There are many interesting, great people in this world, past and present, that I would love to have a conversation with. So I decided to come up with a list of the top 5 people that I would most like to have a conversation with today if I could. The first person that came to mind was Jesus – that was too obvious. So I excluded him from this process and focused on people who lived (or still living) within the past 50 years. I wondered who would be my top 5! I gave this some thought and started jotting down names. The more thought I gave to this topic, the more names came to mind. I soon had a list of over 25 people! Okay, but how do I narrow this list down since each person on the list had something I wanted to discuss or know. For some it was there overall reputation or experience, or a thing they did, or a feeling they had at some point in their lives – whatever they did to get my attention, I wanted to talk to them about it. There was something unique about each that I could learn from. Being decisive, I made my choice but instead of writing this blog immediately, I wanted to ponder my top 5 choices a little longer to make sure they were indeed my top 5. I started moving people around like a chess game. This wasn’t as easy as I anticipated. I expanded my list to my top 10 and decided to work with that – then I remember what I told my staff, customers, and teams throughout my career – go into a discussion, summary, or presentation with your top 3 to 5 key points. No more. Because there will always be more. Stay focused so that you convey the right message when communicating and connecting with people. Too much is simply that, too much and you can’t connect with people when they are overwhelmed. Okay then. Taking my own advice, I redirected my focus back to my top 5. And over the past week or so, I’ve narrowed it down to the following (in no particular order) top 5 individuals:
- Robin Williams
- Michael Jordan
- Joe Gibbs
- Billy Graham
- Richard Branson
Each person above would give me satisfaction, regardless of how the conversation went. Each would give me a different perspective, perhaps filling in some answers about life, maybe giving me more questions to contemplate. Regardless, these are my top 5 and I’m sticking to them for the following reasons:
Robin Williams – He was funny and very intelligent, but he also had a darker sad side. For those reasons, I would like to have a sit-down conversation with him. His stand-up comedies were intense, energetic, and sometimes utterly manic. Although I’m not comedic, I can relate deeply to the intensity, energy and manic parts of his life. I have felt those too at certain points in my life. Robin was different as was demonstrated in the many roles he played so well (think Good Will Hunting vs Mrs. Doubtfire) – showing us his artistic creative side. And he had a huge repository of voices he developed over the years that made him a natural voice for animation (e.g. the Genie in Aladdin, Dr. Know is A.I. Artificial Intelligence, etc). Robin was a wealth of talent and I think he would be an interesting person to speak to however I would also want to more about his darker side. He was my age when he took his life in 2014 and I’m curious to know what happened – really what happened, not what the media reported. I believe there is more here than we know. It takes a lot of courage to commit suicide and there has to be a compelling reason to do so. Did he see himself as a burden to others? Was life so complicated that dying was easier than living? There is a back story here that I would like to understand, if he is willing to share.
Michael Jordan – I’ve always admired his athleticism, his wit and humor – mainly what is portrayed in the media. But there is a darker, mean side to MJ as well that has not been explored as much. I suspect his darker side is driven by his competitive nature and desire to win, regardless of who he might hurt along the way. I’ve read a few stories about MJ – stories that highlights his temper and how he is oftentimes rude to others. He has an uncanny competitive drive to be better than others and I wonder what it is like to live like that, to have that constant pressure and to know how he manages (or doesn’t) the urge to always be the best, even superior at times. I can’t imagine going through life that way but maybe that’s what is takes to be great, to be the best. I don’t aspire to be great, but I would like to understand him as a person better. I might actually like him, but then again, I might not – either way, having a chat with Michael would be something I would look forward to, even if he is rude to me or blows me off.
Joe Gibbs – As a Pro Football Coach and a NASCAR owner, I’ve admired what he has accomplished. I’ve read his books and followed his career. I admire his ethics, integrity, and the emphasizes he puts on Christianity above all else. He believes in team leadership, not necessarily individual leadership and that aligns to my beliefs. Joe took that approach in football, leading the Washington Redskins to 3 Super Bowls wins from 1981 to 1992. He selected players that could complement one another on and off the field instead of picking talent and trying to build a team around 1 or 2 top players. He took that same approach in NASCAR racing, building one of the most prominent team programs in racing. I am fortunate to have seen him in person once. I attended a men’s retreat on Christianity where he was the main speaker several years ago. He told about his life as a pro football coach and now as a NASCAR owner. He used analogizes to tell stories on how God and Christianity helped him be a better man throughout his career. It was moving and powerful and every man in the audience was touched, silently listening to the stories he shared about faith and the importance it plays in his life. I relate to his believes and would love an opportunity to share more with him in a 1 on 1 sit-down. I have so many questions to ask about his life, his experiences as a football coach, and as an owner of NASCAR racing teams.
Billy Graham – My grandmother didn’t drive so she was dependent upon others to drive her to church, when she could attend. So she relied on listening to the radio and watching revivals and sermons on TV. Billy Graham was her favorite. I spent many hours watching Billy Graham’s sermons and preachings with her as a child. Back then, we didn’t have the capability to record shows and watch later, much less have access to the internet, so to watch Billy Graham on TV was a planned and scheduled event. I tried to be with my grandmother as much as possible when Billy Graham was scheduled, live on TV – it was important to her and that made it important to me. I cherished those moments. I would occasionally read out loud books and teachings by Billy Graham, and she would sit there, listening, hanging on to each word. That may have been why she wanted me to be a preacher! Times were so much simpler back then. Looking back on it, I realize it was those times that helped define me as a person. I miss my grandmother and those times we shared together. Although Mr. Graham has passed, I hope one day to meet him in heaven to have that conversation and to let him know how much he meant to my grandmother and me. He pioneered an industry and opened the door for many televised ministries today, finding ways to reach people that could not be reached otherwise to spread the word of God. He changed Christianity in America.
Richard Branson – Besides having a really cool accent, I think he would be an interesting person to speak with, to learn about his life and adventures and risks he took along the way. He is one of the most famous entrepreneurs we’ve had in this century, having started the Virgin Group brand in the 1970s and building it to over 400 companies he owns now. He attributes his success to hiring the right people and surrounding himself with creative people, people willing to take some risks. While he is still active in many of the companies he owns, he lets the CEOs (who he picked) run each company. And he challenges his CEOs to find more leverage in their business and encourages them to build brands that create meaningful competitive advantage. People that work for Branson are loyal, as is evidenced by the low turnover in personnel on his staff. Many say he is a good listener, fair, but also expects the best. We need more leaders like that. Branson is a man that appears to truly live a life full of passion and fun and I believe he would be a cool person to hang out with and to learn from.
In summary, I could have picked others in my top 5 for different reasons but for now, this is it. I suspect that if asked this question again in a few years that my top selections might differ. What I found interesting in preparing for this blog were my thought processes and the decisions made to arrive at my top 5. There are many people I would love to have a chat with, past and present, that it made this exercise challenging. My number 1 choice was easy. It was the next 50 that I struggled with. Of those 50 names I wrote down, most were men. Ironically, it wasn’t men that shaped my life, it was the women in my life who grounded me, instilled passion, taught me love and compassion, and gave me the confidence that I needed to be the best version of me. I found it surprising that I struggled to come up with names of women I would put in my top 50. Perhaps its because I grew up without a father and I’m still searching for that fatherly figure, even in my 60s. But what I do know is I look to these men as role models or men that have lessons to share that I could learn from, and for now, that’s all I need to fill the gap of growing up without a Dad.
So who would you pick as your top 5 people to have a conversation with? You might find your picks as challenging as I did.
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