Once you have decided upon your values, vision, mission, purpose, and goals, the next step is for you to analyze your starting point. Exactly where are you today, and how are you doing, in each of the important areas of your life, especially as they relate to your goals?
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric for many years, once said that the most important quality of leadership is the “reality principle”. He defined this as the ability to see the world as it really is, not as you wish it were.
If you want to be the best you can be and achieve what is truly possible for you, you must be brutally honest with yourself about your point of departure. You must sit down and analyze yourself in detail to decide exactly where you are today in each area.
Though there are occasions when a firm hand is needed, I learned early that one of the most important qualities of a leader is listening without judgment, or with what Buddhist call bare attention.
In The Tao of Leadership, John Heider writes:
The wise leader is of service, yielding, following. The group member’s vibration dominates and leads, while the leader follows. But soon it is the member’s consciousness which is transformed. It is the job of the leader to be aware of the group member’s process; it is the need of the group member to be received and paid attention to. Both get what they need if the leader has the wisdom to serve and follow.
In Zen it is said that the gap between accepting things the way they are and wishing them to be otherwise is “the tenth of an inch of difference between heaven and hell”. If we can accept whatever hand we’ve been dealt – no matter how unwelcome – the way to proceed eventually becomes clear. This is what is meant by right action: the capacity to observe what’s happening and act appropriately, without being distracted by self-centered thoughts. If we rage and resist, our angry, fearful minds have trouble quieting down sufficiently to allow us to act in the most beneficial way for ourselves and others.
I spent nearly a week in Mqhekezweni after the funeral and it was a time of retrospection and rediscovery. There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
In my language there is a saying: “Ndiwelimilambo enamagama” (” I have crossed famous rivers”). It means that one has traveled a great distance, that one has had wide experience and gained some wisdom from it.
Imagine that you’re out at sea on a boat, voyaging to a far-off destination. Your boat springs a leak, which immediately becomes your priority. You jump down and start bailing water to prevent going under, but forget that nobody is left to navigate the ship. One day, after doing nothing but bailing water for who knows how long, you poke your head over the bow and wonder where the heck you are and how you got there. This is the purposeless life. People can become so preoccupied with just staying afloat that they fail to realize that nobody is at the helm.
Unfortunately, clarifying purpose takes time – quiet, uninterrupted time – which is something many of us feel we don’t have. We rush from one obligation to another without a “50,000 foot” view of where we’re going. It may seems self-indulgent to stop and reflect on questions of meaning and purpose, but journey will demand it.
The most surprising feature of business as it was conducted was the large attention given to finance and the small attention to service. That seemed to me to be reversing the natural process which is that the money should come as the result of work and not before the work.
My idea was then and still is that if a man did his work well, the price he would get for that work, the profits and all financial matters, would care for themselves and that a business ought to start small and build itself up and out of its earnings. If there are no earnings then is a signal to the owner that he is wasting his time and does not belong in that business.
Money is not worth a particular amount. As money it is not worth anything, for it will do nothing of itself. The only use of money is to buy tools to work with or the product of tools. Therefore money is worth what it will help you to produce or buy and no more. If a man thinks that his money will urn 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, he ought to place it where h can get that return, but money placed in a business is not a charge on the business – or, rather, should not be. It ceased to be money and become, an engine of production, and it is therefore worth what it produces – and not a fixed sum according to some scale that has no bearing upon the particular business in which the money has been placed. Any return should come after it has produced, not before.
I determined absolutely that never would I join a company in which finance came before the work or in which bankers or financiers had a part. And further that, if there were no way to get started in the kind of business that I thought could be managed in the interest of the public, then I simply would not get started at all. For my own short experience, together with what I saw going on around me, was quite enough proof that business as a mere money-making game was not worth giving much thought to and was distinctly no place for a man who wanted to accomplish anything. Also it did not seem to me to be the way to make money. I have yet to have it demonstrated that it is the way. For the only foundation of real business is service.
We do better in cultures in which we are good fits. We do better in places that reflect our own values and beliefs. Just as the goal is not to do business with anyone who simply want what you have, but to do business with people who believe what you believe, so too is it beneficial to live and work in a place where you will naturally thrive because your values and beliefs align with the values and beliefs of that culture.
Now consider what a company is. A company is a culture. A group of people brought together around a common set of values and beliefs.
The goal is not to hire people who simply have a skill set you need, the goal is to hire people who believe what you believe.
The goal is to hire those who are passionate for your WHY, your purpose, cause and belief, and who have the attitude that fits in your culture. Once that is established, only then should their skills set and experience be evaluated.
Great people don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.
Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience. We trust some people and companies even when things go wrong, and we don’t trust others even though everything might have gone exactly as it should have. A completed checklist does not guarantee trust. Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.
Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning it, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you – not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.
As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.
After dinner Mandela stands and gives a stirring talk. His theme: we must all care for one another – this is our task in life. But also we must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manage our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims.
Finally, Mandela talks about the road he’s traveled. He talks about the difficulty of all human journeys – and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer. When he stops speaking and takes his chair I know that my journey, compared with his, is nothing, and yet that’s not his point. Mandela is saying that every journey is important, and that no journey is impossible.
Think things over, especially those that are most important. All fools come to grief from lack of thought. They never see even the half of things and, as they do not observe their own loss or gain, still less do they apply any diligence to them. Some make much of what matters little and little of much, always weighing in the wrong scale. Many never lose their common sense, because they have none to lose. There are matters that should be observed with the closest attention, and thereafter always kept well in mind. The wise person thinks over everything, but with a difference, most profoundly where there is some profound difficulty, suspecting that perhaps there is more in it than he first thought. Thus his comprehension extends as far as his apprehension.