One of the credos, at least in the business world, that I try to implement all the time was first told to me by my grandfather, Joe Sgro. Joe was an accountant by trade, educated at Boy’s High and St. John’s University and by many accounts the unofficial Mayor of South Brooklyn when I was young. He did lots of favors for people and was a pillar of the community. Especially in the political world of the Borough. He was a key member of the South Brooklyn Democratic Club, and I have vivid memories after 12:15 mass on Sundays where many of the people looking for influence in business or politics would stop by for a few minutes. He didn’t speak a lot, but he listened, and results often came. One of the key things he mentioned to me on several occasions as those around him were yelling and screaming for attention was “You have to ears and one mouth, so listen twice more than you speak.”
This past week there were two examples of leaders and innovators who I came across that were great examples of what can happen when you listen more to those around you. The first was in a New York Times story on baseball owner/promoter/innovator Mike Veeck. Veeck, in addition to coming from a healthy bloodline of baseball businessmen/promoters and innovators (one that is continuing on with his son “Night Train,” now working for the White Sox) is a great listener and thinker, one who gets a great deal of ideas, files them away and then strategically finds the right place to unveil them. The latest happened a few weeks ago with his American Association team, the St. Paul Saints, which held a baseball game without umpires. There was a ceremonial judge behind the mound, fans chimed in on close calls, and a great deal of fun, sponsorable fun was had, with the independent league team. The game was similar to something his dad, the late Bill Veeck, had done, with some on field decisions decided by fans when he owned the St. Louis Browns, and it was certainly something Veeck could not have done with one of his affiliated clubs like the Charleston Riverdogs, but it made for a buzzworthy and thought provoking game, a throwback to what the roots of baseball as a game are supposed to be.
So why is listening so important? Because in addition to being a smart businessman, Veeck is also a teacher. He teaches sports marketing at The Citadel, and the idea for the umpireless game came from one of his students, a place where he gets a great deal of his inspiration. The young teach the teachers, because he took the time to listen.
The second example occurred last Thursday in a windowless conference room in Atlanta. I was invited to come down and talk to some legendary figures in the sports business about a potential opportunity, and to hear their concerns and thoughts about the forward-looking project. The room was filled with some of the greatest names in sports, all talking over each other and swapping stories. However as business plans were rolled out, one venerable leader sat quietly taking copious notes and asking questions about the details of the idea. His name is Johnny Majors, the Hall of Fame football coach from The University of Tennessee. Majors sat and listened and used a note pad for page after page of notes. He could have told more stories than anyone in the room, but instead he came to learn from those much younger than he about the business world of today. The teacher learns from the student.
Listen twice more than you speak.
In a world today that is all about shouting down your opponents and proclaiming oneself to be the guru, the innovator, and the biggest and the brightest, it is great to have been able to see and read within 24 hours, two examples of leadership that involved listening and then executing, as opposed to running off to try and be first without thought. Both of these men have accomplished more in a lifetime than almost anyone in their chosen field, yet they are still listening, and learning from those around them.
My grandpa would have been proud of Mr. Veeck and Coach Majors, as I’m sure so many thousands of people they have influenced in the past and in the future are and will be as well. It’s the little things that you hear when you listen that can sometimes make the biggest difference, and in a world where self-proclamation is king, taking the time to listen to others is an art which needs to be embraced more than ever.