August 2007 Leadership Lessons ezine by Mark Sanborn
Leadership Profile – An Interview with Mark Sanborn
[Editors Note: The feature this month is an interview I gave to David Woods ofGiant Partners. David grilled me on my vision, purpose and passions as well as eliciting my thoughts and opinions on leadership, effective teams and why leaders fail. I hope you’ll enjoy it…]
Woods: I’m excited today to have Mr. Mark Sanborn with us. Mark is an internationally known author, motivational speaker and president of Sanborn & Associates, Incorporated, an idea studio for leadership development. He gives nearly 100 presentations each year on leadership, team building, customer service and mastering change. Mark is the author of a variety of books, most notable is The Fred Factor, which has become widely known around the country. Mark, let me ask you just a few questions here because I know our readers are really excited to hear more about you and your thoughts on different aspects of leadership. First of all, tell us a little bit about your overall vision and your purpose in life.
|Featured Blog Post
(posted 7/25/07)Love and PreparationConsider this quote from my friend and world-class speaker Joel Weldon: “You prepare for what you love.”The single biggest booster of performance is preparation. Pros prepare; amateurs wing it. I prepare as much for a pro bono presentation as I do for a paid speech. Why? Because I take the opportunity to share ideas very seriously. Whether I’m donating my time and expertise or being reimbursed, I love to communicate important ideas. That’s why I prepare. I love my work.… Are you prepared? Read the rest of Mark’s post …
Sanborn: I’ve come to feel that my purpose in life is to use my God-given talents to help others live life more fully, both at work and at home. I know that may sound a little grandiose, but I think that most of us – and certainly I would include myself in the list – sell ourselves short in terms of the impact that we can have in the world or in the marketplace, or in our homes and communities. When I think about my work as a speaker and author, my passion is around leadership, service and development. We all have the opportunity, and maybe to a degree, an obligation, to take whatever talents we’ve been given and develop them to the fullest, so that we can more positively benefit and contribute to others.
I grew up on a farm in northeast Ohio. The reason I bring that up is because it really marks the beginning of my interest in leadership development. I was asked to represent my 4-H Club in a speaking contest at the age of 10; I thought it wouldn’t be that hard. I did pretty well in school, and I was a good thinker. I thought I could think my way to success as a public speaker but learned that it was a lot harder than it looked. Because I failed so miserably in that first contest, I started entering every contest for youth speaking I could find. That started me on the road to speaking and also got me interested in leadership development. I served as a chapter and later became a national officer and national president of the FFA, as it’s called today. I’ve tried to be a practitioner of the things I talk about, right from the beginning. So my purpose is to help others live more fully at work and at home through the ideas that I share.
Woods: What a fabulous vision and I would say an inspirational vision to those that have read your books and know a little bit about you. How are you advancing yourself toward that vision?
Sanborn: Well, the two primary ways to advance that vision in my work is through speaking and writing. I’ve been a professional speaker for 21 years now and have been writing books since the early nineties. My most successful book to date has been The Fred Factor, and then secondly, the book,You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. I find those two mediums for conveying ideas are the most powerful tools I have for impacting the largest number of people possible. Leaders are a very leveragable group. If you can change an individual, you can impact the people that individual influences. I have done a little consulting over time, but mostly what I do is a kind of third level delivery system in leadership counsel. I try to come alongside select leaders and help them in their journey, less as a consultant or even as a coach, and more as someone who can provide counsel. So, the two primary delivery vehicles are my speaking and my books and my writing and publishing through the technology of the Internet.
Woods: That’s wonderful. One of the things that we do with leaders and organizations is really try to understand what they do best. So, what are you most passionate about, and what would you say that you do best?
Sanborn: There are a lot of things that I’m passionate about: my faith, my family, my country. In terms of my professional endeavors, I’m very passionate about ideas and communicating them. James Michener said, “The United States has become great, not because of things, but because of ideas.” I think ideas are what fuel success. They fuel entrepreneurial upstarts; they fuel product development, and they fuel people who are able to create an extraordinary experience for a customer or a client. I’ve always been excited about learning, developing and communicating ideas, specifically in the areas of leadership and service. By service, I mean service strategy and not just customer service. I have written and spoken a great deal about team building and change management, but the ideas of leadership and service are what I’m most excited about sharing because I believe they’re so inextricably interwoven.
Woods: You’ve mentioned your faith a couple of times. I noticed in your book you mentioned James 2:26, and in the book I have signed by you, you mentioned Romans 8:28. How does your spirituality affect you as a leader?
Sanborn: Our spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be, impact us. I think in the journey of leadership, at some point, most leaders are going to dig beneath the surface if they have that passion. While I believe that asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is a very important question for anyone to pursue in the course of their lifetime. At a very practical level, the question I encourage leaders to ask each morning is, “What gives my life meaning?” I believe there are primarily two things that will burn out a leader. The first is not doing the things they enjoy doing and are good at doing, and the second, not doing those things with the people they enjoy. Personally, I am a Christian. Of course, in our culture, we define Christian culturally. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, a both Old and New Testament follower. As my acquaintance and friend, Leonard Sweet says, “I aspire to be dangerously Christian.” By dangerously Christian, I mean to practice my faith in such a way that it really makes a difference in my behavior and not just in my intellectual belief system. Romans 8:28 says all things work together for the good of them that love God. This verse has been very important in my life, because like all of us, I’ve encountered plenty of tragedy and setback. We need to recognize that life is a mixture of pain and joy. The thing that I have found amazing is that I rarely saw the good in the problems I was facing at the time I was facing them. It was often days, weeks, months, and in some instances years later, I saw how those things were being used for my good, my development and my growth. We need to be, number one, honest with ourselves about why we do what we do because motives are important. Number two, when people inquire, we need to be honest about what we believe. I think the biggest problem facing our culture in the United States today, is the inability to dialogue. The biggest clash in the world today is not between nations, but between world views. Typically, when we hear somebody has an opposing point of view, whether it’s a political point of view, a spiritual point of view or a personal point of view, we suddenly discount everything they say and stop listening. One of the things I share with my audiences is on their best day, the rightest person isn’t all right and the wrongest person isn’t all wrong. Discernment is the ability to pick and choose what’s true and what makes sense.
Woods: I love your insight, and I appreciate you sharing so deeply your faith and how that really built you up as a leader. What has been your strategy for growing and building up other leaders?
Sanborn: Whenever I have a chance to build up other leaders, I think there are three primary tools that I have, that anybody has. Number one is interest. Taking an interest in someone is the first step to developing a relationship. From there, the other two keys for developing leaders are encouragement and education. People need both. Encouragement speaks to the heart; education speaks to the head. It’s very easy to approach leadership as some kind of a sterile study, and people often need emotional fuel to apply the skills that the intellectual aspect of leadership requires. So, I would say those three things I see as my primary tools: Interest, education, and encouragement.
Woods: That’s very good, Mark. Along the same line as your discussion about leaders, what do you see as the top three qualities that make an effective team?
Sanborn: Everyone on the team must be committed. We should respect all people, but in a working team, we earn respect by being as committed to the success of the team as our colleagues are. So number one, teams have to be committed as an individual as well as at a team level. Number two, they have to be communicative. Communication is power. It’s the primary tool through which we get things done with people. Finally, they have to be collaborative. Collaboration, in my mind, means we will actively engage each other to look for better ways to do things and to create better products and services. So, the top three qualities of an effective team are committed, communicative, and collaborative, the three Cs.
Woods: Mark, as I was looking at your website, I noticed that this is not just Mark Sanborn, the individual. It’s obviously Mark Sanborn, the organization. I’m curious how your leadership directly affects the growth of your business.
Sanborn: I am fond of telling my audiences that there are only two ways to grow any business in the world today. It doesn’t matter if you’re in city government, a Fortune 100 company, an entrepreneur, or if you’re running a non-profit, the only two ways to grow any business is to first grow yourself, and second, grow your people. All increases in productivity, revenue and results come from growing the ability of leadership and growing the ability of the people that the leader leads. That’s a simple premise I operate within my business. Even in the strategic relationships I have with partners, I think one of the indicators of success is when that partner grows because of me, and I grow because of that partner. Not just that we make more money, not just that we successfully accomplish our goals, but that we are catalysts for each other’s growth.
Woods: Very good, Mark. I know I personally have grown more as a result of my mistakes than my successes. So in your life, can you tell us about a particular personal or professional mistake and what you learned from it?
Sanborn: I believe you don’t learn much from success. I think you can learn some things from success, to a degree, you can learn from what made you successful. The problem is the world changes rapidly; some of the things that made you successful last year may not make you successful this year. I believe that if we pay attention, the real growth comes from failure, and I’ve got a Ph.D. in growth from failure. When I was in college, I was in an agricultural fraternity. I ran for chancellor, which is the equivalent of president of that particular fraternity, and was defeated. Instead, I was asked to lead the rush charge. I was demoralized, and I did not have my heart in it. I didn’t want to appear to be a bad loser, so I took the job. Here’s what I learned: Don’t make a big commitment when you’ve got a little heart. I had very little heart for the job. I didn’t have the emotional commitment. I didn’t have the passion, and I did a bad job. In retrospect, I’m embarrassed. The fraternity would have been better off thinking I was a sore loser than having somebody lead an important program that just did a half-baked job at it. I learned that when we make big commitments, we have to check not just our head, but we have to look at our heart and say, “Am I really committed to doing this?” That is what’s going to make you a success as much as your skill set.
Woods: Very good. You obviously get to touch and speak to leaders around the world in both large and small companies here in the U.S. and abroad. Tell us about some of the common mistakes that leaders make and how they can overcome them?
Sanborn: You bet. By the way, as a resource for the readers, I have an article posted on MarkSanborn.com called “Six Reasons Why Leaders Fail.” I have a friend who’s a psychotherapist who specializes in high-performance personalities. Years ago, he and I were sitting around talking and comparing notes about leadership failure points. I’ll share a couple with you right now. The first is a loss of love for what one is doing. We call it lost love. There is no more passion to lead. Organizations need an opt-out program. We need to make it okay for a leader to say, “You know what, I don’t have the heart for it anymore. I really don’t have the passion to lead. I want to continue to be a productive member of the team, I want to continue to be an employee, but I don’t want the responsibility of leading and developing others.” If we don’t make that an option, what we have is many leaders that have lost their desire, but are afraid if they tell anybody, if they opt-out, they’ll be a disgrace. Lost love is definitely one of the great derailers. The other one that I’ll bring up will come as no surprise, because if you read the newspaper, you see it almost every day in the business press: slippage in ethics. It’s what resulted in Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth and any number or corporate scandals where people had ambition that was not guided by true values. Warren Bennis once said, “Ambition plus competence minus values equals Enron.” When you get good people who are ambitious but don’t have grounding in morals and ethics, you can end up with some real train wrecks.
Woods: Mark, if you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?
Sanborn: David, this might surprise you, but I would do nothing differently.
Woods: That doesn’t surprise me.
Sanborn: The reason I would do nothing differently isn’t because I didn’t mess it up big time, but because if I did anything differently, I might not be who I am today. Let’s go back to something we talked about earlier, my belief that all things work together for the good of them that love God. That means even the stuff I bobbled and failed at miserably: the moral failures, the losses of temper, the things I wish I could take back. At a very practicaltical level, if there have been in my almost 49 years on the planet people that I have hurt, I would hope it’s always been unintentionally. Whether it was perceived as intentional or unintentional, I would take back any hurt I’ve caused. Certainly, I’ve made a lot of mistakes relationally that could have and did hurt other people. But in terms of what would I do differently? If I did anything differently, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I think I am today who I’m supposed to be. I’m not as successful, well-known, wealthy or as good at as many things as I’d like to be, but really, I feel I am who I’m supposed to be. God isn’t finished with me yet. I’m not going to sit back and say, “Hey, this is it. I can stay here. I don’t have to get any better.” I’ve really reached a point where I just don’t think there’s a lot of upside in doing things differently. I think the big benefit is asking yourself, what did you learn from those things that you didn’t do differently that you can benefit from even if they didn’t turn out well?
Woods: I think it’s a lesson well learned, and I’m sure many of our readers can relate. I know you’ve spoken in every state in the United States, as well as many countries around the world. If you had only 30 minutes to talk to a global audience, what would your message be?
Sanborn: That’s a great question. I believe truth is transferable. I believe truth is true across culture, it’s true across context and it’s true across time. I think the first thing I would say is take responsibility for your life. People will help us, but there’s nobody that will do it for us. I think that taking responsibility for one’s life means taking responsibility not just for the stuff they succeeded at, but for the stuff they failed at. You only get full credit for your successes when you take full responsibility for your failures. A very freeing launching pad is to take responsibility. No, we don’t control everything that happens to us, but we still control how we respond to what happens to us. So, number one would be take responsibility. Number two would be to get focused. We only have so many hours in the day. I listen to people sometimes say, “Read this book. You’ll put more time in your life.” Well, you can’t put more time in your life. You can’t defy the laws of physics and time, but you can put more life in your time. You do this by being focused on what’s important. A pastor I know once said, “The bad news is you can’t have it all, but the good news is, when you know what’s important, you don’t want it all.” That is what I mean when I say get focused. Get focused on the important stuff. Number three, I’m not sure if I would say build relationships or work together, but really, they’re one and the same. We don’t go through life alone. No man, no woman is an island. The primary way that we not only get results, but also gratification and fulfillment in life, is through the quality of our relationships. Finally, I use IQ differently. I don’t refer to IQ as intelligence quotient, but I do refer to it as implementation quotient. It’s what we do with the information that we have that determines our results. It’s the application that creates success. That would be my fourth point, improve your implementation quotient and take the right action consistently.
Woods: Is there anything else I should have asked that I didn’t that might be of particular interest to our readers?
Sanborn: I would just, in parting, share something I was reminded of the other day by a client. Malcolm Forbes, before he died, was asked what he wanted as his epitaph. He said he wanted his headstone to simply read, “While alive, he lived.” At first, I thought that was a pretty good way to summarize one’s life. Inevitably we all die, and we need to come to terms with not just how we live our lives, but how we live our lives in such a way that we know how we’ll be remembered. With that, I decided I would like my life to be summarized with this idea: “While alive he lived, while he lived, he loved. Because he loved, he served, and when he served, he led.” I think that is the journey, the path of leadership at any level, whether or not you have a title.
Woods: Well, there’s no doubt in my mind why you are as famous and as sought-after as you are, Mark. You’re an incredible human being, and you’re an incredible leader. If you want to learn more about Mark, he has a tremendous amount of resources on his website at www.MarkSanborn.com. His articles and books are phenomenal resources for leaders and emerging leaders. Mark, I just want to thank you so much for your time.
Sanborn: My pleasure. Thank you, and if I can be a resource to any of your readers, I hope they’ll contact me.
If you’re interested in having Mark speak at your next conference, trade show or meeting please contact us at 1-800-650-3343 or visitwww.marksanborn.com.
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