As a field of study, personal development is one that’s diverse and varied, but it all comes down to helping another person find their best version within. Douglas Vermeeren is a media personality who’s been recognized as a modern-day Napoleon Hill. He joins Dr. Diane Hamilton for a conversation about the possibilities in personal development.
A lot of leadership within a workplace revolves around creating an environment and a culture that empowers people to do their best work. Dr. Diane is joined by Michael Lombardi, a former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl winner. Dr. Diane and Michael discuss how one can go about workplace leadership.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Doug Vermeeren and Michael Lombardi. Doug is a Producer and Director. You might have even heard of him as the modern-day Napoleon Hill, and Michael is the former NFL General Manager and three-time Super Bowl winner. I’m excited to talk to both of these gentlemen and it’s going to be an interesting show about producing, directing, culture, and leadership.
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Developing People With Douglas Vermeeren
I am here with Douglas Vermeeren, the modern-day Napoleon Hill who has personally interviewed business leaders from companies like Nike, Reebok, Fruit of the Loom, FedEx, American Airlines, UGG Boots, Uber, KFC, McDonald’s, Disney, United Airlines, Microsoft and many others. He has done a lot of work. I’ve watched some of his videos. I’m excited to have him on the show. Welcome, Doug.
It’s good to be with you. That sure sounds like you’re reading the telephone book when you go through all those names.
You must never get any sleep. You do personal development movies, at least the ones I’ve seen. I’m fascinated by that so I want to know how you got into that. How you got into authoring books on guerrilla marketing. I’ve seen this list of things you do. It’s an assortment. Give me a little background on you.
First of all, we have fun. That’s the bottom line. For me, it’s interesting because I didn’t come from a background of personal development. My parents didn’t know anything about it. My father worked in construction and my mom babysat kids in the home. I didn’t have that viewpoint. When I was about nineteen, somebody introduced me to personal development. They gave me two books, How to Win Friends & Influence People and Think and Grow Rich. As I read these, I was totally blown away and it was a big life change. The thing that kick-started it for me is the idea that you become the five people you spend the most time with.
I recognized that Napoleon Hill, to write his book, he had interviewed all these top achievers like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and all this stuff. Every second page in Dale Carnegie’s books, he’s talking about all these high-level people as well. I thought I need to go out and start meeting some bigger people than what I was currently hanging around with as a nineteen-year-old. I started and it’s funny, one of these mentors that I met said, “You haven’t asked me who else I know that you should talk to.” I started asking that. The next thing you know, I was meeting with the cofounders of companies like Ted Baker or one of the founders of FedEx or founders of UGG that I keep talking about, and all these other people started appearing on my radar.
The funny thing is I didn’t know that I’m going to meet them and take a millionaire for lunch. I met them with the intention to become friends and become connected to them. Many of them are still personal friends. What happened is the things that they taught me changed my life. I used to follow my parents’ thing where I would get a 9:00 to 5:00 and try to make my ends meet paycheck to paycheck. As soon as I had these high-level achievers as friends and mentors, I got a new view of what it looked like to become wealthy, abundant, tied into your own destiny, and make your own choices. That was my beginning.
The truth is I always wanted to do a movie on the things that I’ve learned with the top achievers, but no one was interested. No one had any desire and that’s until the movie, The Secret, came out. They came and said, “There could be an audience for this stuff.” I did my first movie in 2008. I brought most of the speakers from The Secret in that film and a few others that you know and many of the top achievers. I had people like Frank Maguire who’s the former VP of Marketing for all of KFC and American Airlines, and one of the four founders of FedEx.
I have Bill Barban who started on welfare and became the 25th wealthiest man in The United States. We added people like Jack Canfield, Joe Vitale, John Demartini, Marci Shimoff, Morris Goodman, Bob Doyle, and so many others from The Secret. Others like Mark Victor Hansen and so forth, and the movie took off. Random House did 23 languages with it worldwide, which is exciting. We went on and kept making movies since that time. We had some good experiences with a lot of other amazing thought leaders. That’s me in a nutshell.
You’ve got attention from Oprah and Larry King. You’ve got a lot of attention. It’s funny because when you’re talking about this, it’s similar to what I do with my show. This show is a small part of my company and the things I do. In terms of timewise, the relationships I build when I talk to these people, that’s what I was interested in. It’s learning from the best of what they do. As I focus on developing curiosity and people, it sounds like I wouldn’t need to work on that with you. You sound like you’re a curious person. I’m curious how you’ve got to be so curious.
Looking back, what it sounds to me is how did I become fearless to be able to approach these people and also perseverance because looking back I did run into quite a few gatekeepers but nobody told me that it wasn’t possible. What you don’t know can sometimes be one of your best weapons. For me, I don’t know if it was necessarily even curiosity because one of the things that I wanted to do is change. I’ve seen my parents, my grandparents and my uncle. I wasn’t the kid that had the rich uncle. You always hear that someone’s got a rich uncle. I didn’t have a rich uncle. Everybody in my family was broke.
I didn’t want to repeat that the same way and it was so interesting that one of my early mentors put it to me this way. I said, “Not everybody can be rich.” He said, “Not everybody has to be poor either which you don’t want to be. It’s your choice. You can be on either side of the fence. You make the decision and start working towards it.” I said, “That’s true.” He told me this, which was funny, “They’re printing money at the mint every single day. You get to decide how much of it you get.” That’s true. They’re always making it.
Even if you look at this film that we’ve done called How Thoughts Become Things, one of the things that have been an a-ha for me is that thoughts don’t become things. Things already exist. Even the things that haven’t been invented yet, the problems, the challenges or even the technology that will lead to the new things that will come already exist in some form or another. The question is, are you ready to become what’s required to attract those things into your life? That’s the big mystery. That’s the thing where most people struggle.
In the movie, we’ve talked a little bit about what are the big things that prevent people from attaining the life that they want or the things that they want and it is what they believe is possible for them. It’s programming. It’s the families we’ve come through in the beginnings that we’ve had that have either feeling fearful, maybe even unworthy or to question our ability to do, have or be. You fill in the blank. There’s always an excuse that we find. What’s interesting about excuses is we generally won’t make an excuse unless there’s something that we could do about it. We will make it an excuse for something out of our power. We only make excuses for the thing that we can do but we feel either lazy, frightened, or whatever. You fill in the blank.
For me, thank goodness my mentors got me young enough that they could point me in a better direction than where I was going. Not that I was going anywhere bad. I wasn’t going to wind up in jail or the murderer or something weird like that, but I definitely wasn’t going to wind up as my best self. I was going to settle for average. My feelings were I would bang my head against the wall until I found a job that I could tolerate. They helped me see bigger and better.
You brought up many important points in that. I want to go back to what you were talking about when I asked you about the curiosity because you said something about being fearless. In the research that I’ve published on the things that keep us from being curious, fear is one of the four main factors. It’s fear, assumption or the voice in your head, what you’re telling yourself as you’re saying these excuses and things we tell ourselves. Technology and environment or people around us. You’re surrounding yourself with curious people. Your environment is supportive. As you’re talking about how thoughts become things that goes into what I’m working on now which is in the area of perception.
Perception in the way I’m describing it for businesses and for people who want to be successful is a combination of IQ, EQ Emotional Quotient, CQ Curiosity Quotient, and CQ Cultural Quotient. If you look at all those things you’re talking about, this is exactly what you’re saying in obtaining what you want. You’re interviewing all these people and you’ve got all these secrets of the world’s top achievers. I’m curious what you’ve done to overcome some of what normal people might find fearful or might come and have excuses for. What have you learned from some of these people that you’ve implemented?The things that the people around you teach you will change your life. Click To Tweet
How much time have you got? The other thing that’s also interesting about this, because I did talk about programming before. The truth is most of us when we’re talking about programming, we look back at when we were kids or whatever and we said, “My parents made me who I am.” The truth is, you’re still being programmed. Even now, the people reading are being programmed as they’re reading. To answer your question of what fears did I overcome and how did it change my life, it’s still changing my life. Most of these top achievers are still my friends. I’m still learning from them every single day. I got off the phone with a friend of mine that’s worth about $800 million and he shared with me some ideas of some things I should be doing in my own businesses. Even though I’ve done well financially, I’m not at that level yet where he is but I still learn day-to-day from these people.
You heard the saying that, “We become the five people we spend the most time with.” It says, “Spend the most time,” not spent the most time. We should always be adding to that and we should always be seeking to level up our influences. I love what Marie Diamond said in our movie, How Thoughts Become Things. She said, “Everything you surround yourself with is a three-dimensional vision board. We all put up vision boards of what we want, but do we surround ourselves day-to-day with the things that we want.” I don’t think enough people do. They tolerate the things around them and they put themselves in the position of sometimes where they feel they need to be out of obligation but we don’t strive to be where we need to be.
If I can take some of the big lessons that I learned from the top achievers and bring them down into digestible bites, there are a couple of things. One, the people we hang out with determine who we will become. We always rise to the standards of those that are in our peer group. We always do the things that we think will please those that we somewhat put in a position of authority around us or respect around us. While we do more for people that we respect and love, than for those that are not super important to us. We rise to our highest set of values. Maybe that’s something interesting to note too. As they say, “Your network equals your net worth.” Everybody thinks about the money on that and that’s important but net worth, taking that word worth, it has a lot to do with values. Our network also determines our net values, the things that we find most important. Not all wealthy people are created equal.
It’s not just a matter of going out for lunch with a millionaire, you’ve got to find somebody who resonates with what you want your future values to be. Why most people aren’t rich is because they’re trying to hang out with people that don’t even understand what the true value is. You have to find your why power before you get your willpower. Another thing that’s important and I was writing about this in the new book that I’ve got coming out. There are two things that I look at that made me successful. In my interactions with the top achievers, what made me successful? Whether you outline that as money, relationships or business. You fill in the blank your definition of success. The first one is what I call the willingness factor. It’s how you show up. This is the thing that no one can give to you. You must take it, claim it and decide on your own what it looks like.
I don’t know about you, but I have had some teenage kids in my home and their willingness factor has not been high. We’ve asked them, “Go and clean your room.” They will do it because they have to but they do not like it. They’re going to drag in their heels and fight me the whole time. All the way it’s pulling teeth to get them to do anything. If you go up the willingness factor scale, sooner comes people who will be peaceful, they’ll do a good job, and you can count on them. A little higher are people who will do a great job and sometimes they’ll even go the extra mile. I know people that generally tend to get more out of life, but there are levels that are even higher than that. They’re people who can not only do a good job but they even anticipate problems before they occur. They’re extremely willing to get committed and solve problems that aren’t theirs. In other words, people that solve problems that they did not create. These are excellent leaders. They always come in and help other people. They’re proactive. That high on the willingness factor, amazing things happen.
First of all, you need to be high on the willingness factor but here’s the other thing that I know lots of people who are willing and they’ll do anything. They’ll make even big sacrifices to get the job done and be good at it but they’ve got the wrong strategies. In other words, they’re trying hard, but the stuff they’re doing doesn’t work. It’s that old saying that Tony Robbins brings up from time to time. He says, “If you want to see a sunrise and you’re running west, you’ll always be in the wrong direction.” Even if you do that enthusiastically, you’re still running in the wrong direction. You need that enthusiastic willingness married together with a correct approach. We teach a little bit of that in the movie, How Thoughts Become Things, but in a lot of my other materials, we go far deeper.
One of the things that I love about what my work has blessed me with was I had a lawyer a couple of years ago at one of our events. He said, “If I were to go into a court of law and had to demonstrate a fact, if I had one witness that’s pretty good, I can persuade the judge that this person saw it. If I have three witnesses that’s amazing, I have ten indisputable evidence. This is the fact.” He said to me, “You’ve interviewed 400 of the world’s top achievers. Nobody’s done that since Napoleon Hill.” There’s a lot of stuff that I shared that I disagree with a lot of the gurus and pop culture psychology because it’s not right.
For example, this idea of stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s totally not true. It’s counterproductive. This idea of fake it until you make, that’s a total lie. If you fake it until you make it, I promise you that there will not be a billionaire on the planet that will want to help you because they’ll see that you’re a faker. They will not jeopardize their reputation to help someone that’s a fraud. There’s a lot of this stuff that we’re taught that sounds pretty good in a sound bite but it’s going to work against you in real life.
There was so much in there. It was great. We had Tom Rath on the show talking about StrengthsFinder. We’re talking about whether you play to your strengths and you’re talking about not stepping outside your comfort zone. That’s such an interesting debate and I love that you brought that up. The fake it until you make it comes up quite a bit on the show too because we’ve had Theranos and different things. I’ve had many billionaires and crazy and silly successful people that I’ve talked to about this. It’s tough in Silicon Valley now because everybody thinks they want to have the next unicorn. I am seeing a lot of faking it until you make it, which is tough. With the industry that you’re in, it’s interesting because you can’t fake it if you’re trying to sell a movie in Hollywood.
If you don’t have a movie, you can’t sell it.
You have to have something deliverable. I had Sheila Barry Driscoll on my show. She used to head up the billionaires association. She works a lot with people who produce movies and she was specific. It was great. You might find that show interesting because she gave a good step by step on how you propose to her if you’re going to give her a movie idea or something you want to have funded. I imagine that’s going to be hard to sell a movie. How hard was that when you were going through that and now is it a lot different because you’ve proven yourself?
I’ve also done quite a few non-personal development films and some of that is my background, but the first personal development movie that I made, I decided to go all in. I invested so much effort and money in that. I gave every single dime that I had. We also do a lot of favors because I’ve done a lot of friends, these high-level achievers. I had some interesting favors that I could pull out. For example, our cameraman on the first one had done Brokeback Mountain, Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Night, Good Luck Chuck, and a variety of other shows. I made sure I had the best of the best working on the movie. Here’s another thing, your network is your safety net. I could solve bigger problems. I got those people involved and because my first movie was so well done, I’ve had an open door available to me with publishers, distributors, and other people for the books, the movies, and everything else. Also, any of the talents that I wanted took me seriously.
One of the big mistakes, if we’re talking from a filmmaking point of view that a lot of filmmakers make is they come out of film school and try and do something on the cheap and on a shoestring budget, “Let’s cut corners and hopefully, we can create something that might get some eyes. That’s the wrong answer. On your first project out, you’ve got to hire the best, get the best that you’ve got, get everybody involved, and you’ve got to give it all in. What you find is everything thereafter, the doors open.
In fact, because of the first four movies that I did, I’ve got a television offer now for doing a reality show. I’ve got a movie that some have approached me to do involving Jim Gaffigan, the big comedian. I’ve got a deal for five more personal development movies, whatever I want to make. They trust my judgment and distribution guaranteed. This sounds totally off-topic but I’ve got a deal for a zombie movie if I want to do it too. I don’t know if I will but it’s interesting.
That is interesting. What is the market for these movies? I’ve had other producers who’ve created coaching movies with Marshall Goldsmith, and different things that they’ve created. Who is your market? Where do these air? How can they find them?
Here’s the deal and I definitely enjoy a lot of the other movies that my colleagues are making. Some of them are doing a fantastic job and their movies are great. I appreciate them. Here’s something funny to tell you. When I went out first and interviewed the high-level top achievers, I interviewed a guy who owns a large chain of comedy clubs. I said to him, “What’s the best thing that could happen for your business?” That was one of the questions that I’d asked him. He said, “The best thing would be if on this street, five more comedy stores open.” I said, “What? That’s competitive.” He was like, “Yeah, but what happened is people go out on a Friday night and they don’t always think of stand-up comedy as the place to go. They think of the movies and eating out. Sometimes there’s not enough marketing for comedy out there that people don’t think about it. If there were 5 or 10 more of us on the street, it becomes a real option and all of us would do well.”
I experienced something similar when I put out our first movie, The Opus. I was talking with Blockbuster Video when they were around. I remember this was 2008. I was trying to do a deal with them to bring the movie into Blockbusters. The problem was they didn’t have a category for it. They didn’t know where to put it. It’s not a documentary per se because it’s got a lot of how-to in it, and it’s not a how-to per se. We don’t know where to put it and you’d be a category of one. It was hard for me to get a deal. I did not do a deal with them ultimately because they didn’t know where to put me. At the time, The Secret, What the Bleep Do We Know!?, and The Moses Code have come out. Shortly thereafter another film called The Shadow Effects came out. Had we all hit the marketplace at once and had they seen the success that could be in that genre, my feelings are they probably would have created a category because they couldn’t ignore it.
With these other filmmakers that are out there, number one, I’m going to encourage my friends and colleagues that are out there making personal development films to keep going and do it because together we’re going to create a bigger genre there is. For now, there are a lot of the traditional methods for sharing them. You’ve got iTunes if you want to show it, but it’s hard to get a theatrical release for this kind of film. We have done that but typically we have done what we call four-walling, which means that we have gone out and rented the movie theater ourselves, and marketing and promoted it to various groups. With COVID going on, that’s not possible so we’ve used some of our same resources and we’ve shown the movie online.
Something that we didn’t expect and it’s cool is that as our movie has come online and because everyone’s at home, we’ve tripled the launch numbers of The Secret. We are slated to be the number one personal development movie of all time. We’ve got a great movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love our film but it’s partially because of the circumstances. Everybody’s stuck at home having to watch movies so they might as well watch ours. It is good and there are other things that we’ve done to lean things in our favor. For example, when people get the book now, they also get a workbook that goes along, a book of quotations from the film, all the audios, and other tools because we’re online. We couldn’t do that in a movie theater. It makes it unique and not just in my business, but everybody who’s thriving during the COVID has understood how to reinvent the way things are done to create a new set of rules.
A lot of virtual things have taken off quite a bit. I like seeing that part. It’s too bad that it had to take this to do it but it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for people. I’m curious about your movies, how you fund and do this thing. I’ve had other producers I know that if they have somebody they’re making a movie about who’s famous, they maybe go to their clients and say, “We’re fundraising. We’d love to get your support.” Is that how you fund these things? How do you go about this?
I’ll keep some of my funding secrets a secret. The truth of the matter is I haven’t seen anybody else doing it correctly. That’s why most of the movies that are being produced now quite frankly have a budget of less than $100,000. They’re self-funding or they’re getting a couple of the speakers in the film to give them some money. The challenge with that is it does not allow you to make a real movie. Maybe you get the movie made, but now you have no money to market it. There’s a friend of mine and he invited me to a premiere of his movie he did in LA. They showed it once there and he’s trying to do a little bit of social media marketing. Because of all his money going into making the movie, the movie is dead in the water. It’s done.
The other thing to remember about these movies just like a Hollywood movie is they have a limited window. If you create a movie and you take two years to get anybody to watch it and you’re trying to build it organically the movie is already gone. It’s boring and nobody’s interested. It was two years ago. It’s not relevant so you got a limited window. What I have found is that you need to come out of the gate running. You need to come big, bold, and everything else. If you don’t have a book deal attached to your movie within the first three months, it’s going to die a slow death. That sounds cheerful and optimistic, didn’t it?
I’m trying to be realistic with it. I’ve got some things that I do but one of the things that help is the connections that I have. My movie has some of the top names and thought leadership. I’ve also got some of the biggest names in Hollywood as friends. We do all right. I’m not saying this to be smug or something but when I was nineteen interviewing the top achievers, that’s when I made my first million dollars. I’ve got a little bit of money I control behind these things which helps.
Bootstrapping is way a lot. Sometimes the first ones get done. Are you in Hollywood or Alberta?
I live in Canada now but I used to live in LA. I teach seminars too. It’s what I teach people. Funny enough, we’ve had so much conversation about money and we’ve not gotten into this yet. There are two big things that I teach. One is to teach people how to network at a high level because that’s what I learned how to do as a young man. The other thing that I teach people is how to make money, but specifically passive income. I’m not talking about the internet. You can do that and I do a lot of that but real-world passive income which is made in either business, real estate investment, intellectual property, or your networks. If you google the number one passive income coach, you’ll find me. Money Magazine did a report on all of the top gurus out there teaching wealth whether it’s real estate or investment of Forex or Bitcoin. I participate in a lot of those, but they named me as the number one passive income coach because I had such a high success rate.
Are you doing masterminds?
No. I do courses in a room of 200 people where I’ll show them the strategies that the top achievers showed me on how to make money and passive income or what we call leveraged income. In other words, if you’re doing real estate, you’re collecting rent. If you’re doing an investment, you’re collecting dividends. If it’s intellectual property, you’re collecting royalties. How do you do that? How do you create that? Maybe not even created on your own. If you haven’t got it created, how can you leverage properties that are already existing or partner with other people to create that?
I’m doing eight-figure passive income every year. The other thing that’s interesting about passive income that most people don’t talk about is income streams start to become active and become more passive if you systematize them correctly. This is what the top achievers taught me. A lot of my events bring some of these people out and they show you firsthand how they built a multimillion or even multibillion-dollar company. The thing that most people don’t understand is all income streams have some degree of active and passive. The better you get at systematizing it, the more passive it becomes.
It’s that old adage that people say, “Learn how to work on your business rather than in your business.” They don’t understand that that’s directly correlated to passive income. Working on your business is not the same as working in it. Most people are satisfied to be self-employed which is different from being a business owner and they get it confused. They think it’s the same, but it’s not. That’s what I do. We’ve been rated number one so we’re pretty good at it.
You have been good at it. I was looking forward to having you on the show because you and I do a lot of similar things. I thought this is going to be an interesting conversation and it definitely was. A lot of people are going to want to know how they can reach you. How can they find out more? Is there some way to follow you?
The cool thing is because we are out of necessity trying to herd people into our programs to make ends meet, I’ve got a ton of free resources. If you get our vibe, you’ll become our tribe. I encourage people to go check out our free resources first and if you like what we do, you can become a paid customer and we’ll help you hit a home run. Learn what you can first for free. We’ve got a YouTube channel. You just type in my name, Douglas Vermeeren. You’ll come up with all kinds of stuff. I’m a regular in Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC, and all of that. You’ll see a lot of those clips in there.
There’s a lot of good value in them. Also, I’m on Instagram. There are lots of great stuff that we post there. For those that want to see the film, How Thoughts Become Things, we’ve got people Bob Proctor, John Demartini, and John Assaraf. We also have Joe Vitale, Marie Diamond, Bob Doyle, Denis Waitley, and some of the biggest names in personal development. You can head over to HowThoughtsBecomeThings.com. The film is there as well as the handful of cool bonuses for you to be able to implement the material.Not everybody can be rich, but not everybody has to be poor either. Click To Tweet
I appreciate having you on the show, Doug. I hope everybody checks it out.
We had fun and I’m happy to come back anytime. If you want some of those speakers, let me know. We’d love to get them out there.
We’ll definitely talk because I’m interested. We have a lot of friends in common so we will talk again.
Taking The Reins Of Leadership With Michael Lombardi
I am here with Michael Lombardi who is a former NFL General Manager and three times Super Bowl winner. He was an internal consultant for Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. This is after working for the San Francisco 49ers, The Oakland Raiders, and the Cleveland Browns where he was General Manager for two years. He writes a column for The Athletic and has a podcast titled The GM Schuffle. He also writes The Daily Coach, which is a daily leadership blog and also the author of Gridiron Genius. I’m so excited to have you here, Michael. Welcome.
Thank you. It’s great to be here. I appreciate you having me.
This is going to be fun. I’m sure everybody says this to you but you probably got into football with that last name. How could you avoid it?
I tell everybody when I started that my last name is Smith, but when I got into football, I decided, “Why not change it to Lombardi? It might help me.” That’s what I did except my big nose gives me away, everybody knows I’m Italian.
I’m with you. I’m Italian too. I’m only half Italian. It’s fascinating to look at the background that you had. I was interested in what got you interested in football. It can’t be the name so I want to know a little bit of background on you since you are not related to Vince. How did you get into football and why was that your passion?
I grew up with a little beach town called Ocean City, New Jersey, which Springsteen was writing about in the ‘70s, Born to Run and Chase Your Dream. That impacted me tremendously and I saw this guy on television who looked like he was at my Sunday dinners for my family and his name is Vince Lombardi. The combination between seeing the visual of him on television and hearing Springsteen saying, “Go and chase your dream,” that impacted me to say, “I want to be involved in the world of football.” I would play a game with two of my buddies when I was young called Strat-O-Matic baseball. I fell in love with the idea of building a team, drafting, and managing. That was the perfect storm for me. They say the world has a way for people that know where they’re going and I knew where I was going at an early age.
That’s interesting because a lot of people have that passion. They know what they want to do. I always had that sense that I knew that I like the business world in certain things. My family was super into sports when I was a kid. My grandparents owned a stadium in St. Louis. I can’t remember what it was called. It was where all of the football and everything else occurred there. It was in the ‘30s. It was a long time ago. My dad was born legally blind. He had 2% vision but he was obsessed with sports and he couldn’t do any of it. It drove him crazy. He used to play a little bit of football. He wasn’t good at it because of that. It was always a family where everything was a competition though. For sports, we had to bet on everything. We had to watch all the Preakness. Everybody had to be very much involved. It made me competitive so I imagine you have a competitive spirit.
It’s natural that you do. It’s something that you take part in and want to achieve. If you’re chasing a dream, you want to try to get that dream and you’re betting on yourself. Most people put money on bets. Poker players, particularly. The action causes you to have a different set of values that you’re going through the motions. That’s what I tried to do. I was going to bet on myself.
You have skin in the game and you have this sense of wanting to achieve. I’m most interested in what you wrote about in your book. You’re talking about building teams and winning at the highest level. Some of the people I’ve had on my show who are former football players take a lot of what they’ve learned from working on teams. I was on a swim team and different teams growing up. It helps you so much to be on sports teams, but how do you take what you learn from being in a sports environment and use that in the working world?
Teams are teams so it comes down to team building. I was fortunate that at a young age, my first job was to work for coach Bill Walsh. I was able to be his driver, which doesn’t sound like a great job. This was in 1984 so there were no cell phones, satellite radio, and there are no distractions in the car that we have now. It was just him and me. There was no Google Maps so I got lost at times. For the most part, that was what I call in my book my Carpool Karaoke because I was able to ask him a lot of questions.
One day he blurted out of the blue. He said, “Do you know who Tom Peters is?” I hemmed and hawed. I was like, “Coming from North Dakota.” He said, “Tom Peters wrote this great book called In Search of Excellence. You need to go down to Barnes & Noble at Stanford Shopping Center to get it and read it. You can’t be like every other coach. You have to build your leadership skills.” I did that and I fell in love with leadership. I fell in love with the idea that as a teacher or as an executive, you essentially were a leader and that’s impacted me to this day.
There are many leadership principles that can apply in many different ways. I’ve taught more than 1,000 business courses online in different scenarios where we’re trying to get through to students the value of culture. The culture of the whole corporation and in any team comes from the top. It can be challenging if you work for somebody who doesn’t embrace a positive culture. I’ve had a lot of people talk about this on the show. If what you’re hoping to achieve is this great cooperation and collaboration. If leadership doesn’t embrace developing curiosity, can you get it from the bottom up? Do you say, “It’s time to cut bait and this is maybe not the place for me?”
I lived through that. Culture is never a bottom-up endeavor. Walsh told me in my first draft, “We only compete against eight teams here.” This is when the NFL had a 20, 18 league. I thought he was talking about the quarterbacks. What he was talking about was there were only eight owners that were willing to establish the culture based on what they believed in. That gave us a distinctive advantage. To this day, there are 32 teams in the NFL and there are still eight teams that believe and understand how to develop culture. You know this because you teach a class on it. I don’t tell you anything but oftentimes, people think culture is a word we throw around. Let’s call the pest control person who comes to spray culture in the building and we’ll be all set. No one understands it’s a living and breathing element of your organization that has to be worked every single day. It has to be maintained and talked about every day. There are a few people in the world that want to spend that much time. They want to think they install it and see if it’s going to be on cruise control and go that way. It’s not an airplane. It has to be flown every day.
When you’re working for all these different teams like New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, do you see a big difference in culture from team to team? Is there an overall culture in that industry that you’ve seen?
There’s no culture. It’s different. For the 49ers, Walsh laid the culture and understood it. When he left, they lost their culture because they didn’t truly understand. It’s like you and I. It’s a recipe that’s hard to duplicate if you don’t want to watch the other guy put it together. When I was with Belichick in Cleveland, he tried to establish the culture. However, the owner didn’t want it. The owner wasn’t against it, but it didn’t fit his personality so it became problematic. The next job Bill took in New England, he was able to establish that culture and because of that, he’s been successful. It’s one of the reasons why he didn’t take the job as the head coach of the Jets because he felt like, “They won’t let me put the culture in. If I can’t have the culture then what’s the sense of me being here.”
There’s a lot of personality in the way they have to interact. My husband is from Cleveland and he’s always been a Browns fan. It’s interesting to see how people can follow not just a team but maybe the coach or somebody else. Do you feel there’s a following for Belichick more than the team? I’m curious about that.
When you’re the greatest coach of all time in any sport, and I’ve worked for two of the greatest coaches of all time, Bill Walsh and Belichick. Walsh was fortunate because the ball owner was willing to spend whatever it took to get a good team in an era where there wasn’t a salary cap. Belichick was dealing with the salary cap, which is the hardest part about team building is the willingness to sacrifice yourself financially for the good of your team. It’s a hard thing to do. He’s been able to achieve unbelievable success. Everybody’s looking for a secret formula. Everybody wants to know, what time does he get to work? How long does he work and how does he work? They missed the whole part. They missed the whole element that Belichick is about culture. He’s about building a culture. When he’s abrasive to the media or doesn’t give them the answers they want, that’s part of the culture that he’s been trying to establish. It’s not that he’s mad at them or doesn’t like them. It’s a culture thing.
I’m curious because when we’re talking about culture and how to become a good leader you talked about scripting everything. Why do we need to script everything? What do you mean by that?
If you want to build culture, you have to have a philosophy of who you want to be. What is the culture? For example, in New England. Their culture is fairly easy to understand. They have a sign when you enter their buildings. It says, “Do your job.” He defines what his job is and what the jobs of everybody in the building are. Speak for yourself, be attentive, and put the team first. That’s the culture. If you violate any of those four rules, he’s going to call you out on it. If you violate them more than once after he calls you out, you’re probably not going to be on the team long. There has to be a foundation and there has to be some form of structure within because culture is not just a word. It’s a lifestyle.
What that brings to mind is how the culture varies on a team based on the players on the team. In the working world, when you have a team and you change one person, sometimes no matter what that comes from above, the dynamic of the team changes to some extent. Losing Brady changes the dynamic. What impact do you think that that will have?
Tom was a huge part of allowing the culture to be built into New England. When your best player allows you to coach him the hardest and he allows you to call him out without feeling sensitive, without ruffling his feathers, every player falls in line. When you remove him from that, six Super Bowls later, everybody else will still fall in line. Replacing Tom in the culture won’t be hard. It will be challenging but it won’t be impossible. Replacing Tom on the field won’t be impossible because he did not play to the highest level that we’re accustomed to seeing him play. There are 1,000 factors why he didn’t but for the most part, they weren’t winning because of his performance. They won because of the team.
For Belichick, it goes back to winning the game as a team. Every element of the team, offense, defense, and special teams working together to provide the best chance to win the game. When Tom left, it gave him a chance to re-establish the culture and belief in what he is, and losing the guy that was responsible for doing it. When you look at what Tom’s done since he’s left, Tom left because of the culture that he helped create. Tom wanted to be bigger than the team and he had every right to be. He’s done six Super Bowls. He’s done Howard Stern. He’s done commercials. He’s done a lot of Instagram posts and Twitter. He’s doing a lot of different things that typically the culture in New England would never allow him to do. Tom did a respectful thing. Instead of bucking the culture and going against it. He said, “I’ll leave and do it somewhere else.” I applauded him for it.
What’s that going to be like playing against him?
I’m old so it’s father time. I feel that every morning when I get up. Father time wins and undefeated. You don’t spring out of bed at 43 like you did at 33. We have this illusion that father time won’t win but it’s an illusion and it will eventually win.
I am curious because for those people who are reading this, maybe we watch football, we know certain things, but we don’t exactly know what you do. What is your day like as a general manager?
My day is no different than the day of a banker. When you’re a general manager in the National Football League, you are an appraisal. You appraise talent and you have to make sure that you correctly appraise the talent. If the loan is ever called due you have enough equity built up that you can pay the debt. The day starts early. You spend most of your time studying your team so you understand the value of your players. You study the other players in the National Football League to identify that value. You study players in college to evaluate their value as it comes to the draft which will be ten months away. It’s constant evaluation. You are also looking at three different areas.
I tell people this all the time. When you work in football, you are a veterinarian because the patient doesn’t talk to you. The football team doesn’t come in and say, “We need a better quarterback or a right tackle.” You have to have systems in place that allow you to do that. You spend a lot of time with those systems. You spend a lot of time trying to understand those systems. You break the game down into three areas, players, coaches, and schemes. To fix your team, you have to be able to identify, is it the player’s fault? Is it the scheme’s fault? Is it the coaching fault? Ideally, what you want as a general manager is to make sure that your schemes and your coaching are of the highest level, so the focus can only be on improving the talent level. You don’t want to play the blame game.
Have you ever seen that game at the county fair where there’s a ball on the table and there are three cones that cover up the ball and the guy moves them around? You don’t want to play the shell game because if I’m the coach, I blame the players. If I’m the personnel guy, I blame the coaches. If I’m the owner, I blame the scheme. You have to focus so it comes down to just the players, and that’s what you want to be able to do. That’s essentially the job of the general manager. You also have to build knowledge over time. You have to be able to stay ahead of yourself. You’ve got to be able to understand how you make decisions and what you are involved in terms of decision-making and how you make those decisions. That’s important. My next book is going to be all about decision-making, how can we improve that, and how some people see the non-obvious and others can’t.
I want to touch on the ego factor because it’s a little different in football than in the working world in terms of how much people get paid and how ego plays into the whole thing. How do you deal with that when you’re telling somebody if they need to improve in a certain area or something like that? Do they hear you the same in that setting as they would in a working situation?Culture is a bottom-up endeavor. Click To Tweet
You have to be willing to be honest with people. Part of culture is having a safe zone to talk honestly. If you break down leadership in four important areas, there’s management of attention, meaning you have a plan. Management of meaning, meaning you could explain the plan. Management of trust, meaning they trust you to adhere to the plan with honesty and integrity. Management of self, meaning you’re going to be able to self-discipline yourself. Those four areas create leadership which ultimately creates culture. When you do that, you have to have a safe zone to have honest conversations, “You’re not doing this correctly.”
I taught my two sons and hopefully, they’ll teach their two sons each that anytime I say something to them, I’m not criticizing, I’m coaching. When you can have an environment where it’s all coaching not criticism, people will hear you and listen to you. If it’s criticism, they hear you but they’ll never listen. You have to balance that and create an environment that allows you to do that within any business you’re at. That’s why the NFL is fascinating in the sense that even though I wrote a book that’s about football, it’s about culture in any business. It’s about how to improve the culture and those principles carry over.
It’s interesting that you’re going to be writing another book or you are writing another book because it touches on what I write about the research in my area of curiosity. What I’m trying to do is get companies out of status quo thinking or doing things the way they’ve always done them by asking questions and looking beyond what you had said as non-obvious. How do you see the non-obvious?
People would argue that people who are genius are the only ones who could see the non-obvious. I don’t think that’s the case. It’s a learned habit. The Navy SEALs spent a lot of time teaching you to see everything. It’s one of their examples. They see everything. There are four areas that you have to do when you’re looking at something. You see it, shrink it, frame it, and you succeed with it. When you get to those four areas, the first thing you must do is always inspect. You inspect everything, you investigate, you illustrate, and then you implement. That’s what happens.
There’s a husband and wife couple named the Vogels. Herb Vogel was a postal worker. He spent his whole life working in the New York postal system. He never made more than $25,000 a year. His wife was a librarian in Brooklyn. They had a 450 square-foot apartment in Manhattan and they love art. They got married later in life. Herb loved going and seeing art shows. They have amassed a multimillion-dollar art collection in this apartment that they eventually gave to The National Art Museum because they could recognize and see talent in young artists. They bought paintings on the dirt cheap. They were completely cheap. Five years later, those paintings were worth a fortune. What did they see that other people couldn’t see? Anyone can see it. They saw what they wanted. They love modern art so they focused on a specific area. They were also good at subtracting carefully before they made a decision. They set up a decision-making model that guided them through what paintings they would and wouldn’t buy. Once they were able to see this model, you couldn’t talk them out of a painting.
It’s the same thing with Belichick. He’s a slow and deliberate subtractor who carefully and thoughtfully in his decision-making model sees things that other people can’t. It’s truly a learned trait. I believe it is and through the book, I’m going to use examples. One of the chapters that I write about is. “I like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. Grow apple trees and honeybees.” That song is teaching us to not look at the non-obvious at a young age. They’re training us. We then watch Sherlock Holmes do it. We’re being taught, “How does he do it and we can’t?” We know Sherlock Holmes was based on Dr. Joseph Bell, Arthur Conan Doyle’s teacher. There’s a procedure and hopefully, in the book, I’ll be able to tell people what procedures they need to go through when they’re involved with making decisions.
I’m looking forward to that. Are you taking a lot of what you write from The Daily Coach to incorporate into your book? Tell me a little bit about The Daily Coach and how it ties in?
I’m blessed to work with a man by the name of George Raveling and two other people that work on The Daily Coach, Kimati and Alec. They both do a tremendous job. Kimati writes on Fridays and Sundays. Alec manages everything behind the scenes. The four of us decided to start this venture. We thought the book, Trillion Dollar Coach was impactful. If Steve Jobs needs a coach, then Michael Lombardi needs a coach. Diane Hamilton probably needs a coach. Everybody needs somebody that is in their ear that can help them guide them through it. We decided one day to start writing.
The idea germinated from one day I was having dinner in Los Angeles at a table with a bunch of people. One of the people at the table knew Larry David, the comedian. He comes over to the table and sat down. Once he knows I work for the Patriots, he told to me that he’s a huge Jets fan. He said, “I could call plays any time of the day. I don’t see what’s so hard about football. Let me call plays.” I said to him, “I don’t think you can.” He said, “I could call plays.” I said, “Then I could write comedy.” He said, “You could write comedy.” I said, “I could never.” He said, “No. You could write comedy.” He explained to me the process of how Seinfeld wrote shows. They had sixteen writers in a room and all they asked the writers to do was to come up with a line. “Kramer finds the Merv Griffin set.” “Elaine can’t dance.” Jerry and Larry then made the story.
For me, The Daily Coach became a quote or an idea. How do we tell that tale to a coach to make them better? I wrote about team building because it’s how we team build in what we do is important so it came from that idea. I’m going to write about The Last Dance. I thought it was powerful when James Worthy, the player from North Carolina says, “I was better than he was for about two weeks.” To me, that line alone made me think that Worthy was humble and honest with himself. As leaders, I want to talk about how we need to talk to our teams about humility and honesty. That’s how it comes about.
You’re doing a lot of things. I’m curious about your podcast. It’s titled The GM Schuffle. You’re spelling it with Sch. Do you want to explain that? What am I missing?
We probably felt we needed that because I used to do one on another one. We had to put it in so it’s slightly different.
The GM Schuffle is your podcast and The Daily Coach is your leadership blog. Michael, this has been so interesting. How can people find you? Are there some other links or anything you’d like to share?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MLombardiNFL on both platforms. That’s usually the best way. I have my direct messages open so I’m able to talk to people and have conversations. For me, those are the best ways to get in touch with me.
Thank you, Michael. This has been so interesting. Good luck with your former and your future books. I’m excited for you.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
I’d like to thank both Doug and Michael for being my guests. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can catch them all there and find out more about Cracking the Curiosity Code, and the Curiosity Code Assessment is there as well. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Doug Vermeeren
- Michael Lombardi
- How to Win Friends & Influence People
- Think and Grow Rich
- Marie Diamond
- Tom Rath – Previous Episode
- Sheila Barry Driscoll – Previous episode
- YouTube – Douglas Vermeeren Channel
- Instagram – Douglas Vermeeren
- The GM Schuffle
- The Daily Coach
- Gridiron Genius
- In Search of Excellence
- George Raveling
- Trillion Dollar Coach
- @MLombardiNFL – Instagram
- Twitter – Michael Lombardi
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Curiosity Code Assessment
About Doug Vermeeren
Over the last two decades Douglas Vermeeren has conducted extensive first hand research into the lives of the worlds top achievers. He has the success strategies of top business leaders from Nike, Reebok, Fruit of the Loom, FedEx, KFC, United Airlines, Microsoft, Disney and others to share with you. ABC television and FOX Business refer to him as the modern Day Napoleon Hill.
He has authored 3 books in the Guerrilla marketing series and is creator of PERSONAL POWER MASTERY which is rated one of the top personal development programs in the world providing powerful tools to companies, individuals and students.
About Michael Lombardi
Former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl winner Michael Lombardi was most recently on the New England Patriots coaching staff for Bill Belichick after thirty years working in the front offices of the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Oakland Raiders, and the Cleveland Browns (where he was general manager).
In late 2018, Lombardi released Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL, featuring a foreword by Bill Belichick, the book has sold over 20,000 copies. Gridiron Genius reveals what makes football organizations tick at the championship level. Lombardi shares what he learned working with coaching legends Bill Walsh of the 49ers, Al Davis of the Raiders, and Bill Belichick of the Patriots, among others, during his three decades in football. Lombardi provides the blueprint that makes a successful organization click and win–and the mistakes unsuccessful organizations make that keep them on the losing side time and again. From how to build a team, to how to watch a game, to understanding the essential qualities of great leaders, Gridiron Genius gives football fans the knowledge to be the smartest person in the room every Sunday.
Lombardi now writes for The Athletic and has his own podcast, The GM Shuffle with Adnan Virk. Previously Lombardi worked for Bill Simmon’s The Ringer, where he also hosted his top-ten sports podcast, GM Street, which averaged over 150,000+ downloads per episode.
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