How Leadership Turning Points Can Change Your Direction

Make the Most of Leadership Moments

Turning points. Leadership moments. Whatever you call them, all of us have experiences that change us.

Bernie Swain has had a backstage pass into the lives of numerous public figures ranging from US presidents to business leaders to sports legends. As the founder of Washington Speakers Bureau, he has interacted with, listened to, and learned from many celebrities and leaders.

 

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” –Richard Bach

 

His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, takes us behind the scenes of these incredible lives to ask them about their turning points.

As we listen to their stories, what can we learn about our own lives?

What lessons of our own potential can be gleaned from these experiences?

 

Control Your Destiny

You open your book discussing turning points, those moments in life when everything changes. Your book is about these moments. Tell me about that moment in your life.

Funny thing about the turning points, they can be obscure and go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. That happened to me. It is the lesson I learned.

Bernie SwainAs a graduate student, I’d worked as assistant director of a local community swimming pool. It was a good job, and the summer income was important to pay for graduate school. About once a week, usually a Friday or Saturday, we would keep the staff after closing and have a few beers. It wasn’t exactly allowed, but the director of the pool, who I had known since I was twelve, saw it as a morale booster and looked the other way. One night we decided to invite more friends than usual. About an hour into the party, a member of the board who lived nearby noticed the overhead pool lights and called the pool director. When he arrived, he closed down the party. I was fired the next day and replaced by the daughter of the board member, who had arrived home from college the day before.

Although I routinely dismissed the incident and had my share of laughs about it over the years, my wife Paula understood I was troubled by it. She knew I’d never really be happy unless my success or failure was in my own hands. “You will never be truly happy or confident in your future if you can’t make your own decisions and control your own destiny,” she told me.

That was all it took to undo a 15-year career on the verge of being a success; the power of passion.

 

“Follow your dreams. They know the way.” –Yohi Yamada

 

Imagine your life if you had lived your childhood dream and become a baseball player. What wisdom would that Bernie Swain be sharing? Do you think your life would have been as fulfilling?

I was happy with my career in athletics. Would I have loved being a baseball player? Yes, of course. But then what? Maybe I would have transferred my passion to doing something else, but maybe not. Life has a way of taking us to many forks in the road. Our lives are full of influences and defining moments, turning points. A mentor in high school put me on my career path, and one seemingly unimportant event at a summer swimming pool changed everything. All things considered, I found a passion that made me wake up every morning excited about a new day. And nothing is more important than that.

 

“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

 

Combine Passion with Honesty

Your incredible business had humble beginnings. Go back to that closet for a moment. Why was it that your agency took off and endured when so many competitors disappeared? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

Agencies like ours, even Hollywood agencies, don’t stay on top for long. In the lecture business, it is about 10 years. Why did we become No. 1 and remain there for the last 27 years? Honesty and trust! Whether it was because we mistakenly agreed to a handshake deal with our first speaker and then with all speakers, or we had a built-in desire to do things the right way, we were honest, hardworking and trustworthy. The lesson for other entrepreneurs? Find your passion and always do what, in your heart, you know is the right thing to do. Passion and honesty, it is a great combination.

 

Learn a Powerful Lesson from Robert Reich

You’ve interacted with some of the most successful people in the world for over 25 years—presidents, sports heroes, actors and authors, on and on. The book is full of their stories, a peek behind the curtain. Off the top of your head, is there one story that you consider a ‘must-read’? Why?What Made Me Who I Am

There are a number that I love, but probably the story of Robert Reich. 4”11” tall, he was bullied through his school years. Uninterested in current events and politics entering college, he devoted a life to equality and justice for others to honor the life of another boy who protected him and who was killed during the civil rights movement in the south.

“When I was a vulnerable child, Mickey protected me from harm. I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others. I was honored to know him, and I hope, in some small way, that my life’s work honors his idealism, his courage, and his sacrifice.”

It is an amazing story of a life dramatically changed.

 

Use Failures to Win

Failing is a turning point for many. When I talk about failure, who comes to mind? What did you take away from that?

In my book, I write this about Lou Holtz: “I’m not special, and I’m not particularly smart. I haven’t found any magical formula for success. But what I do know is, adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. As I have learned along the way, you have two choices in life: you either stay down or pick yourself up. In life and football, you can’t count on anyone else picking you up. Georgia or Michigan State isn’t going to call and say, ‘Coach, you don’t have a quarterback, let me send you one.’

Rarely can you find a truer statement. Almost every day in our first year could be described as a failure. We could have given up at any point. If you can find your true passion in life, and that takes some soul searching, you develop a never-give-up attitude. I never thought once about quitting. But that will not be true for entrepreneurs who lack real passion.

 

“Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” –Michael Eisner

 

5 Common Traits of Successful People

The Power of Truth Telling At Work

Do you have a personal pit crew to fuel your career?

Is it possible to take worry-free, unplugged vacations?

Would you rate your peer relationships as outstanding?

 

Mindy Mackenzie is a speaker and advisor who has served as the Chief Performance Officer of Beam, Inc. She has served in various senior HR leadership and organizational development roles at Jim Beam, Walmart and Campbell Soup Company. Her new book, The Courage Solution: The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team, is filled with practical advice and tips to improve communication with your colleagues.

Mindy’s perspective provides a roadmap for success in relationships at work. I recently asked her to talk about her current work.

 

“Peace is possible, truth at all costs.” -Martin Luther

 

A Crisis of Truth

Courage SolutionYou see a crisis in the corporate world that’s rooted in a lack of courage and truth telling. Tell us more about that and the rationale behind your new book.

I wrote this book in answer to a crisis. And the crisis, from my experience, is that the thing that companies and individuals need most they often get least – and that’s the truth. And I saw it again and again and again even though I worked for three fantastic companies (Walmart, Campbell Soup and Jim Beam). So there was this crisis. The crisis was the absence of truth. Why? Because people didn’t have the courage to tell it. People were afraid of the consequences. So I wrote this book to show them how to tell the truth diplomatically but effectively. I learned that myself through trial and error to the point that I earned the nickname the Velvet Hammer.

 

“Live truth instead of professing it.” -Elbert Hubbard

 

Is “truth telling” getting more difficult these days?

Truth telling is always challenging because people like to be liked and agreed with. And telling the truth many times runs counter to that – so you have to know how to do it right. But let me pan back for a moment and make a broad statement. I think truth is the commodity in shortest supply in the corporate world, and it may be the most essential commodity of all. Why don’t people tell the truth? They are afraid of the consequences. I wrote this book to cure them of that fear. Because without the truth, no company or individual can survive, let alone thrive.

 

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” -Thomas Jefferson

 

Why You Need a Personal Pit Crew

What’s a personal pit crew and why do you recommend one?

A pit crew is an external group of people committed to your success in your work and in your life. The analogy to a race car driver is apt because while they are driving the car, they have an entire team of people dedicated to helping them stay on the track going as fast as possible. Same with navigating a career. Going it alone is a bad strategy. You need to have a small group of people you trust and respect that you can go to for advice, support and practical help. The most successful business professionals I know all have their own pit crews, even if they don’t label it that.

 

Career Tip: Have a pit crew, a team dedicated to helping you stay on track.

 

Name It to Claim It

Would you share more about your advice “name it to claim it?”

If you want to achieve something or advance in your career, it helps immeasurably to be clear about your destination. Spending the time to get clear and know what you want and why is a massive accelerator to attaining it. That’s the “naming it” part. So when you are asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” for example, you will have a ready, well-thought-out answer. When you know what you want, you can then engage others in helping you to get there. To claim it.

 

Take Worry Free Vacations

Many people will read your chapter on vacations and say, “Worry-free, relaxing, unplugged vacation? Impossible!” How do you respond to those who say it’s impossible?

I say it only feels impossible because you’ve never done it and likely have never seen anyone around you do it. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible for you – it just means it is scary, uncomfortable and foreign. But if you want the big pay-off – which is to truly relax, refresh your energy and perspective, have unfettered fun (which is aided by not having any responsibilities) and come back to work feeling great – then you choose to be courageous and work through your discomfort. Taking the steps laid out in the chapter really work. You just have to be brave enough to try.

 

“Truth is so rare that it is delightful to tell it.” -Emily Dickinson

 

Develop Extraordinary Relationships

Why To Value People Over Profit

Valuing People Over Profit

Dale Partridge is a serial entrepreneur, best known for founding Sevenly. Sevenly donates $7 of every purchase to charity. With over $25 million in sales, the company is known for giving to others. Dale’s story of Sevenly is covered in his new book, People Over Profit: Break the System, Live with Purpose, Be More Successful. In it, he also includes the story of his firing from the company he founded. Dale’s passion is about building sustainable businesses that also hold up the principles of honesty, transparency, and authenticity.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dale about his experiences and how he upends common wisdom.

 

“When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” -Shirley Chisholm

 

Everyone Deserves Respect and Kindness 

The concept “people over profit” sounds so simple, but most leaders struggle with it.  How do leaders make this a reality in their organizations?Dale Partridge (683x1024)

First off, let’s remember that the book isn’t called People Instead of Profit: the bottom line still matters. BUT, valuing People Over Profit is a top-down philosophy. It starts with leaders recognizing the intrinsic value of their fellow humans and that everyone deserves honesty, respect, care, kindness. Inside of that simple yet difficult discipline, we will find our companies becoming more profitable. The idea is that when people feel valued, they work harder, they work with more integrity, they work with more intentionality, and they work with more passion than ever before. On the flip side, when customers feel the same way, they share, they talk and they increase their loyalties.

 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -George Orwell

 

Tell us about Sevenly—the business model, the values, a little about the story behind it all.

It was ultimately a mission to raise awareness and funding for the world’s most important causes. While we only imagined we would make a small dent in a big issue, we never would’ve thought we’d end up raising over $4 million in $7 increments for these causes. Looking back, it was some of the greatest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

 

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

Homesick for a World That Cares

For the first time in history, people are paying more to do business with companies that are following higher ethical standards and pursuing social goals.  What is behind this? 

We’re homesick for a world that cares. Consumers are searching for a more truthful existence. We want to believe the world is honest and cares and loves, and at the core we believe that by doing so we might understand it. The characteristics of integrity have reigned true and have won since the beginning of time. While they are simple, we still find ourselves as adults struggling with these virtues. Valuing people over profit as an economy is simply a better model, and people are finally beginning to realize that.

 

“Generosity must be built in, not packed on.” -Dale Partridge

 

What’s your definition of authenticity? Of transparency? 

Authenticity means not denying the cost of being who you are. We are who we are and we stand for what we stand for, but authenticity is when you don’t change in the face of a cost that challenges the very core of your identity.

Transparency is logic and emotion. Logically, it’s vulnerability plus acceptability equals transparency. Emotionally, it’s the courage to allow your heart to be fully seen by others.

POP_Cover_Gold_R1You cannot manufacture authenticity, a point you make in the book. Have any examples to share of companies making this mistake? 

Companies all around us are packing on generosity to their business models in hopes that consumers will believe they actually care. But authenticity requires history, and there is a price to be paid to prove that you care. At the core, we want to see companies whose leaders’ hearts are fully behind their beliefs, rather than just their marketability. Any one of the hundreds of retailers that ask you to round up to donate to charity at checkout typically fall into this category. It’s not a bad thing as long as the heart is authentically behind it. Unfortunately, in most cases, that’s not the case. Generosity must be built in, not packed on.

 

“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.” -Dale Partridge

 

Insane Courage

How Hard Is It to Be Honest?

Image courtesy of istockphoto/hidesy

The New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely has a new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.  As a fan of his previous books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, I was excited to delve into his new area of research.  That new area of research is all about dishonesty, and I guarantee you that it will open your eyes.

It’s easy in today’s society to point to others who are unethical or liars.  Watch the news and you can’t miss the new corporate scandal or some form of corruption in government.

 

Dan’s research shows why we may think it’s okay to lie or cheat.  It shows how one lie can build into another, and affect others around us.  It shows that none of us can claim perfect honesty.  The research then shows what we can do to improve honesty for ourselves and our culture.

About Dan Ariely


Dan Ariely is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.  He holds two PhDs, one in business administration and the other in cognitive psychology.  His work has been featured in numerous publications from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal.  He has also been a keynote speaker for TEDTalks.

What sparked your interest in dishonesty?

I first became interested in dishonesty after Enron. And the basic question that I asked myself at that point was, what’s a better description of the Enron catastrophe—is it that there are a few bad apples who plan and execute and create some terrible, economic devastation, or is it better described by lots of wishful blindness that is created by lots of sort-of good people.

And the reason I thought this is an important question is because dealing with these two very different types of dishonesty is very, very different. If you think that dishonesty is mostly created by bad apples, then you basically want to change hiring procedures and make sure you won’t hire bad apples.