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National Leader of the Month for July 2007

 Jim McEachern

Jim McEachern

LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of National Leader of the Month Jim McEachern: read them below and listen to excerpts from a conversation on leadership between Brian McCormick and Jim McEachern. To listen to the podcast, copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss. To download LeaderNetwork.org's leadership podcasts (including the conversation with Jim McEachern), open the podcast player on this website leadership podcast. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here Jim McEachern leadership podcast.

Jim McEachern's Story

It only takes a few minutes visiting with this month's National Leader of the Month, Jim McEachern, to develop a clear impression of him. A few glaring character traits make it easy to understand how he helped lead the Tom James Company from $165,000 in annual sales in 1967 to $247,000,000 by 1998.

Values and integrity. Jim believes in them, and he lives them. This breeds people's confidence and trust in him.

Shooting for the moon. Jim is willing to set high goals that barely seem attainable. Then, he uses determination, conviction and old-fashioned hard work to achieve the goals time and again.

Buoyancy. Jim is an advocate of using the positive Pygmalion effect, and he does so to the great benefit of the performance of people around him.

Wisdom. Jim has systematically sought the wisdom of others, supplementing his own knowledge with the powerful messages he has learned and re-learned reading worthwhile books. After gaining insight and perspective, he shares the knowledge in a selfless way.

For all his great qualities--and the amazing leadership he has provided--Jim McEachern is the National Leader of the Month for July 2007.

About Jim McEachern

Senior Executive Officer and Board Member at the Tom James Company

Bio: born and raised in Dawson County, Texas; birthday: October 21; married to Arlene; anniversary: June 28; four children; sixteen grandchildren; graduate of Howard Payne University; served in the U.S. army; resides in Midlothian, Texas; has been with the Tom James Company since 1966 (including eleven years as President and fourteen years as Chairman and CEO); co-author of Plan to Win; hobby: learning; favorite time: right now; favorite day: today; favorite people include family members, co-workers, the people at his church, friends, and the people at Howard Payne University

What book is the most important in your life? The Bible

Whom and what have influenced you? 1. My parents and grandparents, especially my McEachern grandparents. 2. My teachers, especially the following: Mrs. Hemphill, first grade; Miss Verna Harris, high school speech; Dr. Nat Tracy, college Bible; and Coach Bob Wright, college coach. 3. Pastors and youth leaders, especially Rev. Elbert Peake, Miss Lavelle Aldridge and Rev. Nick Harris. 4. Evangelists & Bible teachers, especially Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Charles Fuller, and Dr. Bill Bright. 5. My wife, children & grandchildren. 6. Books, especially The Bible. 7. People, especially Dale Carnegie, R.G. LeTourneau, Fred Landers, Spencer Hays, Paul J. Meyer. 8. Experiences, especially selling books door-to-door, The U.S. Army service, marriage, fatherhood, sales with Tom James Company, leadership with Tom James Company, and being a grandfather. 9. My vision for what I could/can become, achieve, have and do. 10. My goals based upon my vision. 11. My habits and skills. 12. My attitudes. 13. My self-image. 14. The choices/decisions I have made. 15. Most of all, my beliefs about God, people and principle.

What is really important to you? First is my relationship with God the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ, and the constant leadership of the Holy Spirit. Second is my family, especially my wife, my children and their spouses and my grandchildren. Third is the relationship of my family, friends and associates. Fourth is my health: spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. Fifth is my work: building the Tom James Company by building people. Sixth is the service I can render that will make my community, state, nation and the world a better place.

Dream: I have a lot of dreams, and the single most important [dream] is that all my family and all my friends will have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Places in the world you most like to visit: We have been to every state in the United States and also to quite a few parts of Mexico and Canada. [Overall, we have been to] a total of twenty nations, but I think the single most beautiful and enjoyable place my wife and I ever went to was Banff in the Canadian Rockies. It is about 100 miles west of Calgary, Alberta. The highway from Banff to Jasper is the most awesome drive you could ever make. One of the most pleasurable trips we ever took was we flew from Dallas to Zurich and from Zurich to Copenhagen. Then we boarded a ship and went from Copenhagen to Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland, to St. Petersburg, Russia, to Estonia, to Poland, and to a port in Germany. I went into Berlin and then we got off the ship. After we got off the ship, we went to Oslo, Norway, for a week. That was an awesome trip. In [another] one of our favorite trips, we started in Copenhagen and went through England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, and back to New York. That was about a sixteen-day cruise.

You had talked about the importance of goal setting in your book. Can you expand upon your thoughts on goal setting? At first, the ideas came entirely from a program that was called The Million Dollar Personal Success Plan. It was developed by Paul J. Meyer. He has an organization called Success Motivation [International]. At the time I first got a copy of [the program], I was approaching 32 years of age, and my life was not going anywhere near like what I had anticipated it would be. So I was really ready and open to learn from people who were successful or had been successful. Spencer Hays was a big influence on me when I started to work for him just before I was 30 years old. About two years later, [Spencer] gave me a copy of this Million Dollar Personal Success Plan and two things happened in my mind: one is I assumed that [the Plan] must really be good if he would recommend it and the second [was that I made the assumption that the Plan] must be why Spencer was so successful. So I decided to use the ideas as if my life depended upon it. Do you still practice [the elements of the Plan] today? Every day. Every November and December I go back through all of my goals and set new goals for the coming year, but they are always in the context of my long-term goals. [Therefore], it is not like I am starting over each year with a new set of goals. A long time ago I set long-term goals, and so I am [annually] just creating new short-term goals for the following year. Last year, in March, I was having a physical, and they found that I had a mass in my chest that should not be there, so in April I found out I had cancer. The first few days I did not think of much else, and I was terrified and sad and all of those things, but after about three days, I made it my goal to learn everything I could about how to get rid of it...I devoted myself for about three weeks to coming up with the best information I could to get rid of the cancer, and I ended up [having] surgery. The doctor who did the surgery is one of the best in the world; he has done numerous heart transplants and heart-lung transplants. In September and October of last year, I had radiation treatments (30 of them in 6 weeks). As of about 6 or 7 weeks ago (when I had a follow-up exam), they could not find any cancer cells. That was, of course, not part of my long-term goals, but it became a high-priority short-term goal.

When you think about certain goals you have had throughout your life, are there a couple you could share [that] were the proudest you had of achieving? Is there one [goal] that you have not yet achieved? Obviously, maybe not all of the [goals] you have set this year [have been achieved], but are there other ones from the past that you hope to achieve as well? In terms of the business goals, the very first business goal I set was to help build Tom James [Company] to a 100 million dollar [company]. We were only a 165 thousand dollar company at that time [when the goal was set], so we had to get 588 times bigger than we were. We grew every single year for the next 25 years and reached $100 million. Before we actually reached the goal, I changed the goal to $200 million. It only took 4 more years to get to $200 million. And then in the following year--which was my last year as the CEO (chairman of the board at Tom James)--we reached $247 million. I am very proud of the fact that we reached the goals, and I am very proud of the fact that we grew every single year for the entire [length of my tenure]. From 1967 to 1998, I was the primary decision maker. So for 30 straight years, we had growth, and I am very proud of the fact that a large number of people developed big incomes and became wealthy, including quite a few millionaires. My wife [are about to] have been married 49 years. I set a goal--not when we first got married because I was not doing goal setting then, but about 10 years after we got married. [The goal was that] I decided I would try to make her the happiest woman in the world, and she is. At least, she says [that] she is. And then, with my kids, all of them tell me that I am a great Daddy, and they write me often...and tell me how terrific I am. I have one son and three daughters. In quite a few of the letters, my 44-year-old son quotes from a song, "Did you ever know that you are my hero?"

With my wife and my kids, I am trying to make sure that I am using the Pygmalion concept at all times. The Pygmalion effect is basically the idea that people tend to become the way that they are treated by others, especially if they see the others as some kind of authority figure. I will give you an example: When my son was in the fourth grade, he told me that he wanted to join the wrestling team. We lived in Irving, Texas, at the time, and I had never seen amateur wrestling. I did not even know anything about what it was about. But anyway, I took him to a signup for the wrestling team. As I would take him to practice and to matches and meets, I would always tell him how he was improving. While he was still in the fourth grade, I started telling him, "Mike, before you finish elementary school, you are going to be the state champion." That was in fourth grade. I continued to tell him that in the fifth grade. Before the season of sixth grade started, he said, "Dad, I think I could be state champion this year." I knew [then] that it was no longer just my idea: He had bought it and believed it. So help me, he became the Texas Amateur Athletic Association State Champion in the 110 pound weight class. The next year, of course, he would have to move up to the junior high. As a seventh grader, he would be one of the youngest [junior high students]. I started telling him, "Mike, before you finish junior high school, you are going to be state champion again, and you are going to pin everybody you wrestle for the whole season." Again, that happened [when] he was a ninth grader. He was a heavyweight then, so there was no limit to the weight of the kids he wrestled. He pinned everybody he wrestled, and the longest match he had that year was 2 minutes, 28 seconds. In the state championship finals that year, he won in 1 minute 58 seconds. There was a big tournament in Oklahoma City that represented states all over--in what is more or less the Big 12 territory--and so they had the best wrestlers by age groups from all over the Midwest and Southwest. He won that tournament in his weight class...I have 11 grandsons and 5 granddaughters and again we have used this [positive Pygmalion] philosophy with them. My four oldest grandsons have all been all-state in at least one sport, and one of them has been all-state in two sports. The fifth grandson plays football for a high school that has about 2000 kids, and he was the most valuable player on his team last year and will be a senior this coming year. All of my grandchildren have excelled in whatever they do, including school. If I were to tell you about all of them, it would take quite a bit of time.

Just to give you another example, there is a guy in our company who had sold about $325,000 worth of clothes last year. He has been with the company about five years, and I started talking to him on the phone three or four times a year. In late January or February, I had him come out and spend the day with me. When he went back, he had only 15 work days left in February, but he sold 60% more than he had ever sold before. He is averaging about a 60% increase over the entire year. [Therefore], I am very proud of the fact that the people that I work with tend to do better. This was not the [original] goal: My goal was to make a difference. My alma mater, Howard Payne, honored me as the distinguished alumnus on their 100th anniversary in 1989. They later gave me an honorary doctorate in humanities and a distinguished service award, so I have received all the awards they give. That was not the goal: The goal was to make a difference. I have served 18 years on their board of trustees.

You had talked about your greatest desire is to learn to love God with all your soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. Could you talk a little bit about that desire and how that developed? I grew up living with my grandparents, and they believed in God and taught me about God. I agreed with their beliefs, but as I got older, I started thinking, “How do I know that what they taught me is true?” I have read a great deal about what is described as apologetics. It basically means being able to defend your beliefs based upon some genuine evidence. I have also studied a lot about logic and science in order that I could have some genuine basis for feeling that what I believe is true. Logically, either God has always existed, or matter has always existed. It is not logical that there would ever have been nothing. If there had ever been nothing, then there would never be [anything] because nothing can not bring something into existence. So it had to be God or matter, and matter has no mind, so how could matter cause something to come into existence that obviously has design? Long before DNA was discovered, I had rejected Darwinian evolution as totally illogical. Let’s say this to start about DNA: Every living thing has a very complex internal description of what it is supposed to look like. All human beings have a unique design in their DNA. All plants and all animals [have a unique DNA as well], and the odds of that happening by chance are greater than if you could count all the atoms in the universe and say, “1 in that many chances.” So I came to believe that God [existed] and created everything. I was taught that the Bible is true, and I came to believe it by other reasons as well. I think God is the creator of all things, and if He actually loves me as an individual and loves other individuals--like I believe he does--then I want to know him, honor him, and worship him. I want to be obedient to him in the same way that I want to be responsive in a positive way to other people who love me. When my grandparents were bringing me up, they did not have to do what they did for me, but I want to honor their memory because they loved me. In terms of loving other people, I notice that I have always responded favorably to people [who I knew] loved me and who acted in my best interests. [Similarly], I have always naturally been repelled by [people] who tried to use me. So I took the approach that if I love other people and if I act in their best interests by finding out what is important to them and helping them get what is important to them, then I will be doing the right thing for them.

Could you talk a little about some of the experiences that have made you the person that you are today? What [specific] experiences have been vital to your development? Let me start with an experience that I had. My grandfather frequently talked about his mother to me. She died 50 years before I was born (while my grandfather was still a boy), but he said favorable things about his mother. [Consequently], I had this strong curiosity about my great grandmother, and then in April of 1967, I went to southeast Alabama to see if I could find the place where she was buried, and I did find her headstone. Of course, it said on there the year that she was born and the year she died and things like that. While I was standing there, [I realized that she had been dead for 82 years--since she had died in 1885, and it was 1967]. Of course, that was easy to figure out, but the thing that made it a memorable moment for me is that I realized [this]: Even though she had been dead 82 years, she was still influencing me. [Her influence was] not direct. But in the way she influenced her son--who was my grandfather--and the way [my grandfather] influenced me, [my great grandmother] was still influencing much of who I was. I realized, too, that even though my wife had never even heard of [my great grandmother] except for what I talked about, she was influencing my wife and kids. I made a decision--while I was still standing there--that I wanted to live my life in a way that 82 years after I died I would still be influencing people positively. That was one of the most monumental influences on decisions that I ever made.

In terms of selling books door to door, I did that for 8 summers in all, and I estimate that I made about 10,000 sales presentations in 8 summers. I do not know how many doors I knocked on where I didn’t get to give my presentation, but maybe it is 25,000 or 30,000. In the course of that experience, I learned at least some things about not [perceiving] people saying “no” as personal. [Additionally, I realized that] I would never have wanted to buy something from someone else just because I had to. [Rather], I want to be able to buy things from somebody because I want them or need them. Over time, I was able to develop the attitude that "I don’t want anybody to buy anything from me unless they want it or need it." In fact, when I was selling books (especially when I was 19 or 20 [years old]), I would have a few people who could tell I was a college student tell me, “I will buy a book and help you out.” I would say, “No. I don’t sell books for people to help me out. I only want you to get this if you want it and need it.” It gradually got [to the point] where it was not personal with me if a person said "no." It did not start out this way, but eventually I got [to the point] in which I told people—if I felt like they were feeling some kind of pressure—“I don’t want you to buy this unless you want it or need it. If you want it, and you think it will be beneficial to you, buy it. If you don’t want it or you don’t need it, you won’t hurt my feelings if you say 'no.'" So what I did is I took the pressure off them, and that actually made it easier for them to buy because it is hard for people to buy something when they are feeling pressure. Another thing about selling books door to door and making at least 10,000 sales presentations is that I feel like I learned to read people pretty quickly. [I did not happen] at the beginning, but eventually I got where I got could know whether I was wasting my time and their time in the first couple minutes. So not too long after Tom James had started, I set a rule for myself that if we were not making some sort of positive connection in the first seven minutes I would just thank them for their time and leave. I didn’t want to be wasting my time or their time.

[My marriage has been another important experience. Originally,] I married [my wife] because I liked her, she was beautiful, and I wanted to be with her. As time went along, it became a whole lot deeper and more meaningful than that. Her whole being, her happiness, and her satisfaction became a really high priority for me. For a long time, before I leave the house in the morning, I [have tried] to do something to make her feel really, really special. [From] even the first moment that I see her each morning, I [have said] something about how fortunate I am or how beautiful she is or how much I love kissing her beautiful lips. Then, when I leave the house, I never leave without kissing her and telling her how happy I am about being married to her. Then I write her letters and mail them at the post office because she likes to get them in the mail better than me just bringing them. On the way home for many, many years, I have had a spot that I designate to stop thinking about what I have done that day [at work] and start thinking about what I will do when I get home. Now, when I turn on to Midlothian Parkway—which is about a mile and a half from our house—that becomes a reminder to me to stop thinking about anything else and start thinking about what I will say to her when I get home. But sometimes when I am leaving the house, I’ll go get in the car, and I’ll wave at her and blow kisses to her. [Sometimes], I’ll start down the driveway and then I’ll back up and run in and kiss her again. This is all true…One time, we had some young people at our house, and [someone] asked me afterward, “How do you get your wife to do all the things you want her to do?” I said, “Well, that is really a good question because the first few years we were married, I tried to get her to do what I wanted her to do, and she wouldn’t do it. Then I started trying to make her the happiest woman on earth, and ever since then, she has been doing what I wanted her to do without me even asking.”

Bob Sherrer, President of Tom James Company, shares the following commentary on the life and leadership of Jim McEachern: "I have been associated with Jim since 1970. I joined Tom James in Jan. 1970, after my tour of duty with the US Army. Jim and I had first met while selling Bibles with the Southwestern Company. During my career, Jim has had several leadership roles with me as a report.

From my initiation into Tom James, Jim has been a visionary leader with clear, concise goals. Almost from the beginning, Jim taught me the value and importance of long term thinking and leaving a legacy. One of the first techniques he shares was the 'Rule of 72' to get me thinking long term. I consider Jim the 'Guru' of goal setting because he has implemented and practices everything he teaches about goal setting. Along with my dad and Mr. Hays, Jim is one of those people who never has anything bad to say about a person. His greatest leadership trait is he sees people how they can become and treats them accordingly. Jim's use of the affirmation process is exemplary and highly effective. An attitude of gratitude abounds with this man. Jim is one of the wisest men I have ever met. He has the unique leadership ability to not respond before he has thought through his response. Mr. McEachern has always taught me that great leaders never confuse activity with results and that great leaders don't make excuses nor do they accept them. Jim has lived out his leadership and his life with the following:

1. Jim is a great example.
2. Jim has and gives vision for the future.
3. Jim continually gives hope that the vision he talks about can become reality.
4. Jim creates understanding about the vision and does not just communicate information.
5. Jim helps you focus by not becoming distracted by trivial matters.

Lastly, I maintain to you that it would be difficult for me or anyone else to try and give adequate commentary to this giant of a man. He is the very personification of leadership and I think it would be very difficult explain his life outside the confines of his Christianity. He loves God with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this wonderful human being and share some of my thoughts. I have studied the man intensely over the past 38 years of our association and attempted to model his leadership. That focus has served me well in all areas of my life."

Jim McEachern & Leadership

Books recommended for aspiring leaders: Jim created a description of sixteen must-read books for Tom James professionals: twelve of his recommendations are geared toward success in life or sales and four are targeted at success in leadership. He offers an introduction to the books, explains what each book has done for him, and describes what each book can do for you. Click here to read his worthwhile book recommendations.

Advice to aspiring leaders: I think if I could just [give] them one sentence, I would say, “Read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and read it over and over again.” [They should] master all seven habits and apply them all the time…I have great admiration for Stephen Covey. Jim also promotes reading Dr. Covey's 8th Habit and watching the short films on the DVD that accompanies the book. He especially recommends the films about Helen Keller, Charles Dickens, and the Big Rocks. He says that the Big Rocks film demonstrates the importance of prioritizing and focusing on the most important items in your life before you let your time fill up with items of less importance.

Most admired leaders: In the whole world, I would say Billy Graham and Winston Churchill. In terms of the leader who has influenced me the most directly, it would be Spencer Hays.

Trait most important in a leader: Gratitude

How do you define effective leadership? What does effective leadership look like to you? In the case [of the Tom James Company], an effective leader is one who can keep the organization growing in people, sales, and profits. What are the qualities that go in to someone who can [achieve] those things? I think that it is impossible to do those things unless you first have a vision, and then set specific goals that relate to [that vision]. I would include “habits” where you are doing the right things in the right order the right way. I would include the development of skills (especially people skills). I would include self image: People have to see themselves as being able to do it. [Additionally], I would include attitude.

Metaphor, story, or analogy for leadership: A flowing river. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it, but none flows out. So all these minerals, salt and so forth accumulate and the water evaporates. [Conversely], in a flowing river, the impurities tend to be filtered out. Flowing water is good for everything in it [and] is refreshing...

What can organizations do that either encourages or stifles leaders? A word or phrase they could use to encourage people is "That’s a great idea. I wish I’d thought of that. Tell me more." Some things that stifle [are statements like these]: "We’ve already tried that and that didn’t work," or, "where did you come up with that stupid idea?"...When complimenting the person [that is telling you something], you are saying that it is a good enough idea [that] you wish that you would have thought of it a long time ago. The "tell me more" encourages [people] to develop ideas.

Where and what are the best training programs out there for leaders? [I am not certain whether it still exists today], but the best one that I know about [was run by] W. Steven Brown, and his organization was called The Fortune Group. They were headquartered in Atlanta. [I think Steve Brown] has since retired and moved to Florida. I haven’t kept up with [him] lately, but he wrote a book called 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make and How You Can Avoid Them. He had a training course that was basically covering the same thing as in that book. The course was really good, and I think he was right on.

Please talk about your definition of winning. The way that I define "success" is that "success" is the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined goals...When I set the goal to build Tom James into a 100 million dollar company, if I had had to wait to actually achieve the goal before I felt successful, I am not sure that I could actually sustain that. [However], I could always measure exactly how we were doing against the same day or same week or same month from the previous year, and I could tell whether we were making progress from month to month or not. So even if sales were growing or something else was improving, but there was not a particular goal involved, how would I know if that was success? There are several key words, but from my perspective, the key word is worthwhile. In order for me to define something as worthwhile, it would also have to fit within my value system: my beliefs, the things that are important to me in my relationship with God, my family, my friends, and my co-workers, and our customers. If [the objective] is not good for them, it is not worthwhile.

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