The following came from a letter to the editors at Fortune:
How I (Over)Work?
AS THE FORMER HEAD of a $600 million company, I feel compelled to comment on "How I Work" (March 20), on the habits of highly effective executives. In my experience, if a chief executive needs to rise at 4 A.M. and toil through 20-hour workdays, he may need to address several potential problems:
•He is highly inefficient and wastes a significant amount of what could be productive time spent managing the business. •He has not done a solid job of surrounding himself with a world-class management team he can delegate to. •He has virtually no interests (family or otherwise) outside his job.
Bottom line, American executives need to learn to work smarter, not harder. Instead of glorifying people who sacrifice their family, friends, and virtually all outside interests in pursuit of their career, FORTUNE should profile a highly effective CEO who can manage a $1 billion company and still find time to attend a school concert.
PETER SMITH Former Managing Director, Starkist Baden, Pa.
Needless to say, Mr. Smith gets it! Are some of you shocked or encouraged? Give me your thoughts…
THE BEST INFLUENCE WE CAN LIVE
The world changes when influence is used to grow people. People begin to be inspired and energetic. They use the conditions and environments to reconnect themselves, in addition to the outside world. This is a type of reconnection that opens up possibilities—possibilities around something greater than any one individual. Self-serving people need not apply.
It’s a powerful reality when you experience a leader who desires to use their influence to help others. The best organizations apply this; they don’t look at influence as an accidental encounter. This type of entity realizes that accidents happen ten percent of the time; the other ninety percent is about choices. Best-in-class organizations are on purpose about it. They formalize it by programs, behaviors and execution. Sadly, low performing organizations sit idly by wondering “what’s all the fuss about?”
We can’t wait for corporations, churches or associations to make this a reality. Seize the opportunity and apply this to your personal life. A key advisor once told me how she had to take ownership of her influence. Sheila was always confident, but her career wasn’t stimulating and most of her superiors didn’t seem interested in her aspirations. This led to a variety of dead-end streets. She would master a certain discipline then quickly become bored. Managers would ask her to be involved in projects that quickly became uninspiring. Sheila realized that it was time to take her rightful place at the table of influence. After years of letting others control the impact of her influence, she knew that her life was ebbing away. She came to a crossroads (as we all do), and chose to follow a path of authentic influence. Sheila was comfortable with the fear, the doubt and the uncertainty that comes with this type of move.
There is always a price for these types of decisions. She knew it wasn’t’ going to be easy, but she understood that many times it’s about an act of our will. Sheila has never looked back. I had the privilege of watching her grow over many years. Not often do you get to see this type of transformation, it was a blessing indeed. Sheila went on to succeed in many different arenas (education, business and non-profits) that our culture recognizes as great. But if you were to ask her today about the choice to embrace her unique influence, she would say it was all about the “choice.” Without a doubt, Sheila is truly remarkable.
This Fast Company piece reflects how rapid change is occurring…specifically in the book publishing arena. As many of you know, I’ve talked about this before. Look at the music industry for example. Since I’m writing a book, this is a very intriguing time. As I explore more ways to create "buzz" and audience around the idea of Epic Living, waiting for fame (as some have suggested I need) seems to be a pointless use of time.
So what kind of market could you revolutionize? Look around you…you might be surprised at how an industry or product is waiting for someone to shake it up. Might you be the person to do it? What ideas are you bouncing around in your head? Remember to revolutionize for the betterment of the world around you.
John Kotter said back in the late nineties that the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century would be a time of great change. He was right in more ways than one!
Let me know what you think.
In order to fully understand where we want to be, we need to look back and connect the dots. It personally took me over ten years to awaken from the slumber that is self-serving influence. I use those words because they best describe my former disposition. Like many other leaders I found myself making mistakes that I wasn’t conscious of. Discovering that influence and leadership are one and the same, I lived out the “cause and affect” of influence.
There were many experiences in my early years that shaped my pursuit of success. The majority of them were self–centered in nature. I thought the more I achieved and amassed, the more I would be OK in the eyes of others. The approval of others was essential.
While I was running this race, also known as the rat race, I found that I was also running from myself. This was an accident waiting to happen. You hit the wall and wonder where you are. During those periods, I always thought there must be more to life than scaling the corporate mountain. The message I heard from the corporate culture was relax and enjoy the ride. I understand now how misleading that message was. This was also a period where only my wife knew of my loneliness and pain. Like many, my wife is my best friend and has an uncanny level of intuition. I’m so thankful she didn’t give up on me. Work wasn’t the only place where my self-serving approach existed. The behaviors could also be found in my family, my church and my friendships. Self-serving leaders are never compartmentalized.
The path out of focusing on me alone began in the year 2000. I experienced hardship in my career, finances and health, including the loss of a child. It seemed as if God decided it was time for real change, and by the end of that year, I was broken. Being ready for change would’ve been an understatement. My game of pretense was over…I woke up and gradually my true self came into focus … sort of like the addict who finally realizes they have a problem. The journey was long, but eventually others truly came to matter more than my agenda. The self-serving gave way to an “others first” approach. I started to value feedback, encouragement and coaching from many whom I historically ignored. Whether it was my wife or my pastor, I started listening. When you come to the end of yourself, you begin to realize that you’re better because of the people in your life. We were never intended to walk our unique paths alone.
As you might have figured out, the journey also requires that each person face a “crucible.” Often this is an event that will define our path (very much like my year 2000 journey). Until we go into a valley, regardless of the level or intensity, we won’t see what matters most. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas have this to say regarding the power of crucibles: “whether imposed or sought out, crucibles are places where essential questions are asked: Who am I? Who could I be? Who should I be? How should I relate to the world outside myself? These are always places of reflection, but they are typically places where one transcends narrow self-regard and reflects on the self in relation to others. They are often places where one becomes increasingly aware of his or her connectedness.”
A mentor asked me today about what lessons I’ve learned lately. Here were some of my responses:
- Sometimes we can lose our identity in things other than the those that have a "forever" value. We must be careful to hold close the things of our core.
- The subconscious mind is a very deep sea. Better be prepared for diving.
- Ask yourself what you really have in common with those people sitting next to you.
- Pain is a strange elixir in life, when it happens we collapse, but a short time after we are stronger and more beautiful.
- When you’re married, you must be "one" in your plans.
What are some lessons you’ve learned lately? I welcome your comments…
I’ve mentioned Seth Godin before, so his piece titled Barry Bonds is in keeping with my thoughts on Seth’s genius. I think the view is essential to marketing, and life.
Very difficult to master, but those that do succeed fabulously. Seth has got me thinking!
Is Rick Wagoner presiding over a dinosaur? Some say yes, others say he just needs to keep the turnaround going. I’m in the dinosaur camp. GM just seems to be so management driven and out of touch. Have you looked at their cars lately?
Give me your thoughts in the comments section below.
What problem are you solving today? Even more importantly, how will the world be affected by the solving of the problem? If you’re not solving a problem, you’re probably part of the problem. This is starting to get wordy..I think you get the point.
I know of many sales gurus who suggest finding someone’s problem and you’ll make the sale. But why bother if you don’t really care? If you solve the problem to further your own plans, then it seems rather shallow. You may argue that solving the problem is enough. I would say that your motivations will reveal the root of your desires.
My mentor and friend Rick Williams told me once that my greatest heartbreak will be the source of my greatest service to mankind. I agree, and would say this is the thing you’re willing place all of your life energy toward.
In the end, problems must be solved by ideas that have integrity…as well as the people who generate them.
I welcome your comments.
Is your influence an ocean or a lake? Meaning, are you dynamic like the ocean vs. the calmness of a small or medium sized lake?
Those who have ocean-like influence are truly inspiring. They are like that classic movie where you’re at the edge of your seat throughout. A movie where you think about the "story" well after the conclusion. You laugh, you cry, you root for the heroic actions. These are the people who change your life…one heartbeat at a time. The ocean-like leader helps you discover life as you most wanted.
The lake-affect influencer leaves the followers bored, cynical and pessimistic. This type of leader is afraid most of the time, doesn’t know how he or she got there and is really not interested in their people at all. Don’t get me wrong, they appreciate their people when the camera is rolling or when their asked in a staff meeting. In many ways these folks are just "there." Just there for the ride…
Life is brief (as I know you know), so go find the ocean and experience all of dynamics you’ve dreamed of. You can’t afford to live in a lake…you awake one day to find you never really lived.
Thought I would give you a taste of my book "Waking the Working Dead." This excerpt is from Chapter 9.
THE POWER OF AUTHENTICITY
Let’s now explore how we move to practicing authentic behaviors. First, remember that authentic influence applies to everyone. Whether you are an entry-level receptionist or the CEO. Far too often, we buy into the lie that this mind-set is exclusive to high-level executives. I remember a time when an associate engaged me in a robust discussion about authentic leadership. He had a variety of opinions about the subject. Boy was I shocked! John was an inquisitive guy, but rarely had we spoke about such things. He had a history of not taking “no” for an answer. He also questioned everything, with a strong opinion to boot. As we began the conversation, I passionately spoke of the importance of authenticity. He really wanted to agree, however it was obvious that he didn’t grasp the concept. More than likely his experiences reflected what most of us have endured. I told him that the essence of my concept was diversity, the kind of diversity where everyone’s voice (not their skin color) really matters. After our spirited discussion, he realized that I truly wanted the group to be originals and not replicas. Strange science, since he’d been asked to be a duplicate under so many past leaders.
Allowing people to be authentic gave me a reputation of being a little over the top, but my people were always the better for it. Think about it, do we really want an environment where fakes are the norm? Most people I’ve led want the opportunity to be themselves (while doing their best in their area of expertise). Organizations blow it when they don’t encourage authentic behaviors. It’s the authentic leaders who produce the greatest results. Name one organization where fakes carried the day. You would probably need to check the bankruptcy filings to find them. When you evaluate an environment, work or otherwise, make sure it embraces authentic behaviors—like honest communication and courage under fire.