As I sit in my home office this morning sipping coffee the day before Thanksgiving, I would like to share three words I am reflecting on and trying to better integrate into how I will live through the rest of 2021 and beyond. The words are important when considered by themselves, but not magical. When grouped together and carefully examined through the lens of how we might choose to live a little differently, they can become powerful and inspire us to be better.
“There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.” – Sister Mary Rose McGeady, D.C.
Several weeks ago on October 1st, my older son Alex and I visited my dad Steve in Florida on his 83rd birthday and presented him with a very special gift. He knew I had written a new book, but he did not know it was dedicated to him and my mother Sandi who passed away in 2009. He learned about this surprise as he opened his present, a beautifully framed copy of the dedication page from Essential Wisdom for Leaders of Every Generation. My father is not a very emotional man, but this was a teary-eyed moment for him and all of us who had gathered to celebrate his special day.
I was reflecting today on a recent NBA playoff game I attended in my home city. The arena was packed that night and the atmosphere was electric as 15,000+ fans eagerly awaited the beginning of the game. As I waited for the tip off, I noticed an elderly gentleman and a teenage boy enter the row in front of us as they looked for their seats. The older man introduced himself as Dave to people as he walked by and proudly let everyone know that the young man with him was his youngest grandson Michael.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all of the stress, responsibilities and challenges in your daily life? If I am honest with myself, the times I feel most anxious or stressed are usually caused by my lifelong tendency to over-complicate things and an inclination towards “busyness”. I am grateful for the occasional insights I have into ways to address this problem and as I grow older, I recognize the wisdom of something my father often shared with me in my younger days: simplify your life.
Credibility is important, possibly one of the most important things a professional must possess to grow in their career and be successful. True credibility can’t be bought and nobody should feel they are entitled to it. It has to be earned and it requires self-awareness, hard work, time and patience. Once earned, credibility cannot be taken for granted as it can be lost, damaged or enhanced by our actions every single day. Credibility should matter to everyone, regardless of their age or station in life, but this newest blog post in the Simplify series is written specifically for college students and new business professionals interested in growing their careers and making a positive mark in the business world.
I think we can all agree that the most direct path between points A and B on a graph is a straight line. I hope we can also agree that most of us would prefer to be as productive, efficient and effective as possible in our daily work. This is obvious, right? But, in my experience, I often see leaders and teams avoid taking the most helpful and direct path when it comes to making decisions, being productive and addressing challenges by engaging in an ongoing series of “workarounds” to get things done. Webster’s Dictionary defines workaround as “a plan or method to circumvent a problem without eliminating it.” This is a common business trap that over-complicates decision-making, slows down execution, contributes to burnout and wastes precious time.
Have you ever fallen into the “workaround trap”?
As you may recall from history, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz, Mexico in 1519 with a small army of 600 men with dreams of conquering the mighty Aztec empire. Many of his men were afraid and filled with doubts in the face of so daunting a mission, so Cortes made the decision to burn their ships. With retreat now impossible and no place to go except forward to face their enemy, his men were properly motivated and fully committed to fulfill their mission.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have discussed the topic of authenticity with other business professionals for decades, but these conversations over the last few years have migrated from the importance of simply allowing others to see the “real” us to guarded discussions around the increasing anxiety and fear people have in today’s world regarding being open about what they truly think and nervousness about advocating for their beliefs and convictions. In a few very recent discussions with other business leaders, I received blank stares and obvious discomfort when I advocated for being the same person no matter where we were and transparent about our lives with others. Why is authenticity so uncomfortable?
I recall a time eight years ago when my then 74-year old father came to our house for a visit, which he typically does two or three times a year (when we are not dealing with a pandemic!). He loves to see his grandsons and we talk to him every week by phone, but because of his health it is sometimes difficult for him to travel from his Florida home to Atlanta. I have occasionally written about my dad over the years and the wise counsel and good example I have always received from him. This particular weekend visit was different because of a powerful lesson he helped me teach one of my children. On the Saturday afternoon of my dad’s visit, my son and I were throwing the football outside while my father was taking a short nap in his room. I can always tell when one of my boys has something on his mind so I probed and asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about. He responded with, “Dad, remember when we talked about what it means to be successful a few months ago? Is Papa successful?”
As I sat down to write this latest blog post in the Simplify series, I once again pondered the conversations I have been having with clients and other business leaders over the last few months and was struck by a central theme that seems to be popping up in most of them: the importance of clarity and negative impact the lack of it has on teams and organizations. I think the primary reason this issue is hitting my radar is a key question I am asking some of these leaders to answer: What were the biggest challenges for you and your team last year, other than the pandemic, that you wish to address more effectively this year? Consistently, I am hearing a desire to improve accountability, increase efficiency, foster greater ownership, improve communication and achieve better overall results. I would suggest the answer to all of these challenges, or the beginning of the answer, can be found by dramatically improving clarity.