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What I Learned About Passion, Purpose and Persistence in Santorini, Greece

By Lisa Springer, Sr. Partner, CEO November 2019

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In 1982, I saw a movie filmed in Santorini, Greece. The movie wasn’t my favorite I only saw it once. What stayed with me about this movie was the scenery — it was captivating. I made up my mind that someday I’d visit Greece and see this beautiful place.

It took 37 years, but this summer my husband and I finally got to Santorini. For Mike and me, vacations are not about exhibits, tours, or sightseeing. When we take a vacation, our mission is to truly experience the culture and the people.  We aim to understand what it’s like to be a “local” wherever we travel and to learn more about ourselves in the process.

From a professional perspective, I also apply what I learn to my leadership skills. My experiences during this trip provided me with a much greater awareness of what it means to lead with passion, purpose and persistence. In this article, I’ll share some of these insights.

Passion: The Intense Enthusiasm That Drives Outcomes

Kayaking is a passion of mine. Given a choice between sleeping or kayaking after a 12-hour work day, I’ll pick kayaking every time. So, it was with great enthusiasm that Mike and I signed up for a guided kayaking tour along the coastline of Santorini.

Our kayaking group included Jen Jewell, a fitness instructor who was recently showcased on the cover of Fitness magazine (go ahead and look her up — ) and her cohort, a triathlete whose third event is … you guessed it … kayaking.

Mike and I figured we were doomed to be left in their wake but we were too excited to turn back. To make matters worse, it got windy as we arrived at our launch site. It didn’t matter. When we kayak, we don’t think about it as exercise, hard work, or how big the waves are; we are keenly focused on our passion to be out paddling in open water.

The Aegean Sea, even as rough as it was that morning, was extremely beautiful, and our focus was on the extraordinary rock formations of the island. Before long, our kayak guide Kalliopi was calling to us to slow down and wait for the rest of the group.

Passion is what drove us out on to the water that day and it’s what consistently drives great leaders. It’s the love affair between what’s possible and what motivates us to excel. Simon Sinek, visionary thinker and author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action says that his loss and then subsequent rediscovery of the “why” in his work restored his passion. This sets him on a path to advocating for passion and purpose in business (his Ted Talk on “why” is the third-most most watched TED Talk of all time). Passion fuels the “why” we do what we do. And that “why” is our purpose.

Making it actionable: Passion starts with each of us — find the “why” in your work. People will naturally follow a passionate leader. They won’t follow someone who is isn’t committed to the cause. Take time to learn about your employees, find out what motivates them — and make sure you’re giving them a positive work environment and opportunities to improve their skills. Do not be intimidated by competition, naysayers, or the stumbling blocks along the way. If you are passionate about what you do, success will happen.

Purpose Connects Us

The most successful leaders have a clear, well-defined vision of why they do what they do: their purpose. It guides them in everything they do and draws in everybody in their organization. The November-December issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) notes purpose has become a value that people — especially millennials — want from the companies for which they work. And yet, as the HBR notes, many enterprises struggle to define, much less live, their purpose.

Having a purpose statement for your organization is important. The HBR points out that, “A truly powerful purpose statement is one that achieves two objectives: clearly articulating strategic goals and motivating your workforce.” Think about it: If employees don’t understand the company’s purpose, performance is compromised. In other words, a great purpose statement is meaningless if your team isn’t executing against it.

An effective purpose statement communicates why a company exists. It should engage everyone in the organization and inspire them to work with passion and persistence. Some good examples of powerful purpose statements include Disney’s “to create happiness” and Nike’s “to inspire every athlete,” hence their slogan “Just Do It!”

Having and following a concrete and articulate purpose statement can have a noticeable impact on a company’s finances. A 2018 study by ddiworld shows that “purposeful” companies — those where leaders bring the stated purpose to life through behaviors — outperform the market financially by 42 percent. The study reports that getting purpose right “builds organizational resilience, and crucially, improves long term financial performance.” The chart below from the ddiworld study illustrates the difference in the outcomes between companies, those with no stated purpose, those that have statement but don’t act with purpose, and those companies that have a purpose and leaders who walk the talk of their purpose.

A great example of a purpose statement in action was at our hotel in Santorini.

Mike and I stayed at the West East Hotel. West East’s culture and purpose is to “heighten their guests’ experience.” They believe that most people staying at this hotel saved and planned for their trip to Santorini for years, maybe even a lifetime, and that it’s the staff’s responsibility to ensure that, at the end of each stay, their guests believe that this was an unforgettable and fantastic experience.

Ours certainly was. The hotel had an incredible “hospitality personality” that emanated from every manager and staff member. During our nine day stay, we got to know the entire staff. So much so that, even the staff that was not on duty the morning of our departure showed up to say goodbye. Every employee became part of our amazing experience. That was their purpose and from our perspective, this team truly delivered a heightened vacation experience.

Making it actionable: Find your purpose and make sure you articulate it very clearly to your organization. Whether it’s delivering an exceptional experience to your customers, helping customers grow financially, or ensuring that your employees are happy and productive, your purpose should focus on the big picture, not day-to-day minutiae. If you’re confident and excited about your purpose statement, employees will be, too.

Persistence Supersedes Difficulties and Opposition

Using figures from 2017,  “The Gender Equality Index 2019” in the November 14, 2019 edition of the Greek publication puts Greece last, finding it had the biggest gaps between women and men in six core domains: work, money, knowledge, time, power and health behind Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

Greece, according to this recent study, has the lowest employment rate for women, at 31 percent, and women in Greece were also found to have poor access to financing. As a result of hard work and perseverance, our kayak tour guide Kalliopi is one of the lucky 31-percent of Greek women currently employed. Her story is a testament to the power of persistence.

When the economic downturn hit her island, Kalliopi lost her job and was forced to move to Santorini, where tourism continued to thrive. An expert kayaker, Kalliopi has been rowing for the past twenty years, ten of which she trained as a professional athlete. Besides competing in championships, she also taught kayaking to youngsters and people with special needs. Her expertise and training include environmental science, so her knowledge of the rock formations, landscape and history of the island enhances the overall tour experience of her guests.

Her first job on the island was for the largest kayak tour guide on Santorini. She worked there for a few months, but then they fired her, saying she lacked “strength” and wasn’t good at engaging with the tourists. In other words, they didn’t think she could paddle far enough, wasn’t strong enough to help their customers if they got into trouble, and her English wasn’t good enough to communicate effectively.

Disappointed, she moved on to work on a Catamaran tour ship for two years, never losing sight of her ultimate passion: to own her own kayak tour company. She believed in herself, in her abilities, and she stayed in the tour business, saving enough money to start her own business, Serenity Kayak, in 2018.

Today, Kalliopi has so much business that she is able to strategically qualify her “visitors” before she agrees to include them in her tours. If they cannot swim or have no kayak experience, she refers them to the company that fired her. On the water, Kalliopi often passes these competing tours and revels in seeing the guides labor to keep their tours moving. Her group is always smiling, artfully dodging the struggling group. During our tour, the Catamaran crews all waved enthusiastically and called to her as we paddled through the sail boats, proving that relationships are Kalliopi’s gift, not her shortcoming.

In a nutshell, and contrary to the company that fired her, a satisfied “visitor” recently posted: “If you could only pick one thing to do on your trip to Santorini, Serenity Kayak is the MUST DO 👍 Kalliopi is perfect because she has such a warm personality, she provides everything you need, the scenery is absolutely amazing, you feel safe, and it’s a day that will forever be etched in your vacation memories.” We agree!

Her persistence enables her to fulfill her passion — to kayak the Greek islands every day and share with those of us lucky enough to be part of her adventure in beautiful Santorini.


The Leadership Skills Needed to Persist

In today’s world, to succeed and grow, companies must overcome competition, rising costs, changing customer perceptions, the unpredictability of social media, and regulatory threats — in tandem.

For mortgage lenders, the challenges of dealing with disparate systems, geographically dispersed locations, and different state and municipal laws and regulations creates even more complexity. It takes not only passion and purpose to succeed, it takes persistence.

One of STRATMOR’s clients is a poster child for persistence in improving the borrower experience. Provided with feedback data from our MortgageSAT Program, this lender has tied their compensation model and KPIs to the MortgageSAT metrics. They strongly encourage LOs to have conversations with their borrowers around satisfaction, and they set an expectation that the borrower will fill out a survey. The end results — massive improvements across the board and one of the highest ratings among all our clients.

Making it actionable: Fight on. Anything worth having takes time and effort, and if you don’t fight for it, someone else will. Be prepared to face opposition, be open to good counsel, and be consistent in your efforts. Companies (and individuals) who couple intense passion with relentless persistence will realize their goals regardless of setbacks.

At the End of an Amazing Experience

Kalliopi had such a great time with Mike and me that she invited us, who she affectionately called her “Crazy Americans,” to join her as friends to experience a second tour at sunset. We went in and out of caves, saw some of the most famous beaches on the island and learned more about this amazing place. To my delight, many believe that this island was the origins of the infamous tale of Atlantis. My mind immediately wandered off to the latest Aqua Man movie and hoped for a sighting, but … no Atlanteans.

According to the local newspaper, the whole reason for spending an evening in the Santorini town of Oia is to see the sunset. Crowds of people, locals and tourists, gather on the quaint paths, rooftops and ruins to wait for the sun to dim in the sea and for all the people to start applauding.

Though Santorini’s sunset is one of the most famous world-wide, and Oia is the most popular city from which to view it, Mike and I went to this island to get away from the crowds, the noise and the traffic.

This was our idea of the perfect way to experience a sunset: quietly sitting on our kayak, out on the open water of the Aegean Sea with nothing around us but beauty and tranquility. This was our passion and our purpose, and the perfect way to end a fantastic vacation.

Passion, Purpose and Persistence as Core Drivers for Growth

I came away from our trip with new perspectives about the importance of reinforcing our  passion, purpose and persistence at STRATMOR. If your company is not aligned on these key ingredients to drive growth, STRATMOR’s team of experts can assist in creating a top-down, voice-of-the-customer-centric strategy that will drive your team’s core capabilities with passion and purpose. We use a Target Operating Model as our foundation that creates a “desired state” growth strategy that clearly identify improvement opportunities and incorporates customer insights to drive core capabilities and processes supported by an enabling technology infrastructure. As noted by STRATMOR Senior Partner Michael Grad in our March 2018 InFocus article, “Adoption, ultimately, is the key to the success of any transformational change.” Springer


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STRATMOR works with bank, independent and credit union lenders on strategies to solve complex challenges, streamline operations, improve profitability and accelerate growth. To discuss your mortgage business needs, please Contact Us.

The most successful lenders live by their numbers; they embrace change and create a culture of accountability and transparency.

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