September 2022

Remarks by Ted McPherson to the Williams College Men’s Basketball Team

Brotherhood

In September 2022 Sally and I participated with thirty-three Williams College current and former basketball players in a weekend reunion in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Above note: One NCAA Division III National Championship (ball) and eight Final Four appearances (nets), former players from 7 decades (starting with Ted McPherson ’67 second row, second from left), and current players seated and scattered throughout.
Above note: One NCAA Division III National Championship (ball) and eight Final Four appearances (nets), former players from 7 decades (starting with Ted McPherson ’67 second row, second from left), and current players seated and scattered throughout.
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Coach Kevin App invited me to speak to the current student/athletes at the opening session, followed by a highly productive and enjoyable discussion. My remarks follow:

“Starting in the fall of 1963, Williams taught me the academic value of a lifetime of learning, while enabling me to develop important natural strengths as a person playing on excellent basketball and baseball teams almost sixty years ago, Class of 1967.

In basketball, we never lost to Amherst, beat Dartmouth and Harvard in their gyms, won Little Three titles and over 70% of our games against the best competition in New England.

Here are two thoughts and ten truths for your consideration as student-athletes:

  1. Thought # 1 … The single most important leadership element in your success this season – and in life after Williams is character.
    • When you were in high school, someone said to you, “Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.” Frank Boyden, the Headmaster of my high school Deerfield Academy for sixty-six years from 1902 until 1968, believed, as did Plato, “…that the character developed in youth determined the person in adulthood.”
    • Joshua Chamberlain, the heroic Union officer defending the south end of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, said, “Character is the firm seasoned substance of soul.”
    • In his essay Captains of the Soul,Michael Evans speaks of character in the ancient Greeks’ moral philosophy of stoicism as, “... involving the rigorous cultivation of self-command, self-reliance, and moral autonomy, a system in which an individual seeks to develop character on the basis of the four cardinal virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom ....”

When you look back on this season, it will be your individual and collective character, “the firm seasoned substance of your soul”, as a team that determined your success, and after Williams, your ability to live “an invented life”— a life as Warren Bennis says, “…without borrowed postures, second-hand ideas, or fitting in instead of standing out!”

  1. Thought # 2 … People are the only source of a sustainable competitive advantage.
    • Look around you! You are blessed with great people: teammates, coaches, alumni, trainers, staff, administrators, local residents, students, faculty, fans, and family. You already have a competitive advantage primarily because of people.

You may be the smartest guy in the room, the leading scorer, or make a billion dollars on Wall Street. Unless you respect human dignity, can be unselfish and part of a cohesive team, and learn to be “interpersonally astute” with people, you will never fulfill your potential.

…so how is all this wisdom applied in the real world?

Ted’s Ten Truths for Life After Williams

  1. Take “ownership” for inventing your life. Have the elasticity, versatility, and optimism for fulfillment, rather than chasing money, since simply not being poor is adequate.
  2. Value productive and fulfilling relationships. The single biggest differentiating factor among leaders is the quality of their portfolio of relationships with mentors, sounding boards, and trusted advisors. You need adult friends who are not your parents.
  3. Learn how to read a balance sheet, an income and expense statement, understand cash flow, investments ---- and start a savings account now.
  4. George Barnard Shaw, the British playwright said, “All great innovation starts with an unreasonable person.” Things that are reasonable are already done. Be unreasonable.
  5. Often there is more risk in not being bold enough, than in being too bold.
  6. When seeking employment after Williams, consider searching for the next cluster of people you can trust, rather than settling for a slot on an organizational chart. Develop hard functional skills early. Outside of work, take an interest in global disruptions affecting your life, such as human space exploration, climate change, artificial intelligence, hypersonic speed, emerging economies, robotics, migration.
  7. Enhance your communicating skills of listening, public speaking, interviewing, and “Strategic Selling”. Never heard the term “Strategic Selling”? Complex situations often require the approval of multiple people. Can you discern the person in the role of the decision maker who can say “yes”; the user who evaluates the impact of your offer on his performance; the screening technician not authorized to say “yes”, but can certainly say “no”; or an informed friend who has no authority, yet who can guide you to a successful outcome? Learn why people act simply motivated by “personal wins”. (see Miller and Heiman)
  8. Remember life is short and fragile. Vince Scully, the long-time announcer of the Los    Angeles Dodgers once said on the air, “Andre Dawson (the famous baseball player) has an injured knee and is listed day-to-day…(pause) … aren’t we all.”
  9. The culture of any enterprise or society matters a lot. Culture is defined as “our values in action” or “what we all do.” Williams College Men’s Basketball has an excellent culture created by multiple decades of continuity of purpose. Lead your own spheres of influence away from disaggregated confederations of political, economic, regional, and social micro-cultures and tribes, each advocating its own agenda, acting in self-interests, and fragmenting people, into communities with effective shared values.
  10. Finally, become a good competitor capable of going far beyond the comfortable and familiar with the will, grit, and discipline to achieve valuable results. Work hard, enjoy each practice and game, and be a good teammate – for you are forever known as a Williams College basketball player!

Note: The current student/athletes all requested an 8”x 10” plaque of Ted’s Ten Truths for Life After Williams.

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