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The License to Lead

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

This article builds an understanding of the "Never Give Up" mindset and provides our Top 10 habits to achieve an NGU outcome.

This is our beat-up car license plate. We have had it for about 20 years since moving back to Virginia. It has been on two Chevy Suburbans and now adorns a Nissan Pathfinder. This license plate has been with us for much of our children's lives. It has been in car accidents, been hit by a deer, has been seen plowing through snow, and has been part of protecting my family.

The license plate also announces our family attitude. That is:




I was first introduced to this motto by my childhood friend Brian Maslyk when I was about ten years old. This was in the 1970s. I was at Brian's house in Richmond, Virginia. We both grew up near Robious Road. Brian's parents had "NGU" inscribed on their car license plates. I was intrigued... in a 10 year-old sort of way. Brian explained it was their family motto, to NEVER GIVE UP. We then went on playing whatever game we were playing at the time. But the NGU image stuck with me. I thought it was awesome that the Maslyk family placed this profound belief on a license plate.

Understanding "NGU" takes a little explanation. "NGU" starts as a reference to Winston Churchill, including the Battle of Britain and The Blitz, from July 1940 to May 1941. This was an extraordinary time when the United Kingdom was under relentless air attack by Nazi Germany. The UK fiercely resisted the Nazi bombing. The UK stood alone as the other European countries fell. Prime Minister Churchill's response was [i] :

"We shall never surrender."

It was only after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that the "sleeping bear" was finally awakened and the United States entered the war. The free world owes the UK a debt of gratitude for their NGU attitude, standing in the breach, and holding off the Nazis long enough for the United States war machine to get in gear. [ii]

For my family, even before Patti and I had children, NGU has been our family motto and attitude. Patti had "NGU - I Love You" engraved on my wedding band. We display it on our license plate as a reminder. Our four children are now all in their 20s. They have all lived by NGU. This shows in their approach to school, work, community, friends, family, and faith. Patti and I are incredibly proud of them. They have already accomplished much in their young lives. We look forward to seeing the amazing contributions they will all make throughout their lives. Though, for Patti and I, there is one NGU characteristic we particularly appreciate. Our children have all learned to love their lives and to share that love with the world. It is their love of life that generates their success, not the other way around.

As an important nuance, NGU does NOT mean "Never Change." Quite the opposite, we consider change as an important and liberating part of life. Updating our beliefs as new information becomes available is critical. Certainly, our faith and core beliefs about love, learning, and working hard are a foundation. But our dynamic world, including a healthy dose of introspection, calls for ongoing evaluation and change. Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a "Growth Mindset" the willingness to consider failure as a means to learn and improve. [iii] The University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth considers "Grit" a) the means to operationalize a growth mindset and b) embrace failure as a means for improvement. [iv] Thus, change enables NGU.

In my experience, this NGU approach is a means to bring leadership to my work life. I seek to understand, plan, execute, and update our customer-focused mission. This includes ongoing communication with my teams. I am fortunate to have held leadership roles with excellent organizations, including Wells Fargo, Citibank, KPMG, IBM, and now Definitive. In my day-to-day world, NGU is expressed with the following "willingness" habits:

The NGU Top 10 Success Habits

  1. Willingness to take risks

  2. Willingness to do your homework

  3. Willingness to put in the work

  4. Willingness to put your team first and lead by example

  5. Willingness to humbly help others to be successful

  6. Willingness to admit uncertainty

  7. Willingness to set goals

  8. Willingness to make tough decisions

  9. Willingness to share your joy and love of life

  10. Willingness to learn, update, and change

Whether raising a family or growing a business, these NGU success habits are a foundational mindset.



[i] Churchill, WE SHALL FIGHT ON THE BEACHES, Speech to the House of Commons, International Churchill Society, 1940

[ii] Winston Churchill, as far as I know, never actually said the words "Never Give Up." Although, we reference the spirit of NGU and the great sacrifices of the British people during World War Two. In a speech to the Harrow School on October 29, 1941, Churchill said:

"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

It is truly unthinkable, for about a year and a half, the entire British population lived in constant fear of being over run by the Nazis. The British people stood in the breach to protect the world from Nazi domination. Thank you to Churchill, the UK leadership, and the British people for withstanding this extraordinary challenge. If not for them, the world could be a much different place than it is today.

For an excellent biography of Churchill during this time, please see:

In the biography, Larsen writes:

By now, what had long been clear to Churchill was also clear to Harriman: that Britain had no hope of winning the war without the direct intervention of the United States.

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