BU News

Motivational speaker wins over students and teachers

March 17, 2015

Jeff Eben talks with Brandi Lea during the winter Ed.D. immersion held in Irvine.

Jeff Eben wants to change the way schools work, one person at a time.

While speaking at Brandman University’s Ed.D. immersion session in January, Eben used his own life to explain the difference one person can make. In his case, it was a football coach who refused to feel sorry for his former star linebacker (Eben) when his spinal cord was crushed and neck broken in three places in a water skiing incident.

Instead of pity or sympathy, the coach offered these words: “Hey Jeff, how many wins have you had today?”

The first time the coach said it, Eben was still reeling from being told he would be paralyzed from the neck down and had no answer. But the coach kept returning to his hospital room, always with the same question. Eben finally decided the only way to stop him was to come up with an answer. “I didn’t go to the bathroom in my pants today.” 

And at that point the coach walked into the lobby of the hospital and relayed the news to everyone as if Eben had just conquered a mountain.

“You have to celebrate your victories,” the coach told him.

“It was crazy. But it became what can I do better today than I did yesterday?” said Eben, who returned to high school in a wheelchair, able to move his arm and shoulders a little. But that wasn’t the end of it.

“I saw that he saw something bigger in me than I saw. It took 18 months of him sitting by my side every day, in spite of all the attitude I gave him. I couldn’t articulate it at 16, but it is an amazing thing for someone to give you the power to hope,” said Eben.

The “unconditional love” of his teammates also carried him through those difficult days and drove home the key lesson he wanted the room full of doctoral students and mentors to remember. “Feel the love. Make people see bigger potential than they see for themselves.”

Brandman University’s doctorate in education in organizational leadership program features classroom work, cohort meetings mentored by professional educators and three annual “immersions.” The next research-oriented immersion, “Dreams of the Day,” on June 26-29 will feature Chapman University President James L. Doti and communications expert Tom DeLapp, among others. For more information, go to organizational-leadership.


More information about Jeff Eben can be found at HowManyWins.

  Eben has made that philosophy work as a school principal, as a deputy mayor in the city of Fresno, as an author and as a motivational speaker.

His session with the Ed.D. students bore the title “Diversity.” Simply put, Eben’s solution to any problems that “diversity” or a lack of “diversity” might cause, can be dealt with this way: “It has to be everybody. Nobody can be left out. All means all.”

At a time when numbers, in the form of budget and test scores, dominate the educational scene, Eben is all about feelings.

“Who are you and what do you stand for?” he asked the students. “We have an opportunity (as educators) to talk about what we really want out of society … student behavior is a reflection of adult leadership.”

“Your organization stands for what you believe whether you want it to or not. Your students will take a piece of you with them wherever they go. Leave them with love,” he said.

Dr. Marilou Ryder, associate professor of education at Brandman, said she wanted to bring Eben to the immersion session because of his strengths as a motivational speaker.

“He gives this notion of hope, that you can do anything. Our students need to get a good dose of that every time they show up for an immersion,” said Ryder.

Ryder said students have taken the “How many wins have you had today?” theme and applied it to their own schools, even putting it on a school marquee.

Doctoral student Brandi Lea said Eben’s message resonated with her. ‘I feel like that’s how I see leadership. There are lots of people who make you weaker, who don’t want to talk about feelings. It’s encouraging to see someone succeed by focusing on that. It shows that I can do it, too,” she said.

“We have to get over the idea that building a personal relationship isn’t a good thing,” said Eben after his talk. “We have to be able to teach compassion.”

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