I am always drawn to the romantic view of the first Thanksgiving. Not sure this is fully accurate, but the story informs, nonetheless. A group of people new to a foreign land begin to build a community completely out of nothing. They didn’t arrive well-versed in how to do this, but instead figured it out […]
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 a wise old saying that “if you want to get something done, then give it to a busy person.” In my experience this is a pretty accurate depiction of how families, organizations and communities work. They “Type A” person will always assume the most responsibility and be the hub of critical activity. Other people tend to rely on them and their boundless energy for execution. Unfortunately, if you are not careful, this dynamic also ends up becoming somewhat dysfunctional and unhealthy as time goes on.
I have always liked the idea as viewing your time similar to currency. You get to decide how you spend it and what types if investments you make. Sadly, just like with our money, many of us make bad or misinformed decisions. Time is finite. There will be a time when it grows short and then disappears. Our children will only live with us a relatively brief time before they grow up and move away to begin their own lives. People we care about will run out of time and all that will remain will be the memories we made with them while they were still here. Our career will follow a natural arc and eventually our lives will be less about what we do for a living (despite our past accomplishments) and we will need to redefine ourselves. Knowing this, what can and should we do differently. I believe it all starts with 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.
I’m very concerned about the artificial reality we are creating for kids today. Everyone gets a medal or award. Disappointment and/or adversity is to be avoided at all costs. We are also teaching our children that they are the center of the family universe and everything revolves around them: their needs, wants, etc. If we let them to think everything they do is exceptional, then ultimately nothing they do will be. We allow them to continually isolate themselves socially and retreat into the comfort of impersonal technological communication without the wisdom of understanding the dynamics of human and social interaction. We worship their youth but then push them to grow up quickly and act more mature than they actually are (or should be). It’s almost as if a whole generation of parents is trying to make up for perceived deficiencies from their own childhood. We are forgetting how to be parents, coaches and teachers and instead striving to become friends, cheerleaders and positive psychologists.
What do you stand for? This is a question all leaders should able to answer fairly easily but most struggle with addressing. I’ve been in many organizations where if you asked the question, “What does this business stand for,” you would get blank stares. Values are the building blocks of any organization. Without a common set of beliefs and principles, a company is like a ship without a rudder – adrift in a sea of individual interpretation and situational experience. It has never been just about making money but how you make your money that matters the most. And, the how involves many issues such as the way you treat your customers, employees, vendors, the environment, etc.
I don’t remember growing up in a fearful society, but I feel like I live in one now. All you have to do is turn on the TV, listen to the radio, read the newspaper and eventually someone will be trying to scare you about something. We all seem so emotionally fragile and quick to identify an enemy or cause for our concern. The news media has perfected this art so well that they have helped to perpetuate a more neurotic generation in a time when just about every violent crime statistic is down significantly or at minimum on par with what existed when we were children (and our population has grown significantly during this time). As the saying goes, if it bleeds than it leads.”
John Mellencamp has a great line in one of his songs that goes, “you’ve got to stand for something, or your gonna fall for anything…” In my experience working with leaders in both the for profit and no profit sectors, this couldn’t be more true. There is nothing more frustrating than working with someone who is not sure what he/she believes in and/or the difference they want to make in the world. By the way, making more money should be an outcome of doing something else well not the sole objective. I can sometimes quibble with what people come up with but it is very helpful and informative if I know what someone values and where they stand. A ship without a rudder will drift anywhere.
We all get in our way sometimes and leaders are no different. Just because we know we shouldn’t do something doesn’t always mean we won’t do it. However, not all mistakes are created equal. There are fifteen things a leader should strive never to do:
How an organization makes decisions greatly affects whether or not it will have sustained levels of success. Any company can get lucky every once in awhile, but relying on ad hoc judgments is not a good strategy. One of the most important things a leader does is make decisions. He/she must also create a culture that knows how to make sound judgments without relying too much on any one individual. In essence, you want to foster an environment where you, your management team, and other key employees use decision making filters to increase the likelihood of making the right choices.
Leadership is about people. The best leaders intuitively understand this reality and surround themselves with the best people possible. You can only ever accomplish so much alone. Achieving anything of significance usually requires leveraging the skills, talents and relationships of others. You need to be less worried about being the smartest person in the room and more focused on the collective intelligence of your organization. Over time, your own IQ end up being the average IQ of the ten people you spend the most time with.
It’s very important that leaders are clear about and enforce standards of acceptable behavior. You will never win long-term in an “anything goes” environment. Winning isn’t everything. Moreover, people will get easily confused if you take a situational approach to moral and ethical issues. If something is wrong for one person it is equally wrong for someone else (even in family businesses). One of my favorite quotes of all time is that “we are what we tolerate.”
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.
It’s very easy to get so caught up in our own life and forget about the needs of other people especially those not directly in our social or professional circles. However, it’s been proven time and time again and that real joy comes from helping others not just focusing on ourselves. Leaders are in a unique position to set a good example in this regard. I believe it isn’t just a coincidence that the most philanthropic and community involved companies tend to do better than their less engaged peers on the business front. People want to know that you care about more than just profit especially your employees.
I find that leaders often get in trouble when they try to be who they are not. Your job is to be the best YOU that you can be. Trying to be someone else is inauthentic. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve or shouldn’t get better, but never lose sight of who you are, your passions, and what you believe to be right. Everyone needs be true to their own voice.
I appreciate the fact that there are a lot of “grey” areas in life. Not everything is black and white. Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and/or good reasons why people act they way they do. Everything doesn’t always fits into a neat little box of appropriate behavior; however there are some things that are almost always unacceptable despite the circumstances. There is a reason why all religions are typically based on a foundation of common morality and expected ethical behavior. Whether the leaders of these religions actually they live up to their own principles is another issue altogether.
People are motivated by all types of things and leaders are no different. There are always a few major drivers in an individual’s life that prompt action and focus our activities. Many of these motivators are formed in childhood or young adulthood. They can be good or bad or some degree of both. My personal contention is that living at the far end of any motivational continuum isn’t too healthy. I also believe that what drives you also has a big impact on the formation of your character and your values. We do tend to embody our priorities over time.
I don’t often write about spiritual or faith issues in my blog because for the most part I believe these are personal decisions. There are also many other people more capable and better equipped than me to address the issue. I’m comfortable in my own beliefs and hope you are in your own as well. However, I do feel strongly that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s belief structure and their level of happiness and capacity for resilience. Life is much more meaningful if you believe you are part of something bigger than yourself and there is a reason for being here beyond survival and personal comfort.
In business and life it is important to understand what motivates you. There are good motivators and bad ones. Striving to make a positive difference in the world and/or building a great company is a much healthier objective than simply accumulating personal wealth or power. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reap the rewards of your efforts. There are few things more valuable than a person working hard and doing well at something they consider to be meaningful and important. However, be wary of seeking money just for the sake of it. Wealth should be the outcome not the objective.
In work and life it’s important never to forget that everyone has value and should be treated that way. I find that how someone regularly treats other people, regardless of their status or physical appearance, is a good barometer of that person’s character. In our society we have come to worship fame, beauty, power and wealth much more than we should. In all walks of life results should and do matter, however, they are not all that matters. Allowing a fellow human being to maintain his/her dignity and self-respect regardless of the circumstances is equally important.