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SSTN Interviews Colin Cerniglia

SSTN: Today we are here with author Colin Cerniglia. Colin is a motivational speaker and author and has recently published the book Culture of Excellence: What We Can Learn From The Yankees About Leadership. Colin is also the CEO of the Talent 409 Leadership Academy. The Talent 409 Leadership Academy works with athletes and coaches to guide them through their leadership development. The Leadership Academy also works with athletic teams to enhance their vision and culture.



Colin is also the creator and host of the Dynamic Leaders Podcast. The podcast is a weekly show featuring some of the most compelling leaders in sports and in business. These guests share their stories while providing tips and tools for listeners to become better leaders.

Colin lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife Christine and daughter, Stella.

Colin, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading The News.

Thank you for having me, Paul. Super excited to do this and love the Sinatra reference!

Thank you.

Please begin by telling us a little about your work in motivating others and developing a culture of excellence. Please tell us about the Talent 409 Leadership Academy.

Sure. So this whole concept of leadership and culture development began during my corporate HR and Recruiting career. In this work, I developed a true passion around not just being able to identify great talent, but how we kept that talent around — how we kept them engaged, give them opportunities to develop, etc. The culture piece in the corporate world was very interesting to me and something I never gave much thought to prior to working in HR. Leadership had always been of interest, but beginning to pair it with what drives a compelling culture is where I really began to get curious. This was back in 2015 or so.

I’ve also always had a pretty big passion for sports and I played baseball all the way through college at Penn State Scranton. As my passion for leadership and culture development grew, I found myself wanting to get back into the sports and athletics word after roughly seven years or so away. That’s why the Leadership Academy was born the way it is. Since then, it’s evolved to focus primarily on working with women in sports, which is super fun and rewarding. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see how willing women are to work primarily with me (a guy). That partnership, I think, has made for some really interesting results. It’s cool to be a male champion for women and to have a platform for them to grow their influence and leadership skills. And this all happened before I knew I was having a daughter!

You also host The Dynamic Leaders podcast. Please tell us a bit about that.

It’s easily the most fun and creative venture I’ve ever done, professionally or not. I should have started sooner. And the podcast, much like the Leadership Academy, has evolved to be a great platform for women in athletics to tell their stories and share their expertise and guidance. I started the podcast in August of 2018 and most of the 100+ episodes are unique guest ones, with the vast majority of those featuring women. Almost all of the women have an athletic background and while there are a few current athletes, most are retired and have moved on to “life after sport.” So we spend a good chunk of time talking about taking what you learn in competition and translating it to that next phase. I think it’s a really great learning tool because I know I’ve learned a ton from my guests. It’s also just a lot of fun to have open conversations. This is what has motivated me to continue doing the podcast week-after-week for now over two years.

As we read, write, and speak to successful people, we tend to learn more about ourselves. What was the greatest lesson you learned from working with (and motivating) others?

Oddly enough, if I had to pick just one lesson, I would say that I learned that I am much more creative than I gave myself credit for. There are obvious ways I have shown that either through the podcast or my new book, but creativity is also a great reminder that we always need to be curious if we want to be innovative.

I’ve found myself reading more than ever before, listening to more podcasts, asking more questions, and just being more open-minded to any topic. Maybe it’s age and maturity, but I know that in my 30’s I’m a much more curious and understanding person than I was in my 20’s when I could be much too stubborn and close-minded. Weirdly enough, I attribute all of that to my confidence in being more creative, which I learned through this work!

Now, please tell us about your book Culture of Excellence: What We Can Learn About Leadership From The Yankees.

Sure. And I won’t just copy and paste the back matter from my book.

But seriously, this book is a collection of leadership stories. It’s NOT a baseball book. I’m very open in telling folks that, and as a huge baseball/Yankee fan myself, I feel that that transparency is important. There aren’t a bunch of nerdy baseball stats or game stories in the text. This book focuses more on the people outside of the white lines – What happens in the clubhouse, how they deal with adversity, how they address leadership. The Yankees are a business and the players, coaches, executives are all people, which means we can all relate to both, even if we aren’t fans of the team or enjoy the sport.

It’s also very important to me that people know that this isn’t exactly a fluff piece for the Yankees. Yes, I believe they have built a Culture of Excellence as it stands today, but the book addresses a thirty-year period. The Yankees were not always an excellent representation of a healthy culture, and in fact, when the story begins, the Yankees were the epitome of toxicity in baseball.

As a fan of the team, I had two elements constantly on my mind: 1). Don’t be too romantic about the Yankees and 2). Write the book so that it translates for people outside of the sport and into the general population or corporate world.

If early indications matter, I believe I’ve hit both marks.

I think you have. I am enjoying the book!

So, what inspired you to write a leadership book based on the New York Yankees?

It was truly the fact that I thought there was a 30-year or so arc to focus on. I’m certainly guilty of indulging in books, podcasts, etc. about the “championship season” and there are definitely elements you can learn from these examples. But what I don’t like about these type of publications is that we usually never see the after effects. Maybe we see some prior history and background as context, but it’s usually never a deep dive.

The 30-year scope of Yankees history is a roller coaster: they began as one of the more toxisc teams in baseball, morphed into a dynasty, failed to be able to reproduce those results, put a band aid on the organization by overspending for a championship, went through a long dead period, and now have again developed a reputation that envies that of the 90’s dynasty teams, even if they haven’t yet won a championship.

And that’s the point! Championships don’t always equal “excellence.” Teams without great cultures have won championships in the past and will win in the future, but having a great culture certainly never hurt anyone.

Plus, the ups and downs the Yankees have experienced is a much more accurate representation of business and LIFE. That’s what I believe is so compelling about the story.

Great point. I think many readers can relate to times when they worked hard, gave their all, and the results weren’t as they hoped. We’ve all seen ups and downs. No doubt. Often it is in the hard work, not the end results, that we gain our greatest satisfaction.

Without giving too much away from the book, what is the biggest leadership lesson found within? Following up, are there any lessons you share that came from lesser-known Yankees players or personnel?

The biggest leadership lesson is patience and an ability to learn from mistakes. Like you said, I won’t spoil too much about the book and the characters, but the patience and learning these people did throughout the course of their careers and life is what enables them to find excellence. That’s a really cool element too see, especially within the scope of the 30-year arc.

As for lesser-know types, not that he really qualifies, but there is a section in the book that focuses specifically on David Cone and his leadership that I believe to be one of the best in the book.

David Cone was a leader. Bringing him in was one of the key pieces to that first championship in 1996.

In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?

(If there is one already out there, someone please direct me to it).

I think MLB has done a good job of honoring Willie Mays and Hank Aaron for their contributions to that specific league, but I don’t think it has done a good job explaining where they came from or the historical significance of the Negro Leagues. Mays and Aaron might be the two greatest living players and they both came from the Negro Leagues and I think it would be awesome for them to tell stories of other greats from that league like Paige and Robinson, but also from folks that never got the opportunity to jump to MLB.

Baseball, like America, has an ugly past with race, and I think a great way to get more young black people interested in baseball again is to celebrate more of the history of the Negro Leagues and the great players that were a part of it.

I hope you see and have enjoyed our series, primarily written by Mike Whiteman, where he chronicles the Negro Leagues and many of the players. It’s good stuff!

In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?

In person, I saw Alex Rodriguez in his prime with the Rangers and I also saw Mike Trout in his rookie season. I think a close runner-up would be watching Roger Clemens in his 2007 rehab at Scranton before coming back to the Yankees.

Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

Yankees!

Who was your favorite player?

Chuck Knoblauch, then Alex Rodriguez, now Aaron Judge.

What is your most prized collectible?

I have a Don Larsen autographed picture of his final pitch from his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Seeing how there hasn’t ever been a perfect game before or since, that seems like the right answer.

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was my first (and still) favorite, but I also love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Eagles. Sometime I wonder if I even need other music to listen to.

What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?

It is pizza and my favorite pizza places are two spots in Scranton, PA — Maroni’s off of St. Ann St. and Arcaro’s on the top of Taylor Hill on Maine Ave.

Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –

Not much else to add. This was super fun to do and thank you again for the opportunity!

It was great, Colin. I look forward to continuing our discussions on leadership. Good luck with the book! Thank you again for joining us!

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