I just returned from giving a keynote speech to 1,000 enthusiastic members of the student association Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda. These young men and women are articulate, energetic, and ready to leave their mark on the world. Anyone with these qualities will be in high demand. But being sought after brings its own share of challenges. Many people will have opinions about what these students should be contributing to society. How many times will these students hear,"You should work here,""You should choose this as a career," or"You should help me sell this product."
In my speech, I reminded the students about something Apple (AAPL) Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs said in a Stanford commencement address. "Life is too short to live somebody else's dream." Follow your passion, I advised. You might make a living doing something you don't like, but you'll never be considered an inspiring leader. You see, as a leader, you cannot inspire until you're inspired yourself. And the only way to be inspired yourself is to do what you love. As a communications coach, I can teach rhetorical skills to help people speak, present, and pitch themselves effectively, but I can't teach passion.
Trump Makes Money Doing What He Loves
One business leader who knows a lot about passion is billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump. Trump is everywhere these days: in bookstores, on television, and making the rounds of speaking circuits. I enjoy listening to Trump because he reveals the secret behind his success whenever he is asked about it.
In Trump's own words, the secret to success is to "do what you love." I knew before glancing at Trump's new book, Think Big and Kick A** in Business and Life (Collins; October, 2007) that he would repeat the concept once again. Sure enough, in Chapter Two ("Passion, Passion, Passion!"), Trump writes, "Don't think about how you can make money. Instead think about what you can produce or what service you can offer that is valuable and useful to people in your community."
Anyone who reads Trump's books or attends his lectures might be disappointed that he doesn't outline a specific road map to get rich in real estate. That's because "real estate" in and of itself won't lead to success and happiness—it's following Trump's advice to find your passion that could do that. Once you do find your passion, says Trump, the money will follow. "It may sound simple, but I have become a billionaire many times over by sticking to this simple philosophy," Trump explains.
Recently, Trump shared his perspective with another man who encourages his viewers to follow their passion, Donny Deutsch, the host of CNBC's (GE) The Big Idea. Deutsch, a former advertising executive, has turned his program into a showcase of entrepreneurs who found success by following their passion. Deutsch has said, "If you love something, you'll be great at it; the money will come and everything else will fall into place."
Launching a Worldwide Craze
Throughout my career, I've interviewed inspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs behind some of the worlds' hottest brands. I'm convinced that each person's success as a leader could not have taken place until each was truly inspired by a company's service or product and how it improved the lives of customers. One man who recently appeared on The Big Idea and with whom I recently had the chance to work is Cranium founder Richard Tait. His enthusiasm for his company was so contagious that he persuaded partners, investors, and employees to follow his vision. Tait's idea was to create a board game in which all the players could excel in one category or another. Cranium became the fastest-selling board game in history and sparked a worldwide craze. It all started with one man following his passion.
A few months ago I interviewed Chris Gardner (BusinessWeek, 7/23/07), another entrepreneur whose success as a leader hinges on his passion for his work. Gardner is the real guy behind the character played by actor Will Smith in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. While Gardner was a pursuing an unpaid internship to become a stockbroker, he and his two-year-old son spent their nights in the bathroom of a subway station. When I asked Gardner, who in 1987 founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, where he found the spirit to keep going, he said something so profound I think about it nearly every day because it's the secret to success. Gardner said he found something that he loved to do so much he couldn't wait for the sun to rise so he could do it all over again.
Trump, Deutsch, Tait, and Gardner—each of these business leaders have enjoyed stunning success—and they all share a consistent message: Do what you love, show the world why, and the money will follow.