INDIANAPOLIS – A best-selling author of over 50 sports leadership books kicked off the second annual STN EXPO Indianapolis with a keynote presentation that focused on his “Champion’s Code.”
The keynote presentation by Ross Bernstein on Oct. 1, “The Champion’s Code: Building Relationships Through Life Lessons of Integrity and Accountability, from the Sports World to the Business World,” encouraged attendees to look at their operation from above, to see where improvements and changes can be made.
Being a champion, Bernstein said, is about doing the little things the right way. He noted that champions have a unique DNA, adding that the number one overall predictor of success is the quality of one’s relationships. For instance, those in attendance are not in the school transportation business, but instead the relationship business.
“My mission today to take a few things that aren’t your business, and make them your business,” he said. Bernstein outlined 14 ideas to drive morale and generate momentum within businesses and companies during his keynote.
He focused on athletes such as Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, National Hockey League Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, and sure-to-be National Football League quarterback Tom Brady to illustrate his points and tie them back to transportation operation.
For instance, his first tip focused on passion, which Bernstein noted cannot be taught. He shared that Puckett, who played centerfield for the Minnesota Twins and is the team’s all-time leader in hits, runs and total bases, never thought he was better than anyone else despite his elite status in baseball. The late Puckett put in the work needed to be successful and took on the mentality that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. He asked the audience to consider what they are truly passionate about, which could be the safe delivery of students to and from school every day.
Another idea he discussed was generosity. He noted that organizations should be led by leaders and not takers. He cited Gretzky, the professional hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One,” as someone who preferred to make assists rather than goals himself, as an assist makes two people happy. Gretzky reportedly never threw his teammates under the proverbial bus, but instead took it upon himself to grow his teammates and make them better. “What will your next great assist look like?” Bernstein asked the audience.
He also advised attendees to build trust, as employees will follow leaders who do what they say and say what they do. Though, Bernstein noted that building trust is a process. It’s about learning your team, their likes and dislikes and asking relationship building questions. He explained that he’s spoken at previous conferences, where employers would get a tattoo of their company’s logo because of the morale and what the company stands for.
The difference between a job and a career, he said, is the former is transitional, while the latter is forever. “Do you hire school bus drivers to take kids to school, or do you change lives? It’s a mindset,” he said. “What could you do tomorrow to become an even more trusted advisor?”
Bernstein explained that seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady teaches the lesson of consistency. He noted that Brady spends most of his life practicing with coaches that will help him be the best version of himself. We’re all going to have bad days, Bernstein noted, but it’s all about the long-term grind to reach one’s goals.
He advised transportation leaders to listen to feedback, as it could be a gift if they’re willing to listen. “So, what can you be even more consistent at in 2021?” he asked, adding that electric school buses or communicating with parents are only some ideas.
Additionally, Bernstein discussed leading with respect while also being compassionate. He noted that there will be things out of directors’ control, such as COVID-19, the economy and interest rates. Though, he advised attendees to focus on things they can control, such as kindness and empathy.
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Following the presentation, Jill Deputy, director of transportation for Madison Consolidated Schools in Indiana, said her biggest takeaway was the importance of giving to others and customer service. She noted that as an operation they need to look at who they’re servicing and make them the priority.
Meanwhile, Bernstein also advised attendees to keep setting and resetting their goals, while also finding a purpose. “What are your goals for 2021? Do you feel like you have a purpose? Who is going to hold you accountable?” he asked.
Bernstein continued on to note that the most powerful soft skill is likeability. He advised leaders to give their employees the tools they need to be successful. Other ideas he discussed consisted of taking risks, even if one fails, and being willing to adapt and change, especially right now.
“There are a lot of companies who have pivoted during these difficult times with great success,” he said. “What will you do?”
In conclusion, Bernstein advised directors and transportation employees to have fun, while also deciding on one’s own attitude. Don’t take shortcuts, he said, and follow your moral compass.