By Todd R. Nordstrom
The article you are about to read was originally published in Forbes.com. It’s a fantastic example of how specializing in one skill (being great at just one thing) is not always the key to success. And, for many of us, this resonates. Learn many skills. Be spectacular at none. Enjoy!
“I didn’t really have a thing—not one clear passion,” he told me. “I mean, I didn’t have a big plan. I just went to work every day and accepted every opportunity that was presented. And, somehow, that worked for me.”
These may not seem like the most inspiring words you’ll ever hear. They don’t match the narrative of most leadership books that prescribe detailed goal-setting, planning, and strategic execution. And, they certainly don’t sound like the words of any employee who earns a label like ‘extraordinary.’ But, they are. Here is why.
“I was a master of none,” he continued. “And, I believe a lot of people are exactly like me.”
He is correct. If you had the chance, as I recently did, to have a conversation with Clifford Hudson, former CEO of Sonic restaurants, you might be shocked at his calming demeanor. You might, as I did, be a bit surprised by just how seemingly ‘normal’ the former head of a company—which oversaw more than 3500 restaurant locations—is in an everyday conversation.
“I lived a pretty average life as a kid,” Hudson told me. “At eleven-years-old my family moved to a small town in Oklahoma. I never thought too much about big business. I never thought too much about pursuing one passion—mainly because I was kind of a well-rounded kid. I liked sports. I liked music. I was pretty good academically. But, I wasn’t a standout in any situation.”
Listening to Hudson tell me his story made me realize something profound. He wasn’t a child prodigy. He wasn’t an outlier who developed a strange talent. And, his success wasn’t achieved by some mystical spark of unencumbered brilliance. Instead, he’s very much like most of us—remarkably average. But, that’s why Clifford Hudson is brilliant—he realized ‘extraordinary’ isn’t about who we are, but instead, it’s what we choose to do.
“I found success by saying yes to every opportunity,” he told me. “I may have been over-my-head in some of the opportunities. But, I was willing.”
Hudson retired as CEO from Sonic in 2018 after 35 years with the company. He recently released a memoir about his experience with the organization, and his life, titled Master of None: How-a-Jack-of-all-Trades Can Still Reach the Top in which he challenges established thinking on success.
“Too many of us—regardless of where we are in our careers—believe we need to choose an extraordinary path or have a unique skill set. That mindset can be limiting. If you want to be successful, open your mind to realize you can become anything you do.”
Okay, these words grabbed my attention. Remember, they’re coming from a guy who worked for one company for 35 years. He started as general counsel. He then moved into roles as CFO and COO, and finally became CEO. And, Hudson ran Sonic for 23 years—growing the company from $800 Million to $4.5 Billion.
Curious after our conversation, I started thinking about other CEOs of highly successful companies. Would their advice be similar? Is success less about who we are, and more about what we do? Can we—the remarkably average people of the world—truly become extraordinary?
Interestingly, all of the CEOs mentioned above, including Hudson, never mentioned skillsets, intellect, or experience when it comes to being extraordinary. In fact, everything they mentioned was focused on attitude.
“I wrote Master of None because I saw how many people were like me,” Hudson added. “What makes each of us, and our personal stories, extraordinary is how we choose to spend our time.”
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