Warren Buffett gave unprecedented access to his opinions and philosophy of life in the book The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

One piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years is his take on the topic of career advancement. Pay attention to what Buffett said:

People ask me where they should go to work, and I always tell them to go to work for whom they admire the most. It's crazy to take little in-between jobs just because they look good on your résumé​. That's like saving sex for old age. Do what you love and work for whom you admire the most, and you've given yourself the best chance in life you can.

Think about it. How often do we strategically maneuver our careers in order to craft the perfect background "on paper"? We manipulate the hiring process, work here and there, then jump ship and burn bridges along the way only to find ourselves in that illusive job down the line that wasn't really what we envisioned.

Along the way, we miss the bigger opportunity to work for someone admirable--someone with the power to propel our career forward, faster than we would do on our own. By neglecting this career lesson, Buffett says, you're not giving yourself the best chance you can to succeed in life. He or she may be at your company right now, and leaving for the "greener grass" would be the wrong move.

What type of leader is worthy of admiration?

So, who's worthy of your admiration? For me, it's a human-centered leader. This is a person willing to be authentic and connect to the hearts of others.

Truly admirable human leaders have loyal followers who will run through walls for them. Why? Because they allow people the courageous and safe space to be humans first themselves--to leave their masks at home and bring their whole selves to work.

If you're new to this whole "humans first" conversation, I have interviewed countless high-level leaders to ask them what it means to be a human-centered leader. And what does it look like for them to show up with their full humanity on display without losing their edge?

Well, here's what it looks like, according to one executive who will be featured in my upcoming book, Leadership From the Core: How the Best Leaders Lead Through Practical Love (working title).

Admirable human leaders respond with compassion

Let's take the president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Financial Partners, Terry Turner. He's grown his firm, which provides banking and investment services to consumers and businesses, to approximately $24.6 billion in assets. Pinnacle also ranks No. 22 on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

I posed a diffiicult question to Turner, because if you're going to call yourself a human-centered leader, you have to place your people first, even ahead of the business. When you do, the business (profit) will take care of itself.

The question was raw and counterintuitive by business standards because it involves the most powerful force in the universe: love. That's right, love.

I asked, "In truly human workplaces that are more profitable than their peers, you'll find 'love in action' prevalent in the culture. In turn, you see employees responding with more trust, more loyalty and commitment, and higher performance. If you were to boil down how you lead with love, what are the top 'love' traits or behaviors you model for others that lead to business outcomes?"

I'm pretty sure Turner has never been asked that before. His response:

People like to make money, but if they don't love what they do, they won't do it for very long. And if they do stick around, they won't be giving it their all. So we work hard and with intentionality to make our workplace fun, engaging, and built on camaraderie. But really [those] things are built on a bigger idea, one you don't often see in business books. It's compassion. I've personally been in the situation of dreading to come into work every morning and having to psych myself up just to get out the door. It's not fun. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. So when we built this company, we tried to look compassionately at our associates and say, "What would I want from my job? What would make me excited to come to work?" And we went from there. 

Admirable human leaders live life with their employees

I dug deeper and asked Turner for anecdotal evidence that demonstrates elements of human- or love-based leadership at work. This is the part of the interview where Turner unleashed radical candor rarely seen in executives:

Let me say the thing I've witnessed to be the most powerful is to simply live life with our associates. I've had the opportunity to pray with people when they were scared by a cancer diagnosis or upcoming surgery and with associates who were heartbroken about poor life choices their children made. I've had the opportunity to sit in hospital waiting rooms with associates on the verge of losing a spouse. I've delivered a great many of my wife's home-cooked meals and cakes to folks suffering from some kind of trauma. I've been at the hospital for the birth of associates' kids. I've been to lots of high school graduations, visitations, funerals, and weddings scattered all over the place. I've had the opportunity to send the company plane to pick up an associate and his family with their sick daughters who couldn't ride that distance in a car. Love is not an initiative. It's just caring about the people you live and work with as you live life together. 

What's the business case for love?

If these principles of caring human behaviors don't lead to business outcomes and bottom-line results, all we're left with is a feel-good story and maybe a few readers looking for a box of tissues.

So what's the greater impact here? The human-centered leadership approach at Pinnacle has produced reams of data showing that its culture and leadership style work for business. Case in point: Here's what Turner shared about Pinnacle's associates and clients: 

Associates

  • 99 percent say they take great pride in their workplace.
  • 97 percent say they have great bosses.
  • 96 percent say people care about one another.
  • 91.5 percent retention rate -- unheard of in the financial services industry.

Clients

  • 94.7 percent say Pinnacle is recognizably better than the competition.
  • 98.8 percent say the experiences they have in Pinnacle's offices make them look forward to coming back. That's a big one. When's the last time you had such a good time at the bank that you were excited to go back? 
  • Greenwich Associates awarded Pinnacle 30 Greenwich Excellence Awards this year, the second most in the entire country. 
  • But really the best indicator is Pinnacle's stock performance. Pinnacle has operated under the same guiding principles and values since it was founded in 2000 with a focus on its associates as much as its clients. And Pinnacle has had one of the top performing bank stocks in the country since 2000. 

You can take that to the bank, literally. And I believe Warren Buffett, who started this whole conversation, would nod in agreement that this is truly admirable.

Published on: Feb 7, 2019
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