Last October, I was fortunate to attend Manufacturing First, a conference at Green Bay’s Resch Expo Center. The one-day event featured a full day of speakers, informative presentations focused on manufacturing innovations and industry trends, and plenty of networking opportunities. First Business Bank originated and sponsors this yearly event, and it’s one of my favorites to attend — I always learn something new.

The keynote speaker at Manufacturing First was Dr. Rick Rigsby, a motivational speaker and author of Lessons of a Third Grade Dropout: How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation. The third-grade dropout referenced in the book is his father — a man who didn’t allow his lack of a formal education to determine his present or his future.

By channeling his father’s simple wisdom, Dr. Rigsby gave me the tools to think differently about what businesses, leaders, and employees can do to meet the moment and strive for excellence — even when the circumstances are hard. Months later, I’m still thinking about his words — and not just because he was complimentary of Wisconsin’s favorite foods (he was impressed by our Friday fish fry and cheese curds!).

Here are four key insights I took away from his speech:

Uncertainty Can Lead to Greatness

We can all agree that regardless of who you are, what you do, or where you live, the last two years and its events — the COVID-19 pandemic, racial strife, and political unrest — have brought a tremendous amount of uncertainty into our lives.

Dr. Rigsby says there’s a silver lining to these challenges, and that’s that we get the gift of being in “reimagine mode” as we move forward. “In a time of certainty, you can predict how your day is going to go,” he said. “Certainty is not a bad thing, and there’s a time for it, but it can cause us to leak some of our energy and lose that hunger. Uncertainty will challenge us to grow our acumen and place a demand on you to get to the next level. If you choose, a season of uncertainty will pull the best out of you.”

To punctuate his point, he gave an example that many Wisconsinites could appreciate: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s legendary Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders the day after his dad had passed away. He wasn’t sure about playing that night but knew his dad would want him to do so — and finished the night with four touchdowns and 399 passing yards. It’s a good reminder — greatness can come out of difficult situations.

Success is Achieved by Executing the Basics

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden famously began each season with a coaching session on dressing properly — specifically, teaching his players how to put on their shoes and socks. The rationale? If they didn’t put on their shoes and socks the right way, blisters weren’t far behind — and then they weren’t of much use to the team.

Dr. Rigsby used this anecdote to talk about the importance of executing the basics from both a professional and personal perspective. “Leadership is influence — nothing more and nothing less,” he said. “And the way you grow your influence is by getting clear on your own basics.” Dr. Rigby’s “basics” are the tenets many of us are taught as children: being honest, looking out for your neighbor, not passing judgment, striving for excellence, and practicing kindness.

“If you’re not executing your basics every single day, you won’t grow your influence,” Dr. Rigsby said. “If you don’t grow your influence, you won’t grow your impact.” As many in the manufacturing industry and beyond continue to grapple with supply chain issues and talent acquisition and retention, the advice of doing the basics better than everyone else certainly resonates.

The Most Important Business Tool is a Growth Mindset

A person with a growth mindset believes their skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. Because of this, they embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, and learn from feedback. The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, where people believe their talent or skills are fixed traits — and that talent alone leads to success.

Dr. Rigsby reminded us that the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality of a fixed mindset is not going to serve us in the business world as we continue to move through into the next generation of work. “You cannot be a leader baptized in pickle juice, hoping the revolution does not come for your company,” he said.

Workplace demographics, what people want their work to represent, what’s important to them in a job — it’s all changing, and we as business owners need to recognize that and open our minds to the possibilities, too.

Be the Kind of Leader Your Grandmother Would Hire

Dr. Rigsby implored all of us in the audience to “be the kind of leader that your grandmother would hire” by using our common sense to execute the basics, striving for greatness even when the situation is uncertain, committing fully to our values, and standing tall — even on the days you want to quit.

His last story of the keynote was also the most impactful. He talked about his late wife, Trina, who passed away from breast cancer after 12 years of marriage. The day of Trina’s funeral, “my father placed a demand on me on the worst day of my life to not quit,” Dr. Rigsby said. “He told me to just stand. I did what he told me and realized that was all I needed to keep going.”

Dr. Rigsby’s messages and stories were so powerful and impactful that I’m still thinking about them months later and incorporating his ideas into discussions with my team. If you have the chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it.