Ep. 108: Dr. Nido Qubein on Why Focus Is More Important Than Intelligence
In this episode, David sits down with Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, Author, Speaker, and Leader, to discuss why focus is more important than intelligence.
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Dr. Qubein’s Bio:
Dr. Nido Qubein is an accomplished university president and a nationally recognized author, speaker, and leader. Dr. Nido Qubein came to the United States with $50 in his pocket and a few words of English in his vocabulary … yet went on to become one of America’s most sought-after speakers and consultants.
As a university president, the story of his tenure at High Point University is known to many. In less than a decade, he led the institution to phenomenal growth (5,000 students) and significant academic advancement, tripling its size and moving it to the number one spot among Best Colleges in the South.
As an American citizen, President Qubein has been the recipient of some of the highest national awards, including induction into the Horatio Alger Association for Distinguished Americans with General Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, and the founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. He is the recipient of DAR’s Americanism Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, along with four U.S. presidents. He is a member of the International Speakers Hall of Fame and, in fact, has served as president of the National Speakers Association.
As a business leader, he is the chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company with 220 stores in 43 states. He serves on the boards of several national organizations including Truist (a Fortune 500 company with $430 billion in assets), Savista, a leading healthcare company and the Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors.
President Qubein is the author of a dozen books and scores of leadership audio and visual recordings translated into many languages. The Biography Channel televised his Emmy-nominated life story titled “A Life of Success and Significance.”
In his home city of High Point, North Carolina, he has been named both the Citizen of the Year and the Philanthropist of the Year. His foundation has invested millions in scholarships for deserving young people and his family has been among the largest benefactors to High Point University and other organizations.
Dr. Qubein’s Links:
High Point University Website: https://www.highpoint.edu/
LinkedIn (HPU): https://www.linkedin.com/school/highpointu/
Instagram (HPU): https://www.instagram.com/highpointu/
Facebook (HPU): https://www.facebook.com/HighPointU
Twitter (HPU): https://twitter.com/HighPointU
TikTok (HPU): https://www.tiktok.com/@highpointu
YouTube (HPU): https://www.youtube.com/user/highpointuniversity
1. “Focus is more important than intelligence.”
2. “You get out of life what you focus on.”
3. “Who you spend time with is who you become.”
4. “You’re as good as the circle of influence in which you choose to reside.”
5. “Your beliefs lead to your behaviors. Your behaviors lead to your results.”
6. “We all need coaching.”
7. “What you choose is what you get.”
8. “How you change is how you succeed.”
9. “You are a steward of your talents.”
10. “People believe what you do based on your performance.”
11. “Civility guides our day.”
12. “There’s no such thing as unrealistic dreams, only unrealistic timelines.”
13. “You have to believe in the art of the possible.”
14. “All of us must be continually learning and growing.”
15. “Knowledge does not equal understanding.”
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Welcome to the Trusted Leader Show. I’m your host, David Horsager. Join me as I sit down with influential leaders from around the world to discuss why leaders and organizations fail top tactics for high performance and how you can become an even more trusted leader.
Welcome to The Trusted Leader Show, it’s David Horsager. Today I have a very special guest, a very good friend. He is the president of High Point University, led a turnaround there. He is the chair, and on several boards from Great Harvest Bread Company, 220 locations, around 43 states. He is on the board for Trus, one of the Fortune 500 organizations. He has earned all kinds of awards. I will not list right here, but I know HRA Algers, I know Ellis Island, Medal of Honor. I know so many others. He’s written 12 books and done a whole lot of other things. But please welcome to the show my friend Nido Qubein.
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate being with you.
Well, Dr. Cobain, let’s get into it. You came over with $50 in your pocket several decades ago. Give us the two minute story.
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Well I grew up without a dad, David. My dad died when I was six years of age and my mother bought herself. My mother had fourth grade education, but she had a postgraduate degree in discipline. You and I would call uncommon sense. So much of what I know and so much who, who I am really came from that one of a lady who was left with five kids and she had to feed us and clothed us and most importantly instill in it values for living and principles for life. And so she wanted me to go to America and get an education and make something of my life. And she bought a one way way ticket. She borrowed the money for it. And anyway, I came over here, went to college and undergrad in grad and then outta grad school. I start my first business and my very first, I’ve never worked for anyone David, until I became president of Hy Point University in High Point, North Carolina. I’ve always been my own guy. If I made a few bucks, I kept a few bucks. If the business didn’t do very well, I had to put in a few bucks from savings. So I understand initiative, just what you have. I understand trust, I understand collaborative effort, relational capital, the things that make any individual, any individual successful in their own sector. These are almost standard. There are standard qualities that all should have. If we give
Us a couple of those really quick, you’ve got 12 books. I’m gonna get to the transformation at High Point. Yeah, my daughter’s at High Point. I have a relationship there with being on the expert in residence and we just love what you’re doing there. But give us a little bit of, just to start us out some of the things that helped you right out the bat. Start in the first business getting going here. There’s plenty people, but
Dr. Nido Qubein:
First, first, your daughter is the prettiest and the smartest on campus. Yeah, that. Number two, you pay in full on pay on time. And I
Dr. Nido Qubein:
So here goes focus is more important than intelligence. So anything that we hope to accomplish in life to any degree or accomplish anything meaningful, but to focus on it, you get out of life. What you focus on, you become an expert in an area that you focus on. So that’s point number one. Number two, who you spend time with is who you become. You’re as good as the circle of influence in which you choose to reside. I said choose to reside. And so if you hang around people like David Horse, you gonna learn good things. You be intelligent by default. You gonna have a wider spectrum about life and living. But if you hang around people whose view of life is very limited and who is war is me and life is terrible and America is awful, then what happens to you in the end is you really begin to believe it.
How do we know that? Because your beliefs lead to your behaviors. Your behaviors lead your results. So if you wanna change your results, you really must change your beliefs. Not just your behaviors but your beliefs. And that needs coaching. That’s what this podcast is all about. That’s what you do. David is all about, we all need coaching. I don’t care how high we are on the ladder of success, we all need outside perspective. Question is who’s in your circle of influence? So I tell people, can you name me the five most important people in circle of influence? Can you take their average income? I mean, can you take all their income, edit it up hypothetically. Figuratively. You’re gonna make the average of those five people’s income. Now I don’t mean that literally. I mean the environment which you choose to reside affect the person you become.
Here’s another one. What you choose is what you get. So please for heavens sake, don’t blame the world, the economy, the president, the Congress and the global warming about your success or lack at all. It’s your choices that get you to where you are. And then the last one, I have many of those, but the last one is how you change. Not if you change now, when you change now where you change, but how you change is how you succeed. In other words, are you an agile and flexible human being? Are you learning something new every day? Are you becoming old God intended for you to become? Those are the principles that truly penetrate our soul, not just our brain and make us the persons that we’re.
So this is fantastic and we could say a lot more. We might as well not be too long because we all got so much we can do with just that. But let’s jump in here. To High Point, I’m on the board of another university. Obviously many of our clients are some of the Big 10 universities and we’ve had our work at MIT and other places and I love what’s happening at High Point. And I just wanna read a couple things. So 2005, before you were there just to the beginning, there were 28 buildings on campus. Now there’s 122 buildings, there were 385 positions. Now there’s almost 2000 positions there. Economic impact and High Point was about $160 million. Now it’s almost a billion dollars. The operating budget was 38 million. Now it’s closer to 400 million. You’ve got five study abroad programs when you started 65 or more now three academic schools now nine academic schools applications.
Used to be a couple thousand other over 15,000. The property plant equipment, 75 million. Now it’s 1.1 million. And I think since you’ve been there about a billion, excuse me, with a B as in boy, there’s almost 2 billion you’ve raised since you’ve been there. Of course I’ve had the unique opportunity. I can tell you the other best beautiful campuses on, there’s no more beautiful campus than High Point. And there’s some things you did differently. This is partly how we started 15 or my first book when I started writing 15 years ago, I started studying High Point. I wrote about High Point in that book because I was watching what was happening very quickly even in just your first three years. But just give us a quick glimpse First, how did you get board? But that was big change because you didn’t go to build a big ome first. You went to say we gotta change some things.
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Yeah, yeah. So David, you’re right about everything you said. Those are accurate figures that you just cited. Lemme just put it this way. I was gonna be the chairman of the board for year. I was the incoming board. The school was basically just a quote. A reporter was both broke and broken and the board sort of persuaded me to come here. I said, I’ll come for two years. This is my 18th year about to finish. People say, How did that happen? I say very simply, I fell in love. I fell in love with the purpose. I fell in love with the students. I fell in love with the mission planting seeds of greatness and the minds, hearts and souls of our students. I mean, there is no greater mission in life. You are a steward of your talents. And that stewardship means you have to share it and share it in ways that can influence the world and impact the outcomes.
So how did we do it? Well, I mean the board were friends of mine. Clearly they knew me, they trusted me. I’ve been around for a while. I built some businesses. I’ve served on boards, as you said and so on. So I think my record was pretty clear that I was a trusted leader, David. That’s what it was. I was a trusted leader. I am a trusted leader. Now, beyond that, clearly we had to do some avant guard things. We’re an anomaly in many ways. That isn’t to say that we’re doing something crazy. Not at all. We respect the protocol, the academy, but we take some license with the frame around the Mono Lisa and higher education has gotten comfortable and higher education begins to think that it is unto itself. We don’t think that way. We think there’s a big world out there and we think your daughter deserves to do what she is destined to do in her life.
And we have to prepare her for that with all the majesty that we possibly can. And so when we say at Hype University, we first put our stake on the ground and said, We’re a God family country school. And I say to every open house said that bothers you. Please know something. We respect that. I have no right to judge that. However, this may not be the school for you. Now that’s putting a stake in the ground saying this is what we believe. But you can believe anything you wanna believe. This is inclusive campus. We have all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Number two, we said this is the life skills university. If all you want is just to get an academic a degree or an academic certificate or diploma, you can gets of places the 4,000 Institution in America. But Highpoint is not MIT and it’s not Stanford, it’s not Harvard.
So when you not told don’t have the history, end better be distinctive. And that distinction better create appreciated value, not value, but appreciated value in the minds of parents like you, Mr. Berger and your wife and your family. And you have to create an abundance of those people who believe in. So we went from 1400 students to 6,000 today I’m trying to hold enrollment cause that means you have to buy land, build buildings. Whereas network, national institution. So people believe what you do based on your performance. If you do something today, begin to trust you, believe in you, and things begin to build that right direction. But I think we have a responsibility as leaders day. We have a responsibility to explain to those who have been entrusted with the responsibility board, Prestig, faculty, others, explain what you’re doing, why you are doing it that way.
And we have a responsibility ourselves to say if the worst thing were to happen, which would be A, B and C, we can deal with it in this way. 1, 2, 3. And so I found that when you’re open, when you’re communicative, when you’re flexible, when you’re trustworthy, and when you’re focused, these work for the good. And that’s what’s happened at university. What’s happening today is parents like your family believe and all we are and what we do and they test us on it. They don’t just take it at face value. They’ve been here 10 times, they really know. But lemme tell you something David, they’re also people out there who do not like what I just said to you. They don’t like the God family country. They don’t like the life skills. They’re threatened by it or they don’t believe in it. And I say it is not my place to judge. I respect that I’m a civil person. Civility guides our day on this campus that man or man are recreating leaders, hopefully trusted leaders for the tomorrows of our lives.
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And I’ll say, I’ve said this many times with the universities who we worked with and there are some fantastic ones, but one if I, of all the institutions we work with from healthcare to pro sports teams to global governments, I say education, This is the great paradox. Education is one of the least innovative institutions in the world and yet you are incredibly innovative. I could give five ways, you’ve got 25, but let’s take five quick ways that you are innovative at High Point, different at High Point that change the way, make it different.
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Yeah, there are many, many ways, but we’ll talk about three or four of them. Another, we have an in residence program, you’re one of our in residence experts. We have about 50 of those all the way from the founder of Apple computer to the co-founder of Netflix, to the CEO of Domino’s Pizza to the CEO Marks operations on story. Why do we have them? Because these are practitioners. You are not just a practitioner, David, but you are in the know every day you are with people who are making it happen. We need our students to be connected with people who are out there knowing what the world is doing. And so our in residence program phenomenal second to none. Our students love it. And so on number two, we focus on career services. So our school every graduate here within six months of graduation, 98.2% of students either get a job, start a business, go to graduate school within six months.
Now most schools look at a nine month average to get anywhere close to that number. National average, 83%. So we beat it by 15.2 points. What’s going on here or what’s going on here is that we have put the resources and career services, resources and internships and so on. So that’s the second powerful thing. The third one is learning. Now all these connect of course for to get the the outcome that you want. Expansion learning has to be in the science lab, it has to be in the communication lab, it has to be in athletics, it has to be in student life. That means engage and involve your people. How do you build culture and organization? There are really five steps for it, right? Number one, you inform your people. Number two, you involve your people. Number three, you inspire your people. Number four, you inspect what you expect from your people.
And number five, you increase, you enhance what they do, you improve them and increase them. And so how do you do that if you not engaged, if you’re not involved? So we do all that in a wonderful way. I think the fourth thing that we’ve done is branding. The way we branded ourselves is not unique, but it’s definitely distinctive. And we say to the world, there are many schools out there, Pick the school you want be a one. But High Point has significant branding. You see it everywhere across campus. But by the branding, I mean not just making a promise but making sure that the expectation of people, the interpretation of parents of that promise is real, right? It’s sort of the reality versus your imagin. I tell our students here, there’s no such thing as unrealistic dreams, only unrealistic timelines. You have to believe in the art of the possible. And the first one would be the business guy. I start businesses. I met payroll. I think I know a lot about risk management. I think I know a lot about the difference between solution finding and problem solving, difference between energy management and time management. And all around the story goes. So I bring a perspective that parents love and that perspective is not unique, but not highly distinctive and higher education
A load here. Five eyes of culture building five other tips. Before, I’m gonna talk just a little bit because of what’s going on at high point. First of all I sit on other boards and this didn’t, all these numbers that I just read, not only that they happened, they happen in an environment with when most universities are actually failing or tanking or lowering, they’re a very slow go from any university. So especially private universities a couple things. So we go on campus at one university in Elite University. My daughters, the experience we had in just the first few seconds on the tour will never go back. Only because of the tour. You take the details of the tour a certain way. It’s unbelievable. If you’ve never had a tour of high point number two I walk on campus and the chaplain is picking up garbage and I notice it.
Why I learned later. Everybody picks up garbage. Everybody keeps it clean. Everybody loves the campus. It’s beautiful. Number three, there’s a big call up. Everybody is called up toward greatness, not down. Number four, as I think of it, talking about life skills, there are many ways I see it on campus, but an example, there’s a couple very nice restaurants on campus nicer than most campuses have. You can use your normal meal plan there. However you set your own reservation. And by the way, if you have your phone out where they see it, you’re not welcome back for three months I believe. So these kind of things, why parents like this? Because they know they want to set their student up. They, they’ve been trying to teach this for a long time, but at some point parents influence doesn’t always go up. They want others to affirm what they’ve said. So there’s 10 other ways that life skills and premier skills are built a load here in this very short time. One last word of wisdom before I ask you the final question. Anywhere you want Dr. Cobain.
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Yeah. Well life isn’t a continuum that what we did yesterday mattered yesterday. But it may not be enough for tomorrow. That all of us must continually be learning, growing expanding our spectrum of understanding that knowledge does not equal understanding. You can have a lot of degrees and not understand how to get along with people, how to make good things happen. That’s what I mean by pragmatic, practical understanding. Of course, knowledge is important. We’re not suggesting otherwise. It’s gonna be a biologist. You better know biology. You wanna be a mathematician. You better know mathematics. All I’m suggesting to is if you’re not careful, that becomes training. Training in a discipline. And what we must do is educate people. Education comes from a Greek derivative inco, which means to change from within, to transform so that you can meet your fullest potential. Now, you know, said something about someone picking up a piece of paper.
The campus is always clean because nobody really drops a piece of paper, but of us will pick it up if we see it. Why is that? Because we teach basic laws. One of them is if there’s a problem here, like a of paper on the this is not the responsibility of just the person who cut the grass or the person who cleans the campus. This is all of our responsibility. If you’re sitting in a committee in business and you’re trying to solve a problem, don’t dvy up the responsibility. The 10 people there, each of us will take 10%. Now each of us must take a hundred percent. That’s called community. That’s called building true culture that says, this is my company, this is my organization, this is my university. Also remember this, parents want their kids to do better in life than they did themselves.
So parents are looking out and saying, What are our students learning today? There is a difference between a sound bite and sound judgment. How do we teach that? So we’re watching stuff on TV or reading and we’re really believing it. We start thinking that’s the truth and that’s not the truth. We have to also enable people to learn judgment, how to have judgment, how to have a sense of awareness, how to become a relevant human being. So David, these are big things. We work on ’em every day. We’re not a perfect school, for heaven’s sakes. We’re not a perfect school cause we got 6,000 kids here come from 6,000 families. They’re not perfect. But I’ll tell you what, this is an extraordinary place. Our call to action is choose to be extraordinary. Don’t be mediocre, don’t be satisfied with what you got now and for heaven. Six, welcome. Change for the Tim of change is frightening. For the comfortable. Change is threatening, but for the confident change is opportunity. So make your competence lead to your confidence and see what happens in
Mind. And there’s why it is so innovative right there lots more. You’ll see it in the show notes. TrustedLeaderShow.com. That’s where you’ll find all the Dr. Nido Qubein website, Highpoint University website. Thank you for all you’re doing, for all those great students, including and especially my daughter, and thank you for being my friend. There’s always one question we end with. It’s the trusted leader show. Dr. Dr. Qubein who is a leader you trust and why?
Dr. Nido Qubein:
Well, there are many of ’em. One of the leaders that I loved and was a really great friend of mine was the late Colin Powell. I think Colin Powell was a man of integrity and so much so that when they asked him about Iraq and later on he said, I made a mistake. I made a mistake. I used the information I had at the time. It doesn’t mean that I was lying or misleading. I just like that man. He always kissed me in both cheeks when he saw me and I was a sign of love. But there’s a guy I would recommend everyone to read his books and understand. He came up in a very difficult time when America was not equitable. And in spite of it, David, in spite of it, rose to the very top, became a worldwide respected leader. So that’s one.
If I had to name one, that would be one. My mother of course would always be the first one of any list You can be. David, before you hang out, let me just say this, You are one of a kind, and I hope people listening to this podcasts or watching it understand this, that you have changed the world in your own way. You have taken the talents that God have given you. You’ve turned it into magnificent skills and you’ve done it with your clients. But more importantly in my book, you’ve done it even with colleagues of yours, the National Speaker Association, where you’re highly respected, where you have the highest awards and certainly in every circle of influence you find yourself. You represent America and the world in a wonderful way, my friend. And that is a blessing of all blessings. And then I see you on Facebook where you and your wife are climbing places and going on crazy hikes. And I go, Why sit at home and eat some donuts? Love you, David. I’m glad to be with you.
Well, Dr. Qubein, thank you, thank you, thank you. And with that, this has been The Trusted Leader Show. Until next time, stay trusted.