Ten Qualities of Creative Leaders

Advertising wizard David Ogilvy’s 10 qualities of creative leaders:

  1. High standards of personal ethics.
  2. Big people, without pettiness.
  3. Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
  4. Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
  5. A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
  6. Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
  7. A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
  8. The courage to make tough decisions.
  9. Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
  10. A sense of humor.


I felt overwhelmed by the chaos of it all when I walked into Cook County Hospital. People were all over the place: sitting, walking, running, standing, laying on the floor, and just hanging around. They were crying waving, talking, yelling, gesturing, screaming. How could anyone manage pandemonium like this?

I was there to interview Ruth Rothstein, Chief, Cook County Bureau of Health Services, Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Rothstein’s first professional position was as an organizer for the United Packinghouse union, and she began her hospital work in 1940 as a laboratory technician at Jackson Park hospital in Chicago. Today she leads approximately 12,000 employees with a budget of $650 million.

I planned on 8 hours for the interview about leadership. It took less than two hours to ask my questions and to get them answered. A tall and energetic woman, Ruth Rothstein looks twenty years younger than her seventy-five years, knows who she is, knows what she thinks, and doesn’t mince words. I chuckled frequently as I listened to her.

 Her wisdom and experience speak for themselves and require no additional comments from me.

On vision:

The vision was to re accredit the hospital, and we did that. The vision and mission is to build an ambulatory care system, and we are in the process of doing that. The vision and mission is to build a new hospital, and we are in the process of moving toward that. The mission and the vision were to have one medical school rather than have everybody cherry-pick you to death, and we have done that. The mission and vision are very important, and if you are not an integral part of your environment then you may not survive.

On organizing community:

It is a skill you learn by dealing with people and their families and by understanding what their goals are and what they need out of life. It is really pretty simple. It is jobs. It is a decent wage. So they can support their family. So they can make a contribution back to where they live. Community is important because all organizing should be at the grassroots level.

On her credibility with the residents in poverty-stricken West Chicago:

I have worked on the West Side for over 30 years. I think the people on the West Side trust me because I never over-promised and under-performed. I think that is an element. The other element is that I don’t talk down to people. I respect people no matter who they are unless they have proven otherwise.

On facing reality:

I cut through a lot of bologna. I can hear and cut through a lot and sometimes it is aggravating to people because you cut them off in a sense. I don’t need to hear all that you know. I mean, I know that already. Cutting through a lot of garbage is a skill you don’t learn from books. You learn it from living.

I am very honest. I cut through a lot of garbage. I am honest about myself. I never forget where I came from. I never forget how I got here. I don’t delude myself. I know what my strengths are. I know what my weaknesses are. I am willing to look at it. I am willing to deal with it, and I am willing to face up to it. I am willing to tell it to anybody.

On courage:

Courage comes from how you were brought up. How you developed in your work life. I am not afraid of myself. It doesn’t mean I want to be alone. It doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t get sad, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t get depressed, but I am not afraid of myself.

On energy:

I think you get it from doing things. I get the energy from constantly wanting to make a difference. I have to tell you, I do not understand young people in terms of their health and their energy. I certainly didn’t take care of myself. I smoked until about seven years ago. I don’t exercise. I can’t tell you what my cholesterol is, because I don’t really care. Everyone is always tired. What the hell are they tired from? But they are always tired. I am not sure I understand that. Yes, I get tired, clearly I get tired. But not the way they do.

On passion:

I believe in me. I believe in the people I work with. I believe in the communities that I am serving, and I work together with them to make it better. How could I be anything less than passionate about it?

On people:

I think most people are honest and honorable. I think most  people want to do the right thing. I think most people want to take care of  themselves and their families. I think even the most  distressed of people want to do that. They don’t always have the opportunity to do so. Life has not always been good to them. I don’t want to blame the victim.

On telling the truth:

I put a lot of emphasis on being truthful. That, if I say it, I mean that is what I am going to do. If I am not going to do it, I am going to tell you I am not going to do it.  And nothing you could do is going to make me change my mind. Not that I am going to be right about it.

On trust:

I think trust is important. I think most people trust me because I tell the truth. Even if it hurts me. Even if it hurts me, I will tell the truth. I think you build trust by being an authentic leader.

On change:

I make changes here as I did at Mount Sinai and Cook County hospitals because I utilize all the resources that I have around me and that is human resources. I try to pick people who are smart. I  try to pick people who care the way I care. I try to pick people who have the same courage and the same passion that I have to accomplish stuff. Then we set about to do it. Set about to figure it out and to get about to doing it. I think that is where that is. I don’t suffer fools easily, I will tell you that. I don’t care who they are. They can be elected officials for all I care.

Everyone doesn’t love me clearly. Well clearly, I don’t love everyone either. That is a two-way street. You know I don’t have to love them either. I need to be honest. I need to give the facts. I need to be open. I need to do a good job. But I don’t have to love you. Conversely, you don’t have to love me. But you have to trust me. That to me is very important. Trust is very important. On both sides.

On resistance to change:

I don’t walk around saying, “I have resistance.” Of course you have resistance. Of course people have trouble changing. What the hell are you there for? What are you going to do about it? You bring all your skills to the table and you try to work your way around it. You try to figure out “how do I work my way  around it?” One of the things that became important here was to figure out how do you make the institution inclusive. I think it is  important to be inclusive. I think it was important for me to bring together leaders who are both formal and informal leaders. And pose the questions and say “now you tell me what the answers are as you perceive them.”

We worked on three important issues over a period of a year and  one-half. They came to the solution. They came to the answer. It took a long time. A year and a half. Sure I could have done the same thing in 20 minutes. But so what. Then I couldn’t get them to change. They changed themselves.

You could shoot them. And then you won’t have anybody to work for you. So that is not helpful. You could take the next 20 years and have them look at their navels and try to figure it out.

Or you can help them. You can help them. You can help them to organize, to go through the process, to work with it.

On herself as a leader:

I am tough. I am very tough. Maybe some people will tell you I am abrasive. I don’t think I am, but that is okay. Everybody perceives themselves the way they want to perceive themselves.  But everybody will tell you that you always know where you stand with me. I am forthright. I am up-front. I will tell you the  truth. If it hurts, it hurts and if it hurts me, it hurts me. I have no secrets. I never have secrets. No hidden agendas. I am what you see. I mean this is for real. I admit my mistakes. I can apologize. But I cut through a lot of bologna. I think people appreciate that.

Learning about leadership:

In everything that I have worked at: the trade union movement, healthcare organizations, the Jewish community, whenever you work with people you try to draw from them the best that you can get out of them. You want to draw the best knowledge. You want to draw the best advice. You want to be able to listen. You want to be able to give as well as take information. But then as a leader, you and you alone, have the ultimate responsibility for making the decision. You can’t run away from that. You can’t blame it on anybody ever. And people do that. They do that a lot. It makes me crazy. Like, “Oh, but I told you that.” “When did you tell me that?” “Oh yes, you just weren’t listening. I mean I told you that.” Well, that is just bullshit. Of course they didn’t tell me. That is just a game. It is a game.

On memos:

I don’t write a whole lot of memos. Not a whole lot. I write memos to congratulate people or thank them. I don’t write big   memos. I think talking to people by phone or face-to-face is a  human contact. A memo is a piece of paper. That is not a human contact. That is kind of an arrogant contact, in some ways, and cowardly in some cases.

On technology:

I am technologically illiterate. I don’t want to be bothered. I am not going to be around long enough to worry about it. It will, however, change the way people function. I think it will change the way they interact with each other. It’s like a science fiction thing for me.

On spirituality:

I don’t have a great deal of religion myself. If spirituality is a sense of the mythical, if it is a sense of equality, and if it is the sense of decency, than I am spiritual. My personal code is to do the very best that I can do for the greatest number of people that I can do it with and for.

On coping:

I suppose when I cry, I cry alone.

Ruth Rothstein used the word Menschlichkeit when we talked about leaders. She said Menschlichkeit “is almost an indescribable word. It’s a New York word. It means you are a wonderful whole human being. Menschlichkeit is a marvelous word.”

As she said, Ruth Rothstein cuts through a lot of bologna.

Excerpt from: Learning to Live: Essays on Life and Leadership


President Obama:
These families have endured a shattering tragedy. It ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That’s what happened in other countries when they experienced similar tragedies. In the United Kingdom, in Australia, when just a single mass shooting occurred, … they understood that there was nothing ordinary about this kind of carnage. They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity. And yet, here in the United States, after the round-of-clock coverage on cable news, after the heartbreaking interviews with families, after all the speeches and all the punditry and all the commentary, nothing happens. … I fear there’s a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal.

The words of President Obama remind me of my  favorite quote by Ernest Becker:

If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal.

Are we slowly succumbing to the fringes of our society when good people stand by silently and do nothing?

We risk losing our humanity when we become desensitized to violence and abuse of any kind.

Steve Jobs: Don’t Settle


Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Life as Art: Purpose

Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. Victor Frankl

I wrote about vision in Life as Art: Vision and about values in Life as Art: Values. During the two years I prepared myself to leave the corporate world, I thought and studied much about vision and values. I also pondered deeply my purpose for my life.

Purpose is our deepest reason for existence. Our purpose is our most profound expression of our most basic intent as spiritual beings. Purpose reflects our deepest essence and provides a consistency of intention as our lives unfold.

Purpose goes beyond the call to the right livelihood. Purpose guides the spiritual journey of the hero, and the return of the hero to serve humanity—self affirmation AND commitments beyond the self. When we live our purpose we make our unique contribution to humanity and our lives have meaning. I don’t know whether purpose is genetic, learned, God-given, or a mix of all three. I just know that purpose exists. We make the choice to live or refuse our purpose.

I experienced the might of ethics, excellence, and commitment as a young Secret Service Agent. I felt the power of love, connection, and authenticity as a lost soul at St. Mary’s Hospital. I discovered the energy of the human spirit and human potential in the change effort I led at the Star Tribune newspaper.

Melded with these awakenings, I felt beckoned to be more. I was curious and felt attracted to see and experience something more encompassing — a grander dimension of life. Feeling called to leave the corporate world, I wanted to learn how to live well in a world in constant flux and to live from an organic worldview that superseded and encompassed the mechanistic view of life I had grown up with. I wanted to live with more authenticity in all areas of my life, and I wanted to take the “hero’s journey” Joseph Campbell wrote about in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I wanted to see if the dynamics Campbell wrote about were real, and I wanted to see what I might become. I wanted to feel alive and to learn how to experience aliveness more of the time. I wanted to share my experiences with others. I would be my own learning laboratory. I was not a wealthy man with a flush wallet seeking a safe adventure into trendy spirituality. This was serious work about the nature of life itself—with my life as the experiment.  What an exciting and frightening prospect that was.

I worked hard and thought deeply on my fundamental purpose in life and came up with this:

To live my life as a series of mental, spiritual, and emotional adventures, and to share what I learn with others.

The two years of deliberate preparation was important because the sense of purpose gained, the values clarified, and the vision created replaced my fear with the hope, courage, and commitment to go forward on a new path for my life.

I did my study and work on vision, values, and purpose in the early 1990’s and I revisit my inner orientation often. I recommend the experience to all.

Finding Your Passion

From Shane Snow via LinkedIn:
Below are some of my favorite mushy, inspirational quotes about the intersection of passion and work:

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Hard work is painful when life is devoid of purpose. But when you live for something greater than yourself and the gratification of your own ego, then hard work becomes a labor of love.”

Steve Pavlina

“Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.”

Marian Wright Edelman

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

John R. Wooden

“Dream big and dare to fail.”

Norman Vaughan

“Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

Farrah Gray

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

George Eliot

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

Les Brown

And in case you’re a procrastinator like me, a bonus quote:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Chinese Proverb

Shane Snow is Chief Creative Officer of Contently. He writes about media and technology for Wired, Fast Company, Ad Age, and more, and tweets at @shanesnow.

Life as Art: Values

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul, is a rare achievement. Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

In 1974 I walked out of an alcohol treatment center after 30 days of tough love, self-examination, and the most profound spiritual experience of my life. I will never forget the painful feedback from the staff, the love and acceptance of my fellow patients, and sharing my sins with a Catholic priest. I had fallen away from and was out of touch with much of what was most important to me during my years of active alcoholism. I got back in touch with myself in treatment, and I knew as I walked into the sunlight that day that my existence depended on an authentic and value-driven life.

Eighteen years later, I again thought deeply about my values. I wrote in Life as Art: Vision of spending two years creating a vision for my life as I prepared to leave the corporate world. I also thought long and hard during those two years about the values that would provide me with strength and guidance as I embarked on a new journey in my life.

My values are the core, internal principles by which I live my life. They distinguish good and bad and right and wrong for me. They are a deep statement of what matters to me.

Values provide my inner compass and are never more important than in the chaotic times in which we live when traditional norms often collapse, political correctness often rules, mediocrity is often the norm, and conformity is widely demanded. My values drive my ethics, my actions, and my search for excellence. Values bring passion, commitment, and perseverance to what I do. I feel alive when I live my values — and I must act on them with purpose for them to be real. My sense of self provides an anchor when I feel buffeted by the waves of constant change.

I sometimes fall short of living true to one of my values. When I do, I strive to acknowledge my imperfection, make my amends, and move on.

We live in difficult times — a time that calls us to live true to our values. I found as a leader in an organization and as a consultant to leaders as well as a citizen that living and standing up for my values is not easy, not painless, not glamorous, and often I must pay a price — sometimes a painful price—for doing so. Being value-driven is easy when the choices are easy — the pressures small. My tests in life come with difficult choices and when the pressures on me are great.

I believe that true and enduring excellence is always value-driven. I worked with true excellence in the U.S. Secret Service many years ago. The men I worked with would give their lives for their fellow agents, for the people they protected, and for justice. They were an inspiration to a young man, they taught me how to be a professional — and they still inspire me today, many years later. My greatest leadership experience in nine management positions over almost 18 years at the Star Tribune newspaper was leading a 4,500 employee business unit that committed itself to value driven leadership and achieved phenomenal business results.

I cannot create a good life, an authentic life, or a spiritual life without deep commitment to the ideals that matter to me.