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Four L.E.A.F. Growth: Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, And Fulfillment With Mark Mears

In Celtic cultures, the druids associated the number four with powerful forces in nature, believing that a four-leaf clover possessed magical properties to bring good fortune. But today’s guest found a fig tree’s leaf, leading him to an epiphany, which turned into the Four L.E.A.F. Growth. Mark Mears is the author of The Purposeful Growth Revolution, a book that will help individuals, teams, and organizations find purpose, fulfill their true growth potential, and leave a living legacy. Enhance your personal and professional growth as an individual and as a part of a team or organization. Tune in to discover how you can make a positive and lasting impact on the world!

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Four L.E.A.F. Growth: Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, And Fulfillment With Mark Mears

Author Of The Purposeful Growth Revolution: 4 Ways To Grow From Leader To Legacy Builder

This is the show which is brought to you by PathWise is dedicated to helping you be the best professional you can be, providing a mix of career and leadership coaching, courses, content, and community. Basic membership is free, so visit PathWise and join. My guest is Mark Mears, a visionary business leader with a track record of building stakeholder value by driving innovation and profitable growth.

During his 30-plus year career serving in a variety of executive marketing and leadership positions spanning both ad agencies and brands, he has gained a unique and well-rounded perspective while working for or with brands such as PepsiCo/Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, JCPenney, NBC/Universal, and the Cheesecake Factory.

Among others, his personal experiences, along with the best practice observations of others, led him to start L.E.A.F. Growth Ventures to apply a proven model that helps maximize the full growth potential of individuals, teams, and brands. It is founded on four L.E.A.F. Growth processes, Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, and Fulfillment. This framework forms the basis of a book he has written called The Purposeful Growth Revolution: Four Ways to Grow From Leader to Legacy Builder.

On a volunteer basis, Mark is involved with Conscious Capitalism, a global organization whose mission aligns with his own, elevating humanity through business. He also serves on several nonprofit boards with a heart for helping people grow into their full potential. He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University. He lives in Kansas City.


Mark, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Let’s dive in. Let’s start by talking about growth. You describe yourself as a growth junkie. Why are you so passionate about growth, and in what context?

There’s a great quote. It’s by Phil Knight who says either you grow or you die. We are always meant to continue to grow and, I believe, to grow up into our purpose, which we’ll talk a little bit about. To answer your question, I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek and his whole Start with Why movement he created years ago based on a famous TED Talk that has become a thing, but he got something fundamentally wrong. Instead of starting with why, I believe we should start with who, specifically who we serve. That leads you to your why.

Instead of starting with why, we should start with who, and specifically who we serve. That leads you to your why. Click To Tweet

If you think about a four-circle Venn diagram, there are four realms of services as I see it. They are spiritual, relational, personal, and professional. Those are the areas that I want to grow into my purpose. In that four-circle Venn diagram, the epicenter is purposeful growth. If I’m growing purposefully in each of those four areas, spiritually, relationally, professionally, and personally, I’m a whole person, not just an employee who’s punching in, punching out, and drawing a paycheck maybe every other week. I’m a whole person at work like I’m a whole person at home.

By looking at growth in each of those four realms of service gets you to this whole idea that, at the end of the day, it’s about service and humility. Humility is, “I don’t know everything.” As a matter of fact, sometimes, I don’t even know what I don’t know. I want to grow and learn, but I want to do so not just for my own benefit, but to be in service to others within each of those four realms.

Certainly putting the two together, purpose and growth, gives you a force multiplier or an effect on either of those things individually. Your point about starting with who rather than starting with why gives you a bit more direction in terms of, to your point, who you’re trying to serve. This is the basis of your book, The Purposeful Growth Revolution: Four Ways to Grow from a Leader to Legacy Builder. Give us an overview of the book and what prompted you to write it.

There’s a whole nature metaphor that revolves around the L.E.A.F. I got this epiphany years ago when I was the president of a division of a publicly traded company. It was a casual dining restaurant chain with about 145 locations and about $500 million in revenue. I’ve been recruited from the Cheesecake Factory where I served as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer to take on this role of President and Chief Concept Officer.

It was all about turning the brand around from double-digit negative sales and declines over a couple of years period and putting a new brand positioning out there that could create a more youthful and more contemporary view of the brand with a new menu. It was also to create a new concept that the parent company could pump capital into for it to be a growth engine within their enterprise. All that sounded very good. I go there and build a team.

This is in Southern California. That may mean something to you in a minute, but we turn the brand around from double-digit negative sales to positive growth. We created a brand new positioning that was very contemporary and much more youthful in the way people wanted to dine. It is experiential. We created a new concept that we put a test market in place that earned its right for capital. The return on invested capital pro forma was beaten by several months.

We’d done everything we could do. Instead of them giving us the capital to grow, I got a call from the executive assistant to the CEO. She said, “He’s going to be in your area. Can you guys meet?” I was like, “What’s all this about?” We meet and he says, “The board’s decided to move in a different direction. We’ve decided to put the brand up for sale or seek strategic alternatives. Don’t worry. You’re going to lead the process. If someone buys us, then you and your team will most likely stay because you’ll be the reason for that sale to go through. If no one does or not to the terms that we’re looking for, then nothing changes.”

We go through this whole process and find a strategic play, not a private equity firm, which we were all dreading. We find a strategic play that we feel would be our rightful owner or our rightful parent that could give us the pathway for growth, which is everything I was looking for when I left the Cheesecake Factory. The deal closed on a Friday. After months of courtship, finally, the deal closes. On Monday at 8:00, I’m supposed to go in and talk to the CEO about our new plans together. At 8:00, I go in, and at 8:05, I’m out the door. They decided to move in a different direction. It was the second time I’ve heard that after all that we put into it.

Living in southern California, I drive home. This is February 21st, 2013. I go out after a fitful night of sleep to take the dog out. We have a fig tree in our backyard that’s barren from the 6 or 7 weeks of winter we do get in Southern California. As God as my witness, as the sun was coming up over the wall we had in our backyard, it was shown on that barren fig tree. There on the end of one branch was this tiny little green sprig, a leaf, starting to bud. It was there. I got this epiphany that a leaf is a symbol of growth and rebirth. I took the dog inside, went into my office, and started my computer, banging out a treatment for L.E.A.F. as a symbol of growth and rebirth but also what it was was an acronym.

When I was leading that brand, I believed in the rule of threes. If you focus on three things, you’ll do three things really well. That will focus the team, your productivity, your energy, your labor, and everything about three things. My three things were Leadership, Engagement, and Accountability. Those are three things we’re going to have to do to achieve these broad-based goals. I used it each week in recognition, reward ceremonies, and emails. Back then, we had broadcast voicemails. It became a thing. They were like, “It’s Mark’s thing. We’re all going to be aligned with it. Leadership, Engagement, and Accountability.”

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Mark Mears | Purposeful Growth

Mark Mears: The rule of three states that if you focus on three things, you’ll do three things really well.


As I was starting to work on this treatment, I got to thinking, “Maybe there’s a higher power of fours because there’s something missing here.” We did everything we were asked to do and the rug was pulled out from underneath this. I thought, “Maybe there’s an F for Fulfillment.” We were burning the candle at both ends. We were chasing numbers for the sake of numbers. We were tired, but it was a good kind of tired because we were all aligned to do something noble and grand that we could all be proud of.

We did all that and we didn’t feel fulfilled because not only was I given the door, my whole team was, and then they ended up moving the office from Southern California. Everything they said they wouldn’t do, they did. I got this thinking, “It’s not just a leaf as a symbol of growth and rebirth.” We learned from high school or junior high science that all growth in a plant or a tree comes through the leaf or through the magic of photosynthesis.

I got to thinking Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, and Fulfillment is an acronym for L.E.A.F. In that four-circle Venn diagram, purposeful growth is at the epicenter. Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, and Fulfillment are all four interwoven processes revolving around purposeful growth that will help an individual, a team, or a brand find purpose in fulfilling their true growth potential.

That fig tree in my backyard only knows how to be a fig tree. Its purpose is to grow into the best fig tree it can be and grow fig leaves that will ultimately bear fig fruit. Fig fruit is not only sustenance for people, animals, etc. but inside, there are seeds that can be scattered for future growth. That’s where this concept came from. It’s really an intersection, if you will, between personal and professional growth. In doing so, it helps make the world a better place, which is where this idea comes about creating a living legacy. It is not waiting until you’re dead and you think something of value to others after you’re gone.

I don’t care whether it is man, woman, gender, race, color, or creed. It doesn’t matter. The great equalizer is we all have 24 hours in a day. How do we use those 24 hours to not only be a better leader of those we serve but how do we become legacy builders to where we’re able to inspire others to replicate that? You’re creating a ripple effect or a virtuous cycle of reciprocity to help make the world a better place. That’s really what I’m here to do. I created a purpose statement a few years back which said, “I don’t want to just make money and retire. I want to make a difference and inspire.” That means making a difference in the lives of others but inspiring them to want to do likewise. That’s where this idea of creating a living legacy comes from.

We all have 24 hours in a day. How do we use those 24 hours to not only be a better leader of those we serve but also become legacy builders to the point where we're able to inspire others to replicate that? Click To Tweet

Clearly, you’re a marketing person. I like your purpose statement. It’s catchy. The nature metaphor is certainly apparent in the book. On the book cover, you call it a revolution. Why do you see it as a revolution?

It is because COVID really gave us all a bit of a timeout. Let’s be honest. We were sheltered in place. It sounds like you moved from your core house to your vacation house. Life changed for all of us. We were fearful of the unknown because nothing like this had ever happened before in our lifetimes. It got us thinking about not only what but who matters most in our lives. Maybe we got COVID ourselves. Maybe we had a family member get hospitalized, or God forbid someone we know or love died as a result.

When things came back to “normal”, we all swore that we were going to live life differently. We’ve seen up close and personal that we’re mortal and that tomorrow is not promised to any one of us. While that may have been going on internally, it was the Sloan School of Management at MIT that did this massive study of 34 million people who left the workforce during COVID and asked them a simple question of why.

The number 1 answer over 10 times more than the 2nd most given answer was the toxic work environment. It is the old broadcast news line where you’re hanging out the window, “I’m mad as hell. I’m not going to take it anymore.” Compensation didn’t come up until number 16 on their list. It was like, “I have been accepting an unsatisfying status quo and I’m no longer willing to do so. I’m going to make some changes in my life. I’m going to make some changes in my work.”

Why it’s a revolution is the word revolution has three definitions that I’ve found. One is an uprising of the people. We think about the French Revolution or the American Revolution. Most of those happen from the ground up or from the people. I think about the workplace. We’re in a new world to work. We’re at historic low levels of unemployment. It’s difficult to find and keep good people. They’re leaving toxic work environments and going to where they feel cared for. They feel like they matter.

According to Gallup which does a State of the Global Workplace study every year, they said engagement is at historic low levels. The reasons they are citing are lack of clarity of expectations, lack of connection to the mission or purpose of a company, lack of opportunities to learn and grow, lack of opportunities to do what we do best, and then the kicker is lack of feeling cared about at work.

This revolution is going on as an uprising of the people. That’s the first definition. The second is a dramatic change in the status quo. Do you think we’ve had a little change in the status quo as a result of COVID with people working remotely or hybrid or some form in between? We survived on Zoom or whatever your digital platform may be over a couple of years period. We were disconnected from the human touch. There was a lot of disruption.

Finally, the last definition is a circular object orbiting another. That object that we’re circling is ourselves and our purpose. We see that we want purpose in work. We don’t want to wait until we’re asleep for a 1/3, we’re awake for a 1/3, and we work for a 1/3. In only the 1/3 that we’re awake, we want to feel purposeful. We want to combine the two, and the research supports that.

It’s a revolution for managers. For those of us who went to business school, let’s be honest, we learned how to be managers. We manage people, budgets, results, deadlines, and performance metrics. That’s good. We have to. We are finding that leaders who are more humanistic are becoming better leaders. That’s great because that’s what people want. They want someone who they can follow. They want someone who they can trust. They want someone who can look out for them as a team member, not an employee, a worker, a staffer, or God forbid an FTE, but as a human being.

Leaders who are more humanistic are better leaders. Click To Tweet

I’m on this mission, if you will, to put the human back in human resources. With all this work on AI, augmented reality, and big data, more than ever, we need to remember that, at the end of the day, it’s human beings. This is until the robots or zombies come and take us away. It’s our humanness that will prevail and make us more productive, more valuable, more satisfied, and more fulfilled. That is the construct upon which the purposeful growth revolution is founded and it is where the puck is going.

Leaders, formally managers, need to learn how to now be legacy builders. That’s the next level. To do that, to put the human back in resources, all we need is LOVE. That stands for Listen, Observe, Value, and Empower. Listen to what your team member says and also what they’re not saying. All of us are whole people. We may have things going on in our lives that we can’t not bring into the workplace because we’re human beings. That may impact our performance. If a leader is listening to their team members and asking good questions to probe and build a relationship based on trust, that’s the first step.

The second is Observe. Observe, coach, and encourage in real time. Don’t wait for the dreaded annual performance appraisal that no one likes and no one does well, but do it in real time. The third is Value. Value the whole person and give them opportunities to grow. Finally, Empower. To allow them to grow, you’ve got to give them opportunities and step back.

Remember how we all learned how to ride a bike? If you’re like me, I had a trike and others had a big wheel. They got started with the idea. We got a bike, but it had training wheels because we weren’t really ready yet. We practiced that. I remember the day that my dad on the sidewalk said, “We’re taking the training wheels off and I’m going to push you down here. I’m going to stay with you, and then I’m going to let you go.” He did and then I wobbled and fell a few times. He got me back up and said, “You did great. Keep going.”

I remember that feeling of freedom and accomplishment when I finally could pedal on my own. My whole world opened up to me as to places I could go where I could walk. That sense of empowerment would be so fulfilling for us in the workplace. You wouldn’t have a lack of engagement. You wouldn’t have quiet quitting. You would have people going, “I love my job. I love who I work with. I love who I work for because I know they love me.”

In that sense, Listen, Observe, Value, and Empower. That’s great leadership, people would say. No. If you’re doing it in a way that you’re planting seeds in someone that they go and do likewise, you’re becoming a living legacy builder. That, to me, is what it’s all about in this new world of work. The genie is not going back into the bottle.

You’ve been in the work world for 30-plus years. I’ve been in the work world for 30-plus years. I feel like the definition of leadership or perceptions of what good leadership is and what bad leadership is have changed a lot over the years. The Gallup survey results, at best, have been flat. They probably took a dip during COVID time when everybody probably worked harder and greater than they normally would be.

The reality is we’ve tried all these things. We’ve sent more than a generation of people to business school. We’ve done all this leadership development training, and yet, we have this situation where engagement, in particular, doesn’t really move. It hasn’t improved. To me, that’s one of, in some ways, the great tragedies of our work world but also one of the paradoxes.

I feel like leadership capabilities have developed in the last generation since I was fresh out of college starting in the workforce, which in my case, the Military. Yet, we don’t seem to necessarily have moved the needle in terms of engagement. Why do you think that is? Is it about the lack of planting seeds and lack of thinking about legacy or is there something more to it than that?

First of all, thank you for your service. Being in the Military, I never had the honor, but I have really good friends who’ve taught me so many different lessons and told me so many different stories about what it was like. The key is you probably know a lot better than most of us about what command and control means within a Military context. It’s not, “We may not make our numbers this quarter.” It may be, “We might have people die on our watch.” You have to follow the leader, so to speak, and command and control was the way to do that.

It started from the G.I.s coming back from World War II, getting into business, and saying, “That’s the way we did it in the Military. That’s the way we’re going to do it.” That’s been the favored management style, not leadership style for several years. We revere iconic managers such as Jack Welch at GE, or if you’re like me and are old enough to remember Lee Iacocca who turned around Chrysler in the mid-’80s, or even Steven Jobs who created arguably one of the most valuable companies in the world in Apple. I’m not sure their style would work with the way younger people want to work and want to be treated.

In our day, we thought that’s the way things were. We accepted it as the sacrifice and cost of doing business and climbing the ladder in your career. You salute and execute. I did, and I learned that I had some wonderful mentors who did it differently. I said, “What’s different about them? Why do I want to run through a brick wall for them?” It is because they were true leaders. They were inspiring. They didn’t say, “Do this because I said so,” or, “Do this because this is what the order of magnitude of stripes on your shirt says you should do.” It was, “I want you to do this because it’s the right thing to do and I want you to want to do this.”

I remember David Novak who was my leader, and I don’t use the word boss unless someone really is a boss, at Pizza Hut when I was young in my career. He was the head of marketing. I reported to another gentleman, but next up was him. It was the inspiration he gave everybody of, “This is how to accomplish our goals, why it’s important, and why it’s important for you to be part of this team.” It created this sense of duty in a different way. He was like, “It is not duty because you have to but duty because you get to. If you do, look at what we will all do and win together as a team. I saw that it could be done differently.”

I had another person who was a boss, and I saw that command and control style, that micromanagement style, and that gotcha style of, “I want to keep you in your place because I’m here and you’re here.” I didn’t like that. I learned throughout my 30-some-year career what I liked and what I didn’t like. I accepted and built upon what I liked and got rid of what I didn’t like, so I have a different perspective. That’s why I wrote this book. It is because I want to, like a sponge, picket all of my experiences and observations from those I admire, a curation of research in subject matter experts who can go deeper and wider than I can go, and create this new model for purposeful growth.

I’ll use the statistics that I use in the book. There’s a group called the Science of Purpose. The summation of their thesis is that individuals with a connection to their purpose experience a 63% increase in wealth, leadership, effectiveness, and fulfillment. They learn twice as much, are four times more engaged, and are 175% more productive. That’s almost two people worth. That’s individual.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Mark Mears | Purposeful Growth

Mark Mears: Individuals with a connection to their purpose experience a 63% increase in leadership and fulfillment. They learn twice as much, are four times more engaged, and are 175% more productive.


The case for purposeful growth within companies is that those who have a connection to their purpose experience higher margins. As purposeful firms are 30% more innovative, 73% of their customers will switch to higher-purpose brands and pay more. They experience higher levels of retention and tenure, which is what we’re talking about with engagement, and 54% more fulfilling work relationships, which we know Gallup says is an indicator of higher and deeper levels of engagement.

The statistics suggest, not Mark Mears suggests, that people want purpose at work and more purposeful companies are more profitable. It’s not either or. It’s purpose and profit. That’s really the case to be made. This isn’t a bunch of namby-pamby, tree-hugging, sea-loving, do-gooders. This is real money. These are real lives being changed not only within the team members of the company but within the communities and indeed the world in many cases.

It is business as a source of good. That’s why I also joined Conscious Capitalism Inc. whose mission aligns very closely with my own, which is elevating humanity through business. Governments haven’t proven effective at getting up to the world’s major issues. Nonprofits and religious organizations can only do so much. I believe businesses have the resources, the reach, and the potential to fulfill their financial obligations, but also in doing so, leave a positive lasting legacy of purpose that will impact the world for years to come.

Taking your point that you made earlier that it’s important to figure out who you’re serving relative to Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, this is why that TED Talk and the work he’s done on that topic more generally resonated so much with people. You have two bosses. I’ll use the word boss intentionally. Who would you rather work for? The one who says, “Do it because I’m the boss and I told you,” or, “Do it because here’s why this matters.”

The second one is giving you purpose. This generation of kids who are coming into the workforce, Gen Z, the Millennials ahead of them, and even the Gen X generation that I’m part of, we all saw our parents. The social contract that existed back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s after all those G.I.s came back from World War II is a completely different social contract. You don’t have a job for life. You don’t have a pension. All those things are gone. It has changed dramatically. It has turned a very paternalistic work world into a much more of a, “You have to take care of yourself,” work world.

We’ve made it increasingly a world of free agency. We all move more freely among jobs than we used to. You’ve got more people in the gig economy not participating in a traditional corporate one-job kind of situation. That trend continues. It has been enabled by technology. We proved you can find opportunities through matching platforms. You can work, at least part of the time, remotely in a lot of industries.

This part I would agree with what you said earlier. That’s the revolution. It certainly happened. It makes the whole premise of this is a two-way street much more so than it used to be. If you’re a leader or a company and you don’t really get that, you’re going to struggle to keep the people that you want to keep because they’re going to go find someplace else to work.

That’s what’s going on. I talk to a lot of people. They say, “All this sounds good, but in my organization, I can’t imagine our C-Suite getting behind what you’re talking about. It’s not the way it’s been.” Having been in the C-suite for over twenty years, I get it. There’s a lot of protectionism. It is like, “I worked really hard to get here. I’m not going to let someone tell me that my style or whatever is wrong. I can’t admit it because then I’ll look weak.” It’s real.

Here’s what’s going to happen. To your point, We know that labor is either the number 1 or number 2 item line item on anyone’s P&L depending on your industry. The cost of replacing, identifying, hiring, training, recognizing, rewarding, and retaining team members is going up as salaries are going up. Inflation and trying to hold on to good people have created this escalating effect. If you then look at this, study it, and say, “People are our greatest assets. Our people are this,” and you don’t treat them that way, they’re going to go elsewhere and you’re going to have a real problem.

In my experience, tenured teams are the most profitable. It sounds obvious because they probably work closer together and longer together. They have an ownership and a stake in the outcome. They are more empowered because they’ve been around longer. They don’t need as much oversight. That’s what you want to build. In any organization, the wake-up call will come when the numbers aren’t there. If you’re publicly traded, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re privately owned, there are a couple of places you can hide for a while but not forever. Managers are going to have to learn how to be leaders, and leaders are going to have to learn how to be legacy builders. That’s the way to perpetuate growth in any enterprise regardless of what industry you may be in.

We talked a bit about leadership. We talked a bit about engagement. Let’s get to the A part of your L.E.A.F. framework, which is Accountabilities. Accountability can mean a lot of different things. How do you think about it, and in what context do leaders need to both demonstrate and expect accountability?

If you think about the L.E.A.F. model, the L in L.E.A.F. stands for Leadership. There are four Cs, Clarity, Connection, Communication, and Commitment that all lead to alignment. Engagement is the trunk in the branches of that particular tree. If Leadership is the seed and the root system, which you have to have a strong root system as a foundation for growth, you have to have the trunk, the branches, and the system of nourishment, which is called Saviat. Translated from Spanish to English, that means lifeblood. What’s the lifeblood of any organization? It’s people. That’s where Engagement means engaging your heart, head, hands, and habits that lead to empowerment.

The lifeblood of any organization is its people. Click To Tweet

We get to accountability, which is the leaf and fruit. That’s the result of that fig tree in my backyard. It only knows how to be a fig tree. It’s judged on how it grows strong and tall and bears fig fruit based on the growth of its leaves. That means outcomes, measuring what matters most. It means obstacles. What happens when you run into a problem or an issue like COVID? Maybe you’re off plan after the first quarter, how do you get back on? What are the obstacles that you need to clear to get back on the growth path?

It is then outliers. Who can we study who has best practices we can learn from as to how we can do what we do to the best of our ability? That’s great except that you have obsolescence which you want to avoid through innovation and creating future growth initiatives. Accountability isn’t just about the numbers. It’s about what you do with them, how you learn from others, and how you put a process in place not randomly but intentionally. What’s your process for innovation and growth? How do you look beyond this quarter-to-quarter treadmill and invest in future growth? That leads to achievement.

Finally, Fulfillment is all about people, places, processes, and performance, which is that fertile environment where growth can occur. If you think about an environment, we talk about culture a lot. I believe words matter, and you’ll get that throughout the book. We talk a lot about culture. It’s not a bad word. I use it in the book. I’ve since learned a better word is community. A culture may be a place we feel like we are a part of. It’s not bad, but a community is a place where we feel like we belong. Do you see the difference?

Think about DEI. Diversity gets us in the door. Equity gives us an equal voice that’s good. Inclusion gets us a seat at the table better yet. If we don’t feel like we belong, then we are likely not going to be vulnerable enough to give our very best. We may not want to rock the boat. It’s like Hamilton. We are happy to be in a room where it happens. That’s the whole L.E.A.F. framework.

Going back to accountability, everybody wants to learn how to be a better leader. Why do I know that? If you Google the word leader or leadership, you get seven point whatever billion hits. It’s a billion-dollar industry. Webinars, seminars, blogs, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, etc., where people want to learn how to be better leaders. There are books too. You think about this idea of engagement. We talked about that. It’s important. Whether people think it’s a buzzword or not, it’s not. It’s real. It is something that leads directly to profitability. That’s where you get to accountability.

With this idea of accountability, people are like, “Now it’s time to go to lunch. I don’t want to talk about that.” You have to. If you’re in business, you’re in business to make a profit on top of making your community better, etc. You’re there to make a profit by drilling down into the outcomes, like, “What are we trying to achieve?” It is not the lag measures, which is sales or profit. It’s the lead measures.

It is, “What do we need to do to get there? How do we measure it? How do we be transparent? How do we communicate it so everybody understands the scorecard and they know their role in it?” Obstacles are like, “What are we going to do to be agile?” If there’s a government regulation that gets passed, that may hurt. Maybe there’s a global pandemic. Maybe there’s some kind of lawsuit or patent infringement. You’ve got to find a way to get back on track to fulfill your growth objectives.

The outliers is, “We have a business model. How can we learn from others and do it better?” The best story I heard about that was Southwest Airlines. When they were growing, they had this hub and spoke system, right? They started out in Texas and grew because they had a short-haul mentality. They didn’t fly long at that point. They couldn’t study American, Delta, or United because they had different business models. Who did they study?

I learned that they went to Charlotte, North Carolina, and studied NASCAR. NASCAR was all about getting people into the pit and out as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. For that business model for Southwest to work, they had to get the planes into the gate, in service, the people off and the new people on safely, and take off again for that business model to work. That is a great example of how best practices can be right under your nose through your team members who are already in the workplace. It could be within your competitive set. It could be outside of your competitive set. It can even be outside of your industry like Southwest and NASCAR.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Mark Mears | Purposeful Growth

Mark Mears: The best practices you’re looking for can be right under your nose through your team members who are already in the workplace.


Finally, this idea of innovation is obsolescence. What is at rest? Where’s Kodak? Where is Nokia? Where’s Blackberry? That could go on and on. Where is Circuit City? These are formerly high-flying brands that were leaders in their category that are obsolete. Where are they? I don’t know how many are still around, and if they are, what their stock might be trading at if they didn’t see around the corner and put processes in place.

Blockbuster Video saw this coming but decided to keep the real estate strategy and not go into a digital world. Netflix is here. Blockbuster is not. All of that leads to this overall idea of achievement, but it’s not one of those things like that four-circle Venn diagram of outcomes, obstacles, outliers, and obsolescence. All revolving around purposeful growth is what I call the purposeful accountability revolution within the greater purposeful growth revolution.

We’ve covered the four aspects of L.E.A.F., Leadership, Engagement, Accountability, and Fulfillment. The Fulfillment section or the latter part of the book about the idea of emphasizing we over me, does that go back to this idea of community versus culture or is there more to it than that for you?

Yeah. I remember back as a young exec growing up that it was about me. I’m being honest. It was about, “I got promoted so there are higher expectations for me. Now I’ve got a team. What can they do to help me achieve my objectives?” It didn’t come across in an autocratic or narcissistic way. That’s the way it was. As I got older, more mature, and really had these good mentors who walked alongside me and showed me there was a different way, I realized it is all about we.

I have this last chapter about going from me go to we growth. That’s how we grow together. That’s really what it’s all about. It is flipping the script through humility and service and saying, “As a leader, indeed a legacy builder, I’m here to support you, my team members. It’s not about you’re here to support me. I’m here to support you. If I demonstrate LOVE by Listening, Observing, Valuing, and Empowering you, now we flip the script to where we will grow together because you are going to want to run through a brick wall as I did for David Novak years ago.”

It reminded me of that African proverb. It is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

You’re dead on. That’s true. Some of us have hard heads. Sometimes, it takes us a little longer to understand the importance of certain concepts. Thankfully, I believe I caught it years ago and I’m able to write and talk about it because I’ve seen it work. It wasn’t like I woke up yesterday and had this epiphany. It was years of cultivating a different leadership style and then thinking about it from more of a legacy perspective about, “I know how I felt when I had good mentors.” They impacted me. Some of them didn’t even know they did until I told them years later and they’re in the back of my book in the acknowledgments.

I want to make sure that people, your audience, understand that 24 hours is a great equalizer. We all have the power to go and move from manager to leader but also take the next step and create a living legacy that one day, when all is said and done, you’re going to feel a sense of deep fulfillment that you have fulfilled your purpose. That is going to be a great feeling.

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Talk about the work that you do in your company, L.E.A.F. Growth Ventures. Do you tend to work with individuals? Do you work more with companies? Is it a mix of both?

It’s a mix of both. There are four ways to grow with me because I believe in the higher power of fours. There are four chambers in the human heart. There are 4 seasons, not 3. There are 4 directions, not 3. There are 4 elements to an atom, the source of life, not 3. I can go on and on with this foreplay, but you get the idea. 4 Ways to Grow is the book. It’s available on Amazon. I finished my last recording session. In January 2024, it will come out on audiobook. The second is speaking. I do keynote speeches. They’re keynotes. They could be workshops, etc., but also business consulting. I’ll consult with everyone from C-level management to middle management as well as individual coaching for those who may want something more individual and more personal.

I’m also working on this online platform that will help people learn how to build their own purposeful growth plans. It’s founded upon a purposeful growth self-assessment you can find on my website, which is Right there on the homepage, you can click on a link that will take you to your own purposeful growth self-assessment. It takes about 5 or 6 minutes. When you’re done, you can immediately download a PDF of your customized results. You can see where you stand on this whole concept of purposeful growth.

Also, you can see how aligned your company is within these certain areas. You can see whether there is a fit or some sort of disconnect and whether that can disconnect and be resolved. Maybe you might have to look at moving somewhere else to feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment at work as you want to have in your life. There are a variety of different ways we can work together. I would love for your audience to link in with me. I do a monthly newsletter. They could subscribe to as well as connect with me. We’ll start a dialogue and see if this is something that they’re interested in learning more about.

What prompted you to make the switch to this after years of working for ad agencies and brand-based companies, particularly in the restaurant industry?

It’s an idea that’s been chasing me since that epiphany that I got in my backyard with that big tree. I really feel like this is a calling. I’ve been called to do this. It’s no secret how I arrived at my purpose statement. I don’t want to just make money and retire. I want to make a difference and inspire. It would be criminal if I went to my grave and said, “I got mine,” and not give it back in some way. I call it paying it backward.

Most people are like, “I know you like words, but what do you mean by that?” I say pay it backward, and you’ll read this in the book, because when I go to Starbucks, I go through the drive-through and I will pay for the car behind me. When I go to the window, I’ll tell the barista, “I’m paying for the car behind me, but I want you to do one thing.” They’ll say, “What’s that?” I say, “Tell them, “God bless you. Your debt has been paid.” I’ll then drive off and say a silent prayer for that person.

I don’t know them. They don’t know me. I don’t know what kind of day they’re having or what they may be going through in their life, but I have to believe that at that moment, they feel blessed knowing that someone cares about them. To have that saying, “God bless you. your debt has been paid,” takes it to a new level. not only did that person maybe feel blessed, but it’s the law of reciprocity. It is where if someone does something nice for you, according to the law, you feel a deep sense of responsibility even to maybe do something nice for someone else and oftentimes in greater measure.

I’ve been told that a simple yet intentional, not random, act of kindness creates a ripple effect as cars down the line pay for each other. You’ve exponentially created from that one not random but intentional act of kindness, because I do it every time, that’s going to enrich and bless more people’s lives. Don’t you think that barista would tell the people, “Look what happened.” Don’t you think the people in the cars would tell others, “Look what happened.”

That’s really the idea of paying it backward and why I feel like my purpose is not to have had all these great experiences, made some money, built some relationships, go play golf, and not worry about riding off into the sunset. I don’t want to do that. I want to make a difference and inspire. I’m hoping that our talk will not only make a difference in some of the lives of your audience but inspire them to want to carry this message forward as they pay it backward in their life. The reason I say pay it backward is because I can’t pay it forward. The car in front of me has already driven off.

Also, you create ripple effects. You talked earlier about the notion of the fig having seeds. The seeds become the next generation of fig trees. Leaders plant seeds and create the next generation of leaders. That ripple effect tends to grow over time if it truly plays out its potential as a ripple effect. Over time, you hope that that impact grows.

I was thinking as you were talking about that story about the woman. She started with a paperclip. She got somebody to trade a paperclip for something else and then she traded that for something else or something a little bit bigger. Ultimately, she traded a paperclip through a series of 30 trades for a house. Everybody felt like they were giving a little.

It wasn’t like she went and said, “I have a paperclip. I want your house.” She did it through a series of things that all felt incremental to the people that she was trading with at the time enough that they were willing to give. Over time, those gifts became bigger because she started with more from each of the prior exercises of bartering. It’s fascinating that somebody was able to do this in real life. This isn’t a biblical parable or anything like that. This is something that happened in the modern world. It speaks to the power of those gestures of kindness, whether you call it paying forward or paying backward, that can have an impact long after your own.

I’m glad you mentioned that. The parable of the talents in the Bible is one of my daughter’s favorite stories I would tell them at bedtime. They love the idea that all of us are given different gifts, but it’s not about looking at other people. It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I don’t know how many talents I was given, but all I want to do is multiply them.” At the end of the day, I hear, “Well done thy good and faithful servant. Come enter into the joy of your master.”

That paperclip example is a perfect one. I’ll bet you there are thousands of entrepreneurs who could say, “I started with an idea. I was losing. I was burning cash until I got something going, and then this led to this. I bought this and added this.” They may be wildly successful, but they didn’t wake up the next day and be wildly successful. They go through a period of trials and tribulations or what I call FUDD in my book. It is a chapter that says Get the FUDD Out.

FUD is another acronym. You can tell I like acronyms. They create mind handles that you can grab onto. It stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, and Delay. The fear of Failure or, “What will they think?” The uncertainty of risking what I have which may even be an unsatisfying status quo for what I feel called to do. The doubts are background voices that, like wet cement, begin to harden when we start to listen and believe them. They say, “You’re not good enough. Isn’t success for other people? Who wants to hear from you?” All that leads to delay. Who wants to deal with all that? We’ll give ourselves a shot of dopamine to feel good in the moment. We’ll cover that later.

Many people don’t grow to their full potential because they let FUDD plow them. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, and Delay can be overcome with faith. Faith can overcome fear. Hope can overcome uncertainty. Belief can overcome doubt. Indeed purposeful action can overcome the paralysis of delay. That’s why I feel called to do this. I’ve gone through it myself.

I mentioned to you that the epiphany hit me several years ago and I got this book done in 2022. I’d been working on it off and on. I didn’t know I was ever going to really write a book. It was a cathartic hobby while waiting for my next opportunity that then became something I would do on vacation or a long weekend. I would put it down, go back, and take another C-level job. They’d come back and say, “I got something here but my FUDD got in the way.” I didn’t act on it. I have, and I know it works.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Mark Mears | Purposeful Growth

I had faith to conquer my fears. The hope I have in my eternal future and the belief I have in not only my higher power but myself was given to me through the gifts that have been imbued in me since I was born and that I’ve tried my best to cultivate over time. It was then taking action and finally saying, “I’m done with the W-2 world here. Now I’m going to focus on this. It’s more about we growth than me go. I’m going to get this fixed. I can learn how to do hard things.”

It is not easy writing a book. The writing was the easiest part. It’s the publishing, the editing, all that goes along with it, and promoting it. I remember when I got this box from Amazon at my front door and it was my first proof of the finished book. I opened it up and there was the book with my name on it. I felt like a kid at Christmas. Later when I promoted it and it achieved number one best-seller status, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I couldn’t imagine that there would be so many people who craved this message at this particular time.

When I look back, I can say I was a slacker because I didn’t get it done earlier, but God’s timing is better than my timing. You can’t say a lot of good about COVID, but if I had published this and released it before COVID, it might’ve been nice, but people would’ve looked at me like the dog with the crooked head. They’re like, “What?”

Since we’ve all experienced COVID, people are looking for something different and something better for their lives and work. How do you meld the two together in a way that’s purposeful yet profitable? That’s really what I’m all about for as long as I have breath. It is to continue to lead the purposeful growth revolution and hopefully put the human back in human resources through the simple concept called LOVE.

That’s a good summation and probably a good place for us to close. Thank you for doing this with me.

I appreciated it. You had great questions. I pray your audience will get significant value from this and hopefully pay it backward.

I’m sure they will. You were right that I only got to a sampling of my questions. There’s probably fodder for another conversation on another day.

I would look forward to it. I enjoyed talking to you and getting to meet you a little bit before the call. I wish you and your family all the very best. To all your readers out there, keep moving forward, not backward.

Thanks again.

My pleasure.


I want to thank Mark for joining me to cover his work and his book, The Purposeful Growth Revolution, his L.E.A.F. framework, his own career journey, and the many things he’s learned along the way, which he has clearly encapsulated into a series of acronyms and fours. If you’d like to make the most of your career, visit and become a member. Basic membership is free. You can also sign up on the website for the PathWise newsletter. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thanks. Have a great day.


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About Mark Mears

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Mark Mears | Purposeful GrowthMark Mears is a visionary business leader with a track record of building stakeholder value by driving innovation and profitable growth. During his 30+ year career serving in a variety of executive marketing and leadership positions – spanning both agencies and brands – he’s gained a unique and well-rounded perspective while working for or with brands such as PepsiCo/Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, JCPenney, NBC/Universal and The Cheesecake Factory, among many others.

His personal experiences, along with best practice observations of others, led him to start L.E.A.F. Growth Ventures to apply a proven model that helps maximize the full growth potential of individuals, teams and brands – founded upon 4 LEAF Growth processes: Leadership, Engagement, Accountability and Fulfillment. This framework forms the basis of a book he has written called The Purposeful Growth Revolution: 4 Ways to Grow from Leader to Legacy Builder.

On a volunteer basis, Mark is involved with Conscious Capitalism, a global organization whose mission aligns with his own – “Elevating Humanity Through Business.” He also serves on several non-profit boards with a heart for helping people grow into their full potential. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University. He lives in Kansas City.

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