Diving to New Depths As A Leader

I like a quote an entrepreneur friend recently used to describe why he was investing so heavily in employees to improve their work experience -

What We Do in Life Echoes in Eternity.

What you create in business or your personal life continues to vibrate out, in small or big ways.

One of my favorite writers, David Brooks, said in a speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival in July, that to build a powerful impact on people, leaders will be more effective if they pursue the development of moral depth.  That’s a bold statement coming from a New York Times columnist.  What does Brooks mean by this and how does it apply to increasing the impact you can have on others as a leader? 

Brooks says we live out two competing value sets, which he refers to as “resume values” and “eulogy values.”  Resume values are centered around achievement, winning, competing, getting high marks, and being at the top of the class.  Eulogy values are what friends and family will voice at your funeral.  For instance, when my dad past away at 90 years of age, we all sat around the family room after the funeral and reminisced on great sayings from dad.   The themes were love, sacrifice, perseverance through suffering, a “never give up” spirit, dedication to family, and integrity in all things.  For dad, integrity meant that any time you make a choice to compromise what you know is right, even if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, you diminish your soul.  (Now that is a deep thought worth pondering.)   

Eulogy values vector at a different plain than achievement values, and if underdeveloped or compartmentalized between work and family, they leave a leader stranded in the shallows of moral character. We all have met the stranded leaders.  Work is ALL about winning, it’s all about achieving, and it’s all about dominating.  Certainly resume values are important and critical for a life well lived, but if that’s your core focus, it leaves a hollow feeling in the connection with others.  People with moral depth can feel the lack of heart or “soulishness.”  It just feels shallow.

The best leaders I have met are the leaders who integrate resume values and eulogy values first within themselves and then within their company culture.  They are comfortable talking about love and humility and also being aggressive and willing to fight hard when necessary for what is right.  Service to others who are vulnerable or who need assistance is a given.  Respect and careful listening to each and every person, no matter where they sit in the organization, is a given.  The leader understands the value of each “touch point” with a person and how that “touch point” will shape the company’s culture for the better or the worse.  These leaders are passionate about doing great things and being great people at the same time.  It’s a both/and proposition.  For them, there is no other choice but to pursue relentlessly a depth of moral character, and as a result, build a powerful voice that echoes into the future.  It’s not corny, it’s not ethereal.  In fact, it’s the most practical and most basic step a person can take to becoming not just a successful leader, but a great leader.

Questions for a team discussion -

1. What would you say are the three most important eulogy values you aspire to? 

2.  How do you as a leader integrate these three values into the workplace? 

3.  What one character quality of the eulogy values do you want to develop more of? 

Taking the High Road: Mindset Three - Humility with Strength

Sixty Minutes just produced a lengthy piece on Pope Francis and what is driving his world wide popularity.  He was after all, Time’s Person of The Year.  You could sum it all up in one word - HUMILITY.  It is the Pope’s humility that is drawing the admiration of millions.  For instance, every Holy Thursday, which is the Thursday just before Easter, it is an ancient tradition for popes to wash the feet of priests.  On Holy Thursday last year Pope Francis chose to wash and kiss the feet of teen-agers in a detention center just outside of Rome - two of whom were women and two of whom were Muslim.  It was unheard of in the Catholic Church.  So what is the message of Pope Francis as a leader.  He’s saying, “We lead with humility and in our humility we project great strength.” 

Jim Collins said a mark of leaders he has studied is humility with great strength or resolve.  Indeed, humility with strength is a virtue celebrated in every major spiritual tradition.  Humility says, “I have a special place in the world but no more special than any other person in this world.”  Strength says, “I’m confident with what I do know and I’m confident I can find the answers to what I don’t know.”  Other people can sense humility with strength instantly.  A well trained leader can also sense false humility - the discounting of yourself and being oh so very proud of the fact you have done so.   

So when you encounter a difficult person or are dealing with a difficult situation, approach it with strength and humility.  Remember humility comes from the latin word humus which means “grounded” or “from the earth.”  So with your feet firmly grounded,  here’s a way to respond with humility and strength:  

  • Listen to the other’s point of view and respect the other’s strengths.  C.S. Lewis said humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less!  As Franklin Covey said said so well, “Seek first to understand.”
  • Formulate your own point of view and articulate it carefully.
  • If you believe the other person will listen, engage.  If not, act in a way that does not get ugly.  Look for a way out with grace.  Do not walk away with regret - walk away with dignity.  If you do blow it, find a way to loop back and sincerely apologize.  We are not perfect and 98% of people will appreciate your apology and move on.

What a perfect time of year to reflect on strength with humility - perhaps the most powerful leadership mindset of all.  

  • Please note this leadership post is Part II of an original post that was sent out last week - The post is directly below here on on the Next Solutions site.  

    * Picture coutesay of Associated Press

What is the Purpose of Business?

My leadership posts are written primarily to those of you I know and trust, who make a difference as you live out values consistent with what builds great companies and great countries.  As our world continues to change, so do the accompanying challenges. It behooves us all to dig seriously into accepted assumptions, asking what is still relevant and what is not. As a truth seeker, I ask questions - and am always open to new ways of thinking.  Today I’m writing a leadership post that starts with what I call, “First Things.”  If you don’t get the “First Things” right, then you have embarked on a course that ultimately leads you off track.

Peter Drucker said, “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”  I buy this for what it is but today it is just not enough........

It’s a great place to start but business leaders need to rise to a higher level of thinking.  For historical context, Drucker was writing to counter Milton Freedman who in 1970 said the purpose of business was to generate profits for shareholders.  Freedman, at the time, was highly concerned with the meddling of big business in government policy.  Drucker rightly brought us back to what enables profits: a happy, loyal customer.  

However, as we evolve into a global world of interconnected people, the purpose of business is also making a shift, creating a higher responsibility for a business leader. Today the purpose of business is to create and keep customers AND to do so in responsible ways for all stakeholders.  It is a both/and: a moral imperative and a strategic imperative to expand our vision for long term global success. 

How we lead businesses and organizations will define America and will define modern capitalism. We as business leaders need to reimagine our future and understand that our role in business is as critical as any scientist’s role in modern medicine. We as business and organizational leaders are major drivers in defining the culture and  ethos of our country.  

Photo of Doug Rauch, Past President of Trader Joe's

Photo of Doug Rauch, Past President of Trader Joe's

Last week I heard Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s for 14 years, speak at an event about Conscious Capitalism, of which Doug is now the CEO. This non-profit helps like-minded people transform the way business gets done. Here is what the Conscious Capitalism website says about profit:

“We need red blood cells to live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).” 

While making money is essential for the vitality and sustainability of a business, it is not the only or even the most important reason a business exists. Conscious business focuses on purpose which ultimately can lead to more profits. 

I see an entire movement building in America and around the world, especially with millennials, of people who are asking the question, “How do we work in business to both serve customers AND serve all of our other stakeholders so as to build a lasting legacy?”  As Doug Rauch went on to say, “Employees, customers and others trust and even love companies that have an inspiring purpose, one they can identify with and personally adopt.” 

As knowledge customers in our new connection economy engage in making choices, we are indeed choosing to buy from companies that inspire us.  Not only do we want a great product or great service at a great price, we want to know the company we are buying from is one that thinks about the impact they are having in the world. For example, if a company uses cheap child labor, I don’t care how inexpensive the product is, I’m not going to feel good about paying for it. In contrast, Trader Joe’s was built on the foundation of healthy and tasty products that guarantee customer satisfaction and Trader Joe’s supports investments in employees and trusted trade partners. I’ve never gone into a Trader Joe’s and not felt good walking out the door.  

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, earlier this week, when asked about designing functionality of the iPhone for the blind, said to a conservative activist investor group who was challenging him about the importance of driving profits, “When we work on making our devices accessible to the blind, I don't consider the bloody ROI.”  Tim was angry, which is very unusual in his investor meetings.  Tim understands deeply what a new leader knows in this transparent, connection economy: that some things are just morally right to do and in the long run if you don’t it, it can cost you your culture and your company.  

As leaders we are on a journey to build great companies with a lasting legacy.  We are building purpose for our companies that inspires all stakeholders.  If you identify yourself as one grappling with how to build a lasting legacy, then you and I are on the same page. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your comments. I personally think we are on the cusp of a cultural shift in business, driven by the new social transparency of all decisions a company makes. It requires a new way to drive long term profits. It starts with the right mind set of the leader and the right governance structure that will support the leader. We can all be a part of the journey and learn a great deal along the way. In the end, we will build great value, not only in our company, but in the trust people are willing to extend to modern capitalism.