Leadership: passion and resilience, lessons from Phil Knight.

Leadership: passion and resilience, lessons from Phil Knight. 750 423 Bruno Sireyjol

Reading is an integral part of the entrepreneurs’ and leaders’ journey. Namely if you work in consulting, your experience and knowledge will quickly expire if you don’t nourish your brain and broaden your perspectives with new ideas and concepts.

Reading brings food for thought. But there is so much to do, and so much to learn. Some books are mere distractions that will not make it or stay on our personal shelf. Some books offer a comprehensive exploration of specific topics with both depth and breadth: though not necessarily entertaining or captivating, we return to them to confirm or refresh our knowledge.

“Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight is both a novel, a resource, and a reference. This is a journey through the creation and evolution of Nike, from humble beginnings to an iconic brand. There are key takeaways that are worth hundreds of coaching sessions for entrepreneurs and sales leaders. Here we focus on 2 of them: passion and resilience.

Passion and purpose :


Let’s be honest: not everybody has a passion or has the skills and will to make a living out of it. Serial entrepreneurs do have the talent to found and grow companies. That may be their passion. They do fall in love with the idea that pops in their minds and start living and breathing for it. Until the adrenalin wears off.

For sales leaders, working for an organization that aligns with passion often means joining a specific industry. It may be health care, luxury, software, or sporting goods. Yet, it does not mean that they indulge their passion in their day-to-day business life. However diverse and exciting their typical day may look like, the thrill of a landing a big deal or the sense of euphoria that goes along with successfully closing a quarter at the last minute has nothing to do with passion.

Let’s talk about purpose instead, not collective or team purpose but individual one. The most successful leaders all have a personal purpose that converges with their deeper aspirations, competences, and corporate missions. This is what truly drives them, their north star in hard times. It may be fixing things, growing talents, or making the perfect trip from point A to point B…Or building wealth early to reconnect with their true passion. They excel in striking a balance between business and passion, inside or outside their remit, inside or outside their organization. All of them, without exception, excel at balancing their professional life and their passion, even if it means finding it outside their own department, even if it means finding it outside their own professional life.

Seeking a calling that resonates with one’s true values often takes time and a lot of introspection. Time flies. One thing is for sure: you will not be remembered for your sales discipline or your forecast accuracy when retiring. Find your purpose.

Resilience and confidence:


Phil Knight has had his share of challenges, struggles, financial crises and legal battles. Personal ambition, self-determination or the pursuit of excellence are empty words if we try to understand the path to success. So let’s avoid the clichés and beaten paths of coaching for dummies.

Passion and determination make all the difference. They are the fire that still burns when fatigue sets in, doubts arise or failure occurs. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a sales leader, there will be dark moments, and before there are successes, there will be defeats. Just like the Vision you create for your company or department, resilience begins with defining the emotional response to this simple question: who are you and what are you made of?

As soon as you have a bold idea of what you want to achieve and how to get there, those around you – consciously and unconsciously – are likely to generate doubt and uncertainty. Managers and entrepreneurs first recognize that they are different. Uncertainty is their fuel. This is where they see opportunities and take risks from the very beginning of their journey. This kind of resilience translates into the unwavering belief that the day they have to beg for orders will soon be gone.

This self-confidence enables successful leaders and entrepreneurs to overcome the greatest resilience challenge of all: disappointment in professional relationships. They may be employees or direct reports who don’t measure up. They may be customers who don’t trust their offer. Or competitors who play dirty tricks. Or jerks. They love competition and hate to lose. Above all, they learn not to take anything personally and to turn off the internal dialogue in the face of their own bad decisions.

Resilience does not mean stubbornness. Sometimes, entrepreneurs and managers have to throw in the towel. Knowing how to press pause, step back, take time for strategic reflection and redefine with whom and how they want to spend the rest of their lives is a form of genius all their own.


We could have spent hours on the teachings of “Shoe Dog”: humility, belief in luck or fate – something beyond us, anyway – humor or self-awareness. As the pages of each entrepreneurial story unfold, it is clear that the narrative of successful journeys extends well beyond sales and marketing metrics. Passion and determination, resilience and confidence are vital to start the journey.

Think. Good selling.