Leadership and Life Lessons from Cal Turner, Jr.

Click above to watch our video interview.

 

Small-Town Values that Power a Multi-Billion Dollar Company

 

You likely have heard of Dollar General. It’s a retail powerhouse generating over $20B in revenue from its more than 14,000 stores.

Though he would never take an ounce of credit, Cal Turner, Jr. was the driving force behind the massive growth and success of the retailing giant. The leadership transition from his father, and later to non-family leadership, is told brilliantly in My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values that Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company. Cal Turner’s new book is a mix of autobiography and business advice.

Even if you don’t run a business, you will find the book a compelling read. It is full of life lessons that will encourage and challenge you.

Having lived in Nashville for a number of years, I can vouch for the fact that the Turner family is well-known for their philanthropic work and for living out their servant leadership values. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not a raving fan of his philosophy, his giving, and his leadership. I have been for years. So, it was a great honor for me to talk with Cal Turner, Jr. about his family, his business, and about his leadership.

I hope you enjoy our conversation which spanned all of these topics. His book is proudly within grasp on my bookshelf.

 

Cal Turner, Jr. grew up in Scottsville, Kentucy. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, he served for three years in the United States Navy before beginning a career at Dollar General. He served as CEO for 37 years. In that time, stores rose from 150 to over 6,000 and sales from $40 million to more than $6 billion. He has served on numerous boards and has received more awards than can be listed here. He is a shining example of servant leadership long after his retirement.

 

my father's business

“A leader inspires someone to go for his or her best.” -Cal Turner, Jr.

 

“A leader is one who helps others to want to dig deeper into themselves and to be part of a success that’s bigger than they are.” -Cal Turner, Jr.

 

“Our mission is not to make money and I don’t believe the CEO who describes his mission as making money is fully worthy of his responsibility.” -Cal Turner, Jr.

 

“Leadership exists when an organization overcomes having a boss or a boss mentality. A boss only gets results; a leader gets development.” -Cal Turner, Jr.

 

“People will forgive you for anything before they’ll forgive you for being successful.” -Cal Turner, Sr.

 

For more information, see My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values that Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company.

The Power of Attitude Choice: My Lessons from the Mall

christmas holiday shopping

Leadership Lessons from the Mall

 

The hordes of shoppers. Some striding with purpose while others aimlessly lollygag. Children lining up to see Santa. Holiday decorations more elaborate than the year before.

It’s that time of the year.

This year, more than ever, you don’t need to venture out to the stores. The online giants are delighted to offer an alternative. A few clicks replace endlessly circling in search of a parking spot and standing most of the day in lines.

I’ve never been one for shopping, malls, crowds, or any of it. It’s far better to avoid it all. I can rewind my own internal tapes and hear my dialogue: grumbling about the parking, the crowds, the waiting, the hassle.

But this year I suppose I feel somewhat nostalgic for it all. So, I do something unexpected and head to the mall.

 

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Decide in Advance

I decide to enjoy it: the parking, the bitter wind as I leave the car for the store, the mall.

Inside, it’s warm, inviting. The first person I see is there to assist. He’s an older gentleman, kind, not intrusive and with equal doses of friendliness and helpfulness. We talk about his family and his plans to go home for the holidays. Like the song says, “I’ll be home for Christmas!” he says, laughing as much to himself as to me. He’s had some health problems, I learn, and they are behind him now. He’s glad to be back at work.

Classical music is playing and it’s live. I venture over to the piano and, eyeing a chair, slide into it and close my eyes. It’s a medley from the Sound of Music, which conjures up my childhood when we would all gather around for the yearly show on television. I must be getting old, I think, to be sitting here in a mall, listening to music, and not rushing in the least. Opening my eyes, I watch a young mom pushing a stroller. Her baby’s laugh seems to be part of the Sound of Music track.

 

“People may hear your words, but they you’re your attitude.” –John Maxwell

 

I get up and walk through the mall, enjoying the decorations and the energy of the crowd.

Why How We Do Anything Means Everything

How

How

How we think, how we behave, how we lead, and how we govern are some of the “hows” that are the subject of Dov Seidman’s book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.

It’s a thoughtful book, not the type to read in one sitting, but one filled with experience and perspective that will change the way you think about the world and your role in it.

Dov Seidman is the founder and CEO of LRN, an organization that helps companies navigate complex legal and regulatory environments and build ethical corporate cultures. He was also named one of the “Top 60 Global Thinkers of the Last Decade” by Economic Times.

 

What inspired you to update and release this new version of How? 

When HOW first appeared, I argued that we were entering what I called the Era of Behavior. I felt compelled to update and enhance HOW because since then, it has become clear that we haven’t just entered the Era of Behavior. We’re way deep in it. Our behavior matters even more than I thought when I wrote the book, and in ways I never imagined.

Our world is not just rapidly changing, it has been dramatically reshaped. We’ve gone from being connected to interconnected to globally interdependent. Technology is bringing strangers into intimate proximity at an accelerated pace, affording us richer experiences, but also demanding new levels of empathy and understanding. These same technologies are granting us MRI vision into the innermost workings of traditionally opaque organizations and even into the mindsets and attitudes of their leaders. We’re now living in a no-distance world where our moral imagination has exploded.

To thrive in this reshaped world, how we behave, lead, govern, operate, consume, engender trust in our relationships, and relate to others matter more than ever and in ways they never have before.

 

“Leadership is about how we get people to act and join us.” -Dov Seidman

 

Leadership Lessons from the Wave

What leadership lessons can be drawn from “The Wave?”

An act like The Wave is such a perfect metaphor for the style of leadership we need today. At its core, leadership is about how we get people to act and to join us. When you think about it, there are really only three ways to do this. You can Coerce, Motivate or Inspire. Coercion and motivation, threatening with sticks or bribing with carrots, come from without and happen to you. Inspiration, however, comes from within. When people make a wave in a stadium, what makes them express themselves by standing up out there is what comes from inside. In business, what inspires others to join in waves is the sense that they are on a journey worthy of their loyalty that embodies their deeply held beliefs and ideals.

Further, if you consider the Wave as a process of human endeavor, you realize immediately that anyone can start one—an enthusiastic soccer mom, four drunken guys with jellyroll bellies, or eight adolescents who idolize the team’s star player. You don’t have to be the owner of the stadium, the richest or most powerful person there, or even a paid professional like Krazy George Henderson, the Oakland Athletics cheerleader who invented the Wave in 1981. No one takes out their business card and says, “My title is the biggest; let the Wave start with me.” Anyone can start a Wave; it is a truly democratic act.

 

“Anyone can start a wave.” -Dov Seidman

 

Leadership Lessons from a Walk Across Spain

Learning from the Camino

 

“The Camino is the ideal training ground for leaders.”

That’s the line on the back liner of the book jacket that pulled me into a surprising story. How to practice leadership with “a pilgrim’s heart, a wayfarer’s grit, and a navigator’s gift for reaching the destination.”

Exactly.

Reading leadership consultant Victor Prince’s book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain , was a way to take that journey without actually walking that far. For the hours reading the book, I walked with Victor and took in the lessons and applications for leadership. Victor graciously talked with me about his journey. Before his leadership work, Victor Prince was previously the COO of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a strategy consultant with Bain & Company.

 

“It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” -Francis of Assisi

 

Make the Leadership Decision

Why did you decide to do the “Camino”?

I do long distance hiking and biking trails as a hobby. I focus on trails that are long and have accommodations along the way and don’t require camping. The Camino meets both those criteria, and I finally got to it when I was able to take a month off during a sabbatical. The Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez film, The Way, also got me interested. I knew the trail had ancient roots, and many people got an epiphany when walking it, but I was more focused on it as just the next trail I would check off my list.

 

Leadership Lesson: tell your team about your goals and the reasons you are pursuing them.

 

You received a passport for your trip with 7 leadership lessons that struck you. As you made the journey, how did these impact you?

At first, I was focused on the main purpose of the pilgrim credential (pilgrim passport), which is to collect the stamps from hostels along the way to prove you walked the route. As a goal-driven over-achiever, I loved the daily sense of accomplishment I got with each nightly stamp. I only noticed the list of the 7 values pilgrims were asked to live by while on the Camino after a few days of walking. They captured the spirit I found in other pilgrims. They were simple things like, “Make others feel welcome,” and, “Think about those who will follow you.” They also struck me as exceptionally thoughtful values to follow even while off of the Camino. As I had alone-time walking, I reflected on how these values would have been helpful for me to live by in my past roles leading teams at work.

Copyright Victor Prince, Used by Permission

Would you share an example of how perspective can change on this journey?

One of the values is, “Welcome each day – its pleasures and challenges.” While walking an average of 15 miles per day for a month, a pilgrim on the Camino experiences many challenges as well as pleasures. I learned to put challenges into perspective. My most challenging day on the Camino came after a 24-mile day that resulted from a mistake in my planning. When I started the next morning, I was tired, sore and grumpy as I stared at a big hill I had to climb. It was a hot July day. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this whole walk. ‘What on earth am I doing walking across Spain?’ I asked myself. I slogged on and when I got about halfway up the hill, I saw a marker for a pilgrim who had died on that spot. That put my challenges into perspective. I realized that, while this was my worst day on the trail, this adventure was something I knew would be difficult but that I had chosen to do. That made me realize that a bad day doing something I love is still a good day. When I got to the top of the hill, I snapped this picture which changed my life. I used this picture to headline my blog about the Camino that went viral around the world and led to this book.  The fallen pilgrim named on the marker never made it to see that view, but he inspired me and I dedicated this book to him. The leadership lesson I learned from this is to put bad days at work into perspective.  A bad day at work is better than a good day without a job.

 

7 Values to Live By

  1: Welcome each day, its pleasures and challenges

  2: Make others feel welcome

  3: Share

  4: Live in the moment

  5: Feel the spirit of those who have come before you

  6: Appreciate those who walk with you today

  7: Imagine those who will follow you

 

Lessons from the Camino

10 Challenges that Defined the Company Disrupting the World

Disrupt the World

Chances are you’ve been on it today. More than 1 billion users visit it daily. Most of us start our day and check our personalized news feed, see who is celebrating a birthday, and keep up with our friends and family on the platform. It’s worth over $400 billion and is in the rare air of companies like Google and Apple.

Of course, I’m talking about Facebook (join me here). It’s not only changed the way we consume information, but also how we interact with the world.

In Becoming Facebook: The 10 Challenges that Defined the Company That’s Disrupting the World, Mike Hoefflinger takes us from the start of 2009 and its 150 million users to its explosive growth over the next several years.

Mike Hoefflinger is a 25-year veteran of Silicon Valley. After working directly for Andy Grove at Intel and as general manager of the Intel Inside program, Mike moved to Facebook to serve as Head of Global Business Marketing. During his nearly seven years there, the teams he built helped dramatically grow Facebook’s advertising business. He is now an executive-in-residence at XSeed Capital.

I recently spoke with him about all things Facebook.

 

FACT: Facebook generates more traffic to YouTube than any other source including Google.

 

Behind Facebook’s Unprecedented Rise

What are some of the factors behind Facebook’s unprecedented rise to its worldwide phenomenon status?

Any story of Facebook’s rise starts with Mark Zuckerberg. While it would be difficult to acquire his vision and intuition, we can learn from how he goes about moving Facebook forward. With Facebook’s mission to make the world more open and connected in place since its earliest days, Zuckerberg has always preferred doing to talking. Whether it is building and launching thefacebook.com, staying calm during stormy product launches or competitive episodes, making big decisions to grow the business, self-disrupting the company via large acquisitions to protect itself, or betting on futures others dismiss or don’t see (such as VR/AR and connecting the next billion Internet users), dogma and fear never swamp the doing.

 

Fact: Facebook tops 1.25 billion users per day.

 

Would you share some statistics on Facebook’s current reach? How often we access it? How it compares to other media?

It’s difficult to over-state how large Facebook has become. Not only does it serve more than 1.94 billion people a month—about two-thirds of all Internet users in the world—it serves two-thirds of those every day, on average once every waking hour. No wonder it is the single most popular mobile app ever. And while that would be impressive, the company is also home to three of the next five most popular global communications tools: WhatsApp at more than 1.2 billion users a month, Messenger at more than 1.2 billion, and Instagram with more than 700 million. With consumers on the way to making mobile the most important medium ever—it is forecast to eclipse the amount of time we spend per person on television in 2020—Facebook is its pre-eminent force.

 

CEOs Who Transform How We Live

What can we learn from great CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg?

Zuckerberg has become a member of a very small group of CEOs in the last five decades who run consumer technology companies that invent the future for us, create the things we cannot live without, and touch hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions, of lives: Intel’s Andy Grove, Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Alphabet’s Larry Page and Tesla’s Elon Musk. After observing them the last 25 years in Silicon Valley, I’ve detected three things these product-centric founding CEOs have in common:

(1) They pursue an achievable-unachievable mission—something so big it cannot be completed, but one that offers moments of success along the path to bring confidence and momentum to employees, customers and observers.

(2) They are able to see—and willing to pursue—things that are very clever, but appear foolish in most minds initially. This way they avoid the food-fight of ideas everyone else thinks are clever, a road to nowhere of ideas that not only appear foolish but actually are. They usually know something—especially about technology and customers—that no-one else does.

(3) They are running 21st Century Medici Academies that attract the best talent. 500 years before Silicon Valley, the Medici family of Renaissance Florence built facilities, bestowed patronage and hosted discussion forums for the brightest minds of the period, including Michelangelo, DaVinci and Botticelli. The vision, scale and success of these modern-day CEOs make their teams highly attractive for today’s builders with the biggest dreams.

 

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