While it should be said that it’s remarkable in itself that my 8 year old was helping me do the dishes, it’s what he said that has had me thinking. We were discussing his current overuse of the word “epic” and he informed me that one of his compatriots is no longer using the word. When I inquired about this sudden change in his friend’s vernacular, Sam informs me that another boy they know has deemed it as a “dumb word” and so his friend has decided to eradicate it from his list of word choices. I say nothing and we continue to rinse and dry and a moment or so later Sam says, “I like the word. So I am gonna use it. Life’s too short to try to be anyone but yourself and I just want to be me.” Okay. Makes sense.
I’ve often remarked about the story of Secretariat – the horse that won the triple crown when and wasn’t supposed to. He defied all odds. What was interesting about this story was not that the horse was a winner. I mean, okay, every race has a winner. But what was interesting is that the owner and trainer of Secretariat didn’t treat Secretariat like any other horse. As they approached the end of the triple crown series, most of the expected winners were being rested and refreshed. But the trainers and the owner of Secretariat knew their horse’s needs, what drove him. So they ran him. Again and again and again. And coming into the last race, many others around them felt that it was the end of Secretariat – that they had pushed him too far. And then not only did Secretariat win the triple crown, but set records in all three stakes that still stand today. That racehorse had to run. He had to be himself. Being himself is what made him a winner.
So then as far as leadership… well, we’ll come back to that. First let me just quickly tell you about Mona.
In the San Juan islands, just outside of Friday Harbor, as you drive along the quiet road that takes you through a cross between island life and country life, you’ll wind through pastures that are really pretty predictable. And nice. There’s some beautiful fields and some cows along the way and it’s good. But it only becomes remarkable when you meet Mona. Mona the camel. The CAMEL. I mean really, who pulls over the car to look and see if they really see a cow? But if you think you see a camel in the middle of an island pasture in Washington State, you think: well that’s different. Am I really seeing that? That’s interesting. I might want to learn more about that. What’s the story there?
So that seems pretty obvious when it comes to marketing. Hit the fringes, the masses will follow when the fringes get obsessed, fanatical and start talking. Get noticed. That’s easy enought to get. But in getting back to being a leader, what does this mean?
What if we stopped interrupting those who don’t care about what we are selling, our purpose? Like in sales and marketing. Winning brands know their market and who they are trying to talk to. They know who their steadfast fans are and who they are trying to interrupt. Winning brands use those fans as foot soldiers in their branding and in spreading their message. So in leading teams, what if you let the genius of your absurdities and your differences loose? What if you said “to hell with it – I love the word epic and I am gonna use it” and I am going to appeal to those that my brand speaks to. What if we regularly embraced our uniquness instead of trying to stifle it so that we could blend in and be more acceptable and safe. I wonder about the possibilities we might open up in ourselves and in others – the fringes – who might just get fanatical about the purpose that we serve as leaders and then become leaders themselves in that purpose… and so the purpose, the idea, the way in which we lead… spreads.
Anyway, interesting to think about. I’ll just end with this:
Use words you like, even when other people say they are dumb. Make sure your “trainers” (mentors, leaders, managers, coaches) know what you need and don’t rest you when you really need to run. Be a camel in a field full of cows. And even if you don’t find anyone follows you – “life’s too short to be anyone but yourself.”