186 – Mark Miller of Marietta, GA, Leadership Guru & Author, Chick-fil-A Exec, Enlightened By His Son With Cerebral Palsy & Autism
Our guest this week is Mark Miller, of Marietta, GA a self proclaimed ‘chicken salesman’ and one of the original employees at Chick-fil-A, where he has worked for more than 40 years and currently serves as Vice-President of High Performance Leadership. Mark is a best selling author or co-author of nine books with more than one million copies in print and in 25+ languages. Mark is also a well respected pubic speaker and executive coach who has had the privilege to teach and lead in not-for-profit organizations domestically and globally.
Mark and his wife Donna have been married for 39 years and are the proud parents of two adult sons Justin and David, who has Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Epilepsy. Mark shares his family story, his rise through the ranks at Chick-fil-A, his journey as a special needs dad, his insights as a best selling author and his thoughts on the qualities that make great leaders.
That’s all on this Special Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Mark’s website – https://www.markmillerleadership.com
Or contact Mark directly at 678-612-8441
Cure For Aids – https://www.careforaids.org
Mark Miller: Justin developed a high degree of empathy from living with David. I think he developed a heart for those that can’t necessarily fend for themselves, maybe a voice for the voiceless. And so now he’s helping people with HIV and AIDS.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Mark Miller, a public speaker, a nine time author, and one of the original employees of Chick-fil-A where he still works.
Mark and his wife Donna have two grown boys, one of whom, David, has cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy. Mark will tell us his family story and share his thoughts on what makes a great leader. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad To Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search Dad to Dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s hear this fascinating conversation between Mark Miller and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Mark Miller of Marietta, Georgia, a father of two, a self-proclaimed chicken salesman, as well as Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A, and author. Mark, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Mark Miller: Thank you, David. I appreciate the opportunity.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Donna have been married for 39 years and are the proud parents of two boys, Justin, 30, and David, 32, who has cerebral palsy as well as autism and epilepsy.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Mark Miller: Well, I grew up in Atlanta, and as you know, Atlanta’s a big place these days with suburbs that run for 60, 70 miles in every direction from downtown. I grew up what we call “inside the Perimeter,” not too far from downtown Atlanta.
I had a great childhood with loving parents. Again, typical of I think that era—a brother and a sister, a loving home, with hardworking parents that really wanted the best for us.
David Hirsch: Excellent. And I remember you are the oldest of three. And I’m wondering if you keep in contact with your brother and sister as well?
Mark Miller: I do. My brother and sister both live in Georgia. They’re not particularly close, but we get together often. Holidays typically, and then other celebratory moments, birthdays, graduations. So we’re still pretty close.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So I’m sort of curious to know, what does your dad do or what did he do for a living?
Mark Miller: Well, he started his career in sales, and then had a midlife career change. He went to work at Delta Airlines. He used to work out at the jet base where they took care of all the planes. So two very different careers over the course of his 40-plus years in the workplace.
David Hirsch: Okay, and I’m wondering, how would you characterize or describe your relationship with your dad?
Mark Miller: It was outstanding. I felt loved. I felt important, cared for, and provided for. It was a great relationship.
David Hirsch: Are there any important takeaways when you think about your fathering yourself that you took away from your dad?
Mark Miller: Well, goodness. There are probably many takeaways, some conscious, some subconscious. I know that growing up my dad was always there, I played a lot of sports growing up, and that made an indelible imprint on me. So I worked really hard to be there as my oldest son Justin played a lot of sports, even through college. He played on the Ultimate Frisbee team for Vanderbilt. I was the team photographer for four years and traveled with the team, and probably photographed 150 Ultimate matches during those four years. Again, I think that’s part of my dad’s legacy. He made a priority of showing up, and I’ve tried to do that for Justin as well.
David Hirsch: So my recollection was you took a BA in communications from Georgia State University, and I’m wondering, was it cast in stone that you were going to work at Chick-fil-A, or what were you thinking when you were in school?
Mark Miller: Well, the story began just a little before I was at Georgia State. After high school, I started at a local junior college, and I was working in a Chick-fil-A restaurant as an hourly team member.
I was awful in the restaurant. I was so bad, I had to make maybe one of the first strategic decisions of my life. I decided to quit, because in my brain it made more sense to quit as opposed to being fired. I knew that my firing was imminent, so I quit.
But it wasn’t too many months later that I needed a job, so I went to the corporate headquarters, walked in, told the receptionist I wanted a job working in the warehouse. Well, just a few minutes later, Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, came out to interview me.
And for your listeners, you may be trying to figure out why the head of a multi-billion dollar company would be interviewing a punk to work in the warehouse. Well, this was 43 years ago. It was not a multi-billion dollar company. In fact, I learned that day that I was interviewing to be the 16th corporate employee. And if you’ve only got 15 employees, it makes perfect sense for the head guy to be doing the interviewing and the selection.
And I tell people, it was a combination, I think, of God’s grace and Truett’s lack of discernment. He gave me that job in the warehouse. I was allowed to pack boxes and work in the mail room. I actually got to wear two hats, and that was 43 years ago. So I don’t know if it was predestined or not, or as you say, cast in stone, but it was while at Chick-fil-A, while working in the warehouse, that something happened.
I actually was asked—as crazy as this sounds—to start what is today our corporate communications function. Again, this makes no sense in the world, but I think it was, “Let the kid do it,” because I’d do anything, right? I mean, at the time I guess I was 19 years old.
That’s when I switched my major. My first two years I focused on business, and then when they asked me to start corporate communications, I had transferred to Georgia State, so I thought, “Well, maybe I should get a communications degree, since I’m now trying to start this fledgling communications group.”
Plus it meant I didn’t have to retake the accounting courses that I had done so poorly on in the first two years. So it all worked out. It all worked out. And so I finished college at night, and continued to work full-time at Chick-fil-A, you know, just as a kid.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know, how did you and Donna meet?
Mark Miller: We met our junior year in high school. We had moved from Atlanta to Jonesboro, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta. It’s part of the greater metro area. And by some tragic error, I had been placed in trigonometry. And I knew I was in trouble from day one, but we were probably ten days in when we received our first test papers back. After looking at the damage, I said, “Well, at least now I’ve got something to talk to this cute girl about.” Because to this point, we had not spoken, even though she was seated right next to me.
And so I remember specifically, this was our first recorded conversation. I said, “How’d you do on the test?” And she said, “Pretty good.” And I said, “What’d you make?” And she said, “A 96.” She said, “How’d you do?” And I said, “Pretty good.” She said, “What’d you make?” I said, “A 16.” She said, “How do you make a 16?” I said, “I think they gave me points for getting my name right.”
And so from that moment, I think she took pity on me. And we’ve now been married 43 years, or 30…no, let me think about that. How long have we been married? I should get that right. I’ve been working at the chicken for 43 years. We’ve been married for 39 years. That’s right. We’ve been married for 39 years.
So yeah, she does the books for the house, and she keeps up with all the finances. You’re probably glad to hear that, since she can actually do math.
David Hirsch: Well, in a prior conversation, I think we established that we married up. And coincidentally, my wife and I met when we were 16 years old in high school, and it was honors history class. And I had no reason to be in that history class, but for some reason I had signed up for honors history, the only honors class I had taken in high school, and she was a straight AP and honors student. Turned out that she was the valedictorian of our high school class, and I think she has taken pity on me as well. So, just another thing that we have in common.
Mark Miller: Yeah. Donna went on to major in college in math and computer science, double major. So, yeah. She’s the brains in the family, for sure.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s switch gears and talk about special needs, first on a personal level and then perhaps beyond. And I’m sort of curious to know before David’s diagnosis, if you or Donna had any exposure to the special needs world.
Mark Miller: We did. Donna’s brother Roger was born with spina bifida. But back then, of course, Donna’s parents did the very best they could, but with the limitations in medical technology, Roger ended up losing his sight as a small child.
And so she grew up with a brother who had limited mobility and was blind, and then over time has developed other health issues that continued to need care and attention. So she had grown up in that environment.
For my part, I didn’t really have any special circumstances that I was aware of. My mother was disabled, but I think I was probably in high school before I realized that. She had no cognitive disability. She had had her leg amputated as a child due to a cancer, but I’m not sure I realized until I was older that that was actually considered a disability. She was just Mom. But again, a little bit different than Donna’s situation with Roger.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know, what is David’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
Mark Miller: Well, it was when David was small—let’s say when he was probably just a few months old. Because he was our second child, Donna was first to realize that he was not doing some of the things that typically a small child would do.
So we obviously sought medical counsel, and the initial diagnosis was developmental delay. And so we said, “Okay.” I mean, nobody seemed to think there was anything to be concerned about. So we just continued to watch and pray. But as Donna suspected, there was in fact something that wasn’t quite right, or at least was not typical. She could probably give you the exact date, but it was probably around his 12 month check-up when we got a more direct diagnosis.
At the time, they just called it cerebral palsy, and it was explained to us that they couldn’t tell by appearance. It’s something similar to Down syndrome. They couldn’t diagnose through chromosome analysis or other testing. And so they said, “There is this large category, which means the brain’s just not quite doing what it’s supposed to be doing. And we call that cerebral palsy, but it’s a wide range, and we don’t really know where this is headed. But yes, there’s something that’s not quite right.”
And so just as soon as possible, we got him in an early intervention type program, with all of the specialists that you might anticipate and therapists of one kind and another. You know, occupational and speech and all those types of things.
And it was not until later that they expanded the diagnosis, because they said that he had some tendencies that would be generally associated with autism, some tactile things, and he liked to spin around, and other things. And so the final diagnosis was cerebral palsy and autism.
And cognitively, David is probably between 12 and 18 months, depending on how you choose to evaluate him. But he can’t speak, and he can’t really feed himself, and can’t go to the bathroom by himself. So he’s somewhere between 12 and 18 months cognitively.
David Hirsch: Okay. And in a prior conversation, did you mention he has seizures?
Mark Miller: Yes.
David Hirsch: So does he have an epilepsy diagnosis as well, or not?
Mark Miller: Well, there’s actually not been an epilepsy diagnosis specifically. They told us when he was younger that seizures were probably in his future. But he didn’t have his first seizure until in his early twenties.
David Hirsch: Oh, wow.
Mark Miller: And he’s had several since then, and they’ve gotten more severe, but he is now on seizure medication. And again, we missed his medicine one day, and he had a seizure. So we understand that the medicine works, and so we’ve never missed it again. But there is no clinical diagnosis that I’m aware of. It’s just they predicted that might happen because of his circumstances. So who knows what’s at the root of that.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for explaining. So I’m thinking about you and Donna as a young couple. You’ve got these two super young boys that are close in age. You get this diagnosis of cerebral palsy within the first year, couple years. And I’m wondering, what concerns or fears did the two of you have at that point in time?
Mark Miller: Well, I think for me it was a little bit of the unknown because there was no precise diagnosis. There was no precise prognosis. We don’t know if he’ll walk or when he’ll walk. We don’t know if he’ll speak or when he’ll speak. We don’t know developmentally how far he’ll go.
During this season a friend of mine had a child with Down syndrome, and I remember a conversation I had with him. And he later told me, “This was helpful.” I didn’t even mean it to be helpful, but I told him he should be thankful that there were norms, that he actually had some sense of the future, because for us there was just so much uncertainty. We just had no idea.
I mean, not that anybody has it figured out who goes through what we went through, but they were telling us virtually anything could happen, as far as physically, mentally, socially, and even health wise. We don’t know where his health is going to go.
Again, it wasn’t until later that they told us he would probably have seizures. But again, he didn’t have his first one until he was 20 or 21. So even that felt like an unknown. We were like, “Is this going to happen? Is this not going to happen?” So that was the biggest strain, probably, in those early, early days.
And then I think my answer probably morphed a little bit as he got older. The biggest challenge has been his lack of communication skills, and even to this day, we talk to him like he understands us. And sometimes he acts like he does, and most of the time he acts like he doesn’t. So we just choose to talk to him like he understands us, and we see glimpses of it.
So if the unknown was the most psychologically and emotionally challenging, the pragmatic challenge has been that we just have had such difficulty over the years communicating with him, even though we’ve tried all the technology and all the things that you try. So I guess that was two different parts to that answer.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for explaining. And I’m wondering, was there some meaningful advice that you got from friends or the medical community that helped you and Donna sort of get on the path you’ve been on?
Mark Miller: Well, again, we’re very fortunate and blessed to have a lot of great professional input on the journey. You know, my heart goes out to people who don’t have access to those professionals and those resources and those therapists and those other men and women.
You know, nobody knew. We didn’t get a lot of concrete advice, because everybody kept echoing, “We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know.” And I think we just embraced at some point the fact that we’re never really going to know.
I don’t know if this even goes where you’d like to go here, but the most consistent advice, which looking back is to me still bizarre, came the day we were given David’s first diagnosis. Again, he was little, probably 12 months, in that range. The person who gave us the diagnosis said, “By the time he’s 30, he doesn’t need to live with you.”
Which I thought was so bizarre in that moment, that they would choose to tell us that. I mean, it’s like, “That sure is a long time in the future. We got a whole lot more immediate fish to fry here, in light of what you’ve just told us.” I just thought it was odd, but I bet we’ve gotten that advice a hundred times over the last 30 years. And I don’t know if that’s just something the community of caregivers have all agreed on—all of the caregivers, all the therapists, all the doctors, all the clinicians, everybody.
It was always unprompted, unsolicited, “You know, by the way….” And so the more we heard it, I started asking a lot of questions. And what they’ve told us is that generally, for people like David, late in life changes are significantly more traumatic than they might be for me and you. And they said, “There’ll be a day that you can’t take care of him, that you don’t need to have him under your care that long, because the change would be devastating to him.”
Again, I know that’s a generalization, but we heard it so much that we actually decided we’d probably act on it. And so a couple of years ago we got David a house with a full-time caregiver. He’s still with us eight to ten days a month. We do that so that we don’t kill the caregiver. But that was the product of three decades of people coaching us.
So I don’t even know if that’s great advice, but it was painfully consistent, and so we decided to act on it. And by the way, it’s been very good for David. It’s been very good for us. And as I said, we still are very connected with David. But I think looking back, that it’s better that he’s not 60 and we’re 90, and we’re trying to figure out what’s next for David.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. And that is interesting that you would get this unsolicited advice from so many different sources and over such a long period of time. So there must be something there. And thank you for sharing the circumstances, if not interim solution, have been for the balance in your family.
So were there some important decisions that you made as parents that have been really influential in your family’s life, or David’s life?
Mark Miller: There have probably been several. One is, we decided when David was little that we would try to include him as much as possible. I know that that’s not the right answer for everyone, and certainly situations are different and circumstances dictate, but we tried to include him. Again, there were things that we have learned over time where you don’t include David. You don’t take him into large crowded places, because if he gets unhappy, then that doesn’t work well.
But we learned that by taking him to crowded places, because we were trying to include him. I think that was an important decision for us. Again, I wouldn’t change that, because we didn’t know the things that he would enjoy and the things that he would appreciate and the things that would be engaging for him. And so I feel like that was an important decision.
More recently when it came time for him to age out of the public high school, we had to figure what what’s next for David. And this was not a surprise. We knew this was coming. We had been looking and praying and working for years to find a program for adults with disabilities in our community. And it proved to be very, very challenging.
I did not know this. Your listeners may know this, that there are standards or admissions requirements, and we found some outstanding programs that David couldn’t get in. Now, that was a blow, I’ve got to confess, when you have a place for people with disabilities, and you’re told your son is too disabled to get in.
And so we had to try and process that. Some wonderful places, but as a random example, they said, “If he’s not potty trained, he can’t come here.” Well, okay, he can’t come here. And there were any number of places that had rules and restrictions. And I’m not even challenging those. I’m just saying as a parent, that was really hard.
And so we’re so thankful we found an outstanding program. It’s called Next Step Ministries. The unfortunate part, if you want to look at it that way, is it was 70 miles from our house, and it was a day program. So of course it would be impossible for us to take him there, return home, go back and pick him up and return home.
It was just too far, and so we decided to rent an apartment closer to the school so that we could try it out. Because we didn’t want to sell our house prematurely. It turned out it was a great fit for David, and so we ultimately sold our house, built a new house, and moved about 40, 50 miles north of where we were living before. Which was fine, and we were certainly willing to do that.
The unfortunate part of that scenario is that my parents and my wife’s parents were on the south side where we were. In fact, Donna’s parents had moved to get close to us on the south side, and so they felt like we had moved to the far side of the moon.
But that’s what we needed to do for David, and again, I don’t regret that decision. But it was a hard decision from one perspective, and then on the other side, it was an easy decision, right? I mean, you do what you need to do for your kids. And so we have since transplanted, and rather than being south of the city now we’re north of Atlanta in Marietta.
David Hirsch: So over what period of time were you doing that 70 miles each way?
Mark Miller: Well, we didn’t do that long at all. I mean, once we figured that out, we rented that apartment and we did live in the apartment, and what we would do is we would go back to our home on the weekend. So we ended up doing that for three, four—we did that almost five years actually.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Mark Miller: Three years in, we sold the house, and then it took two years to find a place and build the new house. So for about five years, we were apartment dwellers. We moved to three different apartments. I tell people that when the rent came due, we moved, but it was a little more than that. We were trying to find the right traffic pattern to minimize Donna’s drive to take him, because I’m still commuting to our offices. They are down by the Atlanta airport, which is on the south side, so we had to figure that out. And then we got in the second place and the plumbing didn’t work and the appliances didn’t work. And so we ended up in three apartments.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, it sounds like it was a journey. Thank you for sharing.
I’m sort of curious to know what impact David’s situation has had on his older brother Justin, on your marriage, or on the rest of your family, for that matter.
Mark Miller: Well, I look forward to you meeting Justin someday. He’s actually my hero. He runs a nonprofit organization in East Africa. It’s an AIDS organization, and he’s got 80 or more clinics and about 250 employees in Africa. It’s called Care For AIDS.
I actually believe that, as best I can discern, Justin developed a high degree of empathy from living with David. I think he developed a heart for those who can’t necessarily fend for themselves, maybe a voice for the voiceless. And so now he’s helping people with HIV and AIDS. And so I think for Justin, living with David marked him for sure.
For me, it’s given me fresh eyes and an open heart to understand more unconditional love. You know, I’m a Bible reader, and I read the way that God loves the human race unconditionally. And I think it means more to me now that I love David, certainly unconditionally. You’re not loving David because of what you’re going to get back. He might whack you upside the head just as soon as he’d do anything else, and you love him anyway. And so I think it’s helped me understand that concept more.
And then one more fun story. I was doing a talk for a group of people, and as I often do if there’s time, I’ll end a session by saying, “Are there any questions? I’ll talk about anything.” Right? I mean, I assumed it’d be about leadership or chicken or something like that.
And a person near the front said, “I understand you have a son with special needs.” And I said, “I do.” And they kind of just sat there. So I said, “Is there a question?” “Yes.” “I mean, is that the question?” “Yeah.”
So I said, “Yes, I do. I have a son with special needs.” And they said, “Tell us how that has tested your faith.” And I said, “I’m not sure it’s tested it. It sure has put it to use. It hasn’t tried my faith. It’s validated my faith.” So I don’t know if it’s validated more than it’s challenged.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for making that point. It’s very insightful. I know that occasionally when I do these interviews, Mark, a dad will mention going through a crisis of faith. You know, sort of a dark period or a season where he’s really questioning his faith. And that’s not what I heard you saying, but that’s not uncommon either.
Mark Miller: Y’all, I understand that, and I would not judge anyone who goes there, but assuming those dads emerge on the other side, I think what has just happened is they put their faith to work. They validated their faith as they came out the other side.
David Hirsch: That’s a great point. Thank you. So let’s talk about some of the work that you do, not only there at Chick-fil-A, but the writing you do. You’ve been blogging a lot over the years, then more recently writing books.
You’ve written nine books, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading a couple of them. One of them is The Heart of Leadership. I’m wondering if you can sort of give our listeners an understanding about what it was that motivated you to start blogging like you did, which morphed into the writing that you do.
Mark Miller: Well, I tell folks I was the accidental author. About 20 years ago, just over 20 years ago, we realized at Chick-fil-A that we needed more leaders. And I don’t know if any of your audience would ever find themselves in that situation, but what I’ve learned over the years is that when most organizations are faced with a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be seized, you put a leader on it.
And as we looked over our shoulder, our leadership bench was pretty thin. We were saying things like, “I hope this person can lead in the future. Give me a couple more years to work with this person, and I think they can do it.” Well, what do you do when you don’t have a sufficient leadership bench? You give stuff to existing leaders. Well, that only works for so long, right? I mean, a lot of leaders that are burned out, the root problem is their organization has not built a sufficient leadership bench. So I was asked to try and figure out how to accelerate leadership development.
I did what you might do in a similar circumstance. I put together a team of really smart people, and we went to work trying to figure out what we could do to create more leaders, better leaders, faster. Fast forward, we actually realized that for us, the primary, or maybe I should say the initial stumbling block, is we didn’t even agree on what leadership was or what it meant. We didn’t have a common point of view on the topic.
Now everybody, when you talked about leadership, everybody would nod, everybody would agree. And I tell people, if I handed out three by five cards and said, “Let’s get everybody in your audience to write down their definition of leadership,” two things would be true. Every one of them could write down their definition, and they would all be different.
Well, there are a lot of negative, unintended consequences if people in an organization have different definitions of leadership. Who do you recruit? Who do you select? How do you train them? Who do you recognize? Who do you reward? Who do you give more responsibility to?
We had departments that had a leadership shortfall who wouldn’t take leaders from another department, because they didn’t like the way they had developed their leaders. They even sometimes said, “That person doesn’t have a leadership bone in their body. No way I’m taking them on my team.” So it had created a mess, and so I got to pull this team together to try and figure this out.
Fast forward, we did a lot of work. We came up with what we felt like was our point of view, and we had what I would call a crisis of confidence. We’re sitting there looking at about two years’ worth of work written on a flip chart, and somebody said, “What if it’s not right?”
And it just sucked all the air out of the room, because we sell chicken. It’s like, it might not be right. So we then launched into a conversation about how we could validate or build our confidence that this directionally might be correct.
And I said, “Well, I’m going to be with Ken Blanchard tomorrow.” So you can say this was a coincidence or divine appointment, but I have a personal relationship with Ken. Some of your listeners may not know him. His most famous book is called The One Minute Manager, and I’m guessing he sold 15 or 20 million copies of that around the world. And he’s written about 50 leadership books. And so I said, “Would you guys like me to share this with Ken and get his perspective?” And they said, “Yeah, that’d be fantastic.”
So I had a single page, just a few bullets on it. I was with Ken, and I said, “Ken, we’re trying to accelerate leadership development. Will you take a look at this? Tell me—do you think it’s true? Do you think it’s valid? Do you think it’ll stand the test of time? And did we miss anything?”
And he looked at it, and he said, “This has got to be a book.” That was the first thing out of his mouth. And I blew him off. I said, “Ken, everything looks like a book to you,” which is why he sold 50, 60, 70 million books, right? And he said, “You just don’t understand.” I said, “Okay, what don’t I understand?” He said, “You guys were trying to articulate what great leaders do at Chick-fil-A. What you’ve done is you’ve articulated what great leaders have done throughout history—and it has to be a book.”
And he persisted. I went to our executive committee. I think in a tremendous display of an abundance mentality, they said, “Why don’t you do this with Ken?” They said, “Maybe it would serve the world.” That was a direct quote. And today The Secret is in more than 25 languages, and it’s not even a great book. It’s in 25 languages because it’s true, and it resonates around the planet. The secret of great leaders is the same here as it is in Mumbai and Chennai and Nairobi and anywhere in the world.
And so that’s how that first book came to be, because I was partnering with Ken Blanchard. Again, your audience may not know him, but he pioneered the business fable. And so I chose to do that book with him in that same form, in that same style. And what we’ve learned is a book like that has tremendous pass along value.
And so a lot of our restaurants actually have chosen to give that book to their team members because it’s a fable. Simple story, simple characters, you know, built on truth, but approachable. And so we’ve just continued to create books and resources that speak to the current and future felt needs of leaders around the world.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it’s an amazing story. Thank you for sharing, from some modest, or what I think of as humble, beginnings, right? You didn’t set out to write a book. Far from it. And you called yourself an accidental, maybe a reluctant author, but you know, you’ve been at it now for the better part of 20 years.
And one of the phrases that I highlighted when I was reading The Heart of Leadership—and it really just jumped off the page at me—is serving leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. Which I think is a very insightful comment.
Let’s talk about your newest book, the one that just came out, Smart Leadership.
Mark Miller: Yes, Smart Leadership. We are excited again about this. I mean, I’m excited about all of the books, and each one is targeted to a specific need. A few years back we saw an emerging trend, and the way we’ve described it in the book is we saw leaders around the world who were swimming in quicksand.
Just the busyness, the complexity, the environmental factors, the circumstances. I mean, you throw covid in there, it’s like the ultimate curve ball. And we said, “But wait a minute. There are some leaders who, faced with all of the same challenges, seem to have risen above.” It’s almost like they found a way to get out of the quicksand.
And so we went on a search. We spent a couple of years trying to figure out what it is that some leaders do that the rest of us could emulate and hopefully replicate, so that we could get to the dry ground, the high ground. Because it’s hard to lead well in quicksand. I mean, you can survive, but you certainly don’t win any gold medals swimming in quicksand.
And so the book outlines several choices—four, to be exact. We think that the best leaders choose differently. The way we actually summarize it is, “Your ultimate success will be determined by your choices.”
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, we’ll be sure to include information in our show notes about the books we’ve referenced here, including your newest book as well.
I’m thinking about advice now. I’m wondering if there’s any advice beyond what we’ve discussed that you might offer a father, stepfather, grandfather, or father figure for that matter, as it relates to raising a child with special abilities.
Mark Miller: Well, I mean, at the highest level, I would think it goes without saying that love is the goal. Love is the priority. Love is the focus. And if you’re a person of faith, I think you’ve got a real advantage, because I think God can provide the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the love as we try to channel his love to folks that—again, I’ll speak to my case—can be really challenging.
I remember the day when we were actually headed to church. I’m taking David, and Donna was already at church. And I had to call her and say, “We’re headed back home.” And she said, “Why?” And I said, “Because I’m covered in blood.” And she said, “What?” And I said, “Don’t worry, it’s mine. David’s fine, but he’s just beat me senseless on the way to church.” You just still love. You just love.
Again, I don’t know how you dig deep if you’re not a person of faith. That’s for you to figure out. But a lot of prayer and a lot of love—and that’s about all I’ve got. And we’re still doing that. And you know, David’s in his early thirties. A lot of prayer and a lot of love. David’s not going to march to our drummer. He’s going to march to his drummer, and we just try to hear the beat.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. Very crystal clear. So I’m sort of curious to know, why is it you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Mark Miller: I think there are a lot of dads who just need some encouragement. They just need some coaching. They just need somebody to say, “You can do this. You can get through this.”
I don’t have any special abilities. I don’t have any secret to success. But I think a lot of dads just need somebody who’s a few steps further down the road to say, “You can do this, and you can make it. And there’ll be good days and there’ll be bad days. And you pray that there’ll be more good days than bad days.”
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you. We’re thrilled to have you as part of the network. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Mark Miller: Yeah. I’m a better leader, husband, father, and human being because of David. And I think—I don’t know this, but I want to believe that every dad listening to this can be a better version of themselves because of that special person in your life. But I think you’ve got to allow that relationship to shape you.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, point well made. If somebody wants to learn more about your books or to contact you, what would be the best way to do that?
Mark Miller: Well, I give you two thoughts. One is my cell number, 678-612-8441. And you can call. If I’m not in the meeting, I’ll take your call. If you want to text, that’s great. I get a lot of text messages, as you might imagine.
And then if you want to learn more about the books, you can go to markmillerleadership.com, where there’s information on all the books. There are a few blog posts. There’s a little more of my history and backstory there. You’ll also find a store. I will say that all profits, any money that has come my way from the sale of any of the books over the last 20 years, it all goes to charity. So if you want to buy books from Amazon, you can. If you want to buy books from me, again, the profits that come my way will go back into the world, and we’ll try to do good with it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. We’ll be sure to include your phone number as well as the URL that you just mentioned in the show notes. It’ll make it as easy as possible for people to follow up.
Mark, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Mark is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Mark, thanks again.
Mark Miller: Yes, sir. Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: To find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org. This program was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.