As a member of the Ad Council’s branding and communications team, I can tell you we are constantly looking for new ways our organization and others can learn from the most innovative leaders in the industry.
In fact, we recently hosted our inaugural “Purpose of Purpose” event. The quarterly series brings engaging leaders in a variety of industries directly to businesses and nonprofits for unique perspectives and thought-provoking discussion.
“Through this series we hope to highlight real stories- stories of drive, of innovation– and most of all– stories with an unyielding sense of purpose,” Ad Council CEO Lisa Sherman said.
Our first event, titled “Changing the Rules, Reinventing the Game,” featured an inspiring conversation with Sherman, Co-Founder of SoulCycle & Flywheel Ruth Zukerman, and CEO of DoSomething.org Aria Finger.
During the night, we talked about the power of storytelling and purpose-driven work, but we also took to heart ideas for advancing our careers and the world at large. Here’s what I learned while attending this social good-focused event:
Lead with Passion
Many Americans work to pay their bills and create a better life for their families, but there’s more to your day job than just collecting a paycheck. During the discussion, Sherman mentioned that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is doing work that we are passionate about.
Zukerman echoes this exact sentiment throughout her new book, Riding High: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel, and Built the Life I Always Wanted.
“In my book, I talk about how the one key ingredient to all successful enterprises share is passionate leadership. You must do something that satisfies your soul, not just your wallet,” Zukerman said.
Finger explained how in the early days of her career she wanted to work on a range of social issues and not just one, which ultimately led her to working at a small grassroots organization that focused on multiple causes.
“My passion was social change, and now I’ve spent my whole career at DoSomething.org, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.
Know Your Employees Are Your Most Valuable Assets
A positive workplace culture can bring out the best creativity and productivity in your employees, and it’s been proven to be good for a business’s bottom line. When employees feel heard and comfortable in their work environment, the organization is more likely to thrive.
“We all have to create a culture where people like you, and you like your people. When we treat our employees just like we would treat our customers, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together,” Zukerman said.
Finger spoke to how employees feeling empowered can completely change an organization.
“Creativity is stifled when you feel like no one is going to listen to your idea. Why put yourself out there? Why come up with a new idea or a new thought or a new campaign, if no one is going to take you seriously or listen to you?” she said. “We actually empower employees to make decisions and take risks and that leads to creativity because they feel empowered in their own job. I think that personal empowerment goes a long, long way into having people feel like they can make creative choices and take chances.”
Building a Community
Although workplace culture is essential, Sherman also pointed out that when we talk about “culture” it can’t just be about internal teams, building a sense of community out of your audience and consumers is also vital for success.
“A successful instructor is one who connects emotionally with their class,” Zukerman said. “At Flywheel, we believe in bringing people from all backgrounds and walks of life together for exercise. And naturally, that speaks to people. I like to think we’ve created an extended family.”
Meanwhile, Finger’s global organization DoSomething.org galvanizes young people to make a positive impact on the world through online and offline action, with numerous connections being made through DoSomething.org’s action campaigns. Recently, they had their network of 5.5 million young people create Ramadan cards, and the DoSomething team sent them to every Mosque in the country. And in a moment of true compassion, the Mosques have paid it forward by sending Christmas cards to churches in their areas.
“I think that’s the biggest opportunity we have is in building our community and encouraging our members to have connections with each other,” Finger stated.
Be Resilient, Don’t Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself
As we get older, there is often this idea that we can’t try something new when it comes to our career or that we’ll fail if we waver from the path that we’ve already created for ourselves. But Zukerman argued that you’re never too old to pursue a new passion or go for that job you really want.
After her divorce in the 90s, Zukerman found herself a single mother with no real work experience and no career plans. But then she decided to turn her hobby and passion for cycling into – not one by two – fitness brands.
“We never run out of opportunities to reinvent ourselves. Age doesn’t matter,” she said.
The Power of Women
During the discussion, there was one more commonality among the three speakers that rang loud and clear – they we’re all bad ass women conquering their fields and doing it as women first and foremost.
“I lead in a maternal way. I nurture and cultivate my employees. I allow them to make mistakes and I commend them when they do a good job. I feel like bringing feminine qualities to your work creates the best atmosphere,” Zukerman noted.
Finger added, “Women feel like they have to be more like men, but we should ask men to be more like women. Think about how much different the world would be.”
Ultimately, the Purpose of Purpose conversation was filled with wisdom and advice any individual could take with them as they march ahead in their given field. But as Sherman pointed out the night was not just about celebrating wins and overcoming challenges, it was about bringing folks together to do good.
“This world needs all of us at our best, only together can we make a huge difference in changing this world.”