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All You Need Is Love: The Story of an Everyday Leader

April 11, 2016 Matt Norquist

Well, love is not all that you need in leadership, but it’s one of the first things you need if you want to be a strong leader. Recently, I kicked off a blog series that focuses on the 10 leadership attributes that help everyday leaders, like me, create lasting impact—and be the change that we want to see in the world.

If you check recent best-seller lists in business leadership, one thing is consistent—nobody is consistent in terms of approaches or solutions to define outstanding leaders. A recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature, does a nice job of addressing this point. And when we look for leadership advice in our world today, we may try to find role models in celebrities, Fortune 100 CEOs and inspirational leaders from throughout history to figure it out.

But, most of us don’t get to and from business meetings on a private jet. Most of us slog through rush hour in a regular car or the subway. We think about our bank account balances. We worry about whether our flight is going to be cancelled due to bad weather. Everyday leaders have different challenges. But, like iconic leaders throughout history, we also have the same basic requirement to do what we love.

On top of getting more enjoyment out of our work, finding something that we love increases our ability to gain trust because we are more likely to fulfill the commitments that we make to our teams (an item that is particularly predictive of leadership effectiveness as measured by our Leadership Assessment Instrument). It is easier to make and keep commitments if we are committing to do something that we want to do. Something we love to do. All of a sudden, the work will feel a little less like work and more like exactly how you want to spend your time.

Meet Dean Nelson—a typical everyday leader. Dean is all about helping people get healthier. He owns and runs Dean’s Natural Food Markets, based out of Ocean, NJ. He’s got four stores, a hundred or so employees, and has undergone a remarkable evolution from being an entrepreneur to becoming a respected fixture in his community over the last 20 years. He got his start by working in a natural food store, where he hoped to gradually invest and become part owner.

Along the way, he notes: “Opportunities don’t fall into your lap, you have to make them. That’s called being a leader. I realized that I could do better by simply caring a lot about the customer and sharing my passion for healthier living with them. I love my customers and believe in the importance of helping them be healthy, both physically and spiritually. My ability to live out my passion every day helps this business achieve greater success and positively impact more lives.” So now, 20 years after he opened his first store, his passion for what he does shows up in how he interacts with his customers and staff every day…

Dean discovered something that he loved (natural foods, healthy living) and he believed that he could create a positive impact serving and really caring about his customers.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into his store, and right off the bat, he pulled me aside for a quick show-and-tell: “Matt, you have to try this cracker. It’s high protein, has tons of fiber, tastes great, and doesn’t have too many calories….” A few minutes later, as I’m on my way to the check-out, he puts some Vitamin D3 in my cart and mentions in passing: “It’s winter, you’re not getting enough sun.” Next, he talks me into trying a gross-looking but great-tasting smoothie and asks me for the 20th time (!) if I want to go for a 10-mile run tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. (inner voice: No!). Forty-five dollars later, I leave the store feeling like I did something good for my health.

I’ve learned a lot from Dean and from the other everyday leaders that I work with on a regular basis about how to find what you love:

  • Discover what gives you purpose and meaning and fulfills an unmet need. I’m a big fan of Richard Leider’s work in this area.
  • Identify what you already do exceptionally well, and work on that until you become world-class at it. Try Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths to guide you through this process. Dean gets better sales per square foot than the industry leaders because of how he manages his stock on key items. His department managers know exactly how many of each product to have on the shelf at any given time to maximize inventory turns. They didn’t do this from advanced supply chain analytics, but rather from noticing which items sold the most and fastest. They keep more of these items on hand, while still maintaining the appearance of a diverse stock.
  • Practice like crazy. Many of us read Gladwell’s theory in Outliers, discussing the 10,000-hour rule. This applies particularly to the things you love and are good at—where practice can feel a bit more effortless, but still takes a lot of time. It took Dean 5-6 years (10,000 hours, anyone?) before he really started to get a handle on things, and he is still learning more every day (20 years into it!).

Have you found love in your work? Where did you find it? How long did it take you? Please share your thoughts and reflections below, or with me at

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