Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

The impact a positive adult role model can have on a young person is well documented. Sometimes all a kid needs to inspire them to excel in school and life is to know they matter in this world.  But we adults benefit from having mentors in our lives as well.  For instance, an early mentor of mine, former National Football League head coach Chuck Knox taught me a lot about leadership and had a profound impact on my management style during my tenure with the Seattle Seahawks. Responsibility with accountability is how I describe it.

Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.
Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.

Chuck was always about doing what it took to win. He didn’t micro-manage his assistants, but gave them the latitude to prepare their players as they saw fit within the context of the overall game-plan, and held them accountable for each respective group showing up on game day mentally ready to play to win.

He stressed the importance of minimizing mistakes, and that the team’s chances of winning were enhanced if every position did their part. It was a thing of beauty when everything came together – offense, defense, and special teams. Chuck of course was the guy who made the call of whether or not to “go for it” on fourth and one!

Chuck’s leadership style and way with people, engendered loyalty, a will to win, and typically yielded high performance by everyone involved, including those of us in the front office. One of my duties back then was handling team travel, so I got to know Coach very well, as I helped coordinate moving the team from Seattle to whatever city we were playing in. This included working with the airlines, hotels, buses, and our public relations advance team.  We knew that if the trip went smoothly, both players and coaches would be better prepared mentally to do their jobs on the field. We all had a job to do to help the team win on Sunday. It is fair to say that this is an illustration of developing a culture. Winning typically doesn’t happen by accident.  I recall often repeating a quote attributed to the late Branch Rickey, “luck is the residue of design.”

The cool thing is that we were all aware that win or lose – we did it together. That attitude serves me well now as I lead the mission of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. All of us are inextricably tied together in this journey and must move through the cradle to career pipeline as a carefully coordinated team to ensure that the kids in this neighborhood are better positioned to pursue the American dream. We are developing a winning culture to drive an initiative with arguably a lot more at stake than winning a football game. Promise is in the life-changing business, and I credit Coach Knox with helping me to understand the importance of building a winning culture that will help our kids win in a transformational way.