This week’s Leader in the Spotlight is Donald Van de Mark! He is the author of The Good Among the Great, 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative and Joyous People, a speaker and former CNN anchor and CNBC reporter. I am so excited to have him as part of our Leader series!
1. As a distinguished news anchor at CNN, what was a key learning in your interviews with politicians, business celebrities, and achieving individuals?
That the traits that distinguish a great person from a great achiever were common to the good men and women at the top – the admirable, joyous, lasting leaders.
2. What is one leadership principle that has guided your personal leadership as a news anchor and now a successful author and keynote speaker?
More important than the will to win is the will to prepare, which is humbling as well as wise.
3. Your book, The Good Among the Great- 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative and Joyous People, is outstanding! What inspired you to write this book?
The fact that individuals who’ve been given much the same talent, training and opportunities, perform very differently — some reaching fantastic heights, loving deeply, living joyous, satisfying lives, and others failing miserably, sadly. The question that haunts and inspires me is what makes the difference?
4. Of the 19 traits, which are a couple of your personal favorites and why?
Being autonomous and realistic. Being autonomous because it’s the foundation for all the other 18 traits of those who are admirable, creative and joyous. Being autonomous, that is being truly independent and leading a self-directed life is the trait upon which all the others flow. It’s also part of the American DNA – the same idea has been espoused by our greatest leaders and thinkers – William James for instance, wrote that “Man has but to obey himself. He who will rest in what he is, is part of destiny.” In other words, you owe it to the world not just yourself, to be true to the deepest, best part of you.
Being realistic because this is something that most of us take for granted. We trust our perceptions as true, and much of the time they’re not. And my favorite leaders know this and they work hard at seeing the world, others and especially themselves rationally. They recognize that ‘reality is a slippery thing.’ Please quote me on that! Moreover, being wedded to reality is the most important trait to achieve earthly success.
6. You have interviewed some truly remarkable and admirable people, who made a lasting impression on you?
Margaret Thatcher, Andy Grove, Muriel Maffre (ballerina), Charles Schwab, Jack Welch, Bill Bradley, Andrew Weil, Shelly Lazarus, Ann Bancroft (the polar explorer), Rachel Walton (nurse), Poosie Orr (mom).
7. Who has shaped and influenced your leadership most?
Bill Bradley because of his achievements across disciplines: sports, politics, and business. And because he voices a philosophy that is little heard these days – that “Feeling is as important as thinking.” And because he carried defeat (in the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination process, so well)
8. How would you define your purpose and passions now?
To go through open doors. For so long, I worked and pushed for what I wanted and believed in. I achieved some success at it. Now, however I have stopped pushing and want to go with the flow – take advantage of what the Universe or chance or others’ offer. My professional passion is to help people evolve emotionally, to help the 99% of us who are not blessed with an extraordinary psychological constitution or upbringing, to help them learn how to be stronger, calmer, and happier. And my personal passion is to sing and perform, which is startling to me. And I’ve only discovered it because of a series of events kicked off by friends singing around a camp fire!
9. What is one thing you are discovering that provides you with joy?
That I can make others feel (not just think) differently and more positive about themselves and their futures.
10. What have you learned from a past failing or setback?
That I must check in, trust and act on my own instincts more. Not that I or anyone else should act just on one’s intuition, but that a person’s deep internal impulses are not selfish or silly, but telltale sign posts to one’s greatest potential, freedom and usefulness. Recognizing these impulses is not easy, it takes some skill. And then acting on them takes courage. That is a great lesson that I learned from the failure of a dot.com startup that I was part and from a wonderful and deeply painful personal relationship.
11. Where do you see yourself in 24 months? What do you hope to accomplish?
I don’t really know and I’ve learned that it is a mistake to plot too exactly where you intend to be. If you do so, you are not awake to the opportunities and signposts along the way. Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather speaks eloquently and joyously about this. (I can send you a clip of video of her addressing this) I expect that I will probably be living more in San Francisco rather than Sonoma and working more in the performing arts. That could mean a TV news or talk show. It could mean performing on stage. I don’t know but I’m excited for what could be! As for accomplishment, I hope to help people be truer to themselves, have more freedom, productivity and happiness. And I suppose that would come if I have a bigger, taller platform from which these ideas are disseminated. I’m finally beginning to believe what others have told me for a long time that these ideas are really important. And interestingly, I’m coming around to the belief that it will come through how I make people feel rather than how I might make people think.
Thank you, Donald, for taking the time to inspire us with your insight!
If you want to learn more about Donald, make sure to follow him:
Thank you again, Donald!
Check back with us next week for another featured leader!