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Seven Principles To Keep You Present, Grounded, And Thriving

During these past two years, the pandemic inspired many of us to question what we value, therefore, making for an ideal time to read, Be Where Your Feet Are, the book by Scott O’Neil. The book lays out the seven principles needed to keep you present, grounded, and thriving in work, home, and everything in between. 

“The pandemic has forced us to check ourselves, slow down, and even to pause time and space to reflect on the lives we were leading,” says O’Neil.


O’Neil is the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, a global sports and entertainment company that includes the Philadelphia 76errs (NBA) and the New Jersey Devils (NHL).


In the book, O’Neil shares his deeply personal, honest, uplifting, inspiring and sometimes tragic story of grief and healing and his discovered most valuable lessons in what keeps him present, grounded and thriving as a father, husband, coach, mentor, and leader.


The seven principles O’Neil outlines are:

  1. Be Where Your Feet Are
  2. Change the Race
  3. WMI – What’s Most Important
  4. Fail Forward
  5. Be the Purple Water Buffalo
  6. Assume Positive Intent
  7. Trust the Process

At the end of each chapter, O’Neil invites you to Put the Principle to Practice via engaging exercises to help you learn more, retain more, and move a step closer toward the person you aspire to be.


The book is a timely guide for not only how to achieve a better life, but also how to become a better leader.


Recently, O’Neil shared these additional insights and advice with us:


Question: What inspired you to write a book about your challenges and conflicts?

O’Neil: My knee-jerk reaction is that I was lost. I’ve had a rather charmed career, a blessed marriage, was making a confident walk through the world, and then I was stuck. I lost a few important people in my life: my best friend who took his own life; my father to Parkinson’s and Dementia; one of my mentors, David Stern, who passed away suddenly and way too soon.

Sometimes I get the sense that from the outside looking in, everything is perfect, smooth and easy... CEO of a sports team—dream job, right? Raising three amazing daughters—‘so easy.’ 25-year marriage—‘they were made for each other,’ no sweat. You know what? It isn’t easy or smooth or predictable. It is life. It is messy. There are issues and problems and setbacks and pitfalls...and sometimes no matter how hard you work, it feels like you’re in quicksand—but there are amazing lessons in the quicksand!


I wanted to write a book that gives a vulnerable walk through the rollercoaster of life and helps others see that it is okay to trip and fall and that we have to keep grounded, keep working, and keep learning.


Question: How has the concept of work-life balance evolved, for you, into being where your feet are?


O’Neil: Work-life balance? I don’t see it—it’s a myth at best and a quixotic windmill chase at worst. When you are at work, be at work and be amazing! When you are at home, be at home and be amazing!


Does this mean you cannot take a call from your partner or text your kids from work? No, but it does mean that when you do it, you are 100% engaged. The line is becoming thinner and thinner between work and home, and we need more discipline, process and focus.


The reality is that you have limited windows to engage with your family each day. To stay grounded and thriving in life, you need to know when those times are and dig in, put your phone down, silence your ringer and be where your feet are. And, I have yet to come across anyone in life who has been successful and not had to work hard to get there and stay other words, you need to be there mind, body, and soul. 


Question: How do you maintain the discipline to be where your feet are?


O’Neil: Time is your most precious commodity. By creating structure, holding and protecting your time for the people, passions and priorities in your life, you will be able to commit to each moment fully. As we said during “The Process” - “patience is the great arbitrage in sports,”. The Process, as it is known in the sports world, was the Philadelphia 76ers taking a long view of building a championship contending team through the NBA Draft, which is to say, it was more advantageous to have the discipline to have a plan and stick to it by saying no to the present (winning now at all costs) and yes to the future, process, culture and long-term thinking. In the NBA, there was tremendous pressure to conform - the media, fans, the NBA League Office...even our friends and neighbors, but the value in having a plan, staying true to that process and having conviction that a future goal is worth the struggle is as true in life as it is on the court.


I can earnestly put my phone down for several hours at work each day, because I know I have an hour budgeted for a walk with my wife when I get home. Personal meetings, time to read for pleasure, exercise, even morning prayer— every moment of my life is budgeted based on my absolute priorities and passions.

First decide why this time matters (because it does, and it will make you a better friend, parent and teammate at work). Then, set up a process to make the most of that time (like leaving your phone in the car when you get home after a long day or simply no phones during dinner).


There can be no “FOMO” or running to check your phone when you know you’ve allotted time for “What Matters Most;” because I’m always where I need to or want to be. Use your calendar to block off personal meetings (from a date night to parent teacher conference meetings) just like you do at work and hold to it just like you would a conference call.


Ask someone who knows you best to hold you accountable and be open to feedback. There is nothing worse than seeing that look on your child’s face when they know you are not engaged...and, sadly, that text you just checked just isn’t as important. 


Question: What is a leadership constitution and why should individuals commit to one?


O’Neil: All our executives at the Philadelphia 76ers are challenged to declare who they are at their core in the form of a leadership constitution. It is a declaration of who you are at your core. Anyone can—and should—create one by answering the following two questions:


1. I declare that I am...

2. You can count on me to...


Give this exercise a try. 

My own leadership constitution is below:


I declare that I am a passionate and authentic leader of leaders who feels a gravitational pull towards talent and character. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love people and being part of a team. I get energy from helping others and would give the shirt off my back to a stranger and anything, anytime to a friend. I am family first, high integrity and surprisingly sensitive change agent who is confident, caring and intellectually curious. This fuels a competitive drive that at times feels like a chip on my shoulder.


You can count on me to…

  • Bring positive energy into my space.
  • Exude urgency and push you, challenge you, nudge you and raise the bar beyond your expectations and sometimes what you think reasonable.
  • Laugh with you, cry with you, love you even when you won’t laugh, haven’t cried and don’t feel love.
  • Root for you today, every day, and always.
  • Share the most personal of thoughts, emotions, stories, highs and lows because I am okay with it and who I am.
  • Enjoy the rollercoaster of lifewhether we are going forward, backwards and upside down.
  • Drive hard to reach the summit and then quickly start on another mountain.
  • Share wins and take hits for losses. 

The Leadership Constitution is a simple and wildly effective exercise in identifying your core commitments as a leader—and also as a partner, parent, colleague, teammate, or any other leadership role that’s important to you.


The exercise is as rich in self-awareness as it is in understanding and appreciating others in your life. Deep, personal, introspection arises when you commit to answer the questions without ego or agenda—and your answers may even surprise you.


Over the course of the last decade, I have utilized this exercise with multiple NBA and NHL franchises, and C-Suite to Entry-Level Executives, and the result is always the same. We earnestly and proudly recognize our commitments, but also confront when our actions do (and sometimes do not) reflect those commitments.


For many the learnings of this exercise answer the all-important question: “How do you show up?” You get out of this exercise what you put into it—so dig deep, challenge yourself, and answer as your most vulnerable, authentic self.


Question: How can employers and employees cultivate a more personal connection even remotely?


O’Neil: It has been fun getting a peek inside the world of executives inside and outside the company...between kids, dogs and some pretty nice kitchens, we have an incredible opportunity to connect with those we work with in the crazy Zoom world we live in today.


The one thing I know for sure, is that connection will not happen by chance. Start every meeting with an exercise and end each meeting with an around-the-horn gratitude circle. The exercise can be as simple as talking about a time you accomplished something difficult, sharing a holiday tradition, a favorite pet story, describing your best friend, sharing three things you want to learn outside of work, etc.


Today while working remotely, we need more programming, more thoughtfulness, and more engagement to create connection. 


Question: What kinds of conversations do you hope your book might inspire between teammates, colleagues, and friends? 


O’Neil: I would love people to drop their guard, put their phones down and look up, and help one another commit to doing work to get better and make a difference. This will not just happen, but I hope the book serves as a reminder that it is such an incredible time in the world to find meaning, figure out what really matters and get to know those in your life better and deeper.

Question: What’s the first step anyone could take to start applying your advice tomorrow?

O’Neil: Pick one thing you want to engage in and decide it matters. Write it down. Act. The journey to discovering and finding peace with your authentic self and your most fulfilling commitments is a hard, rich and enlightening one. But if you are committed to leading a present, purposeful and passionate life, then you must confront and change or accept that which you uncover in your self-reflection. (Some part of that is also how you “show up” to those around you.)


Once you have these rich learnings, own them, declare them, act on them (and bring others along!). When your purpose is present with you continuously; you will be present continuously.


And, Being Where Your Feet Are, will lead to richer personal relationships, more effective and focused work production, and more fulfilling and spiritual moments of gratitude and appreciation for this gift—and opportunity—that is your life. Don’t waste a possession.  

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


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