Our three big takeaways from Niall's conversation with Bennie Fowler on leaderships is that
- Anyone can be the leader - it doesn't have to be the CEO, the manager or the team captain. It can be the 20-something year old new kid who has a clear idea on how to get things done.
- Reframing failure is required to become successful - failure isn't the end, it's part of the learning process and a new starting point.
- Leaders need to work ON their business as well as work IN their business - having clear long-term goals is always better than having an endless to-do list of stuff that has to get done day-to-day.
Let us know what you thought of the episode?
I suppose the logical place that we can start is just how is your injury? How are you getting on with your recovery, and rehab?
It’s going well. I can now do 15 push ups. [laughing] So I'm definitely taking the right precautions, you know, things are going well.
It is a process though, how you have to go about it. And you can't just rush it back, especially when they cut you open and they're repairing you. So it's going really well. So, thank you for asking.
Yeah, and it is a massive challenge, isn't it. It's something that people don't always realize, but it's probably the single biggest challenge for any professional athlete is when you can't do what you're paid to do and what you love to do.
I always found that when you were talking about mindset, or our mental skills, or psychology or wherever you want to call it… guys needed you the most when they had a lot of time on their hands to think. When you're injured you have all this time to think.
Have you found it a real struggle from that point of view, to to keep yourself motivated, you know, the drive to recover and stuff like that?
I don't find myself struggling with that at all.
I think knowing yourself and I've been through this before in college, you know, I started off my college career and I got hurt right when I got to Michigan State in 2009. I had never really had a serious injury that had kept me out of the game. And I broke the navicular bone in my foot and that's it's a long injury. It's the slowest healing bone in the body. So that taught me a lot about having to work through that process.
I go through my career at Michigan State, I get off to a good start as a redshirt freshman and then my redshirt sophomore year, I break the same bone in the other foot, which is another year-long process.
So that taught me about the importance of having that mental mindset that you need. But I lean on things like YouTube videos to push me through the rehab process. You see Kobe Bryant, the late great Kobe Bryant and him going through his Achilles injury. That's something I put on, you know, you could put on little clips here and there to keep you motivated.
You know, everybody thinks that motivation is this some great thing and how athletes do it. So I look for things to inspire me as I go through some of the tough and slow processes of rehabilitation.
That's really interesting. Back in the day, in the early 1990s AC Milan football club in Italy were the first professional football club in Europe that I heard of, that really embraced sports science. They had a detailed setup, and they measured their players on everything. And they did some incredible things as a team.
But one of the things I loved In fact, famously David Beckham went there for the off-season with LA Galaxy to play for a couple of months in Milan. And he'd been having all sorts of problems with his back. He had been told his career was done and he was only about 31 at the time. At Milan, they ended up fixing his wisdom teeth, which was the trigger to repair his back because nerves are being tracked. I thought it was It's a lovely explanation of how intricate our bodies are and how it's all interlinked.
But one of the other things they did I thought was lovely was that every player had their own warm up and warm down and music. That detail of everybody is different - how they psych themselves up, and how they chilled out after a game. There was no right or wrong, it was just about your personal thing.
And that's become quite normal now. You see all you guys and you arriving into a stadium and you generally have headphones on.
I always find it fascinating that people reference the Al Pacino speech from…
Any Given Sunday, right?
Yes, that's the one and an amazing speech, right?
People ask me, is that the kind of thing you do? And is that how you get people to perform?
I would say there's a once in your career time when a coach comes in and gives a speech that absolutely rattles you to your core, and drags this extra performance area.
Most of the time, the things that drive you and get you there are the little personal triggers or something that's gotten into your head that you have internalized before your performance.
Graham Henry, who coached the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, to their first Rugby World Cup success in 20 years was talking about his approach to coaching. He talked about the fact that he used to give these really inspirational speeches - inspirational roaring speeches, to get all the players all wound up.
He sat down with his team captain one day for a coffee, and they were talking about all different aspects of preparation. The captain said to him, ‘I love your speeches. But I just wonder who are they for?’
Graham Henry realized at that moment that the speeches were for himself. He got to vent all this out of the system. But that actually the players all knew their jobs, they were all rready, they didn't need anything more, they were ready to go. And, that potentially his speeches were actually taking away from that.
So with all that in mind, have you found in your career and even going back to as a kid or in college or in the dressing room before Superbowl, do you need ‘the speech’?
Or did you not need to be motivated any more?
I think it just depends like you said, on the situation, in the moment.
If I think about the night before that Super Bowl, Peyton Manning had got up to address us and kind of knew it was gonna be his last season.
And, when he got up to speak, it was from the heart. And he was emotional. And you know, he didn't know what the future was going to hold. And he just wanted to let everybody know, this is a special moment. Let's take advantage of this moment. Let's seize this moment.
DeMarcus Ware gets up and he pulls out a Super Bowl trophy, the last Super Bowl trophy that the Denver Broncos organization won.
He had never played in the Super Bowl, he had been to 12 Pro Bowls. He had been All-Pro, he had all the accolades, but his first time ever being in the playoffs was just the previous year, and this was his first-ever Super Bowl that he was getting ready to play in was the following day.
It just showed you don't take these moments for granted. And let's go out there. And let's show them what we’re about.
The best speeches that I've heard or that I've been a part of the four championship games have come from the heart. You get it when you can hear the emotion, the real emotion, not the yelling emotion, like let's go out there punch him in the face emotion and not the emotion that where they're almost getting ready to cry. Those are the speeches that have moved me but that's not a speech that can always be given.
That speech you can’t give every week to add speech that just happens within the moment because it is a special moment. The coaches that I've played for where we've been the most successful they haven't been the rah-rah guys, they've let the players handle it. They let the players pretty much coach on Sunday.
They obviously call the plays, but they let the players handle it, the best teams I've been on is where the players are coaching other players and motivating other players. They can also be the coach.
And that that is such a huge point.
Because when I talk about leadership, people automatically think that you're talking about CEOs of companies or the head coach of an organization. When actually, in most successful organizations, whether it's sporting or corporate, leaders could be a 20 year old in their first year in the organization who just get it and know how to communicate.
Leaders are generally the other players who call you out, and who can make you confront your weaknesses or your strengths, or make you believe in yourself, or let you know that you're doing it for something greater than the Super Bowl ring.
That's the thing that the people kind of don't realize, from the outside looking in, is that they think you're motivated to win the ring.
Instead of thinking that the ring is the reward you get for doing your job to the best of your ability and coming out on top right?
From a psychological point of view, we always talk about intrinsic rewards or extrinsic rewards. You're looking to prove to yourself something within yourself or something within your own performance. Winning those moments in a game - don't worry about the fourth quarter when you're in the middle of the first quarter. You got to do your job in the moment, right?
If the touchdown pass is in the air, and you're waiting to catch it, and in your head, you're thinking about your celebration, you don't catch the ball. Right?
So, how do you train that into yourself? And, what do you think made you a great leader?
I think just the way I go about my business, I'm all about setting an example I'm not a big rah-rah guy, because usually those are the quarterbacks on the teams.
But if I think about it, I would say it was always my work ethic and how I go about my business, when I've had my best moments in my career, my best moments playing with Eli or Drew Brees. That's when I've been focused on the process, not the end result, but focusing on the process. And like you said, it's playing that game within the game, and trying to stay focused on the process and getting open.
If I think about, times where I might have struggled in my career, … Like when I was playing my best ball in Denver, and I’m getting ready to head to Chicago to play in the city that my mom is living in. Everything seems to be going in the right direction. I got some good money upfront. I think I had it made but I didn't go there with the same vision and goals that I had at Denver.
When I first came into the league as an undrafted, free agent, I was focused on the process. When I first came into the league, it was all about just getting open and doing my job... Letting my subconscious mind take over for catching the ball. I didn't have that vision in Chicago. I showed up there overweight, I wasn't in great shape. And that led to me getting cut.
What do you think contributed to that?
Just feeling like you have made it like, nothing bad can happen. They want to sign me, they got the bells and whistles when you sign and you just feel like you've made it at that point.
I got humbled but now it's all about the process. The mind is incredible. It's a powerful thing. You have to feed it the right things you have to stay in the present moment. Sometimes you just need to reframe and I just think about now if I have a tough situation, how can I reframe this? What about all the good things? Where are the good things that have happened within this play or this moment?
I use a quote by Epictetus all the time in my work and he said that ‘it's not the event but your opinion of it which causes suffering’.
I gave a speech in Toronto one time and a lady in the audience got very upset with me and said to me that she basically called me out and said that her mom had passed away and she was devastated and that event was the worst thing that could ever happen to her in her life and that I was wrong.
I was trying explain to her that was the emotional response to the event. Because her opinion of the event is that it's the most devastating thing that's ever happened, it is the most devastating event ever.
I related back to my own dad passing away just before Christmas, he was my best friend, we were so close. But I had a choice after he passed away of being devastated, which I am... But I can also acknowledge the fact that I had a great dad, when so many people don't grow up with that. I was incredibly fortunate.
When I think about my dad I think this podcast series and getting my first book published in the next couple of months, and these are things that I'm doing in his honor. These are things he would have wanted me to do. And he would have pushed me to do.
When you talk about reframing, I think it's probably at the heart of being a performer and also being a leader, that ability to embrace mistakes, to say that mistakes are the things that define me and make me the person I am and better at what I do.
I don't know if you use the term failure in going to Chicago... If those circumstances didn't happen, you probably wouldn't be the guy you are now.
And tell me a little bit about writing the book and what led you to write the book and what your motivation was?
Yeah, that moment right there led me to write in the book.
Well, first of all, I was at home for four weeks without a job. So if the NFL doesn't come calling back, how am I going to make money?
Writing a book could lead to me speaking on stage and I wanted to share the fact that we all have the same 24 hours, so I wrote my book Silver Spoon, the imperfect guide to success, because there is no perfect guide. You hear all these things like ‘I can show you how to get to seven figures’. Everybody's path is different. You have to have some core principles, you have to be able to set goals. Challenge yourself, you have to be able to handle adversity, handle success, discipline, surround yourself with the right people.
I also had a chapter in there for the athletes, the up and coming athletes, you don't have to be an athlete to make a million dollars. I wanted people to understand that.
It came from me going through that tough moment in Chicago, and thinking what's going to happen next if the NFL doesn't come calling back. I've been playing three years since that happened. But that was a tough time. It was hard.
Sometimes life puts us on the sideline to give us a different perspective. But it's all about the perspective that you have, when you are on the sideline and how you choose to react to certain things.
If you think about all the successful people in the world, they had a failure or setback that happened to them, that led them to something else. So failure is just an opportunity for you to learn something. With every failure comes skill acquisition, every time you fail at something you get a different perspective, a different outlook on life. It's just like when you touch that stove as a young kid, even though your mom tells you not to touch it. That's a setback. That's a failure that registers in your brain.
I always see sports as being the perfect definition of being human. When my kid was he was eight or nine they wanted to cancel the school sports day. The reason they wanted to cancel the sports day was they felt it wasn't fair to the kids who weren't winning.
I can actually remember thinking what's wrong with you people, my kid is probably half the height of every other kid in his class. So when it came to sprint races, he was always under pressure, because these kids are bigger and faster, whatever. But what better way was there for me to teach him that you can't always win, that you're not going to be the best at everything you do. That if you want to be the best at something, you've got to work really, really hard at it, because it's not just going to come to you. For some people, it might come easy, but for other people, it doesn't.
I think the greatest lesson sports give you is that life isn't fair. The biggest myth we're told is that if you work hard, you'll be successful. It's complete nonsense. If you don't work hard, you will never be successful, but just working hard on its own isn’t enough. You need luck too.
Timing is so important. When New Orleans needed a player in a certain position at a certain time and you happen to be the right guy at the right time or like the opportunity you got to go to Denver I'm sure was a very similar story. So you need to make your own by being in the best condition you can be it and put yourself in the right places and all that kind of stuff.
What’re the big ambitions for you these days?
Right now in terms of opportunity, and where I'm going in life after football would be a success and leadership coach for small business owners and entrepreneurs to help them work on their business instead of in their business.
You know, 72% of business owners say they are feeling overwhelmed by their roles and responsibilities, and less than 70% of business owners actually believe they can achieve the goals that they set for themselves every year.
I'm here to help them with that, and understand the importance of setting these goals. It's really comes down to mindset. Just like in sports, like you said, life and sports go hand in hand, when you watch a game in the NFL is just like a day in the life or a year in the life. You have so many ups and downs and challenges and things you have to navigate through. People have to understand how time is one of the only things in the world that you can't get back.
That's what I'm helping business owners understand entrepreneurs understand. And I've seen a lot of great results from it. And I'm super excited about it.
Yeah, and it's a very cool place to place to be and I love the phrase you use to help them be in their work.
Yeah, help them to work on their business.
I ask them where their challenges are, then we go through an initial discovery session, but I have my overall process. That's my terminology, the GPS method.
When you think about a car, you think about a GPS method, you put the destination in, and then it gives you turn by turn direction. You have this short term goal is to get there, but you are the driver, you are the person in the driver's seat. So I tell people, everything starts with the leadership component, and who you want to be, then what's your overall goal? What's the purpose behind that goal and a purpose that can get you up every single day? and get you excited? And the success? What does that success plan look like? What is 20% of the things that you can do to give you 80% of the results.
And that's kind of the way we work, but everything is a custom and tailor-made approach? Because everybody has different challenges. And that's the way we kind of work through things.
What would you say would be the most common challenge that you're faced with that people come to you with? The one thing I hear all the time, from managers, leaders, owners, CEOs, whatever, is they talk about time, they just don't have time. And obviously, the work they do with you is something that buys them time in their day, right? Is that something that would be the same for you? Would you find that time is the biggest challenge?
Yeah, I would say time… and when they say time, they're not clear on exactly what they want, and how to get it. They have these goals, but they don't know how to measure them. So they're just running all over the place, trying to make a quick buck, but how can we get clear on what you really want, let's get rid of that to-do list. Let's come up with a real plan. Because if you have a to-do list, it's going to be never-ending. Where are the places we can get leverage? What can we delegate? That's where the real leadership comes, let's empower somebody else to handle some of these other things within your business that will free up more of your time.
Yeah, absolutely. When I talk about psychology, or mental skills or mindset, I always talk about the fact that it's basically common sense. But it's just that it's not that common, right?
We always look for complicated answers. As an athlete, if you're breaking down a play as to why it didn't work, you will always come out with the most complicated reasons for why something didn't work. If a pass didn't stick, probably the reason was thatcyour head wasn't quite there, or the pass wasn't quite right. It was just a pilot error. But what would you say is the fundamental difference for you, from translating your mindset, as a player to your mindset, as a coach?
I think it's the same thing. I think it's the same mindset. Whatever you want to achieve, it comes to an ultimate vision for what you have in your life in your business, they go hand in hand, when your business is going well, if you have a vision for your life, or if you have a vision for your business, that's going to lead to the ultimate life that you want.
I also do life coaching with these CEOs. Because if you want to have a successful business, and you're not taking care of your personal health in your personal life, that's going to affect your business decisions. They all go hand in hand.
Do you find resistance talking to CEOs about their personal life?
I think it's a lot more open now. Just in terms of everybody understands the importance of mental wellbeing and mental health. I think it's definitely an open conversation. But a lot of CEOs don't necessarily see that and that's okay with me, because that means they're not my right client, and it ends up catching up to them later.
So would you like to handle it now or later? It's a quote that I live by now is when you meet opportunity, it's too late to prepare. You have to be prepared for these things. If you are a CEO, right now, you want to take this company to the next level, not just your 2021 goals, but what's your vision for 2025? And why do you want that and what's important about that, that's what's going to drive That's what's gonna make these 2021 goals to the point where you can crush them.
I always look at the very simple principle of stuff from a well being point of view -what s the one thing can you stop today that will make you healthier? Or whats tne one thing can you start that will make you happier. And what's the one thing that you need to keep doing?
We all recognize the things we do wrong. And for most of us, we carry them with us, because we like to beat ourselves up over the stupid things we do. But in reality, we're all a composite of all the crazy things that happen in our lives. And it's really about how we manage them as the thing that defines whether we're good or not, I mean, you will forever be a Super Bowl champion. But that doesn't mean that you haven't had Chicago's and you haven't had bad games, and you haven't had struggles and you haven't always had it your own way.
So you've had brilliant success. But if you were focused on the things that went wrong, you would never value the success of the one thing. Trying to find that balance is such a challenge for people and I think that's why people doing your type of work is so important. I think it's so important in the corporate world and it excites me to hear when people are working, translating of sporting performance into the area of wellbeing and the corporate world.
That's exactly what I'm doing. And I love it.
If you were to go back to the kids in Michigan State who's struggling with the injury, knowing the career you're going on to have, and continue to have, what advice would you give them?
I would tell myself to just enjoy the moment and focus on the process. Don't focus on trying to get to the NFL just focus on being the best player right now. Don't focus on that, just enjoy college, because it's a lot of fun. And to build better relationships, hanging out with more people on campus instead of just the athletes in terms of that's what business is like is it's all relationship capital, and what type of relationships you have your network is your net worth. And I think that's super important. So that's what I would tell that person.
What would you say were the traits that defined probably the greatest leaders you've worked with?
Being authentic, you got to be yourself, people can read through the fakeness, you have to be authentic. You have to be yourself, and just show up because people are going to accept that more than the person that you're trying to be. And communication, being transparent. A lot of the coaches that I would do anything for and that helped us all understand our role, the transparency, and the communication and the honesty, and just being upfront, like, ‘Hey, this is what it is, this is how it is’. And ‘I'm going to help you do this, or I'm going to help you do that’. The friendships that you have that are the longest come with the best communication and the best honesty and transparency.
Great answer. I think I'll leave it there because that's a really powerful answer. I really appreciate you taking the time, man. It was a ton of fun.
I appreciate you.