Great Teachers

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“Wax on, wax off.”

–     Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid” 

Experience can be a great teacher, but great teaching usually comes from a more direct source.  An actual great teacher.  As in another person.

Great teachers not only teach lessons that make a difference, they teach them in a way that reduces the friction that most students naturally apply to the learning process.

“Wax on, wax off,” seems stupid until the big kid in the tournament  takes a punch or a kick at your noggin, and you “wax it off,” right?

The same is true of lessons that apply to our business.  They’re often learned outside the boardroom, and outside the classroom, and they almost always involve a great teacher.

Some lessons great teachers taught me:

  1. “Get your a** around behind you!”  (Dick Heston)  I was about nine years old, wrestling with a scoop shovel in one of our grain bins, when Dad repeatedly barked this directive at me.  As a nine-year-old, I thought he’d lost his mind.  After all, where else could my a** possibly be?  Sometime about three years later, I figured out that there was a right way to use a scoop shovel — and about ten years later I realized that what he taught me was that there is a right way to do most things, and it’s usually easier and more effective.
  2. “You’re a shooter.  Shooter’s shoot.”  (Herb Justmann)  Herb was my high school basketball coach, and he’s still a dear friend.  His point was, play to your strengths.  Defense and rebounding were not things that I was awful at — ok, rebounding was not something I was awful at, but my role on the team was to shoot the basketball, and he’d get much more upset when I passed on open shots than when I forced or rushed one.  In business, almost 40 years later, if I feel like I am “playing out of position,” I hear Herb’s voice, and I settle back in to where I know my gifts lie.  (Our son plays some of his best ball when Herb comes to watch — and Friday night Herb will be in attendance…can’t wait!)
  3. “YOU have to strike THIS man out!”  (Jim Peterson, my high school baseball coach, and a scary, grumpy guy, by most assessments.)  The reason to this day that I feel most comfortable when the stakes are high is because every time I faced a runner at third and less than two outs, he would, in front of my parents, grandparents, girlfriend, etc, bark out this command.  Twice.  (No, seriously, two times. He would not let me throw a pitch to the kid without saying it, at the top of his lungs, twice!  Because evidently someone three counties over didn’t hear him the first time!)  It was his way of focusing me on the piece that I could most directly impact.  The batter, not the kid that was already at third base.  Great teachers help us focus when the stakes are high.
  4. “Most things in life are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.  Most things just are”  (Tom Graff, PhD)  Dr. Graff uses a series of “pictures” to illustrate this one.  “You win Powerball!  Good news?  Bad news?”  “GOOD NEWS!” everyone shouts out!  “Ok,” he would continue, “every member of your family and your closest friends disown you because they don’t think you give them enough money.  Good news?  Bad news?”  You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?  “Well, Steve, that would be BAD news…”  He goes on, and within about three minutes, everyone in the room realizes first hand that “good” and “bad” are labels that aren’t really productive.  When we realize that most things just “are,” it helps us deal with them in more practical terms.  It helps us separate the important from the urgent.  It helps us do our best, right now.

There are at least eleven or twelve others that come up for me almost daily, because I’ve been blessed with great teachers.  I’ve also been blessed with a career in which I regularly get to act on the lessons they taught.

What are the lessons we’ve learned that we either forgot, resist, or don’t seem applicable when we’re wearing a tie or staring at a computer?  Who were the teachers that taught those lessons?  What would they do, say, push for or remind us of that would make a difference here — now?

Editor’s Note:  Reprised from 2008, 2012, 2016

 


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Comments

  1. 1. I really enjoy Dick Heston quotes.
    2. I’m always amazed at your recollection of these quotes and specific things in life.
    3. That leads me to believe you’re an excellent listener and a better learner.
    4. “A word to the wise is sufficient.” (Jim Kapustka, my dad) He said this to me nearly every time I left the house as a teenager. It was over a decade later that I finally figured out what it meant. He trusted me and I was responsible for doing the right thing. He didn’t need to lecture me. And that was true. The thought of disappointing him would rule my consciousness. It still does.

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