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National Leader of the Month for April 2008


Maxine Clark

LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of National Leader of the Month Maxine Clark: read them below and listen to excerpts from a conversation on leadership between Brian McCormick and Maxine Clark. To listen to the podcast, copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here Maxine Clark audio.

Honoring Maxine Clark

A few minutes spent listening to Maxine Clark talk about leadership yields the following insights: don't be afraid to fail; appreciate the life experiences and opportunities you have been given; work to improve the educational chances for the youth of America; use your imagination and embrace your inner child; empower the people around you and recognize that you don't need to know everything.

Don't be afraid to fail. Maxine credits her first grade teacher with instilling this lasting piece of advice that has served her so well in her life.

Appreciate your past. Maxine's gratitude when sharing her story is refreshing and another key to the remarkable accomplishments she has amassed in her career.  

Value education. The value that Maxine places on educators is readily evident when hearing all the important life lessons that Maxine credits her teachers with passing along. Her commitment to furthering and improving education in the United States is a cause that Maxine has wholeheartedly undertaken.

Use your imagination. Maxine's perspective on life is filled with hope at the boundless opportunities that exist. She embraces the unlimited possibilities that the world has to offer, and she has seized those opportunities throughout her life.

Empower others. Maxine repeatedly states that she does not have all the answers and talks about the importance of "knowing what you know and what you don't know." Her self-confidence enables her to give others credit; consequently, her organizations are the best that they can be.

Maxine shares that, "Do unto others like you would have others do unto you is probably the best rule of leadership Iíve ever known." It is for her well-grounded philosophies on life and leadership--and the amazing results they have produced--that Maxine Clark is the National Leader of the Month for April 2008.

About Maxine Clark

Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop

Bio: birthday: March 6; born in Miami, Florida, USA; lives in St. Louis, Missouri, USA; graduate of University of Georgia; author of The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart (2006); innovator in the retail industry; in 1997, founded Build-A-Bear Workshop, a teddy-bear themed retail-entertainment experience (more than 370 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores worldwide); one of the 25 Most Influential People in Retailing by Chain Store Age (2008); Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame (2006); on the Board of Directors of The J.C. Penney Company, Inc.; on the Board of Trustees of Washington University in St. Louis; chair of Teach for America Ė St. Louis; member of the Teach For America national board

Favorite quotes:

ďLife isnít about what you have: Itís about what you have to give.Ē -Oprah Winfrey

ďIf one can live their imagination, then their life is a dream come true.Ē -Unknown

Place in the world you most like to visit: South Africa. I like it for all of the historical significance that it plays in the world as well its natural beauty. Also, [I am impressed with] all of the potential of the people who live there who have yet to have been able to fulfill their wildest imaginations like I have...South Africa is a wonderful country with tremendous passion and commitment and talent and creativity. South Africa has a lot to give the world, and I think in the next few decades weíre going to see a [positive impact] on our world from the people of South Africa.

Favorite book: Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela. I liked it so much because of the way he grew up: how his life evolved for him and the difference that he made for so many other people. Also, [I admire] the appreciation that he has for the things that he was given in this world: his talents, the material things, and how he feels about freedom and the ability to vote what you believe in...His words of wisdom have always been...inspiring.

Maxine Clark and Leadership

Books recommended for aspiring leaders:

We Are Smarter Than Me: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business by Barry Libert, Jon Spector, and Don Tapscott.

The Old Girls Network: Insider Advice for Women Building Business in a Manís World by editor Sharon Whiteley and authors Connie Duckworth and Kathy Elliott

The Complete Book of Business Plans: Simple Steps to Writing a Powerful Business Plan (Small Business Sourcebooks) by Joseph A. Covello and Brian J. Hazelgren

The McGraw-Hill Guide to Writing a High-Impact Business Plan: A Proven Blueprint for First-Time Entrepreneurs by James B. Arkebauer

Venture Capital Handbook: New and Revised by David Gladstone

The Ernst & Young Business Plan Guide by Brian R. Ford, Jay M. Bornstein, Patrick Pruitt, and Ernst & Young LLP

Writing a Convincing Business Plan by Arthur R. DeThomas Ph.D. and Lin Grensing-Pophal

Current personal passion: My current personal passion is public education and how we can restore the quality public education--especially in the inner city and rural communities of America. In my opinion, every child deserves an excellent, quality public education just like I had when I was growing up, and I think we have gone away from that. There are so many parochial schools and private schools, and people have moved out to the suburbs and have abandoned some of the institutions that made America great (including our schools). [My] passion is for the students, and the families, and the teachers. I think teachers are one of the most underappreciated--financially and intellectually--group of people, yet they have the most influence on our children, and they had a huge amount of influence on me. I think one of my ways to say thank you to my teachers is to help other teachers and help public education regain its prominence in this country and hopefully elevate the position of teacher even higher than it already is. I know you are active in Teach For America: Is that a forum that you use to pursue that passion? Itís one of them. Teach for America was founded by a woman named Wendy Kopp and allows for young teachers to teach for two years. They come from the best colleges in the United States. Teach for America is sort of the Peace Corps for the 21st century. [After getting involved in Teach for America, the teachers often] stay in education. Iím very involved in the public school system in St. Louis, trying to help them solve some of the issues they have with dropouts, attracting the best talent, and managing their business. Iím involved in lots of ways in the public education system.

Mentors who have impacted your life and your leadership: Iíve had a lot of different mentors, but I suppose my first business mentor was Stanley Goodman in 1972 (who was the chairman of the May Company). I happened to meet him very early on in my career, and, for me, he personified the leader. He was a Renaissance Man: he was a concert violinist, he was a businessman, he was an art collector, and he was a kind and generous man. He stood out for me in that you can be all those things. You donít just have to always be in business, and you donít have to always be tough. He was speaking to a large group of us and he said, ďRetailing is entertainment, and the store is a stage. When the customers have fun, they spend more money.Ē That really resonated for me...That day, he gave a purpose to my career, and it made me think about it as fun. When people can have a good time, they can spend money, and they can be connected to the products in so many different ways. That was a real turning point for me. Fortunately, it came early in my career and was a starting point for me to really help me think about my career.

Iíve had so many teachers who have touched me today and who have helped me become who I am. They are all a part of me in so many ways: a lot of times sitting on my shoulders and advising me. For example, it was my English teacher who absolutely had perfect grammar. Every time I go to write a sentence I think, "What she would she say?" My mother [was another teacher] who was a really strong social activist for handicapped children--[or, as I prefer to say], differently-abled children.

Iíve been very fortunate in my nearly 60 years of life on this planet to have had the association with so many incredible people, and my mentors keep evolving. Iíve gone from teachers, to business associates,...to my superiors, to peers, and to community leaders. [In addition], Iíve really been quite inspired by this particular political election and the cycle that we are in with how passionate all the candidates are about change as they see it. Making a difference in this world is not an easy job as we all know.

Advice to aspiring leaders: Iíd say that leadership is about responsibility, accountability and inspiration. What you are doing most of the time is inspiring others to reach their full potential...

When people feel motivated and inspired and they can see their place in the world and what contribution they make, thereís no stopping them. I think that really is what leadership is. Itís about inspiration: thinking a big vision and then inspiring and motivating others to help you get there. Hopefully, it becomes their mission and vision, and they can see the opportunity that they can fit it. When people are doing what they love and what they can connect to, they can be even more awesome and make a bigger contribution.

I think Iíve changed over time. Starting out in your career, you think of a leader as the boss. I think today itís less about the boss. It is more that you can be led by people whom you donít report to sometimes, [rather than] the immediate report that you have. [Leadership] comes from so many different places, and you can be an inspiring and motivating leader and affect many more people than just the people who are assigned to you...Leadership is really a chance to influence and change the way you see things into something better through the passion and motivation that you can create in others.

Most admired leaders: Iím on the board of J.C. Penney, and Myron Ullman is the CEO and is one of the people I really admire as a business leader and as a friend and mentor. He is a very versatile leader, and heís had a lot of experience in different kinds of businesses. He really has a sense about the people and has a real vision. He knows how to organize around that vision for maximum productivity and success. Everybody wins. I really learned a lot from him.

I really do admire Oprah Winfrey. I think that she is an incredible human being; sheís used her talent and her success to drive very positive things in our culture and to have people think so much more of themselves because she thinks a lot of them. I think she is quite an incredible person: the impact that sheís had on business, on entertainment, on education, and on society as a whole. Iím sure that she didnít set out that way necessarily, but sheís learned to use her success in such a positive way. I contrast that to some athletes who makes zillions of dollars but are [involved] with drugs, car accidents or other bad situations. Oprah is an incredibly-talented, visionary leader.

I mentioned Nelson Mandela before, but I have tremendous respect for him as leader and how he accomplished a change in South Africa. His way may not have been "my way," but the way that he did it and the support that he got the world over--even though most people never had met him--[is truly remarkable]. He was in prison for 27 years, and yet the world was aware of who he was and was watching what was happening to him. [The world was] saying [to South Africa], "If South Africa doesnít change, we are not doing business with you." [Nelson Mandela] has never met most of the people who had ever supported him that way. Since his [prison sentence and release], he has gone on to inspire a whole generation of young South Africans to be able to see a much brighter future. I think he is quite an incredible man, and I would say that F.W. de Klerk, who was the President of South Africa when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and apartheid was ended, is also a person very high on my leadership list. To change your beliefs so entirely from one perspective to another and seize them with passion and to change a whole countryís direction [is amazing]. Most people get to change their neighborhood or house or whatever, but this man changed the world in ways we will probably not know for a long time. He certainly changed the lives of South Africans forever.

Leadership highlights from your life: My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Fischer, really helped me because...she made me the leader of the class. She had me be her assistant, so I learned really early on what itís like to assist and to be seen as a leader through serving others. It was a great moment for me. Iím not sure that I articulated it exactly like that at six years old...Mrs. Fischer is a person who I will always remember and thank for giving me that chance at leadership at such a young age.

Another [significant mentor] is my first grade teacher Mrs. Grace who was really an amazing teacher...Every Friday she used to give away those indelible red pencils that teachers use to grade papers with. She would give the pencil away to the student who made the most mistakes that week. [What she succeeded in doing was to] reward trying...She taught us to learn to take risks and...also to feel that it was worthwhile taking a risk.

My high school government teacher really inspired us and inspired me particularly about voting and the importance of voting. That didnít mean just in elections or at the polls: it meant in your business, in your church, and in your community. Itís really a formal system for making your voice heard. One [aspect] is going to vote and showing up--not just complaining about stuff being wrong but being willing to put your vote on the line for what you believe in...I also had a college professor who inspired me and taught me about leadership...

One thing we are given in life is our ability, and itís up to us to do with that what we can. Nobody else can be responsible for our successes or our failures except ourselves. We have to put everything that we have into the opportunities [we have].

Traits most important in a leader: I think the ability to have compassion and passion [is important]. [You need] a compassion for the people you work with and the world in which you work, especially today with younger people coming in to the work force and older people getting ready to exit the work force....[The younger and older workers] come from different places. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in their shoes to understand how you are going to best lead them towards success. You canít just say that everybody is like you anymore; it used to be that we could say that we sort of all come from one generation. Today weíre not [all from the same generation]: weíre all from very different generations and much more diverse backgrounds. Thatís the fun of it, and thatís the challenge of it.

Integrity [is another trait]. Youíve got to do what you say and say what you intend to do. That is never more important than today in a business climate where so many people are depending on you for their success. Workers have the right to come to work and believe that theyíre working for honest people with high integrity who are going to be doing things by the book...

The other things are accountability and responsibility. That means that you canít do everything yourself, but, ultimately, the buck stops with you. You have to inspire and encourage others to seek their level of contributions. I believe everybody comes to work everyday in every company to make a difference. People donít come to sabotage the companies that they work in; they come to make a difference, make a contribution, and make the company successful...You have to see the best in people and not the worst: open up the possibilities for what can be and help them see they can be more than they are today. [You should acknowledge that] it might take some work and effort and studying and experience, but [let them know that their workplace] values their suggestions, their creativity, and their commitment to the workplace...Sometimes it seems like certain people--or maybe all of us at times--lose sight of focusing on the best in people and sometimes get hung up on the worst. I totally agree with what youíre saying about the importance of acknowledging the best in people. The alternative is just a recipe for not achieving the potential that you can in your organization. Thatís true. You have to create an environment where all people feel responsible for their future. You canít read their minds. I tell people who come to work for me: ďI canít read your mind.Ē If we are in a meeting and you need to be somewhere else because your child has a piano recital that day, you need to tell me...If you are in a situation thatís not working and you feel like something could be improved in the company, you need to speak up. We cannot be mind readers, and if you donít speak up, you canít complain that we donít listen to you...As a company, you really have to create the environment where people feel like they can come forward. [It is important that they can act] without worrying about their jobs being lost if they see somebody stealing, and they let you know about it, or if they [develop] a new way of doing things that can later save money or energy. There is so much potential in our world, and there are so many people in every single company that nobody will expect to be the leader with that creative idea. All [people] need is just a little encouragement and a feeling that they live in an environment thatís safe for [opening up]...

As a follow-up to that preceding question, what can organizations do to encourage leaders? One of the things is to engage your associates in your business. In todayís world--with its complexities of business--no leader has all the answers. Out there in the trenches of the business--as well as with the customers of the business--are a lot of good questions and good answers. I think thatís really what you have to do: make that kind of platform [for feedback] available for people, make them aware that such a thing exists, and encourage it. You see the big picture. Itís not a weakness to say that you donít have all the answers. I think my strength is I know what I donít know. In that knowledge, Iím allowing other people to be successful because they can support me on those things that Iím not as good at. They can grow up in our company in that way, and I think that should exist in every company...

Other important advice you have been given: I had a college marketing professor: Dr. Robert Carter. It was clear that he loved what he did, and he was a very inspiring professor. Toward the end of my senior year...he stopped calling on me. I went up to him one day and asked, ďDr. Carter whatís wrong? You never call on me anymore?Ē He said, ďI wanted you to feel what itís like when you are out in the business world, and you are not the most important person in the classroom. The other people are going to know more than you do, and youíve got to be back to learning again.Ē He hadnít just stopped calling on me, he was doing it to all the seniors in the room. It was really a very provocative statement. Again, it goes back to that belief: ďI know what I donít know, and Iím always open to learn.Ē Dr. Carter also taught us to do what you love and love what you do. That means find your passion, go with it, and try to think of yourself using other peopleís view of you...Find your passion and turn it into something positive: a business, a job, a career, or a charitable opportunity. [Having found and pursued your passion], you will always be more successful (whether thereís money in your pocket or not). Your heart will be equally successful to your pocketbook...Itís important for your psychic income to be in proper balance, but you reach a certain point in your life [at which that might not be the case]. I think I reached it at age 48 where [your life is] out of balance, and you need to get it back in balance. Another way I look at it is that [my job] is my hobby as long as I feel like I should be paying them instead of them paying me. When that turns around [and you feel like you are the one who should be getting paid], then you know itís time to get another job. [Dr. Carter taught that] youíve got to always have the proper balance of psychic income and financial income. The psychic income feeds the financial income because if youíre doing what you love, you can be so much more successful...[Regardless of your profession], if youíre doing what you love, then the rest of it takes care of itself.

Maxine Clark's Story

In addition to her story of the red pencil, Maxine Clark offers this as another important story in her life.

One of my best friends is 21 now, but weíve been friends since she was born. Katie has always had a lot of influence on me...Maybe she saw me in something that I had lost: that kid inside of me that exists in all of us. Sometimes life seems so complicated or so serious that we forget to look at things through the eyes of a child. Katie awoke that inside of me...When Katie was about ten-years-old, we were out shopping for beanie babies. We couldnít find the one that she was looking for, and she looked up at me, and said, ďThese are so easy, we could make these.Ē She meant that we could go home to my house and do a craft project, but I immediately saw that this could be a business that would be very successful. We could make stuffed animals inside of a retail store.

I went home, and we were talking about it and she said, ďNo I was talking about going downstairs in the basement and making stuffed animals.Ē I said, ďI know what you were talking about, but what do you think about [making stuffed animals inside a retail store]?Ē She said, ďThat would be so cool. It would be so much fun to create a store where you can create your own stuffed animals.Ē...

Katie was always about we: she put me equal to her. Lots of times itís the older person making equal to the child, or the subordinate, but this was a child, and I was equal to her. We is a powerful word. I have realized throughout my life that it is much more important [word] than I or me...I could never put a value on that friendship [with Katie] and what she allowed me to [achieve]: bringing back that child [within me]. I have a wild and crazy imagination again. I can see things through many different-colored glasses because she always reminds me about we...

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