I have been a Charles Handy fan for many years and find that his work only becomes more prescient and meaningful with time. It’s amazing how he could envision the world we would be doing business in before it happened. His thoughts on life, business, and leadership are timeless. I had my son revisit his […]
M. Scott Peck had a big impact on me many years ago. I often look back to the writers who have influenced me in the past to help navigate the present. There is a lot of natural fear circulating around these days. The Coronavirus/COVID-19 is a scary threat, as all threats are that are randomly […]
I always look forward to the winter holidays. As we approach the end of another year, I wanted to reach out and wish all my friends and colleagues: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and all others a very happy holiday season. I have always believed that all great truths are universal and not bound by the parameters […]
Everyone should be mindful of their temptations. Temptation is an issue we all deal with. I don’t usually mix my faith which I deem to be a very personal issue with my leadership development work. And, I have no intention of radically changing course now, however what we read and study does affect us and […]
Life can be a roller coaster at times. There will be highs and there will be lows. The important thing is not to overreact or think that everything has to be perfect all the time. Perspective is important. There is no silver bullet. There is nothing you can buy or pill you can take that will make you happy for any extended period.
In business and in life it’s very important to know who you truly are before you attempt anything dramatic. There are so many messages out there telling us who we ought to be that we sometimes get caught up in a web of self-deceit because that’s what we think we should be doing.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not. There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true. No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well. It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others. Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?
Sadly, my dad passed away this past weekend. He was 84 and lived a full life. Many times he commented to me that he couldn’t believe he lived this long. When he was a child, he told me, living to 65 seemed like a reasonable expectation. I am glad he beat his own expectations and gave us many more years to be with him. Dad came from a generation where you lived up to your responsibilities. He didn’t complain about it and believed that one of the most important things you could do was to teach your children was to become independent adults. He didn’t coddle us, but also did judge us too harshly. He was always there if needed.
I felt like doing something different with this blog. I am a huge fan of the literary works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and was recently revisiting and discussing his essay on friendship as part of a class I am teaching. I’ve always believed that a life is defined by the quality of one’s relationships. We all want the same thing: some level of connectedness with other individuals that that both allows and encourages us to live the best life we can. While at its very beginning and final end, life may be a solo journey, the rest of it is full of human interaction. Our level of happiness during the balance of our existence is most often dictated by how we navigate the dense forest of interpersonal relationships. As usual, Emerson is much more eloquent than I am on this topic and here are a few excerpts from the essay:
Beware of putting yourself or anyone up on a pedestal. There are right ways and wrong ways to feed someone else’s or your own ego. Just because an individual has experienced significant success in one aspect of life, doesn’t mean they are equally competent in all other things human. It doesn’t do that person or you any good to blanket the praise. It is one thing to appreciate and respect individual accomplishment. It is another to think that similar success could be achieved in whatever else that person attempted. In fact, it can be dangerous as we heed advice or jump to conclusions about different situations based on who we choose as our role models. For example, Bruce Springsteen is a very talented songwriter and musician, but there is most likely a difference between his songwriting and his own reality. He is not a deity, he is a man. Thinking he has life all figured out isn’t fair to him or you. No one of that stature can ever live up to the hype.
There is a famous saying that, “if you aren’t moving forward, then you are heading backwards.” I completely agree. There is no such thing as standing still in life, Time moves forwards regardless. Too many of us spend too much energy getting stuck in our present circumstances or being held back by our past. There is nothing we can do about what has already happened. All we can do is learn from it and strive to become a better person in the process. In terms of the here and now, your attitude and efforts should always be geared towards positive ends. Leave the negativity to others. My mom often used to say, “Make the best of it, whatever “it” is.” As usual, her wisdom is a beacon of light that shines through my life.
As my kids begin another school year school this morning, it is always interesting to watch how both the children and parents are transitioning. In some cases either the kids and/or parents will be a bit anxious or nervous, unsure of what is to come. In other cases, there is an almost a giddy excitement about the new challenges. Old friends will greet each other joyfully, while the new children and parents will be feeling their way on how to best fit in. Some children will walk to school alone, while others will have both parents with them and be accompanied all the way to their new classroom. Many of the teachers will carry themselves with an air of confidence and enthusiasm, while others will be a bit more reticent and laid back.
Avoid being put on a pedestal by yourself or by others. I’ve seen good people get too full of themselves when they begin to view themselves as extra special and different from everyone else. In happens in all industries and in all sectors. Nonprofit leaders certainly aren’t excluded. It is never good for any of us to be surrounded by people who are too deferential. Success without humility typically leads to ego issues. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value or respect accomplishment, but we shouldn’t put a disproportionate emphasis on the attributes of the person. Superlative outcomes are usually the result of good timing, hard work and specialized focus not generic ability. In addition, doing good work that taps into your unique talents makes a positive difference in the lives of others should be enough of a reward. Don’t get too caught up with celebrating YOU.
I’ve often heard it said that if you want to know what a person truly values, pay attention to what they do, not what they say. Actions do speak louder than words. Many of us are hypocrites and don’t even realize it. I have a professional belief that a considerable amount of unhappiness in leadership (and life) is due to individuals living in conflict with their true values and focusing on the wrong priorities. We are either moving closer to or further away from from the person we’d like to be. There is no standing still. The person we become is a direct result of the outcomes we create and how we get there.
We all know that we meet the same end but we usually don’t know when or why. Most of us avoid spending much time at all thinking about our mortality. It is almost taboo to think about our own expiration date. We stay focused on the moments at hand and feel like our future is open-ended. Why does it take a crisis for us to appreciate the tenuousness of our time here on earth and the true importance of our close relationships? It is a shame we can’t be in this mindspace more often – maybe it would make us all slightly better people. The truth is that we are all living on borrowed time and how we spend that time matters. I heard a speaker comment recently that in every interaction we are either giving life or taking it away. I liked it when he said it then and like it even more now.
In my line of work you know you have tapped into a serious problem when you encounter disproportionate emotion. There have been many times where I have sat across from someone and literally watched them break down. I learned a long time ago to let the other individual have their moment and not try to downplay or negate their emotion. You don’t make someone feel better by making them feel embarrassed or disappointed about how they feel. All of us hit an emotional “brick wall” at times and become frustrated/upset with the rigors of life and work. We all need people we can turn to let us be our authentic selves, even when this isn’t pretty or easy to watch.
Life is about habits and behaviors. All time represents is a series of moments and actions stitched together that seemingly always exist in the present. We can reflect on what we have done in the past, think about what we may do in the future, but we can really only ever control now. Part of my job is observation. Sadly, my best case study is often myself when it comes to areas of needed improvement. I never cease to amaze myself with what I consciously do wrong and regret later although I am getting better. I am also certain my human experience isn’t unique. You may catch your self doing some of the following things over the course of any given day that inhibit rather than promote feelings of self-satisfaction and happiness:
Several years ago one of my Vistage groups was lucky enough to have Dr. Randy Peeters come speak to us about personal core purpose. Few people have accomplished what this very humble and understated man has done in his life. In his presence you get the sense that you are around a man at peace with his human existence and not victim to the same self-imposed boundaries that most of us put up in our own lives. He is a textbook example of pushing the envelope on what’s possible and using your time here on earth effectively. I was very affected by my time with him and share my own core purpose and personal priorities developed because of his presentation. Hopefully this example with stimulate similar activity on your end:
A strange thing happens to us as we age. We become more risk adverse and less open to the learning and growth possibilities abundant in life. We get set in our ways and habits. Our worldview becomes fixed. We are less willing to challenge our own perspective and very judgmental of others who disagree with whet we think. We tend to look backwards not forwards on social issues. The past gets sentimentalized while the future is rife with doubt and uncertainty. We are skeptical that the younger generation has what it takes to solve the problems that ironically enough our generation created. We become closed rather than open to possibility.
In my experience there are two types of leaders: those who build alliances across the span of their career and those who leave casualties in their wake. It’s always a pleasure to work with people who operate in the former category. Leaders require followers and the more people who see themselves in your camp the better. At the end of your career, you will hopefully be able to look back and see many lives that you have changed for the better and a large number of mutually beneficial relationships. Approaching life from a win-win perspective just makes plain common sense.
The more success you have the more temptations will come your way. It’s easy to start to think of yourself as different or special when you outperform your peers. You may begin to rationalize that the same basic moral rules don’t apply to you, but they do. Character is certainly forged in the fires of adversity. However, you also learn a lot about someone’s character when everything seems to go their way. The saying goes “if you want to know who someone truly is then give them money and power.”