It was spring 1984. I was living and working in Atlanta. At the moment of awareness, I was sitting in a board meeting with about 40 people planning how to turn around a neighborhood of small businesses, old Atlanta residences, corporate offices and religious congregations. The Midtown area of downtown Atlanta had been declining during the 1960's and 70's as it was gathering place for drug deals, prostitution, strip bars and homelessness.
As I sat with these business people, corporate executives, developers, designers and artists, I saw what genuine leadership was. It is people with passion and commitment who are willing to do whatever is required to make a difference that matters. I knew then, that I wanted to be that kind of leader, and that leadership was going to be the focus of my professional life.
That moment of awareness began a continual process of study and exploration. Through all the reading and experimentation, I was never comfortable with what I found as the consensus view of leadership. It was far too much a matter of managing tasks rather than engagement with people. It seemed that leadership was nothing more than the tyranny of the efficient, rather than the excellence of the effective.
When I began my consulting practice in 1995, it wasn't because I had already figured it all out. Rather I started it to learn leadership from the ground up. I knew that leadership had to be focused on the relationship that leaders have with followers. I just didn’t understand how.
Then, in the spring of 2004 (if I remember correctly), twenty years after my initial initiation into the field of leadership, I saw this cereal box on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble. The book inside, Free Prize Inside, was by a marketing expert named Seth Godin. I bought it, and then, Purple Cow, and then free ebooks and manifestos. In Seth, was a writer who was different, provocative and had common sense. I began to think differently about my business, and began to see positive changes. I can date them to the time I began to read Seth’s work.
In 2008, Tribes was released, and, finally the leadership book that I had been looking for since 1984, was in print. The book brought affirmation and clarity to what I had been seeing for over three decades. And it is not an understatement to say that my life changed as a result.
Seth practices a type of leadership that I call, "leading by vacuum." This means that he stays focused on doing what he knows well, and lets others take the lead to do what they do best. The recent Linchpin MeetUp is a classic example of Seth’s influence. Float an idea, and people jump to implement it. They do so, not because they are ordered to or coerced, but because they want to do so. This is Seth’s kind of leadership. It is the kind that builds community and collaboration.
As a result of his approach, people across the globe have grown into being tribal leaders and Linchpins in their hometowns and businesses. The world is now filled with leaders who know that they are, and are motivated to make a difference that matters where they life and work.
Because of Seth, I now have friends around the world with whom I share a common vision for leadership, and a friendship that is supportive, trusting and caring.
Seth, I'm grateful for the work you have done, and the influence that you have had upon my life and work. Thank you and may you find peace in the difference you’ve made.
Happy Birthday, my friend. God bless.In addition:
You can find additional celebrations of Seth Godin's 50th birthday here. The site where these celebrations are collected is the brain-child of Ben Love. He not only create a great way to honor Seth, but pull off an impossible task, while being willing to edit copy after it had been posted. Thank you, Ben for your Linchpin leadership.
And in typical Seth fashion, he diverts attention from his birthday to giving to Charity: Water. Do it if so led.