Let Go & Lead
Dan Pink Best-selling Author
Various

On Purpose Beyond Profit (3:31)

MARIL MACDONALD:
So as you think now about all the things you’ve been studying and everything you’ve been thinking about, what would you say are the most critical attri-butes for a leader today?

DAN PINK:
A sense of purpose.  I would say – picking up on some of the things you said – I would say a sense of purpose – knowing why they’re doing what they’re doing and helping infuse the workplace with a sense of purpose; and an empathy that says that everybody should be treated well, but everybody shouldn’t be treated the same.  So what they do is calibrate it to the individual.

Those are very hard things.  It’s much easier to wave big incentives in front of people and watch them scurry around.  It’s much easier to threaten people.  But I think that people who are running organizations that have a sense of purpose, that have a sense of what the big picture is, who also have high standards but then also have some empathy for people and treat people as individuals, I think that’s a pretty good recipe.  But the problem is, it’s really hard.  That’s why there are so few.

MARIL MACDONALD:
And you’ve also talked a lot about the whole concept of symphony, which I think is really interesting, particularly in the idea of actually curating talent and bringing together a broad mix of people.  And for so long, of course, too, in corporations, there was the old joke that people hire people like themselves.  It’s not even a joke – it’s probably a truism.

DAN PINK:
It’s not a joke.  No.  That’s something that we here in Washington call a “true fact,” and that is really the case.  When you look at this, it’s a very easy thing to study, and there’s research on this.  It’s a very thing to study.  You look at the attributes of the hire, and you look at the attributes of the people hired, and you will find an eerie similarity there.

MARIL MACDONALD:
So now, as we need to hire a whole diverse group – and companies talk about diversity all the time, which is another…  It’s a whole subject we could get on, right, in terms of the craziness of the approach of that.  But I think that there’s a growing awareness that we need to bring in teams that think differently, have different experiences, bring different thinking, and of course, your book, A Whole New Mind, is all about that.  What do you think really enables a leader to make that happen?

DAN PINK:
I think some amount of intellectual and personal security.  You see this all the time.  it’s a willingness to say, “Maril’s better at this than I am, so she’s going to do that.”  “Maria knows more about this than I do, so I’ll defer to Maria”; the willingness to surround one’s self with people who are smarter than them, who are good at things they’re not at good at.

And I think for a lot of people, particularly the people who are classically trained in formal education, that’s a difficult thing to do.  It’s one reason, at least in my view…  If you look at people who are really good entrepreneurs – there’s this incredible correlation between dyslexia and entrepreneurship.  The list of game-changing entrepreneurs with dyslexia is mind-boggling.  You have people like Charles Schwab; Paula [Folly], who started Kinko’s; John Chambers, who started Cisco; Richard Bramson.  I mean, it’s unbeliev-able, the number of them.

And one reason for that – and again, like all these things, there’s research on it.  There’s research out of the Kass Business School in the U.K. that says that people with dyslexia end up having certain habits of the heart that are extraordinarily valuable as leaders.  Number one – they’re good at getting mentors because they don’t think they’re the smartest person in the room.  Second, they’re good at delegating because they don’t think they’re the smartest person in the room.

So you show me someone who did very well in school, did very well in university, did very well in their MBA course, who comes into a company, she’s used to being and wants to be the smartest person in the room.  And the belief that you’re the smartest person in the room is the undoing of many people who are smart.  And if you have dyslexia and you’ve struggled with reading, you’ve never had the horrible experience of thinking you’re the smart person in the room.  And that allows you to get a lot more done.

MARIL MACDONALD:
Yeah.  We’ve found that to be the leader’s most fatal flaw is believing you’re the one.  Right?

DAN PINK:
Yeah.

MARIL MACDONALD:
Because then you ARE the one.  It’s one happens.

DAN PINK:
Right, and so you end up doing the one thing you do well and drain all your attention by doing all the other things.  And it’s difficult for some people.

MARIL MACDONALD:
So building on that, letting go of the idea that you’re the only one would probably be one of the things you’d suggest if I asked, what do leaders need to let go of.

DAN PINK:
Yeah.

MARIL MACDONALD:
What else?

DAN PINK:
I think they need to let go of a number of things.  I think they need to let go of the idea that the profit motive on its own is going to be sufficiently motivating for great work.  In my view, the profit motive is a very good thing.  I would argue…I’ll have a debate with anybody that it’s a good thing morally – I think there’s a moral case for the profit motive.  There’s certainly an efficiency case for the profit motive.  It’s a good thing.  But it’s not the only thing.

And I think, especially now, it’s insufficiently motivating; that if the rallying cry inside of a firm is merely, let’s raise earnings per share four cents this quarter, I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that gets people leaping out of bed in the morning to do something amazing.  I think it might get people to leap out of bed in the morning and say, “Oh, my god, if I don’t hit this number, I’m going to lose my job,” which, again, is a form of compliance.

So I think that what really matters is combining the profit motive – what I call the purpose motive, which we see over and over again inside organizations – the organizations that are really performing at a high level are often those that stand for something to contribute to the world, that have a purpose beyond the profit.  Now, they can combine the two.  And I think that there’s a purpose deficit out there, and that really enlightened leaders can fill that gap.

MARIL MACDONALD:
Yeah, we’ve found that it’s very effective to talk with people about the con-cept that we have a profit to fund our purpose versus the other way around – our purpose is to fund a profit, right?

DAN PINK:
Right.  And that’s what’s part of it, too.  I just think it’s an impoverished form of motivation.  I just don’t think it gets people to do great work.  And if you look at the history of most innovations, most of them didn’t come purely from the profit motive; it came from this idea that we wanted to do something bigger, bolder, solve a complex problem, contribute something to the world.