The year was 2004 …
and I went to see Jim Collins, a major leadership guru. Collins was on a book tour to promote Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, and I wanted to be the last person in line to get my book signed because I had an agenda. I asked Collins if I could shadow him at his research lab learning some of his best research practices. He looked perplexed.
I pulled out of my leather Franklin Planner a one-page article, folded into a four inch by four-inch square, Collins had written for Training Magazine in 1999. In the center was his photo and it was easy to see the wear and tear on the article. I held it up showing him how important his thoughts were to me and said, “I’ve been carrying this around with me for years!” To which he replied, “Let’s talk. Here’s my card.”
A week later we had a conversation. I wanted Collins’s direction in framing a research project. Since I held an endowed chair in leadership and character development, my focus was on leadership. I shared how my preferred research method is interviewing people — qualitative research because I enjoy the conversations. To which he responded, “The leadership literature is exploding with ‘the seven habits of this’ and ‘the eight principles of that.’ Everyone has their own opinion. But who is synthesizing it to make sense of it all? What are the themes being advocated among authors? Why don’t you interview thought leaders and be the one to tie it all together.”
His questions sent me on the path that led to my book Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts. I interviewed more than 100 top thought leaders and executive coaches—Marshall Goldsmith, Sally Helgesen, Warren Bennis, Peter Block, and Margaret Wheatley to name a few. These were people leading organizations or providing advice and counsel to C-Suite leaders.
My driving question: Given what you know about leadership, how should I be preparing people to be the kind of leaders you believe are needed in these uncertain times?
Here was my big surprise. I asked these authorities about how to be an effective leader, and they instead told me about how to live a healthy and fulfilling life. They described why leaders need to understand legacy, fear, grief, ego, and forgiveness. This was totally unexpected.
I have continued my research process of interviewing leaders and studying the themes that emerged from my book. From the result of this work, my three main conclusions:
It is hard to be a good leader if you are not a good person.
Leadership development is really personal development.
The most important person to lead is oneself.
These conclusions led me to create the Breadcrumb Legacy™ as a way to help people find meaning and purpose in their careers and beyond work. While legacy has become somewhat of a buzz term, we often associate it with fame, money, or monumental tasks. In reality, Breadcrumb Legacy reminds us that it is the small things that make a big difference. When we think about the difference we are making, it affects our actions, decisions, and interactions with others. The wake of a boat consists of the tracks left behind. Similarly, we are leaving our breadcrumbs as we journey on the path of life.