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  • Reverend James Squire

Learning From People Better Than Me and the Eagles

All of my life I have always tried to learn from people better than me in many areas. I also think this is at the heart of the Eagles’ success. Nick Sirianni has set the stage for the Eagles success by first playing at a college where his team was very successful followed by years in another league famous for its terrible playing field of cement covered with a thin layer of green turf. He was like a human sponge when he was on the staff of several NFL teams. He blossomed into a coach with the most wins in Eagles’ history. He paid attention to what he was learning and engagement which is the best way to learn.

I watched Dalllas Goedert in the Eagles’ last game throw a legal punch in place of a straight arm. I thought to myself he must have been a boxer at one point. I read an article where he still boxes with someone better than him, Sonny “the Bronco Canto” in the off season. His opponent can’t hit him as it could be an injury that hinders his football career. He credits his engagement with an opponent in the ring to significantly help his play on the football field including the cardia workout and mindset you get moving around the canvas.

I have taken this approach all my life. Goedert reminded me of when I was learning to box. I chose Mushy Mushlanka to be my teacher in his gym which was a garage, no ropes, and nowhere to run. He was strong and also knew what he was doing which is a deadly combination. Most days I learned how to take a beating. He would teach me during the fight pointing out what I was doing wrong and what to work on. Talk about experiential learning and engagement. I would supplement his teaching by watching the Friday Night Fights sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and watched every move the boxers made so I would have a chance against Mushy. I never came close to winning a fight with him, but I learned a lot about engagement and learning including “your opponent is most dangerous when you have him against the ropes” or in this case against a wall.

I was a 5’8” 120 pounds guard and inside linebacker. I grew later. In that rare occasion when I moved up to the guard position from the practice squad, I played next to a tackle on the team, my 6’6” 220 pounds neighbor, Bernie Smondrowski. My spirit was willing but my flesh was not enough. I learned fast that as a linebacker when you cross over the line and the offensive guard lets you in too easily to get the quarterback, that the offensive guard on the other side of the ball on offense will be “cleaning your clock” if you don’t watch for him when he hits you from your blind side. You only have to have experience that once with “pulling guards” to look both ways like a little kid crossing a street with a car coming. Talk about learning and engagement from people better than you.

I had adult friend who retired early from his insurance business in his mid 30(3). He was a hard worker, but whenever I am with someone who is a leader in any discipline, I ask them what aspect of their leadership is the most important ingredient in their success. So, I asked Doug. He said, “Never be afraid to hire people better than you, but make sure that you have the vision where you want your team to be going in the same direction.” He was ahead of his time in learning and engagement in a collaborative way during those hierarchical leadership days.

When I was living in Swarthmore as an Assistant Rector in a parish, I would always choose to debate the Chair of the Religion Department. He was smarter than me and during our debates he would point out how I could strengthen my point of view. He considered me his equal, but I knew better. I knew who was the brilliant one in the room. Learning and engagement.

When my neighbor on the Chesapeake took Dupont into China as well as his own boutique clothing company, I asked him how he did that as it was as difficult years ago as it is today. He lived in China for five years. He said, “I said the best thing a leader can do is manage expectations. I always told people about the dirty 30. If 30% of your day is bad and 70% is good or great, that’s a good day.”

I asked a woman friend of mine, Gina Whelan, who was a two sports captain of field hockey and lacrosse teams at Penn a question, “How did you get to be Captain of two teams.” She is a humble lady but her honest response, with a laugh, was, “I was Captain because I was the best player.” Reflect on how difficult that is to achieve at that level in two sports. So, what did I learn from her about being the best is that from early on she never let anything define her except the words of Carlos Castaneda, American writer and mystic, “Does this path have heart?”

Let me focus for a moment on the “best.” Without those models, we couldn’t have learning, engagement, and mentoring.

My short Hall of Fame list for today highlighting “the best” includes the person above and those who follow. This is all to honor the Eagles on their road to success.

Learning and engagement is really another way of stating mentoring. Dr. John Crosby, former Superintendent of Schools in Radnor when it was the number one school District in America, went on to become the founder of the Uncommon Individual Foundation regarded as the best mentoring program in the nation. I watch closely what he says and does. Watching with the intent to learn is a form of engagement and learning.

Jay Crawford, Head of the Episcopal Academy when he was 36, hired me to be the Chaplain of the School. I watched what he did and what he said. I learned so much from him. He is, in my mind, the best Head ever because he has a gift that we all could learn about. When I was in his presence and talking with him which was almost daily for many years, he was fully present when you were with him. Everyone walked away from exchanges feeling that he or she was his best friend only to learn that he had hundreds of best friends. Watching him was engagement and learning.

Gail Godwin wrote in her book, A Team of Rivals, why Lincoln is regarded as the best President in our nation’s history. He chose to have people in his Cabinet that had different views from him. Talk about learning and engagement with a divided nation and civil war before him, he wanted different views to inform his difficult decisions unlike today.

Finally, back to the Eagles. This is being written before the NFL Conference Championship. Jalen Hurts is the most valuable player on the Eagles Team and is a candidate to be the Most Valuable Player in the League. He learned from his father, a high school coach, and many college coaches. Now, since he is the best, people are watching him practice hard every day, the first to arrive and the last to leave the facility, always trying to make his good, better, and his better the best it can be, and the success of the team comes before his success.

The best models of people who learn from people better than them have core characteristics. They work harder than others. They don’t let others define them. They find their path with heart. They are other centered seeking the better nature of peoples’ angels, and they live the ethical life. That’s the type of people that others watch to learn and to engage whether it be in a boxing ring, a field of play, an educator, a mentoring situation, a business and many other areas. MVP(s) occur in many different and varied places. They became such for they chose to learn from people better than them. Today, we call them mentors.

What’s more, win or lose on this final leg of their journey, they are already winners.

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