Change is never easy. But if you want to see change happen, you have to be willing to be the one to lead the way. Every day, we see the world around us transformed by the actions of those who dare to dream and act. We see people stand up for what they believe, even when it means going against the grain. Today’s guest, Darrell “Flash” Gordon, talks about transforming lives and bringing hope to the people willing to take action to become the person they always dreamed about. Since 2001, Darrell has served as CEO and President of the Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center in Indiana. His dynamic personality and ability to motivate himself and others have helped him direct the Wernle team to the 2005 Achievement of Excellence for Nonprofit Organizations of the year award. Join in and learn how he takes people to incredible transformation!
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Darrell “Flash” Gordon, MSA, JD, CFRM, Author, Speaker, And CEO – Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center
Welcome to the show. Ladies and gentlemen, we got somebody that is going to light you up. We have a guest that is going to make you think, help you feel and hopefully, bring you to action. An action that will help you bridge the gap from who you are to who you want to become. Take action to become the person that you have always dreamed about, to become that monster inside of you that can influence people, and that can be contagious and attractive to everybody you meet.
We have Mr. Darrell “Flash” Gordon. Since 2001, Darrell has served as CEO and President of the Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center in Indiana. His extraordinary leadership and determination have transformed that organization, which was truly struggling, into one with a positive national presence. Darrell’s dynamic personality and ability to motivate himself and others have helped him to direct the Wernle team to the 2005 Achievement of Excellence for Nonprofit Organizations of the Year Award. That was a long time ago. He has been doing a lot since 2005. His organization is doing a lot.
When I think about inspiration and service, I have looked this guy up. You need to look him up too at DarrellFlashGordon.com. He is an author and a keynote speaker. As we mentioned, he is the CEO and President of the Wernle Youth Family. Most of you may know him as one of the starting linebackers and captains for the national champion, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Let’s read about what my friend does when he is on stage.
“At five years of age, I walked to kindergarten every day and got bullied. At thirteen years of age, I joined the game. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to if I wanted to stay alive. At nineteen years of age, I have flown from the University of Notre Dame in my sophomore year back home to New Jersey, Beth Israel Hospital, to walk into the room to see my 26-year-old sister who died. There was nothing I could do but tell her that I love her. A culmination of all of those experiences is a recipe for me to perhaps be incarcerated. Maybe dead. I should not be standing here, but I did and I changed. I changed from a troubled childhood in a gang to a successful student-athlete that graduated from the University of Notre Dame, undergrad, graduate degree, a law degree, and eventually become the CEO of one of the most prominent nonprofits in the Midwest.”
There we go. Darrell “Flash” Gordon, welcome to the show.
It is a pleasure to be here. I am excited about it.
I cannot wait for you to share with our GAPers. It is what we call them. We are in season three. This is our second interview with season three. We are loaded and we are so fortunate to have Darrell with us. Darrell, I would love to know your definition of attitude.
It is a way of being. It is a choice that we all get to make in our lives. The type of attitude that I am able to portray to you and others is a selective process. I was walking in to lunch and the person asked, “How are you doing?” I said, “I am outstanding.” They said, “How can I get some of that?” That is my attitude. That is the way I live. That is the choice I make and how I present myself every day. It is a choice of presenting yourself in a way that is powerful.
We all have a choice. GAPers, the question is what choice are you making right now? More importantly, what choice are you going to make tomorrow? Let me ask you this, Darrell. When you think about your attitude coaches, who affected your attitude most in your history? If there is more than one, I would love to hear more.
There is probably one in particular and that is Lou Holtz. He is an individual that had the ability to motivate you in a way that could get you to perform at the highest level of your career. Very few coaches have that ability to get the 110% or 120% out of you. When they are able to do that for all of their players, that is a gift. He spends a significant amount of time learning about each individual. I can recall days when we are playing. My mom would yell at me to motivate me to do things that were necessary. However, he realized that. That is how he communicated with me. Tim Brown, for instance. They were spiritual people. They did not yell much in the house. If he would have approached Tim with that type of attitude, he would have provided less performance.
Do you remember a day or a practice or an instance in your life where you and Coach Holtz were engaged and you went and something special happened? What was that?
The most prevalent and the clearest for me was the day that I finished my last year at the University of Notre Dame as a senior. We were pretty good. We did very well. After that season, I had a fifth year. Traditionally, if you are a starter, you are going to be begged to come back. As he traditionally does, he will call a few of the fifth-year players back and have a conversation with them. He called me back. That day, I walk into his office and I sit in the chair. There is this huge cherry oak desk. He is sitting in it and his feet are on the desk. He smoking this pipe and you can smell it. It is a beautiful aroma.Attitude is a way of being. It's a choice that we all get to make in our lives. Click To Tweet
Behind him is this armoire deck with pictures of him and former presidents and major celebrities. I got the opportunity to say, “This guy is pretty powerful.” I was waiting for him to make ask about coming back for the fifth year and whether I was going to go to the pros or whether I was going to do that. He said, “Flash Gordon, we do not want your ass back here next year.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “We do not want your ass back here next year, Flash Gordon.” I am like, “Coach, I am a starter. Why wouldn’t you want a starter?”
He said, “I got the alumni on my ass. We did not do very well this year. This is my second year. I am going into my third. We got to win. The student body is on my ass as well. We are going to have to figure out how we are going to get a win out of this program. I need to do it now. I got some kids that I promised I would play. We are going to ask you not to come back.” I said, “Coach, that is not fair.” I am a 21-year-old kid. I am still learning how to approach and how to have the appropriate attitude. I said, “You can’t just throw my career away like that.” He said, “I am going away on a recruiting trip. I am coming back in two weeks. I will make my decision then.” I said, “Okay.”
I walk away. I am saying to myself, “Maybe I do not want to come back. If he does not want me, I do not think I want him.” I was in my little space as I was walking half a mile back to my dormitory. An epiphany came and I realized, “I think I want to change. I want to change who I am to who I want to become.” At that moment, I went to my weight coach and told him, “Coach, can you spend six days a week with me in the gym, just me and you? I will give you two hours and I will promise you, I will be there.” He said, “I have never gotten that type of request.” I said, “I am committed.” He said, “I am in.”
I went to my linebacker coach. I said, “I will watch films with you five days a week, Monday to Friday, for two hours, if you agree to commit yourself to me. I will watch the film of our last season and how I performed and what I need to do to improve. We will put on and look at the upcoming season with the Alabamas and the Clemsons. I want to know and make sure I am prepared.” He said, “That’s a request we have never gotten, but I am in. It is going to be a great season.” All of a sudden, Lou Holtz comes back two weeks later as he promised. He called me and the assistant says, “Coach is in the office. Walk on in and introduce yourself.” I said, “Coach, welcome.” He said, “Flash Gordon, it is good to see you again.” I said, “It is good to see you too.” He said, “Unfortunately, I got some bad news.”
Before I allowed him to speak, I said, “Before you do, I want to share something with you. The last two weeks where you were gone, I talked to the head weight coach and I told him that I am committed to being the fastest and strongest guy on this respected team. We are going to meet once a week or six days during the week. I am giving myself two hours to make sure that I meet that expectation. Initially, I talked to my position coach, and we are going to watch films and I am committed to that. For you, coach, when I am in practice, I am going to give you 120%. I will promise you that. If I do not, you do not keep me on the team. If I slack up any, we can make adjustments as appropriate.”
I said, “Secondly, me playing 120%, some people are going to get hurt just because I am going to be going full speed, but they need to see what leadership is about.” I think he re-evaluated that process and he said, “Flash, I am going to give you one chance. I am going to allow you to come back.” That decision of change, while most of us would probably be in a fetal position and say, “I am out anyway.”
That opportunity allowed me to get a graduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. It allowed me to win a national championship. It also allowed me to go to the White House to spend time with President Reagan and Vice President Bush. That one decision changed my life for the rest of my life. Most of us wonder how we would have approached that situation when someone says they do not want you. It is all about the change process.
I always love to ask our audience, how many people believe that one decision can change your life? I think you have just shown us that. What I want to know is where do you think that came from? Listening to the intro, it sounds like you have had your back against the wall since you have been nine years old at different times. What is it deep inside of you that cannot be learned, maybe it is learned, but what is it inside of you or who taught you how to buckle down, make the decision to change, and identify, “There is something I got to do differently?”
GAPers, if you are out there, you may be in this spot right now. You may be sitting there going, “Somebody just said they did not want me.” It could be your husband, your boss, your kids or your best friend. It is time for us to learn from Darrell how to manifest the desire and the action needed to make the change. What do you think was inside of you? Did you learn it or how did that happen where you always respond and come out a winner?
There is a young lady by the name of Marilyn Ferguson. She is a famous American futurist, author, speaker, and well-renowned communicator. She wrote a book named The Aquarian Conspiracy. She spent a lot of time in that space, studying the mind and the human brain. She studied for 21 years. The result of that research was why 80% of the American people never change and why do we sit in a space of mediocrity? She came up with the final results of her research, spending time with Harvard professors and all. Unfortunately, she died at the young age of 70 in 2008, but we still have her documentation.
It stated briefly that it is not so much that we are so in love with the same old way of doing things that we do not change. It is not even that we are afraid to change. The reason why 80% of us never change is because we are afraid to go through the in-between time of change. That is where I think the power is, the in-between time. When I say in-between time, it is a simple process. I even go simplistic with it. Remember Linus with the blanket? When his mom used to take the blanket from him and wash it, he could not deal with not having his blanket. When she puts it in the wash, he will hug it. When she puts it in the dryer, he will hug it. It is like, “What is this guy doing?” In the end, he would grab the blanket and he would be back into his space of comfort.
It is like, “Why wouldn’t you want your blanket washed? There is COVID and diseases. Why wouldn’t you want to be safe?” He would respond, “It is not that I am not interested in having a clean blanket. It is not that I am not afraid of COVID or diseases or being safe or staying alive. I am just not willing to go through the in-between time of change to get a clean blanket. Therefore, I would rather die than make the transformation.”
How many of us sit in our relationships and loved ones saying, “I am not changing. I am thinking about it, but I am not willing to do that for the next year.” It could be my financial hardship, “I could begin to stop purchasing on social media but I decided not to.” It could be my health, “I could begin to work out or eat better but that in-between time, I am not willing to commit myself.” Even in our academic endeavors. Why do we sit in the Ds and Fs of the world? Why are not we sitting in the As and Bs? It’s because we are not willing to put in the work for the in-between time to get to the process of change.
The in-between time that I always like to talk about is in between the two Ds, in between the Decision and your Destiny. GAPers, I want to know where you are before your decision. If not, it is time to make that decision. Are you in the middle of it? You made a decision, but you have not reached your destiny. What this show is all about is helping you bridge that gap between decision and destiny when it is all said and done. If you are at your destiny, I want you to hit me up on my email and let me know your story.
Also, we are always looking for great and fantastic guests just like Darrell. This is awesome. Thank you so much for this. When we talk about academics, I was a very average student. I never prioritized it. You are a parent that is unlike most who have a daughter at Harvard and who is a straight A student. How the hell did you do that? We all want to know.
I wish I had the ultimate secret, but it is a culmination of her mother, myself, and the environment we put people in. In the beginning, you got to make sure they have an academic foundation and a base. We have to give them a chance to excel. Make sure that they are learning at a high level. That has to start at kindergarten, even at birth, and playing music for them and helping them to understand the value of education. We made that very prevalent. Although she was athletically savvy and an all-state basketball player, we pushed the academics more than we pushed the athletics. It paid off for her.
Were you a good student? You are a pretty damn good student.
Initially, I was not a great student during my freshman and sophomore years. It was interesting enough that after my sophomore year, many colleges started coming to my high school. I was performing horribly. I was from New Jersey on the tough side of town. I remember all these coaches coming from Clemson and Georgia. I remember me and my coach getting together one day. Every day we would get together to talk about the coaches that came to visit. He said, “Today, Florida State, Georgia and Notre Dame came.” I said, “I saw the head coach at Georgia. I saw the head coach at Florida, but I did not see Notre Dame. He said, “They were here but they went to the guidance department.” I said, “Why were they in the guidance department?”
He said, “I believe they wanted to find out about your academic performance and prowess. More importantly, they want to determine what type of character you had. They came and then they left.” I said, “Did the guidance department show them my grade? Are they even allowed to show them my grades? Did they say anything bad about me and my character?” I immediately got defensive, but at that moment in time, I realized I did not want to live that kind of life where somebody is telling me where I am going. I wanted to slack where I am going. I wanted to prove to the University of Notre Dame that I am a Notre Dame man. I could make that happen. I made an unbelievable transformation in my life.
That is the concept of scarcity. Everybody wanted you. It was the cat that walked out the door. Everybody wants what they can have. The lesson of that story, GAPers, is this, who is looking at you saying, “They are scarce. That person is scarce in my life.” Are you that good? Are you that contagious? Are you that attractive? What are you doing with your life? What value are you providing to your sphere and to your relationships to say, “I need to hang out with that person more.” Are you that person? Are you that person that is scarce that people want to hang out with?
Let’s talk real quick about the book, Change Does Not Occur In A Flash. I talked to somebody, “I have been trying to write a book. I cannot get it done.” You got it done. Talk me through to these authors. I think 8 out of 10 people say, “I would like to write a book but I never did.” What was your attitude when you said, “It is time for me to write the book?” Tell us a little bit about what inspired you? What is the book about? What is the main couple of points of the book? Open the cover and let us know a little bit about it.
A sports writer from USA Today and others said, “Darrell, we would love to hear your story.” At this time, I was working at the Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center, changing lives of young men and women. It was a transformation from where I was, working on Wall Street and having a law degree. People thought I would be in that environment. People wanted to know why I was doing the stuff that I was doing. For me, when you get a calling, it is something you have to respond to. This book, for many years, I felt like I was not ready for it.
Eventually, after about fifteen years, I felt like I am ready to write the book. I felt like I accomplished some things at Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center and in my life that I could share with, that change process, the studies, and the evaluations. That book allowed me to talk more about the change process in my life and see how all the connections work. When you write a book, you get to see the global movement of the commonalities in my life.
For example, my mother was very spiritual. I was the one out of the five brothers and sisters that would always go to church. I then find myself going to Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, not because it was Catholic. I just found myself going there. I felt comfortable in that environment. Interestingly enough, after a few short stints at other places, I find myself at Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center, a Lutheran agency and being there for twenty years.Eighty percent of us never change because we're afraid to go through the in-between time of change. Click To Tweet
After observing my span of careers, I realized that the spiritual movement was very important, but there was some change process from me in school and watching my transformation there that changed my life academically. The change process at the University of Notre Dame, being a guy that was not going to graduate. I share that story. Even the final story of Lou Holtz saying, “I do not want you.” All of those decisions were major changes that I thought I could share with others. There is a key concept that I talk about on how to change. It is called the Five FLASH Points if you are interested in making this transformation in your life.
The acronym for FLASH, the F is for Facing up to it. You first got to want to make the change. I do not care if somebody says, “You can be the best podcast in the world.” Until you are ready to be that, that process will not begin for you. That change will not occur. There is L, your Learning capacity. Do you even have the capacity to do it? Can you be the best podcast in the world? Can you even do that? Once we determine the capabilities of that, you go to A, which is the Action plan. I put my action together on how I am going to accomplish that. That could be with a group of intellectual folks or a group of people that you think could help you move you to that perspective area.
The most important is S. That is the Support system. My son was saying, “I did my goals this year. I got them down.” I said, “You did not tell me about them this year. I knew about them last year and we put them up.” “I want to keep them to myself.” I am like, “Why?” “It is a lot of pressure when I give that to you guys.” I said, “A goal that is not shared is a dream. When you start sharing that with your football coach, with your professors and teachers at your high school, with mom and dad, and those that care about you, they will make sure we hold you accountable to that.” That is how that change process occurs. It is like losing weight, “I am losing weight.” No one ever knows you are losing weight and they keep feeding you.
That final piece is the Holding on to change. Many of us reach the pinnacle of success and then we fall down that slippery slope again. We are back to square one. We are back to 30 pounds heavier or in another place at work that we did not think we would be in again, or we were starting and now we are not starting anymore on the football team or basketball or track, or we are getting straight A’s and now we are getting C’s. How do you hold on to it? That is an important concept of the change process.
That is Flash Gordon’s five steps to change. GAPers, the bottom line is to review this and write those five things down. We all need changes in our lives. The only thing that is constant is change. This is a great learning principle for us. Talking about holding on, your son is a highly touted quarterback here in Indianapolis. If Georgia and Alabama offer him a scholarship and then Notre Dame comes in, what is going to happen there?
First of all, we would be blessed and honored to have Georgia, Alabama and Notre Dame all fighting for him. At the end of the day, I always tell him, “It is your choice.” You got to be comfortable wherever you are. You want to be in a place that can prepare you for not just those four years you are there, but the next 40 years. As long as he looks at that and understands the value of his future because we all want to do great things, but sometimes injury or other things get in the way of our success. We want to make sure we have a plan B prepared for that.
Clearly, Notre Dame would be the best place to make that happen.
That is Glenn talking, not me.
Service is part of what we are doing in the third season. I want to learn about Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center. First of all, I would love to hear the story of how God put it in your life. The second thing I want to hear is the story that may have broken you or that left you crying where you said, “I got to help these kids.” Go ahead and let us know about that and then anything about Wernle on the peripheral.
I was pretty happy and satisfied working at the NCA at the time. I was doing some great work there. I love the athletic environment and doing national work. It was gratifying to me. Someone contacted me about this opportunity for a CEO. I was only 35 at the time. I went and was interviewed. I think 30 to 40 folks were interviewed for the job. It came down to two people, myself and another gentleman. In the end, the board selected this other gentleman. I said, “This is the way God wanted it to be.” I was happy with what I was doing anyway.
Interestingly enough, about six months later, I got a call from one of the board members and they indicated, “Are you still interested?” I said, “I thought you already hired someone.” They said, “We did but it did not work out. We made a mistake.” I thought I would be in the business for three years. Most people said, “He will not be here for long. He will make his point and he will move on.” I got there and I realized that the work that I was doing was so valuable to people. I was not just making widgets, but I was changing lives for families and people. God had a calling for me to do that. I thought I would be there for three years. I was there for twenty.
I do not think there is a day when I ever felt like I went to work. I have been committed to growing individuals and helping them change since then. There is a reason why my daughter is at Harvard. There is a reason why my son is number two in the state for the quarterback. There is a reason why those kids that are Wernle are going back to a better place, traditionally, where they were, and in a better position than they were.
We are a residential treatment facility that provides therapeutic interventions for young men and women from the ages of 6 to 21 years of age that have been severely abused, neglected or abandoned. They reside on our 100-acre beautiful campus. We put time therapeutically and into their issues and challenges, as well as their families. Our goal is to reunite them back with their families. That is the overall goal there. We have been doing that for years. It has been a blessing to have that opportunity to do that.
Who was Mr. or Mrs. Wernle? Is there a story?
Interestingly enough, Mr. Wernle was a gentleman from Richmond, Indiana, where our facility is located. He attended St. John’s church. It was a Lutheran church and he gave $50,000 to start it. That is a big number. That was the day when they realized, “We needed to find a place where we could put orphan children.” It was a Wernle orphanage at the time when it originally started. All the Lutheran children, when dad and mom went to war and died, would stay at this orphanage. As time progressed, it evolved into a residential facility and then into a treatment facility. We do not focus on Lutherans. We focus on all children of all ethnicities.
Do you know Anthony Trucks at all?
No, I do not.
He is a speaker. He was a guest on the show. I cannot remember where he played college football, but he ended up playing for Tampa Bay and he was on American Gladiator. He was an orphan. He talked to us about the challenges of being an orphan and what orphanages look like. I am going to get you on his show because he is a beast. When you did those twenty years, I am talking about the kids you helped, who was the kid that moved you? Who was the kid that had the attitude that you said, “He is either going to make it or he is not?” What kid shook you? What is that story?
There are so many stories that I could share with you all. I think every kid that comes into our facility is fighting, biting, and scratching about not wanting to be there. What is most gratifying is a year later, they are fighting, biting or scratching not to leave. They feel like they are better and their families are better. Overall, the objective here is to understand there are dysfunctions in the home and that is where it all starts. Our psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and therapists are all spending a significant amount of time helping that child and those families learn how to be parents. It is interesting how if you are in poverty, you do not get a rule book on how to do that.
If we have the knowledge, we are all responsible for helping those less fortunate than ourselves. If we are not pulling others up, we are missing the point. To answer your question, I could tell you thousands of kids that we have helped. There is one that reminded me of Barack Obama. He had the voice and the look. He came back and even received one of our awards because he was so profound in the work that we have done for him. He was so grateful for how we helped change his life to be better. You can go to Wernle.org. It shares a lot about our organization and what we do.
What was your number?
If you are reading this, go to Wernle.org, give $38, and everybody is going to know why that happened. GAPers, let’s show these people some love when it is all said and done. The way we always like to conclude this is something called knowledge through the decades. We are going to walk through your life and ask you what the attitude lesson is of the time that you were 0, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50. When you think about childbirth or being born or your children being born, what is the attitude lesson of childbirth?
The attitude lesson in childbirth is you have to give that child a chance. At childbirth, what he listens to, what he or she hears and the environment that they are in will affect the rest of their lives. We are very careful about the music we play, and the environment he or she is in. Safety is necessary because if a kid is not safe, you will find that they do not express themselves later in life the way they should. As a child at those 1, 2 and 3 ages, I think that is important.A goal that is not shared is a dream. Click To Tweet
Once they get after five and they start going to first grade, you lose them. I want you to go back to when you were ten years old. You are in fifth grade. I want to know if you remember your teacher’s name. I want to know the attitude lesson you learned at ten years old. It doesn’t have to be positive.
Your teachers are so impressionable. Your mom and dad are impressionable in the first seven years of your life. I do believe, and studies have proven this, that from 1 to 7 years of age, whatever happened in your life that was traumatic will follow you for the rest of your life. If I got my lunch taken in kindergarten every day, my personality for the rest of my life will be afraid. I cannot figure out why I am afraid of stuff. That explains it. That is why it is so important to keep safety for a kid 1 to 5. When you get to that 10, now they are spending more time with teachers and coaches. The attitude that those folks have is the attitude that you are going to adapt to.
If you are not around positive and influential educators, leaders, coaches and parents, you are going to miss the boat, which is why I shared earlier, where do I place my kids? What educational systems do I place them in? What coaches or what people do I have around them? That is the major influence that will occur on them for the rest of their lives.
Do you remember being ten and was there a story? Was there a day of reckoning for you where you either got picked on or either got bullied that changed things for you, that gave you an attitude in fifth grade?
When I was eleven, my mom and dad got a divorce. That detachment disorder affected me. At that point in time, I realized that I wanted to make sure that the feelings that I had, no one else will ever have those types of feelings. It is interesting enough how although my dad was there, he was working all the time. My mom was watching the five of us. We were not affluent at all. What was most interesting about that is my mom and dad, although they did not spend a lot of time, I spend an enormous amount of time with my kids. To the point where we get up every morning and we practice at 4:30 or 5:00. After we are done, we head to school and they would do their thing while most people are still sleeping.
My daughter would do the same, which is how she became an all-state basketball player and how he became the first team in Marion County in football. It is a commitment to something. That experience and although I was an All-American, my mom and dad were never there to watch that. Other families would say, “That is my adopted kid,” and reap the benefits of that process.
What number are you in out of five?
I was the second to last.
You’re number four. I was number five. Your word detachment is a powerful word and a traumatic word. You are a smart guy. I am sure you did some investigating. There are people possibly suffering from detachment issues. I think you solved yours by manifesting it in a different way later in life. What would you tell that person who is suffering from a detachment issue that is reading this right now? We got the five steps to change, but is there any heartfelt thing? Did you ever hear anything on how to deal with that? What would your advice be?
You got to be cognizant of it first. You first got to understand that that exists in your subliminal. At the age of fifteen, my second to oldest brother would get up and train in the gym in the basement of our apartment building. He became a Golden Glove boxer. I remember sleeping and watching him get up at 5:00 in the morning and running in his boots. He was a junior welterweight and gold medalist. He went on to box with the pros. He was very accomplished and had the name, Flash Gordon.
When we talk about detachment, I did not have dad to look at, but I was looking at him. I sometimes say, find the person that can help gap that detachment issue for you. It may be a competitive process, which it was for me. I felt like I am going to be than him. That was my goal. I was going to take the name and do something with it. My youngest brother, who is the fifth one, said, “I wanted to be better than Darrell.” He went on this academic track and went on to Brown and became captain of the football team. We can look at others and find ways in which we can inspire ourselves to be great in our lives.
Let’s go to twenty. It had to be fun for you. You are a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. What is the attitude lesson you learned at twenty?
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was on the field and Lou Holtz walks over to me. He says, “Flash, you are going to have to get home immediately.” I said, “Immediately?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Coach, am I not performing?” He said, “It has nothing to do with your performance. I just need you to get home immediately because there has been an emergency.” I immediately grabbed my stuff. I caught the first plane back to New Jersey. I landed and got to Beth Israel Hospital. I walked in and I saw my mom and dad sitting there holding hands and crying. I am twenty at the time. I am like, “What is wrong with that picture?” They were divorced. At that point, they lived their separate lives.
I looked at mom and dad and they did not even hug me. They just pointed to the room. I remember walking into that room and there was my sister on a breathing apparatus, dying at 26 years of age. I did not even get the opportunity to say, “I love you.” That was a point in my life where I said that I will never live my life without sharing my emotion, my love, and my care for other people. Sometimes we get criticized for saying we care. I tell my kids every day that I love them. I tell my friends I love them. I am open to my sensitive side because we do not have a whole life of opportunity to tell people what we think of them or how we feel about them. The attitude I have learned was to be more humble, caring, and loving to others as opposed to being selfish and self-centered.
I wonder if that experience and attitude lesson did take you to Wernle.
Perhaps. That’s a great thought there, Glenn.
Let’s go to 30 years old. Did you play pro ball?
I played in the All-Star game with Deion Sanders, but I hyper-extended my leg at the Hula Bowl. I never got to go to the Giants and would have been behind Lawrence Taylor, which I would have taken that job. At 30, you are trying to find yourself. I remember at 30, I was trying to determine where I wanted to point my career. Right around 30, I was leaving an athletic firm. It was called IMG. They are the largest sports firm in the world. They would represent different athletes and I was in the football division. We had Joe Montana and all these great athletes that we represented coming out of law school.
I enjoyed that, but I also felt during my 30s, I still was trying to find myself. What is my purpose in life? I challenge everyone to find their purpose. Once you find your purpose, I think your life moves progressively forward in a way that God had set for you. We dip and dab in so many different things without our purpose at hand. As a result of that, we work and do things and we leave this life never making a profound effect on it. The purpose for me was at 30 when I finally got to Wernle. I realized that was my purpose. I wrote it out, “My purpose in life is to help those reach their full potential.” That is what I live for.
When you think about finding yourself, this always comes up and I love to bring it up because I believe that our first attitude coaches are our mom and dad. I always love to dig a little deeper. I am wondering if you knew all of your four grandparents and if one had a profound impact on you. If so, which one was it and what was their impact? What was their attitude to that generation before your folks?
Unfortunately, I did not know my grandparents. They all passed away by the time I got around, but the model that I followed was my dad. My dad was really unique. He graduated from eighth grade. He and my mom left South Carolina to move up to New Jersey to have a better life. He had nine brothers and sisters and they all worked the fields. We had some land and they did that in the South Carolina area, but he got there and he started working as a laundry man. He was making a quarter an hour and he would clean white shirts and get the stains out of white shirts.
He wanted more for himself. He said, “I started working at a gas station,” and then he realized he wanted to buy the gas station. He bought a TEXACO station, and then went on to buy an auto repair shop and some buses. At eight years old, he could barely read. He was an unbelievable leader. I remember asking him, “Why are you saving this money?” He would save and put it in places in the house. He said, “I do not have the opportunity to get loans.
As a result of that, I need to be prepared for the days when times get rough.” I remember that and I remember how he treated people. He treated them regardless of their ethnicity, their gender or their spiritual perspective. He treated them with respect and he garnered their respect. Being a mechanic, vice presidents of banks would come up to him and show him praise. It was amazing to see him navigate that lifestyle with only an eighth-grade education.
They give him plenty of praise, but they would not give him a loan. Think about what he did at that time. Our show is dedicated to diversity and inclusion. We are not afraid to ask tough questions. Let’s divert for a couple of minutes. What is your state of the union on race? I always love to ask this question, what do White people need to do to help Black people?Once you find your purpose, your life moves progressively forward in a way that God had set for you. Click To Tweet
I spent a lot of time on diversity, equity and inclusion. I even trained on it and do a series of 3 to 5 weeks of diversity training to transform organizations. This is something that is close to me. I believe in that process. If you are asking, what can people do? I think from a diversity perspective, diversity and accepting diversity is a business decision. When I say that, I am saying if you are not implementing diversity within your own workforce, if you do not understand the value of it. There is a Fortune 500 company that called me when I was in law school. They said, “Darrell, we need an African-American lawyer to be on our board,” but they did not have one at the time. All the people on that board were Caucasian males.
Back at that time, I could not do it. I do not know if I was in the middle of law school or whatever it was, but I did give them a good friend of mine that was a practicing attorney, an African-American. He went on to the board. It was interesting when he got on the board, they were in the middle of making a decision about squeeze bottle soap, and how they were going to be on the front lines of this great product of squeeze bottles. It’s something that no one ever knew about. It was going to be the transformational item that would put soap out of business. They were like, “We cannot wait to approve this.”
He is sitting there and they get up. The board chair says, “We motion for approval of the new squeeze bottle soap. We will also discard the soap production.” Somebody first and somebody seconded, “Any questions on the motion.” He stood up and said, “I know this my first day. I feel uncomfortable about making this statement, but I am on the board and you probably want some of my input. In our culture, we use soap and rags. As a result of that, I do not believe that we are going to embrace or adopt the squeeze bottle process. We are just going to go somewhere else.” The board chair was astute enough to go to the CFO and says, “Tell me what percentage of our sales are to minorities.”
She said, “Where we are located, it is about 50%.” He said, “What is our total gross revenue last year?” She said, “It is close to half a billion dollars.” That is all they had to say. At that time, if you can do your math, they were about to vote $250 million out the door. They all felt bad. I share this in my diversity training, but he came back and he debriefed with me about this process. I said, “What happened at the next board meeting?” I gave him some thoughts as to how I would approach it. He went back in and he says, “When I got back the next board meeting the next quarter, we had two additional African-Americans. We had three females. We had a Hispanic and an Indian on the board.” They realized there was value.
I say that just to say, sometimes we do not know what we do not know, where the value becomes and where it is. Integration and interaction are positive for all people. We got to find a way to continue to allow all people to grow equally and with equity. I do have a problem with our judicial system and the number of African-American males that are residing in the judicial system. At 60% and being only 80% of the population is concerning. It requires some significant attention to be placed there just to find out what that issue is and how we begin to address it.
For those of you reading this, if you have not heard The 8:46 Interviews Stories of Black America, please go back to our show. If you want raw and real feedback on what it is like to be a minority to experience racism firsthand and to hear the real stories of Black America, that is something you are going to want to check out. I appreciate you doing that with me, but now we got to move on to 40 years old. Do you remember where you were at 40?
At 40 years of age, I was Wernle Youth & Family and I just finished five years. I was still feeling my way around that organization. I have not been in that industry. It took me a while to find my feet. One thing I remember is that the board always stuck with me and understood that I needed to learn. I was going to fall. That whole experience was significant for me to continue to learn how to be successful as a CEO. Also, even at an earlier age, I got an opportunity to spend time with one of our most prominent donors at Notre Dame who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Notre Dame.
I got to work alongside him. I knew him for many years, but I got to watch how he operated. I watched my dad, then I watched this gentleman being in corporate jets, moving around, and making decisions. That was profound too. It molded me to be a better leader. I was able to begin to utilize some of those skillsets at 40. After all of the education with the undergrad, graduate, and law, I was able to begin to implement and execute those things.
Somebody that gives hundreds of millions of dollars to Notre Dame, there are a few of them. What was it about his attitude, the way he dedicated himself, the way he thinks or his presence? What was the attitude lesson from that gentleman?
One thing I noticed about him, when I went to work for him right out of college, my dad had a conversation with him. I was not talking to my dad at the time. We get to be in our little space and we think we know everything because we are educated people. He talked to him and he said, “You are taking my son. I want him to have the same experience that any other kid would have but at your level, I want him to see the things that you do and how you do them. I want him to fly in the places that you fly. I want him to broker the deals that you are brokering. I know that is asking a lot but if you can’t and he can’t, then you send them back to me.”
I never knew he had that conversation. As a result, he mentored me to become a very successful leader. If there is any advice I could give people, it is to find a mentor. I always wanted to be a CEO. I looked at my dad and him. Those were people that I could model my life after. He had morals, he had ethics, and he cared about the things he cared about. If Notre Dame was something he cared about, he was all in. He would make sure that they would be successful. In the organization that he ran, he was all in. His family and all of those were great examples of being an unbelievable person.
Attitude booster number five, have a mentor and copy them. That is in season one if you want to check out that month’s worth of interviews. The big 50 rolls around and we are going, “Damn, I am 50.” Tell me where you were at 50. Tell me what the attitude lesson of turning 50 was for you.
Playing at a prominent institution like Notre Dame and spending time in all-star games and the pros, you get selfish. You learn that it is all about you. It takes a while to get that out of a person if that is even possible. I am vulnerable at sharing that I was selfish when I was younger. As I have grown older, I realized the value of being transparent in everything I do and being vulnerable to people about my weaknesses and my shortfalls. We all want to talk about how great we are and how we do nothing wrong. I am quick to tell people, “This is my weak spot.”
I do not do that well but I can knock that out of the park. I am quick to give compliments to people. The things that I see my staff doing well, I am the first to praise them for their great work. I do not think that’s who I was early in my career. Even with people that you spend time with, I would advise that the loved ones of your life, you have to tell them that you care. You do not just tell them. You do it. When you start that action, that attracts more.
Brené Brown’s TEDx, look that up. I am trying to get GAPers on The Power of Vulnerability. The hidden strength. Let’s have just a little bit of fun then I am going to let you go. You knew Deion and you played with him. I am just curious. Let’s go with 1 or 2 famous people whose attitude was exceptional. What did they teach you, whether it was Tim Brown or whether it was Deion or whoever? Something positive that one of the more famous people that you got to interact with that you learned something from that people would never realize the lessons you have learned.
There are so many people that have crossed my path. At Wernle, we bring a lot of those people in to spend time with our kids. We have had the likes of Lou Holtz, Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, and Mike Golic. The one thing I think that I have learned from one of our celebrities, Tim Brown has an unbelievable position of humility. He is so humble. He is so spiritually centered not on himself but on others. At that level where everybody is grabbing at you, being a Heisman Trophy winner, playing for the Raiders, and being a national icon, it is hard to do. Even now, he is such a humble guy.
He gets requests all day and all night, but he finds a way to continue to help you and help your mission, whatever that is that you are doing or other people are doing to succeed. For me, I want to have that same humility, humbleness and vulnerability to help people achieve their ultimate success. When I leave this earth, I want to be the guy that people say, “Darrell changed my life. Flash changed my life for the rest of my life,” which is the reason behind the book, which is the reason behind my children, which is the reason behind Wernle, which is the reason for the whole transformation of others other than myself. That is what I have garnered from many of those people that I have respected. Can you still remain humble while also being prominent in the world?
What a great message from Darrell “Flash” Gordon. One last quick question. Your Golden Gloves boxer brother, did he ever use you as a punching bag?
He was 5’8. I was 6’3. You can figure that one out, but he had an unbelievable left hook. I had an unbelievable right hook. We had our days. It is what it is.
Did you ever say, “Do not let me get a hold of you?”
He was quick too. It was the reason why they call him the Flash. We rarely ever had interactions in that way, but he was a guy that was committed to success.
What was your father’s name?
Roosevelt, this is to you, my friend. You impacted our lives. You were humble. You were vulnerable. The people that are reading this are going to grow in spirit. They are going to help bridge the gap. I hope they are going to give $38 to Wernle.org. We cannot thank you enough for being here and sharing your spirit with us. One thing we always like to do is let you give the final motivational speech of the show. We want you to give a message of hope. There is a lot going on in this world. There are people that need a good positive message from you.God put us on this earth to help others and to continue to change so that we can provide a profound impact on other people. Click To Tweet
I hope you can channel the people that are on the other end of this. I know that you are out there saying, “Flash, give me one more something.” There are people that come to the show to improve their health, spirit and motivation, to find a new way to identify as you talked about in the F, which is to face it upfront. What is your message of hope for the people?
First of all, thank you and all of your staff for allowing me to come. This is very humbling and it is a great opportunity to share with others the work that we do. If there is a sense of motivation and hope, God put us on this Earth to help others and to change, and to continue to change so that we can provide a profound impact on other people. Everybody’s responsibility is different. Glenn’s responsibility may be his treasures and his money to help transform others that are less fortunate than you. Others may be their time or giving your time because that is all you have. Others may be your talents.
You may be a good leader or you may be a great supporter of children, but find out what that is and move it in a way that is motivational for you. There are so many people in the 80 percentile that are doing mediocrity right now in their relationships, in their financial lives, in their academic lives, in their job, in their spiritual life and more importantly, in their health and wellness. I will promise that 80% of us lie in that space. Just like Marilyn Ferguson said, “If you are willing to go through the in-between time of change.” Commit to that like I had to be committed for a year of getting through and cheering with hopes that I would excel and win.
It is a commitment of in-between time. You can have an unbelievable relationship with your spouse. You can have financial wealth all day long. Your job could be one that is no longer a job but a career. Your spiritual life could be one where you feel like you are talking to God every day or whatever that is that you praise. More importantly, you are one with your health and wellness. It is all available to you. It is up to you, whether you tap into it and you are willing to go through the in-between time. If I could be of any help or the book can be of any help, I ask that they go to DarrellFlashGordon.com. It is all right there.
Check out, Darrell. If you are a corporate leader, a CEO, or an event planner, trust me, you want this guy on your stage. You want this guy to feed your audience because I know he is good. I have seen him. I cannot wait to see him in person. Darrell, it was real. I got one last thing to tell you. I love you.
Love you too, brother.
Guys, I know we just rocked your world. Thank him. Look him up. Wernle.org and give us $38. I cannot wait to see him going, “What are all these $38 donations coming in?” If you want to give $380 or $3,800, go ahead. We bridged the gap. God bless you all. We will see you in the next episode.