The Confidence to Question Your Heroes

I believe in having heroes. My entire life there have been people who astounded me with their leadership, and I have aspired to be more like them. First there was my grandmother, and then my beloved high school teacher,social media heroes Lewis K. Webster.  As I moved into adulthood, I found additional heroes… and many of them were from the business world.   My main heroes outside of the 2 already named, are:

1. Muhammed Ali

2. Howard Schultz

3. Bill Gates

4. Richard Branson

5. Warren Buffet

All men of incredible success who maintained an immense humanity.

There have been other heroes I’ve outgrown or began to see through a different light as I grew.  Teddy Roosevelt, once my all time favorite American, appears to me now as admirable but impetuous man.

When I entered the Social Media world I was overwhelmed with how much I needed to learn.  There were so many Rockstars, Gurus and Experts I was overwhelmed again.  I latched onto a few who were accessible and had large followings; I read every post, newsletter and communication they put out.  It seemed that the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know – for months on end I couldn’t catch my breath trying to keep up with every new network and application.

Over time I found my bearings and started to understand this ‘social thing.’  It s became clear to me that Social Media had changed a lot about how consumers and brands communicate, but it had not changed everything; business is still business.  Being strategic minded, understanding the importance of a great product and excellent customer service, knowing how to build a culture within a company – all of those things aren’t ‘fixed’ or developed with Social Media.  As this thought process began to crystallize  some of the the communications from my Social Heroes began to look a bit fluffy; when you dug deep, you saw that it was the same advice recycled regularly – often aimed at getting me to buy into their latest scheme.

A wise friend of mine suggested that I go and check out the LinkedIn profiles of many of these ‘gurus’ prior to 2006. Too often I found very little actual business experience.

All is not lost; along the way I have met a lot of smart, social and business savvy folks that provide me with insightful posts and interesting discussions.  I don’t know that I look for Social Heroes anymore… it seems redundant, considering the fact that most of the people I admire in business today understand the power of Social anyway.

The lesson, of course, is to continue to question those you look up to. If they’re worth admiring, they’ll be able to withstand your critical eye.

Who Are Your Heroes?

From my earliest days I understood the value of heroes; I was raised by one, my grandmother, Doris Chapman McCloskey. She took me in when I was 3 months old and she was in her late 60s. I use her lessons every single day of my life.

The second hero whose life shaped me me was Milton Snavely Hershey; I entered his Milton Hershey School when I was 9 years old and graduated a proud

Lynn Wilson

alumnus in 1986. As students we weren’t only ingrained with the need to be self sufficient and well educated, but with the story of MSH’s epic failures, continued perseverance, and ultimate and unbelievable success.

It has become second nature to look for the people in life who achieve tremendous things, and in business it is no different. Here are the Business Heroes who keep my eye on the prize:

1. Howard Schultz: a tough luck kid who created a market doing something he loved. Despite the many predictions of Starbuck’s slipping hold on the coffee market, the reality is that no one does it as well as they do.
2. Richard Branson: in nearly every one of his statements on why Virgin has been so successful, Branson makes it clear that YOUR PEOPLE are your biggest asset. Guy Kawasaki’s story of Branson getting down on his knees to polish Guy’s shoes shows you Ego has nothing to do with Virgin’s success.
3. Jack Welch: Although we disagree on everything political, our sports loves are the same: All Boston. But the reason I love this guy’s vision is that he understands how to build a team and let them get to it. His description of mediocrity: Loads of upper level Management and lots of layers. Anyone who has worked at a mediocre corporation knows he’s right.
4. Oprah: I don’t care how uncool it is to think Oprah is cool, there isn’t a woman on the planet who has started with so little and achieved so much. And we keep listening because she is connected to what we care about.
5. Lynn Wilson: You have probably not heard of Lynn, but he was my real life hero. He took his family’s business from a small, 1 million pound a year home builder based in Northamptonshire, England, to one of the largest construction companies in Europe. He passed away in 2008 leaving his family and various charities over 50 million pounds. He never went to college, and he convinced me not to go back to get my MBA by saying “you ARE getting your MBA – everyday – when you go to work.” It was my privlege to know a Real Life hero who accomplished SO MUCH and remained so humble.

I have many more heroes in Real Life of course; people who continue on doing the right thing for their families and communities without a chance of ever being ‘heard of.’ This post is an exercise in what I try to do on a regular basis: remember the possibilities. It is so important that we cherish our heroes and remember that they too had trying, difficult times when it looked as if they’d never make it. Perseverance is the one common denominator.

Who are your heroes? And when was the last time you contemplated their journey?