Back in 2001, Warren Buffett gave a group of University of Georgia students career advice that goes counter to conventional wisdom, whatever your stage of career-climbing. 

When asked, "Whom should I go to work for when I graduate from college?" Buffett gave a simple answer: "The real thing to do is to get going for some institution or individual that you admire. I mean it's crazy to take in-between jobs just because they look good on your resume​, or because you get a little higher starting pay."

I don't think there's anything wrong with strategically maneuvering your career path by cutting your teeth at large companies. Your resume down the line will be a coveted gem for head hunters looking to court you to your corporate paradise. 

Yet Buffett is not so much on board with that premise. He once challenged a Harvard Business School grad about whether his choice to work for a big management consulting firm to 'round out' his resume perfectly was the right career move.

Buffett asked, "Well, is that what you want to do?" The young man said no, and told Buffett that he would eventually start doing what he liked "someday." 

And that's when Buffett offered up this mic-drop moment: "Well you know, your plan sounds to me a lot like saving up sex for your old age. It just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Who is an "admirable individual" nowadays?

Let's say you lay out a perfect game plan to what you perceive to be the path (and perfect resume) to your dream job. You "pay your dues" and advance to the spot where people will tell you, "You've arrived."

What most people don't take into account at that point in the journey is human nature. Because if you land the job of your dreams and your boss is ill-equipped to lead you, or any human being for that matter, you're screwed.

Buffett's quote, you will note, puts the focus squarely on a person of high esteem: "Go to work for whomever you admire the most." He later told the students in his speech, "You can't get a bad result. You'll jump out of bed in the morning and you'll be having fun."

In my research covering examples of the best leaders on the planet, the person you admire the most should be a leader to whom you're willing to give your best effort under favorable circumstances; circumstances that set you up for long-term success, not send you packing for another fleeting, fly-by-night company.

Here are three examples of the types of leaders that, I believe, Buffett would agree to be admirable. They'll each be featured in a leadership book I'll be publishing soon.

1. Sara Sutton, CEO & Founder, FlexJobs

Sara Sutton ranks high on my list of admirable, human-centered leaders worthy of attention. As the founder of what is arguably the best job site for remote, part-time, freelance, and other flexible jobs on God's green earth, Sutton chooses to embrace kindness and flexibility toward her people by valuing both their professional and personal lives.

Sutton told me, "Too many companies don't give enough credence to how important it is for people to feel happy, strong, and capable in both their professional and personal lives in order to truly do well at work in a sustainable manner. They try to force people to firmly compartmentalize their work and personal lives in a way that is counter-productive in my opinion. For us, we're fortunate that our mission ties to helping people find a better way to work, a way that doesn't compete with their personal lives as much. To support that, we operate in a way that considers and values the whole person."

2.  Matt Cain, President & CEO, Couchbase

Couchbase is disrupting the $40B database market with its data platform that revolutionizes digital innovation. And Matt Cain is doing some disrupting of his own as a servant leader leveraging "love in action" as the ultimate motivator. It's a values-based imperative that, he says, "will trump all others in terms of effectiveness, impact, and longevity in the end."

The love culture that flows through Couchbase is displayed through "encouragement, tough love, a willingness to communicate disappointment with positive intent and without judgment, a desire to listen with intent, and unconditional support that are all in service for wanting the best for someone," Cain explained.

He says it starts with creating an "us" environment where no one ever loses alone. "We are here for one another in, and outside of, the office," Cain told me. "I create as many opportunities as I can to meet, build rapport and establish connections with employees, customers and other key stakeholders. Our team asks what's working, what's not working, where others need help, what could be better about the company and what they'd do if they were you. And then we listen."

3. Chuck Runyon, CEO & Co-Founder, Anytime Fitness

Chances are, if you're working out in the middle of the night while the rest of the world is snoring, you're inside an Anytime Fitness gym (open 24 hours). The company is the fastest-growing gym franchise in the world with more than 4,000 gyms serving nearly 4,000,000 members.

It's co-founder, Chuck Runyon, walks the executive walk in rarefied air. The culture he built encourages everyone to openly show their emotions and vulnerability--even to the point of crying in front of their peers. "It's proof that you have a big heart and that you care about others," said Runyon.

At Anytime Fitness, the off-the-chains culture of caring and teamwork is palpable and gives employees a sense of purpose in their work, which makes good business sense.  

Runyon unabashedly invests in caring about the personal and professional development of his employees by allocating significant resources to improve their health and well-being, their career development, and their personal growth. 

"We're not satisfied merely to employ people.  We want to lead, mentor and develop them," stated Runyon. That, by the highest leadership standards, is truly admirable.

Published on: Mar 5, 2019
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