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On this episode of Dare to Lead

Doug Conant is the only former Fortune 500 CEO who is a New York Times bestselling author, a Top 50 Leadership Innovator, a Top 100 Leadership Speaker, and one of the 100 Most Influential Authors in the World. We talk about the principles and practices in the new book he co-authored with Amy Federman, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights, as well as how to create an entourage of excellence, how to find our individual leadership stories, and how to bring those stories to life.

About the guest

Doug Conant

Doug Conant’s 45-year career has been defined by achieving high performance through an intentional commitment to studying, practicing, improving, and spreading the tenets of “leadership that works.” He is Founder and CEO of ConantLeadership, former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, former President of Nabisco Foods, and former Chairman of Avon Products. He has also served on multiple corporate boards including AmerisourceBergen and RHR International. He began his career in marketing at General Mills and held leadership positions in marketing and strategy at Kraft.

Doug is also Chairman of CECP—Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose-and proudly serves on the boards of The Center for Higher Ambition Leadership, the National Organization on Disability, the Partnership for Public Service, and Hope College. Previously, he was Chairman of The Conference Board, Chairman of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and Chairman of Enactus.

Doug received his BA at Northwestern and is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served as the Chairman of Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute for five years. He is an instructor of leadership at the Higher Ambition Leadership Institute, and he teaches many of the concepts advanced in The Blueprint to seasoned and aspiring leaders in his own signature leadership development course, The BLUEPRINT Boot Camp by ConantLeadership.

Finally, he is the ever-so-proud husband of Leigh and father to their three remarkable children.

Show notes

The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights by Doug Conant

The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights by Doug Conant with Amy Federman is a seminal treatise on leadership and practical guide for leading effectively in a chaotic world.

Touchpoints by Doug Conant book cover

“I am so appreciative of the life I’ve been given. “Amazing Grace” is my favorite song, and it’s the hero’s journey.”


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is the Dare To Lead podcast. This week, I’m talking with Doug Conant, the only former Fortune 500 CEO, who’s also a New York Times bestselling author, a top 50 leadership innovator, a top 100 leadership speaker, and one of the most influential authors in the world. He has a new Wall Street Journal bestselling book, co-authored with Amy Federman, called the The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. And we are going to talk about his new book, we’re going to talk about his story, we’re going to talk about one of my new favorite quotes of all time from Doug: “Your life story is your leadership story.” God, I love that, and wait until he digs into what that means. This is a great conversation. Thank y’all for being here.

BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Doug. He is a devoted leadership practitioner and teacher, a 45-year career that has been absolutely defined by achieving high performance through intentional commitments to studying, practicing, improving, and spreading the tenets of leadership that works. He has got such a wildly different idea about leadership and leadership models and how they have to be not only specific to us, but specific to our story.

BB: He’s the founder and CEO of Conant Leadership, former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and the former President of Nabisco Foods. He’s also a former Chairman of Avon Products. He began his career in marketing at General Mills and he has held leadership positions in marketing and strategy at Kraft. Doug received his BA at Northwestern and is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served as the Chairman of Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute for five years, and he is also the ever so proud husband of Leigh and father to their three remarkable children. Let’s welcome Doug Conant.

BB: Okay, so first, let me give you a big warm, huge welcome, Doug. I’m super excited that you’re here.

Doug Conant: Oh, you say that to all the guests. I appreciate it, though.

BB: No, I really…

DC: Thank you, thank you very much.

BB: How long have you and I been kind of like trickling back emails and tweets and…

DC: A long time.

BB: Yeah, a long time.

DC: A long time. But this is delightful, and as I trickled through with you on our back and forth, I found increasingly that we were actually getting to the same, almost the same place, from totally different perspectives, but we’ll get into it, but it’s remarkable how aligned I am, I didn’t realize you were trailblazing for me, I thought I was trailblazing for you. So what can I say? I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation, and I think you’ll see why as we continue to talk.

BB: Yeah, I think we’ve been parallel trailblazing for each other, because I have so many questions for you, but I’m going to start with the first question we always start with on both podcasts, actually. Tell us your story.

DC: My story is, I’m the oldest of four boys, so of course, I am always right. And anyone who had an older or younger or middle child, they all know what I’m talking about. I’m also an introvert, hence a real fondness for Susan Cain’s work, and it took me a long time to find my voice. I always aspired to be helpful in the world, and I was a competitive athlete. It paid for my education, I went and got my MBA, went into the corporate world and thrived in a community of mostly like-minded people who were working hard and trying to build a better world for themselves and their families and their companies, and I loved the life.

DC: As I went through it, I began to realize that I hadn’t found my voice. I lost my job when I was 32 years old, and it knocked the wind out of my sails, and as I went through outplacement, my outplacement counselor said, “Doug, you have important questions to answer, and obviously you’re shy and reserved, but the main reason you can’t answer these questions is because you don’t know the answer, you haven’t done the work. You need to become well anchored in who you are so that you can engage with others.”

DC: In your words, I was not walking inside my story, or owning it, I was walking outside of that story, inside my parents’ story, my professors’ story, my boss’s story, my company’s story, but I was not walking inside my story. And I didn’t realize that until that was taken away from me when I lost my job. And for the last nearly 40 years, I’ve been working on finding it. And fortunately, most of the people I work with are not as slow as I am, so they’re getting it much faster than I did, but I am a guy who’s just looking for his story and just trying to find his way and trying to be true to the best version of himself that he can imagine. So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

BB: Okay, I’m going to take you way back and slow you down. I want some more details about this story. Where were you born?

DC: I was born in a little town north of Chicago. Glencoe, Illinois.

BB: Glencoe, Illinois. Oldest of four. What kind of sports did you play?

DC: Anything that was a ball or a stick, we played with it, but I became quite a good tennis player, and that’s what paid paid my college education, my graduate school education. That sport sort of shaped my life, and I’ve written a fair amount about that too, yeah.

BB: Okay. I’m the oldest of four as well, that comes with a whole bunch of stuff that I’m still working through.

DC: We know each other pretty well then.

BB: Yeah, I’m an introvert…

DC: Better than I thought. Better than I thought.

BB: Yeah. Codename Sister Superior in my family. Yeah. So what were you like in high school?

DC: I was in a huge high school. Over-achieving high school. I was in the high school that was the focus of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Tom Cruise, Risky Business. I went to New Trier High School.

BB: No, you did not.

DC: There were 4000 over-achieving kids at New Trier High School, and I was one of the thousand in my class, and I was trying to pioneer and I was lost, I was lost in the sauce of all that, as an introvert, and what I found myself doing was studying and increasingly playing tennis. And I played tennis because I could do it by myself, I could hit against the wall by myself, I could go practice by myself or with maybe one other person, and I found that incredibly healthy compared to the sense of being overwhelmed in high school. When the bell would ring, people would just pour out of the classrooms and you’d be swimming upstream to get to your next class.

DC: And I had good friends, I had many good friends. But it was a lot, it was a lot. And so I very quietly slugged through that, but where I got my footing was in tennis, I became quite good at it, and I developed an identity around that that gave me some confidence. I was one of the best tennis players in the Midwest, and earned a tennis scholarship to Northwestern right down the road from where I grew up. But tennis is what I learned how to compete. I learned how to conduct myself under pressure. As Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege.” Those are the words over the Center Court at USTA in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

DC: And I learned a lot while competing in that sport and that became for me, along with the life my parents crafted for me and my faith, those were the guard rails for my life.

BB: When did you fall in love the first time?

DC: The first time I saw my wife. I didn’t know it at the time, but I dated two other people very seriously, and I thought that was love, but it wasn’t. I dated a young lady in high school for two years, and she went on to Duke and I went to Northwestern, and in those days you didn’t stay connected at all, there was no… So we went our separate ways. And then I dated someone in college for a few years, and I thought that was serious, but then I met my wife and I discovered what serious was, and I discovered how comfortable it was, and it was just such a genuine… I didn’t have to be anybody else, I could just be me. And for better… I should say for better or worse, I could just be me.

BB: I noticed in the inscription in your book that you thank, the first person that you give gratitude to…

DC: Oh, absolutely.

BB: Is your wife.

DC: Absolutely. She’s seen me at my best, she’s seen me at my worst, and she loves me anyway, and I always want to be the best version of myself when I’m with her, which at times could be exhausting, but it doesn’t feel that way, so whatever.

BB: That’s beautiful. Okay, so tell me about your experience. Were you laid off? Were you fired?

DC: I was fired very abruptly. I had the world’s greatest job. I was Director of Marketing for Parker Brothers Toys and Games. We had just moved to Boston, we were living in Marblehead, Massachusetts, right on the ocean. Marblehead Harbor, the birthplace of the American Navy, the Spirit of 76 painting was hanging in the Town Hall, a block from our home, which was built in 1745, the cradle of the American Revolution, and we were there.

DC: My family had been the founding family of Salem, Massachusetts, which was the town next door to Marblehead. I drove past the statue of one of my ancestors, Roger Conant, every day on the way to work at Parker Brothers in Beverly, Massachusetts. And I thought, this is meant to be. And I worked there for three years, they were owned by a parent company, General Mills, which is where I had started my career, and I took this job there. I was there for three years, Director of Marketing for all those games, and we did children’s music, we had Nerf toys, Nerf ball, Nerf footballs, Nerf baseballs.

BB: Fun.

DC: We were the most popular family on the block. When I would drive home from work, the kids would be hanging around outside of our stoop looking to see what I had brought home to play with that day. I mean, you couldn’t make this stuff up. We joined a church in Marblehead, it turned out that my family had been the founding family of that church, and we didn’t even know it.

BB: You’re kidding.

DC: They had a Founders’ Day and we had our second son, Tyler, born there, and they discovered that he was the youngest living descendant of a founder, and we had relatively recently just joined the church. So somewhere in the archives of the atmosphere, there is a picture of the oldest living founder and the youngest living founder, and the youngest is our son who might have been three months old. So this was all meant to be. I drove to work one day, and the receptionist said, “Doug, Larry would like to see you. Could you go up to his office?” I went up there and said, “Larry, what’s up?” He said, “Doug, your job has been eliminated. You need to be out of here by noon.”

DC: Now, I was absolutely stunned. It felt like my career, my life was over in a snap. He said, “Pack up all your things and head home.” I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t even know to ask a question, I was so stunned. So I went, packed up all my things and went home and told my wife that I’d lost my job. I went home to my wife, the two small kids, the barking dogs, the cats, everything, the circus of my house, feeling every bit the victim and that was the day I lost my job. It was overwhelming. They called me and then they said, “Doug, Larry… ” The head of Human Resources called me from Parker Brothers and said, “Doug,” basically, he said, “We were so anxious to get you out of the building, we didn’t tell you your benefits. I’d like to connect you with your outplacement counselor.”

DC: At which point I swore at the fellow, which I do occasionally, not much, and I slammed the phone down and said, “Forget it.” A burst of anger. About another hour later with the dog barking and the cats running around and the three-year-old and the one-year-old crying, and I thought, “You know, I’d better call him back, I’ve really got to get out of here, I’ve got to get a job, I can’t be in this circus.” I called him back and I went from the worst experience of my career to the best experience of my career in one day. I was connected with a gentleman named Neil McKenna, who I’ve talked about extensively, I’ve written about in books and blogs, and I called Neil that day at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

DC: I said, “Mr. McKenna… ” Every time he answered the phone, we had no caller ID, every time he answered the phone, he would say, “Hello, this is Neil McKenna, how can I help?” Had no idea who was on the other end of the phone, it could be a plumber, it could be Brené Brown, it could be John Q. Public, but he was there to help me, and I said, “Mr. McKenna, I’d like to schedule an appointment with you. I know it’s late in the day,” and whatever. He said, “It’s never too late, Doug. I want you to come over here right now, and we’re going to talk this thing through.” I said, “I know, but it’s almost 5 o’clock. I don’t want to keep you from your family.” “Doug, I want you over here right now.”

DC: So I drove over there, about 30 minutes away, and I was with him for three hours and we just processed all that had happened, and he practiced some grisly New England tough love with me, and basically said, “We’ve got to focus forward, man. I’ll help you process all this stuff, but we’ve got to focus forward,” and that’s how my new journey began.

BB: Tell me about this assignment that he gave you.

DC: Oh, I love it.

BB: Me too.

DC: It was sort of unbelievable. He said… This was in the second meeting. So I met with him and we did all this. The second meeting, he said, “Doug, here’s the first step in the process. I want you to hand-write… ” And it was hand-write, I make people hand-write things to this day if they want to communicate with me, even though I’m gently getting into technology and emails. He said, “I want you to hand-write your life story. And I want you to write down everything you can think of. And I don’t care, the smallest detail, and then I want you to turn it in to me and I’ll read it and then we’re going to have a conversation about how we go forward.”

DC: And I thought that was the strangest request. Look, I’ve got to get a job, I don’t have to write my autobiography here, I’ve got to find work. I’ve got a severance package, but it doesn’t go forever. That’s sort of the mindset I had. And he said, “Before you can move forward, you’ve got to take a step back and you’ve got to get calibrated. You’ve got to get your act together.” Those are my words, not his, but that was what I took away. So over two weeks, it’s amazing how much you can write when you don’t have a job. So I was home, we had a third floor in our old home, and I would pretend to go out the front door, and I would go in the back door and I would go up to the third floor and close it off. And the kids never knew I was there.

DC: So my wife and I, so that was my way of hiding out, and I wrote my life story, it was about 50 pages, I don’t have it, Neil had it somewhere, but it was about 50 pages, both sides, small handwriting. I have great cursive. So it was really well written. I mean, technically, anyway. So I got it all in there. I got in everything from being the oldest brother to all the hare-brained things I had done up to the current day, what I loved reading, which is Louis L’Amour novels. I’m a Louis L’Amour novel nut, I’ve read them all three times. It was people who were my heroes, my grandparents, what I had learned from my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my wife’s family, being a father, it just went on and on and on.

DC: But after two weeks, in two weeks, I had basically written what would be the outline of my life story, and what I was shocked at was how much I learned that I had taken for granted. Fundamentally, today I talk with people about, look, needing to lead an intentional life. And by and large, most of us lead life by the seat of our pants. And I was doing that, I was going with the flow, I was walking inside someone else’s story, and I was in all this, so I just looked above me and said, “How am I supposed to behave?” And I tried to behave that way. And I really took a fresh look at my life at the age of 32, I think, 33 maybe, and I saw, “Wow, I come from pretty hardy stock. My family is pretty amazing. I’ve learned a lot, I have a lot to offer in this world.”

DC: And I was stuck behind this veneer of a shy, reserved guy who just kept his head down, wanted to go along to get along, and appreciated all that had come his way, but I wasn’t sort of living my life. I didn’t realize it until I wrote my life down and I realized, “Wow, there’s a whole nother story here, and there’s a whole side of me that’s just dying to get out,” because I was a ferociously competitive athlete, but nobody would have ever known that. I didn’t even realize how I had drifted into this behavior that was sort of corporate. I was just trying to fit in, and I still care about fitting in, but I care about fitting in on my terms, with my point of view, and all my shortcomings.

DC: Happy to talk about them, but I need to be part of this story, I can’t just be a footnote in it. And that’s where that all came to life, 50 handwritten pages, small script, and that was my first exercise. And then when he read it, he said, “Doug, this is unbelievable.” The next meeting, he said, “There are two different people. The person I’m talking to who lost his job and who is understandably a little shell-shocked, and then there’s this ferocious competitor who wants to change the world, and there are two different people. You need to basically inhabit your story, and you need to bring all of yourself to it without fear. You need to develop and harvest your convictions, because it’s hard to have the courage of your convictions if you don’t know what they are.”

BB: That’s right.

DC: And starting with that experience, I started to develop my convictions, growing out of my life story, and I’m still working on that, but that’s where it all started, 50 handwritten pages.

BB: I am so obsessed with this quote by you: “Your life story is your leadership story.”

DC: Oh, gosh, absolutely. I’m telling you, you’ve talked to a lot of people, I have probably talked to more leaders in my lifetime than you have, and every one of them has a story from their life that has led them to the place they inhabit today.

BB: Amen.

DC: In a foundational way, I’m not saying an ancillary way.

BB: No.

DC: I’m saying a foundational way.

BB: Core.

DC: I do an exercise with people, and it’s sort of antiquated now, but there was a television show, I think it was on HBO, called Entourage that a lot of people watched. And so I created this concept called the Entourage of Excellence, and I have people, I say, “Who are the people who have had a profound influence on you in your life?” And I have them actually do exercises that define them, sort of like I did when I wrote my life story, I talked about my grandfather and others, and I have them do that, and then I have them create a tapestry which has the pictures of all these people and I say, “These are the people who had the most profound influence on you in your life. Did they have high standards for you?” Everybody says, “Oh, yeah, it’s my grandmother or my grandfather, or my coach or my teacher, they had the highest standards for me.”

DC: I also say, “Well, did they care about you?” “Oh, yeah, they cared greatly about me,” and then we get into this conversation where I say, “You know, I can make leadership very complicated, but I can also make it very simple. What I’m really telling you to do is be more like those people with the people with whom you live and work, because your life story is your leadership story. What you experienced in those moments, that was true brilliant leadership that had the most profound influence on you of anything you’ve ever experienced. You’ve just told me that. Now you need to be that point of light for the people in your life with whom you live and work.”

DC: And everybody has that story, and so many people think, “Well, I have to be more Gandhi or Mother Teresa-like.” Not really, you just have to be a little bit more like that crusty uncle who told it like it was and said, “Get off your ass and get to work,” and said it in a way that was caring, and you knew it came from a good place. And to this day, when you’re up against it, you hear him saying in the back of your mind, “Get off your ass and get back to work.” We’ve all got those stories, and people get so caught up in trying to walk inside the corporate story or what my boss’s story is for me, what’s scripted for me, that we lose sight of those stories that had the most profound influence on us in our lives.

BB: God, that is just so true.

DC: Can you tell I’m passionate about this?

BB: First, A, you’re preaching to the converted, but B, I’m going to do that exercise. I swear to you, Doug, I’m going to do that exercise, because I look outside of my story often for who I want to be as a leader, but I’ve got a whole list of those people inside of me.

DC: Yeah, oh, absolutely. If you Google Maya Angelou, she’s got a great little video, it’s called Rainbows in My Clouds, and she talks about this. She says, “Every time I would go up on the stage, I’m never alone.” That’s another concept I subscribe to, people talk about leadership and but it’s so lonely at the top. Bull shit. It’s only lonely if you let it be. If you open yourself up, the world will come racing to your aid. So Maya Angelou would say, “When I go up on the stage or when I go up to translate, I have all these people that I’ve known throughout my whole life. And I’ve had lots of clouds, but I’ve had lots of rainbows, and I tell all these people I say, ‘Okay, come on, come with me, I’m going up on the stage now,’ and I’m never worried because I have rainbows in my clouds.”

BB: That’s beautiful.

DC: It’s just so beautifully articulate. But it’s the same idea, we have all that to draw upon, which is beautiful, we also have tough stuff that we had to process and deal with, that’s okay too. But that’s my perspective on how important your life story is, it is your script, get in touch with it and then take it where you want to take it, you know?

BB: Yes, I mean, yes. Okay, before we get in to Get Unstuck: The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights, before we get into the book, which is so powerful and you just gave it all away, basically, in this book, it is like a workshop in a book, it is exercises…

DC: It is. I do a workshop with it. That’s how it grew up.

BB: Yeah, it’s incredible.

DC: Trying to help people.

BB: Before we get into it, for those listening who are meeting you for the first time, for those of you meeting Doug for the first time, you’re welcome. But tell us the Campbell Soup story. Just give us this… This is how I got to know you.

DC: I have to go back one story, but I’ll do it quick. I lost that job we talked about I lost, I was then recruited into Kraft Foods, another large food company. I had worked for General Mills with this small stint with their subsidiary at Parker Brothers. I ended up going to Kraft foods and basically spent most of the first 17 years of my career in the food industry. And I had started to find myself… It’s where I first really deeply encountered Stephen Covey, who had a profound influence on me in my life, but then I was recruited right after Barbarians at the Gate in 1989, the leveraged buy-out firm of KKR had acquired RJR Nabisco in the world’s largest LBO.

DC: And a book was written about it, which became a world-wide bestseller, Barbarians at the Gate, a movie was made of it, and it was a $25 billion LBO in 1989…

BB: LBO stands for…

DC: Leveraged Buy Out. It basically was a public company that was taken over by a private company, a tobacco company and food company, a huge company at the time, taken over by a private group of investors. And I was recruited in there to help rebuild it, and I had started to find my footing as a leader, and I went in there and I thought I had gone into the Wild West. I had these two food companies that by and large were reap what you sow, Midwest values food companies, and then I was out dealing with Wall Street. I was on Wall Street with the sharks for a decade, and trying to find my way, and I did, but through that process, we had to rebuild Nabisco, and there were a lot of doubting Thomas and Thomasinas in that scenario.

DC: But I had learned that I have to live my story, so there were two things that mattered to me, and only one thing that mattered to our investors, and that was earnings. The mission and the purpose of the company was something called E cubed: Earnings, earnings, earnings.

BB: Oh, God.

DC: And we were a community of people working shoulder to shoulder, trying to build a better world and take care of our families and serve quality… We were more than earnings, earnings, earnings. And I fundamentally believed that we could be more if we celebrated our community and also focused on delivering earnings, earnings, earnings. And we did. So I quietly just championed the humanity of the enterprise for a long time, and we were the best-performing food company in the last five years I was there, although we were private. And we had a great run, we were acquired, and then on the heels of that I was recruited to Campbell, which had just had a horrible situation occur, and I went there around 2000. I left Nabisco the last day of January 2000, I started with Campbell a week later, January 8th, 2001.

DC: And I find a company that had lost its way and was broken, which is typically when CEO jobs become available, because if things are going great there’s not a job there. So I went to Campbell, we had lost our way, we had lost half our market value in one year, we were headquartered in the poorest, most dangerous city in the United States, Camden, New Jersey. The world headquarters was surrounded by razor wire and guard stands because people were afraid of going out or coming in, and we had fallen upon hard times and we had started making short-term decisions to deliver earnings, like many companies, and we were sacrificing the long-term.

DC: We had lost our way, and one thing led to another, and we’d cut all the spending and we’d compromised the products, and we ended up having to let go a lot of people, and it was very, very dismal. We were the poorest-performing large food company in the world of the top 20. And I was recruited in. And I went in and the first day of work, I said, “Look, this is a heavy lift. And this is what I believe.” And I declared myself day one, my story, finally, I was 49 years old, and I was starting to tell my story, alright, and I said, “I just don’t believe that we can win in the marketplace unless we first win in the workplace. We have to create a community of people that can lift this company up and sustain it predicated on a strong sense of mission, purpose, and values.”

DC: And that’s what we did, and we took it from being the poorest-performing food company in the world over the decade to being one of the best-performing food companies in the world over the decade. We took it from having the poorest employee engagement in all of the Fortune 500, forget the food industry, to the best employee engagement in the Fortune 500 over the decade. But it wasn’t easy. Along the way, in the first three years, we turned over 300 of the top 350 people leading the company, 300 of 350. So think of your university, think of the top 350 people, and at the end of three years, only 50 are left, and you’re still running the university, and you’re competing with all those other universities you’re competing with.

BB: Oh, my God.

DC: And I’d said on day one, “Look, we’ve got to win in the workplace before we can win in the marketplace,” and we needed a team of leaders that were committed to winning in the workplace and winning in the marketplace, and we didn’t have it. So we made a lot of tough calls, we promoted… Of the 300 we turned over, we promoted 150 within, and we recruited another 150 from outside, totally recast the leadership of the company in those three years. And interestingly, with all those changes, employee engagement went up every year. And the reason it went up was because the other 20,000 people that worked there knew we had to make those changes. They were just waiting to see if I was going to do it.

DC: And that’s where I could tell I was walking inside my story, because the old Doug would not have rocked the boat like that, the old quiet reserved would not have done it. Even though I had the conviction that it needed to be done, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it, but I had the courage at the age of 49 to start on that journey. And we had a great run. And it was a blessing. One thing that I became renowned for, I’m always introduced this way, was I started writing notes to people and started to reinforce the values of the culture we were trying to create. And so every day on the way home, I had a long commute, I was driven, but it was a two-and-a-half hour commute each way, so I was in the car four to five hours a day.

DC: On the way home, my assistant would print out all the stuff that had gone on in the company that day. We had a portal, I mean, nothing like a portal today. But she would print it out, I would read it on the way home. And on the way in every day, I would write 10 to 20 notes to employees celebrating what they had done right. These weren’t gratuitous notes saying “Happy Birthday,” or “I hope you had a nice day,” which I did, but they were celebrating contributions of significance that reinforced what we were trying to do and the values we held, because in all of my corporate experience, I have discovered that large organizations, especially in the corporate world, tend to be great critical thinking machines. We find what’s wrong and we fix it, and very rarely do we celebrate what’s right.

DC: And even in the most broken companies, 8 out of 10 things being done are being done right.

BB: God, that’s true.

DC: But nobody’s reinforcing that. Think of parenting your kids, and all you do is correct, correct, correct and you don’t celebrate the great thing they did to help their friend from that bully. All you say is, “I can’t believe you’re five minutes late for dinner.” And so I was committed to bringing balance back to the conversation. I view the whole corporate ethos as one giant emotional bank account in every organization, it’s in your university, and I always want to be in the black with that bank account, because I know I have to make big withdrawals at times, because I have to make tough calls, letting go of 300 leaders. But do you know what, the other 20,000 people knew I cared about them and I was in it for all the right reasons.

DC: I’ll finish the story. When I retired, I was being interviewed by either Forbes or Fortune, and they said, “How many of these notes have you written? We’re seeing them all over the office.” I said, “I don’t know, but I write 10 to 20 a day religiously, and six days a week.” So we did the math. Over 250 work days, actually, it was more than that because it was weekends, and we came up with, I had written 30,000 notes to Campbell employees over the decade. We only had 20,000 employees, and we were in 38 countries with operations. And wherever you went, you would see a handwritten note from me, signed by me, saying, “Thank you for helping with this project, I appreciate the heavy lift,” and it’s in their cubicle, on their board.

DC: And to this day on LinkedIn, I’m getting notes from people that were just clearing out their home office, and they found this note from me from 20 years ago thanking them for the contribution they had made to the company. So I do think as a leader, you have to lead from in front on this, you can’t preach it and then not practice it. So when I talked about winning in the workplace, I had to do my fair share, and that was one of the many things I did, but that’s what ultimately… It’s a funny thing, I had no idea, it’s ultimately what I became known for was thank-you notes, which was hilarious to my mother, because she could never get me to write a thank-you note. You know?

BB: Yes, I know.

DC: You get your presents at Christmas and you can’t play with them until you’ve written your grandparents a thank-you note?

BB: Yes.

DC: Oh, forget it, forget it. She was fighting a losing battle. I was giving a talk at her retirement community years ago, she passed away a few years ago, and this thank-you note thing came up and she just started laughing. She was a larger than life woman, you would have liked her, and she just started laughing at this thank-you note thing. And she said, “It’s all due to me.” And again, I was slow. It took me about 30 years to figure it out.

BB: Yeah. And let me just tell you that that commitment… I mean, when I hear you talk about that drive, that’s discipline, that is not an occasional note, might do the culture good, that’s a disciplined, intentional approach to building a culture.

DC: Absolutely. And you need it. When Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, the thing he ultimately landed on was, look, job one, you need disciplined people doing disciplined thinking, taking disciplined action. And that doesn’t mean that most of your life, you’re still not doing things by the seat of your pants, because you are, that’s just life. But there ought to be a portion of your life that’s really bringing some discipline and some intentionality into the way you dispatch your duties every day, and that was one of the ways that I chose to do it.

BB: God, I love that story so much, I love it. And I have to say that I probably have, without being hyperbolic, I probably have every hand-written note that a boss or a dean or a professor wrote to me in my career.

DC: You’re not alone. Everybody I talk to, they have these notes. I have the notes. Of course, hilarious. I worked in the corporate world a long time, and I think I have two notes somewhere from CEOs, and they were nice notes, but basically it was something hand-written on a page that I had submitted that said “Nice job” and had an initial on it or something. I have a big belief in all my work that to create breakthrough as a leader, you have to make it personal, you have to become one level more personal with anyone you work with than anyone else has ever been with them with whom they’ve worked if you want to create breakthrough…

BB: Wait, say that again. That’s really big.

DC: I believe that anybody you work with, you have to demonstrate a personal commitment to that relationship that goes one level deeper, one level, just one level deeper than any other relationship that they’ve had in their work life. I have CEOs and leaders, I say, “You don’t have to invite everybody over for dinner, but you have to evidence that you genuinely care, if you do, you have to show up and they have to know you care.” And that gets into all the work you’ve done on vulnerability, you have to open yourself up to this, you have to open yourself up to the relationship. Not by a mile, but by an increment that invites them in.

BB: Agreed.

DC: And it changes everything.

BB: It does, and without it, you can’t get anything done.

DC: It’s what greases the gears. And it’s those notes that I sent to those people that were more than symbolic. In the fullness of time, they changed perception.

BB: Okay, let’s talk about the new book, Get Unstuck: The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. I want to break this down. Get unstuck. Let me start with this question, without turning this into a personal leadership therapy session, which I may do anyway, but where do we most often get stuck? Why unstuck? You just nailed that. When I read that, I was like, “Oh shit, yes, I’m stuck.”

DC: That’s the language that came up as I’ve been working the last decade, focused exclusively in this space. I retired about 10 years ago, and quite frankly, I was working this space the 20 years before that, but 10 years exclusively. Everybody felt stuck. By the way, I have a quote of the year every year, I pick a quote, and not knowing when or if you and I would ever talk, your quote was my quote last year as I launched The Blueprint. It was your quote, and your quote was: “You can either walk inside your story and own it, or you can stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” And then I add “every day,” because that’s the way it feels.

BB: Amen.

DC: It’s every day.

BB: Amen, that’s right.

DC: And what I see all these leaders doing as I try and help them with their corporate journey, as they are stuck, trying to live the corporate story, not their story in the corporate environment, and I’m trying to help them find their story. That’s what this is all about. They don’t know their story. They’re going by the seat of their pants following the cues that are coming at them from outside saying, “Here’s the way you’re supposed to behave, here’s what you’re supposed to do,” all of which is important, but it’s insufficient to lead a full life. You need to know what’s burning within and what matters most to you inside. And what I find is leaders are stuck because they’re trying to meet the expectations of the outside world, and they really haven’t wrestled with the need to reconcile the inside world and how that can connect with the people with whom they work. So this notion of being stuck, I’m stuck, I want to do better. Every leader I talk to, everybody wants to do better.

BB: I think that’s true.

DC: And then I say, “Well, what’s the problem?” “Well,” they say, “I’m stuck.” I say, “Why are you stuck?” “And I don’t have time. I’ve got three kids. Right now, I’m working remotely, I’m doing all this stuff, but before that, we’re trying to get to day care, I’m getting to work, and then I’m doing the work, I get home, we feed the kids, and then I put them to bed and then I get an email and I do it again, and I feel like I’m on a treadmill, I’m just stuck, and it’s Groundhog Day over and over and over again.” And to a person, everybody felt they were stuck, and the dilemma was that you felt, well, this leadership thing is unapproachable. Yeah, I feel like I’ve got to go get a Harvard Executive MBA before I can be a leader, and I don’t have time for that, I don’t have money for that. And I’ve got a lot of self-help books that are trying to teach me that, but they’re not dealing with my reality, they’re well-intentioned, well thought-out pieces of work, well researched, but they’re written by people who have not walked a mile in my shoes, a step in my shoes, much less a mile.

DC: And I said, “Look, I’ve walked a thousand miles in your shoes, and I can help. I can help you get unstuck in a way that will nest perfectly in your cockamamie life,” and that’s the reason I wrote the book because people desperately wanted to get unstuck. They were getting in their own way, they didn’t know how to get out of their own way, and I thought, “You know, there’s a way to do this that can nest perfectly, perfectly in your cockamamie life.”

DC: And that’s why we wrote the book, and we find that when we work with people for two days, we can help them begin to establish a rhythm that can work in their life, and you know all this literature about habits.

BB: Oh, yeah.

DC: James Clear, Atomic Habits, BJ Fogg. Everybody’s written on habits. Well, that’s part of the process. Life is not epiphany-driven. We’re all looking for the epiphany, I’ve just got to be more like Jack Welch or Richard Branson or Mark Zuck… I just need an epiphany, a big idea and I’m going to break through. Life is a grind, and we’ve got to find a way to thrive in the grind of it all, and it’s all about progressive improvement, continuous improvement, doing a little better today than we did yesterday with a little more intentionality. And I have found that you can actually build your leadership muscle and get unstuck in small ways over time in a way that can be immediately more fulfilling, and that’s why we wrote the book.

BB: So the blueprint that you share, there are six steps: Envision, Reflect, Study, Plan, Practice, and Improve. Is it your intention that we go through this book and work through it, like a class, like a course?

DC: It wasn’t originally the intention, but it became the intention, because there’s a concept called Situational Leadership, which basically says that when you really don’t understand the task at hand, you’ve got to take a pretty structured approach, that somebody needs to help you because you don’t know how to do it, you can’t find your way through it. And as we got into this, we said, “You know, we’ve got to take a pretty structured approach to this, because people are stuck, we’ve got to help them put one foot in front of the other.”

DC: So we ended up creating these steps, and it became a process, and literally the first half of the book is a workbook, which you may or may not choose to engage with, you can go into it deeply, or you can go right over it and read it and learn lots of good content and not fill out one of the questions. We actually have a companion workbook available online that people can play around with, but it’s my way, in the first half of those steps, we talk about envision, reflect, and study. A lot of that is basically my 50 handwritten pages, courtesy of Neil McKenna.

DC: It’s your life story. I want you to reflect on your life story, I want you to mine that story, I want you to find those things that motivate you above and beyond all else, that grandfather that would say, when you did the right thing, he said, “You betcha. Nice job, don’t you know.” You want to find those things that really speak to you and integrate them into the way you approach your life journey.

BB: God, I love that.

DC: And I feel like people forget those things. I feel like we get so caught up in trying to be somebody else for someone else or for our company or for our partner, I’m trying to be it for them, and we forget our life story. And the first half of this exercise all the way up until Plan is really get in touch with your life story. Also look at the world around you, and is there someone else who’s leading an interesting life? That’s instructive. For me, I had lots of points of light, I was absolutely fascinated by Warren Bennis, who I sought out and I met. Warren Bennis knew Maslow. He talked to me about Maslow, how cool is that?

DC: I was learning so much stuff from him on the side just by tracking him down in California. There’s just so much out there to learn from, and I’m just trying to open that world up for everybody, and that’s what the first three steps. So then I say, “You’ve got to be a little more intentional. You’re going to be leading like by the seat of your pants, you create a plan that is maybe 80% seat of the pants and 20% I’m going to be a little more intentional,” that’s a step. And then you say, “Okay, well, that’s great.” The first four steps are all conceptual, but then, because I’ve been there and I’ve done that, I know you have to show up differently.

DC: It’s not about what you think and how you feel. That’s the beginning of the journey, it’s not the end of it. It’s how do you show up?

BB: How do you show up every day.

DC: How are you going to show up? And on the fifth one, we say, “How can I tangibly bring my leadership approach to life, how can I show up differently?” For me, it was… Thank-you notes were a tangible expression of what I was feeling and what I was trying to do as a leader. There were a lot of other things I did, and we try and get people to show up in ways that are manageable. I was a busy CEO, but I was stuck in a car and I could write thank-you notes every day, it just happened to fit into my cockamamie day, and it changed my leadership life. Thank-you notes. Really.

DC: Then I would say the beauty of the thank-you notes were they captured what… My leadership approach, which I do spend a lot of time on, I have people building their own leadership models in step 4, Plan. “How do you want to show up? How do you want to lead?” And we have people creating their own leadership models. What I love about those is, no two are the same. They’re all different.

BB: God, I love that.

DC: Because we’re all different.

BB: Yes.

DC: Our journey is informed by our life, our life journey, our leadership journey is informed by that, and it’s unique, and we have a unique set of aspirations, so we help people build their own leadership model. And I’ve done thousands of these, and no two are the same. What I used to do when I started, I would be looking, okay, situational leadership. That’s a good leadership model, I should be more like that. Or Jack Welch says, “Here are the four E’s for leadership,” and I should show up more like that. And there were elements of those things that made sense to me, Warren Bennis had a leadership. Everybody said, “Here’s how you show up.” All those books, all those self-help books, here’s how you do it.

DC: And I’d say, “Well, that’s interesting, but that doesn’t quite fit right for me.” And then I realized, the only person who could create my leadership blueprint for success was me, and I needed to create a process to do it, which I did, and then we said this process could be helpful to other people, and it is. Now, we have on our website people sending in their leadership models and sharing them with our community, and one is an infinity sign, one is a flywheel, one is a garden, one is a house. You know, I have a foundation, I have the roof over my head, and I have pillars that represent my values. One is a bridge, I want to go from here to there and here’s how I think about it. We’ve got a lot of bridges and buildings from engineers.

BB: I bet.

DC: But then we get gardens, we get gardens from master gardeners that say, “I want to make sure the soil is fertile and tended to so the plants can bloom, and I want to make sure they get all the elements and I know I have to prune them back at times in order for them to blossom, and that’s how I want to lead,” and we help them find a personal expression from their life story and from their study of the world around them that speaks to them and uniquely to them. And then we say, “Okay, how are you going to show up like that with the people with whom you live and work?” Then they do that. And we say, “The one thing you have to be able to do is you have to be able to do this with your eyes closed. It has to be so simple that you won’t miss a beat.”

DC: The comparison I make is with diets, every year, we all have diets. Gained too much weight over the holidays, I’m going to go on this diet, and we’re very excited about the new diet we’re going to be on. And about four weeks later, we say, “This is crazy, I can’t do this. It doesn’t fit into my life. It doesn’t fit into my cockamamie life.” And that’s true of most leadership work, that most everybody does, they do all this work, they become enlightened and it doesn’t fit into their cockamamie life. We said we’ve got to build a model that’s going to nest not just nicely. Going to nest perfectly into your cockamamie life. We’re going to help you downsize the things you want to do to a place where it’s crazy that you’re not doing it. And that’s what this is all about.

BB: First of all, I love that, because I think so many times we diminish the learnings and the lessons that live inside our story and look for the external stories because we think there’s nothing extraordinary enough or perfect enough or grandiose enough about our own story, that we have to sublet someone else’s story. I think unknowingly, a lot of leadership, thought leadership, does the same thing, they just supplant your story with their own story. One of the things I really connect with around this work, Doug, is how, I guess, contextualize is the right word, how… This is about you, this is about what works for you, and tell me how important developing a leadership purpose is. Can I read your leadership purpose to everyone from your book?

DC: Sure, and by the way, it’s going to be better the next time I do it. Life is moving, and we’re all growing, but this is my purpose right now. Yeah, please do.

BB: So you write: “My leadership purpose is I intend to help build high trust, high performance teams that honor people, defy the critics, and thrive in the face of adversity.”

DC: That’s my purpose, and I’m sticking to it for now, and every word in there, I intend is the concept of intentional. Help build. Help is Neil McKenna, “How can I help?” High trust is my fundamental belief that Stephen M. R. Covey is right in the subtitle of his book, Speed of Trust. It’s the one thing that changes everything.

BB: Agreed.

DC: And I am so powerfully aligned with that idea that the first thing I focus on is building high trust teams. But I don’t stop there because I’m an abundant thinker and I know I have to perform, so I do high trust, high performance teams. If you want to lead, you better perform or you’re not going to be leading very long. That’s pragmatic. So it’s high performance, that honor people is the heart of my personal leadership model, it’s the single most important thing to me, with everything I do is honoring people. And then that defy the critics is Teddy Roosevelt, my hero. Because it’s not the critic who counts who points out how the poor man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to person who’s actually in the arena.

DC: I want to be in the arena. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m in the arena and I’m in the arena with anybody that wants to come in with me. So that’s why that’s there, and I love… I find it a turn-on when people think things can’t be done. So we’re going to not only deal with adversity, we’re going to thrive with it. When we went into turn around RJR Nabisco, people thought we couldn’t. We did. When I went to Campbell Soup Company, impossible. Well, we did just fine, thank you very much. And I love that. It gets the juices flowing. I saw a quote, Stan Van Gundy from the New Orleans Pelicans. He said: “You’re useless if you’re juiceless,” and I’m not juiceless, I got a lot of juice and I’m not going to be useless.

BB: I love how every construct in that leadership purpose ties back to something very specific for you. There are no filler words. No bullshit.

DC: Well, and I’ve iterated through this a lot, and you and I are looking at each other while we’re talking this. You could tell I’m not looking at anything.

BB: No.

DC: This is who I am and this is how I show up. And one of the things I really value, we talk a lot about in the book, we talk about building trust, competence, and character. And character, the way I am, it’s what you see is what you get. And I’m increasingly one with my message. I don’t want to say that I’m there, I’m not, in fact there’s so much work to do, but I’m a lot farther along than I was.

BB: The integration piece is huge, isn’t it?

DC: Yeah. Well, and if it’s not, it can’t withstand the pressures of the day. This country went through four tsunamis in one year, right? We had the pandemic, we had the economy, we had social justice, and then we had political conflagration. That stuff’s going to continue, and it was going on before then in more subtle ways. If what you build for yourself can’t give you a strong enough foundation to persevere through those kinds of challenges, you’re going to be lost at sea, you’re going to be overwhelmed, and I hate to see that, because we all have the capacity to be well-grounded in intentional behavior that can build a better world. And that’s what this is all about.

BB: Okay, before we get to the rapid-fire questions, which I am so excited to ask you. I cannot…

DC: Well, look, we set this up a long time ago, it’ll come back to me. I’ll remember.

BB: And I mix them up for people like you who I know study ahead. Oh, no, sir.

DC: Well, yeah, but that was a long time ago when I thought I was going to be talking to you. So…

BB: That’s good. But I do want to check in with this quote from you that I just love, I’m going to print it out and hang it in my office. “What is the highest truth about leadership? People.”

DC: It’s all about people. Look, if you aspire to lead and you lead a little group, not a little group, a big group of people, I would say the number one thing you need to do is honor them. If you want them to honor your agenda as a leader of your group, you need to honor their agenda as human beings. And I think leadership, I call it sacred ground. This is sacred ground. We are affecting people’s lives with everything we do, the people with whom we live and work, the people that work for me are living and breathing my life, 24/7, I’m living and breathing theirs.

DC: I think I have to treat that with care, and I call it sacred ground, and so when I talk about what’s a single most important thing, I say, “Look, there are two pillars. When you build your leadership model, when Brené builds her model, the two things you’d better take into account are people and performance.” Ultimately, though, I say it’s all about the people. When you’re a leader, you discover that you can’t do much without Kristen on the other end of line.

BB: No.

DC: Or in anything else. You are totally dependent on them and they are totally dependent on you to really do the important work that you hunger to do. And so people are the single most important thing, it’s where you begin and where you end.

BB: Again, my 45th amen.

DC: That’s it. Full stop.

BB: Full stop, hard stop. Alright, are you ready, Doug?

DC: Sure.

BB: Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…

DC: Mission critical.

BB: 2: What is something that people often get wrong about you?

DC: They don’t feel my passion for my work. They underestimate the passion I have for my work. It’s coming through here loud and clear, but I am still a shy, reserved guy, hard to believe, and they underestimate me. They underestimate me.

BB: 3: A piece of leadership advice that you’ve been given by someone that’s so remarkable, you need to share it, or so shitty, you need to warn us…

DC: Well, I’m going to tell you a quick story, but…

BB: Please.

DC: I have something I say, and it relates to the Entourage of Excellence we talked about earlier, that as a leader, I encourage people to be tough-minded on standards of performance and tender-hearted with people, and not one or the other, both. I grew up in a Vince Lombardi kind of era where you had to be tough. That was it. You’ve got to be tough. And I saw that, you had to make tough decisions, but you didn’t need to be an asshole, you could also be kind. And in fact, I saw the best leaders were being tough-minded and tender-hearted, and I said, “I don’t want one or the other, I want both.” And so I started talking about this and I got a letter, handwritten letter, it’s somewhere, somewhere, with a book from Robert Schuller.

DC: Do you remember? He was the Minister from Cathedral City Church, he’s a silver-haired minister, he was a national… And he had written a book about tough-minded faith for tender-hearted people. And basically he said, “You stole my line.” And I said, “Oh, no, I didn’t. I think you stole my line,” and we had the little exchange where I said, “When did you first come up with this line?” But that’s the line that I encourage people to do because they want to have performance, but my leadership advice is: “Be tough-minded on standards of performance, never compromise your standards, but one of your standards needs to be consummate kindness with the people you’re traveling with.” And at times it always feels like it needs to be one or the other, and I would contend it needs to be both.

BB: I agree, 100%. Alright, what is the hard leadership lesson that the universe just keeps putting in front of you that you have to keep learning and unlearning and re-learning as you?

DC: I’ll build on what I just talked about. If I have a choice between tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people, I drift to tender-hearted, because I care so much about people and cultures, and I care a lot. Life has a way of telling me, “Doug, that’s great, I’m glad you care, but you’ve got to make a decision here, and it may be tough, but you’ve got to make it.” And so throughout my whole career, it’s making the tough decision and owning it, and making sure I’m owning it through the lens of my story and not through the lens of somebody else’s. That’s making the tough calls.

DC: And it killed me. When we eliminated 300 of the top 350 leaders at Campbell over a period of a few years, with warning, with process, in a caring way, it was killing me, but there was a greater good there, and I knew it needed to be done. And making those tough decisions, it was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I needed to keep getting reminded of that, because there was a greater good.

BB: Last thing you binged on television and loved.

DC: I don’t binge much anymore, but my wife and I and the pandemic have discovered the Acorn channel.

BB: Oh, my God, I have it too. British mystery.

DC: Oh, God, we love it. And we’ve been through all of the Frankie Drakes and all of the Brokenwood is our favorite, which takes place in New Zealand, a small town in New Zealand, and we’ve been through all of those. And we love British mysteries, and it’s sort of the way we unwind at the end of the day, we will watch TV together in our bed as we’re getting ready to go to sleep. And it’s turned out to be a wonderful little tradition that, quite frankly, is yet another, I’ve had many, but yet another silver-lining from this pandemic, because probably like you, I travel a lot, and I’ve been with my wife Leigh now, pretty much every night in the last 14 months, with the exception of maybe 10 nights, and we’ve hit a routine that’s just a wonderful way to put a pin in it at the end of the day, and it’s to watch television, and if we have a choice, it’s Acorn TV.

BB: Okay, I’m going to send you a list of all my favorite British mysteries, because I’ve got Acorn and BritBox.

DC: Well, we need a new one. We need a new one.

BB: Okay, oh, my God. I’ve got an incredible… Have you watched The Bay yet?

DC: No.

BB: That’s on BritBox. Do you BritBox and Acorn or just Acorn?

DC: No, I’m not… As you could tell, when we started this broadcast, I’m not really great with technology and we don’t have any streaming. We have streaming services next door in another cottage we have, but anyway…

BB: I’m going to send you a list.

DC: I’ll get it. We just saw it advertised today. There’s a whole thing on BritBox that we’ve got to get.

BB: I’ll send you a list. A personal question I want to know the answer to. Do you still play tennis?

DC: I can’t. I was in a near-fatal car accident a decade ago, we didn’t get into it, but it had a profound influence on me the last 10 years, and I can’t play tennis. I walk a lot.

BB: Do you walk a lot?

DC: And I am living proof that you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. As long as I keep my shirt on, you couldn’t tell. No, I can’t play anymore, but I love tennis. I just did an interview with a friend of mine, Katrina Adams, who was the first and only Black CEO of the US Tennis Association. Oh, you’ve got to get her book, it’s called Own the Arena. And she owns her story and it’s her story. And I just did an interview with her yesterday. I’m very involved in the world of tennis still, but I don’t play anymore.

BB: Okay, I’m glad they put you back together again, then you escaped my diatribe around pickle ball, because I’ve moved from tennis to… I play pickle ball now, like five days a week.

DC: I have lots of friends that are telling me, and they are probably right, that I could actually play that sport.

BB: I think you could.

DC: And I haven’t done it, so maybe on your recommendation, I’ll add it to the list of recommendations.

BB: Okay.

DC: Not to say I’ll do it, but…

BB: But you’ll think about it.

DC: I’ll think about it.

BB: What’s one thing you’re really excited about right now?

DC: I’m always looking forward to helping people find their way and thrive in the face of adversity. We talked about my purpose, and I’m doing that every day. Every day I’m talking to a group, I don’t get paid for any of this, and I take no salary with the work I do. Every day I’m trying to help people find their way. And every day, I’m having an opportunity to, so I’ve largely been like this for a long time, but now I’m fully into the pay it forward movement at this point in my life. And every day is a new adventure. Every one.

BB: Aren’t we lucky?

DC: Yeah.

BB: What’s one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now?

DC: My family. I’m about to turn 70. I’ll turn 70 on May 7th, and we’re going to all be together in Washington, DC. And my family, I’ve grown to appreciate them so much through the pandemic, and we’ve been together a lot. Basically, we all sheltered in together, they all worked remotely, and we were all together, having family dinners, which I hadn’t had with grown children. My children are soon to be 40, 37 and 34 with spouses and partners and kids. If somebody would have told me we would have been together for months at a time, every night having dinner together, said it’s never going to happen, one’s in New York, one’s in Chicago, one’s in Washington, DC, and we’re everywhere.

DC: So I’ve seen how important family is to me, and quite frankly, how much I might have missed as I was doing everything else as I was playing Don Quixote in the corporate world and tilting at windmills.

BB: Alright. We asked you for five songs you can’t live without, and we made a mini mixtape on Spotify with your picture on it for people to listen to. Your songs are: “Amazing Grace,” performed by virtually anyone; “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” a lullaby that you sang to your children at bedtime; “La Grange,” by ZZ Top, that you played for your kids when you drove them…

DC: Performed at Green Hall in the hill country outside of New Braunfels, Texas.

BB: I may have been there. I’ve seen ZZ Top at Green Hall.

DC: Yeah, my son went to high school there for a couple of years.

BB: “Old Time Rock and Roll,” by Bob Seger. I’m a huge Bob Seger fan, I love it. “Sweet Baby James,” by James Taylor, can’t go wrong. What do these five songs say about you, Doug, in one sentence?

DC: That I am so appreciative of the life I’ve been given. Amazing Grace is my favorite song, those other things, the artists were my favorite, and I have a whole set of lullabies we would sing to our kids, and I’ve got to give my wife credit, they’re all her songs, but I appropriated them, because she was with the kids all day, and I would help put them down at night, and sometimes I’d stay in at night while she went and did other things, and they became Daddy’s greatest hits, and they were all her lullabies. So with full disclosure, they’re her lullabies, but “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” was my favorite, but all of these are more artists than they were a songs. Amazing Grace is my song, and it’s the Hero’s Journey.

BB: Yeah. It is.

DC: It’s the Hero’s Journey. And that’s my journey, and I’m not claiming to be a hero, but I’m doing my damnedest to be the best version of myself I can be. So that’s what this is all about.

BB: Thank you so much for being on the Dare To Lead podcast, Doug. It was an absolute honor and pleasure.

DC: Well, thank you for having me, it’s my honor and pleasure too. I’ve been a huge fan and I’m still endeavoring to walk inside my story. Thank you for that advice. It’s changing my world.

BB: I’m grateful. Thank you.

BB: I loved this conversation. I love anyone who believes in storytelling and the power of owning our stories, walking into them, and why we can’t spend our lives taking on other people’s stories and trying to become the main character in a story that just doesn’t fit who we are. Yeah, just a great conversation, and I’m going to take his advice about thinking about my entourage, the people in my life, but I can tell you who they are and they’re just so far-flung, they’re from tiny moments to big mentors.

BB: I’m going to think about that, and I’m also going to think about what it would take for me to be a person that someone recalls when they’re thinking about the people that have shaped their lives. That’s a big, humbling question. You can find his new book that he co-authored with Amy Federman, The Blueprint, wherever you like to buy books, we’ll link to it on the episode page. You can find Doug online at @dougconant on Twitter, it’s D-O-U-G C-O-N-A-N-T on Twitter and LinkedIn, doug_conant on Instagram and conantleadership on Facebook. The website is

BB: Don’t forget that every episode of Dare To Lead and Unlocking Us has episode pages on, where we put links, downloads, and around five business days after the podcast drops, we will have full transcripts up for you as well. You can check out Spotify for the mini mixtapes from every one of our podcast guests, both podcasts, and they’re so fun to listen to, especially I love listening to them right after the podcast, because I think you get to know someone because we talk so much about their story and then you get to listen to their jams, which is I think the whole picture.

BB: Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind, own your story, walk in. I just love that advice. Alright, I’ll see y’all next time.

BB: The Dare To Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo and Andy Waits, and the music is by The Suffers.


© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, May 3). Brené with Doug Conant on Finding and Telling Your Leadership Story. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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