Meet Sam Antion

Leadership Skills from a Man Who Came to America in a Dung-Filled Cattle Boat

I’ve been bragging about my dad ever since 1973 when I did my
graduation speech. I’ve even done professional speeches about one of
the techniques he used to make me tough when I was just a baby (see
below). Until I was preparing his eulogy this past week, I have never
actually written down all the leadership skills he taught me. As I
was working on them, I thought that they would be a good example that
anyone could use both in their life and in their work.

I only saw dad speak in public once and that was at his 50th wedding
anniversary, but I witnessed the leadership skills listed below, my
whole life.

Here’s Dad’s Memorial Top 10 List

Leadership Skill #1
Build it Strong

Dad would always build things more sturdy than they needed to be so
that he would never have to worry when an extraordinary force was
applied. He knew that whatever he built would stand up to the test.
This applied to both character traits and real hammer and nail
construction. In fact, without his insistence on this leadership
trait, I would not be here today.

When I was 16 years old a drunk driver doing nearly 100 mph (161 kph)
ran his car off the road, smashing it into the corner of our living
room. I was the only one in the room when it exploded around me. Had
this been a normally built house, the car would have burst through
the wall and killed me.

Leadership Skill #2
Don’t Take Short Cuts

Dad was an electrician by trade. When doing his wiring, he would
always route the flat wires he worked with in a nice symmetrical and
evenly spaced pattern. He would never just cut across the shortest
distance to save wire and make his costs a little cheaper. I remember
as a child watching him and asking him why he did this when it would
be a lot shorter to just run the wires directly between two points.
He said, “When someone looks at this job years from now, they will
know that a professional did it. And also, if they ever have trouble,
they will be able to track down the problem easier because I did a
nice, neat job.”

I can’t remember dad ever being out of work one day in my whole life.
When everyone else was laid-off, he was always in demand.

Leadership Skill #3
Don’t Waste Things or People

Think a rock isn’t worth much? Read on. At the age of 73, dad was
purchasing some used lumber that someone had advertised in the paper.
When he went to pick it up, he saw a large number of boulders in the
front yard. He asked what they were going to do with the boulders.
The man said, “I just want to get them out of here.” Dad spent two
weeks hauling them back to our house and another two months cutting
them up with a chisel and a hammer. He then built a beautiful stone
fireplace and chimney for one of our rental properties.

Also, I can’t tell you the number of nails I removed from used lumber
that dad made me straighten and use over again. I still do it to this
day. A bent nail, with a little help, can be very useful again.
Sometimes people also need a little help to do the job they were
meant to do.

Leadership Skill #4
Be Self Reliant

Working as a team is great, but when the team isn’t there you just
don’t sit down and wait for help. Dad built pretty much every
building and rental property we own. I remember being so busy with
football and other activities that I didn’t get to help him too much
(I probably would have slowed him down anyway). One day while he was
working on remodeling one of our buildings he asked me to go to the
automotive parts store to get him about 20 feet of clear gas line
tubing and several bottles of Coca Cola. I wondered what he was up to
because he never drank Coke and our car was working fine.

I came back with the tubing and the Coke and stood back and watched
as he did his thing. He plugged one end of the tubing and started
pouring Coke in the other end (I was sure he had lost his mind after
spending three months building the chimney). He said, “When you boys
aren’t around it’s hard for me to make things level because I can’t
be at both ends of these long 2x4s. So I’m going to nail one end of
this tubing on one end of where I’m working and take the other end of
the tubing with me to the other end of the board. He knew from his
self-taught physics studies that liquids seek their own level. He
could see through the clear tubing to the Coca Cola inside. The level
of the Coke on one end of the tubing would be exactly the same level
as at the other end of the tubing and that’s where he would nail his
board—and it was always perfectly level.

Leadership Skill #5

Dad only went to the 5th grade, and that was after skipping two
grades,—so he really only had three years of formal education. At
ten years old (the oldest boy with father deceased), he was head of
his household and shining shoes to support the family. He saved part
of his tips and ordered an electrical engineering course from the
American School. At 13, he had his own electrical contracting company
and installed the first electric light in Carnegie PA. He also bought
his younger sister the first electric washing tub in Bridgeville, PA

He would read, read, and read some more every time he wanted to learn
how to do something. When he retired around the age of 73, he sat
down and read the ENTIRE World Book Encyclopedia. Now, that’s a lot
of reading! Still at 94 and legally blind he listened to hours and
hours of biographies and books on tape, and newspapers on tape
provided by the Library of Congress for blind people. He knew more
about current events than anyone. If you want to learn how to do
something, study and try it out until you get it right.

Leadership Skill #6
You Can Have Whatever You Want if You are Willing to Work For It

This was the 1910 version of “Just do it.” I don’t want you to think
I wasn’t given tons of things by my parents, because I was. But the
most valuable thing was that I was conditioned from a very young age
that the world didn’t “owe” me a living. I had to earn it. I got a
serious work ethic that I will always carry with me. If I want
something, I go after it. I won’t step on people to get what ever it
is, and I won’t cheat or steal, but I will work until I get it or
don’t want it anymore.

This would be a foreign language to many of today’s youth.

Leadership Skill #7
Give Before You Get

During the depression, work was more than scarce…more like non
existent. Even my dad was out of work. He told me that he said to
himself, “I’m a really valuable worker and I’m not going to sit
around here and do nothing when there is work out there to be done.”
He knew there was a fruit shipping warehouse not too far from where
he lived so he went down to the loading docks dressed for work and
just started helping the men load apples. Eventually the foreman
noticed him and asked the other guys who he was. They said they
didn’t know but that he just started loading apples. In fact, he was
doing the work of three men. The foreman was so impressed he hired
him on the spot and he hired several of my dad’s cousins who were
willing to prove themselves first.

Not realizing I was being influenced by my dad, I used to do the same
thing when my landlord in college would work on our house. I would go
out and help him, just to learn how to fix things. This same landlord
gave me the biggest financial break of my young career when he
guaranteed the financing and sold me his largest rental property when
he retired to Florida—and I hadn’t even graduated from college yet.

Leadership Skill #8
You Can Overcome Obstacles

This is one of my favorites. I have a visual that I use in a segment
of a program called “You are Unstoppable.” The visual depicts a baby
crawling on cushions with a red ball on the other side of the
cushions. Dad told me that he would
put my toys on one side of the room and put pillows in front of me to
teach me to overcome obstacles. Anyone that knows me sees all the
time that I’ll figure a way to get something done if it is worthwhile
getting done.

Knowing that you can’t be held back no matter what happens to you is
a very powerful feeling to have inside. It gives you an unbridled
confidence. Both my parents aligned to make me feel this way. Most of
you don’t know this about me, but 14 years ago I lost everything and
was totally broke, sleeping on a mattress in a vacant house, injured
and unable to walk, and living off credit cards. The powerful feeling
burned inside of me to overcome this obstacle—and I came up with an
idea for a unique entertainment company that in turn helped launch my
speaking career.

Leadership Skill #9
Stick by Your Spouse

Well I haven’t had much chance to try this one out yet, but when I do
get the chance…I will. My dad stuck by my mother even when, as a
know-it-all teenager, I knew she was clearly wrong. Maybe that’s why
they made it 57 + years. (I’ll have more to say on this one if I ever
get some real life experience, ha ha ha.)

Leadership Skill #10
Risk Everything for Something Really Worthwhile

Did you ever wonder why many people don’t achieve their goals? Could
it be because they were never really willing to commit fully to them?
They always gave themselves easy outs so if the going got tough they
could bail out easily. Around 1946, with a house full of kids and
more on the way, Dad took every nickel he had, went 50 miles out of
the city and bought 156 acres of land, a bulldozer, and enough fuel
to run it. He did not want his kids being raised in the filthy air
and tough streets of Pittsburgh, PA. He built a truck stop and motel
and eventually warehouses, rental cottages and our house on National
Route 40 one mile east of Claysville, PA His work can still be seen
there today (along with the chimney I mentioned earlier that is on
one of our rental properties).

All the kids grew up healthy and strong and not one ever got into any
trouble (except the time I ran away from home and ate grass soup and
hotdogs for two hours before I gave up and returned home).

Dad’s leadership principles are influencing tens of thousands of
people through me and because of all the people he touched over the
years. I spent the 4th of July this week at the funeral home viewing
which, to be honest, I thought was going to be a pretty barren
site….especially at his age because all his friends must have died
off….I couldn’t believe it….People were everywhere. People that
I’d never seen before or even heard of were telling me stories of
when they were down and out 60 or even 70 years ago, my dad was the
one that helped them, or gave them a chance, or encouraged them.

I just about fell on the floor when some one told me that around 1923
my dad took on the responsibility for an entire family of kids who
had an old drunk for a father. Dad worked all week for 50 cents to
buy a big sack of potatoes to feed six kids and himself for the week.
I was told that Dad taught the boys of the family trades so they
could go out and find work and that these people thought the sun rose
and set on my Dad. I had never heard a word about them before my
Dad’s viewing on July 4th of this year….Oh, one more lesson that
maybe I didn’t learn too well from Dad …don’t boast …just do good

What’s this got to do with me, Tom?

Well, I’m hoping if you read this far that you saw some value in my
Dad’s leadership teachings. I’m hoping that when you run a meeting,
send a memo, or take the stage that you will be a good example for
the many people you will touch in your career. My Dad didn’t have the
stage in the conventional sense like we do every time we speak. He
“lived” the stage. In fact, he “was” the stage that good leadership
stands on. Your living example both on the stage and off will be what
ultimately makes you a great speaker, great entrepreneur, great
manager, or great leader. I can teach you the techniques, but you
must provide the good example 24 hours a day, seven days a
week….not just when you are on the platform.

Thanks, Dad

Love, Your little “Heapy”

SPEAKERS: Feel free to use any of the examples you see in this issue
of “Great Speaking.” Even if you just substitute the term “this old
man I heard of” for Sam Antion, that’s OK. His leadership legacy will
live on.

© 2002 by Tom Antion. This originally appeared in Tom’s newsletter, “Great Speaking.” To subscribe, visit:
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