So you want to be number one?

by Per Robert Öhlin on July 20, 2010

What does it take to be a leader? What is the one, single quality that
separates the mediocre, self-declared leaders from the true leaders, such as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Steve Jobs and Ingvar Kamprad –  people who actually changed things?
Now, what is the true source of inspiration? Where does it come from?
Smart people?
Not necessarily.
Does it emanate from risk-aware cultures?
Not very likely.
Does it come from the nice and humble?
Does it come from the safe and sound?
No way.

Inspiration always comes from the bold and the daring. Why? Because they dream of things that others find impossible, wrong or downright silly.
They are fearless of being depicted as failures, of being ridiculed, of being rejected, of being embarrassed, or being played for a fool.
There are four questions that are essential for success as a leader whether you operate in a corporation, or in a political party, or in media.
What are you doing?
How are you doing it?
Who are you?
And why are you doing this?
Take a look at the picture above.
97% of the world’s population gravitate towards the question on top.
Is this because it’s the wisest thing to do?
No, truth is it’s because this is the easiest question to answer – whereas
successful leaders are more attracted to the questions at the bottom.
The reason for this is quite simple.
We live in a world where the majority tend to like things that they can see, grip, grasp and drop on their feet, while true leaders are attracted to the opposite.
They seem to like things that are more abstract.
Stuff that’s meaningful.
Questions that are much, much harder to answer.
It’s like the popular iceberg metaphor.
Most people can only picture the tip and fail to see the whole picture.
And that’s probably why so few of us become succesful leaders.

So how do you answer these four questions?

The first question »What?« is purely descriptive.
As in »I’m selling cell-phones«, or »I’m in computers«.
»How?« Is about creativity: how can you make a difference?
The answer could be »Think different«, or »a really beautiful product design«.
»Who?« is a question of identity.
By this I refer to cultural and psycho-social mirroring.
Because it’s far more important who’s selling than what’s being sold.
Now it’s getting really interesting. How do you relate to this:
»I’m a former hippie from California and I rage against big corporations that enslaves individuals. This is my quest and I hope you sympathize«.
This statement reveals a personal, heroic story.
As in all biographies the story should be woven around a few dichotomies:
Love vs. hate. Fear vs. bravery. Good vs. bad.
The trick is to know what you stand for and know what you oppose.
If you fail this, no one will be able to identify with you or your cause.

And by »Why?« I touch on intention and aspiration.
The purpose of this question is to know, deep down, why you’re doing whatever you’re doing.
Sometimes it’s called »a mission statement«.
But this is an expression that has been watered down for ages, so let’s drop it.
Instead, I prefer to talk about meaning, or purpose.
Meaning always outperforms information, like emotion trumps rationality.
When your quest is based on a bold aspiration, it will make hearts pound faster.
People will be moved.
People will start to act and participate in your misson.
Here’s a formula to keep in mind:
Somebody (you) should want something really, really bad.
Unfortunately, something (an evil force) keeps standing in your way.
How should you go about it (the creative challenge)?
Make sure this struggle goes on forever.
How do you recognize a meaningful quest? Here’s an example:
»I will always fight stupid conventions, wherever it rears its ugly head…
Just bring it on!«

You know what I’m talking about, and whom I’m refering to.
I’m talking about Apple, of course. And Steve Jobs.
They don’t sell their stuff because it’s innovative or of excellent quality.
These are by-products of a lifelong, meaningful quest.
They sell because they have the urge to challenge the stale and the stupid.
And this make them living heroes.

A really smart guy I know wrote in his blog the other day about the endless question of what makes us most happy: money or meaning.
Most people think that rich people are driven by money, and that this is the reason why they’ve become rich.
Not true.
If you read the book »Obliquity. Why our goals are best achieved indirectly«, by the british economist John Kay, you’ll see that many of the best performing businesses were built by people who didn’t strive for money, but for meaning.
Kay shows that companies like Boeing, Ford and Microsoft were driven by goals other than profit, and that money often is a by-product of much bigger and stronger incentives.
The need to achieve.
To change.
To become at ease with oneself.
Or to leave a mark on the world.
That’s why they ended up making fortunes.
Ironic, isn’t it?

{ 2 trackbacks }

Om varför vissa blir framgångsrika « Tripent – Marknadsbloggen
July 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm
Want to be happy, rich, successful?
February 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Micco Grönholm August 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Great post, Per Robert.
I’ve sent the link to friends of mine that share our conviction that a clear, compelling and sympathetic purpose – the cause, the true reason why you’re doing what you’re doing – is the key to inspiring people. Internally within organizations as well as customers, voters, readers, etc.

Live Well!

Surveillance Guy August 10, 2011 at 2:56 am

Generally I would read your posts and not bother to comment. I don’t know if you are familiar with my blog [], but I would like to invite you to do a guest post on it. As you can tell our writing styles are somewhat similar so if you are interested, let me know. Best Regards, Surveillance Guy

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