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Award-Winning Speaker and Bestselling Author, Eric Chester is interviewed by Opportunity Coalition's CEO, Brian Watson

Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today we’re honored to have Eric Chester, an award-winning speaker and best-selling author. Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric Chester: Well, thanks for having me, Brian.

Brian Watson: Eric, for the listeners who may not know you, would you please tell us a little bit more about yourself and some of the books that you’ve written.

Eric Chester: Well, I’m a former high school business teacher and football coach turned motivational speaker for youth. I spent about a dozen years standing in gymnasiums and on college campuses helping young people figure out how to get from where they are to where they wanted to be even if they didn’t know where they wanted to be. So kind of a school-to-work transition guy. For the past 15 years I’ve worked with companies and organizations, major brands, many of them that you would recognize, McDonald’s to Wells Fargo to Harley Davidson to Alcoa, working with companies and organizations that rely very heavily on the young emerging workforce, whether that’s recruiting employees as part time hourly employees in their first job all the way to right off college campuses from major universities across the world. So many employers are struggling with the new emerging workforce and want ideas and tools in terms of recruiting, training, managing, motivating, making connections to get employees up to speed. So my books are basically leadership books written for managers and employers who are trying to get young people to work harder, to perform better, and to stay longer.

Brian Watson: You know, Eric, I’ve also had the opportunity to attend one of your speaking sessions, and I must say they’re very, very powerful. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about that?

Eric Chester

Eric Chester

Eric Chester: Well, my passion is being in front of an audience and helping them to make certain adjustments in their life. I think all of us learn a lot better when we can pick up ideas from people who have a delivery method. And so in working with great companies and organizations I’ve had an opportunity to find a lot of best practices. What does it take? You know, motivation to me, Brian, is cotton candy or a warm bath. It leaves once the motivator is gone. But if you can provide solid, actionable strategies and ideas that people can walk away with and say, hey, next time I come into this situation, or this is really what’s happening and it becomes applicable, then they can rely on some of those strategies and ideas and make a measurable difference in their life. So my opportunity or my privilege is to get to speak in some of the world’s largest stages. I probably do 60 to 70 conferences, meetings, conventions each year and have been doing it now for about 30 years and very much enjoy the opportunity any chance I get to get in front of an audience. Of course I do that for free. They pay me to fly on airplanes and stay in hotels, which is not so fun.

Brian Watson: That’s part of the process in getting that positive message out there, that’s for sure.

You know, Eric, I’ve read some of your materials, and I must say they’re very well done, and thank you for the contribution and the work that you do. You know, one of the themes that you have is that as a Western culture, we may have an issue with work ethic. Talk a little bit about your research in that and your feelings with regards to that issue.

Eric Chester: Well, I started speaking to companies, Brian, that I was kind of like Paul Revere. I mean, the workforce when I started working with businesses was largely comprised of traditionalists, baby boomers and Gen-Xers. And I was the first guy to write a book on this new millennial generation. Having been in the trenches with them as a teacher and a coach and as a speaker for them, I knew a little bit about what made them different, so they brought me in basically as a Paul Revere to say, The entitler coming! The entitler coming! And it was enough to say here’s the generational differences. But that has all changed. Now companies and organizations and most leaders first of all know some of the attributes, traits, what they can expect from the emerging workforce. We know they’re highly talented, very skilled, but they may not have the same – they may not approach work the same way we did, or older members of the workforce. So the content of the material has changed now to where people are really wondering, how do I engage the emerging workforce? And let me clarify. The emerging workforce is not necessarily a age demographic. You can’t say somebody who is this age has a work ethic and somebody that’s this age doesn’t because that has been dispelled. But there are certain assumptions, generalities that you can come to the conclusion that you can bring forth when you’re looking at pieces of the generational pie. So now it’s more strategic. Much more practical in terms of ideas. What does it take to create a culture that really drives people to want to perform better and want to stay longer. And so that has been a really – that’s what I do and it’s because I’ve had a chance to peek inside, behind the curtain of so many of these great leaders and these great organizations to figure out what they’re doing to motivate people and to keep them inspired.

Brian Watson: That’s very helpful. You know, there’s a critique by some that the United States isn’t as competitive as it used to be, that the work ethic has waned. What is your response to that?

Eric Chester: Well, I would say work ethic is certainly not an American problem, it’s certainly not a generational problem, it’s a global problem. Work ethic simply defined, first of all, Brian, if you go to look – and I wrote the book Reviving Work Ethic, which is the first book on work ethic – business book on work ethic in over a hundred years. And so I had to start with a definition of what is work ethic, and really when you look it up in the dictionary, you break it down to two words. Ethic is based upon ethos, that which you know. The difference between right and wrong. That comes with knowledge. So ethic is based upon your knowledge. And work is an activity. It’s a sustained result. It’s performing, doing something. So work is to do and ethic is to know. Work ethic is simply knowing what to do and doing it. And so it’s not enough that just somebody knows what to do. That’s the cognizance. They have to have the compliance that they will do what they know to do. So great leaders teach people – are part teachers – teaching people what to do and then motivating them to do it.

Now, is this just something that happens in America? No, but there’s obviously a stigma attached to work. We remember our parents sacrificing their careers for the companies that they built. They sacrificed their life. The company came first, etc. But we also have seen, and this generation has seen, more of a free agent mentality, or adopted one, because they’ve seen their parents outsourced, right-sized, downsized by the companies they gave their lives for. So it’s more like, okay, what have you done for me lately? What can you do now? And a lot of that breeds this, as I mentioned, free agent mentality where an employee will come into the workplace and say, okay, what do I have to do in exchange for what am I going to get? And how long will I stay here? What are you going to do, because if you’re not meeting my needs today, I’m going to look for something else tomorrow. And that’s a different mindset, different mind frame. Again, it’s not just happening in America, it’s happening all over. But that trying to get something for nothing seems to be more rampant than we know, and it is – it’s happening in all cultures. Because I do have an opportunity to speak around the world, and no matter if you’re in India, you’re along the Pacific Rim, in South America, over in Europe, people are saying the same thing. We’re struggling with that. People, you know, there’s this tendency to want to get something – what did Dire Straits sing, your money for nothing and your chicks for free. How can I get that? And I’m not saying it’s inherent in everybody, but there is that tendency, how much am I getting instead of what am I doing, you know, what can I perform, how can I contribute.

Brian Watson: I tell my kids that at Northstar Commercial Partners, which is the company that I founded 15 years ago that every day I get the opportunity to go to work, not that I have to go to work. And it is a different mindset when you look at it that way and it’s not for everybody, but I agree with you that this entitlement mentality that has gone through America and probably other parts of the world is one of the most concerning things that are out there.

So in your book Reviving Work Ethic, you have a quote – or you state that passion doesn’t fuel ethic, work ethic fuels passion. And I think that’s very powerful. Why don’t you expound on that a little bit?

Eric Chester: Well, you know, you think about the way, and we’ll look at America here, look at the way that the coaching that so many young people get from their parents in terms of this thing called a job. It’s, hey, find your dream job. Do what you love. You have to be passionate about that every single day. And it leads people to believe that work has to be fun, it has to be enjoyable. And that isn’t the case. If the goal was to get everybody a job that they really enjoyed, then we’d all be the next American Idol. We’d all be playing in the NBA. It doesn’t work like that. We need labor in all kinds of jobs. So it’s not just finding a job that’s fun, it’s putting your best into your job. When you put your best into your job, when you focus on I want to be the best at what I do, regardless of what that is, I want to be the very best at what I do, something happens. You become passionate. You become focused on that which you do. And then guess what? It becomes fun. So it’s not, hey, I’m going to wait until I find a job that I’m passionate about and then I’ll do my best. It’s do your best in whatever job you have now and eventually you’ll be very passionate about what you do. Because the better you get at what you do, the more opportunities are open to you, the more that you will progress in your career. You may move down the path of entrepreneurship or up into management or whatever, but as long as you focus on being the very best at what you do bringing your whole self to your work regardless of what that is, it doesn’t take long before you find yourself completely and totally in love with that which you are doing.

That doesn’t mean you’re going to love every day, and you know that, Brian. You know you’re not going to love every single day. You’re not going to love every aspect of what you do because work is work. It’s not always fun. So we shouldn’t set that as a goal, that it has to be fun. Hey, do the best at what you do and you’ll find fun and enjoyment in it.

Brian Watson: I agree with you wholeheartedly. You know, a number of years ago I made a conscious decision to say I’m going to start connecting my passions with my profession. And my passions are creating jobs and opportunity for people and hopefully superior returns in our real estate investments, but I think when you do that and you’re connecting your passions with your profession, you’re not going to work another day in your life in many respects, in terms of the normal definition. Yes, there are hard days, but do what you love and really be focused on that and put your gusto behind it. And so I’m glad to hear you say that.

You know, one of the things I think for young people today that’s a little bit challenging is that one, like you’re saying, that in their home life people say just go do what’s fun, and two, I think that there are so many choices out there, which is a good thing in some respects, that they can go out and do, that it almost becomes paralyzing for them, that it’s hard for them to make a decision on anything because they don’t want to pick option A and, you know, they don’t know what’s behind curtain B, and there might be something even better out there. And so sometimes they don’t make a decision at all. What are your thoughts on that?

Eric Chester: Well, again, culturally, think of some of the messages they get. Within the past several years there have been anthems, songs that have come out, that a number of adults may not be aware of but the kids certainly know what they are. One is YOLO. YOLO, Y – O – L – O, which means You Only Live Once. So, hey, if you only live once, do all the crazy things that you possibly can so that you can maximize every second. Well, that’s a very dangerous message. Granted, you only live once if that’s your goal, but that doesn’t mean be bizarre and be crazy.

Another one is continually just look for that which is the easiest, the best, the fastest, the quickest way to the top. Success doesn’t come that direction. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, arduous process. So if you’re looking for that quick hit, that get-rich-quick scheme, and they’ve seen people become the dot com millionaires overnight. They find the Mark Zuckerberg model, the what-have-yous, just hey, I’m going to come up with an app and I’ll try out for this reality or this game show, and the next thing you know I’m going to be living the high life. It’s a very short-sighted view of what life is really all about. And you become focused on a result instead of focused on what you’re doing at any given point in time. And it’s the focus on being the best at what you do, you know, taking perhaps sometimes the longer, the harder road, you know, the high road definitely, to get the results that you need.

Brian Watson: So true. So true.

Eric, before we transition to you on a personal level so our listeners can get to know you, how many books have you written and how can our listeners get a list of those and learn more about them so that they can garner some of the wisdom that you’ve written down?

Eric Chester: Well, I piloted a series of anthology books for teenagers back in the nineties. Those are no longer in print. They were anthology style, meaning that they would have ten to 12 different motivational speakers each write a chapter. It was in a series called Teen Power. And those are no longer in print. So I won’t spend a lot of time on that. But the focus of my work is, again, transitioning, school-to-work transitioning. So I founded an organization called the Center for Work Ethic Development. The Center for Work Ethic Development has a curriculum designed to help the emerging workforce, everything from high school students to college students to returning military veterans, with gaining the work ethic, the soft skills that are in demand by employers. So those books are available through the Center for Work Ethic Development, which is an easy Google search, or workethic.org.

My own organization, just Eric Chester speaker and author, I write books for managers, business leaders, etc. My website ericchester.com has Employing Generation Y, Understanding, Managing and Motivating Your New Workforce, Getting Them to Give a Damn, How to Get Your Front Line to Care About Their Bottom Line. Most recently Reviving Work Ethic, a Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. And my new book, which will be out in 2015, which is called On Fire At Work, How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion In Their People Without Burning Them Out.

All of these are well-researched business books with actionable strategies for getting the people that work with you – they’re written for leaders – getting the people that work with you, by you and for you to commit more fully to the organization so that you can drive better sales, better profits, etc., but not by manipulating them, but by creating a better culture where they win as well.

Brian Watson: Well let’s transition a little bit to you the person, and so I want to ask you a few questions for our listeners so they can get to know you better. What is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?

Eric Chester: You know, there’s an old English proverb that says the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and I have to remind myself that every day because oftentimes what happens through the way that we’re blitzed with imagery and messages during the course of a day, we always think that somebody else has it better than we have it. You know, if I would only have done this, if I would have taken that shot, that chance, couldn’t I have that guy’s this. You know, that individual’s that. Boy if I was only in that situation. So the saying the grass is always greener may be true, but there’s a tag-on line. It’s just as difficult to mow. If you are not in that individual’s seat, you don’t know what they’re dealing with. So it’s really important to keep proper perspective. To be where you are 100% of the time. You know, the grass may be greener over there, but work on your own side. Work on making your grass green as opposed to longing for somebody else’s. I would say that’s a quote that I really love.

Brian Watson: You know at the Opportunity Coalition we have our monthly speakers, and I usually take a golden nugget of wisdom from them and reaffirm it to the crowd, and I really like what you just said that be where you are 100% of the time. I think that not only applies to our work life but also our family life. Oftentimes people may be in a room but they’re on their cell phones, smartphones, whatever they’re on and not really paying attention, spending quality time together, or being in that moment 100% of the time, and so I think that’s very powerful. So thank you for sharing that.

Eric, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?

Eric Chester: My dad used to say create two lists. Create two lists. Put on one list all the people that – all the things, the events, the experiences you’ve had that make you feel like you’re less than average. Right? You’re cut from your football team. You’ve had a girlfriend drop you. This guy said you’re never going to amount to anything. Create a list like that. And on the other list create the people that have been in your corner, the successes that you’ve had, the talents that you can apprise yourself that you know you can do. So create these two lists. And then realize every single day you have an opportunity to look at either list. You know, when you approach a project, when you come across a difficult assignment, when you and your spouse come to a bump in the road, when you’re struggling with your kids, when things are going bad, realize you’re going to pull out one of those lists. And whichever list you pull out, it’s going to decide how you’re going to respond. Naturally what he was saying is pull out the positive list. We all have our failures. We all look back and say, oh, that’s the fish that got away, the sale that I didn’t make, the company that went bankrupt, the relationship that didn’t work out, the person that didn’t like me. We hear that all the time. There’s those voices talking inside our head. You’ve got to find a way to turn them off. Don’t be – that doesn’t mean be pie in the sky and ignorant and naïve. By the same token, rely on the people who will be in your corner, who will back you up. Look at the successes that you’ve had in life, and develop the confidence, learn your lessons as you move forward. That’s been great advice.

Brian Watson: You know, so much of life is about perspective and attitude, and obviously to things that happen. I know personally in my own life owning a commercial real estate company, we were hit by the down economy, the worst economy in 80 years since the Great Depression, and there were times that many people said and those voices said go crawl in a hole and be done with it. And we persevered as a team, and we worked hard, and it made us stronger and better, and yes, we took our nicks, and it was bloody through that process, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world because there’s some wonderful lessons that were taught and now it’s made us better and stronger to go into the future. So I love that idea of creating those two lists. Very important.

Eric Chester: Absolutely. And I think the economy, when it flipped up, it hurt everybody. But what it did is it also helped us because it thinned the herd. The strong survived. It got rid of the posers. So what winds up happening is sometimes that’s a natural progression. And I put that on the positive side of the equation. You know, hey, you survived, you made it. We persevered. What did we learn? And that’s one of the things that you pull out on your positive list.

Brian Watson: I agree with you a hundred percent. Hundred percent. Eric, what is your definition of success? Or one of your definitions of success?

Eric Chester: I think being able to say no to the work that you don’t find interesting. When you’re basically a freelancer, and I’ve been on my own for 30 years as a speaker and author. And you live in calendar land. You know, what’s the business on the books that’s coming up. And I just want to make sure that my self worth is not directly tied to my net worth. That I realize up ahead as I look at that calendar that there’s going to be peaks and there’s going to be valleys. And sometimes when there’s valleys you start saying yes to work that you really – maybe you’re not qualified for, you don’t want to do, you just do because you go, oh, geez, I have to do it to survive. I think success to me is being able to say no to work that you don’t find interesting. Having time to enjoy life while you’re still in the peak of health and fitness. And enough money to enjoy it on your terms. And having earned it in a way that makes you and your children and your significant other proud to tell your story. I don’t think I ever defined success walking into a 7-11 and plopping down a dollar on the counter and getting a winning lottery ticket because I didn’t do anything. Success to me is pride. And pride is not something that you can buy. You can’t – you can buy happiness. You can find money, you can go out and say, hey, I bought a new car, I’m happy today. But it doesn’t make you proud unless you worked for it. And so that success, it has a lot to do with the feeling of pride, knowing that you’ve given your best, you’ve taken the high road, you’ve treated people well, that, you know, that you’ve done right by your family. You’ve chosen a difficult right over the easy wrong. That may be too lengthy, but just having that pride and knowing that you can live life on your terms. I think it is the greatest success that you can have.

Brian Watson: I believe it would be really transformational if a lot of people took that saying of self worth is not tied to your net worth, and to really think about that, and dwell upon it, and to say, okay, what does that mean in my life and what does that look like in my relationships and my work and what I’m doing, because none of us know how long we have on this planet, and it’s important to keep that perspective. So thank you for sharing that.

Eric, if you could make one change in order to make the largest, most positive impact in our country or world today, what would that be?

Eric Chester: I would think we would make a change in the education system. I believe that, being a former teaching and coach, I remember that teachers were charged – Bill Bennett once wrote in his Book of Virtues, that teachers are the architects of the soul. And I agree with that. Teachers had an opportunity – we can all remember our favorite teachers who walked into the classroom and we thought it was going to be a normal, typical experience and yet they flipped a switch in us we didn’t even know we had. There was a connection there, and whether that person was very nice and friendly to you or really hard on you, they made you become a better individual in the process. And I think today teachers are so focused on teaching to the test, making sure that kid can fill out a corresponding bubble on a standardized achievement test – not because the teachers have decided that’s what’s important, but that’s because citizens have decided that’s what’s important. We’ve all got to prepare our kids for Harvard. A practice I call Preparation H. And in the process, we have forgotten who we are, that we need to develop those character values. We need to start focusing on being people of integrity who are going to choose the high road. People who are going to be responsible. Be punctual. Be on time. Focus on what we can give, not on what we can get. I believe teachers could do a great job in furthering that. And I’d like to change the education system so that there’s more character development and less focus on just science and math and everybody’s going to be an engineer.

Brian Watson: I’m glad to hear you say that. Education is extremely important to me. In fact I believe it’s one of our civil rights issues of our day, and at Northstar we just launched a new fund to be able to go buy vacant buildings for charter schools and for competition to occur. And just like you’re saying, having different models and different approaches so that it’s not just a standard cookie cutter approach and that we’re encouraging true learning and true life development. And so we’re excited about that. And so I’m really glad to hear that education is so important and I agree with you.

Eric, what are some of the parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom that you would like to share with our listeners? You’ve obviously shared a lot, you know, during this time, and we appreciate it. But do you have any parting words of wisdom for us?

Eric Chester: I call a rule that I live by every day, Brian, the Shanahan principle. I’m a big fan – I live in Denver and I’m a big fan of the Denver Broncos, and Mike Shanahan was a great coach, won a couple of Super Bowls, and yet the teams in his final years of the Broncos were under-performing. They had the top-rated offense but always the bottom-rated defense. Went through a number of defensive coordinators and he was called in after a year where they didn’t make the playoffs, and the owner, Pat Bowlen, said who are you going to bring in as the defensive coordinator next year, and Shanahan said, you know, I’m going to stick with the defensive coordinator. He goes, we finished last in the league, obviously you need to bring in somebody else, and Shanahan, who was also the General Manager, said, no, I’m going to stick with the guy that I have. And at that given point in time, Pat Bowlen fired him. Said basically, we can’t do it. We’re going to switch directions.

So a brilliant guy by the name of Mike Shanahan who had won Super Bowls was now an unemployed coach. A couple of weeks later in the Denver Post, a sports journalist asked a question. He said, let’s just say now that Denver’s out looking for a coach that they would bring in Mike Shanahan, and he hadn’t been here before. They brought in Mike Shanahan. What would be the first action that he would take? And the obvious answer was he would fire the defensive coordinator. I think each and every one of us need to take the Shanahan principle and look at our businesses, what we’re doing today, with fresh eyes. If you inherited your situation today, exactly the way it is, what would you do? We can give advice to other people. We can say, hey, you need to go on a diet. Hey, you got to start saving money. Geez, by the way, you’ve got to start focusing more on this. You’ve got to spend more time with your kids. Boy, if you only make a few more sales calls every day. We can all do that for other people, but we’re so protective of what we do. Instead of coming in going hey, what can I do? If I just inherited this business today, what would I do to make the biggest change. And odds are you know the answer to that question. Now the only question that remains is, why aren’t you doing it?

Brian Watson: So true. You know, I’m a huge Broncos fan, and I’ll remember that principle, so thank you for sharing that. Very, very wise.

Eric, even though you’ve already stated it, could you please tell our listeners again how they can learn more about you and your different books?

Eric Chester: Sure. Ericchester – E – R – I – C – C – H – E – S – T – E – R - .com is my website. I write a blog. Put three, four good articles out each month. I never spam anybody. I don’t put on boot camps. I don’t do that kind – I’m not a direct marketer. Just a guy trying to help people live a better life, and so if you hit ericchester.com you’ll see videos of what I do with audiences and you’ll also be exposed to the books that I’ve written, the blogs that I have. And if anything there is of use to you, I’m very easy to get a hold of. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Eric_Chester. Anything I can do to help your listeners, I’m all in.

Brian Watson: Well, Eric, I want to thank you for your time today, and I want to thank you for your positive words of wisdom and your transformational work. It is making a difference, and I know you’ve affected many, many people throughout Colorado, our country, and frankly the world, and so please keep up the great work.

Eric Chester: I appreciate that, Brian, and I appreciate what you’ve done for me as an investment counselor as well, and I’m just delighted to have been on your program today.

Brian Watson: Great. Thank you so much.

Eric Chester: You bet.

Brian Watson:    Thank you for listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We'd love to have you subscribe on iTunes. If you'd like to learn more about the Opportunity Coalition, please visit www.opportunitycoalition.com. See you next time.