Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and 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?
Kelly: As a young boy growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, I was always fascinated by airplanes and the sense of freedom in flying them. In fact, one of the very first big goals I set for myself was to earn my Pilot’s License which I achieved at age 22. Flying airplanes fueled my sense of adventure and helped me understand the importance of taking calculated risks. At the end of the flight, a pilot must stop circling the field and safely land the plane. There are some parallels to business decision-making that I’ve used very successfully throughout my career.
How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Kelly: As a young man I was a self-help junkie. I loved Zig Ziegler, Jim Rohn and the like. I had never heard anyone speak like that before and it really changed my outlook. This influence taught me early on that setting personal and professional goals and having a positive mindset would make a big difference in my life. I was fortunate to have many good examples in my life to follow. My Dad, Sam Walton, Drayton McLain, and many others who inspired me, mentored me and believed in me. They passed on helpful advice and set great examples for me to follow. As far as setbacks and challenges go, I’ve had as many as the next guy. I think the difference is my outlook. I did not let obstacles and setbacks get me down or slow me down. I looked at these experiences as growth opportunities to help pave the way for future success.
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?
Kelly: Well, most of the great leaders that I know have courage, integrity, incredible work ethic, and kindness. In addition, great leaders are constantly looking for ways to improve. If you want to take your leadership skills to the next level, spend time with leaders that have these characteristics and traits and exhibit the behaviors associated with these traits and characteristics. You become more like the people you spend time with.
What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Kelly: 1. Think big! Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right! Mindset is everything.
2. Say what you are going to do and then do what you said you were going to do. If you really want credibility, deliver on your promises. If you practice this, people will trust you, believe in you, and follow your vision.
3. Spend your time on things that matter. People have a tendency to do what is easy, what is fun, and what is right in front of them. Don’t be a slave to your In Box. Wake up each morning, determine what your mindset is going to be and what your day is going to be like, determine what the priorities are that will help you reach your goals and spend your time on those things. Also, spend time with people that give you energy and avoid giving time to people who take your energy.
4. Bonus. Spend time working on things that may not be comfortable for you but are necessary to be an effective leader. It may be public speaking, it may be dealing with confrontational issues, it may be delivering bad news. Work on things that make you uncomfortable temporarily but make you better in the long run. It’s like working on muscles that you don’t use very often, it may be uncomfortable at first but will become easier over time.
What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?
Kelly: First of all, hire talented, smart, results-driven people. Set the vision for them. Treat those people with respect and allow them enough flexibility to do their jobs to the best of their ability. All people want to feel valued, so let them know that you appreciate and value them on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to let them know when they need to course correct. They will appreciate it, especially when you deliver it with a kind and caring message. In addition, creating a team atmosphere in which the team supports each other, encourages each other, and holds each other accountable for success is absolutely vital.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Kelly: I received a tremendous amount of advice that has been really helpful over the years. One thing that Drayton McLain told me at a young age was to “walk with the elephants, they really shake things up.” What he meant by that was to spend time with people who are bigger than you, more experienced, more talented and people you aspire to be like. Again, we are like the people we spend the most amount of time with. I’ve learned so much by spending time with “elephants” in my life.
What is the one thing everyone should do to pay it forward?
Kelly: So many people have helped me in my career. People took chances on me; therefore, I want to take chances on people. You must believe in people, in some cases more than they believe in themselves, until they start believing in themselves. Create an equal playing field for everyone. Everyone deserves the chance to be as successful as they want to be regardless of their background, upbringing, etc. Sometimes we need to give people a leg up, teach, coach and mentor them. And we have to remember that the people we are mentoring are usually not as experienced as we are. We must be patient with them. It is difficult, but we must let them fail occasionally and coach them through those challenges to make them better leaders.