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Charlie Adams on Leadership!

I truly believe leaders are developed. Sure, some are born, but you can be developed. In my case, I went into TV News Leadership with a degree in Elementary Education (!). I fell into TV News my last year of college.


At age 22, I was named Sports Director at WTOK TV in tiny Meridian, MS. I was a leader. I studied other leaders, read leadership books, listened to leadership tapes, and had mentors. I worked my tail off, was in good physical shape, and set a high standard. Over the next 23 years I stayed in leadership positions. My people called in sick maybe 20 times over that period. Why such a low figure? Because I told them I needed them and our customers needed them. I let them know they were truly needed and appreciated. People like good salary, benefits and all that, but they really want to know their efforts are appreciated and that they are important. Of course, I was tough on them too. My standards were high. But, deep down I know people like discipline and high standards. If not, they wouldn’t last with me.



For many years, I led a total team approach to covering high school Football on Friday nights for the local TV News. I applied leadership principles in that high pressure situation on a regular basis. We always succeeded, even though we faced daunting deadline challenges and constant staffing and budget issues.


First, I gave everyone a clear role. Camera men and women were even taught how to edit their highlights so there would be no confusion come the pressure of Friday night. I also inspired them with a vision of the impact our show would make. Thousands would be watching, I would tell them. Many of the people watching our show would tape the highlights to preserve as family memories for decades. Colleges would spot potential recruits. I had these my workers stoked! They weren’t just “taping high school games.” They weren’t just doing a job. They were part of a valuable experience!


As leader, I rolled up my sleeves. If I wasn’t in the chopper, I grabbed a camera myself to go out and shoot and give us more games to show. When I was back in the newsroom, I was constantly going around to see who needed help. As many top leaders I have covered have said, when the leader is leading the way like that, how can the people not work hard? If they don’t, they shouldn’t be within a mile of your team. I once spoke at Polygon Company, a fiber glass company. The owners would often be hauling fiber glass when big orders had everyone pushed to the max. When the owner and creator of the company is out there busting his tail, it inspires the people.

When finished, I arranged to have pizza delivered so we could have a celebration and appreciation of their dedication. Then, the following Monday, I thanked my “Linda’s.” Those behind the scene people that are vital. I sincerely thanked her, not just some “oh, by the way” thank you.


Here are some of the leadership principles I shared.


Give your people a clear vision of what you stand for as an organization and what is expected. I have seen so many leaders fail because they fail to clearly establish up front what the mission and vision is of an organization. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to do, but I find leaders don’t take the time or fail to clearly communicate what is expected in the hiring process and the early stages. Failure to do so leads to the “well, they didn’t say that…” or “..they should do this” belly aching that so often damages organizations.


Story example: There is a small newspaper that has stood for local news ONLY coverage only for generations. Everyone knows that and is in sync. When Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, a new employee that wasn’t totally clear of the vision said, “We have to put that in our paper.” The leader said, “When Mr. Lindbergh comes to the area we cover as a paper and speaks or does something newsworthy here, then he will be in our paper. If he has a relative here, we will cover that. Until then, only local news.” Clear leadership like that helps everyone to be in the same boat.


Early on, inspire your people with what they do is TRULY IMPORTANT and it IMPACTS LIVES! It’s a no brainer in your occupation. Security is vital. The people you lead save lives, prevent injuries and protect property, which is many ways is like saving lives because if the property is stolen or damaged, the owners’ lives are hurt terribly! Your people aren’t just “guarding stuff.” They perform critical roles.

Fed Ex leader Fred Smith didn’t just tell his people they were driving trucks around. They were delivering organ transplants to save lives and delivering parts that were critical to getting a down assembly line back on track!


As Sports Director, I told my reporters that when they aired a story on a high school athlete playing with an artificial leg, they were inspiring discouraged people to get off the couch and back into life. “If that kid can play with an artificial leg, I can quit feeling sorry for myself and get back into life!”


As a leader, CARE DEEPLY. At the University of Notre Dame, they have a saying that great leaders that have cared deeply over the years have “left their blood in the bricks.” I can’t think of a better way to describe a leader that has gone all out!


Melvin Hartz, president and founder of Mack Tool and Engineering, says this:
“I am the president. I own the place but I work at Mack Tool just like everyone else does. Everything starts from the top and filters down. It has to start with me as leader. As long as my attitude and PASSION are there, I can push it on down. But I cannot expect somebody on the bottom to come in and push it up to me. It will not work.”


The 2008 Teacher of the Year from Michigan says her students see she has a passion for her subject and they respect that passion. I firmly believe when people see the leader cares deeply, they are deeply impacted. If not, they have no business being in your business and should be renting canoe paddles by the river.




As an 11th grader with little confidence, I walked by the new basketball coach in the cafeteria. He stopped me and said, “You look like a basketball player. Why don’t you come to try outs today?” That changed my confidence forever. He really meant it. I could tell he was sincere.


When Merlin Olsen was a new actor on Little House on the Prairie, he got a script that had him with more lines than the established star of the show, Michael Landon. Landon was also the leader as executive producer. Olsen went to see him in his office. He expressed concern that he was not established enough as an actor to have more lines. Landon looked up and sincerely said, “If I didn’t think you could do it, you wouldn’t have more lines than me.”


WOW! Olsen walked out of there brimming with confidence!


Great leaders don’t let their people settle.


A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” Rosalyn Carter


When I led Sports Departments, I refused to let reporters settle into standard story formats. A reporter, Matt Burridge, wanted to go down and simply interview and young man that had just won Mr. Basketball in basketball mad Indiana. Nope! I knew there was a better story. I talked with him before he left and threw out some suggestions about finding out how the kid became such a deadeye shooter. Matt started coming up with ideas. He left with momentum and got there and did a remarkable story with the boy shooting baskets where he did as a little kid. Matt got praise from the whole team on how his story stood out. It was because I didn’t let him settle. I s t r e t c h e d him.


Again, I didn’t go to How to Lead in TV News School. The leadership principles I share can be applied to just about any situation. I found myself in TV News and adjusted the leadership principles to that industry.


A great leader has to lead by the gut sometimes. This doesn’t mean leaving your standard industry rules and regulations, but every once in a while you have to lead by the gut. Brett Eastburn is the most positive person I ever covered in 23 years of TV News and Sports. I deliver a program called “How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the D a r n Thing!” I talk about Brett a lot in that program. Brett was born with no arms and no legs but does not consider himself handicapped or disabled at all. He wrestled in high school and achieved success thanks to his upper body strength.


Brett became a greeter at a large store. He aspired to move up into Security. He met with his boss. The boss said ‘no’ because Brett had no forearms and couldn’t deliver a forearm blow in case he was attacked. Brett, a very determined man, jumped on his boss and pinned him to the ground with his stubs.


Gut decision time! Do you have Brett arrested? This leader knew Brett well. He promoted him. Brett went on to apprehend shoplifters because his unassuming style caught them off guard.


As a leader of the Sports Dept at KBAK TV in Bakersfield in 1987, I had to name a weekend sports anchor and reporter. I saw the tape of Greg Kerr among dozens of other tapes. I noticed he was a little older and better than me. I asked him why he was out of the business. He sincerely shared the story of the time he “got into it” with a co worker who had failed to do a job. If Greg had a problem, it was he cared too much and that got the best of him. He had to learn control around apathetic workers. Through numerous interviews, I made the gut decision to bring Greg in. He replaced me in 1988 when I left Bakersfield to lead a dept. in South Bend, IN. Greg has gone onto become the hardest worker I have ever seen in any business. He has been honored with Greg Kerr Day in Bakersfield and the key to the city for his community work. It all came because I made a gut decision to go with him. Now, those things can’t be done without clearance, and had Greg shown he wasn’t sincere, he would have been history with me, but it turned out to be a significant hire that helped thousands of people.


When I hired people, I looked at heart, family background, sincerity, attitude and things like that along with the other critical components. As Sports Director in South Bend, I had many big market people apply to work for me because they wanted to cover the mystique of Notre Dame Football. I almost always turned them down, even though they had “anchor looks” and came from big markets. Why? Because I could almost always tell that while they would want to cover big time Notre Dame Football, I couldn’t sense that they would also want to cover Bremen High Football. I had tremendous success hiring solid, “good folks” from good families that went to Church and had played team sports and things like that. I wanted humble, caring, hard working people. Life is too short to deal with big ego people.



When I spoke to open 4 day retreat of a company one time in Scottsdale, AZ, I learned that 28 of the 30 leaders were arriving a day early to run the Phoenix half or full marathon. That’s a commitment to fitness!


Floyd Miller is the plant manager of Forest River RV in Millersburg, IN. At age 60 he is running marathons on all seven continents. He ran the Paris Marathon in April of 2008. His commitment to fitness filters on down through the people he leads. Personally, I have always stayed in shape. I won’t be on the cover of Men’s Fitness, but as a leader I felt I had a responsibility to be fit so my people would be more inclined to be fit.


Floyd says many of his best leadership ideas come while he is running. It also cleanses him and refreshes him. It distresses him. My best ideas have always come while walking briskly for exercise.


Floyd is a remarkable leader whose people are very loyal. He told me once he believes in organization and had a hard time promoting people whose desks were not organized. It led him to believe they wouldn’t consider the big picture when making decisions. A messy desk sent a message that they would make leadership decisions based on the short term (note to self: clean desk before Floyd visits!).


Here are some insights from some of the great leaders I covered over the years.


ARA PARSEGHIAN – He led Notre Dame Football to two national championships

Ara, now in his 80’s, constantly told his teams he did not want a statue of himself by famed Notre Dame Stadium. They finally said they were going to do it whether he liked it or not! He relented, but said they dare not do one of just him. He insisted that players be in the statute! Great leadership! Ara always believed in the team.


He had two sayings he always told his people as a leader:


“There are no circumstances we can’t overcome.”


“We have no breaking point.” 


I covered former Notre Dame head coach LOU HOLTZ for many years. He is now an in-demand corporate motivational speaker. His leadership was remarkable. He is the only coach in college football history to take six different schools to bowl games.


“If you are going to be a leader, you better have a vision of where you want to go and a plan of how to get there. You better lead by example and you better hold people accountable, and you better make sure they all share the same core values. Core values will hold your country together, your team together, hold your family. These are things we believe and we aren’t going to compromise. I don’t care who you are. The leadership will do it.” – Lou Holtz



Pat Summit is the winningest coach of all time. She is one of the most determined leaders I have ever interviewed. Her blood is in the bricks at the University of Tennessee, where she coaches. When Coach Summit visited a high school recruit, Summit was 8 ½ months pregnant. She went into labor. Her assistant coach excused them from the recruit’s living room and got ready to drive her leader to the nearest hospital. Summit gritted her teeth and said, “I was born in Tennessee, played there, coach there, and will die there. My baby is going to be born in Tennessee!”


They were in Allentown, PA.

The assistant drove furiously to the Tennessee private plane. The pilot pleaded to land in a neighboring state. Summit furiously told them to get to Tennessee. They did, and she had her baby there.
Leaders with fire in their belly (and a baby nearby) like Summit cause those under them to embrace at least some of that intensity. Tennessee is the very best at what they do in their industry, women’s college basketball. They have won the last two national titles.


Joe was one of Notre Dame’s most successful offensive line coaches. He led those big guys to remarkable success, often taking average ones and turning them into pro prospects. He once said that as a leader it was critical he “not become a train.”


Joe grew up in a house right by the railroad tracks. His bedroom was closest to the tracks. Every morning at 3 AM the train would come roaring by and wake him wide up! He would jolt out of the bed. But after awhile of the same ol’ train coming by at the same ol’ time he got to where he slept through it every time.


As a leader, Joe knew he couldn’t become a train, where he did the “same ol this” and the “same ol’ that” every time. Of course, certain things have to be done the same way regarding training and procedures, but he meant not constantly droning on in meetings and being too predictable.


I had a leader once, Bill Crafton, who led a newsroom. Bill would have us out to his house for biscuits and gravy on Saturday morning every so often. That bonded the leaders under him. Once, before a critical ratings period, he took the whole newsroom to a country steak house where you could throw peanut shells on the floor. Sure, it cost money out of his tight budget, but we appreciated it and worked our butts off for him in ratings.


Don’t let yourself become that train as a leader.


Final thoughts:

When Lou Holtz became head football coach at Notre Dame, the man who hired him said, “Lou, I can give you a title, head football coach, but I can’t name you a leader. You have to earn that . . .”


Personally, I have always responded to leaders that cared deeply, were firm yet let their talented people do what they did best, left their blood in the bricks, were humble, would listen to wise insight, were in at least decent shape, and were “inspirers.”

I hope this synopsis is helpful to you.



- Charlie Adams, Motivational Speaker
574 807 2279 || Email Charlie