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The Difference You Make: Changing Your World through the Impact of Your Influence


Influence is a funny thing. It’s hard to define. It’s even hard to describe it. But you know when someone has it. You know when somebody doesn’t. No doubt you’re aware of the people who influence you. But you may not be sure why they have so much leverage in your life.

Andy Stanley, Visioneering1

Iwent in for a routine physical on January 7, 2011—an all-day Orlando Magic executive physical, lasting from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It was one of those intensive workups you’d get at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. At the end of the day, Dr. Christine Edwards told me, “Well, everything looks good—except there’s something in your blood work that doesn’t look quite right. At your convenience, you ought to get that checked.”

Except for that one small caveat, it was a clean bill of health. Two days later, I ran the Disney Marathon—the fifty-eighth marathon of my career. I felt good all the way to the finish line.

Three days later, I woke up with an explosion of horrible pain in my back. I had never felt pain like that before, even after a marathon. I knew something was terribly wrong—maybe a slipped disk, a pulled muscle, or a nerve problem. I made an appointment with a back specialist. They did a series of x-rays and an MRI, and word came back that everything was fine—they found nothing wrong with my back.

So I went to my primary care physician, Dr. Vince Wilson, who by that time had caught up with the blood work Dr. Edwards had performed. He sat me down in his office with a very troubled look on his face. He shook his head and said, “Why do bad things happen to all the good people?”

I said, “What do you mean, Doc?”

“There’s something wrong with your blood work, Pat. There’s an abnormal level of protein in your blood. I have a suspicion as to what this means. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sending you over to see Dr. Robert B. Reynolds, who’s a leading expert in this field.”

That was on Thursday, January 13, and Dr. Wilson told me my appointment with Dr. Reynolds was for the following Monday, the seventeenth. I had no clue what was going on—and to tell you the truth, I didn’t really want a clue. But over the weekend, I began steeling myself for some troubling news.

On Monday, I went to see Dr. Reynolds, and I wasn’t even sure what his area of specialization was. It turned out that he was an oncologist and hematologist. Dr. Reynolds told me, “It looks like multiple myeloma—a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.” Hearing that, my blood and bone marrow turned to Jell-O.

“We’re going to do a couple of tests right away,” Dr. Reynolds continued, “and I’ll get back to you next week to tell you exactly what we’re dealing with.” The tests involved a full-body x-ray of my skeleton and an extraction of bone marrow from my hip.

The following week, I went back to Dr. Reynolds’ office, accompanied by my wife, Ruth. Dr. Reynolds told us, “It’s definite. You have multiple myeloma.”

“How curable is it?”

“I’m afraid it’s not curable, Pat. But it is very treatable. The goal is remission. With chemotherapy, I’d say you’ve got about a 70 to 75 percent chance of remission. And by the way, you’d much rather have multiple myeloma today than twenty years ago. That’s how far we’ve come.”

At that point, I had an inspiration. “How about this for a motivational slogan: ‘The Mission Is Remission.’”

“That’s it exactly! You’ve got many factors in your favor, Pat. Your positive attitude is very important. Your good fitness level is another factor—I don’t get to treat many marathoners. Your strong faith is another fact. And, of course, there’s the love of your family and the support of the Magic organization.”

“Well, what do we do now?”

“We go after it with all we’ve got. We start chemo, we start oral medication, we get after this as hard as we can. And quickly.”

“Okay, Dr. Reynolds,” I said. “I’m in your hands. I’ll be an obedient patient.”

Impacted by Influence

There were two major issues I had to address as I began treatment. First, how do I tell my nineteen children? As the father of four birth children, fourteen children by adoption, and one by remarriage, all of whom are grown and moved away, it was a formidable task—both logistically and emotionally—to contact each one and explain this diagnosis. But we got to all of them—and their reactions to the news were as individual as could be. Some were calm. Some were distraught. Some were emotional. Others were stoic. But all were supportive and pledged to pray for me.

The second major issue: How should I release the information to the public? I met with the Orlando Magic staff and explained the situation, and they helped me come up with a plan for presenting it publicly. The Magic’s media director, Joel Glass, scheduled a press conference in February.

Dr. Reynolds sat beside me at the press conference. Ruth and several of our grown children stood behind me as we made the announcement. Dr. Reynolds took the roomful of reporters to med school and explained what multiple myeloma is and how we were going to treat it.

At the end of the press conference, I removed my jacket to reveal the T-shirt underneath. Lettered across the front of it was my new slogan, The Mission Is Remission—and it was greeted with cheers and applause.

The reporters carried the message to the greater public. I was totally unprepared for what happened next.

Over the days and weeks that followed, I was overwhelmed with emails, cards, letters, and phone calls. I received best wishes from people I had known from my school days, college days, minor league baseball days, and throughout my NBA career. Many of them told me of something I had done or said that had impacted their lives in some way. More often than not, my reaction was, “Wow, I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember saying that.”

Throughout all of those years, without even realizing it, I had been impacting and influencing other lives. I was amazed to discover that, in many cases, it was a lasting influence. I might have forgotten some act I did, a phone call I made, a card I sent, a word of encouragement I offered—but other people remembered. What I remember is not important. What they remember is what I call “the impact of influence.”

I also received calls and emails from people I had never met, but who had heard me speak or had read my books. All of those hundreds of communications were touching and life-affirming, and I read each one. It was as if I had died and had the privilege of hearing my own eulogy—a thousand times over. That experience prompted me to reflect on the impact we all have on others around us—even when we are completely unaware of our influence.

Then I thought of all the people who had impacted my own life during my boyhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. I thought of my teachers and coaches at Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Delaware, my instructors and coaches at Wake Forest University, my employers during my minor league baseball career and throughout my NBA career.

As a boy, I hung around ballparks and stadiums, collecting autographs. Through my friendship with Ruly Carpenter, son of Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, I got to go down to spring training and rub shoulders with major league ballplayers. To this day, I can tell you chapter and verse on every one of them—and what a thrill it was to hear some of my heroes recognize me and call me by name! All of those influences on my life are still right here, etched in my soul.

So I have been deeply influenced by people of greatness throughout my life—and in my own way, I’ve tried to have a positive impact on the people within my own sphere of influence. Since my diagnosis, all of the calls, cards, and letters I’ve received have helped to trigger and shape the book you are reading right now. In many ways, the diagnosis of multiple myeloma has turned out to be a blessing—and an opportunity.

I believe this illness came about in God’s own timing. I was diagnosed at about the same time as the release of my book Coach Wooden: The Seven Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours. As it went out into the marketplace I was flooded with messages from people touched by the book’s message. Many of the notes went something like this: “Even though I never met Coach Wooden, your book makes me want to be like him. Coach has influenced me greatly, just through the pages of this book. And so have you.”

We all have influence, we all have an impact on the people around us—and we have all been shaped and impacted by the influencers in our own lives. The goal of this book is to help you to become more intentional and strategic in the use of your influence. Throughout these pages, I’ll talk about the people who have shaped my life, and the various ways I’ve tried to influence the lives of others in a positive way—as a father, teacher, mentor, businessman, spokesman, public speaker, author, leader, and Christian. I’ll tell stories of influential people from all walks of life.

As you read, I hope you’ll find insights that will inspire you to thoughtfully, intentionally impact the lives of others with your influence. I hope you’ll use this book as your road map to a lifetime of deeper, wider, more profound influence. Use the discussion questions after each chapter for either personal reflection or group discussion. Take out your highlighter or your pen and make notes in the margin. If you have ideas or questions, go to the contact page at the end of the book and get in touch with me.

Think of this book as a two-way chat between friends. I’m eager to see how this book will impact you, and how you will turn around and impact my life. So thanks for opening this book and reading this far. I’m happy to meet you, and glad to discover another person who shares my passion for influencing others.

Let’s talk.


Chapter 1

The Influences That Have Shaped Your Life

I’m no self-made man. . . . I am who I am because of those who cared enough about me to touch my soul.

Mark Tabb, Living with Less1

Igraduated from Wake Forest University in the spring of 1962, played minor league baseball with the Miami Marlins during the summer, then attended Indiana University in Bloomington in the fall, pursuing a master’s in physical education. While in Bloomington, I met Mom Burgher.

Her name was Mid, but everybody called her “Mom,” though she had no children of her own. Mom and her husband Bob ran Burgher’s Grill on Main Street in Bloomington. It was an eatery straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Everybody in Bloomington ate there, from the chamber of commerce bigwigs to the students from the university.

The food was great, but that’s not what drew people to Burgher’s Grill. People came to talk to Mom. She was a great listener, and she knew how to get anyone talking about their hopes and dreams, their successes and disappointments. Mom was probably the best amateur psychologist and motivator in the world. Whenever you walked out of Burgher’s Grill after a talk with Mom, you felt you could take on the world.

Though the Burghers had no children, Mom had hundreds of sons. She called all the athletes and coaches at Indiana University “my boys.” I can still picture her at football and baseball games, decked out in Indiana red, cheering her lungs out for her boys. When the team went on the road, she’d show up to see the players board the bus and then greet them when they returned. Win or lose, Mom was always rooting for you.

Mom didn’t keep business hours. If a guy was ever homesick, or had girlfriend trouble or problems at school, he could go to the Burghers’ house, knock on the door, and find a listening ear. Mom always kept snacks handy, because it’s easier to pour out your troubles over a plate of cookies and a glass of milk.

I spent two years in Bloomington, and I was in Mom’s home many times. I vividly remember the pictures on the walls—pictures of Mom’s boys, the many young men she had influenced over the years. There were photos of young men in football uniforms and army uniforms, photos of young men with wives and little kids, pictures of young men living out the dreams they had shared with Mom over a burger and shake so many years earlier. Mom Burgher had impacted those young men and encouraged them to believe in their dreams.

Even after Bob Burgher passed away, Mom kept right on influencing young lives until she herself passed away in her eighties. She left quite a legacy. For more than half a century, she empowered Indiana athletes—including a skinny twenty-two-year-old kid named Williams, who was far away from home. Mom got to know me well. She knew all about my family and my dreams for the future. She kept track of me and sent me notes and cards long after I left Indiana. And for years afterward, whenever I happened to be anywhere near Bloomington, I’d go out of my way to visit Mom.

I don’t know if Mom Burgher ever said to herself, “I want to devote my life to having a positive influence on the lives of young men at Indiana University.” I think it came naturally to her. Being an influencer, an encourager, and an empowerer was just who she was. It was her gift. Now more than ever, the world needs people like Mom Burgher—people who are willing to be guides, counselors, mentors, role models, friends, and encouragers.

Wouldn’t you like to leave a legacy like Mom Burgher? Maybe the reason you care so much about your own influence is that, somewhere along the line, there was a “Mom Burgher” in your life—a “proxy parent” who was there for you in those times when you were a little uncertain and far from home—a guiding friend who always left the porch light on in case you might stop by.

As I write about some of the people who have made a difference in my life, I pray that some of my experiences will resonate with you. As I tell you about some of the people who have influenced me, I believe some familiar faces will come to your mind, maybe people you haven’t thought about in years. As we remember the people who have shaped our lives, we can’t help but be inspired and motivated to become people of influence as well.

Major League Lessons from the Minor Leagues

In 1963, after two summers with the minor league Miami Marlins, I faced the fact that it would take more than a .205 batting average to get me to the major leagues. So I reluctantly let go of the baseball dreams I had nurtured since I was seven years old. Instead, I pursued a new dream of front-office sports management.

I’ve spent half a century as a sports executive, and one of the great influencers who opened that door for me was Bill Durney, the general manager of the Miami Marlins. I got to know Bill during my two years as a player and my third year as a front-office neophyte. I knew I needed a mentor if I was going to succeed in the sports world, so I went to Bill and told him, “I need an education in pro baseball, and you know more about the baseball business than anyone else I’ve ever known. Would you show me how to run a baseball organization?”

Bill Durney graciously took me under his wing. Over the next few months, I was always at his side, even living in his home for a while. Bill was my mentor and coach. I scooped up every scrap of wisdom and insight he had to offer. He was a great friend and teacher until his death in 1968. I would never have achieved anything in this business without the impact he had on my life.

In February 1965, I moved from Miami to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to take over as general manager of the Spartanburg Phillies. I was twenty-four years old and had orders to report to Mr. R. E. Littlejohn, one of the team owners. He wasn’t home when I arrived, but his wife told me, “You’ll never meet another man like Mr. R. E.” I soon discovered that his wife was right.

Mr. R. E. Littlejohn was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known, and I was fortunate that he practically adopted me as his own son. My own father had died in 1962, when I was twenty-two. Mr. Littlejohn became my stand-in dad when I was twenty-four, and he remained a guiding figure in my life until his death in 1987. He was simply the most exemplary man I’ve ever known, and I wanted to be like him. He made such a profound impact on my life that I named my firstborn son James Littlejohn Williams.

I ended up running the Spartanburg Phillies for four years, 1965 to 1968, and Mr. Littlejohn became my mentor, my encourager, and my best friend. He was a key factor in my conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. When I look back on those four years with Mr. Littlejohn, I can see my younger self as he must have seen me: impetuous, impatient, and rough around the edges. My attitude was, “I want everything, and I want it now!” Mr. Littlejohn loved my enthusiasm and drive, but he knew that those qualities needed to be channeled and brought to maturity if I was to reach my full potential. So day by day, Mr. R. E. Littlejohn instructed me and impacted my young life.

Our ballpark in Spartanburg was a “dry” park—we didn’t serve beer and we didn’t even have wall signs advertising alcoholic beverages. When I took over as general manager, I didn’t realize that the lack of beer ads at the ballpark was due to Mr. R. E.’s personal policy. So I went to Mr. Littlejohn and said, “Sir, we could make a lot of money if we sold beer in the park and took in wall ads for beer.”

He looked at me as if I had just uttered blasphemy. “Pat!” he said sternly. “If I we did that, I’d have to sell the team!”

Then Mr. R. E. explained to me that he was extremely careful about the impression he made on other people—and especially on the young people of our community. He believed alcoholic beverages had a corrupting influence on the young, so he would not allow any hint of alcohol on the premises.

I learned a lesson that has stuck with me throughout my career: Always be aware of the impact of your influence on others.

In July 1968, I received a phone call from Dr. Jack Ramsay, who was then head coach of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. He invited me to become the 76ers’ business manager. I told Mr. Littlejohn and his business partner, Leo Hughes, about this offer, and they agreed it was a big career move for me. Though I’d be leaving baseball, I’d be moving into the big leagues of basketball.

Mr. R. E. said, “You’re ready to make this move, Pat—but I hate to lose you. If you’d stay here in Spartanburg, Mr. Hughes and I would give you the ball club.”

I was stunned. “Give me the ball club? You don’t mean you’d—”

“We’d sign everything over to you, lock, stock, and ballpark. You’d be the owner. It’s all yours—if you want it. All you have to do is stay.”

Mr. Littlejohn was the kindest man I’d ever known—and at that moment I knew he truly loved me like the son he never had. In today’s terms, a ball club like the Spartanburg Phillies would be worth well over $6 million—and Mr. Littlejohn was offering it to me as a gift, wrapped up like a Christmas present!

Oh, I was tempted. Many times I’ve wondered if I should have taken him up on it—but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to move on.

So, with Mr. Littlejohn’s blessing, I went to Philadelphia and became a front-office executive in the NBA. For the next three decades, as I moved to the Chicago Bulls, then to the Atlanta Hawks, then back to the 76ers, and finally to the founding of the Orlando Magic, I never made a major decision or career move without talking to Mr. Littlejohn.

Once, over a seafood dinner, I told him, “You know, I went to Wake Forest for my BS and Indiana University for my MS, but I got my PhD from Littlejohn University.” He laughed and humbly waved off my compliment—but I meant it. I learned more from the influence of Mr. R. E. than from all my years of higher education.

When Mr. R. E. passed away, I felt I had lost a father for the second time. But in a real sense, he hasn’t left. Mr. R. E. Littlejohn lives on in my life and the lives of literally thousands of people he has impacted over the years. To this day, whenever I face a difficult decision, I ask myself, “What would Mr. Littlejohn do?”—and I have my answer.

Rhymes with “Wreck”

I was twenty-two years old when Bill Durney introduced me to Hall of Fame baseball owner-promoter Bill Veeck. (In case you’re wondering, Veeck rhymes with “wreck.”) Bill Veeck impacted my life like a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. More than any of my mentors, he taught me the value of fun.

The son of a Chicago sportswriter, Bill got into baseball by hawking peanuts, popcorn, and scorecards in the stands at Wrigley Field. He was mentored by Chicago Cubs manager Charley Grimm in the 1930s and ’40s, and got into baseball ownership by purchasing struggling teams and transforming them into crowd-pleasers. He took a Cubs farm team, the Milwaukee Brewers, from last place to first in just three seasons. In 1946, Veeck led an ownership syndicate that bought the broken-down Cleveland Indians—and two years later, the Indians won the World Series. He later owned the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox.

Bill Veeck was a promotional genius—and a great humanitarian. At a time when racism was institutionalized in American society, Bill looked at people as people, and he didn’t care what race you were. In 1947, he brought Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians—the first black player in the American League—and he later brought Satchel Paige up from the Negro League to play for Cleveland.

In his 1962 autobiography, Veeck—As in Wreck, he wrote, “My philosophy as a baseball operator could not be more simple. It is to create the greatest enjoyment for the greatest number of people. Not by detracting from the ball game, but by adding a few moments of fairly simple pleasure. My intention was always to draw people to the park and make baseball fans out of them.”2

After my first year as general manager of the Spartanburg Phillies, I felt like a failure because we’d had a losing season. I was mentally and physically exhausted after working day and night for six months, absolutely draining myself in a failed effort to turn the Phillies around. What had all those sixteen-hour days accomplished? I had an empty feeling, a sense that all my effort had been wasted. It would have been one thing if I had at least failed in the attempt to cure cancer or bring about world peace. But I hadn’t even succeeded in my rather modest goal of producing a winning season for the fans in Spartanburg.

So I called Bill Veeck and shared with him my sense of confusion, discouragement, and disillusionment. He listened patiently; then he said, “Pat, how many people did you draw to the ballpark during the season?”

“One hundred fourteen thousand.”

“Did they have a good time?” he asked. “Were they entertained? How much fun did they have?”

“They had a lot of fun. Win or lose, people came up to me and told me what a great time they had.”

“Well,” Bill said, “tell me one other thing you could have done this summer that would have provided as much fun for the good citizens of Spartanburg?”

“I can’t think of anything else we could have done.”

“Pat,” he said, “you never, ever have to apologize for showing people a fun time. If you made people happy, you did your job. You’re a success.”

With those words, Bill Veeck transformed my thinking. Sure, we’d had a losing season, but we had entertained the fans—and we’d made a profit. Throughout the years that followed, in good times and bad, I could hear Bill’s voice in my ear, reminding me that if I was selling fun, I was successful.

Bill Veeck was my mentor, my friend, and my role model. He impacted my life by the power of his influence. The lessons he taught me almost five decades ago still shape my life, my attitude, and my decisions to this day.

In July 1969, Bill Veeck called and told me that a friend of his, Phil Frye of Chicago, wanted to talk with me. Phil was one of the eight owners of the struggling Chicago Bulls NBA franchise. I would later discover that Frye had a summer home in Tryon, North Carolina, near Spartanburg, and had come to many of our games. Frye knew all about my crazy promotions as a minor league general manager. He’d seen how I revitalized the Spartanburg Phillies, and thought I could help turn the Bulls around.

When I was in Spartanburg, I had no idea who Phil Frye was. I had greeted him at the gates on numerous occasions, but he’d never introduced himself. Only a couple of years later did I learn that there had been an NBA owner at our games, and that I had left a big impression on him.

The first time I met with Phil Frye, he told me the team was making no money and drawing few fans. This was long before the Michael Jordan era (in fact, Jordan was a first-grader at that time). Even though the Bulls were struggling through hard times, Chicago was a great sports town, and I knew we could put the Bulls on the map.

Phil Frye became my mentor, my sounding board, and my psychiatrist during my challenging years in Chicago. Throughout my four-year stint with the Bulls, Phil insisted I have lunch with him at the Chicago Club once a month. Phil and I just clicked, and he was a great friend during those years.

One of the biggest lessons I had to learn as a general manager was how to work with strong personalities like George Steinbrenner, who had a minority interest in the Bulls. George would call me several times a week, demanding to know about this decision or that individual or some player we had signed or traded. He really wanted to run the team—and every time I picked up the phone and heard his secretary say, “Please hold for Mr. Steinbrenner,” I had a Maalox moment. Phil Frye helped me to understand George and not be intimidated by his blustery personality.

Phil was a fount of advice and encouragement. If not for Phil Frye and his willingness to impact my life with his influence, I never would have made it in Chicago. Even when Phil Frye was no longer a Bulls owner, he continued to meet with me, mentor me, and look out for me. I think he felt a sense of responsibility because he had a key role in putting me in that job at such a young age, and he wanted to make sure the job didn’t eat me alive.

“I’m the Head Cheerleader!”

You never outgrow the need for the impact of influence in your life. One of the great influencers of my life today is Rich DeVos, the billionaire co-founder of Amway and chairman of RDV Sports, which owns the Orlando Magic. Rich has been one of the key mentors in my personal and professional life for as long as I’ve known him. I turn to Rich for advice and insight whenever I’m facing a tough problem or decision.

In July 1995, when my first marriage was coming to an end, I knew I had to issue a statement to the media. I spent an entire day writing multiple drafts of a press release. Finally, after hours of labor, I had crafted an eloquent two-page press release. Then I showed it to Rich.

He read it through, then said, “Pat, you don’t need to say all that.” Then he dictated three simple sentences that captured the heart of what I needed to say. It was some of the best advice I have ever received, and it was one of the many ways Rich DeVos has impacted my life through his wisdom and character.

In the wake of my diagnosis of multiple myeloma, Rich DeVos has impacted my life through his words and his example. At age eighty-six, Rich has faced his own mortality several times, surviving cancer, strokes, multiple bypass surgery, and a heart transplant at age seventy-one. My life has been profoundly affected as I have watched him go through these experiences, and as he has encouraged me through my own health crisis.

Rich lives each day to lift up and encourage other people. If you ask him what his role has been at Amway and the Orlando Magic, he’ll say, “I’m the head cheerleader!” And it’s true. Rich DeVos has an amazing ability to motivate, inspire, and impact people in a powerful way.

When we talk, it’s never a superficial exchange. Rich gets right down to reality and wants to know my joys, hurts, and struggles. He asks, “Is there anything you need? Any way I can support you? Any need in your life I can pray for?” And he always concludes with a word of encouragement: “You’re doing a great job. This never would have happened without you.” The impact of his influence in my life is amazing.

As I began working on this book, I received an email from a lady in India who asked if I could help her get a message to Rich DeVos. So I passed her request on to Rich. A few days later, I received another note from the lady, saying, “Thanks so much for conveying my message to Rich DeVos. I received a hand-written note from him just now, and it made my day!” Rich is famous for his handwritten notes; I have three of them framed on my wall. He always signs his notes, “Love Ya! Rich.” Whether he knows you personally or not, Rich really does love you, because he loves everybody, encourages everybody, and motivates everybody whose life he touches.

Why does Rich do that? There’s no profit in sending out a handwritten note to a lady halfway around the world, a lady he will never meet. There’s no profit in sending these notes of encouragement to any of us. But Rich doesn’t influence others in order to get something for himself. Instead, he continually gives of himself to others. He is committed to living out the impact of influence. He knows that God has blessed his business so that he could have a worldwide platform—and he uses that platform to bless and influence others.

Tom Peters, co-author of In Search of Excellence, is a big believer in the power and impact of a simple little handwritten note. He writes:

We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch. And of all personal touches, I find the short, handwritten “nice job” note to have the greatest impact. (It even seems to beat a call—something about the tangibility.) A former boss (who’s gone on to a highly successful career) religiously took about 15 minutes (max) at the end of each day, at 5:30, 6:30, whenever, to jot a half-dozen paragraph-long notes to people who’d given him time during the day, or who’d made a provocative remark at some meeting. I remember him saying that he was dumbfounded by the number of recipients who subsequently thanked him for thanking them!3

I’m reminded of my late, great friend, Coach John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. When people wrote to him, he would always handwrite two-page replies in his beautiful penmanship. He’d include an autographed poster of his Pyramid of Success; then he’d walk the letter to the corner mailbox. His commitment to influencing others left a deep imprint on me. He understood how people hunger for a positive influence.

Another man who has been a great influence on my life for more than a quarter century is Orlando businessman Jimmy Hewitt. He envisioned an NBA franchise in Orlando even before I did, and if it weren’t for his vision, energy, and influence, the Orlando Magic would not exist today. From the time he first brought me to Orlando for a speaking engagement, Jimmy has done nothing but build me up and make me believe that I’m one of the greatest sports executives in the world!

When we were trying to turn the Orlando Magic dream into a living, breathing team, Jimmy kept saying, “We’re gonna get this team in Orlando because we’ve got Pat Williams! No one can say no to us now!” I was able to perform far beyond my true capabilities because of the incredible impact and influence of Jimmy Hewitt.

Pay It Forward

I’ve listed a few of the people who have truly shaped my life. Now I ask you: Who are the influencers in your life? Who are the people who have impacted you in a positive way? Who are the people who have shaped your values and your character? Who enabled you to believe in yourself? Who taught you the ropes of your profession?

You can never pay those people back—and they wouldn’t want you to. Instead, they would tell you to “pay it forward” to the people—especially the young people—in your own sphere of influence. So now the question is: Who are you going to impact with your influence today?

Leadership guru John Maxwell tells us that the average person influences the lives of around 10,000 people over the course of a lifetime—whether that influence is for good or ill.4 It’s amazing to think that you and I have that kind of impact on the people around us. We all make a difference in the lives of others. The only question is: What kind of difference do we choose to make?

Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life, puts it this way: “At some point in your life you must decide whether you want to impress people or influence people. You can impress people from a distance, but you must get close to influence them, and when you do that, they will be able to see your flaws.”5

It’s true: The greater your influence, the more visible your flaws. And that’s okay! You don’t have to be perfect to impact lives with your influence. In fact, one of the most important ways you can have a positive influence on the people around you is by being transparent and honest about your mistakes and sins. The most important influence we have on people is not through our perfection, but through the example we set in dealing with—and recovering from—our failures.

In the late 1970s, United Technologies Corporation ran a series of thought-provoking ads in the Wall Street Journal, including an ad with the headline “Do You Remember Your First Break?” The text under the headline read:

Someone saw something in you once.

That’s partly why you are where you are today.

It could have been a thoughtful parent, a perceptive teacher, a demanding drill sergeant, an appreciative employer, or just a friend who dug down in his pocket and came up with a few bucks.

Whoever it was had the kindness and the foresight to bet on your future.

Those are two beautiful qualities that separate the human being from the orangutan.

In the next 24 hours, take 10 minutes to write a grateful note to the person that helped you.

You’ll keep a wonderful friendship alive.

Matter of fact, take another 10 minutes to give somebody else a break.

Who knows?

Someday you might get a nice letter.

It could be one of the most gratifying messages you ever read.6

Who gave you your first break? Who was your influencer, encourager, and cheerleader? Who impacted your life for the better? Who helped you become the person you are today?

Don’t you want to be that kind of person in someone’s life today? Don’t you want to influence scores or hundreds or thousands of people for the better? I know you do.

Now let’s examine some ways to make that happen. . . .

Questions for Group Discussion or Individual Reflection

Chapter 1: The Influences That Have Shaped Your Life

1.         Who were some of the most influential people in your life? How have these people helped make you who you are today?

2.         Recall some words of insight, encouragement, or advice that someone said to you that continue to affect your life today. Who said those words to you? What were the circumstances? Why did those words affect you so profoundly? Do you think that person would remember saying that to you?

3.         Have you ever had a “Mom Burgher” in your life—someone you could talk to when you were a young person? Or a “Bill Durney,” someone who mentored you in your career? Or a “Mr. Littlejohn,” someone you could always turn to for encouragement, advice, and spiritual wisdom? Or a “Bill Veeck,” someone who was a role model and fount of success wisdom? Or a “Phil Frye,” someone who would warn you about life’s pitfalls and help you keep your perspective in times of stress and pressure? Or a “Rich DeVos,” someone who was your “cheerleader” through tough times?

Maybe there was someone in your life who influenced you in a totally different way. If so, who was that person and how did he or she impact your life?

4.         Is there someone in your life right now who needs your influence and encouragement? What steps could you take right now to make a difference in that person’s life?

5.         Is there someone who impacted your life—someone whose day would be brightened by a note of thanks or a phone call? Make a commitment to write that note or make that call within the next twenty-four hours.

The Difference You Make: Changing Your World through the Impact of Your Influence
by by Pat Williams with Jim Denney