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  • John DiBattista

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I have been a coach and consultant since 2008. I came into this practice with years of real-world experience as both a corporate and military leader. My learning from the many moments of successes and failures have proven to be an invaluable foundation as I guide and mentor leaders, and their teams, to strive for greatness. But experience alone isn’t enough. Stories, no matter how well told, can’t provide enough of a toolkit for clients in a situation that is challenging and demanding new thinking and action. For that, I most often lean on principles and tools developed by a man named Larry Wilson.


First, let me tell you how I met Larry. It was 1999 and I was in a corporate sales leadership role. We had just finished a major cultural makeover of a Chicago based, global consumer products company. The company needed a “lift” and our new Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales knew just the thing we needed to make the change happen. He hired Larry Wilson and his team to bring us the new skills and behavior required to create readiness and enable cultural transformation. He also wanted to create a work environment that helped people become “all that they could be”.


Wilson Learning was started by Larry Wilson in 1965. The organization had several remarkable people providing expertise and content, including but not limited to; Dr. Maxie Maultsby and George T. Land. Maxie is credited as the father of Rational Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. George was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his book, Grow or Die: The Unifying Principle of Transformation. Both contributed to Larry’s growth as a person but also to the programs he developed and published for leaders, teams, and organizational change. Much of the tools in Larry’s programs that I use today were developed with Maxie and George.


With all of this talent and a desire to help people obtain self-actualization, Larry developed programs and materials to assist companies to navigate cultural change. His goal was to provide tools for leaders and teams, that when used, would result in exceptional success for the company and unlimited growth for its employees.


Let’s go back in time for a moment to get a feel for some meaningful bits of Larry’s history. Larry was a school teacher right out of college but was anxious to do something more for himself. He left teaching and signed up as a life insurance salesman for the Boston-based, New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. Larry was failing miserably at this sales job until the day he discovered that by making a single change to his sales pitch, he could achieve incredible results. In his later years, at a special seminar in Malibu, he explained his method to us. He said that as a young man, he determined that every insurance policy he sold was worth $25. But the constant rejection left him distraught and often unmotivated. One day a friend gave him a book by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. After reading the book, Larry realized that by simply reframing his defeats into an appreciation for the sales process, he could change his attitude and his outcomes. He tried the new practice immediately by ending every sales call saying, “Thank You for the $25”. This simple practice changed everything. In a short period of time, Larry was named the youngest member of the million-dollar earnings club for his company and went on to be a sales training expert. This success encouraged him to write a sales program on consultative selling. The book, “Sonic”, launched his career as a consultant.


As fate would have it, Larry said he accidentally stumbled on a psychology book and an article written by Abraham Maslow. After reading the article several times Larry called Abe Maslow and was invited to Boston to spend the day with him at Brandeis University. After discussing the Hierarchy of Needs model, Maslow described an island (that he made up), where everyone reached self-actualization. Larry asked what it would be like and Maslow challenged him to go and find out. This began Larry’s desire to create the ultimate environment for personal growth in companies. This was his motivation to start his own company, Wilson Learning.


As I mentioned earlier in this post, I worked for a company that hired Larry Wilson and his team to help us with culture change. When we finalized our work and felt the cultural change was “complete”, we enjoyed several years of unprecedented growth. I quickly realized that I was enamored with the process, not just the outcomes. It was hard work, but it worked! The people I worked with became my friends and best of all, we enjoyed going to work every day. We have created our place of eupsychia. [The concept and word eupsychian (pronounced "you-sigh-key-un") was coined by Abraham Maslow. It comes from eu meaning good (i.e. euphoria) and psyche meaning, basically, mind or soul. So eupsychia essentially means "having a good mind/soul" or "toward a good mind/soul."]


It was a natural next move for me to follow Larry’s methodology, so I called him. I inquired about becoming a consultant and using the process to help other leaders like me. About two weeks later, I received a phone call and the voice said, “Larry Wilson here.” Larry invited me up to Minneapolis, MN. (where he lived and worked) and started my training in a new program that he was launching, called the Great Game of Life (GGOL).


The GGOL program includes Dr. Maxie Maultsby’s Group Rational Behavior Therapy as a foundation for driving personal change. It also integrates George T. Land’s Transformational Theory with other principles of personal and organizational change, growth, and learning. It was and is a powerful program that paved the way for many of the self-help, professional, and leadership development theories and books available in the marketplace today. Over time I was able to spend invaluable time with all of these men before they passed away. During those moments, I was able to capture many golden nuggets of wisdom that I apply to my consulting and coaching practice every day.


Larry was truly one of a kind and his story illustrates how a partnership with the right people, at the right time can help make your dreams a reality. For Larry, that meant making the corporate environment a place where people could obtain self-actualization and create a workplace where everyone wins. I am grateful for Larry and the other “giants” that he introduced us to. We are truly “standing on their shoulders” when we proudly bring their thinking and proven tools to our clients.

You can experience Larry’s legacy in the book, “Play to Win”, by Larry Wilson and his son, Hersch Wilson. Contact us at info@ariacx.com if you would like to purchase a copy of this book.


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