As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony M. Drago.
A Veteran of the United States Coast Guard with over 25 years of Personal Development training, Anthony M. Drago is now a Peak Performance Consultant, Speaker, Author of Go Prove Something!, a Distinguished Toastmaster, and a Certified Speed & Agility Coach, who trains Youth Organizations, Corporations, Sports teams, and Entrepreneurs in the areas of Communication, Leadership, Motivation, Personal Development, and Proper Body Mechanics (Speed, Agility & Quickness). Anthony uses his Military, Financial markets, and Sports backgrounds as the vehicles to teach vital life lessons. Anthony has developed a unique, entertaining, physical, and interactive seminar, speech, or workshop that builds an unbreakable bond between the Mind & Body while creating physical anchors that makes information retention second nature.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I would say my journey truly started in 1995 as a member of the United Stated Coast Guard. Without getting into much detail, I was not, shall we say, a happy camper. I was constantly angry and was contemplating quitting (side note: that is not an option in the Military). Since quitting was not an option, I quickly learned you suck it up and fight through whatever it is that you are going through (same principle applies to life). It was at that point (my rock bottom at the time) I was introduced to the world of Personal Development in the form of a mentor from afar, Tony Robbins. I learned so many things from Tony. However, the main thing I learned is that every feeling you have is preceded by one thing and one thing only, a single thought. It is a fact that you can control your thoughts. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to think of a pink elephant; can you see it in your mind? Of course you can because the mind works in images. So, if you can control your thoughts you can control your feelings. At that time in my life, I realized I had so much to offer this world, but I did not know how I could have the greatest impact. The search had begun.
Fast forward 25 years. After training youth basketball players in the areas of personal development, speed, agility, and quickness, I wrote and had traditionally published my first book, Go Prove Something! A Basketball Player’s Guide to Legally Using PEDs with PEDs standing for Performance Enhancing Decisions. That accomplishment ignited a fire in my belly which will never be extinguished. The book led me to now being a Peak Performance Consultant that still uses the combination of personal development and speed, agility, and quickness as the backbone to all my programs. It is an approach and philosophy that cannot be duplicated. Welcome to my World (www.anthonymdrago.com)
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was thinking I could write a book in my spare by only putting in 30 minutes a day. I figured It was not too hard to write a book and I will finish it when I finish it. Let us just say I was grossly mistaken. It is a process that takes laser focus and a dedication most are not willing to commit to. I started questioning my own commitment. What really gave my motivation to complete my book was the birth and adoption of my son. I started using what Tony Robbins calls NET time (No Extra Time). While feeding my son in the middle of the night I was writing. While on the bus to work I was writing. On the bus home from work I was writing. I literally wrote my entire book in the Notes app on my phone. Then I transferred it from notes to google docs. From google docs to the Apple Mac. From the Mac to Microsoft Word and from Word to a manuscript that was picked up by a publisher who traditionally published it. The Takeaway, if you know why you are doing something, the how takes care of itself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This is an easy one, Gerry Mosley. He was one of my high school basketball coaches and to this day is one of my most trusted mentors. I ran into Gerry many years after high school when I first started learning about personal training and speed, agility, and quickness. At the time he was a rising star in the field of basketball skill training (he is now one of the most successful and respected coaches in the tristate area). He saw my passion and suggested I start working with his players on their footwork and mental game. He gave me my first taste of training players and I was hooked. He trusted me enough to analyze the footwork and mental toughness of his top players. One of those players was Julien Bendeke. At that time, Julien was on the cusp of basketball greatness. He came over from Cameroon, Africa, with one goal, make it to the NBA. We worked tirelessly day and night on his footwork and his mindset. Long story short, he did not make it to the NBA. Although he never played professional basketball, Julien, became a major success as he is now a microbiologist in the quality control division of Keurig Dr. Pepper. Julien is also about to take his ASCP board exam so he can broaden scope of practice and work in hospital laboratories. He achieved this by taking what he learned on the basketball court and applying it to his life off the court. To this day, he calls me “Yoda” (from Star Wars) because I taught him about life through the vehicle of basketball and he UnLearned what he had learned about life. In my opinion, he is the true American Dream.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I believe that the one word that can cure all of today’s challenges (most people call them problems) from politics to race relations is communication. My vision is to have people eliminate the phrase “there was a breakdown in communication” from their vocabulary. If we can communicate, we can educate. The purpose of my company is something near and dear to my heart; to help create a level playing field in today’s world by developing today’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders of the next generation while at the same time repairing this current generation by re-emphasizing the value of the family unit (regardless of the size).
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
One of my best leadership experiences came several years ago when I was coaching a team in a pro basketball exposure camp. My team was the least talented, but we had the biggest hearts. And we believed in ourselves. We played 3 games. The first game we were losing by 24 points with 4 minutes left in the game. We stormed back and won the game by 2 points. The second game, we were losing by 16 with 3 minutes left. Again, we stormed back won that game by 3 points. The championship game we were losing by 8 with 1-minute left. We tied the game at the buzzer with a 3 pointer. In overtime, we played well but lost by 2 points on a bad call by the referee (that is my story and I’m sticking to it). The bottom line was that I was able to lead them back in all 3 games by showing them that if they stayed focused and believed in themselves and each other, anything was possible. One player, in particular, stood out to me, Steven Weingarten. He wasn’t the most talented nor the biggest player at the camp, but he had the heart of a lion. By the end of the 2nd game, he basically took over the huddles and was directing the players. The belief he showed in himself and his teammates was inspiring. Although he has played provisionally for several years (China, Australia, NBA G League with the Cavs and 76ers organizations) he is still chasing his dream of playing professional basketball in the NBA. My opinion, he deserves a shot.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I believe if you never thought about giving up, you were not serious enough about it in the first place. So yes, I thought about quitting. And still do to this day. What keeps me motivated and sustains my drive is my family. More specifically my son Parker. I want to be his role model and source of inspiration instead of him looking to entertainers or athletes.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most critical role a leader must fulfill in challenging times is to perfect the art of leading themselves. It all starts with you. If you cannot lead yourself, how can you lead others?
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I believe that the best way to boost morale, inspire, motivate, and engage your team is to jump into the trenches with both feet and walk side by side with your people. You cannot ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. Lead by example, not with words.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
In my opinion, the best way to communicate difficult news is to start with something positive, deliver the difficult news and then end with something else positive. You are basically sandwiching the difficult news in-between positive news to lessen the blow and show that there is more positive than negative to focus on.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
There is an old saying that says “if you want to hear God Laugh, tell him your plans for the future”. With the world the way it is today, I believe that goal setting is imperative. However, instead of just setting SMART goals, we need to set daily DUMB goals (Decisive, Uncompromising, Meticulous, Buoyant). The combination is priceless. The lesser the time frame the easier it is to stay track. It is great to plan, just don’t overdo it.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My favorite principle is one I have used with basketball players for years. Act Like a Champion; Train Like and Underdog. You need to carry yourself like you’ve been there before and when it’s time to train and put in the work, even if you are at the top, always train like you are the underdog and coming from behind. Simply put, Stay Humble and Hungry regardless of what the scoreboard says.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One of the most common mistakes I have seen in businesses (and people in general) is a lack of patience. When things are uncertain people tend to start living in the Chicken Little syndrome “The Sky is Falling”. They do not realize that patience in times of crisis is a better approach than reacting to the current situation. People tend to react and not respond. Reacting is something you do without thinking. It is the fight or flight concept. An example would be the market drops 1000 points and you sell everything without understanding why it is dropping. Something happens and you react. Responding to a situation is a totally different animal. Responding is something you do after thinking and taking everything into consideration. Most people see the market drop and do not take the time to understand why and that is because most people are sheep and follow the masses. You understand that the company did not change, the only thing that changed are people’s perception of the current situation. So, you feel comfortable holding on. That is where patience comes in.
That leads me to another common mistake I have seen; becoming overly conservative and stop taking risks. It has been proven that when the market crashes or has a big downturn, the people who invest when everyone else is running for the hills, are the ones who make the most money. Why? Because what goes down will come back up! It is a temporary situation that if you just hold on, the tide will turn, and you will be on the upswing again. Hence the first mistake is a lack of patience. The third most common mistake is a lack of communication. In my opinion communication is the ultimate backstage pass; It gets us into everything, but it also gets us out of things such as stressful situations that most people would crumble under. You can have the best plan for fighting through the bad situation but if you cannot articulate your message properly, the plan is useless. So, it is important for everyone in the organization to know what is truly going on (transparency) that way everyone can help figure out a way through it.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Kelvin Joseph (CEO OF Kool Kel Marketing) and a mentor of mine has the best approach to building a business that I have ever seen. Kelvin says that “you must build friendships and help others before asking for their help”. This will bridge friendships with business. People want to do business with people they like and trust so if you have built an organization based on trust and friendships you will be way ahead of the game when times get tough. So again, I think it goes back to transparency and leading by example.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- First and foremost, take some “ME” time by being an early riser, doing some form of exercise and practicing gratitude. I know this might not seem to fit into the traditional idea of a successful leadership strategy, however, if you give it a try, I can promise you, you will feel and see a difference in every aspect of your life. When you train yourself to get up early and exercise, you jumpstart your day with a positive mindset. Any form of exercise will work, just get your body moving. Then, adding in gratitude only enhances things because if you don’t appreciate what you have in your personal life, it’s safe to assume you don’t truly appreciate what you have in your business life. Many people try and separate business and life as if that were possible. They are one in the same for one simple reason; you bring you into every situation in your life whether it’s business or personal. So, take some time for yourself by rising early, exercising, and practicing an attitude of gratitude.
- The next thing you can do to lead effectively during turbulent times is to lead yourself. How can you lead others if you cannot lead yourself? A perfect example would be when I was training players in speed, agility, and quickness. If I couldn’t perform the exercises I was teaching, how would they learn the proper way to perform them? You need to be able to perform the tasks you are asking others to do, or they will not take you seriously. Walk it like you talk it.
- Next up would be transparency. I go back to transparency because it is imperative to any successful organization. If everyone knows the challenges the organization is facing, it makes it easier to find a solution. An example of transparency from my experience would be when I was the Assistant General Manager and Head of Strength and Conditioning for an ABA Professional basketball franchise. Unfortunately, this was the exact opposite of transparency, but it drives home the point. I did so much for the franchise from marketing to coaching but in the end the organization folded because there was not an inkling of leadership from ownership. They never shared the true challenges that they were facing so the entire organization, from the players to the coaches, were blindsided when then team folded. However, I wasn’t, as I saw the writing on the walls. Be transparent with your team. It will prove invaluable when times get rough.
- Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. While most people (aka leaders) seem shrink and hide in the face of adversity, being available to your people and truly listening to what they have to say is paramount. Again, it comes back to people doing business or even working with people they like and trust. While I am not a fan of the watching the news (99.9% is negative) I do believe it is imperative to keep up with what is going on in your industry. The reason being is that if you see the problems affecting your organization, you can take the opposite action to combat it. Many times, if something you are attempting is not working, do the exact opposite and you will find success.
- Lastly, is a three-prong approach I learned during my enlistment in The United States Coast Guard. You must Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. The one constant in this world is change. Things will never go the way you expect, so get used to it. So, when things go wrong, as they most certainly will, you must improvise and change directions to get your organization back on track. Once you are back on track, you must adapt to the changes without losing focus on what your goals are. If you manage to stay on course (this is where most people falter), then you will Overcome all obstacles in your way. I am not saying it is easy, if it were, everyone would be a successful leader. However, if you can manage to keep your poise under turbulent times and be the example, your organization will be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is actually one of my very own: “Mental Toughness is like Oxygen; you don’t Appreciate it Until there is a Lack of It”. Since 1995 I have studied the personal development industry from Les Brown to Tony Robbins and everyone in between. I’ve learned that any success in life is 90% mental and 10% skill. This is especially true in sports. If a player fails in the clutch, it is not because they lost their skills or forgot how to play, it is because they focus on the doubts that creep in to their minds instead of focusing on all the times they have succeeded in the past. The way I see it, Mental Toughness is a skill that can be learned and is especially vital to a leader in these turbulent times.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Sizzle Reel: https://youtu.be/iB1JLADllKs
My Book: Go Prove Something!: www.amazon.com/author/anthonymdrago