Lessons of Leadership and Life with Motivational Speaker V.J. Smith

 From Laughter to Tears

As I sat surrounded by an audience of Interstates project managers and project coordinators, I gazed around the room at the other attendees. There was no PowerPoint to view and beyond a brief break, the speaker had only moved about five feet in the last three hours. Yet, the audience was listening intently to the story of an fascinating leader. Clearly emotionally engaged and hanging on the speaker’s every word. I must admit, I was right there with them. In my quick glance around the room, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one who had gone from laughter to tears during those three hours.

Lessons in Leadership

This was my third opportunity to attend a speaking event with motivational speaker V.J. Smith, author of The Richest Man in Town. His book describes the leadership of Aaron “Marty” Martinson. This event was also my third introduction to Marty, and the third time I was touched and inspired by an unlikely example of outstanding leadership. Marty was a leader. The kind of leader who ran a cash register at Walmart and lived in a double-wide trailer. V.J. Smith further explained to us that Marty was a leader who lived with purpose, valued relationships, and always did just a little more. The three simple lessons that V.J. Smith learned from Marty and shared with us that morning were lessons in leadership.

  • Relationships matter most in life.
  • Try to do a little more.
  • Only you can make you happy.

Characteristics of an Exceptional Employee

On that morning in Sioux City, V.J. Smith explained what he believed were characteristics found in exceptional employees. Those characteristics build on the three lessons of leadership above and I believe these are also characteristics of those who are striving to lead the Interstates Way.

  • Be good to other people – by saying thank you and abstaining from gossip.
  • See the bigger picture – which makes one willing to step out of the cubicle and avoid sweating the small stuff.
  • Listen – by showing empathy, staying fully engaged in the conversation, and avoiding interrupting others who are speaking.
  • Make suggestions, and accepts suggestions – or in Interstates terms, give and receive balanced (plus and delta) feedback.
  • Do quality work – and when a mistake is made, be willing to say “I’m sorry” (a sign of strength, not of weakness).
  • Get your stuff done – be dependable and accountable.

Think about how you are leading. Do you believe those around you see these characteristics of leadership from you each day? What Marty really demonstrated was a life of servant leadership, giving graciously of himself and expecting nothing in return. Simple things make a big difference. What difference are you making in the lives of those around you?

Focus on relationships, do a little more, and be happy. If you can accomplish that, you will truly be leading the Interstates Way!


Click here for more information about V.J. Smith’s book, The Richest Man in Town.

Keep leading the Interstates way.


This blog post was written by Joel Van Egdom.


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