On May 4, 2022, our very own Melissa Doolin-Koehne led a conversation with Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running Company to discuss his new book Running with Purpose: How Brooks Outpaced Goliath Competitors to Lead the Pack, as well as his take on purposeful leadership and how it contributes to trust and a strong culture. Here are five tips that we gleaned from this conversation to help our community lead with their Higher Purpose.
1. Think long-term.
From building trust among internal and external stakeholders to creating a company culture of inclusion in your workplace, Jim stressed a number of times that leaders and companies have to think long-term when leading with purpose.
Over the course of his leadership journey, Jim noted, “I felt it was almost on the verge of immoral to manage a business for the short-term because of the impact it had on value, on employees, on customers,” and as a personal example, he expanded on transforming the brand, vision, and reputation of Brooks Running:
“The brand is not an asset on your balance sheet. The brand is in the mind of your customer. It’s how they think and feel and how much affinity they have, how much loyalty, how much trust, and that’s a long game.”
2. Know your stakeholders.
Elaborating more on the concepts of branding, Jim stressed the importance of companies not only knowing their purpose, but also how it connects them to the stakeholders in their network and communities. For Jim, a big part of this approach at Brooks is knowing their niche and the company’s target customer.
In recognizing the retail giants in Brooks’ industry, Jim emphasizes that finding a niche in the market is critical to establishing a distinct value proposition:
The currency for me as a leader is trust. And you have to earn it.
“If you’re not the lead player, you ought to step back and say: OK, what game are you playing? I think the biggest choice every company makes, every brand makes, is which customer you’re going to focus on.”
Brooks uses their position as a niche brand to really excel at what they do.
3. Know that trust is something you earn.
Jim said it best in stating, “The currency for me as a leader is trust. And you have to earn it.”
In first starting as CEO at Brooks, Jim had to work hard to earn the trust of employees, investors, reticent banks, retail partners, and the company’s manufacturers, especially after a significant amount of struggle and turmoil within the company prior to his arrival.
He worked with leadership and Brooks’ teams to create a plan that everyone could get behind and opt into in order to create a foundation of collaboration and support at the onset.
4. Ask questions.
It’s okay not to have all of the answers, but asking the right questions is key to purposeful leadership, according to Jim:
“You don’t have all the answers—and you won’t. But as a leader, I take responsibility for: I have to know all the questions.”
This is a motto that Jim shares with all new leaders coming in to Brooks. He believes that asking questions builds the situational awareness and, more importantly, the self-awareness that all leaders need to effectively helm their organizations and collaborate with others, noting that they must ensure they’re not “not pretending we have the solutions or pretending those challenges don’t exist, but talking through them with our teams and then, when we don’t have the answers, talking about the process we’re going through we’re assessing and what we’re doing about them.”
5. Have conviction.
Jim stressed the importance of having core values, but believes convictions, which he defines as “beliefs backed by actions,” are equally crucial.
I believe convictions are beliefs backed by action; they’re actually stronger than values. Values are how we aspire to behave and operate at our best, most of the time.
At Brooks, their dedication to people and planet, sustainability, and inclusion, are convictions they’ve set measurable goals behind to ensure they’re meeting their Higher Purpose and aligning with the values of their stakeholders.
6. Steward a strong culture.
Touching on his book, Jim mentioned the six leadership principles briefly outlined therein. He spent the most time highlighting what he views as possibly the strongest principle: the ultimate advantage is a strong culture.
“That’s what we believe at Brooks. That’s the key to us succeeding,” Jim says, closing with his belief that people-first leadership is paramount to building trust and leading a purpose-driven company.
To get the full conversation, watch the recording of this virtual gathering.
Our Virtual Gatherings are designed for business leaders, investors, and advocates who are looking to level-up their practice by learning from and connecting with Conscious Capitalists around the world.