“Terry, my boy….”
When I heard those words from Jack Kent Cooke back in 1987, I knew he was about to teach me something. I had a lot to learn, since he had plucked me from the accounting ranks to be the COO of a cable company at the ripe young age of 27.
What was amazing at the time was how little I really knew about leadership. Sure, I was young and fearless enough to figure I could make it up as I went along, but all I had to work with was a short stint as student body president in college, and some managing responsibility at the accounting firm I worked with right after graduation.
And yet, Cooke threw me in the pool and asked me to swim. Fast.
I’ve written about him before – he was a brilliant, difficult, intense, insightful, difficult, and mercurial entrepreneur. And did I mention he was difficult?
But he loved to take a raw talent and turn it into something, and I was one of the lucky ones he chose (although you can be assured I didn’t think I was that lucky at the time, even though I was grateful for the opportunity).
His teaching moments were full of his characteristic mix of bluster, charm and drama, started by those three words..
“Terry, my boy…”
There were 5 of these moments I’ll never forget, because they became the 5 best pieces of leadership advice I would ever receive.
Yep, they were that good. Advice that I leaned on and absorbed into my being for the long haul, and for my betterment.
Lucky I was a good listener too, because they helped me immensely in hitting the success trifecta of More Human leadership – A great company, a happy team, and a fulfilled leader (me).
What were these awesome pieces of advice? Here they are:
1) Never, ever, be afraid to hire someone smarter than you.
2) Always remember the 7 most important words: “I don’t know but I’ll find out“.
3) Take the word “can’t” out of your vocabulary, it’s useless.
4) Be a doer, not a thinker.
5) Beware of those calling themselves “experts” – they really don’t know everything.
Consider the underlying concepts in each of them: building the best team, fostering honesty & humility, displaying positivity and persistence, “getting stuff done”, and showing professional skepticism – all essential to great leadership.
I was grateful to have a mentor like him at that stage of my career, because I didn’t need to be force fed the concepts in a scholarly way – I needed it (literally) straight, no chaser, and, with the authority of someone who had “been there, done that”.
Cooke was 75 when he told me these things, so he certainly qualified as experienced. So it was really easy to take what he said as the gospel truth.
And by golly, it was!
Almost 30 years later, I’m now in the position of being the mentor, and you can bet that I’m passing down these pearls of wisdom to the new leaders I’m talking to.
As well as passing them along to YOU.