Stan Beecham on “Elite Minds”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

beecham-1Stan Beecham is a sport psychologist and director and founding member of the Leadership Resource Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 1998, he has been helping organizations maximize performance and realize the full potential of their human resources. Senior executives utilize his expertise to guide them through the process of selecting and developing high performance teams.

In addition to his coaching and consulting engagements at the Leadership Resource Center, he is a professional speaker and writer committed to advancing the science of leadership development. Legendary Coach Vince Dooley gave Beecham his start as an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, allowing him to work with Kevin Butler, the great college and professional kicker for the Chicago Bears. Dooley later hired him to start the sport psychology program for the athletic department. He was instrumental in helping UGA win numerous individual and team championships during his tenure.

Today Stan’s work with collegiate, Olympic, and professional athletes from many sports has afforded him an insight into the minds of great competitors that only few have had the good fortune to gain. His book, Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success, was published by McGraw Hill Education (September 2016).

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Morris: Before discussing Elite Minds, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Beecham: Eckhart Tolle has had a huge influence on how I view my life and the purpose of life. His concepts are simple but powerful. He understands the importance of living in the now and being present. We Americans are way too distracted by past and future. Tolle also has taught me that most of what we think about is not only unnecessary but also detrimental to our quality of life and ultimately our performance.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Beecham: Again, I would have to say Tolle. There is very little separation of my personal and professional lives. I view my work as an expression of who I am and how I want to affect others. Alan Watts is another strong influence. Watts has a wonderful way of describing the human condition and how we get in our own way.

Early in my career as a psychotherapist, I had a mentor, Tap Hanson. Tap was the first person, outside of my family, to treat me with unconditional love. I learn the healing power of unconditional love from Tap.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Beecham: I’m not sure that there was one singular event that has altered my path. In 2007, I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Since that time, I have returned almost every year for 2-3 weeks to walk the Camino. I walk alone, in silence for most of the day. It has taught me how be quiet and self-aware. When walking the Camino, I take just one change of clothes and live very inexpensively.

Less really is more, but you have to live it to truly understand the power of living simplistically.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Beecham: I hate to say it but, formal or class-room education has had a minimal impact on what little I have accomplished thus far; and I spent 10 years in college. What I did learn from university is how to stay focused on the goal and not give up. Graduate school was very stressful and I witnessed a lot of my classmates melt-down under that pressure. I struggled significantly as well and once I gave up trying to validate myself through achievement, I did much better. Education has a social component that I think is invaluable. Learning to live alone and manage yourself is a great life lesson. I worked in several college counseling centers and witnessed very bright students fail because they could not manage themselves.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Beecham: I was extremely naïve about business when I graduated from school. Until that time, I only thought about what would be interesting to do and not how I would get someone to pay me to do the things I found interesting. Business people want ideas and solutions; they want to get it right. I’m not a big fan of the “quick fix” or the “how to” book; this still creates some problems for me. I’m more interested in teaching people how to become more aware and self-observant. This is what leads to real change. Unfortunately, there is still little interest in self-awareness and learning how to observe one’s thoughts and behavior.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Beecham: I watch very little television and not many movies, although I enjoy them. I think the best movies are the ones that you can’t get out of your mind several days after watching them. The two that come to mind are Shawshank Redemption and Cast Away. Shawshank Redemption teaches us the importance of playing in the system while not becoming a part of the system. Especially when the system is unfair and oppressive. Cast Away taught me that it’s ok to want to give up, just don’t. The fact that he had a mission, to deliver that one package if he ever got off the island alive. And he did! I just wish he would have gone back and met the lady to whom he delivered the package. Maybe there will be a sequel

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Beecham: I see way too many leaders with big egos who need attention and recognition. They are not good leaders. Great leaders are more interested in others’ success than their own. Lots of senior managers and VP’s can’t even make a decision without approval from their superiors. These companies will lose their most talented people and not even care; because they believe everyone is replaceable.

Morris: From Henry Ford: ”Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Beecham: I love that observation. I love the warriors who are willing to sacrifice it all, and love the struggle. I write about this quite a bit in the book. The best example I have run across are the Buddhist monks in Japan who run /walk a marathon for 100 consecutive days. If they are unable to complete the task, they must take their own life. In their culture, there is no shame in death, only in failing to complete your mission.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Beecham: I witness corporations spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and many work hours on tasks that bring little to no benefit to the company. I recently read where GE is going to eliminate performance reviews. Based upon what I’ve seen, most companies should follow in their wake. The performance review process could and should be much shorter and simpler. The other thing I observe is long meetings where performance results are talked about for hours, but no one ever comments on the processes that lead to these results. We should spend most of our time talking about how we do it and less time talking about how we measure it.

Morris: Of all the greatest leaders throughout history, with which one would you most like to be closely associated for an extended weekend of one-on-one conversation? Why?

Beecham: I would love to spend a weekend with Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as “Buddha”. His teachings are profound and unfortunately most westerns are not familiar with them. Buddhism is not a religion and therefore is not a threat to any religion. I was raised in a Christian home and my father was a Methodist minister when I was young, he later became a psychiatrist. Buddha taught that we suffer not because of what happens to us, but because we don’t want it to happen. The power of acceptance and learning we are not in control is extremely helpful in whatever you do.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Beecham: I think our biggest problem is we believe we need to change first so that we can then accept who and what we are. In fact, I see it just the opposite. We need to first speak the truth about who we are and accept that truth. Only then will we have the possibility of changing. So often now, I see change as going from one bad idea to another. You get to say you have changed, but you are no better off than when you started.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?

Beecham: I think cultures where people genuinely like and care for one another, as well as believing what they are doing is important, are the best cultures. Professional development is not an activity where you go sit in a room for a couple of hours each month. It’s not reading a book. It is a mindset. It is how you go about doing things on a daily basis. Having really strong debates about important topics, and letting everyone participate in the debate. Giving people permission to solve their own problems and create their own solutions is really important. That’s a culture that develops people.

Morris: Recent research indicates that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of their organization? How do you explain this situation? What’s the problem?

Most people don’t either like their jobs or who they are working for. That’s the problem. All other issues are just the symptoms of the problem. Humans are social animals, so we are strongly affected by our environments and the people we work with. Interestingly, most leaders blame the workers for low engagement and productivity. It’s not the workers’ fault, it’s poor leadership.

Morris: In your opinion, what specifically must be done immediately to increase the percentage of actively and productively engaged employees?

Beecham: The best thing leaders can do to improve engagement and productivity is to ask the workers and front line supervisors what would help. And then actually do what they tell you. Workers want to be productive. They want to feel good about themselves and their jobs. They rate feeling appreciated as being more important to them than just about everything else. If leaders don’t believe that, they will never win over the trust of their people.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Beecham: I think the big challenges will still be there; it always has been and always will be about people. The kids coming into the workplace will force us to make changes, be more flexible. Otherwise, they will start their own companies and put the old guys out of business. This is already happening and I think will continue to be the case. I see the more traditional, big companies getting beat by the new, smaller companies who have more flexibility in their treatment and expectations of employees.

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Stan invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Elite Minds Amazon link

Facebook link

Twitter link

Stan’s YouTube videos link

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