Cal Turner, Jr.
The Irony of Leadership Leaders Follow
N onprofit Performance Magazine spoke with Cal Turner, Jr. We asked, “What qualities make for an effective and lasting leader?” Interestingly, I think that being a consistent and dedicated follower is the foundation of leadership. A leader has a compelling personal mission that is based on values that have been honed out to guide his or her life. In particular, leaders have determined their No. 1 value which they will never compromise when that value conflicts with other values. The best description of my No. 1 value is reconciling love. It’s love that seeks to help, nurture, encourage, solve, and discipline. It is love which doesn’t come from me, therefore, it is my highest value. It can’t come from me. I must be part of something bigger than self.
follower of others through the service we provide, through the collective win we can share. Finally, a leader is fascinated with the human potential of others and hopes to be a catalyst to their greater fascination with themselves. That is why asking questions is so important. A leader is one who really listens; hearing what isn’t said, but perhaps listening to how it is said and helping the person to ask a better question of himself. Then, the agenda of that other person is powerful because it’s his, not the leader’s anymore. It is his greatest solution, it is where his real value intersects with the screwed-up-ness of life. We also, then, are followers of the deeper questions which drive our organizations and our people! The irony of leadership is that it’s about following. You follow your mission and values. You actually follow other people. You try to help them propel themselves, and then it’s wonderful to have dynamic people around you that require your getting out of their way. That is when it gets good! Cal Turner, Jr. is Chairman of the Cal Turner Family Foundation and former Chairman and CEO of Dollar General, succeeding his father in 1988 in the family business founded in 1939. At his 2003 retirement, Dollar General had more than 6,000 stores in 27 states, with annual sales of $6 billion. Cal has served on the boards of many civic and charitable organizations, including Easter Seal Society of Tennessee, Inc., Fisk University, PENCIL Foundation, and YMCA of Middle Tennessee.
Life isn’t about the black and white answers; it is about functioning when the gray is present. It is about recognizing the value of this good versus that good. Truly effective leaders are fascinated to dig inside self to determine the values that will never be compromised, and follow them and keep striving for that mission every day of their life. So in part, they are a follower of their values. When our company created a two word mission statement, it got going in every way, and its growth and development blossomed. The very simple words were “serving others.” The verb is an ongoing process for serving, you never completely finish it. You just keep on keeping on. Serving others in life isn’t about me, it’s about others. The world is divided into two major camps. One is very large: the camp of those that are serving self, competing with others, trying to be better than others, winning, and hoping that others lose. But the camp of serving others seeks the biggest, the total, win in the here and now – the greatest win for everyone. That is what a leader should be about. This isn’t hard and fast as we all sometimes function in both. But a leader should be about clarity of values and mission. In part, we are a
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