The BB&T Leadership Series
The BB&T Leadership Series, a video series with CEO Kelly King presented by The BB&T Leadership Institute, was created to support our commitment to leadership development. The series shares insights on leadership topics from some of today's best and brightest thought leaders. We hope you find these interviews and the perspectives they share inspiring and motivating as we strive to personally be our best every day.
Bill George - Discover Your True North, Part 1
KELLY KING: Welcome to the BB&T Leadership Series. Bill, welcome.
BILL GEORGE: Thank you, Kelly.
KELLY KING: We're delighted that you would join us. And I think you already know from what you know about Bill and what Will just said in the shortened biography. But Bill is an outstanding leader, and is an outstanding teacher and writer of leadership principles and concepts. And so we're really honored to have you join us today.
BILL GEORGE: Thank you.
KELLY KING: And thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. So let's start right out with this True North idea. You wrote the first book, I think, in 2007, which was immediately a bestseller, True North. And now you've updated it. For the audience that have not read the updated version, it's awesome, Discover Your True North.
Along the way, you've interviewed some 101 or so outstanding leaders around the world. And so I'm sure our audience, live and viewing the video, will love to learn more about that as we go through our discussions. But let's center everybody on in your mind when you say true north, what does that mean?
BILL GEORGE: Your true north, Kelly, is who you are. It's your essence. What are the things that you hold most dear? Your beliefs, the principles you live your life by, and the values you hold, that's your essence. And I think understanding what are your greatest source of satisfaction, where do you find real joy in your life and fulfillment-- and I think a lot of people are not speaking their like doing that. But if you are, then you can not only be very successful as a leader and you can inspire other people, but you can have a great life.
KELLY KING: You know, a lot of times I've found for myself and for others, they learn about these things by reading and going to seminars. But sometimes they learn about these things in their own life experiences. Was this something along the way that called Bill George to focus in on the true north?
BILL GEORGE: Part of it was failure. As a boy, my father wanted me to make up for his shortcomings and become the leader he never became. And so I thought I was going to be some kind of leader. And in high school I was never chosen to lead anything.
I was a good enough tennis player to play college tennis, but I wasn't even co-captain of my high school tennis team. And I remember running for president of senior class and losing by a margin of two to one. And so I went off to Georgia Tech, in part because I wanted to find a whole new environment a long way away from where I'd lived. And I did everything the wrong way all over again.
And some seniors pulled me aside said, look Bill, no one's ever going to work with you much less be led by you because you're moving so fast to get ahead that you don't have time for other people. And that was like, a blow to the heart because they were right. And so I had to really rethink my whole life back as a 19-year-old, and think about what was really important to me.
And that's what I said, you know, I really want to help people to better their lives, and I want to make a contribution. You only get one opportunity to walk on this earth, and I want to use it to help other people. And I think if I could have lucky enough to be in a leadership role, I can help more people.
KELLY KING: That's very interesting. We're here at the BB&T Leadership Institute. And our core executive leadership program is called Managing Leadership Dynamics. And so in the chorus part of the exercise was you would be there with your team, who was our executive team, and you'd stand up in front of the room, and you would have a little dial in front of you with lights that could either be red or green.
And the audience would have a little toggle that they could either flip red or green. So you ask questions. And, of course, they could just toggle red or green, so they told the complete truth. And so I--
BILL GEORGE: Are we doing that here?
KELLY KING: This is not exactly that high pressure. But anyway, so I was getting all green lights, and I was feeling pretty good. You know, I'd been in banking about 10 years and moving up, and things looked good. But they made you ask one question. And the question was, would you feel comfortable screwing up around me.
I got all red lights, all red lights. It knocked me to my knees. It was the first time in my career I had gotten negative feedback.
BILL GEORGE: Wow.
KELLY KING: And so, make a long story short, I talked to some of my colleagues and I told them the truth. I said, I got all red lights, which you didn't have to disclose. But I didn't like that it made me feel horrible, that I was intimidating people, just like you had hit me in the gut. And I started a journey of changing the way I presented. Because I was climbing the ladder as fast as I could and wasn't caring about anybody else. And it made me very sad. And I think all of us getting to that reality deep down inside of what we really want to do with our lives is really important.
BILL GEORGE: I think that's key, is we only go around once in life. So what is it we want to do with our life? And how can we be on this earth and help other people?
KELLY KING: That brings me to one of my five great books, which is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
BILL GEORGE: Yes. Yeah.
KELLY KING: And I'm sure--
BILL GEORGE: Amazing.
KELLY KING: --most everybody knows. But one of the great quotes in there for me was, if you know your why you can endure any how. So how close is Viktor Frankl's why and Bill George's sense of true north?
BILL GEORGE: Very close. I think the why gets to why are we on earth, what are we doing here, and then what's our purpose. What's the purpose of our life? And what's the purpose of our leadership? And a lot of people wait a long time in life-- I think you do learn that the experience, though.
I mean Frankl learned it through very painful experiences. But I think we learned it through your sharing experience. I share experience. We learn through experience. We don't learn out of a book. We don't learn in the classroom. But an environment like this can kind of open us up to sharing those experiences.
And I can find out, oh, you went through some tough times, too. We all hit difficult times. And I think it's that honesty-- we connect at the heart, we don't connect at the head.
KELLY KING: Right.
BILL GEORGE: And that's why we really connect as human beings.
KELLY KING: Yeah. You said in your book something that's pretty intriguing, and I think really true, that the hardest person you'll ever have to lead is yourself. Tell us about that.
BILL GEORGE: Well, I've just experience that we get too high on ourselves and we get too sold on ourselves. And we don't really understand how we're impacting other people. And because we have these fears-- fears of failure, fears of rejection-- we tend to go off and lose sight of what we're trying to do.
And we set ourselves above people. And leaders that do that are not going to be successful. Leadership is really changing from the kind of dominant, hierarchical leader to the person that really understands people at a deeper level.
And that's how you inspire and empower people. Me, leadership is no longer about having power or people. It's really about empowering them to step up and lead. And so I think that's how we enable everyone to find out what their true north is, and what's their why. Then we can figure out the how.
KELLY KING: And you talked a lot about this same concept in Authentic Leadership.
BILL GEORGE: Right.
KELLY KING: And so for our younger leaders out there that are listening in the audience and in the video, what would you say to a young leader that's maybe struggling about how to get in touch with their authentic self?
BILL GEORGE: Yes. Well, I think it's diving in and having the experience. I found in my classroom the best leaders are returning military veterans because they put their life on the line. It's not just about money. They put their life on the line and they realize what it's all about. And you realize you have to trust your colleagues.
Those who were second lieutenants in the army learned they had to trust their master sergeant that had their life in their hands. And so I would say young leaders, get the experience. And frankly I believe an experience on the ground.
Get somewhere you're really in touch with people. Don't just go and be a consultant or an advisor. Actually have the experience and get beaten up a little bit, get knocked down a little bit.
You can think of any sport. Have you ever thought of you never lost a match? Well, then you really don't know what life's about. And you learn much more through the tough times than you do for the good times.
KELLY KING: Here at the Leadership Institute in that same program I mentioned, we have a central part of it that's about self-awareness.
BILL GEORGE: Right.
KELLY KING: And it's about two days out of the five days where you are immersed with a group of people and really getting in touch, becoming self-aware. And I think you said in your book that you'll never really become a true leader until you become self-aware.
BILL GEORGE: No one's going to stand up there and tell you they're not self-aware. I can tell you lots of times I didn't have self-awareness, as my wife gently points out to me. But we created this compass for True North, and self-awareness is at the core.
Because until you gain that self-awareness-- but I think you gain self awareness through interacting with other people and understanding how do you come across to people, do you know who you are, and getting honest feedback. Far too few people get really honest feedback, particularly the people they work with every day. That's why that's critical, is taking in that feedback to know who you are.
KELLY KING: Well, that's what I had done in those early first 10 years. Because I came from kind of an impoverished background, and I was determined to succeed, to get away from that background. But in the course what I did, which a lot of people do, is I developed this shell of the Kelly King that I wanted to be like, but it wasn't me.
BILL GEORGE: Wasn't you. Yup.
KELLY KING: And that can create some real problems for us, can't it?
BILL GEORGE: Well, you are fortunate to have that experience early. I had it early. And I think some people don't have it until late because they've been the hero, if you will. And they start to get a hero's complex. And they start thinking they're better, and then they get knocked down maybe too late then.
And I think having that self-awareness and not having to feel like I've got to go into the office and wear the mask, and I've got to pretend I'm the man or I'm the person-- and no, just say, hey-- it's got to be real.
KELLY KING: And this has changed over time. You talked about 21st century leaders versus 20th century leaders. What's your observation? Now you've talked a lot of these leaders and got their views all around the world. What did you discern in terms of the change in the century about leadership?
BILL GEORGE: Well, it's changed dramatically from the idea that leadership is about charisma, it's about your style, it's about your image. I don't think it's about any of those things. I think it should be about your character or your integrity or what do you bring to the job. Who's the real you?
And so if you're kind of faking it to make it and putting on this image, you're not going to reach anyone. Today, particularly the millennials, they know who's authentic and who's not in about 30 seconds, maybe less. And if you try to maintain that distance from people, then you don't really get to them as human beings. You're just giving them orders.
And that's where leadership has really changed away from this command and control environment to much more an empowering environment. You've got huge numbers of people here. How do you empower them to be excited about coming to work every day? Are they excited about their job? Are they excited about helping the client you're serving? They're trying to give them better secure futures.
And [INAUDIBLE] isn't a lifesaving business, but here you're trying to provide trust and security. But if that's not what it's all about-- I used to say some bankers, particularly investment bankers, if you're just trying to make money off of me, you know, I'm not going to do business with you. If you make money for me, then I'm happy to see that you do well, as well, at the same time.
KELLY KING: I still remember when I was an undergraduate school in the late '60s. Back then we taught-- everybody was taught the five steps to management. Plan, organize, staff, direct, and control.
BILL GEORGE: Right.
KELLY KING: Which made sense at that time, but it didn't make any sense.
BILL GEORGE: No.
KELLY KING: Because you can't really direct and control people, can you?
BILL GEORGE: Well, I think we need a lot more leaders and fewer controllers, if you will. A manager should control. Frankly, a lot of the stuff we teach in business schools is, I hate to say it, but it's very old fashioned, very irrelevant. We're teaching people to control for a fixed environment.
You can't predict. I mean, who would have predicted 2008? Who's going to predict what's going to happen the next 10 years? I think only a fool would do that. So you've got to be prepared to adapt. As a leader, you have to be flexible and you have to have a vision of where you're going.
You have to be running a bank, you have to know that's where we're going. There's our end point. You don't want to ever lose sight of that. But it's like you're a sailor and you're going to get buffeted in the winds. You've got to tack back and forth. And if have the flexibility as a leader, and you've got to get your team with you to step up and lead. Not just a few of you at the top, but throughout the organization.
KELLY KING: And for sure, if you don't know where you're going when the strong winds start blowing, you can really get blown around. Can't you?
BILL GEORGE: That's right. And we've seen that happen.
KELLY KING: Yeah, a lot. A lot. One person that didn't get blown around a lot in his life that you talked to and wrote about was Nelson Mandela.
BILL GEORGE: Yes.
KELLY KING: You talked about his transformation from I to we. I bet that must have been really interesting conversation.
BILL GEORGE: Well, he's an amazing human being. I would say of all the leaders I've met in the last 50 years, he would be the greatest leader. Amazing. I mean, how could you be in jail for 27 years for a crime you didn't commit? He was in jail for political crime.
But an amazing person, because you would've thought he would have come out of there literally to kill or go after all the people that put him in jail, and the apartheid system. Instead, obviously he wanted to get rid of apartheid. But he said, no, we have to have one South African. I'm not here to represent black South Africa, white South Africa.
He said this the night he came out of prison. He said, I want to represent all of South Africa and make it-- to me he was a very soulful leader with a great vision. But he realized it was all about the we of South Africa, not me as the powerful new president of South Africa that's taking over power.
And that's the difference. Frankly, I wish we saw the kind of leadership you and I are talking about in the political world. Everyone asks me that, but we don't see that today. But in the business world, we do. It's moving this way.
KELLY KING: Now, you know, it's interesting in our country. We've had some real experiences of being I versus we with segregation and different-- over the course of our long, really good history. But we've hopefully learned some important lessons about how we all can do better for the world if we work together and respect each other. And I think that's what Nelson Mandela saw early on. He could have a much greater South Africa if everybody wins.
BILL GEORGE: Sure. You love sports, I love sports. It's all about the team.
KELLY KING: Right.
BILL GEORGE: And if I think I'm the one that's got to score the goal, throw the winning pass or get the winning basket, it's not going to work. We have to play together as a team. And whoever's got the greatest opportunity-- and I think that's the big difference from the kind of dictatorial leader to the team-based leader that's more of a coach today than is a dictator, and really is willing to coach people.
And I think the leadership essence is how do you get people inspired and empowered to. Give you their best. And sure, there are times you take people aside and said, look, you're not bringing your best game here today. You can do a lot better.
But that's actually an empowering message. It's critical, but it's empowering, that kind of feedback. So how do we have a whole organization of empowered people? I'll guarantee if you have an organization of empowered people you'll defeat the tops down hierarchical organization every time.
KELLY KING: Let's talk about a different version of team that a lot of people don't focus on that you spent some time in your book talking about. And that's our team at home. You talked about how sometimes leaders are 100% focused on the company, on the business side of life and they're not very integrated, they're not very balanced. And as a result, they're not as effective as they could be. Did most of the leaders you talked to really get they need to be integrated and balanced in life?
BILL GEORGE: I think they're getting it. I think I've heard a lot of young people in my classrooms at Harvard talking about I work 100 hours a week. You can't work 100 hours. First of all, you're not going to be effective. Then they have something called face time.
I've got to be there just in case the partner or the senior person comes in at 10 o'clock at night. I mean, I think it's a ridiculous notion. It should all be about-- I think we need an integrated life. But an integrated life to me is there is no such thing as perfect balance. There are times you are going to work really long hours.
There are times like when my wife was going through breast cancer and I was taking her to chemotherapy, I had to cut back and ask other people to take over. But I think it's having the integrity to be the same person in every setting. In your work life, in your home life, can you be that same person?
I remember someone said to me there's no way I'd have the same kind of affect at home I have in the workplace. Well, why not? Can't you be the same person when you're in the community? Can you be real? And that's what, to me, is being authentic.
But then it's having a full life. And I think you'd be a better leader if you have a full life. If you have a home life, a good home life, you're engaged in your community-- one thing about the community is you get to see the lives of people that are not as benefited or socially advantaged, as economically advantaged as we are.
And I think it's important to get out there and be with the real people. And whether you're in a branch bank or whether you're in a Starbucks store or whether you're out in the factory or in a medical center, being with the people where the action is taking place.
The well-known author, Harvard professor and former CEO discusses why we need courageous and "authentic" leaders at all levels of an organization.
Bill George - Discover Your True North, Part 2
KELLY KING: We're in the middle of a really big merger, as you know.
BILL GEORGE: Yes.
KELLY KING: And my friend--
BILL GEORGE: Congratulations, by the way.
KELLY KING: Oh, thank you. My friend and partner, Bill Rogers, some of you don't know. The CEO of SunTrust is here, I'm happy to say today. And I'm sure Bill has been asked the same question that I have, which is, what is the big deal?
BILL GEORGE: Huge.
KELLY KING: And how do you keep your sanity with all this going on? And what I say is balance.
BILL GEORGE: Yes.
KELLY KING: My priorities in life are clear. It's my faith, my family, and work. And I tell the board that. If that's not OK, I'm sorry, but that's my priorities in life.
And sometimes with all the struggles [? a lot, ?] I had to kind of recenter. Sometimes in the middle of the day, I have to say, stop. Take a deep breath and say what's important. And where should I focus my priorities?
BILL GEORGE: You just put your finger out. How do you stay grounded? You're in a high level position. You're doing a big merger. A lot of people involved, their lives are impacted by this.
How do you stay grounded? And I think that's really important. I have been meditating for 40 years. But there's something that brings you back to it.
You put away all the electronics. You take a little time out every day, whether you want to go pray or meditate, take a long walk in a beautiful setting like this. But it's something where you can reflect. I think you spend your whole day working on a task list. And you're worried about, I didn't get that number nine task done today.
That's not what it's all about. So you can stay focused on the really important thing. And frankly, that's where all my creative energy comes from. I get my most creative ideas.
But I think everyone needs to do that every day. I say a minimum of 20 minutes. So you take that time. It's not very much. But if you don't do that, you can really lose your bearings and start to get pretty high on yourself. And you're just go, go, go all the time, and you don't realize you're driving everyone nuts.
KELLY KING: And then too, Bill, I find that it's just easier, not easy, but easier, if what you are doing in life is aligned with your personal purpose and your personal why. And you talked to Warren Buffett about that. He said sweet spot, or something to the effect that the sweet spot is when your motivations line up with your greatest strengths. And he's one of the greatest leaders of all times, and he's apparently found that sweet spot and that balance and that integrated life.
BILL GEORGE: He can't retire because he's having so much fun. But he's about-- [? if you ever ?] spend any time with Warren, he's about as natural a person as you're ever going to meet. I mean, I had dinner with him once, and he's just Warren Buffett. In fact, my wife sat on the other side. And she said, wow, this is Warren, yeah.
But why not? We're all just human beings. And back to the purpose and your purpose in life, why are you here on this planet? And what are you going to leave behind? And when you get to the point where your memorial service, funeral, and they do eulogies, they're not going to talk about you being CEO of this bank or this corporation.
They're going to talk about, how did you impact people? How did you treat people? And it [? maybe ?] be your grandchildren talking about how you-- so to me, it's all only one life. It can't be, oh, I've got this life over here, and I've got that life, and never the twain shall meet.
KELLY KING: Right. And I believe at the end of the day, the essence of your life's journey will be, did you make a difference?
BILL GEORGE: Did you make a difference? And how do you make a difference? And who do you make a difference in? They may not remember what the revenues went up while you were the CEO. But they're going to remember how you impacted people.
And were you there for them? Did you create an environment of trust so that I had-- frankly, 10 years ago, the trust when I was on the board of Goldman Sachs, the trust went out of the banking balloon. How do we get it back and say-- [? this ?] [? out of ?] BB&T. But how do you ensure you have trust? Because I'm giving you my money.
And if you look at it, that's a sacred trust. And so it's the same thing when you put a Medtronic product in your body, a Medtronic defibrillator. You don't know. Even the doctor doesn't really know if it's going to work. You're entrusting that the manufacturers said that's got to be the highest quality product, because a life is at the other end of that. It can't be 99%.
And I think that trust is something we lost sight of in a lot of businesses. We started thinking, oh, we're playing to the stock market. And we lost sight of why we're here.
KELLY KING: That is so true. I've said, to me, the ones that win in life in general and in business are the ones that produce the best value. But value is really about whoever creates the best trust.
BILL GEORGE: Well, I think you're getting to kind of the idea of creating shared value. So if you do your job well, you're creating value for me as your client. You're creating value for your employees, because they have good jobs. They're rewarded for doing a good job. They're not paid minimum wage, but they're rewarded for doing a good job. You're creating value for your investors, your shareholders.
And I think, frankly, you're in a lot of communities here. And are you creating value in the community? The bank has always been the center of the community. And sometimes the national banks lost sight of that fact of, we're basically the essence of this community, whether it's a large city like Charlotte or whether it's a small town, rural town. That is really, I think, that's shared value. And a lot of the short-term shareholders don't like that notion, but I think we're coming back to that.
KELLY KING: When you've read and taught at Harvard and other places and people use the word purpose and they use word why, do you think most people are viewing those as mainly the same? Or do you draw a distinction?
BILL GEORGE: I look at them as the same. And you talk about mission. At Medtronic, we talk about the Medtronic mission. It was the thing that drives the company. We're trying to restore [? a beautiful ?] [? life ?] [? in ?] [? health. ?]
We had a metric. We actually measured ourselves by how many seconds go by until another person's life is restored by a Medtronic [? patent. ?] One time when I got there, it was 90 seconds. Today, it's two per second. So we're helping a lot. We're helping people.
And so that is, in many ways, to the employees, the 86,000 employees, that's a more meaningful metric than saying, what were the profits last year? They can [? relate ?] to helping people. And if you create that kind of trust-- and I think that's the key.
So the why and the purpose become one and the same. My why is I'm here to help other people to have a secure financial future. I don't know if you believe that or not, but if you are, that's what I want from my financial institution, because that's what I want. And it's what I'd want for my kids or my grandkids too is that kind of sense of financial security.
KELLY KING: And in our industry, you know-- and of course, you're on the board of Goldman Sachs, so you've lived with this crisis these last 10 years-- we lost a lot of the trust of the American public and globally as well. But you wrote in your book, which I happen to totally agree with, it was not the financial instruments. It was about failure of leadership that really created problem, wasn't it?
BILL GEORGE: Yeah, it was all a leadership failure, honestly, because people lost sight of what-- they got too excited with the hedge funds and the high money and the excess. There's nothing wrong with derivatives per se, but if you don't understand how they work and you don't know what you're-- and obviously, the mortgage market went through extreme difficulties. So now we get back to basics.
It all starts with that customer. It's what I call the last three feet, like three [? here ?] between you and me. You're my banker. I'm your client. OK, can we have that trusting relationship?
And if I don't trust you, I'm not going to do business with you. That's just the way I look at the world. And so how do you create that trust in a large organization like this one that gets conveyed by people who maybe haven't been here all that long but they have the same philosophy? And so that purpose is then shared.
KELLY KING: I think a lot of times all of us but certainly younger leaders get confused about having to be right all the time. And they make a mistake. They become the victim, and then they start giving up on life and giving up on being a good leader. But really, being a good leader is about making mistakes. The key is to learn.
BILL GEORGE: And if I can admit my mistakes, then the people who work with me at Medtronic can admit theirs too. I worked in an organization, the United States Department of Defense during the Vietnam War. No one could, because our secretary of defense said we never made a mistake. So we spent a heck of a lot of money and time trying to bail out of what was a mistake.
If I can admit my mistakes, then the people around me can admit theirs. Thinking, you've got a huge organization. How do you know what's going on unless people tell you the truth?
And if they don't, if they're trying to tell you what you want to hear, you're in trouble. You kind of get people that will tell you the truth. And that gets to admitting mistakes, admitting vulnerabilities, and saying, look, I'm not an expert in this.
When I went to Medtronic, I knew a lot about technology. I knew nothing about medicine. And so I had a partner who was a medical doctor. He was our vice chairman. He was fantastic.
And we teamed up, because I needed his help. And [? I needed ?] a terrific CFO we brought in. So I think you need people around you that are better than you are at what they do.
KELLY KING: On this learning thing, though, another one of my books that I've really enjoyed in addition to yours is Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. And for the audience that have not read Mindset, it's really a really important read, because it's all about helping us to understand the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.
Well, what I've found is that people that have a growth mindset can encounter failures and make mistakes and grow through it and go on and achieve more successes. But those that have the fixed mindset are the ones that become the victims. And that's one of the problems we have in our country today, I think, is that we have too many people with a fixed mindset.
BILL GEORGE: Well, I think the growth mindset is the key to everything, because we're constantly growing as people. When you stopped growing, then you're kind of heading for the end. And I'd like to think I've been more creative and learned more and grown more and learned more in the last 10 years than I had at any point in time in my life. So if we've got to keep growing-- and that's part of being adaptive, flexible.
The world's changing. So are we continuing to adapt ourselves? Do we have that growth mindset? I think it's a wonderful concept.
The fixed mindset really conveys a rigidity, or rigid atmosphere. But you want all your people to be growing too. Everyone in your organization's got to be growing. And you can expect that of them. When they stop growing, then I don't know. Then you've got a problem. And I've seen that happen a lot where people are not continuing to grow. So we need to do that.
KELLY KING: So one of the mindsets that I've found in my own life that is important is to have an enthusiastic positive attitude. Managing our own mindset is important as a leader.
BILL GEORGE: But see, you convey that sense to everyone you interact with. You have a positive attitude. Hey, we got a problem here. Yeah, it's a big problem. We can get all the best people around to help solve this problem.
It is a problem. But then we can have that attitude of, we can get it done. Let's figure out how we're going to solve this problem. I think you have to bring a positive attitude.
So it's not bad, though, to have what I call truth tellers around you, someone who will come into your office and say, Bill, how do you think the executive committee went this morning? I had a general counselor who did that. And I said, I thought it went great.
We took a vote. Everyone agreed on what we were going to do. We got the new plan. We're moving. He said, actually, three of the people that are back in their office are really mad at you.
I said, why? Because you were giving off signals to where you wanted the meeting to come out, and you just drove to that conclusion. And in the end, they said, yeah, we'll go along, but they didn't really believe it. So good for him to tell me the truth, because you need people around. I'd missed it that morning.
If you don't have that sense of what's really going on and people that will tell you-- but I didn't think of that person negative at all. He was very positive. And if I said, we got a legal problem, he wouldn't say, no, Bill, you can't do that. He said, no, let me.
You can't do it that way. Let me go find the right way to do that, OK? And because we got a lot of regulation, you got to live with it. But just a naysayer, we can't do this, can't do that, you'll never get anywhere.
But I think having people around us that can say, OK, let's go find a way to get it done. And that, to me, is not negative. That honest truth teller, I love people like that.
KELLY KING: And that's part of that self-awareness and that security to be willing to let people tell you the truth.
BILL GEORGE: Yeah.
KELLY KING: I know in my early journey in leadership, I finally figured out that you should be developing decisions by consensus building. So my early wrong version was, we're going to talk about this as long as y'all want to talk about it as long as we get my answer.
BILL GEORGE: As long as we get my answer.
KELLY KING: But you quickly have to grow through to the idea that probably the best idea out there is not your own. It's probably some form or fashion of what I call iterative thinking of getting everybody's ideas.
BILL GEORGE: Yeah, because we're talking about it. We're having an honest discussion.
KELLY KING: Right, yeah. So you talked to 101 leaders, if I remember the number correctly. And I wonder if there are a couple of those you'd like to tell the group about that they may not have ever had the kind of experience you've had but a couple of leaders that you would talk about and any particular lessons you learned from them.
BILL GEORGE: Well, one of the most amazing people I ever met is a good friend of mine now, a man named Ken Frazier who is-- believe it or not, he was born in South Carolina. His grandfather lived in South Carolina. He was a slave. So that's 150 years ago his grandfather was born-- more, actually.
And he moved. His father went to Philadelphia, and he was a janitor and never rose above that level. And Ken's mother died when he was 12. And his father came in and said, son, your mother died this morning.
She is at peace today. It's a good day. And he said, that is faith in action. And Ken never lost that sense of, OK, and I have a mission.
His father used to say, son, you have to be your own person. There's drug gangs outside the door. You have to stay here and get your work done. There's no daycare here. And he never lost sight of that.
He had a purpose in his life, and he followed that to the point he's now CEO of Merck. And he's just done a fantastic job. And he tried to represent the industry, keep prices down. But he's revived the whole science about saving lives.
He said, I'm going to invest in products that may not come to market for 10, 30, 50 years. But he said, we're making a difference in the lives of people. To me, that is a leader who has a real sense of who he is, his purpose.
I used to say to him, Ken-- because he's such a high level guy, you wouldn't think anyone-- hey, has anyone ever discriminated against you? He laughs. Yes, of course, all the time. But he said, if I get angry about that, I'm just playing into your own views. He said, I'm just going to ignore that. I'm going to do what I think is right, and I'm going to see if I can bring people together to get inspired to do it-- a great leader.
KELLY KING: That was outstanding.
BILL GEORGE: Another leader I think is really outstanding is Mary Barra, who's CEO of General Motors. She came to my classroom. Mary started to work on the production line at 18 General Motors. She didn't go to school. And then they sent her to GM Tech, and I think eventually she went to Stanford Business School because they could see what an outstanding woman she was.
She's a very modest person. But she's got a really tough job. And she's had to say, how do you navigate through everyone shifting from small cars to large cars? And we have a very complex supply chain. We're having all these trade disputes.
She's got a vision of where we're going to go, and she's going to stay the course and take the hard action, which she's had to do. She's had to lay off a lot of people. But on the other hand, she's going to win in the marketplace to deliver cars people want. And it was all about quality.
And I remember that she went in front of Congress and was just getting beaten up because of their ignition switch situation that they had buried in the law department. They took their quality problems. They didn't send them to the quality department. They sent them to the law department.
And so she didn't know anything about this. She got beaten up by some female senators, which made my wife really mad and me too. But then finally they said to her, tell us about this switch problem. She said, look, we've got a much bigger problem here. We have a very unhealthy culture at General Motors, and we've got to fix that.
I'll tell you today. I've met a lot of her people. That culture has changed dramatically, but all because she's real. She owned the problem. She got to the root cause.
And I like that. In both cases, I like the fact people are really real, down to earth. Authentic, I call it.
KELLY KING: Authentic, for sure. So as we move towards wrapping up this video, Bill, I want to come back to something you alluded to earlier, because I think this is a message that needs to be more broadly shared. And that is the general obligation of business. There are some really good leaders beginning to talk about some changes that need to take place, even being bold enough to say capitalism maybe needs to be tweaked a bit, which I happen to agree with.
And so let's talk a little bit about this notion of the broader role. Like at BB&T, we say our why is to make the world a better place to live. But a lot of companies have gone too far towards the pure profit, which ultimately never is the best long-term profit, is it?
BILL GEORGE: We've devolved down to maximizing short-term value. And a lot of those places blew up. I mean, that was the problem in 2008. Those are the short-term value producers.
So I'm a capitalist. I fervently believe in capitalism. [? Talking about ?] socialism, [? like ?] this is the best system ever created. It's the greatest wealth system ever created. And frankly, if you're in a community like, say, Winston-Salem, the wealth has come from business.
I love non-profits. I've served on the boards of a lot of them. But that money's coming from the wealth created in business. Where does the government get its money? It gets its money from taxing people that make money in business whether they're individuals or a corporation. That's where it all comes from.
So if we look at creating value, that's what it's all about. So I like the notion of-- and I've been writing about this lately-- responsible capitalism. You have to have a sense of responsibility to your clients. You want them to do well. The best way for a bank to do well is to have a community where people are thriving and earning money and moving ahead and the companies are. And it's a good place for small business to come.
And like Medtronic started out with two people. When I went there, it was 4,000. Now it's 86,000. You've got to have a community that enables you to flourish.
And it creates a lot of jobs. That's being a responsible capitalist. You can look yourself in the mirror and say, did we do the right thing by our clients, our employees, our shareholders, and our communities?
KELLY KING: I come back to the basics of this country was formed 250 or so years ago. And sometimes it's helpful to me to remember, why was this country formed? It was formed by people who were brave enough to come here looking for opportunity and hope.
BILL GEORGE: Yes.
KELLY KING: They were trying to get away from being subdued and without opportunity and hope, coming here looking for that. And what we have to pay attention to, I think, as business leaders is, how can we make sure there is still opportunity and hope so there's people that are willing to work hard and invest in the communities, take care of their shareholders and families and do all the things that are right? They can still have opportunity and hope in this country.
It's not too late. We can still be-- and I believe we are-- the best country in the world. And we can even be better.
BILL GEORGE: Can you help people take that opportunity and turn it into a small business, a restaurant, a company that may grow up into something much bigger? Can you get behind me and kind of be the wind under my wings to get started? I think that is really key.
How do we give people that hope but then give them the capacity, the how, to get it done, to make it into something? And when you do that, then you have a thriving community, and everyone flourishes. That's the way I look at it is you offer that.
KELLY KING: And if we go out every day and be authentic, self-aware, and be clear about where we're going and what our true north is, we'll be able to make a contribution.
BILL GEORGE: No doubt, absolutely.
KELLY KING: Bill George, thank you [? for the morning. ?]
BILL GEORGE: Thank you very much. You were terrific.
KELLY KING: [INAUDIBLE]
BILL GEORGE: Thank you. Thank you. That was terrific. Thank you very much. Thank you.
The well-known author, Harvard professor and former CEO discusses how to stay grounded and make an impact on people.
Isaac Lidsky - Eyes Wide Open
INTERVIEWER: Isaac, welcome to The Leadership Series. I really appreciate you joining us. I know many in the audience already recognize Isaac because he was a child actor starring on the show Saved by the Bell, The New Class. Isaac is an incredible person. He was born with a degenerative eye disease and knew, at an early age, that by about age 12, he would begin to lose his sight and completely lost his sight.
By about 20, he graduated from Harvard at 19, graduated from Harvard Law School, was an undefeated Department of Justice litigator, started a software company that eventually sold for $230 million, founded a not-for-profit called Hope for Vision which raises money and provides funds to provide cures for blindness diseases. His Ted Talk series had more than a million viewers in the first couple of weeks—and recently wrote a New York Times best seller Eyes Wide Open. So you're very successful. You're very busy. Thank you for joining us.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be here. It really is.
INTERVIEWER: In the book, you talked about "[How] I gained my vision by losing my sight." Talk about that.
ISAAC LIDSKY: So we have this experience with sight where it's immediate, it's passive, you open your eyes, you see the world. And it seems that there is some objective reality out there, some definitive truth that is sight. We even say, seeing is believing. And that's how most of us experience our lives. That's certainly how I experienced sight growing up.
And then, as I lost my sight, the way I lost my sight was sort of a particularly strange journey. It produced all these bizarre visual effects. Objects would appear, and morph, and disappear, and I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing. But then someone would describe it to me. And suddenly, I could see what I was looking at.
And I realized I lived, first hand, the truth about this experience of sight. And it really is this intensely subjective, personal, virtual world that you create for yourself that has as much to do with your conceptual understanding of the world, knowledge, memories, opinions, emotions—has as much to do with all those things as it does with data from the eyes. And it doesn't feel that way.
And so that realization for me, that insight, was really sort of the spark, the "Eyes Wide Open" vision that turned out to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my life. Because that dynamic of sight, as this sort of virtual world that we experience as a direct representation of the universe around us or whatever, that's really true of much of human experience—I would argue all of human experience. We really create the realities that we experience, that we live. And once you realize that, with some effort, and some attention, and discipline, you can choose the life you want for yourself.
INTERVIEWER: You know, a lot of us, as we go through life, we encounter obstacles, and oftentimes we resist solutions that can help us deal with obstacles. I recall in your book you resisted early on using a cane. And then, you met this spectacular lady who opened your eyes to using techniques and solutions that could help you really enhance your life. And then, when you finally kind of accepted you needed some help, things got a lot better didn't they?
ISAAC LIDSKY: No doubt about it. You put it very well, yeah. For me, when I was diagnosed, which was in advance of symptoms, which was an interesting experience—but blindness meant this awful doom and gloom, future fate, this sort of misery that was destined to consume my life. I was certain of it. And that's just kind of where my head was at.
And meanwhile, I was doing nothing to actually take control, to learn about going blind and being blind, to equip myself with the tools and the skills that I needed emotionally, and physically, and mentally to deal with it. So you're right. That was a real turning point for me. When I went to meet with Chris, an occupational therapist who specialized in low vision rehabilitation, she worked with folks who were losing their sight.
And I walked into the room thinking we were going to have this deep, intense conversation about the misery of blindness, and she wanted to ask me very practical things. Have you ever used a cane? Do you know about these tools? And at first, I couldn't understand the disconnect. And then, it finally hit me that, of course, these are the right questions. This is the right way to be looking at this.
INTERVIEWER: Right, right. Along the way, you've found happiness.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: And you talk about it in your book, something that I talked with our associates about, which is, we choose to be happy or not. I describe to our folks oftentimes that most of us in life, we view ourselves as a victim of our circumstances. So bad things happen to me. I can't be happy because the world made me unhappy. Or you can, as you've described in your life, you've lived it, choose to be happy, and you coined the phrase I like—"masters of our own realities." Talk about that.
ISAAC LIDSKY: In my experience, I've become convinced that quite literally, in every moment we are here, we get to choose who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. And it's easy to kind of roll your eyes and say, yeah, that's a lot of hocus pocus or whatever. But I mean it quite literally. And it's certainly been my experience. And it's an awesome, liberating power that we have. And far too often it goes totally unnoticed, unrecognized, unrealized. And so, yeah, I mean, I would love to be able to see. I would love to see my children, among other things—frankly, really not among much else.
But I am keenly aware of the fact that my journey, and blindness and what it's meant in my life, and the insights it's given me, it's been also a deep blessing, and it's brought me great reward. So you do choose to be happy. It really is a choice. And there are far better examples than me of people who confront the most awful circumstances you can imagine—prisoners of war, Nazi concentration—you name it. And yet, these are individuals who decide to find meaning, and purpose, and honor, and even joy in these conditions. So it just cannot be the circumstances we confront that determine how we live.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I mean, I shared with you before we started, I did an interview with a nice young lady named Jen Bricker, who was born with no legs, and yet is an extremely successful, accomplished gymnast. So how in the world do you become a gymnast with no legs? But she chose to overcome obstacles. She chose to have a purpose in life. And many times, I think, it's about dealing with obstacles. You have a section in your book, which I like, about making lemons into lemonade.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Challenge, struggle, growth—I mean, those are all part of the same equation, and it's the human experience. Every human life has its challenges. So what? What are you going to make of it?
ISAAC LIDSKY: That's up to you.
INTERVIEWER: And very much related to this, I had not heard the term, you must have made it up, about "awfulizing."
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: And I've read a lot about optimism, and pessimism, and positive thinking. And awfulizing sounds to me a lot like pessimism, where pessimists—some bad thing happens and pessimists say, this bad thing's happened. It's going to ruin my whole life. It's going to last forever. And it's all my fault.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: But there's another way to look at it, right?
ISAAC LIDSKY: Well, first of all who decides what's a good thing and what's a bad thing? And there's good and bad in everything, first of all. But on the awfulizing front in particular, I think fear really is often the animating force, I guess, that gets us in trouble with awfulizing. It's because we function by reasoning from past experience. It's what we do. We build this database of past experiences, and we reason from it. But when we confront the unknown in times of change, times of crisis, when we confront major challenges, almost by definition, we don't have experience to draw from.
And that's OK. We are equipped. We are blessed with the tools to get through that. Unfortunately, though, fear sometimes blinds us, pardon the pun, to that power we have, to those capabilities we have. And instead of the unknown, fear abhors a vacuum. So instead of the unknown, it fills in the worst-case scenario, the most awful view you could possibly have of the situation you're confronting is, by definition, what your fear is. And the problem is, it can be very convincing, and we can start to believe it, and then we make it true because we believe it.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Right. We create our own—
ISAAC LIDSKY: I mean, I can tell you, Kelly, in all sincerity, I had an understanding of what my life was going to be like with blindness that was awful, truly awful—and false. I am certain, every cell in my body, I would have lived that. That would have been my life if I hadn't realized that it was my choice to live a different life.
INTERVIEWER: You've talked a lot about positive psychology during your life, haven't you?
ISAAC LIDSKY: Every one of us is a brilliant author, storyteller. It's in our DNA. And we tell ourselves stories all day long. And we believe the stories we tell ourselves. So there's something to be said for paying some attention to the stories you're telling yourself, because they're not some universal truth. There's nothing that says you can't revisit the stories you decide to tell yourself about yourself, and your life, and your relationships.
INTERVIEWER: And telling those stories to yourself over and over and over, I've found, is important.
ISAAC LIDSKY: No doubt.
INTERVIEWER: Because the world's gonna give you the other side, right? They're going to give you all the negatives.
ISAAC LIDSKY: We have our own internal enemies, our internal critic that can be pretty nasty, our fears and all that stuff. So we get stories from within, but you're absolutely right, too, that we're barraged with plenty of stories. And if you're not actively, zealously guarding your story about yourself, and your world view, and what you believe, it's going to get filled in by default. And there's a lot of ugliness out there. So write your own story.
INTERVIEWER: And I've found, in my life, very much relating to that, is a concept you talk about in your book around being in the flow. I think you focused on that when you bought ODC, and it was a big turnaround. But a lot of people don't know what flow means.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Flow is about attention, energy, focus. To me, it sort of relates to the notion of this whole—the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. You can't measure without altering. The act itself of measuring speed or position of a particle or whatever changes those values.
Similarly, like with flow, when you're judging yourself, when that critic's hyperactive, when you're distracted with what it looks like, what it should look like—you're not giving 100% to your current enterprise. And it's really hard to quiet all those voices in the head. And I don't purport to be an expert on how to do it, but I will say that it's worth the candle because, I mean, when you can, when you can just truly let go of all the junk and devote yourself entirely to a worthy pursuit, something you're doing for yourself, or your team, or your family, it's just an amazing thing. And that's really when we operate at our best.
INTERVIEWER: Talking about being at your best, one thing about your life that I found interesting, very different from my life, I've been blessed. I've had a successful banking career, but I've been with the same company for 46 years.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: But you've had numerous really successful career experiences, from being a law clerk—you take on these new challenges. How do you have the courage to do that?
ISAAC LIDSKY: It's definitely become an unbroken pattern that every three, four years, I try to reinvent myself professionally and take on a new challenge. And it's just kind of who I am and how I like to operate. I get—it's not so much bored, but I crave new challenges, new learning, building new things. And so I also, by the way, value immensely the effort of my team and of remarkable individuals that I get to work with. So I'll just give you one example.
The last business, currently, I'm starting a block chain technology business in digital marketing. But the last business I started was the construction services company you mentioned. And as we turned that thing around, and developed a vision, and restored health to the business and thrived, a lot of people stepped up and did remarkable things for the business. And to my mind, they earned the right to run the business. And they earned the right for me to get out of the way. So I did.
INTERVIEWER: One of your heroes is Theodore Roosevelt. And you talked about his famous speech about a man in the arena, which kind of deals with some of life's inner struggles, our own critics, a lot of people is not familiar with that. Can you help our audience understand that concept?
ISAAC LIDSKY: The famous Roosevelt remarks, is, it's not the critic who counts, not those cold and timid souls who know not of victory, nor defeat—those who don't enter the arena, yadda yadda—and he juxtaposes the critic very brilliantly with a strongman, who craves the battle, craves the fight, and who succeeds in striving. And to me, it's brilliant. It's perfect as a speech.
Roosevelt's critic, in my mind, I kind of think is really the embodiment of the human fear of failure. I think, really, that's—for me, in my life experience, that's really what animates that nasty critic we all carry in our minds. It's the fear of failure. And that critic can be so nasty, so debilitating that out of a fear of failing, we will elect not even to try.
INTERVIEWER: You talk about this in your book, is how you get control of fearing or worrying about how others perceive you.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: You told this one story about you were invited as a celebrity to throw out the first pitch at an important ball game. And you said, you want me to throw out the first pitch? I can't even see?
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And you had some fear around that, but you conquered it, didn't you?
ISAAC LIDSKY: As I often say, this notion of this "Eyes Wide Open" philosophy and these sort of principles to which I aspire, I mean, it's aspirational, right? I'm a human being. I have my struggles like anyone. Some days I'm better at it; some days I'm worse at it. And case in point, the story you're telling, to me, what struck me was, I was already very, by all accounts, independent, successful—successful in a way that matters, right? Pursuing what I wanted to be doing, and living an independent life, and enjoying it.
And yet, it kind of snuck up on me when I was asked to throw out that first pitch. There was just this immediate, I can't do that. I'm blind. And I was like, wait a minute. Did I just say that? I thought my whole thing was that's not true. And so then, I of course, had to prove that I could do it. But we're so quick to limit ourselves.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, we really are. And that goes back, I think, to all of those, in many case, childhood limitations that we carry with us, and we never really take them out as an adult and look at it and say, OK, I understand how I feel that way at three years old, but I'm not three years old. I'm an adult. I can look at this rationally. I can view it definitely. And I can decide how I want to feel.
The next subject I want to talk a bit about—and I think this is a really powerful one—is about honesty. And you told a story about at ODC, your construction company, at some point, you were in a staff meeting, and somehow you perceived the staff of nodding, and you had a leadership discussion with them about honesty, and being straightforward, and telling the truth. How did you relate to what was going on? And how did they respond to it?
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yeah, it's interesting. I think, in beautiful ways and in interesting ways, my blindness turned out to be a real asset for me and my leadership team. And we're such visual creatures. And the nod—I think it's a pernicious, the nod, but it's pervasive in our world, and we're just programmed to accept the nod and kind of move on.
Well, early on in putting this leadership team together and trying to solidify our vision and all that, nods don't work for a blind guy. And I remember sitting there thinking, do I—is this a moment where I accommodate them and say, you know what, I can live with this? Or is this a moment where they accommodate me? And it just—it seemed that getting a verbal explicit yes from everybody in the room was probably unequivocally a good idea, blindness or otherwise. Like, why do we actually use our words, as we tell our children, and say yes?
And then, of course, nobody said yes, unequivocally. It was, yeah—which is not yes. And then, sure enough, it hit me. Like, oh, of course, this has nothing to do with my blindness. This has to do with being vulnerable, being honest. Once you say what you think, you're accountable for your thoughts. But without vulnerability, and honesty, and authenticity, our leadership team is not going to do much.
INTERVIEWER: Values are very, very important at our company. We have 10 core values, which we frame in terms of character, judgment, success, and happiness. But I tell our associates that character, and specifically honesty, is the bedrock value. And the reason is because, without honesty, there could be no trust. And without trust, there could be no real relationships. And really, in life, without real trusting relationships, how do you get anything done? And so I really agree with you about this basic foundational focus on honesty. And yet people struggle with being honest. It's amazing.
ISAAC LIDSKY: We're living in a world and in a time in which honesty is struggling. It could use some strong allies, like you, to preach its benefits. I just can't imagine living a life without being open, and honest, and candid, and sincere. I think it's a sad life, if you're not those things.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, being honest, to me, is liberating. Because you don't have to ever worry about what you said or what you—just tell the truth.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Of course. And of course, ultimately, it really is about being honest with yourself—
INTERVIEWER: Right, right. Yeah.
ISAAC LIDSKY: —where it starts. Lying to yourself is a choice. I just don't think it's a very good one.
INTERVIEWER: I want to talk a little bit about why. I'm sure you're familiar with Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And I love that book. For those that don't know, Victor Frankl survived the Holocaust, spent three years at Auschwitz. And when you read that book, it is just incredible how anybody could survive.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Well, he thrived.
INTERVIEWER: He thrived.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Yeah, I mean, he found purpose for himself. And it's incredible.
INTERVIEWER: He coined a phrase that I like a lot. He said, when you know your why, you can endure any hell. And I sometimes paraphrase, if you're clear about your purpose in life, you can figure out how to deal with the obstacles. We spend a lot of time talking about why at BB&T. And at BB&T, our why is to make the world a better place to live. I tell our board members, and I tell our shareholders that, look, I don't get up in the morning excited about making loans, or getting deposits, or making money, or, I'm sorry, even getting the stock price up. I get excited about making the world a better place to live.
And what I've found, organizationally, is when you can get your associates to have an agreed upon, consistent why that they're passionate about, then accomplishing what the organization is trying to accomplish becomes fairly easy, because we're not doing it because we get paid. We're not doing it because somebody told us. We're doing it because we want to do it.
ISAAC LIDSKY: I could not agree with you more. And all the data suggests that that's what motivates people, and that's what people care about. And by the way, that's also what the human experience suggests. I mean, I would go further and say, almost, people have a right to come to work and feel as though they're doing something special, something larger than just earning a paycheck.
ISAAC LIDSKY: So I couldn't agree more. And I'm very impressed and admire your obvious commitment to leadership principles in your organization.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I appreciate that. And we try to do it outside the bank as well. We try to extend our culture outside, and that's why we're doing these videos, so other people can have a chance to see someone like you and learn from your experiences and, hopefully, become a better human being and make the world a better place to be. So this may be a hard one, you can dodge it if you like.
ISAAC LIDSKY: Sure.
INTERVIEWER: But through all your life experiences, what is your why?
ISAAC LIDSKY: So I'll tell you, the why can change, I think, over time. My children. I mean, I just—I gotta tell you, I adore my children, and I worship them. Everything is for my children.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Can't be any better than that. I happen to totally agree with you. I have two children and two grandchildren, and they are clearly my most important why. And I should correct myself. I tell people, I'm clear about my priorities in life. It's my faith, my family, and the bank, and really, clearly in that order. People say, well, you've worked there 46 years. You spent so much time working and all—I said, no, I get all that. But that's just what I do. But my priorities in life are what give me that guiding direction for how I stay centered, and focused, in flow, and try to have a happy life.
ISAAC LIDSKY: I'm a firm believer—I think it's just logic—I think it's irrefutable that kids learn by from the example you show them, that you could tell them whatever you want to tell them a million times, and they're going to learn from your example. So what I had not anticipated, but again, it's a wonderful thing is, in my life, who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to live my life, the sort of the stakes raised to such a new level with the birth of my children to where it stays with me in every moment. I want to live the right example for my children.
The New York Times best-selling author shares his experience about finding true vision while losing his sight.
Jon Gordon - Developing Positive People, Part 1
Jon, welcome. We're glad to have you with us.
Good to be with you.
Probably most of the viewers know the Jon Gordon name because he's written 18 plus books, many bestsellers. I know in our company, Jon, we've talked a lot about The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, The Power of Positive Leadership, The Power of a Positive Team, and many, many others. But Jon's also been well recognized nationally and internationally in various TV shows, The Today Show, CNN, NBC, Fox many, many others. But he has a really well-developed career in terms of coaching and working as a consultant with various organizations like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Falcons, Clemson University. What a great turnaround there.
More to your credit, I'm sure. And also Dell, Campbell Soup, BBT, others. So quite a successful career in terms of working with organizations. You and I know that there are many, many factors that make quote, unquote, a good leader. But why is being a positive leader so important?
Well, because pessimists don't change the world. Complainers talk about problems, but they don't solve them. Critics write words, but they don't write the future. I mean, throughout history, we see that it's the positive leaders, the believers, the dreamers, and the doers, that transform their teams, their organizations, and change the world.
And with so much negativity, you said it, with so much adversity and challenges, we need that optimism and belief that we can overcome this challenge, that we can move forward and create a better and brighter future. But positive leadership is also not just about positive thinking. It's about positive acting. And it's about developing relationships.
So when I was developing this and writing this book, I was thinking about not just thoughts, but also actions that are positive that allow you to develop great relationships that build great teams. So I would say the two going together, in terms of thinking and then developing your team in a positive way, those two together allow you to really transform your team and then together you can go make an impact in the world.
Over the years at BB&T, we've talked a lot about what I call EPA, enthusiastic positive attitude.
I love that.
And you talk a lot about positivity and in both of your power books, The Power Of Leadership and The Power of a Positive Team, you deal with a very important subject. You deal with the importance of dealing and confronting negativity and transforming it to positivity. Talk about that.
Yeah. This is not about Pollyanna positive. This is about real positivity that allows you to deal with the negativity, confront it, try to transform it. If you can't transform it, you then have to remove it. Because the biggest mistake that leaders make is they do not deal with the negativity that exists on their teams and in their organization. So it persists, it exists, and then eventually the negativity will sabotage the team.
So as a leader, you have to make sure you're addressing the negativity. It's hard to do it. We don't want to do it a lot of times because it's uncomfortable. But when we do it and we do it in a positive way, because you can't be negative about negativity, but when you do in a positive way, you're able to transform it and you turn around that negative into a positive.
And that means sometimes you may have to let someone off the bus who's not willing to change. It means that you have to really get to know your people and find out what makes them tick and make sure that you're being a positive leader and you're not being negative. So you have to make sure you're really embracing them, helping them, guiding them, and mentoring them.
And ultimately, it's about saying, you know what? We're at our best when we're positive. And if we're negative, we're not going to be able create the future together. So we have to make sure that we're doing this in a positive way.
And I've found over the years that you're right. So many leaders struggle with dealing with negativity and asking someone to get off the bus. But most of the times, it's the kind of thing you can do for a person because if they can't, for whatever reason, join this mission, get excited about and be passionate about what we're trying to do on this bus, then maybe if they get on another bus they can be excited. At least they have a shot.
And so you're really helping them.
It's better for them to perhaps get on another bus where they're meant to be, but it's also better for everyone else in the organization. I had a leader say to me once, you know, when we ask someone to get off if they're not willing to change, we give them every opportunity to change. Let's make sure we're clear on that because we still want to lead with the love and empathy first.
You're not supposed to go in and say, you're either on my bus or off my bus. That's not the intent of this. But when you let someone off, it's not because you don't care about them, it's also because you care about everybody else. And if that one person is hurting everyone else and sabotaging the team, then you're making sure that you do this for everybody else. One person can't make a team, but one person could break a team.
Absolutely. That's well said. Well said. I want to talk about an experience you had because people struggle with this, in terms of finding their why, their purpose in life. You had a very successful career in the restaurant business. And as I remember, you actually sold that business, for a nice price I'm sure, but you sold that business, even though it was very successful before you were an established speaker, writer, commentator. How did you have the courage to do that?
I think it was a lot of faith and a lot of just maybe-- just being naive and saying, you know, we're going to go for this. My wife said, you know, what happens if it doesn't work? I said there are no other options. Like we have to sell the restaurant. I knew it was time.
We had three of them. They were doing well, but not, you know, phenomenal. But I looked at my vision and looked at my future and said, do I want to be in the restaurant business where I own 20, 30, 50 restaurants, because that's where I'd be going.
And I said, you know what? That's not my purpose. That's not my why. That's not my calling. I'm good at it, but it's not what I'm meant to do.
Once I knew that, I said, OK, it's time. I have to sell the restaurants and focus on this. I didn't sell it for a huge amount, but enough that I could probably live off with my wife and kids for maybe two years. OK. Not a huge, like, you know, safety net.
But it was the mindset that said I have to go after this and pursue this calling of writing and speaking, and somehow, some way, no matter how long it takes, I'm going to go do this. I said even if it takes 10 years, at least I'll be working towards something where I'm making a difference and I'm living my purpose. And the best decision I ever made.
And what I've found is that the most effective leaders are effective because they are really genuinely passionate about what they're trying to accomplish.
They have to have a purpose. They have to know their purpose, live their purpose, but they also have to help their team have a purpose as well. Ignite the purpose in others. So your purpose should ignite others to really live and ultimately find and share their purpose. So we don't get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it.
But once you know your why, you'll know the way and you'll never let obstacles get in the way.
You and I both have heard over the years people say, great leaders are born, you know, and you see some great leader on TV or giving a big speech and it would be great to just be a natural born professional speaker leader like that. But what I found, in my own case and observed with others, is along the way of becoming really good are a lot of mistakes. Talk about any mistakes along the way that you experienced that kind of helped you make those giant steps forward.
Well, I think I made a lot of mistakes along the way in terms of-- I mean, early on, I wasn't, I would say, I wasn't a great husband, wasn't a great father. I was actually very negative, believe it or not. And my wife gave me an ultimatum and said, you know, you need to change or you're off the bus. This is before the energy bus was even written. But I knew I needed to change and so that began my journey of wanting to become a writer and speaker and that really changed my life in many ways of working to become more positive.
Along the way I, you know, I made mistakes in terms of probably just, you know, some talks I gave where I don't think I gave the greatest talks and I failed a lot along the way. I had a lot of rejections of organizations I wanted to speak to and it didn't go well, you know, early on. And so I learned from those experiences along the way.
But I know that every mistake I made I wasn't failing. I was becoming. I wasn't failing. I was growing. And I could look back and I could see how everything prepared me for this future. I mean, we did some things where, again, you know you fail with some things, you have some ideas that you said you think is going to work and, you know, they don't work.
But along the way, I mean, I haven't made any huge mistakes. I mean, I partnered with a training company once that was going to take my ideas and go train on it and they turned out to be a-- you know, they weren't full of integrity and so that relationship ended and I learned to lot from that relationship. And so from that experience, though, I said, all right, I'm going to now go forward and pick the right partners. I'm going to make sure I really work with the right people. And ever since, I've been so careful about who I partner with.
And we started The Energy Bus for schools, movement, you know, and that's been a great journey working with the right people on that. We're now doing the Power of Positive Leadership training program. I pick the right people to work with that. So again, I did trace back to that mistake, but now it's led to so many great opportunities.
I just want to make a point for our audience. One of your books, The Energy Bus, you translated The Energy Bus for kids.
And we sent that-- I don't know if I told you-- we sent that to all of our associates that had young children and I've never gotten more positive feedback about any book we've distributed than that.
When I heard you did that, I was so excited to know that. That's actually the best feeling in the world to know that you're making an impact on families and children, just to know that this work is impacting the next generation. I love that.
But you know, you're talking about negativity and experiences, I had one of those experiences early on in my career. I was working for a guy who was just a really genuinely negative guy. And the office that I was working in was not doing well. Everybody was down. Everybody was negative. In fact, this guy was so negative, I like to say, when the positive thinking writers would come to town, he would go and offer to give the rebuttal.
He was a really negative guy. So I saw that it was even getting to me. And so, you know, I actually developed a positive thinking program for the organization, actually called the EPA program. And it really helped pull everybody out of that negative view of life and things started turning around, people got more positive, results got better. So it really does work.
It really does.
Gandhi said I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. And I think that's what you did. You said, OK, I'm not going to let this guy affect my mindset. I'm going to choose the right mindset and then transform the organization with that.
Speaking of mindset, I wanted to chat with you a bit about Dr. Carol Dweck's concept of growth mindset. In that, she talks about fixed mindset and growth mindset. You've been kind of the epitome of having a growth mindset. I tell our associates at the bank all the time that with the banking industry changing so fast, if we don't have a growth mindset, we probably won't do very well. So how do you think about growth mindset and positivity?
I think they go hand-in-hand. I mean, having the optimism and belief about a brighter and better future really ties into the growth mindset that we're not our circumstances. Our vision is greater than our circumstances. Our optimism and belief is greater than our circumstances.
Yes, we were here yesterday, but here's where we're going now. Yes, we face this challenge. Yes, I'm in this skill set now, but here's where I'm going. Here's where I'm becoming. So I love the growth mindset.
I also believe that we're actually born with a growth mindset. I don't know what her research shows, but I look at a baby who's learning to walk. That baby just continues to walk, I mean, get knocked down, get back up, get knocked down, get back up. Continues to pursue the walking. So I believe it's already in us.
I believe over time the world imposes a fixed mindset. And it's about reminding people of who they are, who they can become, and the growth mindset that they have to become it. I think it's all part of that.
Yeah. No question. So and in your book, The Power of Positive Leadership, you talk about, I think, it's nine imperatives for a positive leader. One of those was, I think, critical about capturing a vision, sharing that vision, and getting people to follow that vision. But that's a pretty hard thing to do, isn't it?
It is hard. And it starts, though, with the leader of where do you want to go, and getting your team together and say, where do we want to go, what is our vision for the road ahead? Because every organization, every team, needs a North Star. They all need something to long for, something to hope for.
As a leader, you're a dealer in hope, sharing hope for the future. Not Pollyanna hope, but here's where we're going and let's work on going there. I think of Alan Mulally of how he turned around Ford. They're losing $14 billion and he turned them around in a few short years. One of the greatest leadership feats in history.
He defined his leadership style as positive leadership. He said everyone had to know the plan, embrace the plan, and relentlessly work towards the plan. And it was the positive leadership that kept on rallying them towards it. Because there was many times where it looked hopeless and a lot of people were very pessimistic.
And I think about one person's vision, one person's positive leadership, saved the lives and saved the jobs, the jobs of 50,000 people at Ford. It's amazing what he did. So I've met people along the way that have read that book and where I shared some of those stories. And like, hey, my dad worked at Ford and my uncle working at Ford. And wow, they thank Alan-- you know, they thank him every day for his positive leadership, his vision.
You know, to me, short of faith and family, having an opportunity to work with a group of people toward a shared vision that is, in fact, making the world a better place to be is the most special thing you can find. Because all of a sudden, you're not working. You know, I've been at this now for 46 years and people say, well, Telly, why are you still working? And I say, well, I never have worked.
I love that.
I just get up every day and I enjoy going to be with a group of people, doing something that's worthwhile, and changing the world, and that's very, very exciting.
Yeah. No one creates success alone. We all need a team to be successful. And when you're with a group of people, like you said, and you're working toward something, a shared vision, a greater purpose together, that's what life's all about. We're never meant to be isolated. We really are better together.
Yeah. I was interviewing another outstanding leader recently, a gentleman named Isaac Lidsky who-- it's a great story. He became blind, started becoming blind when he was 12 and fully blind by about 20, and hugely successful. But I asked him, I said, you know, how did you get your vision? And he said, you know, I actually have had several visions over the life. And of course, he kind of said, no pun intended.
Because he was blind.
But you've kind of evolved in your vision or your thought about the future, haven't you?
A little bit. My vision has always been to inspire and empower as many people as possible, one person at a time. So that vision remains. It started way back when I first started to do this. I still live that vision every day, but how I do it has changed. Looking for more resources, looking for ways to help people.
It's evolved in how I see what people need and what people are looking for. And I never like do something just to do it. It's always some that comes up, an idea, a thought, someone asking for something, and then a number of people start asking for it, and then I go, OK, maybe we're supposed to do this. So how we live the vision and implement the vision and work towards the vision, that's evolved and changed, but the vision has remained the same.
Now, in your book, The Power of a Positive Team, which is a great book, you talk about how important culture is, but you admit that you wish you had realized how important culture was even earlier in your career. Talk about that.
Well, it started when I was in college. I mean, I played lacrosse at Cornell University and we were ninth in the country my sophomore year. And by the time I was a senior, we had fallen apart as a team. We were a legendary program. We had a legendary coach and we had squandered it. This was the first losing season my coach ever had was my senior year.
And so what I realized was you can lose culture in a moment. That every day you're creating your culture by what you think, by what you say, by what you do. And so it's not static, it's dynamic. So it doesn't matter what your culture was like last year.
What are we doing to create our culture this year? It doesn't matter what it was like last week. What are we doing right now, every day, to create a great culture? So everyone in the team needs to realize that they're creating culture by what they think, say, and do. So you can elevate it by what you think, you can improve it by what you say, you can make it great by what you do.
The well-known author, speaker and consultant discusses how to combat negativity and find opportunity in failure.
Jon Gordon - Developing Positive People, Part 2
We've talked a lot about cultures, you know, at BB&T all these years. And I tell pe-- I tell investors, I tell other folks that the one distinguishing characteristic of BB&T is our culture. We have good loans and deposits and all that stuff, but it's culture that makes us different. And I share with our associates, there is only one thing in our company that is non-negotiable, and that is our culture.
All the other things we do is strategic and tactical and they change all the time. But our culture will not change.
I love that.
And that's powerful in terms of driving forward. But developing and keeping-- you know, people ask me, Kelly you have 38,000 associates over 15 states. How do you keep that culture alive? And I simply share, first it's hard work. You've got to be committed, and you got to do a lot of preaching. You've got to-- you've got to keep selling that belief. Because ultimately what leaders I think are doing is trying to get people to believe. And this culture, of this vision, it's mission, it's values and then ultimately that belief drives those behaviors, which gives the right results.
And so it's a continuous process. And that reminds me in your book I thought this was interesting, and you do a lot of coaching with all kinds of teams. NFL teams, college teams, but in one case you sat down with an NFL team and you went through an exercise of having them write down goals. And then you immediately told them to throw it away.
And talk about that.
And they were upset about that. And I was a little scared.
And I did that because I wanted them to know that their goals will not take them to where they want to go. It's their commitment to the process. It's their commitment to the goals that will lead to the results that they want, because every team during training camp pretty much has the same goals to win a championship. Every player in those locker rooms, in all across locker rooms around the country all have the same goals-- I want have so many touchdowns, so many passes. So it's not the goals. It's the commitment to the process.
And I love what you said earlier about the culture and in terms of takes commitment to build. It. I think a big part of that is to know what you stand for, because once you know what you stand for every decision you make is easy. And so leadership is a transfer of belief. We transform our belief to everyone about what we believe, how we do things here, which is our culture. This is how we do things here. Maybe you did something different somewhere else, but this is how we do them here. This is our culture, it's our essence.
And living, breathing essence of how we do things, and how we feel, and what we care about, and how we handle difficult conversations, and how we handle adversity. How do we handle success? How do we stay humble? But it's always driven by the leadership. It's driven by you and it's driven by all of your real leaders, which then drive it down to everyone in the organization because it must come from who you are.
The essence is within you. So you're integrity, who you are in the inside then spills out and permeates the culture. You know, I wrote about soup right, the book Soup years ago. Who stirs the pot determines what's in the pot. And when I think of culture the leaders that are stirring the pot in that culture in a positive way. The ingredients their putting into it, the love they're putting into it, the energy they're putting into it will determine how great that culture is.
Which is why leaders-- you can't fake it.
If it's not in your heart it's not going to have any impact.
You can't separate the leader from the culture.
And the culture from the leader.
In you're book The Power of Leadership you say something very powerful, you say join the mission and be on a mission.
That's pretty powerful.
Yeah, because today every organization has mission statements, but only the great ones have people who are on a mission. So what's our mission? So don't just have a mission, be on a mission. Our purpose is so great. We're so fired up. We're so passionate, that every day we show up we are here to live that mission. We're here to share that mission and be on a mission. And when you have people on fire like that, and fire it up, they're going to create amazing results.
You're such an inspirational leader yourself. Is there someone in your life that was our key influential later that impacted your life? I mean there's been several along the way. Ken Blanchard, one of my mentors really showed me what leadership is all about and what you could do as a writer and speaker and how you can impact people. So he had a huge impact on me. My dad who was in New York City police officer who was actually very negative because he was getting shot at all the time. He was undercover narcot--
--he was undercover narcotics. But he was very loving. So he really showed me what sacrificial love was all about. This is actually my stepfather, who raised me since I was five. So he had a huge impact on my life and his love. My mom same thing. She was my first coach, you know, who loved me more than any one else and who believed in me more than anyone else. So they were huge influences on me.
And then I would say and just that from a faith standpoint, a pastor named Erwin McManus. He's a pastor in L.A. A church called Mosaic. Incredible influence. He's impacting people around the world. But he had a huge impact on me in 2005 that really changed my life and in a deep way. And I became a person of faith and that's when I start writing these books. And so like you can't take one away and have the other. Like my faith led me to start doing this and start to write and everything changed from there. So for me that was a huge impact on my life.
You mentioned a negative experience in your life, I mentioned one in my life. You talk about how when people are at a negative place it's really important to help them get to a positive place, if you can. You can't always.
But any thoughts for the audience about how to help someone move from negativity to positivity? Yeah, meet them where they are, . To meet them where they are in terms of having a relationship with them. How often do we work with people we don't have a relationship. As a leader relationship is the real driving force of motivation. We can think positive all we want but it's the relationship that drives the motivation to reach towards competitive greatness.
So for me it's about the relationship and meeting that person where they are. And then lifting them up, encouraging them, inspiring them, helping them have a vision, show them what's possible, believe in them more than they believe in themselves. And really try to get them to think differently and try to get them to tell a different story.
A lot of times they're telling a negative story, a pessimistic story. But if you can change their story and that internal dialogue to a more positive story, you can impact their life. And I realized that's what the energy bus has done over the last 11 years now, is where people read it and in some way it changes the story that tell themselves. And that's why it has an impact. So I think through story we can really impact people.
You know one of the things that I think that correlates very well to her positivity is optimism.
And I've read some books about the relationship between pessimism and optimism. You know, pessimists are people who some bad thing happens and I say this bad thing happened, and it's going to change my life-- my whole life, it's going to last forever, and I was all my fault.
Verses an optimist who said this bad thing happened, it's not changed change my whole life. It's probably not going to last forever. It wasn't my fault anyway. I've got to deal with it. But that optimism and positivity is really hand-in-hand isn't it?
It is and Zig Ziglar said you know failure is an event it's not a definition. So these events are not meant to define you. They're meant to refine you. And it's all about perspective, how we see the world determines the world that we see. And so the pessimists are just seeing the world a different way than the optimists. And the optimists says the best is yet to come. They believe in it. Working with Clemson football and Dabo Swinney, you know, for the past seven years now. Again, you may not be Clemson fan but you can admire his optimism and belief, and you can see first hand how we transform the program with optimism.
In my talk today, I'm going to talk about an example of when they lost a national championship and what he said afterwards. He wasn't focusing on the loss. He was already thinking about the future. He was already talking about spring football and training camp and what they're going to do next year. And they come back and win it next year.
I love the story on a podcast that you do with your new positive view, and he was talking about, I think it was his second season, which was not a great season. And one of his supporters asked him said sometimes the fact that we want to be like Alabama, or we wanna to be like, you know--
--Georgia-- and he just kind of said, well, actually in a few years they're going to want to be like us.
Now that was powerful vision.
He said my vision is that they want to be like us. And it's so funny because I worked with Texas, the year they went to the national championship Colt McCoy was a senior, they lost national championship-- but I worked with Texas. Dabo at that point was taking over Clemson. So I don't know Dabo, I'm now at Texas. So when Tom Herman became the head coach of Texas there was a headline in the newspaper, or one of the main parts of the article, that said, we need this to compete with the Clemson's of the world.
And years before it was Clemson wanted to be like Texas. Now Texas wanted to be like Clemson, and Dallas showed me that and said, this was my vision. And you could see how it came to fruition. Why-- optimism, belief, a lot of love in accountability.
You know, I think that's a key part that we should share for people, that being a positive leader doesn't mean that you're positive all the time. You also have to hold people accountable to the standards, the values, the culture, and the processes. So we're not just here to have fun together, We are here to pursue greatness together.
And accomplish a really worthwhile purpose.
Something meaningful and purposeful. And as we're doing that and work towards this greatness, I'm have to push along the way. I am going to have to challenge you to be your best. But love must come first. So if the love arrives before accountability, accountability will work a lot more. If we lead with accountability and no love, which is what happens often, people then feel pressure, they feel frustrated, they wind up getting burned out that way.
I have found that on the road from pessimism to optimism, for almost all people, they find their why. You know, this great book Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. One of my-- or a great book, and for those that have not read, it's a great read. But in that, as you know, he said when you know when you know your why, you can endure any how. I kind of paraphrase, when you're clear about your purpose in life you can overcome obstacles.
And I think that's one of our greatest challenges as leaders is to help people discover their why, hopefully see that why aligns with our corporate why. And then, as we talked earlier, occasionally if it doesn't help them find another organization where their why is aligned with organizational why. Have you found in your experiences that it's really critical to have everybody aligned on the why?
Oh, it is. You have to have the big why of why we exist, as a company, as an organization. Like why do we exist? If we were gone tomorrow, would the world notice?
Right. And the fact that we're here, well what are we here to do and who we here to impact, and what kind of legacy do we want to leave? Now not everyone is going to be living there big why within a company or an organization. But what I tell people all of the time is you can start living with purpose and you can be on purpose. And you could show up everyday and use your job as a vehicle to live your bigger purpose. So maybe your bigger purpose is to serve, to impact people.
Well, you don't have to go to the homeless shelter to do that. If you want to, that's awesome. Then go do that. But every day you show up to work and you're working in a bank, wow you can have a huge impact on people's lives by smiling at them, by encouraging them, by being there for them. So I think we often think that we have to separate our work life from our purpose life or our spiritual life. And no, you can bring them together and use your work as an opportunity and a vehicle to live your greater purpose.
I have found that when you do that, if you're meant to go be somewhere else, you know God will plant you somewhere else when you're on purpose and living your purpose. If you're meant to do it in the work, well you're going to grow in that work and have more opportunity and a bigger responsibility to lead more people and impact more people. So we plant ourselves like a seed-- I wrote a book called The Seed-- we then grow into the leader we're meant to be. And as we grow, why do we grow? To produce a harvest and fruit in others.
That is really, really well described. What I'm challenging our associates to think about, and what I'm challenged myself to think about, is that I believe we have a great opportunity to plant what I call seeds of hope. Seeds of hope are those smiles, those pats on the back. And I'm encouraging people to think about-- imagine the morning when you first get ready even before you grow out of the bathroom and you meet your family. You think about somebody handed you an imaginary handful of seeds. And every time during the day you patch my about you smile you say hey how are you and really mean it
Then you take one of those little seeds and you throw it. On the ground because you just planted a seed of hope and you may well have changed a life and you've done that through your life you've planted millions of seeds of hope.
You just inspired me with that. I mean, that is just such a powerful story and example, and a way to actually live it in a practical way. I mean I'm truly inspired by that. It gives me hope to hear that. And I love that idea because what I often say, and I often say this to educators when I'm speaking the schools, I say you may not see the harvest. But don't let that stop you from playing the seed.
I think often we want the immediate gratification. We want the harvest right now so that's why we don't do it. But you have to do it trusting a harvest is coming. So you plant those seeds you share those smiles, words of encouragement, and then over time you trust that a harvest is coming. And I live that way, you know, doing what I do. You don't always get the response right away. But it's weird like a year later, two years later I'll get an email. And I got one the other day from a guy who said that he read The Energy Bus and he was going to end his life and decided to keep on living.
And I went to an event to speak, he said I'd love to meet with you, I'm going to be there. We got together, we talked and it was just one of those examples that tell you, you know, you don't know who you're helping.
You never know you never know what an encouraging word is going to do. People think, well, you're a writer John you get that feedback. But not all the time and I didn't do it to get immediate feedback. But here's how I live. I live with the end in mind knowing that when I die I have this vision of people meeting my kids and telling them some way that reading my books, or hearing me speak, or watching this made a difference in their life. And I won't even be here to enjoy it. But my kids will hear it, and for some reason to me that's how I want to live knowing that I'm leaving behind seeds of hope-- I'm going to use that from now on-- and then producing a harvest, which is fruit in the lives of others. There's nothing more important. I mean I think that's what we're here for. It's so important to do that. To have those daily interactions produce meaning.
The well-known author, speaker and consultant talks about personal and professional purpose, and living on mission.
Ron Clark - The Power of Positive
[MUSIC PLAYING] Ron Clark, welcome to the BB&T Leadership Series.
Thank you, sir.
Glad to have you on the Series.
I appreciate you.
And thank you for letting us do it here at the Ron Clark Academy.
Yeah, we're excited to have you here.
It's your 10th anniversary.
It's exciting. For those of you that have not met Ron Clark. This is an outstanding individual, who grew up in Eastern North Carolina, as did I. Worked on a farm, as I did. But decided to be a teacher, went to Harlem, did such a phenomenal job. Wrote a book. Been on Oprah. There's a movie written about your life. You've been to the White House. You've gotten to be awarded the Disney American Teacher of the Year-- an outstanding individual, making a great contribution to the world. Thank you for joining us on the BB&T Leadership Series.
Thank you, sir. Thanks for having me.
I want to start out with something from your latest book, Move Your Bus, which is a great book. If you haven't read it, you need to read it. But in it you tackled, heads up, something that 95% of leaders will not tackle. You said, "Some days I just feel like I can't do this again. I can't make it. I had to drag myself out of bed."
Tell us about how that experience-- how did you get to where you could push through that?
Well, when I first started as an administrator, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. And I didn't realize that dealing with people and managing people would be so challenging. Managing kids, I had that. Once I was in charge of people, I realized, well, people are very needy.
There are mistakes. And there's issues, and there's drama. There's so much going on when you're an administrator, in the back end, that no one else knows about. You're handling all different types of situations and problems.
And so some mornings I did feel like, I just don't want to get up. I wake up, and I feel like there's a ton of bricks on me. And I'll hit the snooze button, and I'll hit it again. And I'll say, I just don't know if I want to do this today. And then sometimes I'll say, I don't know if I ever want to teach again another day in my life. And my name's on the school. So how am I getting out of it? I'm stuck.
So I would pull myself up. And I get to the school. And right before I walk in, I say, Ron, you have one job. As a leader, your job description is be in a good mood, because that is the most important thing. If you're in a bad mood, if you're upset, if you're negative, negativity is going to spread. It comes from the top.
And so I walk in that door. Hey, everybody. What's up? Let's have a great day. And I just try to force myself to be happy. And what I found is that sometimes after 10 minutes of pretending like I'm in a good mood, I'll feel like, I really do feel good.
I will be in a good mood. And so I think sometimes people allow themselves to be in a slumber, in a funk. And you go around the office-- hey, to everybody-- and then you just spread that sludge. But you have the power through your personality and your energy to spread positive energy if you can just change your mindset.
In 2007 when the school first opened, people said, well, how's it going? Because I run the school, but I teach all day. And I was like, oh, my gosh, I got headaches. Eighth grade mom's on my nerves. The seventh graders-- discipline problems. The board members don't understand what we're trying to do.
And what I found is that when I would say those things, my staff would say, well, who does that eighth grade mom think she is? And they should understand what we're doing. And you know what? The seventh graders were rude for me, too. And I was like, oh, my gosh. Negativity breeds negativity.
So I go into a staff meeting. Had a bad day. I say, you know what everybody? Let's get to work. I love y'all. You know what? I had a great day with those sixth graders. Aren't they a great group of kids? I love them. I love y'all, too. Let's get to work.
And my staff will be like, well, those sixth graders, I guess they are great, aren't they? We love you, too. Let's get to work. So it's just the power that you have as a leader. It's profound.
So you talk a lot about in your book, and when I've toured the school with you, you talk about how you always have high expectations.
Talk a little bit about that as it relates to you and the teachers. But also, you expect every student to have high expectations. How does that work?
The more you expect from people, the more you're going to get. I expect a lot of my students. I grew up in Chocowinity, North Carolina. My grandmother had a lot of rules for me. Rules about how to be a good person, how to treat people. A true Eastern North Carolina, as you know, upbringing.
And so when I started teaching, I realized people aren't teaching these manners anymore to kids. So I made a list of 55 rules, and I was very specific. And I taught them exactly what I expected. What I found is that once I showed them how to handle a situation when someone bumps into you, how to turn on your homework, how to ask for help, it just changed the climate of the classroom. And so I learned, being specific with people, you're going to get better results. And when you expect a lot, the kids are more likely to get there.
This is the same with my staff as well. I expect a lot of everybody around me. I have this focus on excellence. If we're going to do something, we're going to do it right. And whenever someone makes a mistake or something goes wrong, the first thing I do as a leader is I say, was I clear? Was I very clear about my expectations?
Now if I was very clear, then I hold them accountable. We'll have a conversation. Usually, I'll say to myself, well, I wasn't clear enough. I should've been more clear about my expectations.
My dad taught me a lesson about that when I was working on the farm as a young kid. A lot of times I would do things halfway. And he would always stop me and say, son, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. And that's that concept, if you're going to do something in life, put your signature on it, do something you'd be proud of. Make it the best you can be.
Exactly. We had a situation here where we always send our incoming fifth graders this t-shirt with their school year on it. We're excited to have you come. And I said, y'all, I have this idea. Why don't we find some dragon DNA and we'll grow a life-size dragon and have the dragon hatch eggs. Let's stick the t-shirts in the eggs, bury the eggs in these big crates of dirt, and ship the crates to the kids? Wouldn't that be much more fun? Our mascot's the dragon.
And so my staff said, I don't know how we're going to do it. Maybe we'll just take a sheet of paper, print an egg on it, cut a slit through it, stick the t-shirt through it, so it's coming out of the egg. I said, no, if we're not going to do it right, we're not going to do it at all. So let's figure this out.
So we got donors and sponsors and people to come. And we got all these crates made and shipped to the kids' houses. Can you imagine as a kid? You open the door. You see this big crate. My name's on it. Then you open up-- you dig through the dirt. You find this big egg with your t-shirt. It's just cool. And it's a moment.
I always say, if you're going to be here, be here. If you're going to lead, lead. This is our life. And if you have a chance to do something, go for it. Don't just do it halfway. If you're going to do something, then do it right. And make some magic.
So let's talk about how that gets translated into your book. it's a great book. And you do a great job of using the bus analogy.
But for the viewers who may not have had a chance to read the book yet, talk about the joggers, and the riders, and the walkers, and how that plays in life.
Basically whatever organization you're with, I look at it as a bus. So picture your organization like a bus, and however far the bus goes, that equals success. So we're going to Fred Flintstone it. We're going to put our feet through holes in the floor of the bus. And we're going to try and move it. Because what moves the bus, what moves BB&T, what moves the Ron Clark Academy, what moves any organization is the people. It's very often not the product. It's always the people.
When you surround yourself with a great group of people and a great team, you're going to have success. And so we hope everyone will drop their feet and run, because the runners push the bus. Runners are awesome. They come early. They stay late. They have good energy.
Then you have joggers. And the joggers do OK. They keep up the best they can. They contribute. But they're not a runner. It's like the teacher in high school that's in charge of the prom. She'll do the prom, but she will complain about it all the time. She'll say, oh, my gosh. These kids have changed the prom theme on me three times. They want to complain, because they want to draw attention to what they do.
Then you have a walker. And the walkers are kind of being pulled by the bus. They're the ones that are complaining. They're negative. They look around at the business, and they're constantly talking about everything they don't like. I said that to one teacher one time, and she said, well, I'm just pointing out everything that needs to be fixed. I said, well, if you're not the one that's going to fix it, you're just spreading negativity.
And then you've got riders. And the riders are just sitting on the bus. They're dead weight. I used to put, as a leader, all my energy into fixing them. Because I said, you know what? I can fix these riders. If I can get these riders to go, that's the problem. If I can get them to go, this bus is going to fly. And I found that if I put my whole heart into them, that a rider will walk. But I realize they're never going to run. And that is not revolution.
So what I did was I put all my effort on my runners. My best, encouraging them, supporting them, giving them autonomy and freedom, letting them take risks going forward. And I cultivated them. And once I cultivated my runners, that's when revolution happened. And that's kind of the whole mindset of what we do at the Ron Clark Academy.
Now, so we've got one other player to talk about. The driver and powering the bus. You talk a lot about the power of the bus.
Yeah, the driver is the person who's in charge. You're the leader. So you've got your whole team of runners and riders and everyone. And I think the most important thing that a driver can do is to have passion. You've got to believe in the organization. You have to work hard.
And so the driver has to be somebody who's humble. You've got to be willing to not try to put yourself above others. You want to make a team-type of atmosphere. And you've got to have passion. You have to really believe in what you're doing, because if you really believe in it, others are going to believe in it as well.
So I've found in life that some people are quick to change. Some people can be plotted into changing. Some people just don't believe they can change. What's your concept about, can people change? And what is it that causes some people to change and other people to not change?
I think that everyone can change to some degree. But some people in the organization, it's not worth the effort. Because to get them to change, it's like their screw is so tight that I would have to use all the WD-40 in the world to get it to go. And I ain't got all that WD-40, and someone else is much more willing to change.
Part of what I do as a leader is I want to be bold and different. That's why we have a slide in our school. I say, everyone's taking the stairs. Come on y'all. Let's slide as an organization. Let's be different. Let's take chances. Let's go for it, while at the same time, looking in the past and pulling the best from what we already do. For example, when people meet me, they think, oh, it's so different. He's so out there.
This school is about traditional Eastern North Carolina values and manners, old-fashioned respect, and discipline. I love those things. So I pull it. But in terms of how we educate kids, it's about being innovative, creative, clever, and bold.
So when you're talking about change, you've got to get people to buy into the mindset of, I don't want you to change everything you believe in. We want to take all the best from the past. But now let's look forward to the future and try to find ways to make something improve and better.
And that's why this school is different. We caused a paradigm shift to happen in the minds of people. If you've never seen what change can do, or if you've never seen how something different can work really well, you are resistant to change. So when people come to visit our school, they see that different is better. Once you get people to realize different can be better, they're much more easy to turn.
You talk in the book about keys to acceleration, from where you are to where you can go. Any thoughts you'd like to share about that?
Sure. I would just say, the key is to have a clear plan, and to make sure that it's detailed. Everything that I do, I want to make sure that everyone on the team knows. Here's what we're doing. Here's our plan.
And I used to, as a leader, think, if we're going to accelerate, if we're going to push this bus, I have got to be in charge and over everything. It was after a few years, I realized I'm going to die. I was like, I can't do this anymore. And so I had to teach my team how to be leads, how to take ownership to it. And what I found is that once I relinquished some of the ownership and the leadership to everyone else, they owned it more. It helped us accelerate.
Also if you're somebody, and you're like, well, I know I'm a rider. And I know I'm a walker, and I want to go faster. The key to acceleration is who you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with positive people, who are doing great work, what's going to happen is you will be better. You want to have conversations with people in the organization who are positive and that's going to be helpful.
So if you know you can't be a runner and be that type person. You can walk across the hall to the person that has the potential to do that, and you say to them, I'm proud of you. I can't be you right now, because I've got some family drama, but I'm proud of you. Now I want you to go for it, and I think what you're doing is awesome.
That allows you to move into the category of runner as well, where you're accelerating. Because you may not be able to want to accelerate right now, but if you uplift others who are, you're contributing to that bus moving.
At BB&T, I talk a lot about enjoying the journey. You talk about enjoying the ride. You obviously enjoy your life. Do you find that in the culture, you built in the school, even with the challenges that I know a lot of these kids have outside of the school, are you able to help them see that they can control whether or not they enjoy the ride?
I think so. In a school, whether it's leadership or my kids, it seems you're always looking for the goal. Like, for example, students are always preparing to take an integrate test. They're preparing and you got to get your test scores for the integrate tests. And as a staff, we always seem to be planning, oh, we have this big event coming up. Or now we're looking at this coming up.
And so, one thing that we tell our students and our staff is enjoy the ride. You want to embrace every day. If you going to be here, be here. You have to walk down this hall anyway. If you're going walk down hall, why not smile at everybody? Why not enjoy it?
Right now my staff is getting ready for this big event that's actually tonight. And so for weeks and months, we've been preparing. And it's been stressful. But I've told them I said if the journey to get to this day is stressful, then the outcome of that day is probably not going to be worth it.
But if we find a way to enjoy the planning, the preparation, the work that's gone into this. If we find a way to laugh, to enjoy what we're doing. My goodness, that day is going to be the most magical day ever.
And it's the same with kids. When you're in a classroom, and preparing for a test, if it's boring and you're not enjoying yourself, you're not enjoying the journey. But if you can make the journey magical, what's going to happen is the result is going to be a much better outcome.
You talk a lot about having a culture of excellence, which is kind of related to being your best and doing your best every day. Can you give us any thoughts about how a company like you has created clearly a culture of excellence here. If you're a leader of a company watching this, how can they think about creating a culture of excellence.
First off as a leader, you have to determine what is excellence to me? Because if you're expecting excellence from everyone in your organization, but they don't know what's your idea of excellence is, it's going to be disjointed. So as a leader, you should try to say, OK, here is my expectations. Here's my plan. Here are things that I value, and this is what I'm looking for in my team. And so once you're clear, the results are always going to be a lot better. I think that's the key.
If you want to have excellence. You also have to exude excellence, be clear about excellence. Let everyone know. This is what we do in this organization. For example, I think one of the things that we do here, that happened because I was clear about it, is how we talk to kids. If any kid comes up to me, Mr. Clark, I got a question. Yes, Buddy, what's going on? I will stop and look right at that kid. If an eighth grader, hey, Mr. Clark. I'd say, Yes, what's going on?
I just stop, and I look at them. And I let the whole world go away. I learned it from my mom at a Piggly Wiggly. My mom and I, when I was a kid, we'd go to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. She would talk to everybody, even people I knew she didn't like. She was so kind, and she would stop and take as long as they wanted to, and then she'd go on.
I watched my dad at the lumber yard. He talked to everybody. He'd look at them, and that makes them feel special. We went to the White House. I learned it from Bill Clinton because I got honored with this award and I'm there with Bill Clinton and my class. I said, President Clinton, the best teacher I've ever known is named Barbara Jones. She's shy. She's over there hiding behind that Christmas tree. Will you go tell her you're proud of her? And he said, come with me.
And we walked over there behind the Christmas tree. And he took her hands and pulled them close. He said, Barbara Jones, I am so proud of you, and I love you. And he just stared at her. She said it was like the Christmas tree went away. The White House was gone. She said he made me feel like the most important person in the world.
So to be specific about what I think excellence is, I told my staff, we will always do that. Whenever anyone wants something, you stop. You look at them. You focus on them. There's always time for people. You've got learn to make people feel special. I want you to find out when everybody's granddad's colonoscopy is going to be. I want you to learn everybody's pets' names.
We do a test during the summer where my staff has to memorize the name of every student's parent in this building, because I want you to know the mama, the mama's boyfriend, the grandmama's name. These are things to me that mean something.
Once I was very specific with my staff that this is what I think excellence is, then they knew. Oh, he wants us to do these things. This is excellence in his mind. And then they've done it. And that's one of the ways that we help the bus accelerate.
I just want to make the point for our audience. You make the point in your book. Some people would say, well, he's a teacher. I'm a banker. I'm a lawyer. The principles he's talking about may not relate to us.
What I've found, having read your book and having known you for a number of years, is the very same concepts and principles that is making this an excellent place for kids to learn, apply completely to the business environment. Is that what you found this well?
Yeah, it's all about passion, relationships, expectations. It's the same thing. Yes, this is a school. But make no bones about it, this is a multi-million dollar organization that we have built here, where teachers come from China, Russia, Ireland, Finland, all over the country, around the world. They come here to learn how to be the best. About 400 educators a week come here from all over the world.
This is a business we run. And so if you're thinking, oh, that's a school. It's different-- Mhm mhm. Mhm mhm. This is a company. This is a business and the principles apply in all situations.
And I just want to make also the point, because I was confused about this when I first visited you. Because you have this outstanding track record. All of your kids graduate. All of your kids go to college. So I naturally assumed, like business people would, that you must only get the cream of the crop that come here. That's not true, right?
No, I've always tried to put myself in situations where I worked with kids that others said couldn't do it, or others may not have believed in. And so at our school here, if I only had top kids in my class, people would not come-- 400 teachers wouldn't come a week to watch me, because well, no wonder he has success.
So I have all different types. One thing they have in common is that for about 75% to 80% of the kids in our school, the average income of the family is around $34,000 a year on average. We do have a small population of kids in our school who come from higher income families. But it's small compared to the vast number of those who come from lower income situations.
Well, I know when I visited your class, where you were actually teaching fifth graders. And you gave us, the visitors, a chance to ask the kids some questions. And I asked this one young girl a question about life and purpose and success. And she gave this phenomenal answer. It was incredible. And then afterwards you told me, she's homeless.
The point is everybody has the opportunity to learn and grow. Good leaders can help bring that out. They have to choose, but they can help bring that out.
As we move towards the end of the video, I want to talk about what I think maybe is the most important thing. And that is the essence of life and the essence of what we all should be looking for in life. And if you don't know why you're here, then any little bump in the road can get you off track. Talk about your personal why in life.
I think when it all boils down to it, I just want to help people. I could say a lot of things. But when I built this school, I had the intention of, I'm going to change the lives of these kids. I'm going to make their lives better. And I'm also going to invite educators to come and to learn and to spread it. I wanted to make an impact.
If you're going to be here, let's be here. Let's help people. And so I think, at my core, I just have this desire to help people. And I think if you are a leader, and your underlying desire, let's help people, I think you're going to be successful if that's your why and that's you're intent.
Now if you're intent is money, or a job title, or prestige, or a plaque, you're never going to get quite where you want. But I think if you inherently are like, I just want to help people. I think that's going to lead you to the top.
Well, interesting. That's exactly my own personal life. In fact, I wake up every day, and my goal, and my prayer is, can I do something today to help somebody be a little more positive, a little more successful, a little more happy? If I can just touch one person, then it's been a good day.
At BB&T, our why is we want to make the world a better place to live, by making loans and deposits, but also working with community groups, working with people like you that are helping change the world. So I think all of us working together can make the world a better place to be.
I think so, too.
And there's no question you are doing it. I am so proud of what you're doing. You're impacting millions of kids throughout this country and the world. I know our audience is excited about having this chance to meet you.
I just want to encourage everybody again to read this book. It's powerful, plus the other books. The 55 book is a great book. Every one of those principles are awesome.
So as we wrap up, if you have one parting comment or advice to a parent or a leader that might be listening, any final parting advice for the listeners.
I would just say, when you live your life, live your life with purpose. You want to have empathy. You want to look around you, and try to feel sorry for people who don't maybe have what you have or advantages. Try to lift people up. And if you have that type of a mindset, I think it's going to make you happier. You'll be more successful, and you're going to have a better life.
The author of Move Your Bus talks about building relationships and staying positive.
Manny Ohonme - Know Your Why
You started your life in the middle of obstacles. Tell us about Africa, Nigeria, where you were born and raised and some of the difficulties you went through.
You know, 15 of us grew up in this home that was two bedroom, that my mom and dad had one bedroom. The rest of us had another bedroom. I'll joke around and tell my kids the first bed I slept in was at my college when I came to the United States.
But the beauty was I had a mom that loved me in spite of all this and to keep encouraging me, that in spite of all the mess and the obstacles I got around me, that you have a god that's created you for a big purpose. I always wonder, Mom, where's this purpose? I can't see it. But she always had a way of just encouraging and reminding me that you just keep trusting, and you're going to accomplish great things one day.
I helped her to go sell water one day at this park. And I showed up at this park. And there was a group of missionaries that were there, right? It was crazy, because they came to teach African children how to play sports.
And I put my basket of water down. And I saw these kids having fun. So I wanted to join them. They shooed me away. And I could have said, OK, I'm here to sell. But I said, I have to join these people.
So I ended up finding one of the balls that went around the corner. I grabbed it, and I snuck in. I knew if I could just be a part of them-- I see the guy. I find out later on he was a missionary-- that he can actually allow me to be part of it. I was thinking, he will let me be part of their stuff.
So after I join them, he says, here, let's dribble the ball. Let's pass the ball. And then he said we're going to have a shooting competition. And he said the prize for the winner is going to be a new pair of shoes.
It was crazy. I was so elated. I'm like, everybody in that place want to get picked. We were screaming pick me, pick me. Because if you live in a community where your parents live on less than $1 a day, a pair of tennis shoes is like a Mercedes-Benz. So it was like, everybody want to get picked.
And I was screaming. And I was one of the few that got picked. So I stepped up to the line, Kelly. I never played basketball in my life. The first shot I took that day was nothing but net. I joke around. I say angels was working overtime. I made two shots that day that changed my life.
All I wanted to do was run home. And as I was about to take up this missionary and grab him by his shoulder-- and his name was Dave. He was actually from the state of Wisconsin, that we call him Dave from Wisconsin. And he looked at me. He says, son, just because all you see around you is poverty doesn't mean the god of the universe has forgotten about you. He says, son, keep dreaming, and keep dreaming big.
One of the things I read in your book, which is a great book, by the way, for our audience. They should read-- we've got it here, Sole Purpose-- is that you really believe in a humble way that you can change the world, that you can improve the conditions for humanity.
You know, I know a guy that actually walked the face of this earth. I read about it. Actually, I was named after him. And he had a basin of water. And one by one, he started washing the feet of his disciples. And he looked at them and said if you want to be great in life, you've got to all understand the power of humility and what it means to serve others.
And now that's what my why is. That service to others, I believe, is the key that helps emancipate humanity from the dungeon of self. I always asked myself the questions that the Good Samaritan called David from Wisconsin, I wonder how many people told him not to come to Africa over 30-some years ago? Never knowing in his wildest dream he would get an encounter to come in contact with a boy that he will [? inactivate ?] hope and faith in his life, to go one day and realize that he was created for something much bigger.
So the fact that Dave came to Africa changed my life. A pair of shoes became a vehicle that changed my life. We created a movement to go help put shoes on the feet of 10 million kids because one man came to Africa. That's now been multiplied seven million times over.
You're in, like, 80 countries or something?
We serve kids now, and by the end of this year, about 90 countries, 350 US communities. And we have seven international offices. And soon, now, we just invented, actually, a world shoe, the first of its kind in this world that actually has an active, built-in antimicrobial property that can repel anything from a parasitic infection. And it's also biodegradable. Because when you're so laser focused on what you're called to do, God will bring unique people across your path that will help you accomplish this vision.
A kid, a young girl that came to a distribution, just like we're going to do today, this associate looked at our little girl and asked her what her dream was. She said she wanted to be a nurse. He said, you're going to be a nurse. And she comes from a very, very poor background.
And she said, man, never give up. I say, I promise you one thing, there will be days when you go through college then you're going to want to quit. But always remember that God's on your side. You can do all things. And every time you want to give up, remember this day and remember my face, that you can accomplish and get through this.
Fast forward a few years by, this girl, she's a nurse. That lady went back to our church, because our pastor was the one to help us orchestrate that distribution that day. And she shared with our passion and give up. She never forgot that Samaritan volunteer--
--that reminded her, you're going to have dark days. You're going to have dark days. And the day that you want to quit is going to come. But remember today that you've been given an opportunity, and you have hope. And hope means something much bigger. It's to have only positive expectation.
And that girl today is one of the key breadwinners for her family. It all stems back and comes back to that day when the volunteers came and won the heart of that kid. So we don't know who that girl, that boy is going to become today. And I promise you two people's lives are going to be changed today-- the recipients and the volunteers.
The founder of Samaritan's Feet shares his inspiring story. Watch Ohonme's full interview in our Education Center.
Dan Pink - Drive and Motivation
[MUSIC PLAYING] You're really breaking from a lot of the traditional business persons views. You've said that science is saying one thing and business people are still doing another, which I actually find in our own company. So I'm quite expecting that we're going to learn some things in our company about how to improve.
One of the things you've said in Drive I thought was pretty interesting, you said greatness and near-sightedness are incompatible. What does that mean?
Well, I mean, it's like if you want to do something that matters, something that lasts, something that's significant, you've got to extend your gaze beyond simply what's right in front of you. And I think what's happened is that is that a lot of the motivational mechanisms inside of organizations are very much focused on the short term.
So we say to employees, if you do this particular thing, pretty soon we're going to give you this. And we're getting people to sort of set their sights this way. Same thing is true at the organizational level, especially in any kind of public company.
Public companies are just, understandably, focused on-- what's going to happen in this 90 day segment? Or what's going to happen in this 90 day segment? Or what's going to happen in this 90 day segment-- that the incentive system both at the individual level and at the organizational level is forcing a kind of myopia that I think is unhealthy in the long term.
Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about McGregor's Theory X, Theory Y, when I started it years and years ago, it was the simple concept that the Theory X people are explicitly rewarded. And they're only focused on doing something to get paid, and [INAUDIBLE] a little more intrinsically.
But you've taken it to another level with your Theory I, or I type of person. Tell me.
Well, I mean, what's interesting about McGregor, who was writing in the 1950s, 1960s, is that he was way ahead of his time, that he was more or less right. But what he was doing in some level was kind of-- and I don't mean this in a negative way-- he was philosophizing. He was basically saying, this is my observations. This is I think the world should be.
And what I've tried to do in this one book called Drive is look at what has science told us? Over the last 50 years, there's been an explosion of research, probably triggered in part by McGregor's ideas. Explosion of research in laboratory settings, field studies, et cetera-- now, more and more big data-- taking this very hardheaded, very analytic look at this question of, what motivates people on the job?
And it turns out there's now evidence to support McGregor's instincts. And what the evidence tells us pretty clearly is this. There's a certain kind of motivator that we use in organizations. Psychologists call it a controlling contingent motivator. I like to call it an if/then reward. If you do this, then you get that. If you do this, then you get that.
The science is overwhelming that if/then rewards are extremely effective for simple short-term tasks. They work really well. And the reason for that-- and it gets a little bit complicated here, it gets a little bit nuanced here-- is that it's not that human beings don't like rewards. We love rewards. We love them to death. They get our attention, but they get our attention in this very narrow way. That's very good if you know what you need to do, and the finish line is nearby.
However, if a task requires more creative thinking, more conceptual thinking, the problem isn't perfectly phrased, you're drawing from here, drawing from here, putting it together, turning it upside down, experimenting, or the finish line is further off, those if/then rewards just don't work very well. For that, you need this much more expansive view.
And so I think that the problem that we have-- I mean, I think McGregor was, as I said, McGregor was ahead of his time. Herzberg was ahead of his time. To some extent, Maslow was ahead of his time. But those guys were not doing experimental research. They weren't doing random controlled trials to test causation, to test what the mechanism is driving all of this.
And I think that if you take what the science is telling us, what it shows us is that we're making mistakes. And that if you think about a firm-- a firm is a collection of jobs to be done. So some of those tasks to be done are simple, algorithmic, mechanical, routine, short-time horizons. Use if/then rewards for those.
But as we were talking before, a bigger portion of the tasks to be done inside of a firm are much more complicated. And so our mistake is that we're using if/then rewards for everything, rather than only that one area where they're effective.
And when we're in the if/then rewards, mundane, robotic-type activities, where it seems we're missing out entirely on what you talk about in terms of the third drive that we all have, that's kind of an inner drive to do well while we're doing good.
That's part of what it is to be human. I mean, it's a good point. Because I think that a lot of times, we've taken-- I mean, you used the word robotic, and let's stick with that word here for a second. Think about what a robot is. A robot is something that is essentially programmed. It doesn't really have a biological drive. But let's say that the electricity and energy is its biological drive. And then it's programmed to respond to stimuli in certain ways.
Now, human beings are somewhat like that. But that's a very two-dimensional view of human beings. Human beings have another dimension, which is exactly what you're talking about. We're interested in stuff. We like stuff. We want to do things that matter. And I think what's essential is that businesses take a three-dimensional view of people.
In our family lives, we would never take a two-dimensional view of people we love. We wouldn't say, oh, my wife, she only response to biological drives and if/then rewards. Or my kid only respond to biological drives and if/then rewards. We'd say, no, it's a full human being. And I think that having that three-dimensional view of human beings is not only the right thing to do, but it is more effective.
So we've talked about some of the '50s, '60s guys, the Peales the Herzbergs, and Maslows, and those guys. Some of the newer thinkers like yourself and Carol Dweck-- I mentioned Carol's work around growth mindset. It seems to me-- you may disagree. But it seems to me that this I concept, this inner drive is getting at this growth mindset.
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, Carol Dweck's work on the growth mindset and fixed mindset is remarkable. To my mind, at least, it's historically important that when people tell the history of ideas in our understanding of the human condition, 100 years from now, 200 years from now, they're going to be talking about that as an important moment, as a breakthrough.
And I think that if you look at what motivates people at the deepest level, part of it is a sense of mastery, a sense of making progress. And I think the growth mindset connects very clearly to that by it's very name, growth. People want to progress.
If you have a fixed mindset, and every challenge you have is simply a measure of your reservoir of ability, then you're not going to grow. But if you have a growth mindset, and you say every challenge is the chance to make progress, grow, learn, develop, then, I think, you become-- again, I think it's a double win. You become, I think, a more fulfilled human being, and you're better at your job.
The New York Times best-selling author and speaker Dan Pink talks about what drives and motivates us. Watch Pink's full interview in our Education Center.
Jen Bricker - Everything Is Possible
[MUSIC PLAYING] So Jen Bricker, welcome to the BB&T Leadership Series.
It's good to have you with us for our audience. This is Jen Bricker, the internationally renowned author, aerialist, acrobat-- well-known for all the great things you've done in your life. Thank you for being with us.
Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
I want to just start right out with kind of these obvious. And that is that most people would kind of meet you the first time and say, wow, she's got some challenges, and limitations, and obstacles. And yet, when you were very young girl, you developed this sense of positive purpose for your life, which few ever do. How'd you do that?
Well, it's a lot of things, right? It certainly wasn't me as an infant saying, oh, you know? I'm going to be so awesome. And I'm going to do this, this, and that. It was a series of things. I was put up for adoption, which a lot of people see as, oh, that's a tragedy. Your biological parents abandoned you. And they left you. How awful.
But actually, that was one of the biggest blessings in my life because it changed the course of the direction of the rest of my life. So I ended up in this family and this community-- middle of nowhere. The most unsuspecting place-- corn fields, cows. But with the family that I was meant to be with.
And so they raised me because they believed. It's not like they just were talking saying, oh, you were born like this for a reason. They believed it. So when I wanted to do something, it was empowerment. It was encouragement. It was self-esteem and confidence And so that set the tone.
So we share something in common in that when I was growing up, I must have said I can't do something a lot because my mother would say, can't never did anything. Can't never did anything. And your mom started out early. What did she tell you?
Yeah my parents-- it was never say can't. But it's so much more than a saying. It's the mentality. So you can say, never say can't. But if your actions don't back that up, then there's no power in it.
So they said that, but also when I came to them and said, hey, I want to play volleyball, basketball, softball, and power tumbling-- even go roller skating. They didn't automatically respond with negativity, or, well, you can't do that. How are you going to do that? That's too difficult. It was, oh, we'll just figure out how you can do that. And so that was backing up the never say can't more as a lifestyle versus just a saying.
When you start out with that never say can't, how does that form your outlook of life?
What it did is, whenever there is a challenge in front of me, I don't automatically go oh, I can't. That's impossible. I'm just like, well, so how am I going to do that? How am I going to figure it out? Because there is always a way-- always a way. But it might take time, probably will, and some creativity.
So in the BB&T Leadership Series, we tend to talk about various topics. And now I'm talking with our associates at the bank and others about what I consider to be kind of one of the most important keys in life, which is figuring out how to overcome obstacles and the tough times in life.
You're a very positive person. Yet, there had to be some tough times along the way. We know about how successful you have been. But there must have been some failures. Anything along that way that you could share with the audience that would be helpful?
Yeah, I mean, I don't always wake up just, waa! I'm amazing! Life is great! I don't wake up like that. I'm real. I'm a human. So I have bad days. So I was always OK with not having legs. Didn't bother me about that. But a female, living in LA, being in the entertainment industry, body image got to me. And it brought me to my knees. You know what I mean? I mean down, dark, deep for years. I mean, almost three years.
And it was this place-- what it really was was body dysmorphia. But I don't think I wanted to call it that. I think I wanted to live in a bit of denial. Like, no, I didn't deal with that. I'm too strong to deal with that. But I had to cover up mirrors in my apartment. I mean, I had to take really extreme measures even though I was a double-zero and so thin.
It was like I was blinded, like it was never going to be enough. I was going to be too fat. I was going to rip myself apart in the mirror, and stay there. I had to choose-- and this is it. I had to choose to be happy and to love myself. Even when I didn't feel like it. Even when every alarm inside was like, you're fat. You look awful. These clothes fit tight. No. You have to override that negativity and speak life and into yourself.
The aerialist and motivational speaker shares her incredible story with CEO Kelly King. Watch Bricker's full interview in our Education Center.
Carol Dweck - Growth Mindset
[MUSIC PLAYING] At BB&T, I've been here a long time. And I've watched a lot of people, including myself, go through a lot of transformation. And while years ago, I didn't know how to describe it in terms of fixed or growth mindset, many cases, it was clear that they had a fixed mindset. They would get to a certain level, and they were extremely capable of going further if they would be willing to make the effort, but they'd give up.
Take the risk.
They wouldn't take the risk. Classical fixed mindset, right?
So how do you think about getting a whole company to embrace a growth mindset culture?
That's a great question. So first, let me say that we have research companies now and fixed versus growth mindset cultures. Do people in the company feel the company is worshipful of fixed talent or committed to everyone's development? And we find that the growth mindset companies have employees who feel so much more empowered, committed, supported to take risks, and supported to collaborate and have teamwork.
The employees in the fixed mindset companies feel there's a penalty for mistakes, a big penalty. And also, they report there's much more competition, cheating, cutting corners, hoarding information, and keeping it from other people because you want to be the genius.
How do you start creating that growth mindset culture? The first thing is it helps a lot if the person at the top believes in and embodies this idea of growth, this idea of stretching yourself, this idea of envisioning what the future will be like, and stretching toward it.
Second is really instituting policies that make it safe for people to collaborate, and make it mandatory, and rewarded for people to collaborate, brainstorm, come up with harebrained ideas, see if they can shape them in a way that can work, pursue it. Because that world of the future we don't know what it is. It's probably safer to invent it than wait for it.
And then put incentives in place that reward the stretching, the persevering, the teamwork, rather than kind of these little, isolated tubes of talent.
So what do you say to the people who say, no, leaders are born. They're not made. What's your answer?
Well, some people may be natural leaders. But the leaders I've talked to have developed into leaders. They've developed a mindset where they continually learn and grow. They have input from everywhere. Many of them didn't set out to be leaders. They just loved what they did and they were voracious in learning. And then they saw how the whole thing worked, and they wanted a crack at it.
So we have no idea who can be leaders. And I think it's often a mistake to say, oh, well, this is our future leadership group. And I'll tell you the most interesting finding we have in our search with Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. We asked managers to talk about and fill out surveys about their employees.
In the growth mindset companies, the managers said they saw so much more potential in their young employees to become stars within the company, to rise within the company much more than in the fixed mindset company. And the fixed mindset companies, they're identifying with talent, they're hiring the talent, they're making it a talent segment of the young people. They're rewarding them and retaining them.
And then a few years later, they're going where's the talent? They haven't created the culture where talent thrives. But in the growth mindset companies, all these people are surprising them with this kind of tremendous burst of growth.
So I've been doing some reading following reading your bright book, and I read about some recent research-- recent being in the last 10 years-- around some other characteristics, I'll say, that relate to success. Things like happiness, positivity, a new one-- grit.
How do you think about those relative to growth mindset?
Yes. I think they're very interrelated. I very much respect that work. I respect the work of Angela Duckworth, who's terrific. And we've talked many times. And we agree that a growth mindset is one of the foundations of grit, that you're not going to take on challenges, you're not going to stick to them if everything is measuring you, and worrying you that you're not the person, the talent, the brain, the brilliant individual that you hoped you would be.
So this idea of stretching, going out there, taking the risks, working toward a goal, a passion, a contribution in the future is just very much connected to growth mindset. And you're not happy in every moment. You're not comfortable all the time. By definition, you should be out of your comfort zone a lot of the time. But it's so much more rewarding and fulfilling in the long run.
If someone comes to your office and says, you know what? I've got a fixed mindset. I confess. But I want to change. What do I do?
Well, first, it's wonderful that you're recognize it. It's wonderful that you want to change. First step-- what triggers it? What happens when it gets triggered? Do you want to play it safe? Or do you want to get out of there? Do you want to change and do something else? How does it manifest itself?
Learn to recognize it. And then make friends with it. It's not your enemy. It is thwarting you. It is limiting you. But makes friends with it. Take fixed mindset person who shows up and bring them on board with your growth mindset goal. Say, thank you. Thank you for your input. But I hope you'll join me in trying this challenging thing.
If you make a mistake, of course, it's going to start yakking at you. OK. Thank you for your input. But I have an idea how to go forward and more effectively. Can I count on you? So just start working with that fixed mindset and teach it a growth mindset.
That's intriguing. It's like a partnership.
Yeah. That's really cool.
These are parts of you-- parts of all of us.
So the point that some people make is that they know they don't really see the reward. It's too much risk. I see what you're saying. I'm going to really have to step out of my comfort zone. I'm not sure I want to do that. How do you get people to see that it's OK to take risks to get the reward?
Yes. I think that it's a decision people make. If they feel it's too risky, if they feel they don't want to do it-- but if they really, really want a change, then step out of the comfort zone. See what happens. You've made a mistake. See what happens if you analyze it, stick to it. What happens if you venture out of your comfort zone? The world doesn't end. What happens if you make a mistake? Maybe you can learn from it.
I teach a freshman seminar at Stanford. The students-- it's their first day of school and they're in my class. And one of the assignments I give them is to do something outrageously growth mindset. Something they would never consider doing-- way out of their comfort zone.
And they do amazing things. The shyest person will run for president of their dorm. They'll apply for a job on campus, or something that they wouldn't have dared to before-- way out of their comfort zone. And many times they win or they get the job, but other times they learn just as much.
The world didn't end. They were proud of themselves. And inevitably, they say, so then I tried this. And then I tried that. And then and then it happened eventually. So they never would have done something way out of their comfort zone but every single person is glad they did.
That's fantastic. One of the things that I try to share with our associates is kind of philosophically about life, that I think at the end of the day, most of us really want to try to achieve a sense of happiness, a sense of self-esteem, a sense of pride in how we live our life.
And I love to use the metaphor of the butterfly, just to remind them that the caterpillar is probably not a great life. But I often wondered if caterpillar knows that it's going to become a beautiful butterfly. Because if it did, it would help going through the growth process.
But whether they do or not, they do, in fact, become because they're destined to be. As human beings, we're not required to achieve our ultimate potential. We have free will. We have free choice. But I believe in order to achieve your potential in life, you have to have a growth mindset. And I try to get people to be inspired about that. How do you think about that?
Well, one thing that we've been doing in our programs for adolescent students, high school, even college-- this is in collaboration with my former student David Yeager-- is to hook growth mindset to someone's sense of purpose. We say everyone has a contribution they want to make, whether it's to their family, in this case, to their company, their community, the larger world working on social problems. What is something you would like to contribute?
And then we show them how having a growth mindset can take them toward their contribution. And both the growth mindset and the sense of this longer-term contribution pulls them into the future more effectively. So if people can think, what do I want to contribute to my work group, to my company, to my family, to the world, It's a very empowering thing. And it's so consistent with a growth mindset because your growth mindset is about becoming someone who can do that.
That's fantastic. I believe that your concept is one of maybe the most important concepts in the world today in terms of helping people achieve all they can achieve and make a difference in the world. Is there anything you would want our viewers to hear you discuss before we end this exciting discussion?
Yes. First of all, I don't think people realize how much of who we are is about the beliefs we have-- whether we believe our intelligence is fixed or not, whether we believe we're a good person or not. And the wonderful thing is these beliefs can be changed. We know how to do that. And then we can unlock, or people can unlock their own potential.
And then the second thing is the world today is changing at an incredible pace. The jobs of the future bear no relationship to the jobs of yesterday in many cases. So we need a growth mindset for ourselves, for our kids in order for them to not just cope in the future but relish the future the way those kids did.
The New York Times best-selling author hits on how we can change and learn throughout life. Watch Dweck's full interview in our Education Center.
John O'Leary - Living a Life on Fire
[MUSIC PLAYING] So my mom gets a call Saturday morning January, 17, 1987 that her little boy is in a hospital bed. She walks in, and nine-year-old John O'Leary's laying in there with no clothes, no skin, no chance. I'm dying. I'm in pain. I'm looking for hope. And I ask her, am I going to die, mom? Am I going to die?
And rather than providing false hope, which I think we leaders love to provide-- that everything's going to be rosy. Just hang with me for a little bit longer-- she provides truth, which, I think, we as leaders are called to provide those around us. Truth, which is painful, but it also sets all of us free. She took my hand in hers, patted my bald head, looked me in the eyes, Kelly, and said, baby do you want to die? Do you want to die? It's your choice, not mine.
She was forcing me for the first time in my life to be accountable, which is bold. It's the first step. I think, in leadership. I said, mom, I did not want to die. She said, good, then look at me. Take the hand of God. You walk the journey with him. And you fight like you have never fought before. And on that morning, we had no clue what the next morning might look like, or the third morning may feel like, or the first skin graft, or the 23rd skin graft.
All we knew on day one-- the fight is on. And I think when the storm blows our way, to make that sacred covenant in ourselves and also with our team, that's enough. The fight's on.
Yeah, and then from there, it strikes me that you kind of walked through life developing what you wrote about in your book about seven choices that you kind of make. I don't think you need to necessarily go through them, but pick a couple of the choices that you think are important that our viewers might enjoy hearing about.
So there are seven. And seven's a sacred number. I think it's a big deal. And it's a perfect number, I think, for this story because I received that information. I'm not the author of even the book. I'm the recipient of the book. I'm the recipient of great love and extraordinary leadership from my mom, and my siblings, to my dad, the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers-- so many incredible people.
So a couple of my favorite choices. Number one is accountability. My mom on day one begged me to choose life or death. And I said, I don't want to die. I want to live. But when I got home from the hospital, she maybe provided an even more important lesson.
I'm at home. I'm in a wheelchair. My five siblings are around the table with me. My dad and mom are here. The house has been rebuilt. Potatoes are sitting in front of me. And the only problem was, Kelly, I don't have hands to pick up a fork.
So my favorite sister Amy-- I'm sure she's tuning in right now. She watches everything we do. She grabs a fork, picks up potatoes, moves it toward my mouth. And right before the cheesy goodness enters, my mom says, Amy, you drop that fork. If John's hungry, he'll feed himself.
And I remember looking away from the potatoes and away from my sister Amy toward my mom thinking, what are you talking about? I can't. I don't have hands. I'm tied into a wheelchair. I can't do it anymore, mom.
By the end of the evening, she had ruined dinner, Kelly, truly. A plate was flipped. Everybody else was away from that table. A little boy, nine years old-- it was supposed to be my party. Now, I'm crying at it. But by the very end of that evening, I had a fork wedged between my hands, was bringing it toward my mouth, staring with great hostility toward my mom-- eating.
On the day I was burned-- this is important-- she taught me not to die. Don't die. But on the day I came home from the hospital, just as importantly, I think she told me to start living. Both are choices we make each day through omission and commission, but ultimately, we choose it. Accountability is important.
That's outstanding. And I can't help but tie in to that question about you, with your limitations, you did what I can't imagine doing, or I can't imagine most people viewing this would do, you started a construction company. And you started hammering nails.
I'm a mess. Don't imitate or emulate me in your own journey. Find much greater heroes like the ones I was lucky enough to bump into my own journey. But Kelly, for me, my whole life story was about masking who I really was. So as a kid, it means playing soccer, playing football-- tackle football. I'm tough just like everybody else.
High school and college, if I'm not really good academically, I'm not really strong athletically, I'm not a playwright, I struggle in public-- what I turned to was drinking. It was the one mask that I could put on and fit in. So that that's what I did in college. And then after college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I grew up.
So I figured, why not start my own business? And the only thing I thought maybe I could do is real estate. I became a real estate developer. And with hands that are completely beat down, started swinging that hammer, and hanging drywall, and sheeting roofs, and hanging kitchen cabinets with hands that I think others would say are deformed and unable to do anything.
Looking back on it, I think it was my cry as a 23-year-old boy to yell out to the world, look how normal I am. Aren't I normal now? Do you finally believe that I'm normal? What finally changed me from being in real estate, eventually into a hospital chaplaincy role for three years, and then, eventually into speaking and writing was when my mom and dad wrote their own book.
My dad has Parkinson's disease. He's one of the great heroes of my life. He wrote a book called, Overwhelming Odds, which is about their son John being burned. It's an unauthorized biography of my life. Well, they knew it. They wrote it. They printed it. They printed 100 copies. They've sold 65,000 since, which is a big number out of a garage.
One of the copies was sold to me. And it was the turning point of my life. For the first time ever, 29 years old, I saw my hands differently. I saw my scars differently. I saw the experience differently. I saw my whole life differently, which freed me to not only change what I did for a living, but more importantly, how I viewed the reflection in the mirror. So my mom and dad provided one more great gift to me.
I think we all have to go through the reality check of what we are and what are we going to become? I know in my own case, I grew up very, very poor. And my dad was an alcoholic. And I had all the reasons why I didn't have to be successful. But I chose to try. But I must admit, in particularly the early years, I had a lot of fear. I was really afraid that I couldn't come away from where I had been that I did not want to go back to.
Well, I've found for leaders, dealing with fear is a big deal. You had to have been really scared. How did you deal with the fear?
I'll just be super vulnerable. I'm scared right now, man. I have a bank president interviewing me. I don't know what your next question is. When we're done, we're going to walk in front of 120 of your finest leaders. There are butterflies going on right now-- fear. So how do you handle fear, O'Leary? Whether it's speaking to one fellow, a friend now or speaking to 120, or speaking to thousands who may check this out later on, or going through TSA with your chin up, or coming home and loving four kids the right way-- whatever the fear is.
There are two constant poles on our motivation in life. And fear is one of them. It's extraordinarily powerful. Fear is a powerful motivator. It's generally what drives us to drink. Your father was probably motivated by fear. It's generally what drives many business owners. It's what drives many people in sales. It's what drives terrorists. It's what drives media.
But the alternative to it, the one I think we leverage in this family, and certainly in this conversation is love. And both are powerful motivators. The cool thing is we get to choose. And if you haven't been purposely choosing, you're probably accidentally choosing fear without even knowing. It's OK. But the higher calling on your life is to recognize the butterflies for what they are, to push them to the side, and to recognize that we have an opportunity right now one-to-one or in a moment with 120 to become better versions of ourselves, and to utilize our life, our experience, our words, for something bigger than ourselves.
There's a quote that I will share with your team. I'll share right now with your followers. And I share it every day in the reflection in the mirror. I think it's done more for my marriage, my faith journey, by speaking, my writing than anything else. The quote is, I love you and there's nothing you can do about it.
It has chased away so much anxiety, so much fear, so much trepidation in my life. It has allowed me to be more old, more authentic, more vulnerable, more real. Which then, in turn allows others to be more real, more vulnerable, more sincere back with me. So I love you. There is nothing you can do about it. It works in a bar. I don't encourage you to use it there. But it works at a leadership function. It works with spouses. It works with children. It works in every facet of your life.
By the way, talking about nervous jitters and speaking, and all, I've certainly had nervousness every time I've ever given a speech. And I'm nervous about doing this, too. But one of the things we're both, I would think, would say to leaders is virtually everybody that I know that is successful gets nervous when they're in important roles and positions.
And I heard one professional speaker say, look, every professional speaker I know of will tell you, if they're honest, that they get nervous. The key is to teach the butterflies to fly in formation. And I said, that kind of makes sense to me. Because frankly, someone said, if you're not a little bit nervous, you're probably not serious enough about it. You care enough about it.
But then the love-- the fact that you're OK and nobody can change the fact that you're OK-- you're doing your best gives me a sense of peace about all of that.
I love that. I'll be using using that. Teach the butterflies to fly in formation.
Fly in formation. So related to the fear, again, I know in my life, I had times when the fear was so strong, I was really, really close to giving up. I suspect in your journey, you had many times where you just said, it's just easier to give up. I think all leaders go through that. How did you keep that perseverance to keep going?
So I encourage anyone listening and watching right now to find people bigger and greater than themselves in their own walk. And if you don't have someone in your backyard or in the office next to you, go to the library because they're there waiting for you. Shut your eyes and they're there waiting for you, again.
One of the heroes of my life is a fellow named Viktor Frankl who survives the Holocaust, writes a phenomenal book called Man's Search for Meaning. And in this book, you're going to bump into a quote. The quote is "When you know your why, you can endure any how." Whoo.
I'm going to say it again because I think sometimes we hear things in life, and then we wait to hear what the guy says next. And then we miss what happened previously. "When you know your why, you can endure any how."
So the why compelled me in the hospital bed to get out. All I really wanted was homecoming. And then later on, John O'Leary day at the ballpark. And then later on, go back to grade school. And then later on, I'm going to walk again. I'm going to be normal again. I'm going to get married someday. I'm going to start my own business. I'm going to be successful in that. I'm going to live to a cause greater than myself.
Today my why is very, very clear. It is what-- I was on a red eye flight to make sure that you and I were able to hang out today. I don't sleep on planes. I don't do well flying. I get anxiety big time before I fly. So what allows you to get on an airplane? What allows you to teach the butterflies to fly in formation before you go out and speak again?
For me, it's my mission, which is this. Because God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it. That has fueled me to move through so many brick walls in life, fueled me to move past so many insecurities that I have already. Because I have a strong mission and it is way bigger than anything I have for myself. It's not about me, ultimately. It's about what I can do through my time and talent for those around me.
CEO Kelly King discusses overcoming obstacles with The New York Times best-selling author. Watch O'Leary's full interview in our Education Center.
Shawn Achor - The Happiness Advantage
[MUSIC PLAYING] In your book, speaking of poverty, that you had an aha moment at a small school in South Africa and you were, I think, comparing that to the Harvard experience?
Yeah, right? So, I mean, Harvard has-- I don't even know how many billions in endowment, right? And then I worked with a school that was in a shantytown in South Africa.
And I went to the school and they had dirt floors. They didn't-- they would share the few books that they actually had. And the kids were extraordinarily happy. And I met a woman in the shantytown, said her kid's going to go to Harvard some day.
I saw this and I was like-- I saw that somebody could choose happiness without having all the external world whereas I watched all the students who seem to have everything. They lost that sense that there is actually a privilege involved in their life. And it helped me to start to realize, and we've been doing research ever since, on how mindset is actually a choice and that you can do it despite your external world.
What we found-- and the research, one of the top researchers in positive psychology, found that only 10% of our long-term happiness, only 10% of our long-term happiness is predicted by our external world. That's how much money we make, where in the world we live, what the weather is like, what our position is at a company. Only 10% of that is predicted by the external world.
90% of it is about how the brain processes the world you find yourself in. How do you process your position in the organization? How do you process the pay you receive? How do you process the food you put on the table or the family you have? And when people saw the things that they were grateful for and they were able to see the meaning in their life, they were able to choose happiness regardless of their external world.
You know, I had a similar experience several years ago. I went on my first mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
And we were working in a very, very impoverished area. And my mindset was that they were going to be miserable. They would be really unhappy people.
But when I started walking around in the village and meeting people, they were really happy. They were living in these little huts with dirt floors and they were as happy as they could be. And here I came in thinking we've got to build them a big house. We've got to get them a car. We've got to-- they could teach me how to be happy.
and so, that's exactly your point, which is amazing.
I feel like I've learned so much more about happiness outside of the laboratory and outside of Harvard than I did even there because you start to see that people are able to choose it despite having lost a loved one or they choose it despite trauma after combat service. Or people who are going through cancer, they're able to choose happiness. So I feel like they've been teaching me about what I need to be doing in terms of happiness.
And it starts to really grow from there in terms of the learning that happens because that's something we can import to people's lives. That's why we do so much work with the schools is that it's not just building a school that creates happiness. At that school, you're teaching not just math, science, you're also teaching how to be grateful. How to create social connection. How to give to other people.
And to me, I think that that type of knowledge is what makes a child happy. And that's why I'm so excited so many organizations like your own are able to focus on the whole being person. It's not just how do we make somebody profitable or productive. It's how do we actually find ways of improving your levels of happiness so that whatever time you work here, you're becoming a better person because of it.
Exactly. Help me, Sean, put into perspective something that I've experienced over the years. I first got interested in positive thinking and it wasn't focused much on happiness per se then, but in positive thinking and enthusiasm 40 years ago.
And at that time when people like Dr. [? Peel ?] and [INAUDIBLE] were writing, most people kind of poo-pooed that. Said it was kind of mystical. It wasn't really real. Academia didn't really embrace it.
But you and others have done an enormous research and have proven factually that this works. Talk about some of the studies, some of the facts that would let people know that this is not just a rah-rah speech. This is really, actually academically true.
So it is fascinating because what I'm finding, we're discovering in this cutting edge science and technology and neuroimaging and neuroscience. This is validating all the things we learn from Norman Vincent Peale and things we've heard from every major religious tradition and ancient philosopher up to the point.
But sometimes people need another language to talk about it. Some people have a mental barrier. That they have to know that this works, not just for one person. Like if Norman Vincent Peale says being optimistic works for me, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work for everyone or for every child.
And so the reason we started doing this research was we were looking for could this work if you had thousands or millions of people all doing these things? Does this actually work out? And so that's why we started the field called positive psychology. And positive psychology-- the goal of it was a lot of traditional psychology has been let's study depression, disorder.
And positive psychology said let's study things like optimism and hope just as rigorously. To see if we can actually raise those in other people. So since that period of time, places like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, University of Pennsylvania-- these have been some of the seats of academics changing the way that they think about how we study humans. Not just what's broken, but what works.
And because of that, we actually now have two decades worth of research proving that change is possible. That you don't have to just be your genes and your environment. That you could actually choose a mindset and then be able to correlate it.
So one thing we do at companies is we go out and we create interventions. Like I created a parable off of the Happiness Advantage. It was a book about a frog that's green, but has an orange spot, and the more positive things it does, the more orange it gets. Which you later realize this makes it not only an advantage being orange, but it's contagious and it spreads to the other frogs in this pond.
We took these ideas out to the companies. We have them read this book. We have them practice a few of these positive habits. And then we watch their business outcomes. So it's not just testing are you becoming happier, but we're now then correlating it to measures like productivity or sales or number of calls that come in or customer service.
Or in the health care place, the likelihood of remission. Or in schools, we look at the SAT scores, the ACT scores that occur. And now when we talk to a school administrator or we talk to a CEO or a CFO or CEO of a company, we actually have all this research proving that if you do these small interventions that it increases revenues by 50% or increases sales by 37% when you're in a positive category.
We found that people who are in the top quartile of positivity are 39% more likely to live to age 94. Or in the midst of stress, we do a study out of Stanford. We found that if an optimist experiences stress versus a pessimist, the optimist has a 23% lower negative effects of the stress. So the stress even affects you differently.
So now that we have these-- we're armed with this research, it validates the very things you were talking about 40 years ago, but allows us to get them into places. And now that I've worked now with nearly half of the Fortune 100 companies and we're getting this out in schools and we're seeing ACT scores and SAT scores dramatically change.
And so it's a persuasion tool. It allows us to speak another language. To get people to take a step forward.
Yeah, yeah. So one of the things that I was intrigued by in your book was the study of the 280 nuns.
You remember that?
Yes, I love this one.
It is incredible. I tell people [INAUDIBLE] but I said this has got to get your attention. Can you remember to tell that one?
So this is a phenomenal study because a lot of studies are short, right, because people want to get published. But what they did was they did a longitudinal study. A long study where in the 1930s, researchers had nuns participate in a study. Nuns were great because they all wear the same clothes, they eat the same food, there in the same place.
And so what they allowed them do is control all the variables and they took equally healthy nuns and had them write in a journal. And then they took those journals and gave it to people who don't even know the nuns, never met them, and they were supposed to put it into four piles. Of either the happiest quartile-- the happiest 25%, the slightly less happy, the very less happy, and the very least happy.
And then they tracked them over time. And what they found was that, and this comes back to the statistic I mentioned earlier, is that for the people they were the top quartile of positivity, at the end of their life, it turns out that they had a 39% higher likelihood of living to age 94 than the nuns who were in the least happy quartile. Now they're equally healthy at the beginning, so something about the thought process over time starts to create this aggregate effect upon our health.
So if you're constantly seeing the world as a threat and as negative, our body receives that. If you see that your behavior matters, you create entire constellations of positive habits. Like connecting to other people or doing gradual exercise or taking walks or having a dog or whatever it is that causes that person to become happier. That has this huge cumulative effect upon our health.
And so I'm working a lot in the health care industry right now because we're starting to realize that we've been so symptom-based, right? Just tell me what's wrong with you and I'll try and fix it instead of looking at how do we actually use the resources you have and your mindset to actually get people to become healthier as well.
If you think about it, even our drugs-- I find this fascinating. Drugs, when we tested new drugs, we compared them to placebos, which are just basically comparing it to mindset. Because you give somebody a sugar pill and then their mindset, because they believe it's the pill, actually has such a high effect that you can only get a drug passed if it gets above the placebo mark.
Which means mindset's already so crucial, so valuable, that's the scientific metric above which a pill has to be useful. So it shows we're underutilizing mindset.
And this whole positive attitude, positive thinking concept can be so powerful. I was reading-- I think this was in your book as well, but I also read a book by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson who's written a book called Positivity. But it's intriguing because they were talking about when you're doing something that is positive, it's kind of incredible.
There's a little apparatus in your brain called hippothalamus that causes all these parts in our body to release the endorphins. I tell people it's just like free drugs and it's legal.
Right, and it's legal. Exactly.
It's just literally, physically makes you feel good, right?
It does. And they found not only that, but it increases your pain tolerance. It causes you to-- your body to rebuild its cells faster than anything we've seen. What's amazing about this, and this is from Barbara Frederickson's work as well, is this whole broad-and-build theory. Which is we've always been told if you drink too much, you get too angry, you burn your brain cells, and that was the end of the story.
But what we're starting to realize is the brain is changing constantly. And that when people are positive, you get a broad-and-build effect. It broadens the amount of possibilities that your brain is able to perceive and to process. Which we found when people become more positive, it triples their creativity rate.
I know so many people when they think of creativity, they think of the dark brooding artist or the nearly suicidal musicians and the van Goghs. But van Gogh didn't produce in his depressed period. He produced in the manic period. In the depressive period, we don't see any of that creativity.
We don't feel like that the work we do on a canvas is going to mean anything or the work we do in our lives will mean anything. It's when we feel like that there is meaning to our work that our behavior does matter. That it not only causes us to be more creative, but then we build new neural networks. So the brain actually starts to learn new ways to interact with the world so you don't have to be that same person you used to be.
We found doing gratitude exercises for example, just getting 84-year-old men to practice on a daily basis. Think of three new things that they're grateful for. Instead of just scanning the world for all the things they want to complain about or how the world has changed, their brain is actually starting to create a new pattern of scanning the world for the things that are working out.
And so for our viewers that might want to study this, I think the process is called neuroplasticity?
Where the brain is literally rewiring the neurons and it's just incredible. But the exciting thing to me at my age and everybody is this myth about as you get older, you necessarily have less brainpower or less intellect, it's just not true, right?
Yeah. Well there's so much we're learning because we originally thought neuroplasticity was a myth, right? We thought your brain stopped in adolescence and that's the end of the story. Then they found there was some researchers doing research on the brains of cadavers of taxi cab drivers in London. Everyone does, right?
And they looked at them and they found that the hippocampus, the part of the brain that's associated with spatial memory, was physically significantly larger than the hippocampus of everyone else. So the reason for that is in London, the streets are like a rabbit warren. Like they go in all different directions. They're not like DC where it's like a grid-like system.
So even to become a taxi cab driver, you have to pass a test called The Knowledge because you have to know this interconnected streets. So if you live in a maze, turns out that people were actually-- their brains were processing in that way. So why that was fascinating-- this is so cool-- is either from birth, your genes had to know that after 18, after adolescence, you were going to become a taxi cab driver in London and not in DC and so your hippocampus got bigger. Or the brain structures literally changed based upon the world that you put yourself in and the way that you interacted.
Well we now know is that your brain becomes whatever you practice. So if people are practicing scanning the world for the negative all the time, they get very good at it. When they practice scanning the world for the things they're grateful for, their brain actually improves that ability. Just like we get better at playing tennis the more we practice it.
So we can actually change at any point in our life, which is exciting. But then the other part that I love that's connected to this is I got started in Ellen Langer's lab at Harvard, and she studies the aging process and mindset. And she found this study in 1979 where she took 75-year-old men and made them go on a week-long retreat.
And during that week-long retreat, they were supposed to act like they were 55 years old, some 20 years before. They gave them pictures of them in their mid-50s for their ID badges. They played music and had Saturday Evening Post and Life magazines from that period of time. Everything to simulate 20 years before.
They test them on all the things that we think about for age and it turns out that one week later, their strength had improved, posture improved, and aggregate, their eyesight improve by 10%, which is my favorite part of it. And they took pictures of them before and after the treat, and they looked by naive graders, they looked three years younger than they were one year before.
So she wrote an entire book called Counterclockwise, which is looking at our mindset could actually start to change some things we thought we couldn't fix. We only go in deterioration towards age. But what we're finding is that we can broaden and build the way that we interact with the world and be able to create more happiness in our life regardless of how much life we have left.
The New York Times best-selling author discusses the power of positive psychology. Watch Achor's full interview in our Education Center.
Jimmy Faulkner - Leading by Example
[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to the BB&T leadership series. We appreciate you joining us today. We're delighted to have with us James A. "Jimmy" Faulkner. Jimmy, thank you for joining us on the BB&T Leadership Series.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Of course, Jimmy's bank, Century South, merged with BB&T in the year 2000. A very successful merger, one of the best we've ever had. And Jim was the CEO of that organization as we did that merger. So very experienced, and I'm glad to have you on the series. Let's start out with something that is an age old question about leaders, and that is are leaders born or are leaders developed? You started at a very young age with the bank, and I suspect you became a better leader as time went on. But what's your thought about leaders being born versus being developed?
Well, you know Kelly, I think that's a question that all of us ponder through the years. If you look at my background, you would say that's probably not somebody who's going to become a leader. I'm an only child. My parents were 35 years old when I was born. Both common laboring people-- my mother worked in a cotton mill. My father was an appliance repairman for Georgia Power Company.
And interestingly, my father had dropped out of school when he was in the third grade. He was the last of 11 children. His father died when he was nine months old. So when he became old enough, and as he says, back in those days when you were old enough to be able to look over the looms in a cotton mill, you'd go to work. And so he went to work when he was roughly 10 years old to help provide for what was then my grandmother.
But I think the most influential thing in my early childhood was my family, first of all they were a loving Christian family. My father, because of him having to drop out of school so early, encouraged me to always do my best and to be my best. As a junior in high school, we started a Key Club, which is an organization sponsored by the Kiwanis club. And I was fortunate enough to be elected president of that club. That gave me the opportunity on a weekly basis to go meet with leaders in our community at the weekly Kiwanis club meeting.
So I guess I began from that point to learn some leadership skills from observing others, mostly. I think some of the greatest qualities that I learned, and hopefully I employed them, was first and foremost the golden rule-- treat others as you want to be treated. Then I'd say an enthusiastic positive attitude, which I know you are a strong believer in and we've heard many times. But it can't be overemphasized.
You know, I think I've always seen the glass as being half full, not half empty. I've known many people who had great ability, but because they didn't have that positive enthusiastic attitude, they didn't attain to the heights that they could have attained to.
So was I born a leader? Probably not, but there must have been something that someone saw in there that helped me to attain the ability and the opportunity for that leadership.
That's a fantastic background, and it's as close to being a born leader as I've ever heard. You know, I think that we all have natural characteristics that can sometimes make it easier for us to be a leader, or somewhat more challenging. But my view has been that everyone can become a leader, depending on the leadership role they may have to change. And I'm sure you've had to change some. So think about rolling way forward many years later from the Key Club to where you were the CEO of Century South-- a large bank in the southeast. It was very, very successful. What was it like being the CEO of Century South?
Well, first of all it was humbling. I think anytime you're a leader of a successful organization, you have to thank God for the opportunity. But to know that you have sway over a lot of people's lives-- in your case 40,000 people, plus all our shareholders. But as I think back to those days, I remember a very trite saying that my father said to me. Again, he was not a formally educated man, but he was educated in the ways of the world. And he said, son remember one thing. As you climb the ladder of success, be careful whose neck you step on. Because when you come back down that ladder, those same two eyes are going to be looking right at you.
So I tried to employ that. I tried to treat people as I would want them to treat me. And I think that helped us that Century South. We were very fortunate. We acquired 17 banks, as you know, in 15 years. So we had to bring a lot of people into our organization, and to help them to maybe change some of their actions and the way that they did things. And that worked well. And again, that humility that I hope I always showed.
One of the things that I used to tell our people was that you need to be happy, and you're the only one that can make yourself happy, and if you're not happy in the job you have, you owe it first to yourself, second to your family, third to the organization to find out why you're not happy and do everything in your power to make yourself happy with what you're doing.
Another little trite saying that I told our people was that, you know, if I walk across the parking lot as the CEO of the company, if I walk across the parking lot and there's a piece of paper laying there and I don't pick it up, guess what? The next person that walks behind me says, well, he didn't pick it up. Why should I? So I think leadership by example is the greatest thing that I was able to do at Century South.
I think that is so true about all aspects of life. And certainly in a corporate leadership role, when you don't do the little things right, people draw really big conclusions from it. I've observed in my own experience there is a big difference between direct leadership and indirect.
So as a board member, as clearly the ultimate decision maker for the company but in an indirect kind of way, how do how would you help people understand-- because some people think, if I'm not in charge then I'm not a leader. But in fact, you can be a leader even as a follower. Or you can be a leader indirectly over a group of people. How do you feel about that?
Well, I think you couldn't be more right. And frankly, it's my opinion that good followship makes good leadership. I don't think that any of us can succeed by ourselves. We have to have people who have leadership abilities and know where their level of leadership comes into play in the organization. Granted, there can only be one CEO. But to be successful as a CEO, then you've got to have those people who are willing to participate at their appropriate level.
Jimmy, let's think about young people out there that are thinking about their future career or careers. If you were talking to someone like you would your son or daughter, what advice would you give them from a leadership point of view to think about as they begin and continue their career?
Be positive. Anybody can be negative. But it takes someone with some leadership ability, and we all have it. It's just finding where that needs to be. Be positive. Look for the good in people. There is enough bad that's obvious in most all of us, quite frankly. But there is good in people, and look for that good. Try to do the things that will lift that good up in our fellow man.
Be honest. Be loyal. Be faithful to yourself first of all, and to those around you. And I would say, you can expand a lot on those things, but just those few things are things that you can take and utilize to make your life better and make the life of those that you're around better.
Well, you sure have lived out those concepts and principles over your life. You know, a truly distinguished career, a 49 year career. Excellent growth of an organization, Century South. Ended up being the CEO of that merge into BB&T. Been on the bank board and the corporate board of BB&T, the eighth largest bank in the United States. Quite a great career. Congratulations to you, Jimmy, and thank you for joining us on the BB&T Leadership Series.
Well, thank you for this opportunity.
The former BB&T board member shares the influences and principles that guided his path to leadership.
Stephen Williams - Leading Through Change
[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to the BB&T Leadership Series. Today we're glad to have with us Steve Williams, a very, very successful businessman. Most of his experience is with a convenience store chain, dealing in, of course, petroleum, but restaurants, and all types of activities around that actually, your dad, I think, Steve, started.
And then you worked with your dad for a number of years and you became president, like, in 1995. And then after that a few years later, Steve's dad retired and Steve ran the company. And then I think it was like early 2000s, you sold a part of the company to the Hess companies.
And then you were still the president and CEO of WilcoHess. And then just a few years ago, you sold the rest to Hess, and now you're pursuing some other things, which we can talk about. So a really, really big business. It was, at the end, close to 400 or over 400 convenience stores and gas stations in seven or eight states.
Eight states. Really, really big operation, sir. Thanks for joining us on the Leadership Series.
Thank you for the opportunity, Kelly.
So let's start out by just talking a little bit about something that has been written a lot about, and that is are leaders born, or are they grown or developed?
I think some leaders are born out of necessity. Whether it's an issue in a family or, sadly, if there was a tragedy, a son or a daughter has to step up, or a parent does it for leadership for succession planning, so to speak.
I know with my father, for my brother and I, when we were little kids, we would go to business meetings with him and my sisters would go out on the beach with our mother. And all the other kids would play, and my dad would make my brother and I get up at 6:00 AM, put on our nice clothes, brush our teeth, comb our hair, and go to the business meeting.
And we had to behave, take notes, and listen at six, seven, eight years old. But he made us understand how to shake people's hands, look people in the eye, become engaged. And then as we evolved in working in our company for my dad, he actually put us in leadership positions.
And candidly, there were times that we were over crews and we were 13 or 14 years old and the people that we were in charge of were in their 30s. But he taught us to be leaders and taught us to make decisions. And he didn't care if it was a right or wrong decision. He said, make a decision.
So I think it's some of both. I think some of it's out of necessity, and I think some people just have that natural leadership ability that people will follow intuitively.
Many people, like myself, have always worked for public companies and never had a chance or the challenge of working with their dads. What was it like working with your dad? Mr. Tab Williams was one of my heroes and one of the most successful and nicest people you ever would have know. But what was it like working for your dad?
Family businesses can be great or they can be awful. Fortunately, I had a great situation. It wasn't personal with my dad, it was business. He told you what he expected, and then he expected you to do it. And, you know, with the love of a father and a son and a son and a father, you don't want to let the other party down, so you did whatever you could to make sure you met their expectations.
But I think parents and family businesses, you're tougher on each other than you would be in a public company. You can say things to each other that you might not be able to in a public company. But if it's handled right, it's a great experience.
And I've talked to a lot of people who think that the son or daughter works for their dad in the business and it's always a sugarcoated job. It's easy. They don't have to work. That wasn't the case with you, was it?
They didn't work for my dad. You know, he was a firm believer that you earned your stripes. And we started off at six or seven years old and put us out on the crews. And whether it was digging ditches, or pouring concrete, or jackhammering up concrete slabs, he said that the only way you could eventually lead a company is that you could show that you weren't ordained to be in charge. That you had earned the opportunity to run the company.
And honestly, we knew our father, my brother and I, that if we weren't able to perform, he wasn't necessarily going to put us in charge, and he made that very clear. So we knew that it wasn't a given. That we had to prove the ability to run his company.
Right. Let me talk a little bit about change, Steve. You know, the world we're living in today is going through dramatic change in every form and fashion, and my experience has been that leaders are tested most when they're going through substantial periods of change. Talk a little bit about the industry that you're in, the petroleum industry, and how it changed over your many years of working in that industry.
Wow. I mean, I can remember when my mom and dad first got in the business in the early '60s. They sold gasoline, motor oil, change tires. It was all full-serve And then my father went out and heard about this new phenomenon called self-serve on the west coast, took the family out, and came back and changed his business model because he saw he could sell more fuel at a lower cost to operate and hopefully increase profits.
Well, a lot of the naysayers in North Carolina told my dad, said, Tab, enjoyed seeing you as a competitor. You're not going to stay in business. Well, lo and behold, he pivoted and did that and was very successful with it. Then come the late '60s, early '70s, 7-Eleven, which was strictly convenience, no gasoline, got into the gasoline business AND started using that as a loss leader.
My father said, OK, we're now going to get into the convenience store business or we're going to be out of business in five years. So my dad, even though he wasn't a learned man-- I mean, he graduated from college, but had a business degree in agriculture. He always knew you had to change or you didn't survive.
And what you talk about, the growth mindset here at BB&T, staying static is not an option or you won't survive as rapidly as it's changing. And in today's world, we've been out of the retail petroleum business for several years, but huge consolidations, much more focus on food service, which we were in, we were growing, but it's all economies of scale and additional revenue sources.
I'm sure it had to be a really hard decision to sell the family business. And even though you did it in two parts, it was still a really, really big decision, I'm sure. Talk about the emotions and challenges you had to go through as the final decision maker. You had family members that had interest, but you were the CEO, you were the one calling the shots. How was that?
It was probably the most difficult period of my life because I felt like, in some respects, I was letting my mother and father down. But forward looking, it was probably the best decision for our family. We either had to get significantly larger to compete or we had to get significantly smaller to cut our costs. Staying as is wasn't an option.
And we spent countless hours and days evaluating the pros and cons. And I had a son that was getting ready to come join us in the business, and that's probably the part that hurts the most. That he couldn't have come in and potentially be the third generation to work at our company.
But I think when you get into a family business, not so much a public business, you have to take the emotion of, well, we've always done this. We've been doing it for 50 years. We had just celebrated our 50th anniversary. And that's wonderful, but you have to put that on the side and look at it in a true business decision.
And I think once we took the emotion out of the equation, it was clear what direction we needed to go with our family, and everybody was on board with the decision.
Right. Let's talk a minute about maybe the hardest kind of leadership, and that is in community leadership. You've been a community leader. I know you were very active for a long time in the Winston-Salem Alliance, which, for the audience, is an economic development group. But talk about your experience in that area.
I think the key thing in non-profits is that you have to be, if you're leading it, very respectful of people's time and commitment. And not just the volunteers that are taking time away from their business, but I think also the staff. And so when you have a meeting, I think there needs to be a distinct agenda, a distinct follow up, and a commitment to get things done because people will lose interest very quickly.
And not just financially, but I'm talking about more in time commitment, willing to make calls, be involved if they don't see any productivity because they wouldn't be successful if they were just going to sit there in their businesses. They want to see things move forward.
So when we did it-- and I know the other chairman that followed me did the same thing. And that wasn't anything that I instituted. I just think that was the leadership of the people that were chairing it was, let's make things happen. And right or wrong, move forward because you'll keep people engaged. Activity, I'm a firm believer, breeds activity.
As we move toward the end of this leadership series video, I want to talk about what's maybe the most important thing, and that is why we are all here. You've heard me talk about this great book called Man's Search for Meaning, which was written by Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust. Made it three years through Auschwitz. An incredible book about his actual day to day existence there.
But in that book he talked about-- and it was a phrase that I still remember where he said, if you know your why, you can endure any how. Kind of paraphrased, if you know your purpose in life, you can deal with the challenges in life. But if you're not clear about why you're here, what your purpose in life is, then it makes it hard to get up every morning. Particularly, if there's an obstacle in the way, it's easy to just give up and quit.
You're in a bit of a transition in your life as you move from your years of CEO executive and I know you're beginning to think about some different things in life. How do you think about your why?
My wife and I have decided that we really want to try to make a difference in the world. And I gave her the book that you gave me, The Butterfly Effect, and it's had an amazing impact on my life, that little things can generate big things on the back end.
And obviously, education is a huge need in this country. And there's a number of people that can afford, you know, whether it's community, technical college, or four year schools. There's a number of our children in this country that either can't afford it or they're saddled with so much debt, they can't get ahead in life. Not for a very, very long period of time.
So we're going to set something up. We're literally in the process of talking about that. And to be able to start helping children be able to attend-- whether it's to get their plumber's license, their HVAC license, to get their drafting license, surveyor's, whatever it may be, give them an opportunity in life to be successful in their career path.
And I feel so strongly about it because, you know, I was blessed. I had parents that worked hard. And not that these kids don't have parents that work hard, but I was able to go to school and get an education. I wasn't saddled with debt. Well, it's time for me to kind of return and give something back to the community, and I feel so strongly about it.
That's fantastic. What the viewers have just heard is a clear example of understanding why you are here and being passionate about it. And that's two of the most important characteristics of outstanding leaders is that they understand why they're here and they're very passionate about accomplishing what they are trying to do to solve that need, that purpose.
As you and I have talked, I completely share that. We have a major, major problem in this country today, and it's going to take a lot of leaders like yourself to be willing to make that kind of commitment to get out there and improve the educational system. Sadly, today in the public school system, 2/3 of the third graders can't read, which is so sad.
We want to help do some mentoring. So be able to go sit with some kids if they're seniors and say, OK, you know, when you go interview for a job, if I'm the employer, I know that's the best you're ever going to be. Give them a little bit of guidance in life.
Not dictating to them, but just give them assistance and guidance to have an opportunity to maybe get the job of their dream, but also in addition to help them with education as well.
Fantastic. Well, at BB&T, our why, our purpose is to make the world a better place to live. And our viewers just heard an outstanding way to make the world a better place to live.
So thank you, Steve Williams, for being on the Leadership Series. Thank you for being such an outstanding business person and outstanding human being, and a special thank you for looking forward to what you're going to do to help those kids. Thanks for being with us.
The former BB&T board member talks about dealing with change and the importance of a growth mindset.
The information provided is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. BB&T hopes you find this information useful but we cannot guarantee that it is accurate, up to date, or appropriate for your situation. You should consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to understand how the law applies to your particular circumstances or for financial information specific to your personal or business situation.
Branch Banking and Trust Company, Member FDIC.