In my office, amongst the piles of books, a limited edition can of Coke celebrating my beloved Clemson Tigers’ recent national football championship, and an Excalibur sword-in-the-stone paperweight stand three framed photos of people who inspire me everyday: Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, and Herb Kelleher.
Having these leadership icons greet me each morning motivates me to work harder and smarter and gives me the incentive and the focus I need as both an entrepreneur building a company and an employer leading a team.
These leaders have travelled with me for close to 12 years from the spare bedroom where I conceived my company to the Charleston-based office I currently share with 55 colleagues. Without their inspiration and guidance, I could have easily have lost my way.
That is why I impress upon entrepreneurs to find their hero. The value in the knowledge found by studying and understanding someone else’s vision and journey – whether they be a family member or CEO – is incalculable. Find people who have walked a similar path to yours at some point in their lives and have built something great from it. People whose mission and values match your own.
This is what these leaders have taught me. On each photo I have a printed a quote that specifically speaks to my journey.
Sir Winston Churchill: ” Victory At All Costs…For Without Victory There Is No Survival”
Churchill was a gifted leader who taught me that people will follow if leaders will lead. As a generation of Britons demonstrated during WWII under Churchill, when you expect great things from people, people will not disappoint.
Leadership requires bold and clear communication, a skill I try to emulate. Churchill knew this principle and rallied the British people with his powerful public addresses. As has been noted, Churchill did not just lead a nation by sending troops to the war, he also “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
Churchill has also taught me tenaciousness and resilience. He never settled for failure – he was defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62 – but his dogged determination showed me that success is found in how we respond to the punches.
This is a philosophy I have taken to heart. Kelleher’s leadership of Southwest Airlines has taught me how to trust a team, and how to have passion, patience, and enthusiasm.
Kelleher’s extraordinary – and at the time, singular – organizational philosophy of respecting employees as individuals is what has separated Southwest from the competition. He has taught me that a happy and motivated employee will treat the customer well and that a well-treated, satisfied customer is by far the best marketing tool a business can have.
The #1 priority of the leadership team at Advantage is Team Member Happiness. Not profits. Not customers. If my employees are happy, they will take care of our customers and our customers will take care of profitable growth. I try to achieve that in many ways, both big and small, from internal success recognition to helping employees achieve their personal and professional goals.
Walt Disney: “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It”
Disney reminds me to think big. After all, that’s how he started his empire – with ‘a dream and a mouse.’ But just as important, he reminds me that it takes work to make dreams come true. Disney admitted that dreams take money and money comes from selling. His genius was that he could sell others on his dreams, an essential trait for an entrepreneur. Halfway through making his first animated film, Disney ran out of money to finish what was called “Disney’s Folly.” He hustled and showed producers raw footage and convinced them to finance the film. As we know, Snow White became a legendary success.
By emphasizing the potential of dreaming big, Disney has reminded me to encourage my team to dream. It’s simple logic that if I help my team achieve their dreams, they will help me achieve mine. A simple law of reciprocity.
So a few years back, I set out to help my team define their dreams. We asked each person to share their personal and professional dreams — family, financial, travel, career. We created dreamboards so that they’d have a daily reminder of their dreams and could share them with co-workers and managers.
Then I started making these dreams come true. Not surprising, productivity and client relations improved dramatically. Win-win.
Warren Buffet has a framed picture of baseball hall-of-famer Ted Williams in his office. Williams’ philosophy was to wait for the right pitch, a tactic Buffet has internalized. “Wait for the right pitch. Wait for the right deal. And it will come.” Williams’ lesson reminds Buffet of the basic tenets of investing.
Entrepreneurship is a road with countless pitfalls, obstacles and distractions. It’s so easy to get off mark. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Having them on your side will make the trip that much easier. And less lonely.