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 […]
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 […]
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Another year has come full circle and I find myself celebrating my 46th birthday. Wow! Sometimes the passing of time is hard to believe. My dad once told me that “the days can be long but the years will grow shorter as you age.” As usual he is right. It seems like yesterday I was wide eyed kid playing with my friends and day dreaming about my future. While I never did become President or Secretary of State (there’s still time), soar through the universe as an astronaut, solve major crimes for Interpol, play either professional baseball or football, or lead troops as a great general, I’ve had a rich full life. Today is a day to count my many blessings:
A career and life is just a series of interconnected days. Success comes about by developing constructive daily habits. Most people tend to “wing it” instead of creating some sense of consistency and discipline in their lives. As a result, they regularly end up dealing with the consequences of undisciplined behavior. Sure some people get lucky, but this is a relatively small number and not a good life strategy. I’ve observed the following success behaviors in my clients, colleagues and friends:
70 years ago today our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor and the world was never the same. America, which hadn’t been subject to another country attacking our territory since The War of 1812, had to deal the terrible wave of war that would end up sweeping the globe and literally becoming a world war. While our political and military leaders had tried to prepare for this inevitability, we were still caught off guard and it took us about 2 years to get our footing and begin to turn the battle to our favor. We had to significantly scale up our industrial military industrial capacity and recruit millions of soldiers to sign up and join the fight which was taking places in multiple locations throughout the world. If you think about what was accomplished logistically in a relatively short period of time, it is quite impressive. Thank goodness we were up to the challenge.
2009-2011 has been a difficult period for many people I know and care about. It’s almost as if the heavens opened up and terrible storm decided to descend on a vast number of unsuspecting people. In many cases, the signs may have been there, but none of us expected the difficulty it to be so prolonged and discouraging. They say “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” I’m not sure I agree with this point of view. Not every challenge leads to strength; sometimes it just forces us to alter our perspective. Change doesn’t always mean growth or better, it often just means different. In addition, certain wounds don’t always heal as we would like them to, but they heal nonetheless – time will see to this.
Life does not reward those that hesitate. One of the hardest things to teach young athletes is to get them to think before they act. They often are used to just plowing ahead regardless of the consequences or the rules. It is a difficult balancing act because if you are not careful they will begin to think too much and lose their natural athletic instincts. In addition, you will play into their natural fears of making a mistake or being wrong. And, in any sport, once you hesitate or pause, you give the other person the advantage by moving into reactive not proactive mode.
It was always evident to me that Jimmy Buffet was a great storyteller. His later work as a successful author clearly illustrates this fact. His songs always manage to take you somewhere else and evoke some level of feeling. There is almost an instantaneous transition of the vibe in any room when his music comes on. Wistful smiles form on the listener’s faces and some people’s thoughts wander as they contemplate any number of things – most of which are positive. For a guy who purports the simple carefree life, he sure has managed to create a musical catalogue of substance while also pursuing many other varied passions.
I doubt many of us end up in the exact place we thought we’d land as clear eyed confident high school or college graduates many years ago. We were so sure of ourselves back then on who we would become and what we’d accomplish. The path ahead was pretty straightforward and many of the major steps were already identified, then LIFE HAPPENED. All paths are somewhat crooked and bumpy at times. Just like the sea, smooth sailing won’t last forever. Your character will inevitably build over time (or not) as you navigate the rough waters and unforeseen obstacles. You will also uncover beautiful passageways that you were unaware existed and have moments of spontaneous joy and self-assurance that will linger for a lifetime.
I’ve always believed that life rewards those who are prepared when an opportunity presents itself. To do this, you need to honestly know what a great opportunity would mean for you and why. You need to have an underlying sense of your personal values and priorities. You need to be actively searching for success and happiness and be on the lookout for positive signs. You need to know what you would be willing to give up or sacrifice to make something work. You need to be flexible but not jump at every opportunity that presents itself. You need to have a sense of context and perspective. You need to learn from your mistakes. You need to be brave enough to answer the door when opportunity knocks and be willing to risk short term comfort for long term gain. You need to be intellectually, physically and mentally prepared for the ensuing challenge. You should also be wary of burdening yourself with a lifestyle that affords minimal flexibility and boxes you into a financial corner.