Former Dallas Cowboys greats Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman never quit learning after their football careers and said Wednesday the key to success is to never stop growing.
Smith and Aikman took questions posed by audiences around the nation while addressing a crowd in Tyler on Wednesday morning at the Refresh Leadership event.
Express Employment Professionals international headquarters, and four franchise offices in East Texas, partnered with the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Tyler to bring the free event to Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Center.
Refresh Leadership was simulcast to almost 200 locations across the country and Canada. Bob Fellinger, chief operating officer of Express Employment Professionals International Headquarters, said 7,000 people signed up to watch the simulcast.
Rocky Gill, franchisee of Express Employment Professionals in Tyler, said about 1,200 people attended the live event.
“I'm very pleased with it,” he said afterward. “I feel like we did what we wanted to do, which is to offer leadership and development to people.”
Smith said they have not retired but transitioned from the game to the real world. He has been on the television show “Dancing with the Stars,” has worked for ESPN and the NFL Network, started two businesses, is raising five children and does a lot of charity work to help underserved kids.
Aikman has been broadcasting and formed a foundation that builds play rooms in children's hospitals.
He said it is hard to believe it has been 12 years since he played football. He said he didn't think about what he was going to do after football until two years before he retired, when he was asked to broadcast games for NFL Europe. When he retired from football, he started broadcasting for Fox and has been there ever since.
“It's been a great transition for me (to) stay involved in the game,” Aikman said.
He said the theme in his life is there are no shortcuts and people must work hard for their success.
Aikman said so many players retire while they are still young and because their dream was to be a professional athlete, they don't give a lot of thought about when it ends.
“There's a lot of life after you retire, and a lot of people don't realize that,” he said.
Aikman said people need to find something they enjoy getting up and doing every day. Broadcasting keeps him motivated, engaged and excited, he said, adding that he can't imagine what it would be like to have something he felt he couldn't get better at to drive him.
Smith quipped, “There's only so much golf you can play.”
THE GAME AFTER THE GAME
“I was trying to learn the business aspect of business while I was playing the game,” he said.
After football, Smith walked into the real estate business, eventually starting a real estate company as well as a construction company, he said. Finding what he wanted to do after football was about replacing the passion he had for the game, he said.
“I bring something to a community that might not even be there,” he said of his construction company. “There's nothing more rewarding to me than meeting the needs of a community.”
Smith told the crowd to never be satisfied. He said the day they become satisfied, the growing stops.
He said one of the things that helped him was training at 5:30 a.m. every day while other players slept during the football offseason.
“Great leaders lead by example,” he said. “I can't ask someone to do something I'm not doing myself.”
Smith said as a rookie, people treated him like a rookie and he had to earn the right to become a leader. The same is true in an office as on the football field, he said, adding that productivity speaks louder than anything else. He said after earning the respect of their peers, people must remain humble to become a leader.
Aikman said, “You come in and you go about your business, do the best you can and you work hard and lead by example.”
Smith said Aikman was the leader on the football field and once everyone started working, no one wanted to be the slacker.
Aikman said it is a little easier in sports to get people engaged because of money and personal accolades each player can receive, but he learned from owning his own car business how to motivate his employees so they felt they were part of a team.
With the Cowboys, he said, “Our best players were our hardest-working players.” In business, for employees to get engaged and follow, “They have to know there is something in it for them,” Aikman said.
“It's hard to motivate someone if there's no upside for that person.”
Smith's mother told him “never forget where you come from” – that is why he uses his platform as a celebrity to give back to those who are less fortunate.
Aikman also said he couldn't name one particular coach but those he learned most from were his coaches in Pop Warner football and Little League baseball. He said his parents and the parents of other kids, as well as teachers and coaches influenced his life.
“Without even really knowing it, you're having an influence on a child, a co-worker,” he said. “I want to be surrounded by people who really motivate me,” Aikman said, adding that he was fortunate to have a lot of those people when he was young.
Smith said as a leader, he tries to understand what employees' challenges are and together come up with a solution. He also lets them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He said it is never as good or as bad as it seems. “It's always in the middle for me so there's always somewhere to go,” he said.
Aikman said he thinks the key to a successful business is giving people a reason to work hard. He said there has to be something in it for them.
He said there are two requirements for success — make the organization smart with strategy, marketing, finance and technology; and make the organization healthy with minimal politics and confusion, high morale and productivity and low turnover among good people.
He said making an organization smart is easier but the greatest opportunity to have a competitive advantage is having a healthy organization. The four disciplines at the heart of a healthy organization are building a cohesive leadership team at the top, creating clarity about who the organization is and what it does, communicating clarity and reinforcing clarity.
“Great leaders stick to the message and constantly communicate,” Lencioni said.
He believes there are five temptations of a leader that could bring them down.
The first, and the hardest one to change, is valuing status over results. He said there needs to be a purpose to be a leader “and it needs to be bigger than us.”
Another temptation is not holding people accountable for not getting results because the leader wants to be popular. “We have to have the courage to hold people accountable if we're leaders,” he said.
The third temptation of a leader is certainty over clarity. He said it is better to have a good plan people can rally around and execute to create clarity than wait to have the perfect plan.
Another temptation is harmony over conflict. “Conflict is a great thing for leadership to foster their team,” he said. “You have to create an environment where people on your team are not holding back on anything that matters.” Lencioni said when conflict is fostered to create arguments and debates, people have good ideas and decisions.
The last temptation is invulnerability instead of vulnerability based on trust. He said leaders must overcome their desire to be invulnerable to build trust. If one person on a leadership team can't be vulnerable, it can poison the team's culture, he said.
“It requires a great leap of faith and great courage” to be vulnerable, he said.
Sociologist, author, lecturer and educator, Dr. Bertice Berry, discussed the importance of finding purpose in life and leading others to find theirs. She identified different learning styles and how crucial it is to learn the style that works best “for you and the people you lead.”
Andy Buckley, known for his role as David Wallace on the television show “The Office,” was master of ceremonies.