Our favorite leadership lessons from (a newly retired) Tom Peters
Say it ain’t so.
Alas, it’s so: The great Tom Peters is retiring.
Peters, of course, is one of the world’s preeminent leadership experts and the author of 20 best-selling books on the subject, including the best-selling best-seller of them all, In Search of Excellence, described by many as the greatest business book of all time. He's a Maryland boy through and through, born in Baltimore and raised in Annapolis, "with a lacrosse stick in one hand and oars over my shoulder," as he likes to say. He went on to give more than 2,500 speeches to more than 5 million people in 50 states and 63 countries during "a life that bordered on pure exhaustion pretty much all of the time."
At age 80, he's taking a well-deserved rest.
"The reason for this short message is to say that, after all those miles and all those books, and the realization that 80 is a very large number, I am announcing de facto — and de jure, frankly — my retirement," Peters wrote in a March 30 e-mail to his followers. "I have given about as much as I can give. And now, I am going to take it easy. (Uh, maybe work on a memoir, but what the hell.)
"I want to thank each and every one of you for listening and reading. I hope that some of what I have said or written, called by one wildly successful entrepreneur 'a blinding flash of the obvious,' has been of use."
I'm not sure if you remember, but Peters has shared a few of those blinding flashes directly with all of you. Tom has been a guest on our "Future-Proof" podcast twice in the past few years:
- No. 138, April 5, 2021: The path to excellence is 'extreme humanism'
- No. 54, May 20, 2019: The excellence dividend
Here's one of my favorite Tom Peters insights: "Excellence is the next five minutes." So many of us define excellence as long-term performance, but how do we get there? By the little things we do right now, every day, that make a positive difference.
Here's another — actually, seven others. This is what Peters calls "The Leadership 7." In a world ravaged by COVID-19, he says leaders have "an unparalleled opportunity to enact positive change and plant the seeds for a better world." These are seven ways they can do that.
- Be kind.
- Be caring.
- Be patient.
- Be forgiving.
- Be present.
- Be positive.
- Walk in the other person's shoes.
"Humane and thoughtful and caring and inclusive gestures toward our team members, our communities, and our customers must become our bread and butter and meat and potatoes," Peters wrote in Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism. "They are not 'part of us.' They are us."
My favorite Peters insight, though, came from my 2021 conversation with him for our podcast — a brilliant description of what a CPA actually does.
"I really want to focus on this with CPAs, or any professional," he told me. "Be helpful. Do not limit your definition of what you are. A CPA is not somebody with technical skills. They are a business professional who can help people run their hospital, or their non-profit, or their retail operation better. McKinsey has run into its problems, but why the hell shouldn't a three-person CPA firm be the McKinsey of their community?"
That's the story we need to be telling. It's the story that will help us fill our talent pipeline. CPAs aren't number-crunchers. They're business advisors who make the world a better place. And how do they do that? By helping the organizations that make the world a better place. That's a powerful purpose.
Tom Peters is full of inspiring insights like that, and we're proud and privileged that he took the time to share them with us over the years.
Happy retirement, Tom ... and thanks!