Real leadership is a rare commodity, and not just in the business world or in politics. We could all benefit from better leaders in our communities and even in our own families.
John Addison was co-chief executive officer of financial services company Primerica, including the difficult 2008-2009 financial crisis. He's currently the newly appointed leadership editor of Success magazine and CEO of Addison Leadership Group. He's been sharing his wisdom about leadership, personal development and success through his speeches and writing, helping people find their purpose and inspiring the next generation of leaders. He's encapsulated those ideas in his new book, "Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose."
We asked him a few questions about leadership and how the average person can cut through the noise of a busy life to find their purpose. We learned a few things in the process.
MNN: Do you think everyone has something that they’re meant to do in life? Is it something that was always there, something they just need to discover? Or do most of us start without that something special, and we need to 'grow' a passion through experience?
John Addison: Many people find their passion early in life. However, for most people, it is a journey. We each need to strive to find those things that give us a feeling of peace and tranquility. A peaceful mind generates power. We all need to work to find avocations or vocations where we feel we are living out our purpose.
Most people would consider you a successful, accomplished person, but you’ve said that what matters is to have your own definition of success, and to know why. Can you share your definition of success? Has that definition always been the same throughout your life, or has it evolved?
I believe that true success is only achieved when you are happy. I have known bitter billionaires in my life. Monetary success is important to have a good standard of living, but happiness and fulfillment really define success. When I was younger, I admit it was very much about making money as the scoreboard. Now that I am older, I very much want to move from success to significance.
Many people feel trapped in jobs they don’t like because they believe what they’re passionate about can’t become a career that pays the bills. What would you recommend to these people to re-align their work lives with their passion?
Clearly there is the reality that you have to make a living. Sometimes it is hard to balance the need for money with what you really desire. That said, you should work to align your passions with the means to your income. It is always better to control the means to your income rather than have the means to your income control you.
You write about the concept of the change agent. Can you explain what that is? Do you think people are born that way, or can anyone become a change agent?
We are born with talents that can help us be change agents. Communication skills, for example, can be a critical skill for lending change. However, we can all be change agents. Find your passion, and pursue it every day! People are naturally attracted to passionate people!
A lot of the leaders of the future are still in the early stages of their education and careers. If you could give them one piece of advice about what makes a real leader (wise, fair, effective, successful, beloved), what would it be?
Real leaders are authentic. You need to be true to yourself and who you are at your core. You can't "fake it till you make it." People need to know you are an honest, authentic person!
Your new book is currently the #1 best seller on Amazon in the Human Resources & Personnel Management category and #200 overall. That’s impressive! I’m curious to know what made you decide to write it, and what’s the central message you’d like a reader to learn from it?
I lived and walked through a very unique life experience. I grew up in a very rural area of Georgia and wound up leading a company through the jungle of the great recession. I went from Brown Bridge Road, Covington, Georgia to battling the titans on Wall Street. I learned how to deal with people from all walks of life. What I really learned was your character, integrity and determination is all that matters in the storms of life. I hope this book can be an inspiration and a roadmap for others.
Who are some of the mentors and heroes who have helped shaped you into who you are? Can you share a few of the most important things that you’ve learned from them?
By far my greatest mentor was my Mom. We lived in a small community and she was a teacher. She was truly the center of the community. People came to her with their challenges and problems. She always was a force for good and influenced everything she touched for the good!
You’ve said: 'Genuine happiness comes from the heart, not from circumstances' and that we should develop a 'peaceful core.' It’s an intriguing way to see things, especially because we all know people who blame their circumstances for their unhappiness and are anything but peaceful. Can you explain what you mean?
If you wait for money or circumstances to make you happy, you will never be happy. There will always be something else you need. You have to work on your core, your soul, and develop a happiness and peace that comes from inside. Great circumstances and money make happy people happier and miserable people more miserable.
You wrote: 'My approach to life has pretty much been to jump in the river and start swimming. When the river branches off, I do my best to take the fork that looks like the right one.' Do you believe this is the best approach because life is unpredictable? Do you think detailed plans can be counter-productive to achievement and happiness?
I believe we are all unique! Some people are natural planners and always have a plan for the next step. Some of us are much more spontaneous — ready, fire, aim personalities. You need to be true to yourself and live the life you were designed to live!!