Heroes Raise the Bar: Leadership Lessons from a Book You Cannot Buy
I’m a Seth Godin fan and follower. I read a lot of leadership books and there are a lot of great authors out there. However, if I had to pick one modern author that has made the biggest impact on my leadership, it would have to be Seth Godin.
I just re-read that book for the 6th time last week. After finishing the book, it occurred to me that I should thank Seth for the gift. Here’s what I mean: I paid $8 for Linchpin but it has quite obviously provided much more value to me than $8. This is not even close to an even commercial transaction. Seth made a piece of art and gave it away as a gift to the world.
This blog article isn’t about that book. It’s about a different book.
I wrote Seth an email. I thanked him for doing what he does and I shared the impact he has made on my life and career. He wrote me back quickly, indicating his appreciation for my note, and gave me a few words of encouragement.
A few days later, a package arrived at my office. Seth mailed me a couple of his books, wrote personalized notes on the inside covers, and signed them. Wow.
I immediately started looking over the books. One of them, I recognized: What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn). The other one, I didn’t: Footprints on the Moon. The mystery book captured my attention. Seth has 19 best sellers, and this isn’t one of them.
I started to flip through it, and found something on the inside back cover:
Author’s note: What would happen if we published a book that people couldn’t buy? This book is non-commercial. We’re not selling it; we’re merely sharing it with people who are in a good position to run with the ideas inside. People like you.
I just about fell out of my chair when I read that. I noticed a few other things. The book wasn’t new. The cover was worn. The pages were dogeared. This had been passed around. One thought occurred to me: I am an insider.
In life, I’m not used to feeling cool. 40 years as a socially awkward nerd has lowered my expectations for ever feeling like an insider. In this moment, I felt like I was in the inner circle of one of my biggest heroes. Have you ever felt that way? It’s amazing.
Later that evening, I sat down and read the book cover-to-cover in one sitting.
Footnotes on Footprints
I can’t tell you to go out a get copy of Footprints on the Moon to go read. So instead, I’ll share some of my key takeaways.
This is for you.
This isn’t for the masses. It’s for the few. It’s for the changemakers. The changemakers are the minority. Most want to follow the map. Few make their own map. This book is for the few.
Similarly, when you make your art and make your change, you need to identify who it is for. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. When I write my blog, do my leadership thing, and build my team the way I do, many don’t get it. Most ignore me. Some dislike me. It’s okay because I’m not doing it for them.
There is no such thing as writer’s block.
Art requires creativity, and sometimes that is hard to come by. Many say to themselves, “I don’t have any good ideas.” Seth challenges that statement with “do you have any bad ideas?”
The solution is to do the work and get into the flow. I’ve written over 150 blog articles in three years. They aren’t all pure genius. Some of them were pretty lame. Some of them were great. It’s the discipline of doing it consistently that creates the opportunity for art and genius. I don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to hit me. I open up my word processor, start with a completely blank screen, then slowly fill it with words.
I blog weekly. Seth blogs daily. Seth wrote:
I don’t blog every day because I have a good idea. I have a good idea because I blog every day.
Prepare your tools
Painters have their pallets, canvases, brushes, and paints. It’s hard to make a painting without them. In the world of technology, we have our cloud infrastructure, our programming languages, our pipelines, and our agile processes. These are the tools of the trade. We need them readily available, well-understood, and in great condition to do our best work.
You can focus on tools too much. You can also neglect them. Either extreme stifles the creative process. Prepare your tools, then get on with your craft.
“Saturday Night Live doesn’t go on at 11:30 because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30.” Leaders make commitments and deliver on them. The best art in the world doesn’t matter a bit if it doesn’t ship. Set a deadline. Live up to it. It won’t be perfect.
Doubt is part of the deal. That’s how we know we are onto something.
Raising the bar
Seth is a hero of mine. He puts thoughts I think into words better than most. This article is as much about the book he gave me as the encounter that led up to it. Interestingly, the title of the book is inspired by an encounter that Seth had with a hero of his. I’ll end this article with the story that named the book:
The setting was right out of a movie.
There was a roaring campfire. It was a cold October night and I was lucky enough to be sitting with family and friends and colleagues.
Standing next to the campfire, the subject of our rapt attention, was Neil Armstrong. As he told us the story of the Apollo mission, a full moon began to rise in the cloudless sky.
Casually, as he looked over his shoulder at the moon behind him, he said “I’ve been there.”
That sets the bar pretty high.
I’m not Neil Armstrong. I’m not Seth Godin. I am Zach Hughes, and I am here to raise the bar on leadership in enterprise technology.
Read this article on my blog site: https://zachonleadership.com/heroes-raise-the-bar-leadership-lessons-from-a-book-you-cannot-buy/
Be sure to check out my new podcast here: zachonleadership.com/podcast