I was super excited to welcome someone to my podcast who I’ve admired for such a long time: Dr Willie Jolley, inspirational speaker, motivational speaker, author, thought-leader, trainer, preacher, genuine all-around great guy. He’s a rock star in the speaking industry, he has his own podcast on Sirius XM, speaks to corporations, associations, small groups, large groups—you name it, he’s done it. He’s the recipient of the Ron Brown Distinguished Leadership Award, been named “One of the Top 5 Leadership Speakers” by Speaking.com, and awarded Business Leader of The Year by The African American Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Willie Jolley is the author of several international best-selling books plus a a popular new marriage book, co-authored with his wife of over 33 years, Dee Taylor-Jolley.
He’s amazing! And he’s my friend! So honored.
Because my interest lies in teaching people to encourage others in order to lift themselves up, I asked Dr Jolley who were the great influencers, encouragers in his life. He said his mother was his primary influence because his father died when he was 13 years old, so he didn’t have much time with him, sadly. His mother was all in with him and his brother and taught them so much. She was a school teacher and emphasized the value of education, but also the value of entrepreneurship. She modeled the entrepreneurial spirit by selling Shaklee and other products, renting out a room in her home to students and more. She was insistent that Willie and his brother get an education. His first love was in music and she was fully supportive. She put up her house for a loan to enable him and his brother to set up a music studio. Her only criteria was that he get a degree, and he got a Bachelor’s Degree in Music. When he later got his Master’s Degree, she was so excited. When he decided to switch over to the speaking business, again she was all in. She only asked that he take her to some of the great cities he would be visiting. His brother was the first Jazz major at Howard University and she was so proud. She also told them to marry well—and she was very happy with who they married. Willie’s married to an educator who now runs his company and is truly his partner in all senses of the word.
Willie’s mother lived to see him speak in front of huge crowds, become an author, travel with him, saw him on stage with inspirational speaker Les Brown. Les Brown was another huge influence on his life. He remembers hearing about him when he first began speaking from his hairdresser. She told him Les Brown was coming to DC and he should go see him. During the presentation, Willie asked him a question which must have gotten his attention, because Les asked to meet with him post performance. Les was signing books afterwards and his handlers took him away before Willie got to meet with him. Willie went to his promoter and she told him what hotel he was staying in. At 2am, Les Brown came in and Willie was there to talk. Les Brown was so impressed they traded contact information and struck up a conversation. Several months later Willie tracked him down again, and sent him a note saying that he, Willie, could help him sell tickets to his upcoming event. Les called to take him up on that offer, and Willie promoted him at local radio stations. Later Willie went on stage to warm up the audience and Les saw that—he was so impressed that he made Willie the opener for him at his next shows. And that was history! Over time they became good friends. They’ve been on tours together, he has been on his radio show, he spoke at his mother’s and brother’s funeral, he’s been a big part of his life. The lesson I take from this is, don’t wait for someone to come to you—go to them. Be a go-getter and find your Les Brown.
Les was impressed with Willie’s heart, his ability to approach and engage with people, and his sincerity. Willie released a song recently, “We’ll Get Through This.” Les made that song big—promoted it on his shows, and it went viral. Go to WinwithWillie.com and listen to that song. It’s great.
Willie says we’re going through something we’ve never seen in our lifetime. There’s a pandemic, social and political upheaval, an economic downturn, racial strife, climate crises throughout the country. People need to hear that we will make it through—he believes that. Don’t give in; we will get through together.
I asked Willie if it was okay to discuss racism and race relations, and Willie who is so generous of heart and spirit, said of course! and that he appreciates being able to discuss this topic. This past year he’s spoken to many speakers who are asking about what it’s like being African American and a speaker. He always thinks about what his grandmother told him when he was younger, that he has to be twice as good to be equal, he must always be excellent.
He remembers being told by a meeting planner whom he’d called about work, that they just had a black speaker the year before who did not do a good job, so they cannot have another black speaker. Willie challenged her by asking, have you ever had a white speaker one year who didn’t do a good job, and then brought in another white speaker the year after? She said yes, and it made her realize how unfair she was being judging him by someone else’s performance. From that day on he decided not to just be excellent for himself as a speaker, but be excellent for that young African American who might not get a shot at a job if Willie was not excellent.
After George Floyd died he was on a panel with other Black speakers, two women and three men—and this was the first time they took off the mask and spoke candidly about what it was like to be Black. They felt they never could be themselves, that they were always trying to suppress their big personalities because they were told that being big and Black and male is too scary, so you need to dial it down. All three men cried, including himself. They spoke about being Black fathers who experienced the exact same thing when they saw the George Floyd video: how initially they saw George Floyd on the ground, and then his face changed to his son the lawyer. His son could have made an illegal right turn and been arrested, then put on the ground for something non-violent. He said that he saw his son on the ground, and the other two speakers saw their sons on the ground. It is mind-boggling to see that as an African American father and know it could be his son. That fear is always there.
This has been such a painful experience. When he hears about whites pushing back about their privilege, he’s not angry. And he never complains about it. He is just making people aware of it. This is how he explains it to people: Business is hard for everybody. But when both of us are on the 100 yard dash to win at business, but I have to run 150 yards to get to the same place because I’m Black, that’s what we mean by white privilege. You have an unknown privilege that many whites don’t (or won’t) acknowledge they have.
I told Willie that he is generous; that I probably could not be in his shoes and not be angry. He’s not mad at whites—you did not create this system, he says. You have never had your race keep you from getting a job, but I have. So I decided to be better, work harder, go faster and farther. It creates a new muscle for him. Some of the burdens of being Black is systemic— little things that add to the weight of the burden. Like the Confederate statues all over the place in the South. He’s seen them all his life. Why would we honor Robert E Lee who was the general who was trying to overthrow the US government —it’s like Americans honoring Benedict Arnold. Or Christians honoring Judas. It doesn’t make sense. But it’s a by-product of systemic racism, to keep Black people in their place. Once you know the history, they you need to figure out we should do about it.
Black Lives Matter
A speaker friend posted on social media that he doesn’t like BLM, so Willie called him to talk about it. His friend said, I believe all lives matter. Of course, Willie says— but let me ask you, if your house is on fire and the fire department comes, would you expect them to put water on all the houses? Right now our house is on fire—too many deaths for too little cause. None of these people were violent, yet they were all killed. Our house is on fire, so we’re the ones right now that need the water. His friend changed his mind and posted that he had been wrong.
When he first heard Black Lives Matter, he did not accept that phrase. He said it should be Black Lives Matter Too. But after George Floyd, he changed his mind. Willie believes that there must be a definitive statement— Black Lives Matter. Period. End of discussion. The violence against black men needs to stop.
I asked Willie when did he realize that the Confederate statues were problematic? He said that even as a kid he knew something was wrong with it—they lost didn’t they? He understood the significance of them being put there in the early 1900s as a way to say, we are still superior. So illogical. Why is someone superior because of genetic makeup? It makes no sense. It is a system that needs to be dismantled.
Willie paid me a compliment and said that he’s hopeful and grateful that we have friends/allies like you. There was a protest after George Floyd died near where he lived. He saw that most people in the protest were white and was shocked. That was the first time he’s ever seen a march where white people were just as invested as Blacks in a social protest about racism.
He doesn’t have an issue with white people asking him about race. Some Black people do. They have a thin skin about race. Willie said he’s never played the race card, but said instead he models general power. When people ask the race question, he likes to open up and tell them what he’s thinking. He has an abundance mind-set. Not a victim mind-set. He wants people to win to prosper, no matter who they are, he wants them to be successful, and he wants to help them do it.
A Motivational Speaker who is Also a Preacher!
I asked whether his message be different if he was white? Willie said not in the content so much, but in the delivery, yes. He has a Baptist preacher in him. When he speaks, there is a cultural part to his delivery that helps deliver his message. He will go in and out of the Black preacher mode. He doesn’t do it intentionally—just goes with it. He throws his heart over the net, the body follows. He doesn’t really think about it or practice it, it just comes out that way. He was an entertainer who sang in nightclubs for many years. Also he is a theologically trained speaker. Grew up Methodist—very highbrow, but ended up Baptist. Also he went to Pentecostal churches—a lot of fire there. So, he lets it loose. He got an e-mail from an English professor of public speaking once—you go right to it, there’s no warm up, no tiptoeing in. The professor said he’d never seen anything like it. He’s never seen anyone walk backwards while talking. Willie said that he never even knew he did it. When he does speaker boot camp, my wife has to translate—what he did, and how he did it, because Willie can’t tell you what he did, or why he did it. She would explain his pacing, tone, the fluctuation of his voice, and his humor.
We talked about how Barak Obama would talk one way to white audiences, and another way to Black audiences. But Obama was raised by white people. He became bi-lingual, a code shifter, and can talk to white audiences and Black audiences. So is Willie’s son. He went to mostly white schools but his friends were Black in the neighborhood. And then he went to law school at Howard U with mostly Black students. So he can code-shift. Willie probably does it too. Typically when in front of an all-Black audience he turns it up. Puts more grease in it.
I asked if his belief in people, looking people in the eyes and saying you can do this, is that charisma? Willie doesn’t know, but he does mean it. He does believe it. He is a man of faith. He was given spiritual gifts, a God-given blessing. He encourages everybody. A friend of his says he is a little afraid of him—not sure how to take him. But he really wants people to do well. His job is to impact, and to inspire others. Inspire is from the Greek, to breathe anew, and that’s what he wants to give people. The world of Motivational Speakers is like a big tent that encompasses many styles or types of speakers. Willie says his specific gift is inspiration. Motivation deals with your head; inspiration comes from the heart.
I asked Willie about his website, which talks about winning. To me that seems like a competition, which is not really what Willie is talking about. Willie said in making his logo, they decided to go with winning, because everybody wants to win in their personal life, finance, business. It’s a message that is direct and to the point. Willie spoke with Dr Covey once, and asked him which is the most powerful of the seven habits he’s written about. And Dr Covey said, help other people win, that’s the most important habit. Willie says winning refers to helping people achieve their goals, not winning a race or a competition. He invited people to go to winwithwillie.com and sign up to receive a message every day about winning, about getting where you want to go.
I always ask my guests: What gives you hope? Willie said that his faith gives him hope. He trusts God more than anything else. In good times and challenging times. He has great expectations that good is coming. He recently was awarded a lifetime achievement award—an eagle statue. Willie has eagle images all over his office to remind him to not take the easy path. When storms arise and tough times come, you have to make a decision—are you an ostrich or an eagle? The ostrich wants to be waked when it’s over. But the eagle takes flight during a storm—persists, struggles, perseveres through it. The eagle can go to 3000 feet and see the whole story of the challenges, but also see up the road, where the good times are. The eagle knows that it is good up the road!!!
Watch my interview with Dr Willie Jolley. There’s nothing like hearing a master speaker just talking—there is the story-teller, the man behind the stage presence. But there is also the passionate performer, the inspiring, uplifting preacher, who deeply believes in his message and deeply believes in you, the listener. We will get through this. We will succeed. One thing I do know: We can all use more Willie Jolley in our lives.