Kelly King, chairman and CEO of Charlotte-based BB&T Corp., was the keynote speaker at ABA’s Real Estate Lending Conference. Most of his remarks covered issues and challenges facing the banking industry and his conviction that the industry can not only survive the challenges, but thrive in the new environment. After taking questions from the audience he spoke for about ten minutes further on a more personal note. Kelly, who has been with the $185 billion-assets bank holding company for 42 years, didn’t get to the top by not knowing something about how to motivate people.
His message is worth reading for anyone feeling the pressure of life’s many challenges—banking related and otherwise. The following transcript has been slightly edited for clarity.
“You can take the situation that we have today with all the challenges and decide to let all the problems cause you to say, ‘Well, I just can’t be successful because the economy is not going well; I can’t be successful because of QM, … [there’s] a long list of issues. You can take that approach, and frankly most people do, or you can decide that you get to decide how you live your life at work and out of work. You get to decide how you approach the obstacles, how you approach the challenges. And I believe that if you decide that you are going to be the best you can be, that you are going to be what I call a top achiever, you can accomplish dramatically more than ever thought you could even in spite of the challenges that are out there.
“I’ve been a student over the years of top achievers and I’ve found there are five characteristics of outstanding achievers. If you think about these and apply them, I absolutely guarantee it will make a big difference in how you live your life in terms of success and happiness.
1. The number one characteristic of outstanding achievers is that they believe absolutely and completely to their toes in what it is they’re trying to accomplish—their purpose. Take Olympians, for example. They will practices eight or ten hours a day seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for years and years and years. You won’t find those folks running around saying, ‘Well, you know I think I can be number 13 in the world.’ They believe to their toes that they can be the best—No. 1 at what they’re trying do.
2. That belief, that sense of passion for their purpose, drives the second characteristic of outstanding achievers: They commit time, energy and resources to make it happen. A lot of times in life, you, like I, have seen people say, ‘Well, I believe in this or I believe in that,’ and then you watch what happens and they don’t commit any energy toward it. What’s that say? They don’t really believe in it. If you really believe, if you’re passionate about something—in work or outside of work—you will commit your energy to it because it’s really important to you.
3. That commitment gets translated into the third characteristic of outstanding achievers: They train themselves so they have better skills than anybody else. At the end of the day, how successful you are is a function of whether you have the best skills or not. Michael Jordan could sit around and dream about being the greatest basketball player in the world, and Tiger Woods could dream about being the best golfer, but if they didn’t get out there and practice over and over and over then [they’re not going to win]. When you’re out there today trying to make loans, if you have better skills than somebody else, that’s what makes the difference. But you’ll never get the skills, never get the education and training unless you’re deeply committed and believe passionately, because otherwise you just kind of treat it half way. So that learning, that growing constantly is a really, really big deal.
4. And then the fourth characteristic of outstanding achievers is this: They learn how to enjoy the journey. Enjoying the journey has two aspects to it. One is that if you don’t enjoy what you do every day—have the kind of job where you have to make yourself go in and can’t wait to get off—if you don’t get a sense of positive energy out of what you’re doing, you’re just a 90-day burnout. You see this all the time. People fizzle out because they don’t get that positive energy from what they do.
“People that are high achievers work 10-12 hours a day. When they get home they’re dead tired. But emotionally they’re on a high—they’re pumped up, their excited. They get rejuvenated and get up the next morning fired up and ready to go again. That’s enjoying what they’re doing.
“The other thing for me personally about enjoying the journey is that at the end of the day life’s really, really short. I’ve been in banking 42 years and I can still recall the first day I joined the bank. Life goes by really fast, and the shame of it is, most people spend their lives either living in the past or the future. The people living in the past are the ones that are always worried, upset, angry or frustrated about something that happened 5, 10, 20 years ago. You, like I, have probably heard somebody say, ‘I’m still mad with Joe.’ You ask them, ‘Why are you mad with Joe?’ and they say, ‘Twenty years ago he did such and such,’ and they carry all that anger and it’s doing nothing but making them frustrated and miserable.
“Then you have people who live in the future. These are the people who say, ‘I’ll be happy when I get that promotion; when I get the house paid off; when the kids get out of college.’ When, when, when… Here’s the problem: Not one of us can change yesterday and not one of us has tomorrow promised. This is it. This is life.
“The essence of life is to get hold of that reality and to live in the moment; live today, so that you are focusing on doing the best you can do today, even with the challenges.
“I know, some of you are thinking, ‘You talk about enjoying the journey, but you don’t know how many problems I’ve got. If you knew you wouldn’t suggest I be a top achiever.’
“Look, everybody has problems. You would be shocked by the problems that the person to your right and your left have. Somebody just got a bad medical report, somebody’s sister just lost her job. The question is, what do you do when you face the problems of life? Do you allow the problems to consume you so that you focus on them and it drains your energy and you can’t go about trying to be the best you can possibly be? Or do you put the challenges and obstacles in context and say: Yes, there problems; yes they’re real, but I’m going to figure out how to go over, under, around and through these problems and stay focused on my journey, focused on my goals.
5. To do that requires you have the fifth characteristic of outstanding achievers: An enthusiastic, positive attitude. That will help you get through the problems of life and help you keep that positive energy moving forward. There are lots of problems, but there are lots more reasons to be excited about life. We talk about the negatives of the our country, but there’s nothing wrong with this country. There’s a wonderful opportunity to grow our country and create a land of opportunity all over again for our kids and grandkids.
“On the individual level, all of us have many blessings of God to be thankful for. A lot of times we don’t stop and think about them. I tell our associates at the bank: The next time you’re feeling bad about life, go sit down at the kitchen table and take out a clean sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side write all the problems, all the issues, all the things that are wrong about your life—the things that if they were fixed would make you happy. Then on the right-hand side write the God-given advantages you have—the ability to walk, talk, see.
“Now imagine that I come along and you knew for an absolute fact that I had the absolute power to say to you, ‘I’ll make you a deal, I’ll wipe out all the negatives and give you all the money, all the titles, all that stuff that will make you happy. In return, just give me one of your advantages. Give me your…sight.’
“Now if you, like I, wouldn’t dare take that bet, then go into the bathroom and shut the door (so people in your family won’t think you’re crazy!) turn on the light, look yourself in the eyes in the mirror, take your fingers and you pull your lips into a really big smile, clap your hands and you walk out of that bathroom and say, ‘I have decided to live my life. I’ve decided I’m the 100% shareholder—the CEO of my life. I’m going out each and every day and be the best I can be and make a big difference in life as best as I can.
“I’ll close with a story that I heard [televangelist] Joel Osstein tell. It was so cute I have to share it. There was this eagle that was born in a chicken coop. So this eagle was wandering around acting like a chicken. One day he saw an eagle up in the sky and something deep down inside his soul kind of said, ‘Maybe I’m meant to be more than I’m acting like.’
“He decided to get up on the fence and try to fly. He fell right down, bruised his nose, got up the next day, tried again, flew into the barn. But he kept trying and kept trying, and first thing you know he gets air under his wings and he’s soaring thousands of feet up in the air with all the other eagles with a majestic view of the world because he realized he was really meant to be an eagle.
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a chicken if you’re meant to be a chicken. But if you’re meant to be an eagle, and you’re living your life like a chicken, then you are missing the God-given opportunity that you have in life. Don’t blow it! Don’t live like a chicken and miss your opportunity to be an eagle.”