Freedom, Passion, and Invention


Ginger Beebe of Arkansas said what I think most of us were thinking: “it is incredibly inspiring to hear each of you speak.”  We were at the National Governors Association annual meeting and first spouses had each taken a few minutes to describe their current initiatives.  The breadth, imagination and enthusiasm were amazing to me.  Jenny Sanford of South Carolina crafted an online video contest through which students have made films about healthy lifestyles — films relevant to them.  Silda Wall Spitzer has launched a program to “green the mansion” in New York.  Jessica Doyle in Wisconsin has launched book clubs for children all across the state.  And Andrea Conte in Tennessee hosts a reception in the capitol for the families of victims of homicide.  I could go on and on and on.

I was reminded of that great Sesame Street song, “Which One of These Things Is Not like the Other,” when I heard our main speaker who followed the spouses mini-presentations, and then when I read yet another article about the amazing Google.  I was struck by the great dissimilarity between hearing from 30 or so spouses, and then hearing from the “expert” speaker.  What was striking was the variety, originality, and passion of the spouses’ ideas.  Patsy Riley of Alabama humbly described herself as previously “just a mom” (who happened to serve 28 straight years as president of her children’s PTA’s), yet she has launched a program to ensure that every foster child in Alabama receives a gift on their birthday.  I could only think: Isn’t leadership so much more powerful when everyone grabs a share, when everyone digs down to find what they really care about and do their darndest to make a difference?  Isn’t there so much more learning and inspiration in that, than in listening to “the boss,” or “the expert?”  Yes, our expert speaker had worked in two White Houses and had stories to tell about First Ladies, but I found so much more value in hearing these experiments in invention and change.

You’re wondering, I hope, and what about Google?  Well, one of the famous principles at play at Google is that the Googler, as the employees call themselves, have 20% of their time to work on things that are technically outside their job area but about which they are fascinated.  Likewise one of the wonderful things about being a first spouse is that you can make the job fit you.  And in both cases, where people are invited to follow their passion, their curiosity, and their ideals, extraordinary things happen.  This month’s issue of the very cool magazine Fast Company has lots of Google examples if you want to read some.

The spouses and the Googlers make me wonder: How can I help the people on my teams to pursue their greatest passions, which relate to in some way to our core mission and values?  Let them go!  Free them!  Encourage them!  You might think about that with your folks, and while you’re at it, ask yourself what would happen if you found 20% of your time to pursue the ideas or projects or passions that most get your engine running.

You’ve got to unlock your deepest interests if you want to

Lead with your best self!


  • Hello Dan:
    Freedom, Passion, and Invention is so perfectly timed for me. What a blessing. My best friend is running for Township Clerk and I’ve been asked to serve as MC at her Campaing Kick-Off tonight. Her passion is for people be become united so that a positive change can be realized. Her message is most definitely for the “Googlers”. I too am trying to make sure that I narrow my scope professionally and really embrace my true passion. This has been in the forefront of my thinking for the past week and today’s RFL confirms that this is what I must do in order to truly lead with my best self.

    Best regards,

  • I am an idealist. I believe that a great leader must have a conversion of heart. His or her heart must be filled with love in the service of others. I do not see this love in the White House, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pentagon, and in our State Department.

  • I was so looking forward to the continuation from last week, highlighting Dan’s advice to Leading Through Uncertain Times. I simply wanted the “CliffsNotes” version to share with my colleagues as our company navigates through a merger of five (5) companies by October 1, 2008.

    Thank you for this week’s message.

  • How does Google make that policy reality? Do they allow employees one day/week to work on those projects, or simply use some version of the honor system? Do they check on employees to see what has resulted? Would love to learn more…

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