My oldest son Alex is almost 23 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 vividly recall a meeting several years ago with one of my executive coaching clients when we were about two weeks into our working relationship. She walked into the room, obviously very excited to share something with me. She placed a two-page document on the table between us and declared: “I want to discuss mission statements today!” It was clear that these pages represented hers. She then asked me to share my own mission statement before we discussed hers and my client eagerly took out her notebook to write down what she assumed would be a lengthy description of my own mission statement.
“It is only two words, so there is no need to take notes.” I said, much to her bewilderment.
It’s a tough time to be a business leader right now and dealing with the uncertainty of “what’s next?” and predicting when our economy will return to some form of normal is dominating the thoughts of the leaders I know. Over the last several weeks I have engaged with dozens of senior leaders from companies all over the country about how they are dealing with the immediate and long-term economic impact, leading remote teams and addressing the safety needs/concerns of their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. The broad spectrum of conversations usually boil down to this simple question:
How do leaders authentically communicate the economic realities of what is going on right now to their team members while offering hope that there are better days ahead?
I have been cutting grass ever since it was one of my chores back in middle school. After I mowed my lawn this past Saturday, I did my usual edging, weeded the flower beds, trimmed the hedges and blew the dirt and grass clippings off my driveway. I paused and smiled when I finished as I remembered my father’s constant nudging when I was a kid to always do the “little extra things” that made our yard stand out from the others in the neighborhood. He explained that doing a little extra work was often the margin between doing the bare minimum and true excellence.
I hope all of you are healthy and well in this challenging time. Like all of us, I hope we can get back to some sort of “normal” very soon. I took a few minutes and reflected recently on the lessons I have learned over the last few weeks of being at home with my family and transitioning my coaching/consulting business into a virtual offering during this period of imposed isolation.
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”.
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!