June 11, 2021

Eric LeGrand — Renowned Motivational Speaker, Sports Broadcaster, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Founder of Team LeGrand

Dana Safa

1Huddle Podcast Episode #19

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Eric LeGrand, one of the most inspirational figures in the sports world. He is also a renowned motivational speaker, sports broadcaster, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author of Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life. Eric is a former Rutgers Football player who faced a life-changing injury in 2010 when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.

Eric also founded the charity Team LeGrant of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. They raise money to help find a cure for paralysis and improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. He also won many prestigious awards for his courage and perseverance and was even named the most influential person in New Jersey sports by The Star-Ledger. 

On this episode of Bring It In season one, Eric sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO Sam Caucci and provided insight on building successful habits, perseverance in the face of adversity, and building inclusive cultures.


Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 

TOP 3 HIGHLIGHTS

Below are some of the insights Eric shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “There’s just so much more to educate yourself on. We just have to be willing to have an open mind.”
  • “Mental toughness is not easy. You have to train mental toughness. You got to do things that are strenuous that you don’t like, but it sets you up for when adverse times do come, you’re prepared.”
  • “Give people the opportunity to be able to go into a workplace and not just look at him because of the color of their skin or their religion, their background, their disability, give them the opportunities to educate yourself.”

FULL TRANSCRIPTION

Sam: With all the experiences you’ve had, especially in the last few years, what have you learned about the challenges of work? Is there anything that you’ve observed from your seat on how work is changing or how work is evolving? 

Eric: Well, the biggest thing I would say, especially in the past five years, is diversity and inclusion. Being a wheelchair user like myself, a lot of times people ask me, “Hey, how do you work? How do you, how do you make a living? What am I going to do after my injury?” And then I started, you know, after I started putting on different events and meeting more people, they like to have me in as an example, when I come into their office and they’re like, “You know, maybe this door wasn’t wide enough. We need to open out wider for our wheelchair users or Eric’s smart, he may have had a spinal cord injury, but he still could bring a lot to the table. You know, why not try, you know, reach out and try to educate myself more on somebody else who might be in a wheelchair or has some sort of disability”, you know, and that’s what I see has been changed over the past five years. Diversity and inclusion programs are really starting to come into the workplace, which is amazing because there are just so many people that are dealing with some sort of disability in this world, I know, 5.6 million people with some sort of paralysis. But there’s just so much more that are out there, but we have so much more to offer.

Sam: What do you think about folks out there who maybe say that inclusion work, think that we’re good enough? 

Eric: I don’t think you’re ever good enough when it comes to inclusion work, because I realized that after being in a wheelchair, I’m not educated on everyone’s certain situation. Oh yeah, we’re good enough with the inclusion, like we got somebody who has a disability, we got one, they’re good enough. No, I just think that’s not as real, narrow-minded people that are just not really focusing on the big picture of what else we are doing to explore this route. How can we better our business? Just because you have somebody with a disability or multiple people with disability doesn’t mean that you can’t expand your company. They can bring, you know, certain tactics that are coming to certain strategies that they have created to the company, that allows you to ultimately up that bottom line a little bit. So when people say, “Oh, no, we’ve got enough. We’re good.” There could always be more. And believe me, there’s just so much more to educate yourself on. We just have to be willing to have an open mind. 

Sam: Right. When we talk about experiences, everybody has a different set of experiences. You have a very unique set of experiences that are formed, who you are, your perspectives and your opinions. What do you say to people? How do you get people when you do a ton of motivational speaking and you do a ton of conversations with business leaders and athletes, what’s your goal? What’s your perspective to try to get people to see things from your point of view who haven’t had the experiences you’ve had.

Eric: The first thing I try to explain to them, how to be genuine, what you see is what you get with me. I don’t have like some script write up, like I’ve got to come here and present to you. Sometimes you have to do that, but be yourself, show your personality. And then from there, you have to be able to explain the people, you know, these are the things that are happening, these are my experiences. Your experiences may be a little bit different. They might not be the same as mine. And having an open mind and actually listening to them, you can find a way that maybe you can relate this situation that happened in my life to something maybe not as big or may not be as drastic, but something in my life and then to your life, and then be able to push it forward, call in that way, using different strategies and stories that I tell them different methods of things that I learned when I speak. Usually I go in there and people, sometimes they look to me like I’m a celebrity and this and that. Or sometimes my wheelchair captivates them because of the size of me coming out there. But at the end of that show, I’m like, I’m just like you. I sat in those high school seats before, I listened to different presentations, I’ve been through college, had to play college football, now I’m in the work world. I’m not that much different than you. I had one second that changed my life, that made things a lot different, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some of the same, you know, experiences that you have. And when I share my conversation a little bit about the background, about my life before my injury, and then after people are like “Oh, wow. That’s a general dude. I can relate to him somehow”. They might not grow up in the same neighborhood. I grew up in Reno, been able to play at a division one college football level, but I make sure I implement stories to my crowd that can relate to them. 

Sam: With your Believe 52 Movement, I would position it more as a movement than just a organization from the outside looking in.

Eric: Well, it’s funny. I will share a little bragging rights. I just got that copyrighted this week. So I’m excited about that, but I got that done. That’s my brand now and so it’s all Believe 52. It’s all mine, I got a trademarked. So, Believe 52 started, so when I was in high school, we used to have the Believe sign above our lockers and we used to always go out and tap that before we went out. And I always remember looking up, I always would see the EL and I would tap it tap it tap it, and didn’t tell nobody just, that was my thing. Finally won the summer before I got injured. So the summer of 2010, I was hanging out in my hometown and I was hanging out with some of my friends and I don’t even know how the conversation came up about the locker room, but we all played together football stuff. So I told my friend John Nevins, I’m like, you know, I used to always hit the EL in believe and he goes, Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool. I hadn’t noticed that many. Yeah. So that’s what I used to do.  Fast forward now to October 16, 2010, when my injury happened. I remember my coach just trying to rally around something. And he was just like, we got to believe everything is going to be okay. And then my friend, John, shared that story with Coach Schiano, and he was like, that’s it. We’re going to believe that 52 is going to be okay. Believe 52 is in God’s hands and believe 52 is going to be the movement next thing you know, people are putting it on t-shirts and signs and it just blew up. And it just motivated me too, because I just knew. My initials are right in that word, believing. At that time, I felt like I was on my deathbed, nothing I really could do.

Sam: I think the stories and the book are profound, they’re wild. I think you can’t help, but try to put yourself in your shoes, even though the, you know, the reality is you can’t and you know, it makes me think about all the challenges that we all think we have in a day, And, how we tackle them, right? How do we approach them? What have you learned or you feel you find yourself talking about a lot about how to tackle adversity, given what you’ve learned? 

Eric: People ask me all the time, like how do you handle your adversity so much, in everything that you have to go through and be able to get up and stay so motivated and driven. And I say, listen, we are all humans. I learned at Rutgers, trained behavior becomes instincts. Whatever we think, whatever we do, the process that we have to go through, it becomes your instinct. So if you train your mind to put yourself, okay, I have to go through this, I have to do this. Well, I’m going to do what I need to do. I’m going to follow whatever the guidelines I’m going to follow, whatever the rules I’m going to follow, whatever knowledge I have on it, I’m going to do it. And then when you get dealt with it, it feels so much better. I try to tell people that you may not have to go through a two-hour process with nurses like I do every single morning. It’s something I don’t want to do, but it’s something I have to do. And I know, and once I do get set up on my phone, I got to hit the ground running. And I use that time to think, be innovative as I’m getting cleaned up and washed up by nurses and everything. I’m sitting there with my eyes closed, envisioning different things, trying to put things into action as I sit there and have to go through my process. So literally getting washed up and cleaned up by my nurses doing this. But in my mind, I’m thinking of this as strategies on how I want to execute. And I try to tell people in order to train yourself to do things like that, you have to do things you don’t want to do. And I always use the example: some people would get up and they don’t like to make their bed. They just go on with their day. I said, do that five days in a row. Get up, make your bed five days in line. It’s something you don’t want to do, but do it, and watch, it’s going to become your habit. It’s going to be just something alright, I get up, I gotta do this. I gotta get up and go for a run. I hate going for a run, try this for three days, four days, five days. It’s just something that you do and you start creating all these habits. And then you start to better yourself because now when you have something that comes in and lets them go to adversity, you’ll have these already trained habits in mentally. You know, okay, I got to do this. Mental toughness is not easy. You have to train mental toughness. You got to do things that are strenuous that you don’t like, but it sets you up for when adverse times do come, you’re prepared.

Sam: Totally. Yeah, we did do the hard stuff, you know, kind of lean into the hard stuff, right? 

Eric: The hardest step people always take, that’s the hardest thing. Everyone wants to know the path of least resistance, the hard things are the ones that put strenuous on it, put stress in. People don’t want to do them, but then they want to ask you, well, how can you do it? Well, I’m going through some hard times and I’ve seen the hardest stuff, but I came out better for it. And now I know how to apply those things when things do get tough, I do know how to apply it. 

Sam: What have you because you had mentioned, you had spent some time talking to, you know, all types of audiences, but I’m intrigued to hear your perspective on young people. You know, there’s a major today, especially in the workplace, there’s always this conversation around, you know, we beat up on the earlier generation. Right? First, it was like us Millennials got beat up on, and then now Gen Z, I just found out my three-year-old daughter is gen alpha, which I don’t understand how Gen Alpha is the new one. My daughter’s three, so she’s Gen Alpha now.

Eric: I did not know. So my niece is four. So I’m wondering if she’s Gen Alpha. So that’s interesting, but you had this said millennials get beat up on, and Gen Z and now Gen Alpha. And it’s funny because we beat up on millennials and stuff. Yes, technology has developed, things have turned, but I believe it starts in the household. How you raised them, how you raised your kids, the things that you make them do, the things you let them get away with. And, you know, sometimes being privileged and letting them just, ‘Oh yeah, you know, let him have his phone for the rest of the night’. But meanwhile, he didn’t do his homework in school. So now as you keep on doing that, he can not take away the things, you know, set boundaries and, you know, do punishment. Punishment, people always think is just beating your kids, no, it’s not always beating. I’m not saying that. You take things away from them. My mom knew I was an outside kid. When I got into middle school, like out, I was out, been outside since I was third grade. Well, my mom told me I couldn’t go outside because I didn’t do something like take out the garbage, got in trouble in school. Yeah, it’s something. It felt like the world was ending to me. People have to realize, you know, you can’t play all this lazy, we’re feeding into that culture. It’s all about how you raise the kid. Would you let them do it at a young age? Because in their mind, they’re going to, if they grew up making excuses and always getting away from the door, they wanted, then you think, they’re going to listen to somebody when they get into the real world, their boss, like “I’m not listening to him. I don’t have to do this. I was able to get away with this, this, and that.” I truly believe that all starts at home. Respect, discipline, knowing who people are headed up or, you know, respect people that are older than you that are in higher positions with you, but also bringing in knowledge to the table. And then when they start on top to speak up, of course, to protect yourself, but you also need to realize sometimes in your role and if you don’t like your role, then you worked your butt off to get into another position.

Sam: Yeah. And it’s like that today, the challenges are so much like your biggest strength is sometimes your biggest challenge. So much technology, so much opportunity, so much at fingertips. And where do people focus? You made the mention of parents. But, I kind of take that, if you take that to managers and leaders who are responsible for coaching and developing people every day, what do you say to the, you know, I’m always battling with HR directors sometimes because they’ll say things to me, like sometimes their budget is looked at as a nice to have, not a need to have for job training and they sometimes get down. And what do you say to leaders who are responsible for coaching and developing people, but like anybody else have good days and bad days, how do you persevere through that? 

Eric: I use that as going back to what I learned from my coach with football, you know, there was good and bad days, but there was always a tradition and a culture that was set from day one, everyone has to know and be trained throughout the culture. And you have to continue to do projects, whether it’s daily or weekly so people keep people living up to those standards. I’m not gonna lie to you, and I’m not gonna say you do this for business all the time, but when I was at Rutgers, playing football, I made sure I was always on edge because I knew I had to come correct. I had to be doing things right. If I was in a meeting and the coach is up there speaking, he was sitting there in the middle of the meeting and be writing on a board, stop exactly what he was doing and ask us a question, and he was talking about 15 minutes ago, just to keep our attempts to make sure we’re not wandering and drifting off. When he would speak, eyes on me, make sure you’re attentive. You’re not looking down and playing with yourself. No, I was telling him little tactics like that make people realize, okay, when I go into this meeting, I need to be paying attention. I need to be giving my full effort into what’s going on because if I don’t call down in front of all my colleagues, not a fun feeling, just like being, getting called down front of all my teammates. So when we were coming to meetings, we had our pen in our hand, we were attentive, we were listening up and that’s just a culture that we start to create around the environment. Man, when people start coming into work and stuff, it’s not all that lackadaisical, I can get away with this. I can get away with that. You start to weed out the people that don’t listen to you, and then you get the right people in your business, that are listening, they’re attentive, they want to work. They want to build it. 

Sam: Those are difficult conversations or standards to uphold, right, as a leader?

Eric: My God, is it difficult? That’s why, you know, sometimes our coaches do sometimes get a bad rap. He’s too tough. He’s too firm on them and things of that nature. There’s a way to be, you know, being tough. And if you’re having a tough time with a client or somebody, take that extra 10, 20 minutes and pull that client aside, pull that colleague aside, have a conversation with them one-on-one. Say, hey, listen these are the standards that we have here, this is what I actually used to do, don’t start with the standards. You start with “I see this, the potential in you. I see you can do this. I see how you can grow. This is what I believe in you. And now this is our standard. This is what I expect you to be at every single day. This is what I expected. I’m counting on you. We need you.” And you do that, the colleague starts to be like, you know what I’m with this guy, he beats up the time to talk to me one-on-one, not just embarrassing me in front of everybody and then left it off as that now stale, mad face. No, we talked one on one as men, as women, and we were able to have a conversation and now we’ve now we’re on the same page. You know, and if it doesn’t work out for me, then sometimes it doesn’t work out, but at least, you know, you tried, you set the standard, you had the one-on-one conversation and that would go on from there. 

Sam: Totally. This has been great, Eric. I have a final question for you and we’re asking everybody, that’s a part of the event this final question. And it’s what is your hope for the future of work? Cause you look at, you know, where we’re going and where work is moving and from your seat as an entrepreneur and, you know, someone who connects and inspires so many, what is your hope for the future of work? 

Eric: I hope leadership takes leadership roles and action, with compassion, actually caring about employees and not just a bottom number. Yes, you have your goals that you have to reach. Yes, you have so many things that come on you as a leader, but I hope it’s more compassionate under having conversations with employees. More diversity and inclusion of all types of races and backgrounds and disabilities. Give people the opportunity to be able to go into a workplace and not just look at him because of the color of their skin or their religion and their background over there, have a disability, give them the opportunities to educate yourself. That’s the thing leaders sometimes think that they know it all. I worked my way to get here, now I don’t need to learn nothing else. And you see the times today, the world is evolving every single day. You have to continue to keep up with that education and the people around you. You do that. I believe the workplace will be a much better place and just more acceptable for all people. 

Sam: Me too, that’s great. Eric, thanks for joining us. I appreciate it.

Eric: I appreciate you having me on.

Sam: One thing. Eric said I think every leader needs to realize this: I don’t think you’re ever good enough when it comes to inclusion. I talked to leaders all the time and many of them are taking steps toward making their organizations more equitable. They do in a variety of ways. Yes, they’re doing it either by hiring a chief diversity officer, or maybe they’re using 1huddle in one of our multi-level games with D&I content, or maybe they’re hiring a more diverse staff into leadership positions. But then some of them just think I’m done. But we know that’s not true. We all need to realize like Eric said, inclusivity isn’t a destination you can reach. It’s an ongoing process. Just like learning up-skilling or anything else. We can never be educated on everyone’s situation, but we can have the humility to admit we’re never done learning and working distracting our organizations.

Topics Discussed: Inclusion, Future Leaders, Diversity, Injury, Adversity

Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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