Start Within

“…the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

Jim Yong Kim
President, The World Bank


There is no team member, and certainly no team, who will surpass the commitment to learning and development that is established by their leader. If you are frustrated by the lack of growth, or the lack of commitment to growth, being demonstrated by your team, you must first look at yourself.

The act of learning in organizational life, and the feedback required to enable it, depends totally on the environment created by the leader, one in which he or she demonstrates a personal, living commitment to continuous learning. If there is a “secret sauce” to effective leadership, this is it.

Today, the onus on leaders is to start within, focusing first on their own improvement as a continuous exercise of genuine humility. This practice of humility creates a space for a deeper empathetic sensibility that can then be applied to the leader’s team.

When feedback comes from that place it demonstrates a universal commitment to getting better (We are all in this together!) while also reenforcing the most basic truth of leadership, that leaders go first.

If you are not willing to go first, you are not a leader. If you are not willing to learn continuously, grow continuously, question your personal status quo continuously, you are not a leader.

Once you do so, however, it changes everything. You will no longer dread the discomfort of providing feedback to your team but will instead relish the opportunity to be a catalyst for their growth. Once you normalize a persistent and consistent approach to learning for yourself, you will normalize it for them as well.

As ever, leaders go first.


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And we also got lucky

When you listen to a business leader describe their company’s success you will inevitably hear them discuss the clarity of their strategies and the quality of their execution.

What you rarely hear them say is that they were also lucky and, by extension, opportunistic.

The fundamental attribution error of success in business is the belief that it happens through pluck, ingenuity and hard work.

Since good luck is typically the byproduct of hard work, generosity and awareness, I don’t understand why so many leaders of successful organizations have difficulty owning their share of it.

To humbly accept the role of luck in the success of any enterprise is to admit the truth that the forces of randomness and change are far more powerful than our ability to control the status quo.


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The Force Field

Change is coming.

Actually, it’s here right now, with plenty more on the way.

The people to your right and your left? You need them now more than ever, just as they need you.

You can attempt to face the impact of change on your own. You can curl into a fetal position to ride out the turbulence or you can start frantically doing everything that needs to be done, exhausting yourself (and everyone else) in the process.

Another option is to lock arms with your colleagues and have honest and purposeful conversations about the best way forward.

Connection is a force field under which we are reminded that we can mitigate the impact of change by choosing to absorb it together.


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A Few Questions

If you stopped editing yourself, what would you say?

When you are at your worst, what’s the fear behind that behavior?

When you float outside yourself, tethered to nothing but possibility, what gives you that lift?

You are at the edge of your seat, no facade to impress us, what got you there?

You keep going back to that thought, what is it that you cannot forget?

You’re traveling lighter these days, what have you left behind?

You can only take so much, what is your breaking point?

When you are at your best, what thought or trait or relationship makes that so?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Journey
{Edna St. Vincent Millay}

Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me—I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
Yet onward!
Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,—sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs—
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.


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Playing the Long Game

Why do I work with college students? Why do I teach, advise and mentor the next generation of community and organizational leaders?

Here’s a short list:

  • It’s fun.
  • It’s energizing.
  • We need them.
  • We need them.
  • We need them.

The immediacy of this moment will eventually shift. It seems impossible right now that those in power who abuse their power will someday not be there, but that day will come.

When it does, we need a group of qualified, engaged believers to take their places.

Qualified by their experience and their training; engaged by their commitment to bringing some humanity back to the human experience; believers in something larger than themselves.

Based on what I see in their eyes, in their hearts and most importantly, in their actions, we will be in good hands.

Those of us with the opportunity and the inclination to do so must help them. And then we must get out of their way.

They are getting ready. They are on their way. And when they arrive, we will all be the better for it.


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A Healthy Burn

For a healthy forest to remain healthy – for it to survive – it has to burn.

That’s not conjecture, it’s science.

A forest has to burn frequently enough to clear out the understory – the pine needles, dry grasses, and smaller trees – that when left unmanaged can turn a necessary cycle of periodic fire into an inferno from which few forests can ever fully recover.

Too much fuel equals massive devastation. When that fuel is reduced the mature trees – the ones we think of as “forest” – remain unharmed and even strengthen their resistance to fire.

Since people don’t care much for fire, these “healthy burns” rarely get a chance to run their natural course. We stamp them out as quickly as possible and unwittingly create conditions for much worse outcomes down the line.

The natural world, in its taciturn way, is always teaching us how to work with change in our own lives and in our organizations, too.

Sometimes the understory has to burn – old hurts let go of, good people moving on, dated practices falling away – so that we have the space, once again, to imagine just how high we would like to grow.


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Two Sides of the Same Coin

In conversation with a leader:

Question: In the context of this current change, what’s your biggest opportunity?

Answer: My opportunity right now is to seize the high ground. I will remain positive, connected and open to possibility.

Question: In the context of this current change, what’s your biggest challenge?

Answer: My challenge is to fight off every temptation to abandon that high ground; to surround myself with people who will help me to stay positive, connected and open to possibility.


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What About the Other 19?

Yesterday, I wrote about the Business Roundtable’s newly released Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, a declaration signed by 181 of its 200 member CEOs.

Nineteen corporations decided not to sign on to a statement that broadens the purpose of a corporation from “shareholder primacy” to a “fundamental commitment” to all of their stakeholders. In other words, it’s no longer sufficient or sustainable to be just about the money. Corporate interests must now include employees, suppliers, communities and the environment.

Those who did not sign include the Blackstone Group, GE and Alcoa.

While no one will be surprised if this new statement fails to result in systemic change, considering that it lacks any measure of accountability, it is a big symbolic step forward that has already met with significant resistance.

The Council of Institutional Investors said, “Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one. It is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of defining and addressing societal objectives with limited or no connection to long-term shareholder value.”

This reactive dualism is not surprising in the least. Rather, it is an instructive reminder of the prevailing limits of the corporate imagination and just how far we are from making the modern workplace more fully human.

In today’s New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin summed it up nicely, “For whatever progress may have been made Monday, it is hardly clear the debate is over. In fact, the fight for corporate identity is just beginning.”

Whether you are an owner, a leader, an employee, a supplier or a customer, I hope you see the possibility that exists for you to fight for that new corporate identity where you work and live. Raise your expectations, of yourself and your colleagues, and trust that an expansive application of accountability is the best strategy for long-term growth you can possibly employ.


 

The Purpose of Business

Today, the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 CEO’s, announced that 181 of its members signed off on a new statement of the purpose of a corporation. This is a massive shift from the one-note philosophy of “shareholder primacy” to an approach that is reflective of a modern workforce – a modern society – that deserves and demands “meaning and dignity.”

This affirmation of a more wholistic, human-centric approach to business will require accountability of the highest order. Please read the statement below and consider how you will bring it to life and sustain it within the walls of your own workplace.


 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

  • Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
  • Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Source: The Business Roundtable