Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose
March 14, 2016
John Addison has a down-home perspective on life, leadership, and business, and it all comes from his upbringing in a home down south.
John Addison tells us early on in his new book that he'd "much rather pass a few hours reading about the life of some great statesman than poring through a book on business." And though his new book, Real Leadership, is about business—specifically, how he successfully steered Primerica through the worst financial crisis in generations and its separation from Citibank—it is more of a biography than a business blueprint to follow.
That has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't see leadership as a particular quality or a trait, but as a personal decision. As he writes:
Having goals and big dreams is important, but there’s something even more important, something that comes first: deciding what kind of person you are. Even before you know exactly what you want to do, you can decide who you want to be, and live your life accordingly.
He opens the book by telling us how Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs seemed to have foreknowledge of their destiny, and set out to meet it. He tells us he's "totally impressed" when he hears the story of "someone who set his foot on the path of life early on with a big, bold, ambitious blueprint for his career." But he quickly follow that with this admission: "I am not one of these people."
So no, if you’re wondering about those early autobiographical epiphanies or moments of epic clarity, when I suddenly knew why I was here and what it was I supposed to do with my life … well, there weren’t any. I didn’t have a clue.
Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Looking back now I can see that there were plenty of clues and hints along the way. It’s just that at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were. My plan, if you can call it a plan, was to keep putting one foot in front of the other and live in a way that would make my parents proud.
"Make your parents proud" isn't the kind of advice you expect to get in a business book. But, again, John Addison doesn't really seem as if he was interested in writing a typical business book. He does share some of the strategies he used in business, but the focus is always on why, not how.
And that is why he can write without his tongue in cheek, that "the person who has taught me the most, and whom I’ve most sought to emulate throughout my life and my career, has been my mother." Winston Churchill may be a role model and hero of his, but it is his mother who taught him one of the most important things in life (let alone leadership) is to withhold judgment of others and look for the best in everyone—including yourself.
[W]e are all baskets of insecurities, mistakes, regrets, and other human imperfections. I always admired how my mom would consistently look for the best in others. It took me a while to realize that it’s just as important to look for the good in yourself, too, and to focus on bringing those qualities out in yourself as well as in others.
Leadership starts with leading yourself, which means accepting yourself, with all your faults and imperfections, and not beating yourself up when you make mistakes. It also means not letting those dark aspects of yourself control who you are in the world, and making the decision to rise above those limitations. If you can do that with yourself, you can do that with others. Accept people’s imperfections and be the first to see their good qualities; everyone has them. Be the kind of person others seek out for advice because they trust that you’re not going to judge them, you’re not going to throw rocks at them, you’re not going to tell bad stories about them after you leave.
The book is grounded in this kind of simple, deep-rooted practicality and discipline. He provides Nine Practices to follow:
- Decide Who You Are
- Shine Your Light on Others
- Build on Your Strengths
- Earn Your Position
- Focus on What You Can Control
- Develop a Peaceful Core
- Be a Lighthouse
- Don’t Burn Bridges
- Make Your Parents Proud
And while all of this may sound really soft and squishy so far, Addison shows us how a focus on the more human why in business leads to a straightened spine and ability to make tough calls in trying times—and to enact needed change even in the best of times. The admonition to "Be a Lighthouse," for example, is all about displaying strength to those you lead:
On the roof of our country house up here in Clermont we’ve got a cupola with a big rooster weathervane jutting up on top. When the wind blows, that sucker spins around like crazy. On the coast, not too far from where we live, there’s an old lighthouse. When the wind blows, that lighthouse doesn’t budge; it just sits there like the rock it’s built into.
Weathervane. Lighthouse. I’ve made it my business to know which is which, and to never forget the difference, not even for a day.
Most “leaders” are weathervanes. Whichever way the wind blows, that’s the way they turn. And that just doesn’t work. If you want to accomplish something great, something that lasts, you’ve got to be that lighthouse. You’ve got to be embedded in the rock. When times are hard and things get ugly, you’ve got to be that person others look to and see only strength. The one people look to and know they don’t have to wonder where you stand.
That excerpt is a good example of the salt of the earth style Addison writes in, which makes it an easy and entertaining read. And even as the story sometimes takes place in a world of private jets and IPOs, it all falls back on the lessons his mother taught him, and his desire to make her proud.
We have 20 copies available.