In our society that rewards constant action, it is often hard to step back and reflect about where you have been, what you have learned, and where you should be going. However, leadership requires thinking and reflection as much as it is supposed to stimulate action. Many people I know are busy at doing the wrong things. They are working hard but not smart. Every day is just one more attempt to push the boulder up the hill and hope that at some point positive sustained momentum will push them over the top. Unfortunately as the slope of their climb increases the weight of their responsibilities also increases and the path they are treading becomes less predictable and stable. You can’t push forward into unchartered territory and not expect to learn some tough lessons along the way. If you are not careful, you may slip or fall and the boulder will roll right back over you.
Leaders should be in a constant learning mode. Once you think you know it all give up the reigns of power because you will become detrimental to your organization. While some basic fundamental beliefs may remain true regardless of the circumstances, most of what takes place in business is in a constant state of flux. Your goal should be to stay ahead of the change curve not fall behind it. One way to do this is to keep asking questions and seeking answers. You can never be smart enough.
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.
So much about life comes down to your attitude about it. I know privileged people who are regularly misanthropic and others with less economic advantages that seem to be mostly happy even though their lot in life seems comparatively difficult. Every day we wake up we get to make a choice about how we approach our life. We can see our existence as an amazing gift full of unlimited possibilities or a burden full of work, obligations and limitations. We can appreciate what we have or yearn for what’s beyond our reach. We can make a positive difference in the lives other people or focus exclusively on ourselves. We can build bridges to solidify positive relationships or forget to tend to the basic maintenance of effective human interaction.
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.
I often worry about people who read too many self-help books and/or set lofty expectations for themselves based on what others think or espouse. Many of these books or speakers attempt to create and communicate a common definition of success and/or happiness that resonates with everyone and is applicable in all situations. They also tend to engender flawed comparisons of reality and potential. It’s almost as if who you are doesn’t matter and that everyone is equally capable in all situations and that there is a proven recipe for managing all life has in store for you.
While personal independence and self-reliance is a good thing, we live in a society that requires interdependency and cooperation. Children and the elderly are dependent based on the very nature of their situation. Physical and emotional vulnerability is a reality that confronts us all at the beginning and end of our lives. In addition, many close adult and professional relationships are co-dependent because we need other people to both experience life fully and get things done. You can’t just flip a switch and expect it to be there.
Bottom line is that we all have assets and liabilities as individuals. There is a school of thought that given this we should focus just on what we are good at (leveraging the assets) and minimize everything else. I believe this mindset has the danger of being short-sighted and self-limiting. Too much of anything is never a good thing. The only way we evolve is through learning and experience. Personal growth happens with time as we stretch our perspectives and challenge individual conceits and preconceptions. If we narrowly focus our growth opportunities, we aren’t fully living. Weaknesses also exist and must be dealt with, not just circumvented or fortified with self protective behaviors. Adversity and challenge are a regular part of life and require some level of personal vulnerability if they are to be successfully navigated
Talent will only ever get you so far in life. You have to regularly exercise that talent and push yourself to do better. The moment you start getting too comfortable in your role is the moment you become vulnerable to someone else who wants it more. As all high performing athletes instinctively know the difference between success and failure can literally be measured in inches or seconds. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a workaholic but it does mean you should take nothing for granted. The landscape of leadership history is littered with countless numbers of talented people who never fully realized their potential and/or settled for being “good enough.”
It’s important never to get too full of yourself or expect good times and success to be never-ending. The laws of gravity apply in all aspects of life: what goes up must come down. No one lives at the peak for too long. I’ve always believed that it’s not just what happens when you are on top that matters, but also the grace with how you manage the inevitable changes and decline. Life is about cycles and reinvention. It is not a continuous upward sloping straight line.
There will be instances in any person’s life where they will run smack into their fears. It could be in either significant or insignificant matters, but in all cases the fear will be real to the person experiencing it. Overcoming fear takes courage and being courageous always build character.
I’ve always believed that children are a gift from God or whatever higher power you choose to believe in. They are here to teach us as much as we are here to guide them. Sometimes it’s like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself being reflected back through their actions, attitudes, etc. In other cases, you gain entry into the wondrous world of their own individuality. My hope has always been that they will take the best from their mother and me and leave our flaws behind for us to grapple with on our own.
When you look to others to solve your problems and make you happy, you are already at a disadvantage. You end up forfeiting control of your own destiny and hope that someone else will make your issues a priority.
Some people seem to handle just about anything life throws at them while others get beaten down by the smallest challenge. Why is this? Each and every day we get to make a choice. We get to decide what we focus on and our attitude about it. You can choose to focus on what is right with your life and use this as a launching pad to handle any ensuing difficulty OR you can obsess over what is not working and see a struggle around every corner.
I’ve long believed that success is incremental rather than something that happens all at once. It’s the little things that take place every day that make the difference.
What defines a life is how we deal with the unexpected. Adversity and challenge will rise up and confront us all, sometimes when we LEAST expect it. We will feel that we did everything right and still things didn’t work out. What then? Bad things do happen to good people.
There is a fundamental difference between a good work and fiction and our own stories. We are the authors. There is no more subjective experience than living one’s own life. To a large extent, we get to decide how it all turns out. It may be cliché to state the obvious; however, it is not what happens to you, but how you respond to it that matters.
Change is a fact of life. Everything changes. People change. Circumstances change. How much change have you seen in your own life? My father who is now 82 once walked me through the changes he had seen in his lifetime and it was startling. The world as he knew it as a child no longer exists. Some changes are good others aren’t so good, but they will happen nonetheless.
I continue to be fascinated and a bit troubled by people who claim an unwillingness to grow or change. They seem to live by the Popeye motto, “I am what I am” and assume everyone else will simply accept this point of view whether they like it or not. Our actions and behaviors will always have consequences both good and bad. The goal should be to maximize the good and limit the bad.
There is nothing wrong with having moments of comfort and predictability in our lives. However, we must also learn to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. In fact, we should seek out things that push us to our limits and challenge our preconceived notions of what’s possible.
Emotions aren’t bad they just need to be appropriate to the situation and managed accordingly. In my experience, people often won’t trust or have other concerns about a leader or colleague who is devoid of emotion and seemingly stoic in all situtaions.