staff Andy Card informed the President that “a second plane has hit the second tower; America is under attack” is well known. After hearing this news which triggered his stoic response — remaining unmoved until the little 2nd-grade girl finished her read-a-loud — Pres. Bush had one thought, focused on that oblivious little reader: I will do whatever I can to protect you.
Most Revealing Moments: It was moving to hear Pres. Bush speak so candidly about his alcoholism and it’s effects on his family until he confronted it. That was in 1986, and he hasn’t had a drink since. It is always refreshing to hear powerful leaders open their souls to show us the scars of their wrestling with demons familiar to us all.
Just as revealing was hearing Pres. Bush describe this iconic moment atop a destroyed fire truck on 9/14/01.
Here’s my best paraphrase of how President Bush described this:
I don’t believe in revenge. I believe in Justice, but not Revenge. When I went down to “The Pit” on September 14th, my senses were overcome with the sensations … all of them negative sensations: the smells of death and sulfur; the water that made a misty fog that hung in the air; the colors were all muted. There was no color at all.
There were firefighters and first-responders everywhere, and I knew what they were thinking: “Here comes this guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” And as I started talking about how America stood with them, and was praying for them, they began to shout. There was in the air … a bloodlust. It was palpable. And I, myself, got caught up in it. That whole thing about “the people who did this will hear all of us soon!” … that was the Bloodlust. I got carried away by it. It was quite a psychological experience.
That anecdote of self-introspection and admission to being as susceptible as any to the visceral feelings of that moment in history was a revealing look into why — politics aside — President Bush was the right kind of leader in that moment. He felt what we felt, even though he worked hard to live out the two priorities for a leader in a crisis according to him:
- Leaders must project calm — if the Leader panics, so too will everyone else.
- Leaders must communicate assurance — not by ignoring the danger, but by fully acknowledging it but committing to handling it.
Top Qualities of a Leader: Ramsey actually asked this as qualities for a President, but Pres. Bush quickly pivoted it to leading in any endeavor at any level.
- Humility — You don’t know everything you need to know, and Humility keeps this reality in view so that you can surround yourself with a team of people who can fill those gaps of knowledge.
- Faithfulness — not necessarily a religious quality (“You shouldn’t have a religious test for people joining your team. It’s not right.”); rather, the kind of faithfulness that focuses on doing the things you promised to do.
- The Right Priorities — Doing right by your family even though you have a highly-demanding job isn’t hard if your Family is more important than Money, or Power, or Celebrity. If it’s not, though, that’s when things get hard to balance.
- Principles That You Believe In — Something that is more important to you than being popular or avoiding criticism. (“Criticism should be valuable, but never determinative.”)
Odds & Ends:
Pres. Bush holds his father, President George H.W. Bush, in the deepest love, respect, and unabashed admiration. It was truly touching to see a nearly 70-year old former Leader of the Free World speak so affectionately and full of pride about his Dad. I wasn’t aware that he wrote a biography about his Father in 2014. The idea for doing so came about after Pres. Bush spoke with the daughter (?) of famed John Adams biographer David McCullough. According to Pres. Bush, McCullough’s daughter said that her Dad had often said he would’ve loved to have read a biography of President John Adams written by his son, President John Quincy Adams. “Well, I could do that,” thought Pres. Bush … and so he did.
Pres. Bush’s love of country is fierce and unashamed. When Ramsey asked him what he would say to this room of 1500 small business owners, Pres. Bush didn’t hesitate, nearly cutting Dave off: “First thing I’d say is be thankful that you were lucky enough to be born in the greatest country EVER!” Much more than just tacky patriotism, Pres. Bush’s love of America also gives him a deep well of optimism. Even though these are “unsettling times,” he said, “I am optimistic and believe that betting against America is a bad bet. Our strengths greatly outnumber our weaknesses, even now.” Quite refreshing.
Midway through his 60’s, some four years ago, Pres. Bush decided to take up painting. He began taking lessons, and has painted every day since, saying it has broadened and sharpened his mind in ways he never would have believed before. I must have missed this when it was actually news, so it felt like a revelation to me … and an endearing one at that.
Whenever Pres. Bush would meet privately with China’s President Hu Jintao, Bush would talk about the importance of religion to people and as a component of civic life. With a twinkle in his eye and smirk on his face, Pres. Bush would say to Pres. Jintao: “I’ve got millions of people praying for me. How many you got praying for you?” A personalized point about the much weightier issue of a free society where its people can live and worship freely as they wish, delivered with humor and without all the heavy baggage of condemnation.
Finally, some tidbits from Dave Ramsey himself:
- Leadership is a set of character qualities, and those are a set of choices.
- Organizations are never limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their Leader.
- You’re the Leader. You’re the problem with your organization. The good news is, you’re the Leader. You’re the solution as well.
- If a leader’s wife can’t trust him, why are you so stupid to think that you can trust him?
- As the Leader, you have to say the vision so often that your team can make fun of you saying it.
- Winning is not an accident.
- Your customers are people; don’t treat them like a revenue unit.
- Your team members are people, not units of production.
- People Matter.
- Team and a Culture of Excellence Matters — Great organizations create unity intentionally.
- A Higher Calling Matters — WHY you work matters more than what you do or how you do it.
- “The Conductor doesn’t make a sound. His power depends on his ability to make other people powerful.” — Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.
ON DECK TOMORROW: Seth Godin & Jim Collins