Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 17, 2018
This is the last column for 2018. No cheering. Like Arnold in The Terminator, “I’ll be back.”
End of year columns always review the year just completed, but I am going to pass on that tradition. If you want to relive the past year, then you are on your own. It was not a particularly stellar one, with enough fire, death, loss, sadness, pain and general misery to last a decade. Perhaps it is simply an effective blocking filter, but I will not walk backward. All my steps are pointed dead ahead.
For 2019, I am going to focus on two themes — gratitude and forgiveness. In the past year, I found myself dealing with about a dozen “issues” that required negotiation and resolution. These were unsettled matters, disagreements, misunderstandings, deals with darkness. In each case, even when I had the high moral ground and good cards, I chose to find not just the middle ground, but a tilt to the other side. I was in generosity mode, which I have come to believe is often the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. My need to win the battles has diminished, while my need to win the war has intensified. I am only aiming at BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – a phrase first developed by Jim Collins. An additional reference might be found in the Latin phrase, sic transit gloria mundi, loosely translated to mean “thus passes the glory of the world” — which in layman’s terms means, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
What helped inform some of my mind-melding behavior modifications was an insight from Geoffrey Garrett, dean at the Wharton School of Business, who wondered if the old model of “sticking to your guns” was still mostly the right decision. Of course, we all have core beliefs and convictions, but if you have lousy cards, folding early and getting a new hand is something to consider. Greene gives the example of General Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg (he could have avoided the inevitable massacre if he had given it up earlier). There is little valor in historic defeats. Kodak died. IBM transformed.
Why do some leaders wait so long to see the writing on the wall, which is never the dry-erase kind? Even when I had the moral high ground this year, I often opted for “pay the man the $5/settle out of court.” I spend a lot of time thinking about and managing risk and reward — perhaps the single most important component of judgment. Albert Einstein’s motto for life was “question everything.” I am all in on rethinking and re-evaluating, but I am even more focused on seeing the macro and believing that when it is raining, open an umbrella.
Gratitude is critical in leadership. I know well that the intellectual property of my company walks out the door every night, and I can only hope it will come back in the morning. I think saying thank you matters deeply. As I have written often in the past, I am a big believer in apologies. I had a dilemma recently, and I solved it by sincerely saying I was sorry, as well as agreeing to a modest economic acknowledgment. I think I could have won the case, but winning was not worth it. Even more to the point, it is not always easy to know what winning really looks like. I worry about the infamous unintended consequences. We all get confused and sometimes we end up scoring the “Pyrrhic victory” — I really showed them, and along the way also went broke. Dumb!
After gratitude comes forgiveness. No matter how cautiously offered, my words of criticism can sometimes have impacts greater than I intended, so I try to give encouragement and support as well, very lightly wrapped in a blanket of understanding, because as we all know, stuff happens. Where I am not very good — and I suspect this is true of many entrepreneurs and leaders — is in forgiving myself. Garrett points out that “effective leadership should not be viewed as a single marathon, but rather as a series of sprints.” You, the leader, need time to recover and recharge as well. That means giving a little self-forgiveness for when you stumble and knock over the hurdle by mistake.
Rule No. 589
Take time to catch your breath.