Walter Bond is a former undrafted NBA 6th man, who played for the Dallas Mavericks, The Utah Jazz, and the Detroit Pistons. He later became a sports broadcaster, a television host, and entrepreneur. Walter is also a multiple bestselling author whose third book was released in 2020, titled: Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, and Next Level Success. Walter is a legendary presenter who has achieved Hall of Fame Speaker status, speaking on over 2000 stages worldwide – delivering his expertise in Teamwork and Culture, Resilience & Attitude (the Shark Mindset), and Peak Performance.
For more on Walter or to book him to speak: https://speakers.calentertainment.com/profile/1979
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Walter Bond: Swim! Adopting The Shark Mindset For Growth, Leadership, & Success
Joining us is Walter Bond, a former undrafted NBA sixth-man who played for the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz, and the Detroit Pistons. He later became a sports broadcaster, a television host, and an entrepreneur. Walter is also a two-time bestselling author, whose third book was released in 2021, titled Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, and Next Level Success. He’s a Hall of Fame Speaker, who’s spoken on over 2,000 stages delivering his expertise in teamwork and culture, resilience and attitude, the Shark Mindset, and peak performance. Please join me with the incredible Walter Bond.
Walter Bond, thank you for joining me here on the show. How are you doing?
Fantastic. This is a true honor to make it to your show finally.
I’ve always wanted you to be on the show. I’m excited to have you. I’ve respected you and known you as a speaker for so many years. You have done an incredible job of creating a brand and creating incredible speeches. You even have a new book, which is exciting, and a bestseller called Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You. I’m excited to know about that and have you told everybody about it. You are a force, a former NBA player who wasn’t even drafted, and you’ve had a lot of success in your life. This is going to be exciting. That book is pretty new, right?
The book came out right before COVID, and it was organic. I went fishing one day, and I caught this little ugly fish, and I asked my captain, “What kind of fish is this? Can I eat it or not?” He goes, “No, you can’t eat it, but watch this.” He takes the fish, sticks it in the top of the boat, and I keep fishing. Eventually, I was like, “Let’s get this fish back in the water.” I asked the captain, “What kind of fish is that?” He goes, “Walter, it’s a remora fish also known as a suckerfish.” I’m intrigued because it defied gravity. It was stuck to the ceiling.
I asked him a question that led to the book. It was an aha-moment for me. I asked him, “How does this fish make it in the ocean?” I’m a Midwest guy, so I’m used to lakes. I’m looking at this little weak fish in the ocean. I’m like, “How does this little weak fish making it the ocean?” This is what he said to me, “It’s waiting for the shark to come back. When a shark comes by, it’s an opportunity for the suckerfish to connect to the shark.” It spoke to me at a soul level. Literally, I couldn’t stop thinking about the metaphor of a suckerfish flailing in the ocean. It’s a floating through life.
It’s waiting for the shark, this opportunity to come back. Then I thought about how I made it to the NBA. I had incredible coaches and mentors. How did I become a Hall of Fame Speaker? Incredible coaches, incredible mentors. How did I become a bestselling author? Incredible coaches. Mark Victor Hansen, Chicken Soup for the Soul, heard me speaking about a shark and suckfish parasite. He was a great keynote for me. He was like, “You got to write the book and it’s got to be a parable.” This is who moved my cheese good. This is a grip.
As you know, speakers are usually get rejected. We called one publisher and in fifteen minutes, they wanted to do the book. They helped us with the name Swim!. This is about a shark, a suckerfish, and a parasite and how it teaches you leadership, mentorship, and the next level of success. It’s a parable. It’s a great story. I have people who read the book and confessed to me and said, “Walter, we’ve never read a business book and got emotional.”We're all in the people business. If we learn how to manage people, it will make anyone's life and business much more successful. Click To Tweet
What we did with the book was capture, first of all, what we call the sacred six. People compare that to 7 Habits, Stephen Covey. We also capture leadership in a way that leaders who aren’t leading the right way, when they read the book, they’re convicted. It touches your heart on what leadership is.
That’s something that you’ve definitely spoken about very well. Not only because you’re talking about teamwork and being on a team, you were in the NBA or one of the elites, few hundred NBA or basketball players in the world. You had to make it. You had to be on these teams. You were in the league for around 3 or 4 years.
It’s pretty exciting to talk to people who’ve been at the elite level of teamwork because they understand the work, the rules, the mantras, and the things you have to be thinking and you have to be doing. You’ve talked about mentoring, but you’ve also talked about the power of relationships. That’s one of your favorite words. When we start focusing on that, what happens?
We’re all in the people business. We can say we’re in financial services, insurance, education, the bureau business, or a meeting planner. The truth is we’re all in the people business. There are three kinds of people, sharks, suckerfish, and parasites. If we learn how to manage these three kinds of people, it’ll make anyone’s life and business much more successful.
The reason why I picked the shark is that sharks run the ocean, which simply means they’re impact players. If you take your family to the beach, there’s only one fish you worry about. Don’t worry about snappers and yellow tails. You want your kids and the lifeguard to be aware and lookout for sharks. We all saw the movie Jaws. The truth is sharks run the ocean because of the sacred six.
They never stopped moving forward or they die. Imagine a workforce, we hear about apathy, poor alignment, or when I get done speaking, everyone in that building knows that you got to outwork everybody. Why? Because sharks do. Sharks never stopped moving forward or they die. They outwork everybody. That’s why they run the ocean. It’s simple. I’ve made mistakes. Everyone who can hear me has made mistakes. If you work hard, you can overwhelm mistakes. You can live on beyond mistakes that we’re going to make as we mature.
The worst thing we can do is make a mistake and then beat ourselves up, think my life is over, and say, “It’s over for me. My life is ruined.” That’s not how a shark operates. A shark never stops moving forward or they die. Sharks grow about a foot a year. The metaphor is growth. The question I challenged people with is, what are you becoming? For me to play in the NBA, I had to become an NBA ballplayer. You can’t fake it.
You were undrafted, so you had to become.
I needed more time to develop. My coach has helped me become.
You had the power and insight to listen to them.
I had to be coachable. To give a little bit of a secret, I was the suckerfish. They were the shark. It was my job to connect to them, buy into their core values, and let them take me where I wanted to go. The metaphor is we always hear about people who underperform, underachieve, and there are reason why. In the book, Swim! captures the reasons why through the sacred six. If anyone gets the sacred six, embraces it and owns it, they’re going to be a shark.
You have to tell us some of the sacred six.
I can give you all six. Let’s talk about three of them. One, work ethic. Sharks never stopped moving forward or they die. That means not only do you have a great work ethic. You’re also relentless and resilient. In this COVID world and environment, people are complaining about the supply chain, “I’m remote. I’m isolated.”
A lot of blame going around and a lot of being offended.
Uncertainty, fear and people are burnt out. People are evaluating their lives. If you were going to evaluate your life, if you think about it, your mindset is an engine, like a car. Valuable engine, valuable car. Valuable mindset, valuable person. The sacred six is designed to strengthen your mindset. I’m going to give you a couple. We already talked about the shark never stopped moving forward or they die.
Here’s another one, powerful. Sharks only look up. They never looked down, which means they’re positive. They don’t deal with petty stuff that’s beneath them. Anybody can hear what I’m saying because a lot of people are easily distracted by petty things, petty people, arguments, issues, “You didn’t copy me in on the email.” We can make it a big deal, but I might fall into the petty category.
For me, I think it’s important always to look up and never look down. I’ve been sharing this message for years and I’ve had people come to me and say, “Walter, I swim with sharks, and you’re right. As long as I stay beneath the shark, they don’t even know I’m there.” If you think about a highly successful person, they’re incredibly optimistic and they don’t get distracted by little things that are insignificant. Those are two powerful lessons that if we can embrace, we’re better off ready by working hard and being positive. Work hard, keep your head up, and don’t be distracted by little things.Mindset is everything. Your mindset is your engine. Click To Tweet
The little things are also things that people tend to get offended by or they take things personally. Is that part of that bad mindset?
Some bad news. You hear about a layoff and all of a sudden you go to work like, “I know I’m done.” Why do you assume it’s going to be you? The bottom line, the mindset is everything. I can relate to it because I flunked out of my first high school. The reason I flunked out of my first high school was my mind wasn’t right. I went to one of these top academic schools in Chicago. Michelle Obama went there. These are all the smartest kids in Chicago. My older brother and sister went there, but I didn’t get accepted.
My dad was a high school principal. He wrote a letter and got me in. The problem was since they didn’t accept me, I felt less of them from day one. In my mind, I’m not as smart as these kids. I got in because my dad wrote a letter. As a result, I didn’t even compete in the classroom. I got my lunch handed to me. I didn’t try because I was convinced that these kids were smarter than me and I can’t compete with these kids. Why? Because they’re smarter than me.
Think about life and what I call the C students. In many cases, it’s because we make excuses. We can justify things, and we believe it. I believe these kids were smarter than me. As a result, I sabotage me. When I meet people and they hear me speak, they think that the fact that I’m a former NBA ball player, I’m some arrogant, narcissistic monster.
When I get done, the ladies in the audience are like, “Walter, I don’t even like sports.” You’re not talking about sports. You’re talking about life, excellence, and reaching your potential and becoming. I became an NBA ball player. I had to have some great coaches, be coachable, and bust my butt. I also had to look in that mirror and be accountable for my weaknesses and what’s holding me back.
That’s hard for people to do.
Accountability is a tough one. The truth is you can’t reach your potential until you become accountable. It’s like accountability as this huge mountain. If you don’t get over that mountain, you’ll never get the benefit of the other side. Anyone reading, what have you justified? What excuses have you made? If you’re a meeting planner representing a company, what excuses are they using? I do my pre-event calls for my meetings. That’s one of the questions I always ask the CEO or the VP or whoever is helping me prepare. For your C students, what are their excuses? How do they justify it?
I had a call with an insurance company, and I asked them, I’m going to keynote with them. They’re going to buy everybody a book, Swim!. What do you see your students’ excuses? Why can’t we get anybody on the phone and healthcare is too expensive? I want to learn all the excuses so I can refute all of them, so these C students can stop being average and become something special. If I can do it, trust me. I’m writing books, I’m creating trainings, and I’m a kid who flunked out of his first high school.
You also became a Hall of Fame Speaker, which there’s only a couple hundred alive. You worked hard at that. I’ve seen this happen with various successful people in sports, music and other areas. There are certain types of people who exist that’s like, “Hear what they have to do, listen to it, take the advice, and then they do it.” They want to get to where that person who taught them how to do it, told them what to do is. They want to get there. Obviously, you’ve done that in every area of your life and you have become one of the best speakers around.
Here’s the truth. When I failed in high school academically, I was embarrassed. I felt like I shamed my family. My parents are teachers. How would you get flunked out of a high school? Your parents are educators. It was humbling. My heart was, “Dad, what do I need to do?” That’s become my favorite question.
When I played college ball, I’m sitting on the bench, I had dreams of playing in the NBA, but I had this gap. I went to my coach like, “Coach, what do I need to do? Who do I need to become to play in the NBA?” They taught me what I needed to do to change my academic career. I did it. My college basketball coach taught me what I needed to do to make it to the NBA, and I did it.
When I started my speaking business, I reached out to Desi Williamson, Les Brown, and Keith Harrell. I had some amazing mentors. The question was simple. “What do I need to do?” I figured out through my coaching and mentoring that the great speakers are very entertaining and dynamic, and they give their audience great information.
Every time I do a keynote, I’m going to be very entertaining and dynamic. We’re going to laugh and think. You might quiver. We’re going to touch that heart. It’s going to be very dynamic, but the whole time I got to teach you something. If I can be entertaining and dynamic and you walk away with a page full of notes, some things that you need to do when you get back home, I’ve done my job.
That’s what I learned on my journey to become a Hall of Fame Speaker, to be very entertaining and dynamic and give great information, but be relatable. I have failed. I could not get in front of an audience and act like some arrogant, narcissistic athlete like I’ve been perfect a whole life. That’s not my truth. I’ve been on the bottom, rejected, and learned how to overcome me.
That makes me think of a question I was thinking of earlier. You talked about you were the suckerfish. My question is, what are a parasite and a suckerfish? We know what the sharks are, but you said there are three types of people. How does a parasite or a suckerfish become a shark? If there are only three things to become, you want to be the shark. How does that parasite do that, and who is a parasite?What are your excuses and how do you justify them? You can't reach your potential until you become accountable. Click To Tweet
It’s simple. I wish I could be coy and say read the book. When people read the book, that did it. First of all, a shark is a very successful person who has incredible success principles they live by consistently. One of those is to be a great mentor. Sharks give a negative connotation. The truth is they work in tandem with suckerfish because no matter how big his shark gets, they’re vulnerable to parasites.
If a parasite can get into the nostrils or the gills, it can weaken or even kill a shark. The metaphor is no matter how big a CEO gets, no matter how successful an entrepreneur gets, you still need people, whether they are employees or vendors. Don’t you dare ever get arrogant to think you don’t need anybody. That’s when you’re vulnerable. Tandem is symbiotic. Sharks need suckerfish and suckerfish needs sharks.
For suckerfish, it’s easy. I get a free rise in the ocean. I get to eat every time a shark makes a kill. For an employee, you get a check every two weeks. That’s pretty good. You get to eat, clothe yourself, feed your children, get logic, and put a roof over your head. You got one job to do to be suckerfish, keep the shark clean.
When you see a parasite trying to infiltrate the shark through the nostrils of the gills, the suckerfish eats the parasite. In the metaphor of the book, a parasite in a human is a selfish person. A person who’s trying to take and then give. The shark and the suckerfish are blessing each other. I need you and you need me. The parasite is the employee who comes to work. I don’t care about you or anybody, where’s my money?
They’re way too focused on themself. Can a leader change that, though, that kind of a person? Can they turn those people around?
One of the best logos of the book is there’s hope for a parasite. If you think about it, we all can be selfish at any moment in life. We’ve been selfish before with our spouse. We see our kids. Kids are, “Give me.” I was no different with my parents. Anyone at any moment could be all three, to be honest. If you go to work and you only care about you, your review, your promotion, your bonus, and you could care less about your department, your teammate emails you and they need some information from you, and you’re like, “I don’t care, I’m going to do my job,” you’re a parasite at that moment, that day or that week. This is a selfish person. When people read the book and when they get done with the book, one of the characters of the book comes on a boat. That’s why we call it Swim!. The whole thing happens on a fishing trip.
Two friends from high school were buddies, but they broke apart their relationship. This is common. You know what happens when you have a friend, one of the friends gets in trouble, and your mom and dad say, “You better be careful. Be careful with the kid. I don’t even want you hanging around with the kid. He’s a little bit of bad news.”
This is what happened to these two guys on the boat. What happens is they come back 30 years later and go fishing to reminisce on how their lives were. One guy, Paul, is like a preppy kind of guy. He comes back and he goes fishing. All he wants to do is check on his poor buddy, who gets in trouble. What he didn’t know was that Scotty had a mentor. Through this mentorship, his life completely turned around.
The guy, Paul, is coming to check on his poor buddy. When the boat gets going, he’s in for the surprise of his life. By the time the whole thing plays out when they get back to shore, Paul is a little bit confused. He thinks he’s been a shark his whole life. He’s starting to realize, “If I’ve been a parasite, I’m successful, I make a whole lot of money, but I’ve stepped on a lot of souls along the way. I don’t have any track record of mentoring or developing anybody else.” If you think about the world we live in, we talk about the dog-eat-dog world, you got to get yours, I got to get mine, and only the strong survive.
The truth is, if you think about sports, great coaches produce other great coaches. The legendary coach, Nick Saban produced seventeen head coaches and he’s only lost to one of his assistant coaches one time once they become a head coach. To be a legendary coach who’s produced so many other great coaches is the ultimate.
When I think about a shark, what are you producing? Any leader, what are you producing? I talked to a bank we’re going to work with. I challenged the guy and said, “When your career is over, when you retire, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to look back over your career?” He said, “I’ve made a bunch of money.” Look at all the bank presidents that I hired as tellers and I developed.
Which scenario is better, you retiring to Florida with a bunch of money and everybody thought that you were evil or you retire to Florida with a bunch of money, but you’re constantly getting phone calls and text messages, all these incredible people are saying, “Thanks, coach. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be a bank president myself?”
To me, that’s what the shark represents. For a long time, I was a suckerfish. I got coached, tutored, and mentored. The truth is my father passed away. That’s when I realized I’ve been a suckerfish my whole life. I’ve had an incredible father. He was my high school principal. I had incredible coaches. “It’s time for you to put your big pants on and it’s time for you to be the shark. It’s time for you to coach and mentor other people.”
I’m the youngest in my family. I can play a little brother, really good. After my dad passed away, I went fishing one day, and when I caught the suckerfish, that was my moment. I was like, “Little Walter, Little brother, it’s time for you to grow up. It’s time for you to be the shark.” I can’t be any more transparent than that. When people hear me speak, I’m like, “I’ll tell you my story. I was a good suckerfish for a long time and I made up my mind that it was time for me to be a shark. My job is to coach, mentor, and help other people become who they dream about.”
I also love the analogy or the truth about what a sixth man is. Knowing all of this, that’s appropriately also what you were when you played the NBA. Tell everybody a little bit about the sixth man. What I’m most interested in even though he’s not in the starting five players who start the game who are technically the best five players on the team, the sixth man, in a lot of ways, can be the most important person on the team or one of the very most important. In fact, they give an award for the sixth man of the year. Tell us a little bit about how you handled that and how that shaped you.
It was a growth moment. When you play high school basketball, you’re a star. I went to a division school University of Minnesota, and I found myself on a bench. It’s a position I’d never been in. It was very humbling. I was moping, a little sad, and a little depressed. After a long conversation with my dad, my man was simple, like, “If you can help that man win, you’ll play.” I began to realize like, “Maybe I can have an impact off the bench.” I became a top sixth man in the country. The sixth man is a catalyst. My job is to come in the game and change momentum.Great coaches produce other great coaches. Click To Tweet
In a bigger context, it taught me that if you’re on the team, you can have an impact. In corporate America, a lot of people say, “I’m only a manager. I’m only a supervisor. I’m only on the front line. I work at the casino, but I’m only a valet.” No, you’re on a team. You got a jersey. You can have impact. You can be an impact player.
The state of Alabama brought me in to speak to all of the educators. I used to do educational programs at school districts because my parents were teachers. I would ask teachers a simple question. Who is your favorite teacher and why? First, it would get emotional because everybody had their favorite teacher. I would challenge them like, “What students here are going to relate to you as their favorite teacher?” You could see eyes in the room. As many of them weren’t even thinking that way.
I was like, “If you had a favorite teacher that impacted you, at a minimum, you should become that for somebody here.” One of the teachers said to me, “My favorite teacher wasn’t a teacher.” I was like, “What?” “My favorite teacher was a security guard at the front door.” We were all like, “Okay.” She said, “I had a tough childhood. I grew up in an abusive home. Every morning the security guard would say good morning, smile at me, and say my name. I needed that smile.” It was touching that her biggest impact player was not even a teacher in the classroom. It was a person who greeted her and smiled. That was enough to help her get through the day.
She was saying, “Every morning, I needed him to say good morning, smile, and say my name.” When we’re in leadership, we have a choice. We can be a coach with the whistle or we can be a fruit inspector with the machete. The truth is in the book Swim!, the man is a guy named Drew. That’s all I need to say. Drew is the consummate leader because he is the consummate coach. If you got connected to Drew, you got to reach your potential.
That’s the whole metaphor between the shark and the suckerfish. The shark mindset thing is becoming a thing because people understand that, “We can impact our culture by developing better coaches who are leaders.” When I come to a conference, I don’t call you a leader. I call your coach. It’s amazing by calling a manager, supervisor, or a coach. They stick out their chest then they begin to think different.
I had a guy last week at a conference. He pulled me to the side. He goes, “Walter, I need to drop my machete and pick up a whistle.” That’s all he said to me. I played sports. You can’t play sports without confidence. For leaders, I teach you the number one thing you’ve got to do is build confidence. That’s foundational for any coach. You wouldn’t let your kids play for a coach who is torn down at eight years old. That would be odd. Why don’t we do it at 28, 38, or 48? A coach’s job is to build my confidence and also teach me the fundamentals of my industry so that I can reach my potential.
All I can say is all of this is so impactful, and that’s one of your words is impact. The book is amazing. You’re amazing. You always get rave reviews. I am so happy you came on the show with me. This is a conversation I will definitely be listening to again. There’s so much good content in there. What meeting professionals want is takeaways and you’re filled with them. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Walter. This has been everything I thought it would be because you are somebody who has a very high bar and you deliver every time.
Thank you, Chris. Again, this shark mindset thing is becoming a thing and it’s becoming a category of one because people are looking for someone to open the conference and close a conference. The truth is some people are wrestling between, “Do we hire an athlete or a thought leader?” When people book me, they get both. I happened to be a professional athlete, but I’m a thought leader. My parents were teachers.
I come in and I entertain your audience. I give them a little bit of the sports charisma, but I teach. That’s one thing I learned from my mom and dad because I was a C student and I failed. All I wanted to do was make my mom and dad proud. I had to become coachable. If the audience’s coachable or if a C student will listen, follow directions, and execute, you can lift up anyone to become something special.
That’s what you do. Your smile is magnetic and your energy is off the charts when you’re on stage. It’s a really awesome situation. I’d be surprised if you haven’t had a standing ovation at almost every event you’ve done in the past several years.
I get a lot of that. I’m after transformation. The standing ovations are wonderful, but honestly, I’ve been doing this for many years. The standing ovation used to be exciting a couple of years ago. I’m waiting for those emails that say, “Walter, because of you, I did X, Y, and Z.” We had a medical device company hit $113 million in their third year. They were like, “Walter, this is because of you. We got the shark mindset. We hit $113 million.” That’s what I’m looking for. The standing ovation is nice but the transformation is much nicer.
Thanks again, Walter. This has been awesome. You’re awesome. I look forward to talking to you again soon, and everybody should read that book because it’s impactful.
I’ll talk to you soon.
- Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, and Next Level Success
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
- 7 Habits
About Walter Bond
Author. Speaker. Business Coach. Husband. Father. Walter Bond.
When Walter steps onto the stage, you can’t miss him. It could be because he’s 6’5 and stands out in a crowd, but it could also be because on the stage is where he feels at home. As a nationally recognized public speaker, he commands the stage. He makes the entire audience, whether it’s a small board room or a large conference venue, feel seen. People walk out of Walter’s talks changed, motivated, and inspired. His principles are simple but powerful, his delivery is smooth, and he combines humor, tough love, and experience in a way that changes people.
Walter’s third and most recently released book Swim!, has picked up speed since its debut in July, and has become a staple for business people and students across the country. His easy-to-read professional development book combines lovable characters, relatable life lessons, and hard truths that help readers understand the power of leadership, mentoring, and next-level success.
Walter travels the country speaking, coaching, teaching, and inspiring companies across a wide range of industries, from financial services to agriculture and franchising to real estate and many more in between. At any given time, you can find Walter leading a mastermind class, offering one on one professional development, hosting book talks, and coaching hungry business leaders and entrepreneurs towards success.
While many know Walter Bond as a former NBA player, more and more people know Walter as a passionate and motivated speaker, author, and business coach with one goal: to help people see their full potential.
Walter graduated from the University of Minnesota and has been married to his wife and business partner Antoinette for nearly 30 years. They have three adult children.
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