Leadership advice that can help you live longer

Leadership advice that can help you live longer
Cubist Castle
Leadership advice that can help you live longer
Cubist Castle

According to The Longevity Study, published in March, people who didn't live up to their potential tended to die early. In a shot at conventional wisdom, the researchers (Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, continuing work Lewis Terman started in the 1920s) noted accomplishing goals and living up to life's potential helps people live longer. Avoiding stress, cutting out red meat, and hitting the gym three times a week mattered a lot less.

In our research, we often saw leaders declaring "110% moments," when people give everything they think they have -- and more -- to a goal. If it sounds like the research is taking a jab at work-life balance, it is. I've interviewed thousands of people in my life, and am amazed at how all -- I cannot think of a single exception -- influential people lived part of their life way out of balance to achieve something important. 110% moments are not optional, if you want to maximize your potential and make an impact. Living longer is a nice bonus.

Change-the-World Tribes

A less surprising conclusion was that the strength of your social group -- your tribe -- goes a long way to predicting how long you'll live. This finding actually gels with 110% moments, because people develop their potential in coordination with other people. In our research, groups that have significant accomplishments tend to stay connected. My 87-year old father still gets together with aerospace friends and looks back at Cold War technological victories.

The point is, 110% periods are best achieved in tribes, not in isolation. These periods tend to maximize our potential and form strong groups at the same time. Call it a "two-fer" for a long life.

If this research is on target, the employees of Airbnb will live a long time. This start up company in San Francisco just might take a sizeable chunk of market share out of the traditional hospitality industry by allowing people to rent out anything from an extra bedroom to an entire house to travelers looking for unique accommodations and experiences. Seeing Airbnb was like visiting Zappos before they became a household name.

Joe Gebbia, one of the founders, described a "110% moment." He and his two co-founders had started the company but hadn't done a good job of helping it grow. The three decided that they wouldn't quit until they had put absolutely everything they had into the venture. They began working all the time, holding each other accountable. There were ups and downs, false starts, and temporary victories. As is often the case with start-ups, hard work alone doesn't explain the vibrant company I saw, but it was a requirement to getting there.

At an early moment in the Airbnb story, the founders were desperate to raise money to stay afloat. After talking for a few hours, the founders decided to capitalize on the Obama hope wave with a breakfast cereal -- Obama O's. They went to local grocery stores, bought ordinary cereal, and transferred the plastic-wrapped contents into Obama Os boxes they had printed -- "hope in every bowl." After sending them to reporters, the story caught on, and so did the orders and the cash. While having nothing to do with the company's core business, the move demonstrated the founders' creativity and resolve -- a fact that helped them get into the prestigious Y Combinator program. Without Obama O's, AirBNB probably wouldn't exist.

So let's bottom-line it. Want to live a long time? Form a tribe that seeks to change the world, demanding that people unlock their potential in the process. This is Tribal Leadership in a nutshell, although we only recently learned that long life is a fringe benefit of forming tribes that want to change the world.

Here's the needle-moving challenge here. Can you do find someone down on their luck and help them join a tribe that will unlock their potential? If so, you'll master the techniques yourself, while doing something life-changing for another.

What lessons have you learned while developing your potential? I hope you'll let us all know in by posting a comment below.

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    Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997.