Thursday, September 24, 2009

"To whom much is given, much is expected"

Anyone who has ever known me, worked with me or even spent a half-hour over a cup of coffee with me knows that I’m an optimist. Maybe it comes from falling in love with the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a boy, or maybe from losing my mother at a young age and realizing that life is a precious treasure. Regardless of origin, I try to view each day as an opportunity rather than a chore. And while I don’t completely believe that “practice makes perfect,” (I know nothing in human achievement that can be described as “perfect”), I do believe we have an infinite ability to make tomorrow better than yesterday.

To put it simply, I try to live on the sunny side of the street.

But things got a little cloudy the other day when I had lunch with an old friend. He is in his late 50’s, in good health, and retired a few years ago with a tidy nest egg in the high seven digit range. He dreamed of lots of golf and lots of time with grandkids...and appears to be enjoying both. But what dominated our conversation were not tales of birdies and babysitting, but the impact that the financial decline had on his precious nest egg. It became clear that the market contraction between 2007 and 2009 caused a similar contraction of his savings. This certainly had a significant impact on him, one that was dominating his thoughts and disturbing his dreams. Instead of trying to relate my blog story of “Anton Ego” I decided to take a different path.

Referring to World Bank data from 2008, I started to share the income facts of the world for with friend. I reminded him that the world has just over 6 billion residents, and that while it seemed hard to believe from our comfortable seats with lattes in hand, almost 1 billion people live on less that $1.00 perday. To make the point even harsher, almost half of the world – just shy of 3 billion men and women, boys and girls – live on less than $2.50 a day. Finally, I reminded him that more than 80% of the world, almost 5 billion souls, live on less than $10.00 each day.

I know it’s easy to get caught up in our worlds and our lives, with our issues and challenges. We all do it! While losing millions of dollars from your retirement savings is no small concern, remembering the millions that you still have may be the better place to start. I am not sure what my friend is going to do differently in his life, but I can promise you that the nature of our “coffee chat” changed dramatically.

Try to remember that we all have so much compared to most of the world. What can we offer at our local food banks and soup kitchens? What can we generously give to UNICEF, CARE, or other groups across the world? Whatever form it might take, we can all do more and the world is crying out now more than ever.

A recent report on world poverty paints a haunting picture.

According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Sure, it’s painful when our portfolio takes a hit. And maybe we can’t avoid a little rain on our side of the street. But how can that possibly compare to the plight of the rest of the world? With that message ringing in our ears, I am convinced that while I don’t think we can make tomorrow “perfect,” there is so much that we can all DO to make tomorrow better than yesterday…
EVERY tomorrow better than EVERY yesterday!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Execute, Build Skills, and Excel

As my final entry to complement the past three, I want to briefly cover a simple three-part concept that I have found helpful in my work personally and my work with clients. In “PBR,” the first of the past three, I focused on the need to slow down and take a moment to reflect on alternatives before engaging. Secondly, in the entry titled “Act with Intent,” I covered the idea that through solid planning, we can guide our actions for maximum impact. Finally, in “Act with Intent: Redux,” my focus was on the fact that our actions, not our intentions, are the testimony of our lives.
The three concepts are both simple to grasp and often difficult to bring to life. If we can find ways to keep the three ideas of “Execute, Build Skills, and Excel” fresh in our minds as we enter new roles, or face new challenges, we will find ourselves more and more successful over time.
First and foremost, we must focus on execution. Do the work that is required at the moment in whatever role you may have. As I discussed in the entry “Breaking the Ice,” regardless of the nature of the role, do it well. We have all faced situations in our personal and work lives when the best crafted strategies and plans fail on the rocks of poor execution. Stay focused on the requirements of the role you are in and “Execute” well!
The second idea is to always “Build Skills.” Whether you are early in your career or have been at it for decades, you always must be focused on learning new things and building your skills. At a recent lunch, a 66-year-old CEO friend shared with me a powerful story about how much he was learning TODAY as his company is working to expand into a new channel of trade. Not only was it inspiring for me to hear, I also could tell from his energy that this process of “building skills” was reinvigorating for him, even though he has run this company for more than a decade.
Finally, we should find areas of our work or personal lives where we can “Excel.” Look to find situations where you can bring your skills, experiences, and passions to bear and perform in a superior way. Not only will the organization benefit, but you will find yourself becoming a teacher to others in YOUR areas of excellence. As I covered in the entry “A teachable point of view,” the best leaders are the best teachers!
Again, easier said than done. Find ways to bring all three concepts to life as you think about your work. Focus on the “execution” needs facing you TODAY! Look to “build skills” EVERY DAY, regardless of your age or tenure in role. Finally, get in touch with the areas of your role where you can truly “excel” and find ways to become a practitioner and teacher in those areas.