The Oil Titan

3 powerful lessons from John D. Rockefeller

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Now, onto Issue 30.

As a former D1 athlete and startup leader, I’ve spent most of my life engulfed in the process of personal improvement.

I love that process.

Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you do, too.

I’m also guessing you don’t have dozens of hours each month to devote to learning.

You lead a team, run a business or have other important responsibilities.

That’s why I’m excited to announce The Monthly Leadership Kit.

The Monthly Leadership Kit is a premium offering.

Think of it as a mini-masterclass each month that makes you a higher performer and stronger leader.

We’ll do deep dives on topics such as:

  • Mindset

  • Coaching

  • Motivation

  • Team building

  • Communication

And many others.

Specifically, here’s what you can expect in the “kit” each month:

  • An overview of the topic

  • A short story to bring it to life

  • Curated research and resources

  • Key lessons distilled and actionable

  • One tool you can use and/or share with your team (e.g. one-pager, guides, templates, etc)

My goal each month is to synthesize hours of study and package the insights into an easily digestible and actionable format.

Here’s my promise to you…

I will pour my heart and soul into providing you value each month.

For the cost of a couple coffees a month, you will become a stronger leader and higher performer.

If you’ve gotten any value from The Process (which will always remain free), I’d be grateful if you gave The Monthly Leadership Kit a try.

Thank you. Now, onto The Process …

3 lessons from a business legend

In 1855, John D. Rockefeller got his first job.

He was 16, making 50 cents a day bookkeeping.

Two years later, a financial crisis struck.

The Panic of 1857 rocked America.

Businesses failed, production stalled and the country sank into a depression.

Many people panicked and fled the finance industry.

But not 18-year-old Rockefeller.

In fact, it was the birth of perhaps the greatest business titan in American history.

There are three powerful lessons we can learn from Rockefeller here:

Lesson: Keep your cool amid chaos

Rockefeller would become known for his unflappable steadiness.

He had that trait even at 18.

Rockefeller viewed the market crash as an opportunity to learn.

He saved money and observed the failures of others.

His ability to keep his cool eventually led to enormous success.

Lesson: Only the disciplined survive

During this time of study and learning, Rockefeller learned how unpredictable the market is.

He learned that speculation destroys far more wealth than it builds.

And he learned that discipline was the key ingredient to success.

As he entered the oil business in his 20s, he leaned on this skill.

By his late 30s, he owned nearly 90 percent of the oil market.

His irrational, speculative and fearful competitors vanished.

Rockefeller’s calm and disciplined execution won.

Lesson: Slow down to see clearly

Of all of Rockefeller’s strengths, his ability to see clearly when others could not may be the biggest.

1857 was not the only “panic” of his life.

  • There was the American Civil War in the 1860s

  • There were the financial crises of 1873 and 1907

  • There was the Wall Street Crash of 1929

Through it all, Rockefeller maintained his ability to see clearly while others clouded their judgment.

In times of stress, slow down and see clearly.

Those are three powerful lessons we can take from Rockefeller.

They’re easier said than done, however.

How do you develop the ability to put those lessons into action?

You need two key skills (and likely others):

  • discipline

  • emotional regulation

Let’s take a quick look at each.

Developing Discipline

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban has a great way of defining discipline (watch him describe it here):

  • There’s something you know you’re supposed to do that you don’t really want to do. Can you make yourself do it?

  • Then there’s something you know you’re not supposed to do, but you want to do it. Can you keep yourself from it?

While I love that definition, it seems to rely heavily on willpower, and willpower can be fickle.

I’ve found it’s helpful to also leverage habits, systems and people to develop discipline.

Habits: Do the things you do every day encourage discipline?

Systems: Do you have structures in place that drive discipline?

People: Do you have people who hold you accountable to being disciplined?

If you want to improve your discipline, it may help to start by assessing those areas.

Emotional Regulation

“Emotional regulation” is the fancy psychology term for the ability to control your emotions.

It begins with developing self-awareness and the ability to simply notice when you are feeling various emotions.

We won’t get into all the nuance of emotional regulation now — this article is a good primer if you’d like more detail — but I want to share one of the more practical strategies for managing your emotions I’ve across.

In Issue 25 of The Process, I shared some lessons from former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink (and author of Discipline Equals Freedom).

One of his core strategies for controlling emotions is detaching.

Physically and mentally stepping back from the current moment.

Doing this makes you an observer of the moment more than a participant, creating the space for you to see, think and communicate more clearly.

Here’s a clip of Jocko on the Huberman Lab podcast describing this strategy further. Well worth the 10 minutes.


Ok, let’s quickly recap.

Three powerful lessons we can learn from John D. Rockefeller:

  • Slow down to see clearly

  • Only the disciplined survive

  • Keep your cool amid chaos

To apply those lessons, start by developing:

  • discipline

  • emotional regulation

These skills are difficult.

Developing them will be a process.

But if you do the work consistently, over time you will build the same superpower Rockefeller had.

The ability to stand still in a storm and conquer it.

Teddy’s Recommendations

If you’re a golf fan, you know this week is The Masters.

And that gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite pieces of writing.

In 2007, ESPN’s Wright Thompson wrote a tribute to his late father, who loved The Masters.

It’s a powerful and emotional read, one that hits me every time.

You don’t need to care about golf or The Masters to love this story.

I can’t recommend it enough.

I’d love to hear from you

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Thanks for reading.

See you next Sunday.

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