Tips From The Top: One On One With ESPN’s Baxter Holmes

I spoke to ESPN's Baxter Holmes about his best advice

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Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Baxter: My family and I lived in a 24-foot diameter tipi for a period of time in 1994 in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. It was the most efficient and available housing situation while my father built our home – a log cabin – and it re-connected us to our Native American roots, which is why we moved from the Pacific Northwest to Oklahoma in the first place.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Baxter: I’m incredibly lucky. I mean, my career literally knocked on the door one day when I was 16. I was then a high school sophomore in Oklahoma, not paying attention during math class, when the boys’ basketball coach and the sports editor of the local weekly newspaper wrapped on that door, asking for me. The editor asked if I’d cover the team – which I played on, as a bench-warmer – and I asked if he’d pay me. But I soon became obsessed with the craft of using words to capture what happened. I read as many books as I could on journalism and storytelling, then I went to the University of Oklahoma, where I studied journalism and wrote for the student newspaper. I also completed summer internships and journalism institutes – and all those opportunities helped me land a spot in an entry-level program at the Los Angeles Times, upon graduating. But I always think back to that knock on the door. Before that point, I had wanted to chase tornadoes – as most kids growing up in Oklahoma wanted to do after “Twister” came out, I’m sure — but then my life changed.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Baxter: I can only speak to what I know, which is journalism, so when it comes to great leaders, I always think of legendary editors whom I know or have studied. Here are two examples: Ben Bradlee and Marty Baron. For instance, it was said of Bradlee, The Washington Post’s former editor, that his staff would run through a brick wall for him, because they knew he’d do the same for them. And the current staff at the Post would certainly do the same for Baron – now the Post’s executive editor – just as the staff at the Boston Globe would’ve done when Baron led that newsroom. Even though their personalities couldn’t have been more different, the common link between Bradlee and Baron is they knew they were a part of something far greater than themselves, and they showed unwavering support toward those around them.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Baxter: My first tip is vital for a journalist but for anyone, really: listen. That might sound like a cliché notion, but listening is even more important in a digital era where distraction dominates.

My second tip is to heavily research the market place and identify potential areas for opportunity. Again, this sounds simple, but it’s not. For instance, if I’m a reporter covering, say, restaurants in a specific city, well it would be wise to examine not just past coverage around those restaurants but of the entire restaurant industry in general. Are there certain types of stories that aren’t being told? Or certain stories that are being told time and again but not in an impactful way? What is missing?

My third tip is simple: Read. Read articles, books and whatever else you can about whatever it is that you’re interested in — and also read about other subjects to help broaden your knowledge as much as you can.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Baxter: Only focus on that which you can control.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Baxter: Never forget those who helped you reach this point – and extend the same generosity to others that they extended to you.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Baxter: I like to read, travel, see movies, workout. Those are the biggest things that come to mind, but I’m not sure how much those have shaped me so much as they help provide me with more work/life balance, which I’ve come to believe is vital. Anyone who works all the time is going to burn themselves out – no matter how tough or driven that person believes they might be.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Baxter: I guess I’d add one other thing that has helped me greatly and that’s just to be intensely curious. That trait is, of course, crucial for journalists, but it’s also just really important in general, I think, for everyone. Being curious helps drive people to learn more – about their work, their field, themselves and on and on. It’s one thing to say, “Don’t be satisfied,” but I think it’s more important to maintain a strong sense of curiosity, because that helps push against complacency, too. After all, wouldn’t any curious individual want to know how far they can push themselves? How good they might one day become? Curiosity, to me, is everything.

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