The Lesson of the Goat Handler

The Lesson of the Goat Handler


Lessons for business and life often come from unexpected places. This unexpected lesson is exactly what happened to me in Sicily when I encountered a “goat handler” standing next to a crater on Mount Etna. Janice and I spent eight days in Sicily in July, fulfilling a visit to my father’s homeland for the first time. If you haven’t been there, let me say the people are warm, the island is beautiful and the food delicious.

On our day hike to the active volcano near the top of Mt. Etna we ran into a middle-aged man standing there with his goat. People were flocking to have their picture taken with him-both adults and kids- and leaving behind a hat filling up with donations.

My first thought was something like: How the heck does someone differentiate their business just standing around with a goat and asking for money? But my brief encounter with him told me a secret. When I went up to have my picture taken, he greeted me with a warm, infectious smile. Rather than just posing for a picture with him, he asked me where I was from and if it was my first time to Sicily.

After the picture was taken I had already put my donation in his hat when he stopped me. “Before you leave, don’t forget this” as he handed me a small volcanic rock with two tiny red plastic lady bugs glued on the top. “This is for you to have a blessing and to wish you a good life.”

Walking away from this simple experience I realized why he was doing so well. What made him stand out was not the cute goat, or even that he was the only one asking for donations in that spot. What made him successful was that he had a purpose and it showed. Even in that oh so brief encounter, it was obvious he wasn’t just doing this for the money. He loved seeing the smiling faces, he obviously got a sense of purpose from making someone’s day and that “hand off” of the rock with the lady bug blessing had nothing to do with the donation- it was part of why he did this.

That week, I was doing the final edits on my next book The Purpose Revolution and connected the dots. When we have a purpose it shows, whether you’re a goat handler, a leader, or a large business. Purpose is magnetic and we can sense it a mile away. We can tell if someone just wants to sell us something or if they really care about our well-being. We can tell when a business is just about profits or wants to create a better world now and for the future.

So next time you are leading a meeting in your organization, ask yourself: Can my people tell I have a purpose beyond profits? Next time you run a campaign to communicate with your employees or customers, ask if they can see with clarity that you are trying to create a better world for them and for others?

And don’t forget that when we have a sense of purpose ourselves, we simply perform better. Research has shown that when people see their job as a way to make a difference, not just a way to make a living, they are more productive, provide better service, call in sick less, and are more committed. Research shows about four in ten employees are now focused mostly on purpose and over 50% of millennials say they’d take a pay cut for greater purpose!

The goat handler has a purpose- to inspire a smile and give a blessing. What’s your purpose?  And is the purpose of your enterprise so apparent that it’s contagious?

Be well and do good work,



Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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1 Comment
  • Patricia
    Posted at 20:07h, 15 September Reply

    Hi Dr. Izzo,
    Truly enjoyed reading your article and listening to your presentation at the PMI conference on Tuesday (September 12, 2017, I’m the one who congratulated you and whom you’ve responded to with “You’re sending me good energy…”). I could see that you also have a great and genuine purpose, being to inspire, to empower and to leave a legacy of making a difference. It is working as it did empower me and reminded me of my own purpose. All the best on your next speaking engagements and continue to empower others around you. Praying for more success, more power, and good health for you, in Jesus mighty name, Amen.

    Thanks for the empowerment,

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