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Why every leader should take their shirt off and dance

A few years back I showed a CEO, who I was working with at the time, the now pretty legendary “How to start a movement,” TED talk by Derek Sivers. He was amused and after he watched it, said, “So what do you want me to do? Take my shirt off and dance barefoot on a hilltop?” My response was, “well actually, yes.”

Not literally obviously. But I did need him to be prepared to be that “lone nut,” to put himself out there and do something that would inspire those first followers. Or to be the first follower. Actually, I just wanted him to do something. Truth was, we had a great company story to tell, but it was just that. A story. It was authentic and true, but we weren’t doing much to deliver on it or bring it to life. We weren’t inspiring anyone to get up and dance. Everywhere these days, people talk about the need for a great company story, underpinned by a strong purpose. Which is great. At Big M, we are big believers in storytelling and having a clear and compelling story that you bring to life everywhere and through everything. But all too often company stories just scratch the surface in terms of impact. They don’t get out of first gear, because stories are often created in a vacuum and serve a short term and narrow need. Your company story might look and sound great in a polished video on the “about us’ section of your company website, but that is often as far as it goes. The story is treated as a communications vehicle, rather than something to galvanise the whole company or act a spring board to transform, improve or connect. The story is often just the story and everyone else not involved in the story just rolls their eyes and gets on with the business of running the actual business. Today, if you want to connect and transform, inside and out, you have to do much more than tell a great story. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Proof is everything. Companies can’t just stand for something they have do something. And preferably do something big or memorable or inspiring. And ideally something that is simple, that every single person can get their head around. And you have keep doing it, consistently, even when the novelty has worn off. There are great examples of companies who practice what they preach. Patagonia, Ikea, Warby Parker, Toms, Google, Starbucks. There are many examples of brands who don’t just say something, they do something. But there are also many more companies who pay lip service to a story which sounds great, but lacks any real guts and therefore has very little impact. And back to the shirtless guy dancing on the hill.

There are of course business leaders who are prepared to put themselves out there as a "lone nut” or a "first follower”. And while Shultz, Branson and Musk might grab the headlines, there are many leaders who choose to embody their company story and purpose, not just in fancy words, but in their actual deeds. Leaders who understand the importance of “proof of purpose” and who are prepared to put company resources to work to make a tangible difference. They know, that it is up to them to set the stage for change. So, to all the leaders prepared to dance shirtless on a hilltop – we at Big M salute you!

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