Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leadership is Good

If you are not familiar with Bert and John Jacobs, you should be. They are the creators of the wildly popular and ever optimistic Life is Good brand of tee shirts and other accessories.

On their website ( is the story of their humble beginnings on the streets of Boston selling tee shirts door-to-door in college dormitories. While collecting some good stories, they were not very successful.

After a long and not very successful road trip in 1994, they returned to Boston. But soon their fate would take a dramatic turn. Jake’s contagious grin seemed to express everything the Jacobs brothers believed in.

One fateful day in September of that year, they printed up 48 Jake shirts for a local street fair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They laid out the shirts on a card table. By noontime, all 48 of those tees were gone. And the rest they say is history.

Today, the New England based brand stays close to its roots, with an emphasis on simplicity, humor, and humility. Through Life is Good Festivals, positive products, and a steady dose of ping pong, Jake’s crew does its best to keep the good vibes flowing.

I like the story of the Jacobs brothers for numerous reasons, least of which is their tenacious commitment to success and to a simple message of hope and good will. Good leaders are emblematic of the Life is Good philosophy and would do well to emulate it throughout their organizations. To coin a phrase, I believe that leadership is good. And thanks to the Jacobs we can learn a few reasons why.

Leadership is good because it builds character. The Jacobs brothers, despite many setbacks, continued to chase a dream they believed in. Not deterred by disappointments and dismal results at first, they did not give up.

Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” I think that is what propelled the Jacobs brothers to success – perpetual optimism. When you relentlessly pursue your dream despite your circumstances and remain optimistic, you will build character as a leader. And your optimism will be contagious and be a source of encouragement to those around you.

Leadership is good because it rewards commitment. I am sure there were days when either one of the Jacobs brothers wanted to throw in the towel, or in their case, the tee shirt. Yet, through commitment and dedication, they stayed the course and now spread their brand of cheer nationwide.

Commitment to stay the course and not give in to critics or circumstances is what will separate you as a leader from the rest of the pack. When they started out, the Jacobs brother knew nothing about the business, but were committed to succeed regardless.

As a leader you can choose to be defined by others or you can make a new path that shows you are cut from different cloth. The Jacobs did not let what they did not know keep them from becoming what they could be. This would never have been achieved without commitment. The same holds true for you. Your dream becomes a reality so long as you remain committed.

Leadership is good because it spreads cheer. The emphasis the Jacobs place on simplicity, humor, and humility is noteworthy. Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.” Whether on a tee shirt, tote bag, hat, or other product, their message is simple and encouraging.

John Maxwell defined leadership as influence. The leadership of the Jacobs brothers is being used in a fun, creative, and influential ways for good. Regardless of your station in life as a leader, the influence by which you are known ought to be one that lifts others up, brings out the best, and gives hope.

Cicero said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” As a leader it is your responsibility to embrace it, believe it, and share it. Leadership is good and within you are the reasons why.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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