I Swam with a Shark — and Returned Invigorated

Shark Tank star and entrepreneur Daymond John can inspire all of us to be better leaders.

Aug 8, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

I'm currently attending the American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia — which will be the home of the 2024 NBOA Annual Meeting, February 25-28. ASAE has served as my professional home, network for new ideas, and source of collegial mentoring and support for more than two decades. It's how I recharge my batteries each summer to do what I do for NBOA and perform at my fullest potential. If I've been successful at advancing NBOA's mission and serving our accomplished, diverse, smart and dedicated community, I owe it to ASAE.

The meeting kicked off with a keynote from Daymond John, who you may know from ABC's “Shark Tank.” It’s a show I often watch with my daughter Samantha or have in the background while I'm doing other things around the house — I was already a fan. All the same, I had no idea how much I would be inspired by John, sitting in a packed ballroom of 4,700 association leaders from across the country and around the world.

John deeply understands the power of associations like NBOA. He reflected on American history and observed keenly that any time the nation had to face an overwhelming challenge, we did so by organizing as a community and facing it head on. He believes that true innovation comes out of our shared passion and purpose that in turn develops an irreplaceable human bond. Are you listening AI?

shark tank selfie

My now favorite “Shark Tank” shark — sorry, Mark Cuban — outlined his takeaways through the acronym SHARK. Here’s my take on them:

SHARK Rule #1: Set a goal for yourself, and don't let others set it for you.

John grew up in Queens, in a family of modest means and name, and fell in love with hip hop. For him, it told the stories of urban kids like himself, communicating their hopes and dreams. When he went to his first hip hop concert in 1986, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, he found his community. He couldn't sing, dance or produce, but he still wanted to contribute to the culture to which he felt so deeply connected. A few years later, in 1989, with the help of his mom and a few sewing lessons, he made 80 hip-hop inspired hats, which were snapped up and led to the birth of John’s FUBU clothing empire. He determined he wanted to "create the uniform of the industry" and set to work.

SHARK Rule #2: Do the homework.

This is another way John demonstrated his understanding of associations. In many ways, associations "do the homework" for their members through developing research, resources, tools, programs and more so that learnings can be applied at your organization, and in the case of NBOA, school, to support your professional success and help the school achieve its financial and operational goals.

SHARK Rule #3: Find amore — love what you do and who you do it for, including yourself.

I don’t think this rule needs explanation — most school staff and faculty are in the work for the love of the mission and community — but it’s a great reminder all the same.

SHARK Rule #4: Remember, you ARE the brand.

As a Shark, John is clear that he invests in people, not products. How would you describe yourself or your school in just a few words? Everyone at the school is an important representative of the school community. 

SHARK Rule #5: Keep swimming.

Take care of yourself, and don’t give up. John summed up my favorite takeaway like this: “If you have your health, you can have a million dreams. If you don’t, you can only have one.” It is a great reminder to all of us that we are our own greatest asset and we must take care of ourselves, nurture our wellbeing, and do what it takes to keep our mind, body and soul healthy.

I would jump back in the water with this shark any time, and I hope you’ve found some inspiration to keep you swimming through the tail end of the summer and into the back-to-school season.

Jeff Shields signature



years is the target ceiling for a school plant's financial "age."

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