5 Leadership Lessons: Larry Thornton: Reflections on a Fifty-Year Journey from the Segregated South to America’s Board Rooms
ARTIST AND ENTREPRENEUR Larry D. Thornton says growing up with brown skin in the 1960s in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, he was “socially and internally maladjusted.” He was often angry because “for every single day, essentially everything around him reminded him that he was inferior for no other reason than being born.” He says, “For that reason, I rejected school and disregarded and discounted people with white skin. It was a dangerous road I was on, and I was headed along full throttle.”
But over time, his thinking changed due to the caring people around him that provided encouragement. He decided, why not win. “Today,” he writes, “I know that my change in thinking rewrote my history. Since then, I have been immensely fortunate and blessed with a wealth of opportunities—beyond my imagination and more than I deserve.”
Beginning as a sign painter for the local Coca-Cola bottling company, he would become the first and only African American to serve on the company’s board of directors. He was also the first African American to own a McDonald’s franchise in Birmingham, Alabama, among other firsts on his journey.
In Why Not Win? Reflections On a Fifty-Year Journey from the Segregated South to America’s Board Rooms – And What It Can Teach Us All, Thornton shares stories from his life and pulls the key lessons that shaped him into the person he is today. Here are only five of the 21 life lessons Thornton shares with us:
No matter how many opportunities or accolades you receive, or whether your beginnings are humbled or privileged, you can never give ‘too much’ to others in genuine need. Who was it that said, ‘Where much is given, much is required?’ That is how you really win—by giving to others and setting them up to be winners as well.
If you can’t take anything, then you can’t have anything. The more you can take, the more you can have. I had to learn how to keep my eyes on the prize, as the rewards of life are reserved only for those who stay in the game.
Find your center and operate from it. Use, follow, adhere to the guidelines of life. They were meant to steer you toward successful living. In most instances, ‘attention’ is all that you will have to pay. Surely you can afford that?
People will listen to your actions far more carefully than they will your words. Your actions will reflect the significance or insignificance of your words. Some of the most pointed messages that you will ever communicate will occur without the employment of a single word. Let your actions, gestures, and deeds speak clearly. And remember—whoever said ‘those who deserve love the least, need love the most’ certainly knew what he or she was talking about.
The ugly truth too often reveals itself: ‘I want to do what you do, but I am not willing to do what you did.’ It is not as much about the ‘doing’ as much as it is about the ‘did.’ The ‘did’ is where the value is. Be willing to withstand the heat of the fire. Bear the winds and rains of the storms, then rest in the assurance that the impending blue skies and sunshine will take care of themselves.
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