“Our standard is giving more than what is expected.”
If you have been a part of TLC for a while and pay close attention, you will notice that you seldom hear the word “NO.” There may be an occasional ‘maybe,’ or possibly someone might say ‘let me see what I can do,’ but it’s scarce to hear someone say, “No, we can’t do that.” Jack created that culture; he is like that!
I have been following Jack’s lead for a long time, and one of the most challenging things to accomplish during all those years is finding people to help with all the various projects, ideas, and last-minute initiatives. I reflected on this core value as I sat down to write this email and remembered something that happened to me 11 years ago that helped me learn how to find people who are willing to help. I learned something that I never had thought about before and was shocked to know over the last 11 years how true it was and still is.
In 2008, my daughter Bianca was seven years old and was glued to the Olympics every night watching a young man named Michael Phelps make history. She was inspired by him and immediately started asking about joining a swim team. 2 months later, she was on a team and in the pool four days a week, having fun and learning how to swim.
I was a supportive dad and was there with her every night and quickly learned that her team was a non-profit organization made up entirely of volunteers. The parents ran the entire organization, including day-to-day operations and payroll, insurance, marketing, hiring coaches, setting up practice schedules, and hosting competitive swim meets that need a massive amount of volunteers.
I was always willing to help wherever needed, even though I was on my laptop or phone a lot with my TLC family. I did what I could and chipped in where I could. In 2009 (a year after we joined the team), Duane started talking to me. He was the organization president and started telling me that he thought my daughter was a good swimmer and appreciated my family being part of the team. He started sitting by me and talking to me a lot; even though I had my headset on taking calls, he would sit and wait, and in between calls, he would talk to me.
After a few weeks of this, he finally asked me if I would consider being vice president of the team. I was sort of shocked that he asked me. We were a new family, and I was there almost every night but very busy with TLC, so in my mind, I was not a good candidate.
To make a long story a little shorter, I accepted the position a few weeks later. An election was held, and I was declared the winner. (There were no other candidates, though, not sure if that matters.)
I was not sure if I would be able to accomplish my new responsibilities in addition to what I was already doing in my own life. I was still full time at Ford Motor Company, I was working TLC almost every other minute of the day and I had two young girls, and my wife worked afternoons every day, so I was responsible for the kids every night until 9 pm. It was not easy, but we just focused on that day, and we always figured it out.
About six months later, I was approached by Duane again, and he asked if he could meet with me privately off-site. He seemed worried, so I agreed. He went on to tell me that he was leaving the team sooner than expected and needed me to step up and run the entire organization, which had grown to 100 families with swimmers at this point.
I was shocked and scared at the same time. I did not want to do it, and I kept telling him how busy I was and how I did not have the time or the experience to do it well. He reminded me that all I need was leadership skills and the ability to recruit volunteers. I thought to myself that was not going to be easy, but he made it sound like if I did not take over, the organization would suffer (including the kids), and he begged me to take over, which ultimately I did a few weeks later.
The next day he taught me something that I have never forgotten and still remember and use to this day. He met me at the pool to go over a few things with me. The most important was the last thing he told me. He said to me, “John, I know you know you are going to need a ton of volunteers to help you run everything, and I want to make sure you don’t waste your time looking for them.” I was sorta confused; I said, “What do you mean?” Duane then said, “Follow me,” and we proceeded to the middle of the pool deck; and he had me look up at the 100 parents seated in the bleachers watching their kids practice.
As we both kept looking at the parents, he taught me something I had never thought of before. He started pointing out people in the stands (without pointing at them, of course) and started giving me feedback about them. Some of that feedback was, “Do you see the guy watching a movie on his laptop? Don’t ask him.” “Do you see the lady up there doing crosswords? Don’t ask her. Do you see the one on the Ipad playing candy crush? Don’t ask her.”
I was shocked; I said, “Duane, those are the ones I was going to ask; it seems they have the most free time.” He then told me, “Please understand this; those people that you think have time and would say yes are going to say no.”
“Those are the ‘NO’ people, they say no to helping and giving because they say yes to themselves all the time, they are not interested in doing more, they want to do less so they can do what they enjoy personally.
Duane then gave me a great tip that makes me sad when I think about it, but it is very true most of the time. He said to me, “Do you see that mom up there with the business suit on that just got off of work? She is talking on the phone and getting her other kid ready for soccer practice, and trying to figure out how she is going to make it back in time to pick up her daughter after practice, and helping her other kid sell girl scout cookies in the stands?” “Yes, I do see her,” I said.
Duane then said, “That is who you need to look for, the people you need to approach. The ones that seem like they would not have the time are the ones that have put themselves in that position because they do not like saying no to others. These people need to feel like they are contributing and are usually very selfless and love helping others”.
Duane then reminded me, “Please do not forget this and please trust this; if you do this, you will find some great people to help you that you would have never asked otherwise.” Then the last thing he told me I am sure some of you would predict. Duane looked at me and said, “Why do you think I picked you? It was because you seemed like you were so busy already, which means you don’t like saying no and you like helping people. So I knew I had found my guy, and I feel better about stepping away now.”
I was shocked by all this information, but I guess I understood it because I was one of the people he talked about. I always tried to figure out how to do something instead of figuring out how not to do something, so the message resonated with me. I used this technique to help build a fantastic organization of volunteers, and our swim team grew to 300 families under my leadership. The help of my already very busy volunteers was terrific.
We grew to one of the largest swim teams in Michigan, and I was very proud of what we had accomplished. In 2015 I had to step away because TLC had become off the charts busy, and I could no longer serve as well as before because of travel. I left them in good hands because the person that replaced me was already busy; he was a yes person like me, always trying to figure out how to do it instead of proclaiming that he didn’t have time; the team continues to thrive today.
I still, to this day, use what I learned from Duane here at TLC. When I need help, or TLC needs help, I don’t approach the people I feel have lots of time; I approach the ones that are already doing 100 things. The single moms, the people that are already trying to juggle many things, and the ones that do it with a smile no matter what.
This has taught me how always to find great help. These are the people with a standard that is more than what is expected; they are helping us change the world; please thank them! Please let me know if you are busy so that I can ask you for help next; I know you will say yes cause you are already amazing!
Love you all, thank you for reading, and keep giving more!