National Leader of the Month for March 2007:
LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of Don Green: read them below and listen to excerpts from a leadership conversation between Brian McCormick and Don Green. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here . To download LeaderNetwork.org's leadership podcasts (including the conversation with Don Green), copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss.
Don Green's Story
Enduring values. A determined work ethic. A positive outlook. Creating opportunities where there were none before. These are the hallmarks of Don Green's leadership and legacy, and these are the characteristics that make him a worthy selection as the National Leader of the Month for March 2007. Below, Don describes his story in his own words.
...I don't know if you realize it or not, but my daddy was a coal miner. When I was five years old, before I started school,...we lived in a rural area in the mountains of southwest Virginia. One of the things that coal miners did--and some of them still do--is they would hunt herbs like ginseng. Back then, I think it was about $20 per pound and now I think it is like $200-$300 per pound. [Another herb we picked was mayapple.] I accumulated my mayapple, and you had to dry it. ...[From the sales of the mayapple], I made three dollars. I don't know how many days I was away, but I got three dollars. And that three dollars tickled me...because that instilled something in me that stayed with me. As I got a little bit older, I'd [sell vegetables that I picked from the garden or trees that I chopped with a hand saw]. I think I was probably in the ninth grade [at the time], and I loaned my oldest brother the down payment to buy his first house. Those things that I can go back to are the first lessons, and they stuck with me. I never could understand people having money problems. That's just hard for me to believe in this country: that people would ever have financial problems. There are just so many opportunities out there, and there are more opportunities out there now than there have ever been. I had a guy tell me one day, "You know with the high income tax and all, people can't get rich like they could before the income tax." I said, "Well, they need to get a hold of Bill Gates and tell him that. Bill should know that." That's one of my [pet peeves]: People love to blame someone...You look in the mirror and you say, "If it is to be, it is up to me." You can blame your employer, you can blame your spouse, you can blame your in-laws, and at last resort, you can blame the federal government that taxes are too high. There is always somebody there to blame...I absolutely love paying my income tax because I know I've made good. An old CPA has done my taxes for ever and ever. I sit down, and I tell him what I am going to do. And he says, "Well, you know you are going to have to pay some estimated taxes again." I say, "Tell me how much. I'd be more than glad to [pay taxes]." The first year I don't pay any taxes, then I'm really going to worry.
About Don Green
Executive Director of the Napoleon Hill Foundation; board member at the University of Virginia (Wise campus)
Bio: birthday: March 1; been married to wife Phyl for more than 45 years; daughter: Donna; grandson: R.J.; native of Virginia
City you call home: Wise, Virginia, USA
Favorite quotes: "If it is to be, it is up to me" and Psalms (1:18-24): "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Favorite book: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. That has had the most influence on me [in terms of] goal setting and realizing you could be more than it appears that you should be: more than what was probably expected of you based on where you were born and the family you grew up in. I read it as a young person. Then, when I discovered the author, Napoleon Hill, was from Wise (the Virginia place that Don is from), it made me not only want to read all of his books and read them over and over and over, but also read the books that influenced [Hill]. [For example], Hill read Samuel Smiles, a British author that wrote Self-Help Psychology, probably the first self-help book out there (at least that I am aware of). He [also] read a guy by the name of Orison Marden, he read Elbert Hubbard, and he read [Abraham] Lincoln.
Current personal passion: Right at the present time, other than trying to be a good husband and a good father and a good grandfather, I am involved in the [University of Virginia--Wise campus] and I have two passions: one is the [Napoleon Hill] Foundation and the other is [the college].
Dream: That we all learn to get along. [Additionally], I was president of a bank when I was 41 years old. I taught a night class...at the college for 7 years. I taught the students that if they learned creativity, they would never have to try to figure out how to get something for nothing. I would say, "It is so easy to make money in this country, it is almost sinful." I learned to make money when I was five years old. And I [used to tell the students] that you don't have to counterfeit money: You can make money so easily. It is unbelievable. All you have got to do is have an idea....If you have an idea, go in to see the person at the bank. He or she is in there to loan money. Go in there and tell him or her what your idea is. And if the idea makes sense [to the banker], and you can talk and show the banker what your plan is,...you can get $10,000 or $20,000 or whatever it is. And the way the process works is this: [The bankers] will fill out some papers, and they will let you sign a document, and they will either write you a cashier's check to deposit, or they will give you a little slip of paper showing you that they have put [the money] in your checking account. At that very moment, money has been created that never existed before. There is no limit to the number of times that you can do it. Now, of course, there is a liability that comes with that: There is an obligation. You've got to get out there and do something in order that you can pay the money back. You can go to the beach if you want to, but at some point, you have got to pay [the money] back. As long as you keep having ideas that you believe in and have a passion and a plan and will stick with it to make the plan turn out, then you can keep doing it over, and over, and over. It's really all that simple. You just have to think that way: that you can come up with a way. For example, study real estate and find a piece of land at a good buy....Then as Will Rogers said, "Don't wait and buy real estate. Buy real estate and then wait."...I sold a piece of land I guess three years ago to Wal-Mart for a Wal-Mart Super Center, and I had a friend ask me, "How did you know you were going to sell that land to Wal-Mart?" I said, "I didn't know I was going to sell it to Wal-Mart." But the circumstances I got it out of were that an attorney and his partner had split up,...and [the piece of property] was on a U.S. highway. It was a four-lane divided highway, at a red light, and there were about 40,000 cars per day going by. You didn't have to be too smart. The thing was to be able to wait the thing through until somebody came by that could see the possibilities like [I] did. I didn't know Wal-Mart would do it, but I thought [somebody] would...I think that is one of the hardest things, yet one of the most important things, is to have the creativity of being able to see things that can come. [It is important] to be able to see things not as what they are now but as what they can be. I think that's extremely urgent: It's an absolute necessity in business for you to be able to see where you are going to be in a year, or eighteen months, or three years, or five years, or whatever [the case may be]. You may not get there exactly on time, but that doesn't mean that you've failed.
Places in the world you most like to visit and would like to visit: I have enjoyed the Orient [and have been] more than once to Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. But most of all, I think I would like to visit Russia, [maybe] because I collect Russian art. I am sure I will get the opportunity in the next year or two [to visit Russia]. I have enjoyed all the travel I do, and I look forward to places I have not been.
Experiences vital to your development as a leader: One of them, no doubt, was getting married. I wanted to provide for a family. Then, getting opportunities [such as getting to] work in a bank. I didn't know anybody who worked in a bank. Then, after eight years of experience, getting the opportunity to be president of [a financial institution]. In fact, if I had known as much at the time as I probably should have known, I wouldn't have taken the job. It was a savings and loan, and it was broke. They came in to close it down, and they gave me an opportunity, and we made money after one full year. They were losing $500,000 per year, and we made $90,000 the first year, and then $200,000, and then $400,000, and then $600,000, and then we were making more than $1,000,000 in no time. So just to be given the opportunity at the bank was wonderful. The opportunity to sit on the board at the Napoleon Hill Foundation is so unbelievably enjoyable that I don't think of it as work. It's so pleasant and so rewarding with the contacts we have,...the students who come back to visit, and the scholarships [we are doing]...We have contacts all over the world, and the people come to visit from foreign countries: from Taiwan, from China, from South Korea, and from Malaysia. Most of them visit every year: I guess they are world travelers. I think the Japanese were here three times last year. And they basically just come to stay a few days. It is just wonderful that we [Americans] can make friendships like that, and I think that we have to [build friendships] one at a time. Surely the world is better off for the friendships that we make in all these countries. I just couldn't believe that [anyone in the world] would want to go to war with us. I just wish we could get to all of them, and of course, that is what we are trying to do.
Turning points in your life: Being married: That is an awakening [as is] having a child and having to provide. I have looked at [each challenge I have faced] as an opportunity. I never badmouth the people I used to work for. I was president at the last bank I was at for nineteen years. We sold out, and I worked a year after we sold out. The people were very kind to me. I don't have anything harsh to say about any of the people I used to work for. They all gave me an opportunity, and I always look at it as they gave me a chance to learn. I never looked on it as work because everything was new everyday, and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I wasn't just satisfied with doing what I had to do. I always practiced going the extra mile, and I took night courses. In fact, that is how I got my degree: going to night courses. I took Dale Carnegie courses in public speaking. I belonged to several clubs, and I am [still] involved in the community. I continuously read the economic and banking [materials] and went to the graduate school of banking at Rutgers. I was never satisfied with the status quo: I just kept trying to improve, reach out, do new things, and make new contacts just to improve on the results.
Jack Kennedy, Esquire, shares the following thoughts about Don Green:
"Don Green is the flagrant American business entrepreneur having built a successful savings bank, a real estate enterprise, and a host of other small and successful businesses in southwestern Virginia prior to his latest career with the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
As the Executive Director of the Napoleon Hill Foundation, Don Green has energized the works of the famed author with a host of new books by noted authors demonstrating how the principles of the late Mr. Hill work to advance the individual in network with others around the globe. He has demonstrated unique determination to expand knowledge of Mr. Hill's motivational work the world over.
But, moreover, Don is a new global social entrepreneur. He
has become one of the leading evangelists of entrepreneurial self-help through
the proper utilization of Mr. Hill's Keys to Success and Think and
Grow Rich. He is accepting of nontraditional
ideas, change, and foresight tempered and bounded only by positive action. He is a realist with visionary outlook.
Don is a goal-setter. He calibrates his goals and objectives carefully but routinely works with sound methodology with dedicated fever to achieve success. He appreciates those around him and their goals too. Don seeks to share in the vision of others and help them attain their aspirations in entrepreneurial endeavors if they have potential for positive impact.
Don takes great pride in working with younger adults seeking to better understand the principals of business entrepreneurialism and work ethic. Each year he spends an extended period of his time to assist Central Appalachian college students through scholarships."
Don Green and Leadership
Advice to aspiring leaders: ...I love Eisenhower's example of him taking a string and laying it down on a desk, trying to get his point across. He would push the string. Of course, it doesn't push. Then, he [would] get on the other end and pull it. And then he would say, "A leader doesn't push. [He or she] pulls." I think that means doing by example. I remember telling one of my young [employees] one time--he came in late a few days [in a row],...and I said, "I've worked here for 32 years, and I've always been the first one here and the last one to leave. I guess I haven't learned much." A few days later, he told me, "I don't understand what you mean." I said, "It's simple. A lot of the best things that you get done are before the other people start calling on you. You've got a few things and you've got to prioritize what you are doing. Make a list out of what you are going to work on. The first thing in the morning, you get the most important thing out of the way. It may be only one or two things that you get out of the way before everyone else starts coming in and saying, 'How about this? How about that loan?' They start seeking advice and coming to you." I [continued], "It's when there is that quiet time, when you are alone by yourself that you can get something read, or you can get something done, or you can put a plan together when it is quiet." And I [added], "I remember a guy that interviewed me one time, and that guy is still a friend. He founded a bank when he was in his late twenties, and he is a true entrepreneur, but he told me when I interviewed for him when I was in my thirties that, "Working fifteen minutes a day longer than somebody else doesn't make a lot of difference that day. In a week it won't make a lot of difference. In a month it probably doesn't make a lot of difference. [However], in a year, over five years, over ten years, over twenty years, working a few minutes--and I don't mean just being at work, I mean actually applying yourself--makes all of the difference in the world."
Most admired leader: I guess I have to go back in history to Abraham Lincoln. I started reading his books probably when I was in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade. I read every book that I could ever get my hands on about Lincoln when I was growing up....We think of President Bush as being treated [badly] by the press, by the media, by the elite, and by the people on the far left or the far right. Lincoln was treated so harshly: It is absolutely unbelievable. If you look at the cartoons, they portrayed him as a baboon. The harshness they treated him with was absolutely unbelievable at a time when the country's very survival was at stake. He performed brilliantly at the most crucial time, no doubt, in our nation's history. You have got to admire him, especially [when you consider] that he did not have the background, and he did not have the education; he was basically self-taught through the books he was able to buy or borrow. I have always admired him.
Traits most important in a leader: Having integrity because without that, nothing else matters. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you are not honest [with integrity and principle], I don't care whose school you went to or how many MBA's you have. If you don't have integrity, people are not going to respect you. You may get ahead for a while, but it will catch up with you.
What can organizations do to encourage leaders, or conversely, to stifle leaders? I've always believed in that theory of "Management by Walking Around." If you get good people, to encourage them is the best thing you can do. Be an encourager and treat them with respect. Hold people accountable: Expect results out of them. But you don't stand over them and look over their shoulders. You give them a job to do, and then you check and see what they've done. You may say, "Have you thought about this?" or whatever, but you have got to involve them in it. I remember way back a long time ago...whenever a contest [was run], we always won. Finally, one of them asked me how we did it. I said, "Well, we started off even. You all put the thing out there saying, 'The manager's going to get 100 points for doing something or another, and the assistant gets 50 points, and the other people down through there get 20 points or some lesser number.' I say to the people that 'I feel we are going to win this thing and everybody's going to contribute. But at the end, we are going to divide the [reward] up equally. I am no more important than the rest of you.' I say, 'I am going to be seeing that everybody gets results because we're not going to let one or two mess it up for everybody else. Everybody is going to be held accountable. We are all going to share equally in the thing when it is all said and done.'" That's all it took.
Books recommended for aspiring leaders: Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill, Life is Tremendous! by Charlie Jones, and the biographies of famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington.
Training programs out there for leaders: There are lots and lots of good ones. I think the greatest ones are...any courses where people have to stand up and think on their feet and get in front of a group. I don't care whether it is two people or ten or two hundred or whatever. Be involved in boards. I am chairman of the board of a local hospital. Be involved to present ideas and information to other people. All those things train you to think, and anything that encourages you to speak in front of groups, I think is tremendous....The information is available today that if you or I woke up one morning and said, "You know, I would like to become the world's foremost authority on tree frogs," then we could go to the internet and to the libraries and so forth. [We could] study and study and within a period of time--one year, or two years, or whatever--we could become the world's foremost authority on that particular subject because the information is there. It's not information that's needed: It's getting information and then being able to plan with it and put it into action for a desired result.
Final insight: I had a teacher, Mr. Marvin Gilliam, who taught me a class in high school, and I remember him reading Robert Browning's poem, [" Andrea del Sarto"]. In the poem, he said, "One's reach should exceed his grasp or what is a heaven for?" At the time, [I didn't think about it too much], but I think it means that as humans we should always be striving to do better. I think that is what makes life interesting: we should always wake up every day thinking that we can make a difference and that we can improve things.
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