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A humble, less than traditional past

In his newsletter, The Daily Coach, Mike Lombardi writes about the modest and humble roots of the Final Four coaches who competed in the recent NCAA tournament. Three of the four began their careers as high school basketball coaches, and none had the traditional pedigree of a big-time college basketball coach.

Lombardi extracts three key lessons for leaders from this examination of their past.

I could not agree more with his assessment.

1. There are talented people working at all levels.

Some of the most skilled, intelligent, and hard-working people I have ever known have worked as managers at McDonald’s restaurants. If I were the owner or CEO of a company in need of workers, I would identify every outstanding McDonald’s manager in the country and attempt to poach them from their restaurant.

If you can run a fast-food restaurant profitably and effectively, you can do anything.

2. Don’t be scared off by an untraditional past.

When I started consulting with Fortune 500 companies, I tried to avoid mentioning that I was still an elementary school teacher and never mentioned my ten years spent managing McDonald’s restaurants, including the six years I spent managing restaurants while attending community college, Trinity College, and the University of St. Joseph.

I also never mentioned my DJ company and my 27 years spent working at weddings.

But slowly, over time, my clients began to learn about my past, and rather than reject or ignore it, they loved and embraced it.

My clients admire the hell out of my commitment to my students and think it’s fantastic that I still teach in public school today.

They love that I launched a successful small business and understand the challenges of building a profitable enterprise.

Most surprisingly, I’ve found myself coaching Fortune 500 executives in management strategy solely based on my training at McDonald’s. Instead of seeing it as menial or useless, my clients see my experience as supremely valuable and constantly tap into it for wisdom and advice.

Little did I know how my untraditional past would pay off so mightily.

3. The grunt work of today can serve us long-term

I have unloaded thousands of trucks filled with frozen French fries and cases of hamburgers. Worked on my feet for 8-10 hours a day without once sitting. Cooked over hot grills for hours in the blazing heat of summer.

I’ve mucked stalls, dug holes for countless numbers of fence posts, and loaded hay into barns.

I’ve loaded and unloaded speakers, amps, and mixer boards into wedding venues, through kitchens and up and down stairs,

All of these intensely physical jobs made me more disciplined for the work that lay ahead. The work made everything else seem a little more manageable. I learned the value of planning and systems to make physical labor slightly less taxing and more efficiently completed.

Lombardi is right.

The traditional path to success is a lovely one, I’m sure, and it undoubtedly produces some highly skilled people who are ready to tackle the challenges of the workplace.

However, a less traditional, more challenging, less certain path to success should not be discounted, discredited, or dismissed.

If given the choice to hire someone whose path to the workforce took a more traditional route or whose path is filled with less conventional work, a more circuitous path, and many more bumps and detours, I’d lean to the latter almost every time.

Nothing better prepares a person for hard, strategic, and disciplined work than struggle, sacrifice, humility, and relentless challenge.

Give me someone who comes from humble beginnings every day.