This week, we introduce a new interview series called “Leading on purpose,” in which business leaders share how purpose impacts their work.
For John McKenzie of the McKenzie Collection, discovering purpose is a little bit like studying a tool in order to find out what it should be used for. It’s a matter of identifying its strengths and weakness, of finding out what its common uses are and trying out new ones. We talked with John this week about what advice he has for professionals and businesses pursuing purpose and how climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one way of doing it.
How can someone identify “purpose” in his or her professional life?
It’s definitely a process. It starts off with having a good understanding of what your skills are and what you enjoy doing. What makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something? What setting do you perform the best in? Do you like to be hands-on? By yourself? On a team?
And ultimately, the question is: who is it you want to serve? Who do you want to do this for? If you can ask yourself those questions and go out and find those answers, the purpose of what you’re doing will eventually fall into place as you grow and have experiences throughout your lifetime.
For me, I learned so many things in my experiences in football at Purdue that still help me today. I understand that I like being part of a team, I like being a leader, I like being competitive and keeping score to a degree, and I know I can work hard and push myself.
What do you believe your own purpose is as a leader in your business?
My first purpose is to help create the vision of what is it that we do as a company. I want to create culture that you would look at and say, “I can tell that’s what their purpose is, because I can see how and why they go about doing what they do.”
Another thing I can do as a leader is help employees find and fulfill their own purpose. That ultimately helps our purpose as a business. Sometimes it’s tough to help someone find out what they do best, what satisfies them the most, but being able to eliminate barriers and obstacles and give encouragement are a few smaller ways of doing that.
What intentional steps do you take to pursue or fulfill that purpose?
I’m involved and present on a daily basis. It’s not below me to go move my sale’s person’s desk or printer or jump in the basement to fix a sump pump or go through invoices. Hopefully, that makes everyone feel like I respect them and don’t consider myself above them.
The other thing is I try to ask for everyone’s opinion for something. I try not to make decisions in a vacuum. And always say please and thank you.
What did climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro teach you about purpose and leadership?
That climb was a New Year’s resolution of mine. We were out in California and I just said, “I want to climb a mountain.” Then a guy I know from the Jubilee Village Project came to me and said, “I’m going to climb Kili and raise money for the village. What do you think?”
It was a tough challenge, but afterwards, you can talk to people and you can say, “You can do that too.” And you know they can, because you already did it. I know many people might decide never to tackle a mountain, because mountains are large. They’re scary. But I did it after two knee replacements. And now I can tell people, “Don’t let mountains intimidate you.”