Not long ago, I interviewed a Fortune 500, Good to Great, Level 5 leader named, let’s say, Ed about the principles he has followed to make him so successful, respected, and admired by many people in the business world.
Ed manages his time masterfully. He has good manners and is respectful. Regardless, he doesn’t like it when people belabor points or speak off task. He clearly doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He doesn’t have to because he has terrific assistants who are friendly and helpful — but guard access to him like loyal pit bulls. In fact, when I become rich and successful, I’m going to hire people like them to protect me from people like me. Luckily, I have made it through their screening and gained access to a CEO like Ed. The topic of what helps these people stay centered in their careers speaks to them.
We begin. My deferential and occasional self-effacing comments forged from years of neurosis, or feeling that you aren’t entitled to what you truly deserve, punctuate my questions and clarifications. They are unnecessary and off-putting. Ed says in no uncertain terms, “Cut the self-deprecation.”
Our discussion continues, and after listening to — and between — his words, I understand what has kept Ed centered through the good and bad times. Near the end of the meeting, Ed asks, “What do you make of what I’ve said — and of me?”
This is not an unusual question for a leader to ask someone after an interview that concentrated on areas they don’t usually think about. Many successful and highly regarded leaders think deeply about facing challenges and solving problems in their professional lives — but they’re not often introspective. Rather than waste time dwelling on neurotic, useless worries about themselves, their competence, and worth, they feel duty bound to focus on what needs to be done in their company to accomplish its goals, fulfill its mission, and turn its vision into a reality. They are purposeful and committed — to a fault.
“I think you keep centered by never deluding yourself about reality,” I say. “You play the cards you are dealt very well, surround yourself with the best people, and commit yourself to the success of the companies you’ve been hired to run rather than focus on your personal ambitions. Therefore, you have little to fear because you have nothing to hide.”
Not missing a cue, Ed asks, “But what?”
I say what’s on my mind. “I wouldn’t want my sister to marry you.”
“Why?” Ed asks.
“Because as much as I might respect and admire you, she would die of loneliness.”
“What?” Ed fired back. I had hit a nerve.
“You’re incredibly effective in business because you are so purposeful and so goal- and task-oriented,” I replied.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“In matters of the world, you need to remain in control; in matters of the heart you need to give it up,” I said. “You can’t make others love you by staying in control and solving and fixing things. You can only enable them to love you by giving all of that up and listening to them without any agenda. You need to understand where they’re really coming from. Then they can share their hopes and dreams — and have them amplified — and their fears and frustrations — and have them alleviated.”
Ed replied: “I don’t exactly understand what you just said, but I know it’s all true.”
To be continued…