Curiosity, compassion and knowing your calling

S. Max Brown makes his living teaching leadership skills to companies like General Electric, Intel and Southwest Airlines. The message Brown shared with BYU students on Thursday is the same message that he delivers to big corporate entities: leadership is more about character than skill.

Brown focused on three main points: the importance of “knowing your calling,” always remaining curious and being compassionate.

For Brown, knowing one’s calling is what makes the difference between an empty career and a meaningful one. He cited LDS author Clayton Christensen who studied highly successful businessmen who later ended up in prison. These men, according to Christensen, made mistakes because they forgot their purpose.

Brown asked the attendees, “What is your higher purpose? Your calling? How will you measure your life?”

With success comes the tendency to become arrogant, according to Brown.

“The biggest challenge is that as we become more educated, more financially secure and as we get promoted in our ranks, we also tend to become more arrogant, more egocentric, more self-serving and less inclined to do anything for anyone else.  The most successful leaders today continue to lead because they’re willing to listen and learn.”

Almost as important as knowing one’s calling is the ability to remain curious. Brown shared many anecdotes from his travels in China and Taiwan. Curiosity has played a major role in his life and career. He said that students need to remain curious to remain humble. He also stressed the importance of a good working environment.

“Are you in a place where you can be curious? Where you can be happy? Where you can serve the people around you? Are you in a place where you can contribute?”

In Brown’s last point -- the need for a leader to be compassionate -- he shared a story from his personal life. Brown is the oldest of 13 children, eight of which are adopted. Brown’s parents later went on to foster over 100 children.

“Mom and Dad taught me that if you see something and it’s not right, do something about it. Be compassionate.”

Compassion, according to Brown, is a word that should not be taken for granted. Though his message sounded similar to something students might hear in a Tuesday devotional, he assured the audience that this is the exact message he shares with his highest-profile clients.

“Know your calling, be curious and stay curious, be compassionate, because as you make more money and inevitably get more titles, the temptation to be selfish will be huge.”

Brown graduated from BYU with a BA in International Relations. Since then he has received a master’s from George Mason University and completed leadership coaching training at Georgetown University. He conducts leadership training and speaks to companies all around the world.

A full recording of the lecture is available to view here.

-- Written by Kristin Jensen

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