The Leadership and Legacy of Tony Hsieh – Success Tips from a Culture Guru

Do you have a favorite inspirational leader? Maybe you have their book on your office shelf? Or a mug with one of their quotes? Or a framed ticket from an event they were speaking at as a reminder of their inspiration?

I’m guilty of all three!

Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, is one of my most beloved inspirational leaders. And even though he recently passed away, his legacy is sure to live on.

A purposeful leader

His book, Delivering Happiness, confirmed for me how connecting your business goals and your people to purpose is a key element to success. When people are allowed to express their passion while in the workplace, great things happen. His book title said it all. Zappos wasn’t in the shoe business or the online delivery business. They were in the business of delivering happiness.

“Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion” Tony Hsieh

I remember the first time I was exposed to purpose versus mission and vision. Our company had been involved in a massive merger of two communication giants. The new combined leadership team was at an offsite dedicated to teamwork and strategic planning.

Our facilitator introduced the concept of purpose and away we went. Running our business with that purpose as a focus, as a north star, was key to our success. Once I had experienced the power of purpose, I was hooked. Have you defined your company’s purpose?

Culture and collaboration

Coming from a place of purpose was just one of the gifts Tony Hsieh gave us.  

Based on previous business failures, Tony understood that getting the culture right was critical to success. He would often say, “Get the culture right, and everything else just falls into place”. Tony created one of the first playbooks about company values and how to instill them across the organization. And he shared it all publicly. He opened up his workplace for tours, training, and thoughtful conversations.

A people-first focus

Tony believed in a people-first focus which is something that resonates for me. Nothing makes me sadder than to think about our employees as passive passengers just going through the motions at work. “Unleashing what people already have inside them that is maybe suppressed in most work environments” was Tony’s descriptor of a leader’s role. He went on to say, “I think when people say they dread going into work on Monday morning, it’s because they know they are leaving a piece of themselves at home”.

When you think about your workplace, are your employees bringing themselves fully into work every day? What barriers to their success may be creeping around in your culture? Culture is more than just behaviors. It’s also about physical workspace, technology, policies, and process. Over the last 8 months, all of these have been impacted due to the pandemic. The workplace setting has shifted.

A leader’s legacy

As we move forward into new ways of working, I challenge you to remember these words of Tony’s, “I view my role more as trying to set up an environment where the personalities, creativity, and individuality of all the different employees come out and can shine”.

Tony Hsieh has been described as eccentric, visionary, and beautifully weird. He was also kind, generous, and an inspiration. Let’s all take up the legacy – his mantra to deliver happiness!

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