Eric Boles is the president and founder of The Game Changers, Inc., a leadership development ﬁrm located in Lakewood, WA. He is the author of several executive and emerging leader development programs that are used across the globe and have been translated into seven different languages. Eric is also an executive advisor, coach, and trainer.
Boles’s book, Moving to Great: Unleashing Your Best in Life and Work, offers practical insights in to human nature, along with a step-by-step approach to put those insights to work, boosting your performance in every part of your personal and professional life. California Special District asked Boles to explain these insights and more.
Tell us about your experience working in leadership positions.
Some of my greatest leadership lessons had to do with me watching coaches in the NFL influence young men whose average age was 23. This can be a difficult thing to do in an environment where 1) the young men are being paid more money than their maturity level can handle and 2) where selflessness is demanded but not necessarily rewarded. Athletes are rewarded based on their individual performance, not for making sacrifices for the team. Observing coaches influence individuals to be selfless in an environment that fosters and rewards selfishness was a great place for me to learn the importance of leadership. That was my first real experience in what it means to lead a team as opposed to managing a team. I got the chance to see it done well and not so well.
What inspired you to start a new career in leadership programs after playing in the NFL?
My inspiration came at a real low moment. When I was released from the NFL (another word for fired), I had my college degree but really struggled finding employment. I believed after being released I would return to the NFL, which did not happen. I had a really hard time finding my purpose. I ended up doing janitorial work at night. During that time, my wife Cindy inspired me to do what I love and find a way to make a living at it. She shared with me that there were two things she knew I loved: coaching, and speaking about bringing out the best in people. I also had three amazing mentors that gave me advice and supported me, but at the same time, allowed me to grow from the struggle. They did not bail me out when things got tough. I thought if I could help other leaders do the same, what my mentors did for me, it can elevate everyone.
What are some ways an effective leader can inspire their team to perform well?
For a leader to inspire others, it is important that leader is inspired themselves. The word inspire means to breathe life in to another. In order to breathe life, to inspire others, a leader must have their own development plan and goals they are passionate about, and actually practicing the very thing they ask others to do. A leader who is inspired by their own goals is a much better than a leader who is trying to inspire others based on something they read.
What do you think is the top reason holding individuals back from pursuing their potential, personally or professionally?
I believe there are two primary reasons. One is the fear of failure, because in order to unleash our full potential it requires us to do something we have not done before or to do something outside of our comfort zone. Far too often, we spend too much time talking about how to avoid failure than how to capitalize on it.
The true way to unleash our full potential means we are going to have to deal with failure. And failure is not the problem, it is the fear of failure that is the problem. From a leader’s prospective, we need to embrace failure and use our own failure to inspire others, to help coach others, to move them forward. Use our wins to inspire ourselves but use our past failures to inspire others. This helps our teams realize that there is life after a mistake. We do not need to fear failure but capitalize on it.
The second reason that keeps people from releasing their full potential, and this is a big one, is fear of rejection. It is hard to perform at a high level if you are not open for feedback. And sometimes our fear of rejection or fear of receiving negative feedback prevents us from asking people “How am I doing, how am I making progress ?” In the professional world, that is, people ask for formalized feedback infrequently and many times it’s anonymous. Due to fear of rejection, we try to make the feedback as safe as possible, when it is the opposite that we should be doing. We should be asking for informal, frequent feedback constantly. This is why sports has had such significant influence on me and my leadership. Constant feedback is how an athlete improves. Constant course correction is essential for unleashing potential in any area of one’s life. In life, just like sports, we are going to work hard anyways, so we might as well work hard on the right things. That is what feedback does for us – it gives us a focus for putting our hard work in to. As we get better at these two things: taking greater risks and understanding failure is a part of growth, and seeking out constant feedback, it is amazing how much more of our potential we can unleash.
Does a person need to be passionate about the work they are doing in order to operate at their fullest potential ?
I believe it helps a lot, but it is not requirement. What you are doing, you may not be passionate about, in terms of the technical aspect. You can be passionate about the people you are leading, or the growth of your people, but not the specific industry. Me personally, I am passionate about coaching, training, and inspiring leaders and coaches all over the world to be at their best. I know many football coaches who are not passionate about football but they are passionate about developing the young men they coach in to men of character. They just use football to do it. Football is the vehicle they use to develop the young men. Of course it helps if they don’t hate football. You can define what part of your work you do love and if you can be passionate about that, then you can make the most of the opportunity that’s there.
From playing in the NFL to founding your own leadership development firm, you have faced a variety of challenges. What are three tips you can share on how to face challenges and meet them head on to ensure success ?
The first one would be to acknowledge the challenge, do not run or hide from it. First things first – that was the hardest thing for me, to first acknowledge the challenge, the problem, or the conflict. There is a phrase that says, you cannot conquer what you do not confront. Sometimes that is the greatest challenge, to acknowledge that something is a problem, which is simple but not easy. But once I acknowledged the problem, my mind could move from trying to avoid it to dealing with it. So the first tip would be to acknowledge the problem.
Tip number two that helped me is to I had to run through through the problem/challenge versus around it. After acknowledging your problem, you have to confront it. I couldn’t use the strategy of hope – hope meaning you hope things get better on their own. As a leader, that was the hardest thing to realize; that my responsibility as a leader was to help define reality. I have a goal and vision that things will get better but I also have to be courageous as a leader to confront current reality. And when I say “confront” that does not mean argue, it means to dig in to it and be aware that this could be on me, it could be on them, or was it something collective that we need to compromise on to get to the other side. Acknowledge it and run through it.
The third part of this that has helped me deal with challenges, is to anticipate problems that might be out on the horizon. There is a great quote from John Maxwell that simply says “The punch that knocks you out is seldom the hard one, it’s the one you didn’t see coming.” After I go through a difficulty, I do my best to do an autopsy of it – what did I learn from it; problems will keep coming up but how do I ensure it is not the same problem dressed up differently ?
Those are the three practical things for facing and overcoming challenges: first acknowledging it, then actually running through it (engaging it), and then once you run through it and you are on the other side, don’t just be happy it’s over, think about what you gained from it to be able to anticipate problems on the horizon.
What can attendees of your keynote expect to learn about during your presentation?
My number one goal is not necessarily to have them walk away and be impressed or inspired by me, I want them to be inspired by their own story. That what I am sharing causes them to think about or reflect on their own life and capitalize on the wins they already have that they might not have paid attention to. I tell people often it is easy to be inspired by someone else but in the meantime, we overlook all of things in our own life that are right there ready to inspire ourselves.
They are going to have a good time. I am pretty passionate, I get excited, and they will walk away with very practical things to do, that didn’t just inspire me but propelled me in to taking action. I have done enough locker room speeches to get people fired up, but many times we went out in the second half and made the same mistakes faster. My goal is that I inspire people to reflect and to see how the information relates to their world. I want to inspire them to also walk out and apply what they just heard and practice it. And lastly, I want them to walk out and feel inspired so much that they want to share it with another. That’s ultimately what I want the audience to gain from it.