Buzzwords are a dime a dozen these days, especially when it comes leadership, marketing and to driving business, in general. If you had to list all the words that circulate endlessly on blogs and stream out of experts’ mouths, at the top you probably would start with such words as authenticity, experience, empathy and customer centricity. If companies all seem to be converging on the same set of words, each leader and brand still needs to find their own path. As ever in strategy, execution is the real issue. It is about moving from words to de facto reality. The effort can be gargantuan — if not anathema — for those executives still carrying around some old-time managerial principles such as fear & control, top down dictatorial commands, or micro-managing timesheets and needing to oversee every decision. In the absence of doing introspective work and defining one’s core values and principles, it’s easy for leaders to be pulled off course and to act in ways that demonstrate more a chip on the shoulder and/or reveal problems that they have, rather than operate in a way that is constructive, engaging and inspiring. Leadership starts with the self. This is a central tenet to my latest book, You Lead. You need to own who you are, in the first place. And to make that exercise more explicit, I’ve decided to elaborate on and publish the values and principles by which I live. I’m hoping it might inspire you to do the same thing!
Reconciling our paradoxes
We live in a confusing and complex world, fueled by our very own paradoxes and contradictions. Many people (and businesses) are lost in the face of continuous change, awash in conflicting forces and mixed messages. There are four key paradoxes that I believe are key to understanding ourselves. And, by embracing them, we’ll be better able to lead ourselves and our teams:
- We need to belong, yet be different
- We need to understand our past, yet live for the future
- We must reconcile the quest for order in the presence of chaos
- We seek truth yet gravitate towards stories.
Values to live by…
For myself, I have whittled down to three words the values that I live by: Love, Courage and Honor. Importantly, these values apply both on a professional and personal level. To make these values useful, they need to be qualified, otherwise, they’re just words on a page. In no small way, the extensive work I did on researching the life of my grandfather*, after whom I was named and who served as an officer in US Navy in WWII and was killed as prisoner of war of the Japanese, helped to hone these specific values. As a result, and in line with those values, I then considered three principles by which to live and work: Relevancy, Relativity, Responsibility. Here’s what I mean by these three words and how they concord with my values.
Buffeted by change that can easily blow us off course, we need to find a sense of purpose, a sense of direction that guides us through the barrage of decisions we must make. The whirlwind changes and the massive existential crisis, which seems to be cursing through our society through the pandemic, has created what I perceive as a dearth of sense and meaning. Jamie Wheal, in his latest book, Recapture the Rapture, writes about a crisis of meaning, and I wholeheartedly agree. We’re latching on to anything to give it meaning. It’s led to rampant apophenia, where people are grasping, seeing meaning where there isn’t any. In the meantime, we’re losing ourselves all too quickly. We need to stop and think about what is specifically important to ourselves. With a vital sense of relevancy — our why — we have a North star purpose that, in turns, helps us to find the energy to affront the daily challenges. Following my why means going about my life and business with a sense of love, having the courage to stand up for my convictions and elevating the debate to a more honorable level. This brings meaningfulness into my life.
Cocooned as many of us are by the advancements of science and technology and the general societal progress — notwithstanding the hardships that have (and will continue to) accompanied us because of the pandemic — we must inscribe relativity into our daily travails. Through my interviews of over a hundred veterans of WWII — for whose sacrifices I am forever grateful — I have added new perspective on what is hardship and also resolved to do more things that matter. Possibly taking a page out of an old school of thought, I maintain that being of service, civility toward others, and stiff upper lip are neither anachronisms nor incompatible with one another. We need a heightened degree of relativity — a sense of perspective — to remind ourselves of the fortunes and opportunities that this world is providing for us. I want to be known as someone who pulls up his socks, elevates the debate and doesn’t moan about the small things. In my words, it’s about doing the honorable thing.
When things aren’t going right, who’s fault is it? Many of us have been coddled into an existence where it’s all too easy to lay blame on others. While we must of course collaborate with and need others (no man is an island, after all), I subscribe to owning my own situation, taking personal responsibility where I choose not to shy away from the size of the challenge. On a bigger scale, responsibility is the final frontier in a democratic environment. Even as our individual vote gets subsumed by a bulbous and expanding population, we must continue to own our destiny. As citizens, we must have the strength to stand up for what we believe in. As leaders, we must have the courage of our convictions and be prepared to stand up for our beliefs and not be afraid to stand out as a result. It’s our individual responsibility. In writing these words, I want to hold myself accountable in a public domain.
I strive to be at the service of a larger community beyond myself and to serve a purpose: to elegantly elevate the debate and connect dots, people and ideas.
This is my pledge. What’s yours?
*If you want to find out more about the story of my grandfather, it’s a documentary film and book, The Last Ring Home.