While sitting on the banks of the P’u Rover, Chuang-tse was approached by two representatives of the Prince of Ch’u, who offered him a position at court. Chuang-tse watched the water flowing by as if he had not heard. Finally he remarked, “I am told that the Prince has a sacred tortoise, over two thousand years old, which is kept in a box, wrapped in silk and brocade.” “That is true,” the officials replied. “If the tortoise had been given a choice,” Chuang-tse continued, “which do you think he would have liked better- to have been alive in the mud, or dead within the palace?” “To have been alive in the mud, of course,” the men answered. “I too prefer the mud,” said Chuang-tse. “Good-bye.”
Leaders as Me
This is it … this is real.. I did it.. I did it!!! I am now in charge of something big. I don’t want to forget how I got here, I just want to bask in the here and now and know that I am here! I have an office with a window looking out on a lake. I have help!!! I have an assistant that can help me track my random thoughts and of course my calendar. I have enough resources to get the things I need and maybe some things that I want. I worked hard but now I am here. It isn’t over, it is just the start of it. The mountain I climbed was high but the challenges that face me are more than the mountain.
When you work hard and you drive towards outcome based initiatives and you deliver results, most people assume that this is what you want.
Maybe it is money or maybe they think just power (whatever that means) or something else like the illusion of control. Yes, I said the “illusion of control” because I do believe that. We aren’t a master to anything in this world, even if we think or perceive we are. Sure we can influence people and there is cause and effect but that doesn’t mean control. It seems to me that the more we gain, the more we are constrained. Isn’t that something that other people say as well? As we move up the ladder in our corporate or business lives, it also seems that the same people who support us, need us. It is this interdependence that facilitated our growth and it is the same that taxes our time.
We keep experiencing groundhog day in my business. A year has passed and it doesn’t matter whether or not we have a government contract, our jobs are on the line. We need to get everyone together by phone and in person to tell them of the great uncertainty that is building before us. The burden of loss is something that we ALL MUST SHARE. When a company loses, everyone in the company has to make sacrifice. Year after year, it gets harder to recover. Year after year, we lose friends and highly valued team members. If I ran the company, I would temper uncertainty with intent. In other words, working on the beach / bench could be an opportunity as opposed to a threat. It could be the time that we needed to invest in our people that we now have because of the situation. I think Jack Welsh aka “Neutron Jack” proved that firing strategies are good for the short-term but they leave a blood stain on the economy that can’t be washed away. That isn’t the leadership I believe in.
Anything Possible -But I was Tired -Cheryl Family
We sat in our offices day after day waiting for the next tiny bit of news. We told our wives and husbands that we didn’t know what was happening but that “cuts were coming” and that we were facing challenges and changes. Every day we found out that someone was leaving or was getting let go. It was just business. When people made individual choices to leave the business, leaders took their individual choices as a personal offensive on the company or the leadership itself. Nothing changed from then to now, except people have become comfortably numb and used to the routine. It doesn’t have to be this way because uncertainty can be shared. While in the Navy, I learned from shipmates that a person may not like you or love you while at sea but they will trust you and you will trust them for the greater good of everyone. It is that trust that saves lives. In my view, it is that trust that could save a business while it is being tested by the market. If my shipboard analogy were to convey from business to my job in the Navy, every time there was a fire on board the ship and if resources were constrained, we would just throw a bunch of sailors overboard. Of course, we would have to pick the sailors that were sleeping or something because since they aren’t actively busy they must have less value. Sure this seems a bit extreme but in reality it feels this way to a lot of people.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela
That being said, if your actions and your words are inconsistent, people will know. When you threaten someones livelihood day after day even the most loyal person will become less faithful. The other aspect is that when a company wins (gains income or revenue) the company and shareholders benefit and the loss that the employee takes is never re-addressed. The companies loss is for everyone but the companies win is just for the company. That is something that I would change immediately. Everyone willing to share in the pain, should benefit from their loyalty and should be rewarded when the company wins.
If I am not Atlas then why do I have to hold the weight of the sky?
What motivated me to work past the 42nd hour when I was already tired and demotivated? Sometimes I don’t know exactly what it was or (is) for that matter. Life is very complicated and it doesn’t seem that any one thing was a single driver. My goal is always over all to seek stability for my family. I think as we can all see that in business if you aren’t growing, you are most probably shrinking. The only way that I know how to find stability is to take on some of the burden of growing the business. In turn with hope that my efforts of growing the business will at the very minimum translate to stability for my family. I don’t have the expectation (at this point) of personal growth in the organization itself no matter how successful I am in building business because as I stated earlier, business doesn’t want to share success. I would change this if I ran my company but this is the reality of what it is. That also means that if the business finds value in Howie then it may be beneficial to keep him. What a great motivator for me! Keep adding value so that I don’t feel as threatened when things get tight. You may not share my views on this but I find that sharpening my tools and working hard keeps me in practice.
The burden is on me to take on the responsibility to do what I can in order to help the business succeed. What can I do? I can do a lot! If I ran the company, I would make sure that everyone knew they could participate. I would make sure they knew that they are enabled to be the best that they can be by their choice on how they want to contribute and what burdens they choose to take on their shoulders. If they want to be a rock star then lets build a stage together. To lead from where we are in my view is the most powerful position to be in. How we impact the people around us and how we love them or engage with them shows immediate feedback and I love feedback. When I hug you, I like being hugged back. All of these things have to be tempered too. If you give up too much and you take on too much work, you will suffer and possibly fail yourself and the people you are trying to help. How many people have you known to take on everything by themselves and/or to claim they know it all? What happens to them? It is always a similar story, they find themselves alone. Business is personal, it isn’t meant for us to be alone, it is for us to share, trade and work together. There are times that we can work alone but if I ran my company, I would share the burden too. What if Atlas had company?
I knew a Principal that was so tired on his way home from endless days of work that he almost killed himself while sleep driving into a tunnel. He didn’t work like that only by choice. He felt obligated and afraid that if he didn’t work those long hours that he would lose his job. Ironically, he is no longer working for the company.
Back to the Start
Our life has a boundary but there is no boundary to knowledge.To use what has a boundary to pursue what is limitless is dangerous; with this knowledge, if we still go after knowledge, we will run into trouble. Do not do what is good in order to gain praise. If you do what is bad be sure to avoid the punishment. Follow the Middle Course, for this is the way to keep yourself together,to sustain your life, to care for your parents and to live for many years.
Chuang Tzu (c.360 BC – c. 275 BC)
I was asked this week who I think I am to think that I Howie Cohen could save the world. The question came out from this person quickly, almost like the words were by design like flying daggers. If you think that is dramatic, it was. It was a powerful question and it, the tone, inflection and speed of the delivery left me with a pause. I answered “I don’t want to save the world, I just want to help people one person at a time.” If I do that and you do that and we do small things together and this continues to happen we can make for better times. It doesn’t mean that I am looking to answer all the questions and/or to be in charge and lead the masses. It simply means what it means, help people one person at a time. It makes me feel good to get immediate feedback and it makes me feel good to find happiness in the happiness of others.
If I ran my company, I wouldn’t really run my company. I would remain a cog in the great machine and hope to keep being as purposeful as possible. I would work to influence our people from the bottom up and top down, to meet in the middle and communicate. That is exactly what I am looking to do.. right now.