Recently I had the privilege of hearing Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes speak at an event. The event was titled, The Power of Giving: Conscious Capitalism and The Future of Business. Blake retold his story of how a sabbatical trip to Argentina inspired him to start TOMS and his One for One® movement. As I sat in the audience hearing Blake’s inspiring story of merging business purpose with helping others, I was overcome with a sense of pride.
You see, last year I started a new business venture with the goal of merging my passions, purpose and business experience to create a disruptive company. The company, LeaderSurf is the culmination of my childhood passion for surfing, my desire to help those that are less fortunate and my ability to translate my 20+ year corporate career into learnings for other leaders. As an executive coach, I focus my clients on finding their groove; Something they do better, special or differently. We all have a groove or a competitive advantage, but few people take the time and the risk required to identify and pursue their groove. To me this is at the intersection of one’s passion and skills. Passion and skills don’t always intersect. For example, I have a strong passion for music, but I cannot sing and I cannot play a musical instrument. The only instrument I can play effectively is the radio 😊 Music therefore, while important to me and my life, is not my groove.
As Blake told his story, it became evident that he did not set out to start a shoe company. His trip to Argentina was an opportunity to see the world through a different lens and to take time to reflect on his life and purpose. It was serendipitous that he met two American women in Buenos Aires who were working for a charity to distribute shoes to those in need. Blake’s thirst for adventure and willingness to push himself out of his comfort zone, opened him to an amazing experience of giving that ultimately led to TOMS. Through his own experience with giving and being purposed-based, Blake has established a clear groove and philosophy for himself and his company. He shared with the audience: “I believe each of us has a mission in life, and that one cannot truly be living their most fulfilled life until they recognize this mission and dedicate their life to pursuing it.” That mission is different for each of us, but finding it and choosing to pursue it, require a willingness to take risks.
Blake is clearly an insightful and self aware guy. While he has had tremendous success with his business he understands that luck played an important role. He also recognizes that building TOMS has been an evolution that included missteps and stumbles. One of his learnings that applies well to all leaders is: “Take time to digest criticism ad let it lead you to a better place.” TOMS has been criticized and that criticism has led Blake to make changes and to improve his business.
Blake's talk about his TOMS journey, reaffirmed for me that I am on the right path with the LeaderSurf program. Leadersurf combines leadership development, humanitarian aid and surfing lessons. This is a unique approach to developing business leaders. The humanitarian aid component is a critical part of the LeaderSurf program. It teaches business leaders the importance of servant leadership. Blake commented: “When people serve together they get along better together.” This act of giving one’s time and effort to those less fortunate is a powerful learning tool.
On each of the LeaderSurf programs my absolute high point of the program is the day we spend in a jungle village helping locals by installing clean water filters. This day of giving is so humbling, yet it brings me such pride to know that I am exposing business leaders to the power of giving and making a life changing difference for the people of Nicaragua. Helping those less fortunate puts so much in perspective. Blake states this feeling really well: “It may sound too good to be true, but once you’ve seen the happiest people in your life who have nothing, you really start rethinking what the world, and society, tells us that we need to be happy.” This is so true of the people of Nicaragua. They are some of the happiest people I have ever met, yet they are also the most impoverished. My life is forever changed and it is my hope that more business leaders will have the opportunity to experience that feeling that Blake describes and that I have felt.
My big take-away from Blake’s inspirational speech, is that LeaderSurf’s approach to doing good and being better has the recipe for success. It requires a commitment from organizations that are not risk averse and that recognize the power of experiential learning. Companies must want leaders who are purpose driven and want to make a difference not only in their companies, but in the world at large.
LeaderSurf has four programs scheduled for 2018. To learn more about the LeaderSurf program, the dates and the learning visit LeaderSurf.com