Ten years later…. Bruce Paynter’s legacy is alive and pushing me forward!

Its hard to imagine that ten years ago the week, my good friend and old boss passed away after his fight with the disease, ALS.  It was a unique and complicated/challenging time, and I view it as a real treasure of my life that I was able to spend a lot of time with Bruce in the months and weeks before his passing.  The stories, the little interactions, the funny moments of those times together all add up to an unusual collage of remembrance and lessons… many of which I have passed along in previous essays and a few that I will share as easy links in the following paragraphs.

Since Bruce’s passing, I have shared his story not just through this blog but with groups of folks in retreats and presentations that I have lead at Bolthouse Farms or with a number of my consulting clients.   Hundreds of folks who never knew Bruce up in Appleton Wisconsin have come to know his humor, his insights and his wisdom primarily through the stories of those days I had with him in the spring and early summer of 2009.

While many of his stories hit home,  the video above that he made for the folks at Kimberly-Clark has been a keepsake of mine for the past ten years.   I keep it on my laptop desktop and rewatch it regularly, especially when I feel that I need a little nudge from my friend Bruce!   Another story  that has really triggered a lot of attention is his view of “Authenticity, the Foundation of Leadership.” This specific story, and the related chart reviewed in the essay has really connected to a wide range of folks across roles and work environments.  The idea that “authentic leaders” have the greatest organizational impact and Bruce’s view that the basis of authenticity is the alignment of a leaders “words and actions!”  Staying on the “authenticity rail” is a  significant concept in this area and I have watched it really connect to executives in their own leadership journeys over the past ten years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Authenticity”, the Foundation of Leadership

Last week I had the chance, the fortune, to spend a few days with my friend Bruce who has ALS.  I have written about him before, see the entry “Always pursue the Truth”;  and while his disease is taking it’s expected, unrelenting course, my time with him was precious.  Over the course of a day or so, we had the chance to have some amazing conversations which ranged widely over topics that Bruce wanted to talk about.  There were three conversations though that have stayed with me, that have affected me deeply, and over the course of the next few weeks I am going to write about all three.  The following is one that has to do with “Authenticity” and “Leadership”.


As I commented on in earlier entries, Bruce was my first boss out of business school and proceeded to have a very significant career at a major, publicly traded, consumer products company.  He held a number of senior executive roles across his career and had the responsibility and accountability for a multi-billion dollar business and a large organization in his last role.  I am not sure what prompted him during my last visit, but somewhat out of the blue, Bruce brought up the topic of “Leadership” and asked me what I thought about “Authenticity” as a leadership characteristic.  Rather than diving into a rambling “sermonette” of my opinions on the subject, I had the good sense to ask Bruce what he thought about this idea of “Authenticity” in a leadership context.  Even with his voice restricted by a respirator, he started to talk about “Authenticity” as a critical variable in leaders.  That organizations knew immediately whether their leader was being “Authentic” or not .  In those moments of “Authenticity” , Bruce felt that organizations trusted their leaders dramatically more than when there were impressions of Leadership “Inauthenticity“.

I asked Bruce how he evaluated/measured “Authenticity”.  His comments rang true to my experience, but I was having a hard time trying to figure out how you might evaluate/assess this characteristic.  He said very simply, “alignment between words and actions”.  He talked about an executive that he worked closely with who “talked a good game” about caring for and being focused on his team; but his actions showed that he really cared for and was focused on himself.  A clear example of misalignment between words and actions… a clear example of a lack of “Leadership Authenticity.”As a result,  the organization doesn’t and probably won’t trust this leader very well.  Obviously a limiter to performance. In many  ways it would have been better for everyone, including the broader organization, if the executive in the example wasn’t trying to portray an image that was so different from who he really is.  

Since returning home, I found an old article from 1997 written by Kevin Cashman, titled “Authentic Leadership”.  The following is a quote from the article that articulates Bruce’s point well:  

The foundation of leadership is authenticity. How do we go about expressing ourselves more authentically?  I constantly challenge clients to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?”  Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited place?  Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are?  Or is it only coming from our persona, the external personality we’ve created to cope with life circumstances.

As I mentioned above , I am not sure what prompted Bruce to want to talk about this topic; but I have always found Bruce to be an amazingly “Authentic” person, friend, and boss.  This conversation gave me more to think about regarding the alignment of my words and actions, my “Leadership Authenticity”. I hope that it might be a trigger for you too!

I sincerely miss Bruce and would love to have his available today as I dive into my new role as President of Bolthouse Farms Brands.  I could really use his good humored “push/nudge,” his encouragement for me to go beyond my limited current thinking and find key insights for future performance.  As I reflects on the picture above of his grave in a lovely cemetery near the river in Appleton, I am once again reminded of his lessons for me today!!  Take a close look and you will see one of Bruce’s constant quotes “Always pursue the truth…” on the bottom of the cemetery marker.  I can literally hear those words in my ears today, from 30+ years ago when I was a marketing assistant at Kimberly-Clark, working for Bruce, when I brought him some sort of analysis that was not quite finished and he would send me back to my cube with those words ringing in my ears.  While certainly appropriate then, with is very applicable for me today!  The business I have just jumped back into is in decline, and with lots of challenges across the board and a cursory review of the facts…. “the truth” will not cut it!  I need to listen to Bruce’s advice today and push my company to dig deeper, search harder and “always pursue the truth” as we clarify the road ahead.

A ten year memory and salute to my friend and mentor…. Bruce Paynter!!