I am proud to share a story about one my favorite mentors, Anthony Robbins.
I met Tony in 1984 in Aspen, Colorado, at a global conference on World Peace that had been arranged by Thomas Crum, friend, sifu, and partner to the country-music artist John Denver. A dear friend and mentor, Dr. Jeff Alexander founder of Warrior Spirit (www.warriorspiritit.com) introduced me to Tony.
I did my first ‘fire-walk’ with Tony the first night of the conference. It was a magical experience. The power for me was not in safely transiting the hot coals in bare feet. The personal victory and lasting empowerment was in believing in self, mastering fear, and allowing myself to do it.
( Tony in 1985: http://bit.ly/Y7uD74 )
During the three-day meeting I spent some time with Tony and told him how I thought his message of personal responsibility and empowerment was needed and would be welcomed in Panama, R.P.
I had resided in Panama for the last 10 years conducting a growing business in the warehousing and relocation industry. I considered it home and was very concerned about the increasing negative changes under the self-imposed dictator, Manuel Noriega. I told Tony that there were many people opposed to Noriega’s corruption and cruelty – and that most felt powerless.
Under the guise of conducting a leadership training Tony agreed to come to Panama for a week if I would organize and financially support the event. Thrilled with the opportunity and having no clue what my next step would be, I committed with an enthusiastic, “Yes.’
With only three months to prepare for the training and recruit attendees I moved into over-drive. My memory is that because this new large task, added to my already demanding business responsibilities, was energized by unbridled passion and enthusiasm, I became more efficient at all tasks.
Panama was far off the seminar trail – few ‘speakers of note’ ever visited the Republic. The increasing political chaos and violence were also factors dissuading visitors.
In 1984 Tony was still a relative ‘unknown’, especially outside the US. My explanations about the fire-walk, Tony’s training sessions, and recruiting for the seminar became time-consuming challenges.
Fortunately, I had recruited several friends who worked for the US Army in senior admin positions who were interested in human development work. We concluded that conducting the event in the US controlled Canal Zone would shield us from the suspicious and corrupt Panama government.
Getting permission from local skeptical authorities to conduct a seminar with a ‘fire-walk’ on US government premises had been an exercise in artful negotiations. I personally agreed to take responsibility for all property damage and personal injuries.
A day before the ‘Fear into Power–the Fire Walk Experience’ was scheduled a supportive friend had arranged a luncheon information briefing at the Officers’ Club in Fort Amador, HQ for the US Army Southern Command. Over 175 people were waiting to meet Tony and learn about his programs. We waited and waited.
Lesson # 1: Always arrive at least 24 hours before any important scheduled event.
Tony had been scheduled to arrive early that day in plenty of time to attend the luncheon. He had arranged to fly from Los Angeles to Miami, remain overnight, and catch an early direct flight to Panama.
He missed his flight to Miami. Tony booked the next available flight to New York with a connection to Miami. Flight delays caused him to miss the Miami connection to Panama. As there were no flights to Panama until the next day Tony chartered a small private plane. The plane hopscotched several Caribbean islands before landing at Tocumen Airport, Panama, R.P. at 6:00 PM – six hours after the scheduled luncheon briefing.
This all occurred centuries before cell phones. My com-link to Tony had been through his secretary in LA who received periodic telephone travel updates from Tony. His secretary and I played phone-tag throughout the morning.
By 12:45 my luncheon guests were becoming impatient and prepared to leave. As a proxy for Tony I am not even on the same planet, however, I gave one of the best performances of my life explaining the power and opportunities of TR’s training. The audience was respectful but unimpressed until I offered all present free attendance at the ‘Fear into Power’ event. What had been a challenge to recruit 40 people to invest in the trainings now resulted in over 150 showing-up.
Lesson # 2: ‘Free’ is a powerful motivator.
The Fire-Walk was a tremendous success – no injuries – and over 100 people signed-up for the following three-day training on ‘Self-Mastery, Taking Charge, and Fitness & Health’. This program too, was an outstanding success. Many people discovered new self-appreciation and personal motivation to make empowering decisions and take consequential actions. Many of these participants became energetic devotees of the powerful teachings. An awareness of potential empowerment had been ignited in the community.
During the trip planning Tony had asked me if there were any persons of influence that I would like him to meet. A special friend who had connections with the Panama government had arranged a meeting for Tony with Nicolas Bartletta, the President of the Republic of Panama. Bartletta had formerly been the Vice-President of the World Bank. He had been pressed into service by General Noriega to help give his government a perception of legitimacy and credibility.
Tony’s departure date had been scheduled for 4:00 PM the day after the seminar. The meeting with President Barletta had been arranged for 1:00 PM at the Presidencia.
In the morning of the departure day Tony and I were engaged in conversation. I told him the story of Jose Sinisterra. Six months before Jose, a fit and very competent local private contractor, was building a set of new multi-story offices inside my large warehouse. Jose had fallen off a 25 ft. scaffolding, landing on the warehouse concrete floor, and became paralyzed from the neck down.
Lesson # 3: Whatever the task, physical, mental, or social, an appropriate ‘safety harness’ is essential.
Jose spent the next four months in the hospital. After repeated treatments the doctors essentially gave-up any chances of physical improvement and sent him home to vegetate – or die.
I would visit Jose in his home leaving encouraged by his spirit but frustrated by his lack of physical progress, and my inability to render meaningful help.
Tony asked if we could visit Jose prior to going to the Presidencia. Jose’s wife advised that she and Jose would be glad to see us. We arranged an 11:00 AM visit.
You likely know that Tony is a very tall man – 6’ 7”. Towering over the bedridden Jose he appeared as a friendly giant.
Tony talked at length to Jose, asking him about his family, his previous work, his former hopes and dreams, and his feelings about finding himself in his current physical condition. Tony sincerely acknowledged his broken dreams while re-affirming his personal courage and strength to fight on. Jose was excited with the attention. He likely had not had such an in depth conversation or acknowledgment.
Lesson # 4: Sincere caring and acknowledgment is the surest pathway to establish a meaningful relationship.
Tony asked Jose to join him in a ‘closed-eye directed visualization’ exercise. With his agreement Tony guided Jose to create a series of mental pictures wherein he saw himself as ever more healthy and being able to contribute to his family. These images were not to be based on a wholly restored body but were suggesting that Jose could willfully gain more control and ability to contribute in new ways.
Jose had no movement of any body part south of his chin. During the visualization exercise Tony instructed Jose to direct his focus and energy to his feet. After 10 minutes Jose’s toes began to move – for the first time since his fall!
Lesson # 5: Our directed and energized ‘Will’ is one of our most resourceful but under-used powers.
It was 12:30. I quietly reminded Tony that we had to be leaving to meet the President. Tony said, “Jim – this is the most important thing I can personally do right now. Please call President Barletta and tell him that we will be late.” Somewhat shocked, with immense respect and appreciation for Tony, I called the President’s office and relayed the message.
We left Jose’s apartment at 1:30 leaving behind a very grateful and inspired family.
Arriving more than an hour late we expected to be greeted by a chastising President. Ushered in to President Barletta’s office, we demonstrated sincere respect and appreciation for the meeting opportunity and re-directed the energy. President Barletta was curious about Tony, his principles, and practices.
The President was immersed in a very contentious struggle with the despotic military, some of Noriega’s appointed cabinet ministers, and others in and near government working for social change to improve the well-being of the people of Panama.
Tony and the President discussed what power he really had and how he might use his leadership position and personal influence to effectively promote change. President Barletta was very open and receptive to suggestions. He admitted that his authority was largely thwarted by General Noriega. He confided that he had to operate very carefully to pursue opportunities for change.
Tony asked the President if he would allow Tony to guide him in a ‘closed-eye visualization’ exercise. Tony advised that the process would be to relieve stress, energize him, and offer discovery of potential insights and ideas to use his influence more effectively.
In the stillness of the private office, with only Tony, the President, and myself present, Tony guided us through an empowering process that lasted over half an hour. A grateful President confirmed that he felt more insightful, energetic, directed, and hopeful.
The time was 3:15. The airport was 40 minutes drive form the Presidencia. Tony’s Air Panama flight to New York was scheduled to depart at 4:00. As we were about to leave the President’s office Tony turned to President Barletta and said, “ Mr. President would you please call the airline and ask them to hold the plane for me.” He did. They did. Tony made the flight and met with Donald Trump the next day.
Lesson # 6: “if you don’t ask – you don’t get!”
For over 30 years Tony’s coaching has been a positive influence in my life. With great appreciation I have embraced and worked to practice his teachings. I have worked to teach his leadership principles and life skills’ strategies to my employees. I have witnessed his successes in empowering millions of people through his trainings, books, videos, and CD’s. He has counseled world famous celebrities, athletes, businessmen, and even US Presidents.
Tony, the ‘larger-than-life’ Coach, with his fantastic ability to effectively communicate self-empowering principles, and as impressive as his continuing contributions are I can personally attest are matched by his compassion and integrity.
( Tony’s message: http://bit.ly/ZXLMhv )
PS: Shortly after Tony’s visit I sold my businesses and moved with my new beautiful wife to California. In less than two years I moved to Asia and lost contact with Jose. In 2012, I asked my good friend, Michael Pierce, a respected attorney, still residing in Panama, to find out if Jose was alive and what this condition was. In a few days Mike reported that Jose was indeed still alive. Although he was still a paraplegic he had regained some use of his hands and had become an active letter writer on locally important social issues. Jose’s two sons (both named Jose!) were gainfully employed, the family was stable, and if not thriving, remained positive about the future.
Dear Friend – If you enjoyed this story I invite you to read all my Personal Stories of Leadership at http://bit.ly/ZPvPvE