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Sprinkles Are for Winning Leaders

by Guest Writter
Chip R. Bell, Author, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service

Flo has been the highly popular spokesperson for Progressive Insurance for a long time.  Her ad character has delightfully ranged from the whimsical to the wacky; from clever to coy.  She has sung, danced and even played multiple roles in the same ad.  But, in a recent ad Flo is portrayed as a leader.

The nostalgic scene is a school locker room.  A salesperson has “lost a close one” and Flo is there to provide him needed encouragement.  After cheering him back from the doldrums, she invites him to go get an ice cream cone. When he excitedly suggests it come with sprinkles, she proclaims, “Sprinkles are for winners!”

Obviously, with a brand new book out entitled Sprinkles, the new ad caught my attention.  Racing to YouTube (they always put ads on YouTube), I watched it on my laptop several more times.  While the ending of the ad always made me smile, it was the middle that reminded me of the real role of great leaders.  Flo reminds her demoralized colleague that it was not about the sale; it was about helping customers get the solution that was right for them at the best price.

Great leaders focus on a great purpose, not just excellent practice.  They keep their associates linked to cathedral building, not just brick laying.  They are grounded in a set of beliefs that provide a foundation for strategy and tactics.  Based on patent count, IBM is the most innovative company in country.  When IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is asked, “What is your strategy,” she is quick to respond, “Ask me what I believe first, that’s a way more enduring answer,” Flo believes the Progressive purpose and vision is to serve the customer first, make the sale second; not the other way around.

Great leaders live their purpose or vision, they don’t just lip sync it.  Herman Miller CEO Max DePree wrote in his book Leadership is an Art, “The first responsibly of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘thank you’.”  His words suggest a leader’s life should be lived congruent with a clear purpose manifested in actions not in sound bites.  Southwest Airlines President Emiratis Colleen Barrett said, “You need a clear vision and compelling values.  Then, follow them religiously.  It means leaders who lead with what they do, not what they say.  Do that everyday and you will turn out to be a winning company.”

Great leaders show a passion for their purpose.  “Whoa!” you say.  “We can’t have the chaos of unbridled emotion. After all, is it not the role of a leader to be more anchor than sail?” The truth is that rationality oozes from the seams of every business encounter.  Leaders do not have to bring order, rationality or logic.  Every dimension of business life reeks with those qualities. Memorable leaders call up in each of us a visit with the raggedy edge of passion.  And, we typically return from that realm renewed and revitalized. Great leaders get us fired up, not reasoned up!

Great leaders celebrate purposeful work with sprinkles.  “Sprinkles” is a metaphor for making the moment genuinely special.  Icing and decorations adorn a cup cake as the product of deliberate artistry and careful skill.  But, sprinkles are added with authentic abandon, like a princess waving a wand.  It is the difference between a boring choreographed awards dinner and a joyous one filled with spontaneous storying and laughter.  Great leaders affirm without cue cards; they provide personalized attention to associates and customers.  They know that for experiences to be memorable, value-unique always trumps value-added.  They demonstrate that “sprinkles are for winners.”


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book is the just-released Sprinkles:  Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.

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