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Lessons learned from a “Stubborn Old German”

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Earlier this month, my wonderful, hard-working, loving grandpa passed away. I am sad and miss my grandfather terribly, BUT, I am also happy. You see, my grandpa lived his life on his terms. He once said, while in the hospital recovering from a surgery, “It takes a lot more than that to take down a stubborn old German.” At the end, he chose when it was time to end the fight. He went out on his terms, just as quietly and humbly as he lived his life.

My Grandpa was a strong, yet quiet and loyal person. A proud WWII veteran, he recently recounted a time leading a group of soldiers out of a fox hole where they were being fired at on all sides. My grandpa gave the signal and he and his comrades ran as far and as fast as they could until they were safe from harm. Perhaps it was his stubborn and determined demeanor that gave him the strength to believe they could survive (although he admitted that it was one of the scariest moments of his 95 years). Maybe it was his unwillingness to allow himself to go out on anything other than his own terms. It was probably a bit of both. The thing is, I never knew that story about my grandpa until a few months before his passing. In his humble nature, he never shared anything about his own heroism when he told (on repeat) stories of his time in the war. He was a true hero.

“A hero is someone who, in spite of weakness, doubt or not always knowing the answers, goes ahead and overcomes anyway.”

— Christopher Reeve

So, what can we learn from my Grandpa and the others like him from the “Greatest Generation.” My grandpa was part of a generation that did right by others always. They stepped up and helped their fellow humans. They fought — and died — for their country, asking nothing in return. It was just the right thing to do. A lot of people have asked me what marketing and public relations with social responsibility entails. It’s not actually that difficult. Truly, all we have to do is follow the examples set before us by people like my grandpa. The key is to place social responsibility at your foundation and build from there.

Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Start with your “Why.” Why does your business exist? What is your mission? Why did you open your business or start your nonprofit in the first place? Who or what are your trying to serve? What problem are you trying to solve? (Spoiler alert, chances are it was about more than a paycheck or you would have taken an easier path in life.)
  2. Each time you are faced with a decision in your organization, go back to your mission, your “Why.” I am reminded of Jim Ernst, the former President & CEO of Four Oaks (where I previously worked). Each time he and the board of directors were faced with a decision to expand services, they always went back to the mission of the organization to “assure children become successful adults.” If what they were looking to do did not align with that mission, they would look to another direction for growth. It always had to be about the mission, not just expansion for expansion sake. Remember that. Growth (or more income) is only the right path to follow if it aligns with your core, if it doesn’t, it will not be sustainable.
  3. Think about how your mission and what you do can serve others. I recently talked about the Budweiser example in a Super Bowl ad. Budweiser took something they did and found a way to use their rapid manufacturing process to step up and help in the event of a natural disaster. What you do does not have to be on that grand of a scale, it’s truly about just doing the right thing when faced with a decision.
  4. Never, ever ask for praise. There is nothing wrong with celebrating what you do for others or highlighting your organization’s social values, but do so with a humble nature. Talk about who or what has been impacted and less about what you did to make it possible. Again, if you infuse ‘doing the right thing’ into everything you do, there will be no need to make a special point about the good that you do, your good will be part of who you are and what you are known by.


At the end of the day, stay true to who you are. Live on your terms and carry that authenticity to your business. Honor your need to make your business or nonprofit successful while taking care to ensure it also holds true to your personal values and is doing the right thing by your neighbors and community. THAT is social responsibility. Recognize that you and your organization are pieces of the larger community and world, and that it is only by working together to each do our part that we thrive.

Still not quite sure where to begin? Let’s chat!

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