Willing to be Great

by Steve McKee

Willing to be GreatI recently attended a conference with about 150 other client-side and agency marketers at which we had the pleasure of hearing from Scott Bedbury, who played a key role in the rise of both Nike and Starbucks, and Jeff Hayzlett, who is playing a key role in the resurrection of Kodak.

Despite having completely different styles, Bedbury and Hayzlett were both inspiring as they told tales and shared lessons about their experiences marketing iconic brands. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling just a tad bit envious of what they had accomplished.

But it got me thinking. What, exactly, was the difference between the two guys who stood at the front of the room and the rest of us who sat in the audience? My sense – and I have a feeling Bedbury and Hayzlett would agree – is that one key reason was that they were willing to be great.

I know that sounds odd – ”willing” to be great, as opposed to “wanted” to be great. But I think “willing” captures it better. After all, everyone wants to be great, but few have the will to do what’s necessary to get there. Oh, sure, most professionals work hard and do their best and desire to succeed. But to be great – that takes more.

Becoming great requires not only the knowledge of how to do things, it requires the wisdom of knowing what truly needs to be done. It requires character to challenge unspoken rules and sacred cows, conviction to stick to your guns, and determination to not be dragged down by those who are content to stay in the audience. It requires the confidence of vision and a willingness to risk doing right – morally and ethically, to be sure, but also professionally.

Bedbury and Hayzlett both offered testimonials to the above, from Bedbury’s conviction not to waste money on copy testing to Hayzlett’s refusal to let “legal” shut an idea down. The thing that impacted me most, however, was not what they said, but where they stood: At the front of the room.

They were willing to be great. Am I? Are you?

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at https://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.

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