What separates successful people from the rest? What makes someone an exceptional leader—and a great teammate?
In early 2020 I launched the Everybody Pulls The Tarp podcast and each week speak with Olympians, pro athletes, CEOs, elite coaches, bestselling authors, and other high-performers with a goal of uncovering their secrets to success.
I’ve always subscribed to the mindset that the best teams and organizations are powered by individuals who do the unexpected. Executing the responsibilities in your “job description” are simply the basic fundamentals—the best leaders and teammates do the unexpected. It’s what I call the “Everybody Pulls The Tarp” mindset.
It’s a mantra I’ve lived by since my first day as an intern working in minor league baseball. A front office executive told me to keep a pair of old clothes at the ballpark so I could help the grounds crew pull the tarp on and off the field on rainy days.
I learned that minor league grounds crews are typically smaller than their major league counterparts. The field is the same size and the same work needs to be done—but there are a lot less people to do it. As a result, others in the organization step in at times to help get the job done.
So far on the podcast I’ve talked to 36 (and counting!) successful, high-performers across a range of disciplines and backgrounds—all roughly 30 minute, free flowing conversations. I’ll share a few lessons I learned so far.
There Is No Task Beneath You
All of the individuals I spoke with made it clear they are willing to do whatever is needed—even if it means performing tasks perceived to be “beneath them” based upon their experience, tenure, or rank. They are willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and do the necessary work.
I consistently heard this message from each of the 36 individuals I interviewed on the podcast and I’ll share a few that stand out.
15x SEC Coach of the Year, Florida Volleyball Head Coach Mary Wise, told me she helps unload the team’s luggage off of the bus when they arrive in a new city.
Reggie Love, who served as personal aide to President Barack Obama, told me he trained teleprompter operators in each venue then-Senator Obama campaigned in because it helped Obama deliver his speeches more effectively.
Indiana Football Head Coach, Tom Allen, told me he’s had numerous coaching stops throughout his career where he didn’t have all of the personnel required and, as a result, he painted lines on the field, cleaned the bathrooms, and performed many other tasks not typically associated with head coach responsibilities.
Successful leaders and teammates consistently embrace adversity. Instead of trying to navigate around adversity, they embrace it head on to overcome challenges (and often come through it even stronger).
Aaron Golub, the first legally blind student-athlete to play in an NCAA football game, credits his parents with instilling in him the importance of facing challenges head on and not taking the easy way out. For example, as a child his parents let him struggle while learning to tie his shoes as opposed to doing it for him—even if helping him made the process go faster. Golub told me it built resiliency and resourcefulness, skills he has drawn upon his entire life.
3x Olympic gold medalist and international soccer sensation Heather Mitts told me about her comeback from a devastating knee injury. Mitts remained positive and worked with her trainer to return to action—and said she came back a stronger, more well rounded player than she was prior to the injury.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Quite simply, nobody achieves an elite level of success alone.
Tessa Virtue, the most decorated Olympic figure skater of all-time, told me a team of approximately 14 individuals worked behind the scenes as she and ice dance partner Scott Moir prepared for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Millions around the world saw Virtue and Moir on the podium—but there were so many others unseen who played a role in their success.
Former Major League Baseball star Todd Zeile told me how grateful he is for teammates early in his career who mentored him as he changed positions. There was no requirement that teammates help him navigate the change—but they did.
You Achieve More By Doing The Unexpected
Bestselling author Jon Gordon told me a story he learned about through his work with the Clemson University football team. After team movie outings, former star quarterback Tajh Boyd diligently cleaned up the movie theater. Boyd could have left a mess for the movie theater staff—instead he led by example and set the tone for his teammates.
Topgolf CEO Dolf Berle shared that many years ago while he was COO at House of Blues, he once made 400 calls to his staff on Thanksgiving to share his gratitude. When I shared a clip of him talking about this on my podcast the post went viral—with so many former colleagues sharing how much hearing from Berle on Thanksgiving meant to them personally.
There is no one size fits all approach to doing the unexpected (or pulling the tarp as I like to say!) but there are opportunities to do so each day.
What’s something unexpected you can do today to pull the tarp? It doesn’t have to be cleaning up an entire movie theater or making a few hundred phone calls.
- Send a handwritten follow up note after a meeting instead of (or in addition to) a follow up email
- Share a book recommendation with a friend or client
- Pick up the newspaper as you walk up someone’s driveway and bring it to their doorstep (one of the FedEx employees who delivers our packages does this and it always brings a smile to my face!)
- Call someone instead of sending a text
- Ask a teammate who says they are busy if there is something you can help them with to alleviate their workload
Most importantly, if you see someone making an unexpected contribution be sure to thank them and celebrate it. Then, tag me on Instagram (@andrewmoses123) to tell me all about it. Happy Tarp Pulling!