Be the Medicine
Teddy Bekele had an entire ballroom of professionals choking back tears as he delivered his acceptance speech at TCB’s recent Outstanding Directors event. He shared a few pivotal moments on his long and winding journey from Ethiopia to the Twin Cities, where he is chief technology officer for Land O’Lakes.
We honored Bekele in September for his board service to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. At the podium, he recounted how his parents escaped harassment and moved Teddy and his two siblings to Italy, where they all learned a new language and settled into a new way of life. But the land of opportunity beckoned. When Bekele was a high school senior, his parents made one more giant move—to the U.S., to give their children every possible chance to achieve roles like the ones Bekele holds today. Shortly after immigrating, Bekele’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He lived to see Bekele graduate from high school; he died three months later. He wrote a parting letter to his son that Bekele read from the stage:
“The medicine for death is to be replaced by a dependable son who succeeds to put forth the effort in conveying the important dreams, ambitions, and character traits of his family to the next generation. We therefore proudly declare that you have the potential to do that, and consequently we’re not scared of death because we have produced you as the medicine.”
“I encourage all of you to be the medicine,” Bekele told the audience. “Challenge yourself to find a deeper meaning in the work that you do every day. Get involved in the community to serve a higher purpose.”
I’m so glad to be working at a time when the meaning of business matters more than ever before. Deloitte Global’s 2022 Gen Z and millennial survey showed that younger workers are willing to turn down jobs that don’t align with their values and more likely to stay with a company for five years or more when satisfied with their employer’s social impact and inclusive culture.
We see signs of this shift everywhere, including many examples in this issue of the magazine, from companies taking a stand on social and political issues to long-standing businesses like Minnetonka, which is owning the company’s decades of cultural appropriation and setting out to make amends (Lessons Learned).
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation,” said Jodi Hubler, Bekele’s fellow 2022 Outstanding Director, when it was her turn at the podium. Hubler deliberately serves on the boards of women-led startups including Ōmcare and Marani Health. “You have to have the courage to lead and the conviction of purpose to take risks. Change only happens at the speed of trust, and trust is earned in the small moments—through diligent preparation, listening thoughtfully, demonstrating care and connection.”
If you missed this special evening, you can watch our directors’ speeches here. I know one legendary leader who would have beamed at the theme of human-centric leadership. That’s TCB Hall of Famer Bill George, who has now served longer as a Harvard Business School professor and leadership advisor than he did as Medtronic’s CEO. I had a chance to talk to him recently about his latest book, True North: Emerging Leader Edition.
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‘‘Challenge yourself to find a deeper meaning in the work that you do every day.’’
—Teddy Bekele, Land O’Lakes
It’s his take that emerging leaders—Gen X to Gen Z—are well prepared to take charge of large organizations because they’re already well versed at navigating crisis, from global to pandemic to racial reckoning. “Lead with your heart,” George advises. “Know what your mission is and what your values are. If there’s an issue that affects your mission and your values, you better speak out.”
You can hear my entire conversation with George on Episode 93 of the By All Means podcast. But I’ll leave you with just a few more of his words of wisdom for business leaders navigating today’s blurry lines between profits and people.
“Leaders today have to understand how to work in a multi-stakeholder environment. Leaders have to make bold moves,” George says. “You’re going to have people who disagree with you. But if you stand for something, people will respect you for being who you are. In the end, isn’t that what we all want?”