Strive to be better every day.


In 2016, I attended a presentation by a man named Paul O’Neill. Subsequently on another occasion, I had a good one-on-one conversation with him.


The late Paul O’Neill was for some years the CEO of Alcoa, a global giant best known for the aluminum it produces. He also served as Secretary of the Treasury in the second Bush administration. As I learned quickly, Paul O’Neill was a straight talker. With him, what you saw and heard was what you got.


His mantra was simply this: Be better every day. He told me, It’s important to learn from mistakes so we don’t repeat them. This is how you become a high-performing organization (or person).


He told this story: When I first became CEO at Alcoa, I was concerned that we had too many safety incidents and I set improved worker safety as a goal. When they heard that, you could just see people sort of smirking. They had heard this before and thought it was just another platitude.


You have to make sure your people are really your number one priority. Everyone has to own the safety goal and their role in it. Don’t just articulate it. Support it. In our conversation, he talked about what he called the tom-tom network, employees being part of what is known as water-cooler talk and how powerful that network can be.


As the new CEO, he went to plant sites around the country and talked about safety. At an Alcoa facility in Tennessee, he gave his home phone number to employees and instructed them to call directly if there were safety hazards being ignored. Soon, I received a call one evening at home describing just that type of situation at the Tennessee plant. I listened and then I called the plant manager. I woke him up to tell him of the call and to say I expected the situation to be handled immediately. He was to call me and confirm that had been done. This was the moment the tom-tom network started to understand that safety talk was no platitude. Zero injuries was a real goal.


How do you get to improved safety or any other goal in business or in your personal life? You do it by getting better every day, by never accepting good enough as being good enough.


At the end of the day, words don’t mean a lot. It’s actions that matter. We need more CEOs who give their home numbers to employees. Being our best selves has little to do with words and a great deal to do with walking the talk. Paul O’Neill walked the talk.


Another CEO, Paul Tippett of American Motors, once said the following to me. Davis, there isn’t anything public relations people can do for us if we don’t make good cars.


Two CEOs reinforcing a message that doing something is a lot more important than just talking about it.


For me, the lesson is this. In all we do, we should strive to be the person we would want to follow. Paul O’Neill said it perfectly. Get better every day.

DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.


This blog is a product of DY Author & Speaker LLC. Feel free to quote content with attribution. Respond. Agree. Disagree. Share the content with your friends. Heck - even invite him as a speaker for your group! Enjoy!


My own very small role in settling the Wild West.


Just north of Scottsdale, Arizona, sits the small town of Carefree - altitude 2,568 feet, population 3,876. At some point in yesteryear, I attended a conference in Carefree. Back then, if it was happening in Carefree, chances are the Carefree Inn was the engine that got it started.


On our conference schedule was a desert cookout. I thought this event would be a lot of fun - except for one thing. The expectation was that if you were going to attend, you would come by horseback. This was to be my first time riding a horse and to say I was a bit nervous would be a substantial understatement. I was terrified. I have since ridden both elephants and camels, but back then I was a raw rookie. I braced myself for what I suspected would be a massive stampede and almost certain death.


On the day of the cookout, I recall a large group of us assembled as wranglers began assigning us to our horses. In fact, the exact number of riders that day was 107. I have a mind that carries that kind of trivia around for years.


Experienced riders confidently climbed aboard and were in complete control. Their horses were motionless. I tried to slip - unnoticed - further and further to the back of the line. Finally, the moment of truth had arrived for me. With a big push of my bum by some scruffy wrangler, I was aboard. It took only a minute for my horse to become restless and to get out of line as he spotted some sort of desert plant he wanted to eat. I’m not sure, but I think it might have been grass. The wrangler came flying over and said Don’t let him eat that. I remember my response to this day. He eats what he wants to eat when he wants to eat it. I mean this is America, right? No wrangler was going to push me or my horse around.


Soon enough a line of 107 of us set out. I felt a rush of confidence come over me as it became immediately clear these horses make the same trip to the same cookout site probably four times a week, perhaps more. They could do this blindfolded. Or so I thought.


Suddenly, my horse took a sharp right turn and the two of us headed off in our own direction, separated from the group by an ever-increasing distance. This was very disconcerting for someone like me who is used to being in control. The horse was in control and was riding me more than I was riding him. For a few long minutes I envisioned myself as one of the only American immigrants illegally crossing the border INTO Mexico. In reality, we were far from the border, but the horse had a plan I was not made aware of - and my mind was racing through all kinds of scenarios.


Finally, we emerged from our desert exploration, came up over a small hill and - amazingly - arrived at the cookout. Of the 107 horses that had set out, we finished third. A total of 104 horses and riders that took the traditional route came in behind us. Losers all. That was truly one of the greatest moments of my life - a surprise podium finish on my first ride. How great is that?


The American West is big country where big people have accomplished big things. I may not qualify as a “big” person and, yes, my horse was a tad aged, but we accomplished great things that day. First and foremost, I rode him. That was an accomplishment in itself. We also developed a deep trust of each other - me that he would eventually get me where I needed to go, and him that I would not scream bloody murder when he went off trail.


The world needs more horses that blaze their own trails. What horse has ever made a difference by simply taking the well-worn path? My horse broke the mold. Good for him. To use a traditional southwestern term, it takes some chutzpah to walk a different trail. There are an infinite number of ways to get from Point A to Point B, and I am forever thankful to that horse for reminding me of this.

DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.


This blog is a product of DY Author & Speaker LLC. Feel free to quote content with attribution. Respond. Agree. Disagree. Share the content with your friends. Heck - even invite him as a speaker for your group! Enjoy!

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.


In Athens - at the top of a hill known as the Acropolis and overlooking the city center - sits an historic site known as the Parthenon.


The Parthenon has been there since five centuries before the birth of Christ or, put another way, about 25 centuries before today. By contrast, New York City’s world famous Empire State Building was completed less than one century ago.


Open to the public, the Parthenon welcomes thousands of visitors each day (at least it did pre-COVID) to experience its beauty and the incredible views of Athens. There is only one caveat. You must climb the Acropolis to visit the Parthenon. There is no escalator. To go up is a choice. To come down is a requirement, as there is no Marriott or restaurant to sustain you at the top.


And so it was one day that my wife and I set out to make the climb. Some say it’s not difficult. I disagree. There are no consistent steps, no well-anchored handrails, nothing at all to grab onto. You are on your own traversing well-worn (aka slick) steps with a variety of inches in height, depth and width. Each one is different from the one before or the one coming up. They are smooth and can be very slippery with a little morning dew on the surface. How many of these steps are there? I didn’t count, but I assure you there are a whole bunch.


While inching my way up, I noticed a man ascending ahead of me. He was using two canes. It was obvious he was struggling. But, he plowed onward and upward, powering his way to the top. He wanted to see the Parthenon and nothing was going to stop him, not even a climb where anybody in perfect health could easily fall and be injured - much less someone with mobility issues.


Later that day, we were in the square that contains the Plaka, which is the old town Athens shopping area. I saw the man with the canes again. I caught his eye and he said, I think I recognize you. Are you from Cleveland? Talk about a small world. Two Clevelanders meeting for the first time in Greece.


I walked over and said, Yes, I am a Clevelander. I saw you going up and down the Acropolis this morning and I really respect how you just kept moving. That clearly wasn’t easy. He responded, No, it wasn’t. I have bone cancer. Learning that, I couldn’t believe he had been able to make it up and down. We talked for a few more minutes, then departed vowing to get together once we were back home. His name was Lou. We did see him again, this time at his home. Some time after that, we learned he had died.


I don’t tell you this story to make you sad. Rather, I hope it inspires you. When you’re facing a tough day or perhaps down in spirits, think of this man with two canes who got himself up and down a big hill to spend time seeing an historic site that was important to him. For me and I hope for you, that shows we can muster the energy and willpower to accomplish big things even in the face of adversity. When we don’t give up, we can reach higher than we might ever think possible.


I hope each of us reaches higher today in our own life. Live those words we hear so often - HAVE A GREAT DAY.


Just like my friend Lou did, keep on keepin’ on.

DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.


This blog is a product of DY Author & Speaker LLC. Feel free to quote content with attribution. Respond. Agree. Disagree. Share the content with your friends. Heck - even invite him as a speaker for your group! Enjoy!

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