My parents’ example was a lifelong lesson in the most fundamental fundamentals of entrepreneurship. Dad pursued his two passions—religion and education—while always finding ways to keep us fed, clothed, and housed. He never put our welfare on the line.
He might have been a preacher, but he never preached to us. He walked the walk. He modeled the morality he wanted us to develop for ourselves. He never told us what to be, but his example unmistakably communicated that he wanted us to be the best we could be.
To this day, I don’t preach. I’m a full-on serial entrepreneur, but I don’t believe in selling. I don’t want to sell anybody anything. The “mission statement” of what I do is the same as the mission statement of every business I’ve ever built: I want to help people, my customers, my employees, my partners—everyone I work with—to be the best they can be.
Back in high school, college, and NFL football, it was all about the team, all about each other and having each other’s back. Nobody had to give us these priorities. We knew them instinctively. It’s in the DNA of football players. We’re not playing golf. Football is a team sport. I couldn’t throw a pass flat on my back. I needed guards and tackles to block for me and tight ends and receivers to catch.
For me, football culture was always a team culture. We needed each other if we wanted a chance to be successful, and the whole reason to play a sport is to be successful. So I wanted to help my teammates be the best they could be so that we could be the best team we could be.
In fact, I loved my teammates. We were dependent on one another, and we played for each other. It was the only chance we had to win, and, make no mistake, every team I was on wanted to win. My role model for this feeling, attitude, and approach was my dad, who created—to use a business term—a very special culture in my family. It was a culture of respect, transparency, and kindness, of openness to people as they are. We didn’t yell and scream in my family. Nobody got cussed out, belittled, or shamed.
At the time, of course, I didn’t know this was a “culture.” It was just my family. But it is how I learned—from a father who treated us all with respect, who loved us, and who quietly demanded discipline and hard work from us. He would not let us settle for being lazy, for being late, for just getting by in school. He drew out our best and made us want to deliver our best.
My best? Actually, I have never felt that I achieved it. Driven as I always was, my “best” always became better. So I never reached “my best”—thank goodness. We were a strong, loving family, always helping each other. Family became the foundation for everything I would build as an adult in sports and in business. Culture trumps everything else in how you run your business and how you live your life. It is easier for any enterprise to survive a flawed business plan than a flawed culture.
This excerpt was adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation.