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seth godin and song of significance

Inspiring Quotes for Leaders From Seth Godin’s Book The Song of Significance

Summary of bestselling author Seth Godin’s book on meaning and change

seth godin and song of significance

Marketing icon and bestselling author of Linchpin Seth Godin is one of the most widely quoted speakers on Growth Faculty’s events program.

His latest book The Song of Significance is a rich new source of quotes on meaningful work, leadership quotes, and quotes about change and transformation.

Fresh from our interview with Seth Godin on Author Access, we’ve compiled this round-up of our favourite quotes from our chat with Seth and from his book The Song of Significance, billed as an urgent manifesto about work, management, and leadership.

We’ve also included chapter highlights and Seth Godin’s suggested questions for your team.

(You might also like Our Favourite Adam Grant Quotes for Leaders – Adam Grant is coming to Sydney and Melbourne in February 2024. Early Bird Tickets on sale now). 

Top 3 Quotes by Seth Godin in The Song of Significance

“Leadership is the art of creating something significant.”

In this powerful quote, Seth Godin entreats leaders to see beyond the P&L, lead with more heart, and to spend time considering what their true purpose is as they guide their teams. He is an advocate for forward movement, explaining that change is essential to do meaningful work and create a proud legacy.

“The real desire is significance. To do something that matters. To be missed if we’re gone. The universal desire to achieve dignity and be seen.”

We like this quote on meaningful work because it is simply understood – people want more than a pay cheque to feel fulfilled, engaged, to think creatively, and to innovate. When the vision and purpose of an organisation is clear and well-communicated, the joy of doing something significant can be enormously rewarding and motivating. In The Song of Significance Seth Godin illustrates the point by marvelling at the effectiveness of and shared purpose within a healthy beehive.  

“Work is the expression of our energy and our dreams. We owe those along for the journey the same dignity and connection we would like to receive in return.”

In line with Adam Grant's wish for workplace cultures, here Seth Godin’s quote on leadership sends a clear message – command and control leadership must be replaced with a much more human-centric leadership model, where people are known by their bosses and managers and treated with trust and respect.

So, here are dozens and dozens more quotes that, read as a whole, serve as a full summary of The Song of Significance. (Read a briefer summary of The Song of Significance here).

Toward Significance

“The work of significance embraces the very things that industrialism seeks to stamp out.”

“We need to decide what work is for.”

“In This is Marketing, I wrote about the power that comes when we start marketing for people, to solve their problems instead of focusing on our own. The same is true for organisational leadership.”

“This manifesto isn’t a step-by-step manual, or even a simple playbook. Instead, we need to take the first step by seeing and understanding what got us here and beginning to weave together the threads of where we can go next.”

“Significance requires trust, and trust comes from consistently keeping our promises.”

“There are countless books and articles about listening to workers, giving them space to grow, and creating workplaces of fairness and inclusion. Managers try and then stop: “It doesn’t work,” they say. “I asked for suggestions and didn’t get any.” “When left to their own devices, they simply hide, or back off.” Why are we surprised? We’re complicit in a cycle of fear, manipulation, and coercion.”

“If we’re seeking a liminal state, the significance of getting from here to there, then we’re in a mode of discovery.”

Questions worth asking every time we set out to do our work together:

·        What’s the specific change this team is going to make?

·        What’s my personal role in making that change happen?

·        What do I need to learn to support or lead this change?

·        Who needs to help me? Who needs my help?

·        What is the risk – for us, for me, for the people we serve?

·        What’s the timing, the budget?

·        What am I afraid of?

·        What’s the benefit to each party involved?

After it’s done:

·        Did we ship on time? Did we make big promises and keep them?

·        Did we relentlessly make the work better?

·        Did we seek discomfort in the process of stretching to innovate?

·        Is our theory of change, process and creation improving?

·        Did we ask the hard questions that led to new insights?

·        Have we surfaced useful metrics for how to better next time?

·        Did we build a system that is resilient enough to help us produce even more value?

·        How have we grown as an organisation, and as individuals? What did we learn?

Possible futures help us claim the path we’re willing to work for. Create two documents with your team before your next project: The pre-mortem (Imagine the project fails – what went wrong?) and the rave (Imagine that we’ve succeeded, what do people say?).

“An organisation of any size can effectively move forward by asking ‘What do humans need?’”

“What is the change we seek to make? Does it matter to the people we work with?”

What Happened To Management?

In this chapter, Seth Godin uses a quote from Satya Nadella: “The only way a business is successful and productive is if employees feel that sense of empowerment, that sense of energy and connection for the company’s mission and are doing meaningful work.”

“In a matrix of four kinds of work [high trust/high stakes, high trust/low stakes, low trust/low stakes and low trust/high stakes] the most important one is the work with high stakes and high trust. This is significant work, important work, work on the edge.”

“Work and school and our leisure time are becoming an endless hamster wheel, with small treats doled out for behaviours that feed corporations, not our souls.”

“The world has changed. Employees have more information about alternatives, respect, and wages.”

“Work is the expression of our energy and our dreams. We owe those along for the journey the same dignity and connection we would like to receive in return.”

This Time, with Meaning

Quotes from this chapter include:

“The significance revolution is unmaking the commercial power of industrialism and pushing us to create organisations that were hard to visualise a decade or two ago.”

“It’s not about what we make, it’s about how we choose to make it. If we care enough to build the best job you ever had, the team notices. And if people who care build something that they’re proud of, the market notices.”

['Not working as well as it once did']: “Leaders and managers who promise staff dignity and connection and excitement and then use discipline to get them to do what they want.”

“People aren’t buying the promise anymore. And managers are discovering that they can’t keep pretending that it’s a fair deal.”

“We’ve added a lot of veneer to the ugly truth of how industrial managers see their employees, but the reality hasn’t changed much: if humans are a resource, then we’re here to squeeze them.”

“This leads to bullying, to burnout, to harassment, and to systems based on injustice and unfairness instead of possibility. Management and industrialism have been done to workers not with them.”

“How do I get people to do what I want? Perhaps the better question is: How do I create the conditions for other people to do work that matters?”

Leadership is the art of creating something significant.”

Management had a good run. But management is reaching the end of its rope. Humans are not a resource. We are not a tool. Humans are the point.”

“This manifesto exists to highlight the opportunity and the trap, the unspoken fear that has informed our culture, organized our schooling, and undermined our ability to do the work that matters.”

“The irony of our modern world is that the ancient fears remain, and they work against us. Industrialists saw our weakness and maximised it. The fears will sabotage our work, undermining what we say that we want. They get in the way of being fully human.”

“When we embrace the mutual commitments of significance, we create the conditions for a shared understanding that our work, our actual work, is to dance with the fear. And dancing with fear requires significance, tension, and the belief that we’re doing something that matters.”

“Find the nerds, the motivated, and the overlooked, and figure out what they need to thrive. That exploration will reveal what others have needed as well but didn’t care enough to speak up about.”

“Significant work requires us to make commitments and to keep them. To create change. To explore the liminal space on our way from here to there. This is difficult.”

“In the face of a threat to our safety, it’s easy to focus on reinforcing that safety.”

“Fear is most useful as a tool for compliance: “The best way to avoid being fired is to do what I say.” All the boss needs to do is fire a few people to make that really clear. The problem is that doing what the boss says doesn’t scale very well, and it doesn’t work in a complex, fast-changing world. All of us are smarter than any of us.”

“What happens to a world of labourers when the need for labour is sliced so thin, is so measured and automated that it is no longer needed, no longer satisfying, and no longer useful.”

“Significant organisations are team-centric. Their goal is to make a change happen, and to do that with and for a group of people who care about making an impact.”

The purpose of a beehive isn’t to make honey: honey is a by-product of a healthy hive. A significant organisation can please its customers and make a profit as well.”

“Enrollment, mutual connection, federation, recognised dignity, and the journey of increase: together these create the conditions for a powerful, resilient way forward. And yet, we fail to see that creating these conditions is up to us, and that if we fall short in prioritising this work, we will ultimately revert to top-down management and the cynical low expectations it brings with it.”

“Safety is first. It’s impossible to grow, to connect, or to lead if we are under threat or feel the ground shifting beneath us.” Next come:

·        Affiliation - being part of something, fitting in, being connected.

·        Status – simply who eats lunch first. Our place in the order of things.

“But the real desire is significance. To do something that matters. To be missed if we’re gone. The universal desire to achieve dignity and be seen.”

“Instead of threats and scarcity, and instead of compliance and control, we have the opportunity to help people become significant. We can establish a foundation of safety and then build a culture of affiliation and status, where forward motion is a benefit in itself – even more than the pay that’s on offer.”

“Money doesn’t motivate us enough to create the magic a team needs."

"Significant organisations spend most of their time and energy not being where they were yesterday. In fact, th uncertainty and dislocation are the point, not a temporary inconvenience.”

"Significant work is project work, when we think of the important moments in our work life, we think of projects."

The Commitments

"Work dissatisfaction is based on a lie. Workers are promised something that used to be delivered – a sense of purpose – but that no longer exists in most organisations."

The significance commitments:

·        We’re here to make change happen

·        We are acting with intention

·        Dignity is worth investing in (people seek a place to belong)

·        Tension is not the same as stress

·        Mistakes are the way forward (pathfinding is at the core of creating with significance)

·        Take responsibility, give the credit

·        Criticise the work, not the worker (easy to say, surprisingly difficult to do)

·        Turnover is okay (if this bus isn’t going where you want to go, today is a great time to get off)

·        Mutual respect is expected (significance is built on respect)

·        Do the reading (not just the book, but understanding what others are concerned about)

·        Get to vs. have to (we set out because we can, not because we have to)

·        Standards instead of obedience (when we do the work when the boss is not looking, that’s adhering to standards)

·        Show your work (work for others to read and learn from)

·        Make it better (It’s in our nature to improve things)

·        Celebrate real skills (usually termed “soft” skills like passion, commitment, positivity)

Let’s Get Real – New Skills for a New Way of Work

“Let’s stop calling them soft skills …. let’s uncomfortably call them real skills instead. Real because they work, because they’re at the heart of what we need today. Real, because even if you’ve got the vocational skills, you’re no help to us without these human skills….”

“Imagine a team member with all the traditional vocational skills: productive, skilled, experienced. A resume that can prove it. That’s a fine baseline. Now add to it. Perceptive, charismatic, driven, focused, goal-setting, inspiring, and motivated. Generous, empathetic, and consistent. A deep listener, with patience. What happens to your organisation when someone like that joins your team?”

“Writing in the HBR, Lou Solomon reports that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. I’d guess that many of the other 31% are lying.”

“‘The beatings will continue until morale improves’ has never been a useful slogan.”

“Part of the work of getting real is to acknowledge that we’re dancing with humans, not writing computer code.”

Significant doesn’t have to mean soft or smiley. It’s work worth doing, clearly described.”

What We Make And How We Talk About It

“If you’re not willing to produce change, then you really have no options. Cost-reduction through industrial management is your only path forward.”

Consider that MBA applications are down as much as 25% in the most famous business schools. Where are these folks going instead? Why is a business degree so unattractive now?”

“We need to offer people work worth doing. We need to find ways to create significance.”

·        What is the change we seek to make?

·        Who would miss you if you were gone?

·        What are you doing that is special?

·        How do your unique skills and passions help this work go better?

·        Does this work matter?

·        Are you making choices that create an impact?

“Significance is where high trust meets high stakes. Significant work leads to impact and change.” 

Seth Godin Live


“The difference between a good restaurant and a great one has very little to do with the food. Hospitality finds problems and turns them into opportunities – for connection, for joy, and for creating memories.”

“Show me your agenda for today, and I’ll show you what you value.”

All the great stories involve pivots. All the organisations we admire are doing something they didn’t plan to do when they began. They are pathfinders, not excuse-makers.”

Meetings Are a Symptom

“Conversations are hard to control and plan for. That’s why industrial organisations prefer meetings. They’re actually group lectures with a few moments for Q & A.”

“Zoom meetings are often only meetings in the worst sense. Attendance is taken, someone lectures, a few people ask questions.”

“In most surveys, employees rank endless meetings as the worst part of working from home, and they don’t like them much more when they’re in the office. The reason is simple: no-one likes being lectured, and they like it less when it’s in real time and masquerading as a conversation.”

“Why is the idea of a whole week without meetings even noteworthy?”

“The purpose [of a meeting] is to communicate an idea and the emotions that go with it, and to find out what’s missing via engaged conversation. If we can’t do that, let’s not meet.”

Creating A Significant Organisation

“Culture defeats strategy, but culture is more difficult than strategy. It requires clarity, commitment, and daily persistence.”

“No one builds a great organisation alone.”

Seth Godin, in this chapter, says that Anne Marie Cruz, volunteer with The Carbon Almanac, highlighted four steps: Simplify, Clarify, Triage, Decide: Start with a problem, and make it as simple as possible. Then clarify the goal. This work you’re doing, the change you seek to make, who is it for and what is it for? Triage is the work of figuring out what to work on next. And finally decide to focus on the critical parts. Decide to ship the work.

“Culture that is based on goodwill and connection is more resilient, faster moving, and more productive than one that is based on mystery, selfishness, and power.”

“Don’t hoard. Don’t hoard information, interoperability, access, or love.”

"If you want to lead, you’ll need to be trusted.”

“The future, by its nature, is not a clean, well-lit place until we arrive.”

“High stakes organisations are desperate to measure the productivity of their assets. And if humans are expensive assets, then measuring them becomes a priority.”

“The alternative is to measure the health and output of the culture itself. To hold the leaders accountable for enrolment, commitment, and the rigor of shipping work that makes an impact.”

“Significance creates change, and change is a dance with tension. The tension is good. The tension might be the point. You can’t walk on a rope unless it’s tight.”

The Broomstick

“Beauty often lies in the mystery of connection and human creation, and beauty might just be the point.”

“Our role isn’t to simply fit in or to mimic or to comply. Our job is not to follow precise instructions.”

“Keep leading, it matters.”

“Significance isn’t what we get….It’s what we do for others.”

“We live in a world of eight billion people now, and each one (or at least every person I’ve met) has done something original, creative, important, and generous. At least once, and often more. That distributed, decentralised fountain of possibility is a way forward for all of us.”

Empower Your Workforce With Growth Faculty Memberships 

A company cannot sustain success and grow without a team of motivated, happy and empowered employees. So now, more than ever, managers must prioritise the wellbeing of their employees, especially if they are working as hybrid/remote teams.  

Having Growth Faculty membership grants your employees 12 months of unlimited access to masterclasses and interviews with world-class coaches and thought leaders, engaging events, networking opportunities and an on-demand library of leadership resources. (See our 2023 line-up of live virtual and in-person events)

Discounts to Adam Grant LIVE in 2024

If your organisaton or team wants to really kickstart growth and performance in 2024, don't miss work-life and future of work expert, organisational psychologist Adam Grant. With Growth Faculty membership you get discounts and further group discounts to our in-person events. Plus, there are EARLY BIRD TICKETS until December 15, 2023 to ADAM GRANT LIVE on his new book Hidden Potential, and topics around work-life and work culture. Adam will be appearing on stage in Melbourne and Sydney in February 2024. Tickets selling fast (VIP Melbourne is sold out, limited seats left in Sydney) so book now!

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