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.
If a leader isn’t properly motivated then it will eventually trickle down throughout the organization. We all look to our leaders for both inspiration and direction. Every organization has to maintain a certain edge in this regard and must continually fight complacency. It’s hard to stay on top. You must never accept the status quo or rest on your laurels. High performing leaders are never just going through the motions. They show up to work every day with a sense of purpose and responsibility to do what’s needed and what’s right. They don’t need other people or external factors to force them into action. They are self-motivated to build the best possible organization they can.
I often meet business owners/leaders who think they have it all figured out. Whenever this happens a red flag goes up for me right away. The best leaders I know are in a constant learning mode. They are very aware of what they don’t know and need to learn. They soak up information like a sponge and are energized by new thoughts and ideas. Leaders who are unwilling to admit their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge are eventually confronted with the very reality they are ignoring. It may take time, but it always happens. It’s even worse if they are completely unaware of where they fall short and end up getting blindsided. In leadership positions, ignorance is not bliss.
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.
Leadership and life is about reinvention. Who you are today will not be who you are tomorrow. There are too many variables beyond your realm of control. I sincerely hope that life is kind to you and that you won’t be given more to manage than you can handle. However, life also rewards those who are prepared. The market continues to value and reward those organizations that take calculated risks and proactively strive to create a successful future. People who live the most fulfilling lives are those willing to make changes and challenge conventional wisdom. If you stand still, others will pass you by and life will eventually run you over.
I’ve always like the idea of new beginnings. My mom used to say that every person has 4 seasons to their lives and each one is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and use the wisdom gained up until that point to make better decisions. As I age, I understand more of what she meant. I also believe that within these seasons there are natural changes such as completing your schooling, getting married (maybe more than once), having kids, becoming a homeowner, embarking on a career, being at the peak of your career and having responsibility for other people, caring for aging parents, having your own kids move out and start their own lives, becoming a grandparent, retirement from work and navigating our “golden years” that just seem to happen and lead to new beginnings. I do respect the fact that not everyone opts for all these changes but for the most part they are common experiences shared by most of us.
The speed of business has increased dramatically these days. Markets no longer carry the complacent. In this environment, leaders must operate under a 5-7 year arc and then they need to completely reinvent themselves and their companies. If there is some game changing event or circumstance, the pace of this change may even need to accelerate.