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Leaders That Last: David Dennis on Gameness: Finding Your Fighting Spirit

Leaders That Last is a series featuring interviews with seasoned nonprofit leaders on the practices and principles that helped them excel and maintain longevity in their roles. 


 “The reason I wrote this book was for the very same reason you’re having this conversation today, about this topic of thriving over the long run, leaders that last,” says David Dennis, President and CEO of Eckerd Connect. 

With a goal to leave behind a book of good advice and wise counsel for his five kids, David Dennis’ most recent book Gameness: Land on Your Feet Not Your Feelings is a collection of what he thought were the most important attributes that he could encourage his kids to build into their lives and give them a fighting change to thrive over the long run.

In a recent interview with Derric Bakker, President and CEO of DickersonBakker, the two discuss what being a leader is all about. Throughout this series, Bakker and Dennis explore the steps and disciplines leaders should have and take to be successful, and what the best practices are for guiding a team through obstacles and challenges. 

A lot of the steps that leaders must think about stem from the mindset that leaders have when working with members of their team. Not only do Bakker and Dennis discuss the crucial steps leaders need to take, they dive into the four main principles from Dennis’ book


The Book: Gameness: Land on Your Feet Not Your Feelings

The idea of gameness has lots of moving parts. Similar to the principle of being resilient, gameness is a little different in the aspect that “ you don’t quit and give up. It’s also because of the struggle, because of the problems, you get better and come back better. Instead of bouncing back, with gameness, you bounce forward. The attitude of gameness is to have a fighting spirit. We tackle our problems,” says Dennis.  

The four main principles to gameness are: have a never quit mindset, resoluteness to a purpose, have a fighting spirit, and have the will required to act beyond your feelings. 

These principles have a direct role in a leader’s life. Dennis has realized that “nobody lives to their fullest potential without the four main principles. They are the most important things for any leader to have in their life if they’re going to stick for the long run,” says Dennis. 


Discipline is Key: How do you train your mind to be a successful leader?

Being able to discipline your mind can be a constant battle. “If you’re one dimensional, it means you’re probably leaning way too hard on that thing that is your sweet spot that you’re naturally gifted to do and you’ve exploited that, ” mentions Dennis. 

Derric Bakker explains that “the four main points from your book are things that everyone would benefit from. It’s a lot of a mindset and attitude in terms of the mindset you take and how you respond to something.”

Dennis agrees and recognizes that “people do their best when they’re getting to operate as independently as possible. Not everybody is going to do it the same way you are, so it’s important to know what we’re trying to accomplish.” 

Disciplining your mind as a leader is key to keeping a steady ground and knowing what to do in hard situations. Being true with your intentions and goals is going to help you “see the finish line” when times get tough. 


Unexpected Challenges: How Will You Find A Resolution? 

Challenges are inevitable. “Don’t just try to dodge the tackle or challenge. Lean into transition and make the choice to tackle this and find the next thing that’s going to take you to the next level,” says Bakker. 

“Everyday is uncertain. Life is unfair and sometimes unpleasant. If you have gameness, you come to the door and you say no, I will subdue this,”  says Dennis. 

When leaders are faced with adversity you know that you will have to find a way for that problem to grow strength in you. It’s key to be intentional about not letting that problem have the strength over you. 


Find Your Priority:  Was the Risk Worth the Reward?

There are many factors that go into what leaders should prioritize within their organization. “The highest purpose of any organization is to neutralize the impact of morality on any single man or woman in that enterprise. If you're one dimensional, it means you're probably leaning way too hard on that thing that is your sweet spot that you're naturally gifted to do and you've exploited that, but you haven't, like you (Bakker) said earlier, disciplined yourself to add what I call those peddling acquisitions, not the automatic pilot ones that you were born with,” says David Dennis. 

“Any organization that can’t perpetuate itself has failed. While we are in charge of stewarding the vision of an organization, the legacy of its founder is more important than me. It is the only way the organization has a chance to perpetuate the legacy of its founder and the mission vision of the organization. 

Let the risks you take as a leader be worth the reward. Trust in yourself and your team to prioritize a purpose that is going to push your organization over the finish line and succeed beyond measure. 


Finding Your Fighting Spirit

At the end of the day, your drive and gameness is going to give you a fighting spirit attitude. It’s hard work and it’s not going to be easy, but it is something that you can discover. Find your mindset and discipline yourself to develop that fighting spirit, because overall, “happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true”. 

At DickersonBakker Executive Search, we’re committed to finding leaders, like David, who thrive in their position over many years. To learn more about our Executive Search Services, visit our Contact Page.

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