What You Can Learn from Ted Leonsis’ Life List

Posted 01.19.2011

Book-business-happiness Last week, thinks to the vision and initiative of Laura Mendelow and Kevin Keegan, two friends at Booz Allen Hamilton, I and about 90 other people had the gift of listening to and speaking with Ted Leonsis for about 90 minutes.  The event was the book club of the local ASTD chapter and he was there to talk about his book,  The Business of Happiness.

Readers in the Washington, DC area probably know the name, Ted Leonsis. If you don’t, the quick version of his life is he grew up as the son of a waiter and a secretary who never made more than $30,000 a year;  founded and sold his first new media company at age 26 for $60 million; co-founded AOL; bought the Washington Capitals; won an Emmy; was nominated for an Academy Award; bought the rest of the Washington Wizards; sits on the board of Groupon.  He explains how all of that happened in his book.

What he spent most of his time talking with us about is his life list. Early in his life, Ted started making a list of the things he wanted to do. His list is in the appendix of his book.  Here are some examples.  Fall in love and get married. Check.  Pay off college debts. Check. Net worth of one hundred million dollars after taxes. Check. Change someone’s life via a charity. Check. Go one on one with Michael Jordan. Check. 

He told us that several years ago someone approached him about buying the Washington Capitals NHL franchise. 

He was really busy with AOL and didn’t feel the time was right and passed.  Leonsis told his wife about the conversation as they were falling asleep that night.  She asked him if he was really going to pass on the opportunity to check off items 40 (Own a sports franchise) and 41 (Win a world championship) on his list.  Ted told us he stayed awake all night and called back and said yes the next day.  He had never sold AOL stock before but had to in order to fund the Caps deal. Two years later, he felt like he had gotten the team for free because AOL stock had dropped from around $77 a share when he sold it to $8 a share.  Oh, and he has had a lot of fun making the Caps a better team.

So, let me say this about Ted Leonsis after listening to him speak.  He has a genius for connecting the dots and seeing around corners. The ninety minutes with him was like a masters class in business strategy and leadership. He has a gift for strategy and execution that not everyone has. What he does have that all of us could have is a list. He has spent his life making lists of what he wants to accomplish.  Some items are pure fun. Some are about his family. Some are about business. Some are to make his community a better place. Some are to help save the world.  In his 50’s, he’s checked off most of the things of the 101 on his life list.

We all have gifts but none of us have all the gifts. Ted has his. You’ve got yours. I’ve got mine.  We can all, however, have a life list.  Do you have one?  What’s on it? How’s it going with the list? If you don’t have one, what’s stopping you? Can you think of better ways to get clear about your life’s goals than to write them down in a list?