The hallmark of a great leader is someone who motivates their team to succeed.
But what motivates a leader?
I know what motivates me. It’s a combination of an unrelenting desire to achieve my best, a passion to help others and yes, a wish to win the acceptance and praise I wanted as a child. My parents were very supportive of me, but like many immigrant parents, they also knew how to give that support with an edge: getting straight As was not an achievement, but an expectation.
Since then, I’ve learned, of course, that success is much more multi-dimensional but key childhood moments were critical in shaping who I am. As we began to interview the many CEOs on Radiate, I wanted to find out what childhood moments shaped who they are and I found the answers very touching, insightful and telling. Here are some of my favorite anecdotes.
Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson would help his father with his daily trash-hauling service. “It was a cold winter, I’m talking about zero, it was seven below or something! My job was to get all the loose paper around the barrel,” Johnson says about the one Michigan winter he spent helping his Dad. His father had “to pick the barrels up and put them on the truck….I went to the barrel and that paper was stuck in the ice. And it was cold! You know, as a kid, you say, `Oh man, I’m going to grab what I can, then I’m going back to that warm cabin in the truck!’ Just as I shut the door, my father swung the door back open, first he grabbed me, dragged me through the snow, brought me right back to those barrels, said, `Son, if you do this job halfway, you’re going to practice basketball halfway, you’re going to do your homework halfway. You do everything in life, you want to put 150% effort into it. So I want you to take that shovel, I want you to chop that ice, and get that paper out of that ice.’ I turned into a perfectionist right at that moment on that day. And that changed my life.”
“Not much good stuff happened in my childhood,” Chris Burch, co-founder of Tory Burch and founder of Burch Creative Capital said. Born with dyslexia and suffering from ADD, anxiety, panic attacks and chronic bed-wetting, Burch said he “was always the kid that spent his whole life riding the short bus to school, and all I wanted to do was to get that crossing guard. I don’t know if any of you had that, but they would take the student that was the best student of the week and let them be a crossing guard for a day. Well, I waited until the sixth grade and never was a crossing guard. So my childhood, even though my parents loved me, no one could quite figure out what was wrong.” Through all of this he learned to find a way to “work my way through it and build my own sense of self where I wasn’t helped.”
John Chen, the Executive Chairman & CEO of BlackBerry, grew up “relatively modest and poor” as the son of immigrants who fled Communist China. He was not alone, surrounded by others who were in the same situation and that helped him greatly. “I’ve seen…a lot of people in the same boat,” Chen said. “Their parents were educated people that had nothing with them when they escaped and they built a life for themselves…some became real estate tycoons.” He continued: “I was really fortunate to see what’s possible when you put your mind to it. And always [when I was] growing up that having nothing doesn’t mean a thing. You work hard, you focus on it, you do what it takes, and maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t work, but nine times out of 10, I see a lot of success stories, and I feel very motivated by that.”