I started to believe that great leadership exists and it is possible to live your highest life priorities within your work when I first read The Big Five for Life four years ago. The story in John P. Strelecky’s book is a realistic example of how a company can be successful by treating its employees like humans and giving them the freedom to create a fulfilling work for themselves.

What a great chance to meet John P. Strelecky in person. On my itinerary from Washington DC to Mexico City I stop over at Orlando International Airport for a couple of hours to interview him.

Here are his thoughts on what will be decisive for companies and individuals in the future.

A lot of companies do not have a purpose

I believe that a company’s and its employees’ purpose can beautifully intersect. But the question is, does a company have a purpose at all? A lot of companies do not. And if they do, is it just lip service or is it their real purpose? To which extent do they demonstrate their purpose in the way they treat their customers and employees, the way they design and build their products, the way they outsource, and so on? And the individuals, do they know their purpose? And, is it the company’s job to help them figure out their purpose? I do not think the answer is necessarily “yes”.

For companies at the very end of the value chain it is much easier to attract people with a similar purpose. If a company is all about energy preservation or genuinely passionate about health, you can easily imagine that there will be enough people with the same passion and purpose. If a company manufactures toasters, however, it might be much harder but not impossible as there are people who love breakfast, and it is a matter of getting those people.

Start-ups do not have an advantage over large companies

In the ongoing battle for the best people, this will help differentiate who gets the best. An employer has to offer more than just the paycheck. The clearer you are as a company of who you are, what you stand for and what you do, and the more it is not lip service but reality, the more likely it is to get the best and brightest. The companies getting the best and brightest are the winners.

I do not think that this is necessarily easier for start-ups than for large companies. Large companies like Google have access to resources that start-ups do not have. They have more opportunities for the best and the brightest when they recruit on the college campus. The efforts to live their purpose are less for start-ups as they have fewer products and decisions to make but large companies have more people to come up with good ideas to make sure that the company stays in line with its purpose.

But you need an infrastructure where these ideas can blossom – it does not help if you have thousands of talented people but no way for them to vet and spread their ideas. Speed to execution is another ingredient. If you have all those good ideas, but it takes two years to execute, it is not going to work either. Having a spirit of innovation all across the entire company but incubating ideas in a smaller environment and test the points of failure before rolling out on a larger scale, may be a good solution.

My recommendations for individuals are…

Choose where you stay

One very valuable thing I learned from traveling is that you don’t choose where you are born, but you do choose where you stay. The first live-changing travel I did was when I was 28. I had just quit my job and had four months off. I went to Italy and to Costa Rica, radically different cultures. I remember surfing on a beach in Costa Rica and there was this lady serving pancakes for one dollar. She was so happy. How much could she be making on a day? No matter how much, but she was happy. Comparing that to my state when I left home, I was stressed and frustrated. I was making a lot of money in a major city. She had far less than I had, but she was far happier than I was. Luckily, I was in the mindset of asking myself “Why is that? What does she know that I don’t know? What am I doing wrong?” That leads to the question “What makes me happy and where do I want to live? What environment creates great joy in my soul?”

In South America, every night everyone goes out to the Plaza, which is like a park – it is weird that it is called a park but it is out of concrete. It is a big square with benches. Everyone comes out. People sit, walk and talk. Kids play. The common understanding is that the day is done as far as work is concerned and now everyone is outside. I find that people are less stressed in this kind of environment. If you are operating 24/7 always connected to your phone, always texting and emailing, I find it hard to become calm.

Control your own destiny

I am a huge proponent of personal responsibility. I do not want us as a society to be disconnected from our responsibility of what can we make better as a society but we should not teach people that they are not in control of their own destiny. This is the most disempowering reality ever. I prefer to say, “Be responsible for yourself and your own decisions. If you get stuck, then ask for help”. This is when the rest of society can try to help.

I would like to see a greater emphasis put with kids helping them to understand they are going to control their own destiny. Let’s empower them in a simplistic way without giving too many instructions. If I should be choosing a mantra for a way to think about your existence and a way of making your decisions, it would be “The Choice is Mine”. Helping people to understand just these four words with potential to dive deep what it means for the individual, is maybe as simple as it needs to be.

Interview by ASLI TOKSAL.


Photo: Asli Toksal with John P. Strelecky

Food for Inner Power

What is your life mantra?

In which areas are you more or less consistently following “The Choice is Mine”?

On my recent world trip I met people reading The Why Café to find answers to essential life questions. If you are in-between jobs or ask yourself whether the job you have is all life has to offer, this book is perfect as a light but profound reflection.