Magnificent Men! Leadership Lunch
February 7th, 2014
Canada’s 2013 Outstanding Athlete (Lou Marsh Award winner!) and the CFL’s 2013 Most Outstanding Player and Canadian, Jon Cornish, launches the 2014 Magnificent Men! Leadership Lunch series. He inspired us to be better leaders by explaining how he has overcome his obstacles and his definition of leadership. Jon was drafted 13th overall in the 2006 CFL Draft after playing football at the University of Kansas where he set the KU single season rushing record with 1,457 yards. In 2013, Jon Cornish became the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player and the Most Outstanding Canadian!
Leadership Insights from a Champion!
It is a great honour to be part of this year’s cc4ms’ 2014 Magnificent Men! Leadership Lunch series. I’ve been learning about the work of cc4ms in Calgary and nationally. What you are doing is so important. You make Canadians towns and citizens, rural communities, schools, locker rooms and families better informed and equipped to protect boys, to keep them safe and healthy for growing in to the loving and productive men we are meant to be by raising the issue of childhood sexual abuse. And then you’re concentrating on providing treatment for those over the age of 18 who innocently suffered this horrible crime. Bravo!
I’m very impressed by the cc4ms vision statement: Hope.Healing.Happiness. These are three powerful words that must be a strength to staff, volunteers and those with whom cc4ms works. Hope Healing and Happiness are inspiring words for everyone working to overcome obstacles and become leaders.
Allow me to share a little of what I have experienced and learned about obstacles and leadership. Very simply, I believe in the power of knowledge, vision, courage, focus, hard work and a supportive community in overcoming obstacles and becoming leaders. I value knowledge as a source of personal power and a refuge from disappointment and pain. I find knowledge is something from which insight, confidence and direction can emerge. Connections become possible, even between seemingly unrelated things.
Our lives are full of opportunities to pursue knowledge and cultivate an enquiring mind. The challenge is to continue to be curious and look for learning everywhere and in all encounters with others. As a child, I learned I could run faster than almost anyone I knew. I felt strong, special and confident and this helped make the many hard days at schools just a little less lonely, hurtful and confusing. The other kids wouldn’t play with me and called me names because I was black. I realized they could say all they wanted because I knew I was different in a good way.
Learning a difficult football play or how best to train to be smart and resilient on the field has been enormously helpful in overcoming defeat and helping me and teammates understand new concepts. Now also in my free time, this means learning new theories in finance and physics which is just plain fun and endlessly satisfying!
Self-awareness and self-knowledge are important dimensions in the power of knowledge and learning. I try to know, to the best of my ability, who I am, what I believe in and what I stand for. I think about these things intentionally. I work at how I want to be perceived which is sometimes difficult given the life of a professional athlete, when you have little control over how others see you, talk about you.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have not always presented myself in the best light and people seize upon that. These moments are part of who I am, just not all of who I am. And it’s out of the mistakes that I’ve learned how I want people to think of me, see me and listen to me. There is much assumed about football players and I’m working on changing the less flattering perceptions. I aim to treat everyone with respect and dignity, as I hope they would treat me. How we look, talk and act speaks volumes about us. How we treat others says even more.
Vision is important if the knowledge we gain is going to move us forward in healthy, successful directions. Having knowledge without vision is a bit like owning a car and never leaving the garage; never getting anywhere else than where we are right now and much of that place is in our mind. Vision is what we aspire to be, what we dream to attempt and accomplish in our lives – out there, in the world, with others and on our own.
It’s important to hold fast to your vision, develop it and refused to be discouraged. There will always be people wanting us to fail, who make rude comments about what we want to achieve and how we plan to get there. I stand up to bullies who take pleasure in making fun of other’s dreams and goals. My vision as a professional athlete is to be the best I can be, the best player in my position and to be a leader on the team.
Following a dream – which is what vision is about – is the essence of a meaningful, exuberant life. What we learn on the journey of one dream can become the building blocks for the next. Incidentally, my vision more than ever now includes winning a Grey Cup for Calgarians! I am committed to this and have been working since the end of last season. I believe we can do this and I refused to be discouraged.
Courage can be defined in many ways. To me, courage is the ability to bend but not break; an incredible human strength. Courage might mean taking a stand which sets you apart from your family friends or teammates. It might mean doing what you say you will no matter what the cost.
Courage can be living up to your principles even when those around you are not. And courage is sometimes the course of no action, of silence and keeping safe what has been entrusted to you. Courage is the conscious effort to confront daily setbacks with poise and determination to get on with your life. It is grace under pressure and never giving up on your dream; thereby, making courage contagious.
There was a game last season where we were behind the Montreal Alouettes by 24 points. I’m sure a number of fans and maybe some members of the team were close to conceding the game by the end of the 1st quarter. Yet our fans and the team kept at it; kept cheering and kept running our plays, completing blocks and tackles, kept focused on the end zone. We came back to win that game overcoming the largest deficit in CFL history. Of all the game balls I’ve received over the years, the one from that game is my favourite, inscribed with the score, the date, the courage of a comeback.
Courage can be contagious and can help us and others refused to be a victim. I have learned this over and over again hanging out with the seriously ill kids at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. They are heroic in the face of their adversities. For those of us not thrust into needing courage at a young age, it begins by taking the small steps outside our comfort zones, then bigger steps that really challenge the status quo.
The more we’re courageous, the more courageous we become. Most of us would like to think of ourselves as courageous. But until we’re faced with danger, failure or something beyond our control, it’s impossible to know What I do know is we need heroes, people to inspire us against the odds and we may never know how much our courage inspires another.
Focus and hard work are where I think the ‘rubber meets the road’. There are many, many brilliant and gifted people in this world, who sadly, for whatever reasons, never fulfil their potential because they lack focus or don’t work hard enough. I believe focus and hard work, discipline and purpose are the only ways to achieve goals, especially big difficult goals. And everyone can do this.
Everyone can get to where they want to go, to at least give it a good try, but it takes work and focus. I set a lot of standards and avoid distractions. I refuse to accept defeat even when all the evidence says, ‘You’ve lost!’ When faced with an obstacle, I unpack it, push through it or find a way around it.
Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!” Perhaps you’ve heard when I went down to the University of Kansas, as a 190 lbs. 17 year old freshman, I was repeatedly told by the head coach, “Canadians can’t play football.” For much of the next three years, he stuck by that assessment, didn’t give me much of a chance to play and wasn’t especially positive when I did anything. But I kept going, convinced he was wrong about me, believing I could be a player. I could make a difference.
After many hours in the weight room, on the field and watching miles of game film, I eventually became a starter, rushed for many touchdowns and set a new single season rushing record! I even broke the record by Gale Sayers, a pretty good football player!
I tell the boys and girls who come to our football skill camps that there is no replacement for focus and hard work – no supplements, no ‘who you know’, no luck. I tell them if they want to play football just get started and keep going. Known what you want. There is always more to learn. Develop a plan, stick with it and before long, you’ll find your dreams coming true.
Last but not least, I believe in the power of a supportive community – high level mentors, strong role models, intelligent coaches and team owners, fans, media (most of the time!), true friends and loving family members. We all need people who look past our faults and weakness, our moments of indiscretion and bad judgment and see our potential.
A supportive community, of course, is a two way street. As part of a supportive community, I try to be accountable to others – me to my teammates and coaches who have placed their confidence in me, have given me every opportunity to perform, achieve and excel. Football is a team sport. Every one of us has the responsibility to be the best we can be and encourage that in each other.
As my football career continues, I’m also learning about finances by working at the TD Bank. While working fulltime, I’m also studying and taking exams I need to advance further in the bank. We are team committed to learning about products, asking questions and helping one another throughout the day, and providing excellent service to clients. I’m learning new skills and absorbing new ideas and I’m very grateful for this opportunity and for TD sponsoring my talk.
Knowledge, vision, courage, focus and hard work, and supportive community – this is my plan to be the best person, the best teammate, the best employee and the best citizen I can be.
Thank you very much for listening to respectfully to my comments. Again, it is a great privilege to be part of the Leadership Speaker Series, to be associated with such an inspirational organization as the Canadian Centre for Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Thank you.
Jon Cornish, Canada’s 2013 Athlete of the Year; CFL’s 2013 Most Outstanding Player & Canadian, Canadian Centre for Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse; Crystal Ballroom, Fairmont Palliser Hotel; Noon, Friday, February 7.14