The most powerful advice I ever received for my business, and my blog

most powerful advice

By Mark Schaefer

I was recently asked by an interviewer, “Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?” Pretty good question! But the answer was easy. In fact, there was one lesson I learned from one man that has had a profound impact on my approach to life, my business, and my blog. I’ll share that important lesson with you today.

Sensei and sensibility

When I lived in Los Angeles, I desperately wanted to attend the MBA program at Claremont Graduate University for one reason — Peter Drucker taught there (in fact, the school was named for him). If you have never heard of Peter Drucker, discovering his books and articles might be the most important thing you can do for your career.

I applied for entry to the college, but was told I was too young to be accepted to this prestigious program. I would not quit that easily, however, and went through an appeal process, arguing that they needed my youth (27 at the time) to add to the diversity of the program! I made an unlikely stand on the grounds of EEO, which was quite a stretch, but incredibly, I was admitted! Perhaps my tenacity amused them.

Peter Drucker was one of the handful of people I have known who could distill vast complexity into simple wisdom. The scope of his knowledge was breathtaking. He would sit on the edge of his desk and lecture for three hours straight without a break, and without notes. He generally lectured about one of his books. My favorite was Innovation and Entrepreneurship a remarkable book that still holds up today.

A new approach to leadership

Professor Drucker taught via the Harvard case study method. We would be assigned to read a long, detailed, real-life business case and then dissect it in class to discover the true nature of how business worked.

The students in this class were high-flyers — the brightest business executives in the Los Angeles region — and they were always trying to “solve” the business case.  Nothing made Professor Drucker angrier than that! “What makes you think you are smarter than the people in the case?” he would ask, “Smarter than people who have worked in this industry for decades? How can you be that arrogant?

“Your job as a business leader is not to provide the right answers. It is to provide the right questions.”

Over and over he would pound this truth into our heads until it became part of our DNA. And he was so right … so profoundly right. There is not a week that goes by that I don;t think of some lesson from Professor Drucker, but this was the most important of all.

Think of the power of leading people to the most effective solution, not by pontificating and telling them what to do, but by distilling the issue down to the essential question and letting them discover the answer themselves.

Adopting a strategy of professional humility is anathema to our modern Western culture.  We may associate humility with weakness, when in fact it is strength.

The essence of blogging?

Like most young people starting out in business, I felt a need to know all the answers, especially when I was promoted to a leadership position. But from Professor Drucker I learned that being vulnerable, involving others in the process, coming up with a better solution together, sharing the weight of decisions – those are all benefits of humility.  Being deeply human, instead of trying to wear the Superman cape, is powerful and liberating.

This is also a key to effective blogging I think. Most bloggers adopt a mantle of invincibility and that is certainly the easy path to take: “I publish, therefor I’m correct.”

But being a humble blogger leads to meaningful social media engagement and ultimately, crowd-sourced wisdom.  I almost never have the answers. But I think my blog posts do present the essential questions: Does every business need a social media strategy?  What is the value of social media engagement?  How do we measure success?

And then YOU provide the answers through your comments. A much better system, don’t you think? How could I possibly sustain this blog for the last four years by only giving you answers? Nobody is that smart.

I hope this resonates with you in some small way. How does this idea land on you? Could being a humble leader become a key to making you a better leader, a better parent, a better blogger?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Photograph courtesy Claremont Graduate University

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