Directors Conference speaker describes a formative experience with reaching for a dream—and how courage is contagious.
Manley Feinberg told the more than 500 in-person and remote attendees of Directors Conference earlier this month about how his mother’s two rules are rules we should all live by.
What were those rules?
- Show up.
- Step up.
And this is the story Feinberg told about them.
A former executive at Build-A-Bear Workshop, a mountain climber, and the keynote speaker and author who founded Vertical Lessons, Feinberg said he was a teenager when Eddie Van Halen inspired him to learn to play the electric guitar. Sitting on the couch with his mother one night, he heard a man playing the national anthem like another legendary guitar player, Jimmy Hendrix.
Feinberg said he asked his mom, “What I played the national anthem at our school’s basketball games?” She was, of course, supportive since this was her son following rule No. 1. Her son was stepping up.
To be allowed to play, however, Feinberg had to attend a school board meeting and make his case. The school board president, Mr. Ice, said Feinberg’s was a crazy idea—that the board would have to hear him play before it could approve his request.
So he played. He started off playing the national anthem note by note, just as written. On the last note, he added some vibrato, to express himself, and that’s when he heard Mr. Ice shout, “Stop!”
Feinberg waited while the school board members huddled, discussing how it would respond to this student’s request.
Finally, they turned back to Feinberg and Mr. Ice said, “The team this year has been struggling.” Feinberg paused from his storytelling to note that the team struggled every year, then said Mr. Ice continued, “I want you to do this, but we got two simple rules.”
“I want it straight and simple, note for note, none of that ‘wiggle,’” Mr. Ice continued. “I don’t want no type of rock-and-roll shenanigans. You understand me?
Feinberg said he got the message. He went home and he practiced—note for note. At the first game of the season, he played the national anthem on his electric guitar note for note, with no “wiggle.”
When he got home, his mom gave him a hug and a kiss and asked him how it went. Feinberg said, “Fine.”
Feinberg recalled that his mom responded, “Let’s hit the couch.”
Feinberg noted that his mom was a good leader. She knew how to make a safe space for conversation, just like good leaders to. He said when he and his mother sat on the couch together to talk about his performance, she said, “I want to see you walk in the door as excited as when you left.”
Feinberg told her he knew how to make that happen. And she wanted to know his idea. But Feinberg said he retreated into that dark corner everyone has in their mind where the fear voice is louder than the courage voice.
“We don’t have to do it,” Feinberg’s mom said. “Let’s just explore the idea.”
Feinberg said he thought he’d be excited when he came home if he played the national anthem as if he were Jimmy Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen brought together as one person. Clearly, Mr. Ice wouldn’t like this performance, but Feinberg’s mom had sage advice.
“Sometimes you have to ignore a few to win the hearts of many,” she told him.
Feinberg decided to play the national anthem like Hendrix and Van Halen for the homecoming game.
The gymnasium was packed to the rafters for that game, Feinberg recalls. He could smell the hot dogs.
And then he played the national anthem on the Directors Conference stage with his guitar, just as he had done at that homecoming game. The crowd of credit union leaders rose in respect and applauded the performance.
“We beat our rivals for the first time in many years,” Feinberg said. “I was flying high. People were coming up to him and saying, ‘Thanks for bringing it.’”
And then Monday morning came, and Feinberg was called to the principal’s office.
The principal said, “I have a message from Mr. Ice. You will never play guitar in this school again.”
But 25 years later, a friend posted on Facebook that he remembered Feinberg playing the national anthem like a rock star that night. He said that performance was the inspiration for stepping up again and again in life.
“You may never know the impact you had” when you’re courageous, Feinberg said. “Courage is contagious. I could never have done it without my mother.”
In business, implementing a great idea also takes some courage, he said, and you have to be strategic.
Feinberg remembered his mom’s actions in inspiring him to step up in that way and said: “She gave me the tactical lesson step by step.” Here’s what she advised.
First, ask: Is this idea or process still serving us? And then don’t let your big new idea die in your head. “Don’t let resistance bury your boldness and your brilliance,” Feinberg said. “Nurture those little seeds of ideas.”
Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor for CUES.