Lasting Lessons from My Dad

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.

Happy Holidays 2018!

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 happy holiday season.  I have always believed that all great truths are universal and not bound by the parameters of […]

Leadership Thought #489 – Be Mindful of the 3 Temptations

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 […]

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Friendship

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:

Leadership Thought #451 – Beware Of Being Put On A Pedestal

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.

Leadership Thought #449 – Are You Moving Forward Or Being Held Back?

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.

Leadership Thought #440 – Avoid Being Put On A Pedestal

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.

Leadership Thought #436 – Are You Aligned With Your Values And Priorities?

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.

Leadership Thought #408 – Live Your Core Purpose and Personal Priorities

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:

Leadership Thought #406 – Be Open To Possibilities

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.

Leadership Thought #405 – Limit Your Casualties And Maximize Your Allies

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.

Leadership Thought #393 – Don’t Succumb To Temptation

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.”

Leadership Thought #376 – Play To Your Strengths

When I used to work for Gallup many years ago they had a great saying, “you can’t put in what God left out.” Many of us spend far too much effort trying to be what we are not instead of focusing on what makes us truly special. We all have natural weaknesses and strengths. Some people are great at details while others seem to effortlessly grasp the big picture. Some people are great thinking on their feet where others thrive using a more methodical approach. There are a few of us with the physical ability to be a professional athlete while others are better at reporting and analyzing the events taking place on the field. The list goes on and on. Of course all of this happens on a continuum, but I believe each and every one of us has gifts and talents that separate us from the pack (if only we are paying attention).

Leadership Thought #373 – Go Out On Top and Move Forward

I remember when they asked Jerry Seinfeld why he would turn down $5m an episode and leave one of the top rated shows in TV history and he said he wanted to go out on top. He also said he wanted to get a life and that work had become all consuming. At the time I couldn’t quite understand his decision but now I respect it. Too many people stay on past their prime whether its entertainment personalities, public officials, business leaders, etc. There comes a point for each of us where the value we are adding begins to diminish and it’s time to reinvent ourselves and do something different and/or focus on other priorities.

Leadership Thought #371 – What I Learned From My Dad

Since Father’ Day is right around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to share some of what I have learned from my dad. Every boy’s first role model is his father. You believe him to be a man of Olympian strength, Einstein-like intellect and the quintessential self-reliant individual as portrayed by Ralph Waldo Emerson. There was nothing he couldn’t fix or problem he couldn’t solve. I remember watching many cowboy movies as a kid and always assuming my dad would have made the better protagonist.

As we get older we learn that our dad is human like everyone else and if you are smart you eventually relieve him of the pressures of sitting up on a pedestal. However, many of the lessons we learn from our parents end up lasting a lifetime. My dad taught me the following:

Leadership Thought #365 – Challenge Yourself

It was about two years ago when a friend bet me I couldn’t do 365 daily blogs. I have no doubt his intentions were well meaning and pure. Today, I have accomplished that goal (even more if you count the “song of the weekend” and other themed blogs). When I first started it felt like a daunting task. I couldn’t imagine I would have enough write about or have the time to get it done in my busy schedule. It also would require more consistent discipline than I am used to. My tendency is to be more of a free spirit and I don’t like to get boxed in by self imposed obligations. However, I have surprised myself and found that I actually like the daily routine of writing this blog. In many ways it has been therapeutic and good for my soul.

Leadership Thought #359 – Believe In Yourself

You have to believe in what it is you are doing before you can fully believe in yourself. Life is a constant search for meaning and understanding. The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they are unwilling to put themselves out there because they won’t put forth the required effort, are afraid of public scrutiny and lack the courage of their convictions. Being the hero of your own life isn’t easy.

Leadership Thought #357 – The Need For Courage

Anyone can scare someone else, but it often takes alot more effort to give them courage. Leaders everywhere need to take the lead on changing this mindset. The greatest leaders throughout time have given people hope for a better future. They pushed individuals, communities, organizations and countries to elevate their perception of what’s possible. Instead of scaring people into action and using fear for manipulative purposes, they encouraged others to find the strength and resourcefulness within themselves to meet any challenge and seize opportunity. To quote Winston Churchill, “courage is the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

Leadership Thought #353 – The Extra Effort Is Always Worth It

Most things of importance and value in life require some level of effort. Some people get lucky and have success, happiness and self-fulfillment fall in their lap, but they are few and far between. In life it has always been that little extra effort that makes the difference. We all must accept that there are many people who will be more intelligent, better looking, more talented, have more advantages, and be more capable than us, but only you as an individual decide if they will outwork you. I’ve found that when you are tired and/or feeling lazy and could easily talk yourself out of doing something, but do it anyway, that’s what separates you from the pack. Success in life and business requires consistent, focused, sustained effort.

Leadership Thought #340 – Are You Getting Better?

In business (and life) you are either growing and getting better or going in the opposite direction. Just like your muscles, your brain and natural abilities will atrophy if they don’t get exercise. You can’t stand still and expect progress. I see far too many people who “let up” at the very time they need to “push the envelope” and challenge themselves to do better. It’s also sad when a leader stays on too long and becomes more interested in ego, power and position than effectively navigating change and facilitating progress.

Leadership Thought #336 – What’s Important In Life?

I’ve always thought that the whole concept or work life balance is a bit of an illusion. It’s difficult for me to imagine someone who has a life that is always completely in balance. Things don’t always work out this way. It’s like the idea of a 50/50 partnership or marriage. Rarely do both partners put in the same amount of effort all the time. What you hope is that in the end it all balances out properly. I view my life in the same way. There will be periods when some things take precedence over others and that’s okay as long as it doesn’t become a lifelong habit. However, there are certain aspects of our existence we should be paying attention to all the time (to varying degrees as needed). We ultimately ignore any of these items long-term to our own detriment.