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Let Me Tell You a Story
Part IV

Several of the leaders who met with students in my leadership class emphasized the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Occasionally they would refer to it as walking your talk or say/do, do what you say. No one likes having a leader who says one thing and does another.

To illustrate this leadership principle, I’ll share a story about my recruitment of Jessica Fields, from Herman, Missouri, to join UA’s volleyball team. Jessica was an outstanding student, as well as volleyball player, in high school. The UA volleyball coach asked if I’d meet with her and her father and encourage her to become a Razorback. During our meeting, I told Mr. Fields that I’d take a special interest in her and treat her as though she was my daughter. I’m sure he thought it was an empty promise, but I followed through as Jessica knows—and you’ll soon learn.

While attending a UA women’s basketball game, I noticed Jessica was sitting in the stands with Darren Phelan, a UA tennis player. After catching her eye, I signaled I’d like for her to come speak with me. With some reluctance and my continued beckoning, Jessica joined me. I told her I’d seen her with Darren at multiple events and asked if it was getting serious. After admitting it was, I said, “I want to see him.” “Why?” “That’s between Darren and me.” “When?” “Now! Ask him to come down here and speak with me.”

I watched her return to her seat and speak to Darren. It was obvious that he thought she was kidding. So, I beckoned for him to come join me. I met him as he came down the steps and I took him to a meeting room in the arena where I said, “Darren, do you know how special Jessica is? Do you know Mary Lib and I think of her as a daughter?” “Yes, sir!” “Do you have honorable intentions?” “Yes, sir!” “Do you love her?” “Yes, sir!” “Then, don’t do anything to hurt her. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I’m saying?” “Yes, sir!” “Okay, go back out there and be with her, but don’t let me ever hear you aren’t treating her right.” “Yes, sir!”

I suspect Darren didn’t know how delighted I was that they were dating. I knew a lot about him. He was just the kind of young man that I thought Jessica’s father would approve of. Proof that fairy tales can come true, Darren and Jessica are happily married. She’s the volleyball coach and he’s the tennis coach at Fayetteville High School. But this isn’t the end of the story.

During fall semester following my conversations with Jessica and Darren, Mary Lib and I were attending a UA volleyball game. Caroline Clark (from Muncie, Indiana), the setter on the team, approached me and asked if I’d meet with her boyfriend from Indianapolis, who’d be visiting her the following weekend. She wanted me to have a chat with him, like my chat with Darren. I agreed. After taking him aside and repeating what I said to Darren, I said, “You look at Caroline and see how beautiful she is, but she is even more beautiful inside. It won’t take long for you to realize how lucky you are to have the chance to be her husband.” Several years later, Caroline and her husband returned to campus for a volleyball team reunion. He thanked me for what I said, saying I was correct about how beautiful she was inside.

The examples illustrate what I meant when I emphasized, “Measure success one student at a time.” They also demonstrate how little things can mean a lot. Another “little thing” I did proved far more successful than I anticipated.

From Why It Matters you know that recruiting the “best and brightest” students in the state was one of my goals. When I encountered young people in a hotel, church, or restaurant, I would kneel, look them in the eye, give them my UA business card, and tell them I wanted them to do very well in school, come to the University of Arkansas, keep my business card, bring it to campus with them, and show it to me when they became UA students. I’ve lost count of the number of students who did exactly that. In fact, not only did one young girl come, but so did her younger sister. Both still had my business card.

Little things mean a lot!

Next: Let Me Tell You a Story—Part V