Leading and Living with Integrity

Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s good to take advantage of current events to drive home a point. A great colleague of mine, Matt Martin, sent the below email out yesterday morning touching on the recent negative press around Arkansas Razorback’s Head Football Coach Bobby Petrino and used it as a learning opportunity. How bad was the press? I’ll put it this way. It was bad enough that it was trending nationally near the top of the list Thursday night on Twitter.

Integrity is foundational and critical to every leader’s success! Matt’s reminder about acting with integrity is not only appropriate today, but appropriate every day. Matt also forwarded a great piece by Michael Camp on Leading and Living with Integrity. Please see both below.

While Camp talks through a couple definitions of integrity below, one of my new favorites comes from Jeff Neria on my team. She says, “Integrity is the moral courage to make your actions consistent with your knowledge of right and wrong.

Above all as leaders it is important not only to act with integrity, but to teach the importance of integrity to others. Don Soderquist, one of the great former Wal-Mart leaders has said repeatedly, “Mentor your leaders; assume they know nothing about professionalism or integrity. Teach them before they fall and impact others.

Are you living and leading with Integrity? Do you teach the importance of integrity to others?

Matt’s note is below.  You can also follow him on Twitter @samsclubmatt.  Michael Camp’s piece on integrity is below that.

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Team,

With the news around Bobby Petrino surfacing last night, I was reminded of the importance of integrity in leadership. I was also reminded of how quickly trust and credibility can crumble with one lapse of judgment. I was specifically reminded of a document that recently came across my email written from a peer on the Walmart side.

In the attachment (printed below) he talks about how we must protect and guard our integrity and compares it to an eggshell saying “Once an eggshell has even a slight crack, the structure can no longer be depended on to handle the pressure of the environment. It is simply a matter of time before the egg is completely compromised”.

Take a minute to read it and feel free to share with others. Our associates deserve to have leadership they can trust and respect every day and the attachment is a good reminder for us all.

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LEADING AND LIVING WITH INTERITY

By Michael Camp

Someone can easily say they are ‘leading with integrity,’ but the challenge lies in actually following through. I believe the majority of us have been told the importance of being honest since we were children. Unfortunately, some people struggle more than others to live with integrity, no matter how many times they hear it.

What does the word integrity actually mean? Most of us could easily define the word integrity and have a pretty good idea of what that really looks like; or could we?

Integrity is not a characteristic you can demonstrate sometimes, or even 99% of the time. Leading with integrity means demonstrating it ALWAYS! Integrity can be defined most simply as “being honest” or “following moral and ethical principles.” Integrity has also been defined as being when “a person’s behavior is the same whether someone is watching them or not.”

I like to consider integrity to be like an eggshell that must be protected at all times in order to keep the egg (or your integrity) whole. Once an eggshell has even a slight crack, the structure can no longer be depended on to handle the pressure of the environment. It is simply a matter of time before the egg is completely compromised. A leader’s integrity (or eggshell) is the exact same thing. A leader can do the right thing 100 times, but on the 101st time, they choose to deviate from their behavior; therefore, their integrity comes under scrutiny from those around them. Even though we may live a life of integrity during the first 100 situations, if we choose to act incorrectly the 101st time, the way people perceive us can change forever.

If we want people to follow us there MUST be a strong level of trust. Keeping your word and living with integrity are two critical pieces to this process. Trust is not something built overnight; however, it can be lost instantly. The easiest way to come across as not being honest is when we say something but do something completely different. When people choose to follow us, they need to know the words coming out of our mouths are genuine and that we will not deviate from what we said we would do. Some people believe if they always handle the big issues with integrity, the little issues don’t always need to be handled the same way, especially if no one will know. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. A person who leads with integrity will ALWAYS keep their integrity untarnished and will not waiver, regardless of the size of the issue at hand or whether or not people will ever know what they did.

There is nothing worse than listening to someone speak about what they plan to do when we know their actions will not match what they said. This type of dishonest behavior is what usually creates the first crack in what I call the “TRUST FOUNDATION” that the leader – follower relationship is based on.

As a leader today, the challenge is for us to live the true lifestyle of a leader with integrity at work and outside of work. When people see us acting differently in public than we act in the workplace, our genuineness becomes questionable, as does our integrity. Show the people who choose to follow you what kind of leader you are by keeping your word and living with integrity ALWAYS.

I would ask you to take the LEADING AND LIVING WITH INTEGRITY pledge with me……

“This year I will commit to doing whatever it takes to:

Become a leader trusted by my co-workers, my family, my community,

Demonstrate outstanding servant leadership,

As I LEAD and LIVE WITH INTEGRITY to build trust with those whose lives I influence.”

“As Wal-Mart leaders we MUST live in a manner so that when our Associates think of honesty and integrity, they think of us.” – Michael Camp

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A Quick Friday Leadership Lesson

As is always the case, I had a different plan for a post this week, but changed my mind at the last minute. But it’s okay…..because it’s Friday.

Last night, a colleague of mine forwarded out a great summary of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. You may know John Maxwell for his many lectures or books on leadership (e.g., The 5 Levels of Leadership, Talent Is Never Enough, and Everyone Communicates, Few Connect just to name a few).

I haven’t read this book in particular, but have been exposed to many of the teachings.  As I read through the summary, I thought this would be fantastic to share with those of you that haven’t seen it before or at least it would be a great reminder for those of you that have seen it. The information is very timely as we are off and running in 2012.

Why? Because every organization needs great leaders at all levels. And they need them now.

To drive this home, the end of the summary included the five sentences below. I’ve brought them to the front because I think they make a great point.

Personnel determine the potential of the organization.
Relationships determine the morale of the organization.
Structure determines the size of the organization.
Vision determines the direction of the organization.
Leadership determines the success of the organization.

Are you the leader you need to be? Are you determining and/or driving the success in your organization?

I’ve included the summary of the laws below. While they are all great points, my favorites are #20 and #21.

Thank you Sonia Spinks for sharing this with our team! We appreciate your leadership!

Enjoy!

Jason

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The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

1. The Law of the Lid. Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be. Even though there is a lid, you can raise it.

2. The Law of Influence. The true measure of leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t have influence, you will never be able to lead others. True leadership is not awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned. The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate. If you want to find out whether your people are capable of leading, send them out to volunteer their time in the community because if they can get people to follow them there, then you know that they really do have influence.

3. The Law of Process. Leadership develops daily, not in a day. Becoming a leader is a lot like investing successfully in the stock market. If your hope is to make a fortune in a day you’re not going to be successful. What matters most is what you do day by day over the long haul. Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day’s progress. You can be a great leader, but it won’t happen in a day. Start now. You don’t become a champion on the field or court. You become a champion in your daily routine.

4. The Law of Navigation. Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Have a vision for the destination and understand what it will take to get there. A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do. Navigators draw on past experience, listen to what others have to say, examine the conditions before making commitments, and make sure their conclusions represent both faith and fact. The secret of the Law of Navigation is preparation.

P redetermine a course of action.
L ay out your goals.
A djust your priorities.
N otify key personnel.

A llow time for acceptance.
H ead into action.
E xpect problems.
A lways point to the successes.
D aily review your plan.

5. The Law of E.F. Hutton. When the real leader speaks, people listen. True leaders have character, relationships, knowledge, intuition, experience, past success, and ability.

6. The Law of Solid Ground. Trust is the foundation of leadership. You can’t take shortcuts no matter how long you’ve been leading people. You start with certain amount of change in your pocket, then with every decision thereafter, you are either building up more change or paying it out, and then when you are out of change, you’re done. To build trust, one must exemplify competence, connection and character. Character makes trust possible and trust makes leadership possible.

7. The Law of Respect. People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. When people respect someone as a person, they admire them. When they respect her as a friend, they love them. When they respect them as a leader, the follow them.

8. The Law of Intuition. Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. A leader has to read the situation and know instinctively what play to call. People need a goal to galvanize them. Know who is for you and who is against you. Whenever leaders encounter a problem, they automatically measure it, and strive to resolve it.

9. The Law of Magnetism. Who you are is who you attract. You draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. Birds of a feather flock together. You tend to attract and be drawn to people of similar attitude, generation, background, values, life experience and leadership ability. The better leader you are, the better leaders you will attract. If you think the people you attract could be better, then it’s time to improve yourself.

10. The Law of Connection. Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. Connections happen between individuals. A great leader stands in front of his team and sees more than the collective group, he sees individuals. To connect with people in a group, relate to them as individuals. Leaders initiate connection with people. Walk slowly through the crowd and shake hands and encourage and express gratitude. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.

11. The Law of the Inner Circle. A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Associate with good people. Look for these type of valuable people – potential value, positive value, personal value, production value and proven value. As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them. You have more potential that you haven’t reached, and if you want to get there, surround yourself with the best people possible.

12. The Law of Empowerment. Only secure leaders give power to others. Lead by lifting up others.

13. The Law of Reproduction. It takes a leader to raise up a leader. If you try to keep others down, then you go down with them. Raise giant-killers like David who raised up a group of mighty men. We teach what we know and reproduce what we are. Spend time with great leaders.

14. The Law of Buy-In. People buy into the leader, then the vision. The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream. People at first don’t follow worthy causes, they follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People want to go along with people they get along with. Leader + Vision = Result.

15. The Law of Victory. Leaders find a way for the team to win. When the pressure is on, great leaders are at their best. 3 components of victory: 1) unity of vision, 2) diversity of skills, and 3) a leader dedicated to victory and raising players to their potential.

16. The Law of the Big Mo. Momentum is a leader’s best friend. Constantly fight negative momentum. Two keys – preparation and motivation. It starts with a little progress. Momentum helps teams perform better. Momentum is easier to steer than to start. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

17. The Law of Priorities. Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Pareto Principle: If you focus on the activities that rank in the top 20% in terms of importance, you will have an 80% return on your effort. Three R’s: What is required? What gives the greatest return? What brings the greatest reward? Increase focus, but reduce number of actions.

18. The Law of Sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up. Leadership means setting an example. When you find yourself in a position of leadership, people follow your every move. Sacrifice is an ongoing process, not a one-time payment. When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself. As you rise in leadership, responsibilities increase and rights decrease. If leaders have to give up to go up, then they have to give up even more to stay up. The higher you go, the more you give up.

19. The Law of Timing. When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. 4 possible outcomes: 1) The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. 2) The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. 3) The wrong action at the right time is a mistake. 4) The right action at the right time results in success.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth. Leader’s math: To add growth, lead followers, but to multiply growth, lead leaders. It’s the leaders responsibility to build the people who are going to build the company. Leaders who develop followers add one at a time. Leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth.

21. The Law of Legacy. A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Leadership is one of the things you cannot delegate. You either exercise it, or you abdicate it. A legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him. Success is not measured by what you’re leaving to, but by what you are leaving behind.

3 Lessons from Walking Across the Office

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of some very important leadership lessons.  The funny thing is that they all occurred in a walk across the office that took less than 5 minutes.

On this particular walk, I was in heavy thought.  I was trying to process some complex information before getting to my destination.  As a result, my head was down, my eyes were on the floor, and I was walking briskly.  I wasn’t my normal friendly, approachable self.

And in that short walk from one side of the building to the other, this is what I learned:

Lesson 1:  Eyes on the floor and walking briskly are not a good combination.  It’s a recipe for disaster.   In my brief journey, I successfully ran in to another person coming around a corner,  ran in to a box of marketing materials,  and nearly ran in to a structural column.  Where was my “Danger, Will Robinson, danger” alarm? Simply, I wasn’t paying attention.  I was lost in my own world and was not cognizant of my surroundings.  Besides being a physical threat to myself and others, the lesson is a great leadership metaphor. 

Leaders need to keep their eyes on the horizon to successfully navigate changes in their environment.

Lesson 2:  I am a pretty friendly person and am a strong believer that a leader’s attitude is contagious, which is why I am quick to greet people, give a smile, or slap a high five.  With my head down and lost in thought, I was not acting like I normally do.  And as I walked by a colleague without looking up, he said, “Good Morning, Jason!” in a friendly, yet challenging tone.  I say hello to this guy every time I see him, but this time I didn’t – what was I thinking?  I’ve set a standard and expectation for my behavior, but failed in this moment. He realized it and said something.  I stopped, went back to him, shook his hand and apologized saying, “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.” 

What’s worse is that he wasn’t the only one that I did that to on this walk.  I was no more than 50 feet from him before the same situation repeated itself.  And I found myself apologizing in the same fashion.  “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.”  What a pathetic excuse.  It really didn’t matter why I didn’t say hello, the fact is that I failed again and was called on it again.  How many people did I pass that didn’t call me on it?

People not only pay attention to your actions, but also to your inactions. …and they hold you accountable.

Lesson 3:  A little later in the day, well after my brief walk, I was back to my normal self.  At our office coffee bar, I greeted an associate and asked her how she was doing.  Instead of responding to my question, she said, “I saw you this morning.”  And then softened her voice and turned her eyes down and finished, “…but you didn’t see me.”  Those words cut me straight to the core, “you didn’t see me”.  It’s every leader’s nightmare.  I asked her, “Where were you?”  She responded, “I walked right by you.”  Ugh! What was I doing?  I asked her why she didn’t say hello.  She responded that she thought I looked really busy and didn’t want to bother me.

I pulled my lame apology back out for the third time.  She said, “It’s okay.”  But I finished with, “No.  It isn’t.  And I am really sorry.”

People not only pay attention to a leader’s action and inaction, but they are impacted by them.

That was a lot of learning for such a short walk.  It goes to show that leaders are “on” all the time.  Whether you realize it or not, people are watching your every move and are impacted by what you do and don’t do. You don’t get “down time”.

While this may seem like a tough concept for leaders to accept, the fact is that more is required from you because of your position – whether formal or informal.  My favorite bible verse is Luke 12:48 because it speaks such truth for leaders –  To whom much is given, much is required.

I appreciate these associates for calling me out and helping me get back on track, because as leaders we are judged by our weakest moments.

So, keep your head up, eyes on the horizon, and make sure your actions positively impact others.

What lessons have you learned while walking across the office?

17 Truths from Above and Below

Inc. Magazine is one of my favorite “pick up and reads” when I have a little down time. I always seem to walk away with a few nuggets that I can tuck in to my own leader’s locker.

And then as I go through varying experiences, I’m able to pull those nuggets right back out of the locker and use them.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve had four different development discussions with mentees and colleagues, each of which centered around awareness of what was happening above and below them.  Meaning – situations that involved their boss, their employees, or both.

Often in these discussions, a number of questions surface – like “Why doesn’t my boss understand me?”, “Why am I being micromanaged?” or “Why won’t my folks listen?” and “Why can’t they just get it done right?

To get to their answers, some times all you have to do is sit and listen and they work it out themselves. Some times they need a little prompting or encouragement. And some times (albeit few) they need to be told that they are causing the problem.

Regardless, the solutions usually revolve around them being more aware of the people they follow and the people they lead. Where you sit on the bus offers you a different perspective as compared to where someone else sits. Taking the time to understand where they are coming from or their perspectives often cures a lot of ills and misconceptions.

These discussions reminded me of an article I read in Inc. Magazine last month by Jeff Haden called 7 Things Your Employees Will Never Tell You. This was a great article chalked full of right-on-spot information. So, I set out to find it for you.

As I searched, I came across another Inc. Magazine article written by Haden a couple days ago that was trending in social media called 10 Things Bosses Never Tell Employees. As I read it, I was like, “This one’s true. Yep that one too. True. True. Oh, that’s just funny – but true.” Haden is a genius! In two brief articles, he provided the answers to many of the questions that were asked during my discussions – as well as many more.

So, my suggestion for you is to check out the two links above to the 17 truths inside Haden’s articles and get a good perspective of what’s going on above you and below you. Then use your new found knowledge to improve your understanding of your own work environment. You’ll also find that in your own role today as both boss and employee that you probably have these very same thoughts yourself.

What are some other things that a boss or employee will never tell you? (but should)

Put Some Jingle in Your Jangle!

I love this time of the year!  It’s so much fun!

Festivity abounds through the sights and the sounds; the giving and goodwill; the camaraderie of colleagues, family, and friends; and, well…..this time of year just makes me feel really good.

And for many of you, I bet this time of year makes you feel good too!

However, the holidays are not time to sit back on our leadership laurels and simply soak up the merriment and cheer.

It is the time for leaders to lead more than ever!  It’s time to put some pep in your leadership step.  Some extra glide in your leadership stride.  Some jingle in your leadership jangle!

“How do I do that?” you ask?

Here are 4 ways:

  • Set the Tone!  All year long, your teams look to your example for how to act.   I was about to say that this time of the year is no different, but that’s not true.  It’s very different.  This is the time of the year that is filled with all kinds of extra activities and demands on time – and quite frankly, your folks are going to be looking to you even more for what’s acceptable and what isn’t.  Should they go to the Divisional Christmas party or do they stay at their desk and work?   Should you go to the team charity event or not?  Should they pass out Christmas cards and gifts to each other?

You (the leader) need to set the tone for how to act and engage during the holiday season.  If there are rules to be followed, then say so and be clear and consistent.  Demonstrate the acceptable behavior.  For the good of the group, you may have to get outside of your own comfort zone to set the proper example (e.g., go to the department holiday party so that they know it’s okay to attend – even though you’d rather sit alone in your Grinch cave drinking eggnog by yourself).

  • Don’t get distracted!  While everyone may be worried if Santa Claus is coming to town or not, it’s not time to lose focus on what needs to be accomplished at work.  Set expectations and clearly communicate with your teams what needs to get done (and when) during this frenzy of activity, parties, parades, events, and vacations.  Without being Scrooge, help guide your teams to find the balance in their hectic schedules to make it all work.  Lead by example and make sure that you are getting your work done too!
  • Be highly observant!  While the holidays are generally a time of joy for most, there are those that may be struggling.  It could be that they miss their friends or family.  Or they have lost a loved one that won’t be there this year during the holidays.  Or maybe they are struggling financially to make ends meet for their family.  Regardless of the circumstance, you as their leader need to discern the situation and be sensitive to their plight.  It’s time to show compassion and care.  It’s time to provide encouragement and support.  Be a good shepherd and keep watch on all of your sheep!
  • Spread Joy!  This is one of the most important components of holiday leadership!  It is time to inspire and spread joy!  One of the best things you can do during this time of the year is share a smile, laugh, or word of encouragement or appreciation with those around you.  I wrote an article this last April that fits perfectly here.  Click here to learn 5 Ways to Spread a Little Joy!

What other ways can you step up your leadership game during the holiday season?

Get Out of Your Seat!

Day after day, I talk to lots of folks who are looking to improve any number of work place issues.  Whether its resolving a dispute, gaining performance out of others, understanding what people are thinking, or simply building relationships, people are looking for the good ‘how to’ answers.

While there are no silver bullets, I do believe that there is one simple way to solve the above issues (and more).

Simply, get out of your seat.  Go ask.  Go listen.  Go talk.  Go engage!

It’s amazing what a little direct interaction can do to solve your ills.  Back in the day, we didn’t have email, instant messenger, text, or other digital mediums to communicate through (or hide behind).  We actually had to talk face to face with each other.

While that may sound archaic, it’s extremely effective.  And those that do it well reap successful rewards.

So what can ‘getting out of your seat’ do for you?  Check out these three benefits.

Improve your health.  Really!  Instead of sitting and typing an email, get up and go talk!  I was recently reading an article by Michael Hyatt that highlighted the dangers of sitting in your seat for prolonged periods.  There was an infographic that stated that sitting 6+ hours per day increases your likelihood of death by 40% as compared to others that sit far less.  That’s a pretty compelling reason in and of itself to NOT rest on your laurels all day.   Make sure to read through the infographic  – it’s pretty interesting!

Solve issues faster.  More than once today, I talked with colleagues and was asked, “How should I deal with this person?”  My response each time?  Go talk with them.  Stop speculating, trying to interpret emails, and/or listening to the scuttlebutt dished by other people.  Take the initiative, be proactive, and go get face to face with the source.  If approached correctly, you will get to the root issue much faster and gain resolution much faster.

Expand your influence.  One of my favorite leadership tenets at my company is that of Coaching By Walking Around (CBWA).  This is an intentional activity where the leader engages with the troops where they are.  But more important than coaching, is listening.  A leader will learn far more about what is going on in the business, how employees feel, and what’s concerning them by getting out from behind the desk and asking.  The added benefits of this critical exercise, if done sincerely, are that you become more approachable, more appreciated, and more influential – which makes your coaching (when necessary) more readily accepted.

As with all things, you have to use common sense and know when to communicate in the right manner.  Learn to use your tools appropriately.  But when it comes to those issues listed in the first paragraph – get up and go!

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there!

Steve Jobs: Don’t Settle

As my daughter and I were getting ready to leave the soccer fields tonight, my iPhone buzzed.  It was a text from our local news station letting me know that Steve Jobs had passed away.

When I arrived home, I grabbed my Mac Book Pro and sat down in our family room to surf for some more news about the tragedy.  As I looked around the room, my wife was on her iPhone, my 8 year old was playing on her iPod, and my 3 year old was watching a movie on our iPad that she launched from iTunes.

It was a profound moment of realization at the impact of what this one visionary had created.

Jobs was a visionary.  He created things that will impact us for generations to come.  He laid an amazing foundation from which even greater innovation will come.

He didn’t just create things that we wanted.  He was able to create things we never dreamed about.  Things that stretched imagination.  Things that made our lives better.

But why?  How?

Then I found it.  Buried in an interview he conducted somewhere along his journey, two little words.

“Don’t settle.”

He didn’t settle in the way he designed and innovated.  He didn’t settle when he was losing millions of dollars in Apple.  He didn’t settle when the naysayers were their loudest.  He didn’t settle when there was an easier path.  He didn’t settle in developing a great culture and company.  He didn’t settle in developing others.  He didn’t settle when it came to his customers.

He didn’t settle…       …and ended up doing the impossible and building the improbable.

Interestingly, he also said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

And it’s through this relentless pursuit and passion that he created a legacy that will live for decades ….perhaps forever.  He was inspirational.

There are many leadership lessons to learn from the life of Steve Jobs.  But for now, I will simply say we will miss him.

What kind of legacy will you leave?

Three Lessons From My Great Race

I blame my parents for my competitive nature.  While not the most athletic lad growing up, I certainly was taught to “strive for excellence”, “do my best” and to “never give up”, which fuels this competitive fire inside of me.  While I wasn’t great at sports, I most certainly learned some valuable life lessons from sports, of which I will use this post to share three.

When I was a teenager, two friends of mine convinced me that I should take up long distance running.  There was a 5k race approaching and they talked me into training for it.  My friends were on the cross-country team at school and had much more experience than I.  I trained hard and prepared for race day, but was still nervous about the race.  I didn’t know what to expect or how I would perform.  I just knew that I would do my best and try not to embarrass myself too badly.

Before the race, as most young men do, we ribbed each other and I remember one of them saying, “Just try to keep up.”  Of course, I responded in kind.

As the race was getting ready to start, my parents reminded me to “do my best”.

As we lined up with the crowd of racers at the starting line, I looked at the other racers in admiration, hoping and believing that my mind and body were ready and they would not fail me. I reminded myself to just do my best.  The announcer started the count and at a gunshot, we were all off and running.

I was excited in the beginning because I was keeping pace with my friends.  I think I was full of adrenaline, because I felt great and wasn’t winded!

At about the one-mile mark, one of my friends started stumbling and slowing.  He complained of side pains and started breathing heavily.  Because he was slowing, my other friend and I started to outpace him.  He started yelling that we needed to stay together (which meant that we would have to slow down to stick with him).  The faster friend and I decided that we needed to “run the race” and not slow down.

We told him what we were going to do and started pulling away.  Our friend was clearly not happy with our decision.  His curses grew softer and softer as he faded into the distance behind us.

The two of us were moving at a pretty brisk pace when, at mile two, my friend (the more experienced runner) started to slow. For a moment I didn’t know what I was to do, but was comforted when my friend told me that I needed to go on and do my best.  I nodded and started to pull away from him, but this time I didn’t hear curses.  I heard him cheering me on saying, “GO! GO! GO!  You can do it!”  This fueled my pace.  And I heard his encouraging words grow softer as he faded into the distance as well.

Now I was by myself.  I had outlasted my two experienced friends.  I was moving at a good pace, but didn’t really have a gauge for whether I was doing good or bad. The only thing I could do was increase my own speed and focus on what was in front of me.  So, I ran faster.

I started to pass other runners, which quickly gave me new purpose.  After I would pass a runner, I would set my sights on a new target in front of me and try to run past them.  I did this over and over.  So, I ran faster.

Finally, before I knew it, I was in the home stretch and I could see a crowd of people.  I could hear them cheering.  So, I ran faster.

Before long, I was sprinting as hard as I could almost to the point of hyper-ventilating.  Yet, I kept the sprint up until I passed the finish line.

My parents were probably more surprised than excited at my achievement.  My mom didn’t get any pictures at the finish because they didn’t think I would finish that quickly.  I definitely surpassed everyone’s expectations.

I finished third in my age bracket with a time of around 20 minutes.  Not a super fast 5k race time, but not to shabby for my first race.  It was a very proud moment for the Jackson household.

I share this story with you not to relive a glory day (although some great memories came back while writing this), but rather because sports always seem to provide great life lessons and this parable had some for me that I’ve applied in both my personal and professional life.

So what did I learn from My Great Race?  Here are three lessons:

PLAY TO WIN

When you’re in the ‘game’, you have several choices.  Among others you can choose not to play, play not to lose, or play to win.

Each choice has a different mindset behind  it and each elicits different results.

My personal opinion is that if you are in the game, ‘choosing not to play’ really isn’t an option.  Although, I can think of countless stories where I have watched people sit on the sidelines and/or give up along the way.  Not playing is simply not acceptable.

‘Playing not to lose’ is an example of what I would call an incremental (and sometimes mediocre) effort.  It falls in line with other choices where you set a specific limit or goal and then play only to that goal and then stop.  For example, if I set the goal of doing 30 pushups in my morning workout.  I will almost always hit 30, but rarely go beyond that.  In business, it may mean performing to match or stay slightly ahead of a competitor’s performance.  Or performing to a specific number (e.g., comp sale, volume number), but not blowing it away.

We often have to set incremental goals in our mind or on paper, but how we truly view that goal is what will determine our level of success.  There is a time and place for setting these types of performance goals, but if you constantly ‘play not to lose’ you will rarely meet your FULL potential.

Playing to win means that you ‘show up’ and strive for the greatest result possible (doing your best) regardless of the goal.  Doing so will propel you towards meeting your potential and surpassing everyone’s expectations – even your own (as happened with me)..

In the race, had I stayed with either of my friends as they slowed, I would have met my goals of finishing the race and not embarrassing myself, but I never would have met my true potential that day.  So, ALWAYS do your best!

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Believing in yourself is something that I am sure you have heard many times before.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the Power of Postive Thinking, captured it well when he wrote, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

This is often easier said than done.  There are many factors that contribute to whether or not you believe in yourself.  A major factor is what those around you say.  Depending upon your sensitivity to others’ comments, they can lift you up to the highest of highs or bring you down to the lowest of lows.

Few roles open you up to more scrutiny than the role of a leader.  People always have opinions and comments about your performance.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  As I have told many, you can’t control what someone says, but you can control how you react to it.

Part of being a leader is learning to listen to others, determine the value of the information and then choose a course of action and drive forward.  You can ignore it, ask for more information, change your behavior, or let it fuel you.  Regardless, you have to learn to accept the cheers and the jeers.

Thinking back to the race, my first friend (perhaps out of frustration) cursed us for outpacing him.  He tried to hold us back and guilt us in to staying with him, which would have hindered our performance.  My second friend, cheered me on when I outpaced him and encouraged me until I couldn’t hear him anymore.  Two very different reactions to my performance, but because I believed in myself it was easy to process the information; one I ignored and one I let fuel my efforts.

SET YOUR SIGHTS FORWARD

There was an interesting point during the race that I found myself without a benchmark.  When I was in the last mile by myself, I entered the “okay…what now?” phase.  I didn’t know how I was performing, but instead of just running down the road aimlessly, I decided to set my sights forward on beating the next racer, then the next, then the next.  This helped me go faster and achieve greater results.

This definitely has application to how we function in the business world.  While we need to be aware of our surroundings, we should constantly be looking forward at how to achieve even greater results and higher heights.  Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Don’t run the race at the same pace as others.  Run faster.

I hope that you’ve found these three life lessons to be valuable.  I know that I have and practice them regularly in my career, leadership, and life.

What life lessons have you learned?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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