Purpose Matters in Business

“Lean in to Purpose”  – Jonathan Mildenhall

I was recently at a conference where Jonathan Mildenhall was a key note speaker. For those of you who don’t know Jonathan (and I don’t expect you to), he was previously the Chief Marketing Officer at Coca Cola and is now the Chief Marketing Officer at AirBnB. His marketing pedigree is not the topic of this message, but his passion for building “purpose driven companies” is.

His presentation was fantastic. In fact, as he took us through a journey of his career and some of the hallmark marketing campaigns he has overseen with Coca Cola and AirBnB, you could clearly see the impact that purpose has on those two organizations. And its not that these two companies are charities – far from that. But their commitment to purpose helped drive both to notable growth and brand success. Consider the following elements of Purpose from each of these companies:

• Coca Cola: To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
• AirBnB: Creating real connections/friendships between likeminded people

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Actions Speak More Loudly Than Words

“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think about that quote for a moment – “What you do speaks SO LOUDLY I cannot hear what you say”. Simple yet prophetic. Truer words have never been spoken.

While researching quotes specifically for this leadership message, I thumbed through dozens, but this one struck a chord. An artist with a pen, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a master at communicating thought. A poet, lecturer, and essayist – his writings often centered around key ideas such as individuality, self-determination, self-reliance, and the capacity of the individual.

That’s why this quote caught my eye. I, too, believe in the capacity of the individual & our ability to achieve great things, when we put our mind to it. I believe both in the importance of self-determination and self-reliance. But, I also believe in something more – our ability to influence the action and behavior of others (both positively and negatively), and the significant responsibility it accompanies. Continue reading

No Substitute for Hard Work

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

I’ve been pondering this message for some time – writing about the importance of hard work. It seems so cliché these days to write about the obvious benefits of hard work – and even more cliché to start a leadership blog with such well-used quotes as those from Vince Lombardi. What’s more, I’ve worried about whether my message will offend those who might interpret this message as an affront to their work ethic.

But this message is important. It’s time to put the softer elements of leadership aside and speak to the heart of the matter – and quite simply it is this…most people don’t put forth the effort that is truly required to be successful in their life pursuits. Whether that’s at work, with family, with friendships, or in our hobbies, too many of us think that we can shortcut that process and still succeed.

Newsflash! Nothing in life comes easy. More importantly, nothing in life is worth having if it isn’t earned. “No pain, no gain” – isn’t that how the saying goes? Why then do so many people long for success (professional, financial, etc) but fail to put in the effort required for that achievement? Continue reading

Opportunity or Difficulty – You Decide

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

Those who know me recognize my affinity for Sir Winston Churchill. His leadership, while cantankerous and arguably self-serving, may well be the very reason the allies were victorious during World War II. What’s most interesting about Winston Churchill is to understand the history that forged both his style and his philosophies on leadership. Bear with me as I share highlights of his life and the connection to the quote above.

Born of nobility in Great Britain in the late 1800’s, one could argue he was given all the opportunity necessary for success. Despite this privileged status, he had an interesting and somewhat rocky childhood. Raised largely by his nanny, his interaction with his parents was fairly removed and arguably of limited influence.

Churchill struggled mightily during his formative years. A young, stocky red headed boy (I can relate to that), he spoke with both a stutter and a lisp (something that plagued him most his life). In and out of 3 different schools, Churchill’s early academic record was quite poor. And while excelling in certain subjects (Mathematics, History, and English), he was generally thought of as “a poor student”.  Continue reading

It’s Time to Think of Yourself as a Leader

We’ve made leadership in to something bigger than us. Something beyond us. We’ve taken this title of leader and we treat it as something that one day we are going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves now is a level of arrogance that we are not comfortable with.”  – Drew Dudley

A few weekends ago I was catching up on my ‘white space’ activities, one of which is to watch TED Talks on business, leadership, and innovation. As much as I might think I know about leadership I still spend countless hours researching and gaining insight from others who offer a new and different perspective.

On this particular day I was watching a clip from a speaker named Drew Dudley. In this clip Drew opens his speech with the question “How many of you are completely comfortable calling yourself a leader”? Only a handful of people raise their hands. Perhaps not surprising, but most of those in the audience were uncomfortable recognizing they are leaders in their own right today. And what’s amazing is that the audience for a Ted Talk is generally individuals who are enamored with the topic of leadership. Of all people you would think they would overwhelmingly be ‘leaders’. Continue reading

Engagement and Respect

“Jim, you are not doing a good job of hiding your disdain for your company” – Jim Spivey

I was recently sharing my thoughts on the qualities I look for in members of my team with a fellow colleague. The first is simple – capability. Each member of the team must be able to do the job asked of them in a competent, effective manner. Experience, effort, tenacity, and a willingness to learn are all part of being a capable team member. No surprise there.

The second is more abstract but vital to the success of any team – integrity. Members of any group that don’t practice integrity both in words and actions becomes a hindrance to the team. It forces the other members to operate in an environment of distrust, clouding the focus on its objectives. Eventually the team will fail. Again, no surprise here.

But the third quality I look for is just as important – Engagement and Respect. That includes a passion and intensity for the job, but must also come with an equal conviction to the team…and the organization that team serves. One that weathers the daily challenges and the ebbs and flows of progress without resorting to critical and unconstructive behavior – overt or subconscious. Continue reading

“How I Can” vs. “Why I can’t”

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“I can.” “I can’t.”

Two simple phrases separated by one small letter, but the meaning couldn’t be more different. So many times in our lives we’ve been faced with these two words – taunting and tearing at us like the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. And yet I can’t imagine a more crisp distinction in how we choose to live our lives.

Do we really approach life with such a binary outlook – either living our lives with an optimistic outlook (searching for the path forward), or one of pessimism (a resolve that we are where we are)? You might be inclined to argue this point, because life isn’t that black or white – Right? But in my experience, we do. It’s human nature to allow our past and present bias to influence how we approach the daily problems we face both in business and our personal lives. And yet, we do have a choice.  Continue reading

Intensity is the price of excellence

“Intensity is the price of excellence” – Warren Buffett

What an interesting word – Intensity.  For some, the word implies a measure of obsession.  For others, it suggests hard work and effort.  But the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the nuances are important to understand. 

I’ve been accused of being an intense person more than once in my life.  Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I’ve always believed in doing things with energy, focus, and purpose.  Otherwise, why bother.  Yes, there are times in life when we must do things we really don’t like, but only going through the motions takes longer than doing it focus and effort.  And so I tend to bring intensity in most everything I do.

Now to be fair, that’s not always a good thing.  Take for example my golf game.  To be blunt, I stink!  After years and years of playing I’m still carrying an 18 handicap.  And I know exactly why.  I can’t seem to approach the game with anything less than full intensity.  Every swing is over analyzed – my stance, my swing plane, my hands, even my follow through. And instead of letting my muscle memory take over, I end up in the woods or the lake instead of the fairway.  What’s worse, I can’t seem to shake the frustration from the last swing which generally makes the next even worse. Continue reading