Up until about eight years ago, I would say that I maximized my days as well as anyone and was always comfortable juggling multiple projects and tasks. My business thrived, my books were selling well and I achieved a small modicum of success by the world’s standard, but I began to recognize that I was often missing out on the truly important things in life. My hectic pace, which mirrored the pace of so many other professionals in my circle, began to negatively impact the quality of time I was spending with clients, friends and loved ones. My crazy schedule and the countless meetings I was having each week began to blur together and I felt that I was not being truly present for the people who richly deserved my full attention, especially my wonderful wife and two sons. The pace I was keeping also had a deeply negative impact on my ability to gather my thoughts, reflect on lessons learned and ponder the future. This epiphany, which occurred in the last few days of 2012, became the basis for my commitment to slow down and begin living life in “real time”.
Like many of us, you have been thinking a great deal the last few weeks about what kind of 2020 you want to have and the goals you wish to achieve. This is a typical and necessary exercise for all leaders, but I wish to challenge all of us to open the aperture a bit and expand our thinking about where we will invest time in the coming year. The business objectives, projects and the endless meetings will always be there and require our attention and effort, but how about the other important areas of our lives?
We all likely remember (or have read about) the tragic explosions of the space shuttles Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) and the deaths of all crew members in both accidents. As you may recall, NASA’s investigation into both explosions uncovered problems that had been long known in the space shuttle program ranging from faulty O-ring seals (Challenger) to foam insulation falling off during launches (Columbia). These problems, or defects, were widely known and expected to occur. NASA accepted these defects as part of the space shuttle launch process. Questions were raised, to be sure, but the questions lacked the kind of disciplined attention necessary to stop the problems from occurring. This has come to be known as the “normalization of defects”.
My oldest son Alex is almost 22 and he has high-functioning autism. He is a wonderful and bright young man with many gifts, balanced to some degree by social quirkiness and other challenges resulting from his autism. When he graduated from high school, my wife and I decided he was not yet ready for the rigors of college and instead focused on helping him find employment and increasing his independence.
I bet we have all had first meetings with other professionals that made us cringe, either because of the other person’s behavior or after self-reflecting on our own missteps. I would like to share a little insight about some old-school ideas that I think are very helpful in helping professionals make a good first impression.
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”— Denzel Washington
The word mentor is defined as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher and has its origin in Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey, where a loyal adviser of Odysseus named Mentor is entrusted with the care and education of his son Telemachus. I have long been drawn to the idea of mentorship and have had the privilege of being mentored by several wonderful and caring leaders over the course of my life. I have also been fortunate to mentor a number of young leaders and am grateful for each opportunity.
I recently discussed the topic of mentorship with Karen Bennett, the well-respected EVP and Chief People Officer for Cox Communications. I have known Karen for over 15 years and her passion for mentoring is obvious to anyone who has worked with her or served with her in the community. Here is our interview and the candid insights Karen shared with me. Enjoy!
I frequently have conversations with friends and clients about effective strategies for connecting with new business professionals, how to appropriately follow up and how to handle meetings being rescheduled. I would like to offer a sampling of “best & worst practices” for your consideration regarding these questions and how to be more successful with our efforts in expanding professional networks.
I vividly recall a visit from my father last year a few days after his 80th birthday. Reaching this landmark age is quite an achievement in itself, but what dawned on me during his visit was the richness of my dad’s life as he shared stories of his past with his grandsons. I appreciate that he shares not only the fun and happy stories, but the adversity and heartbreak he has faced as well. My father long ago realized that one of the few treasures he has left to give us are the stories and experiences from his life. I never fail to glean something valuable from this man I know so well, and my sons never tire of listening to their Papa.
I have been incredibly fortunate over the course of my time on this earth to receive invaluable gifts that have made a tremendous difference in every aspect of my life. I am not talking about a new car, a new watch or a new shirt for Christmas. I am talking about the thoughtful gifts from family, friends and even relative strangers that have changed my thinking, inspired me, taught me valuable lessons and gotten me back on track when I was lost.
I have been leading people since I was a 16 year old in high school working at a restaurant in the town where I grew up. Leadership has always been a passion for me and after years of study, reading dozens of leadership books, listening to mentors and accumulating great experience on the way to a successful career I have come to understand one thing: I can still learn something new about leadership. In my case, the best source of ongoing leadership lessons is my 21 year old son Alex, who has high functioning autism.