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There Is Much To Learn From Saint Patrick

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland.  He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background.  Saint Patrick himself was known to enjoy a drink or two.  However the celebratory aspect of the day should not overshadow the remarkable life and good works of the man.

As a teenager of wealth and privilege he was kidnapped and taken from his adopted home of Scotland (his parents were originally from Rome) bought to Ireland and sold into slavery.  At the age of 20 he escaped his bondage and found his way back home only to volunteer to return again to Ireland in his 30s as an ordained priest on a missionary quest. He spent the remainder of his life spreading his beliefs throughout the country and converting people from all walks of life.  It’s worth noting that his journey was not an easy one and he was often imprisoned and beaten because of the courage of his convictions and success of his work.

There is much to learn from the life of Saint Patrick including the following:

  • No matter what happens to you don’t forsake hope or allow yourself to be fully defined by your adverse circumstances;
  • A life of privilege is meaningless unless you can anchor it to something more profound and “bigger” than yourself;
  • Committing yourself to a cause you believe in is not for the feint of heart and requires courage and persistence;
  • You can accomplish great things in life if you truly believe in what you are doing and your values align with your work;
  • Confront your fears head on and grow because of (not in spite of)  your bad experiences;
  • Speak out when you see and injustice and help others whenever you can (even if there is a price to pay for this behavior);
  • A life of significance is the result of diligent daily effort.

To my knowledge Saint Patrick was never officially canonized by the Vatican but he is still on the list of saints.  Sometimes a life’s work stands on its own.  If and when you raise a glass in toast this weekend, I encourage to consider toasting Saint Patrick.  He was a special man who accomplished great things despite many difficulties and hardships.  He put the welfare of others ahead of his own and literally was the spark that transformed the religious faith of a nation.

Leadership Thought #448 – If What You Are Doing Isn’t Working, Then Try Something Else

One of the most frustrating and disheartening things that someone in my position has to deal with are leaders who have a tendency to ignore reality and follow a flawed strategy or other key decision off a cliff.  Pride almost always gets in the way as he/she thinks that changing course would represent failure or unnecessary pain.  Usually there is a difficult decision that has to be made about people, finances  or the current business model (sometimes all three).  The inability to make these types of decisions tends to lead to one outcome – failure.  A reasonably competent leader may delay the timing but the end result is inevitable.

When what you are doing isn’t working, then you need to try something different.  To paraphrase Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.” This doesn’t mean you always chart a new course at the first sign of adversity.  However, if consistent negative patterns are emerging, you must pay attention and act accordingly.  Some typical signs are flat-lined revenues, constant cash worries, diminishing profitability, and a growing debt burden that is out of synch with expected business results.  If you are continually borrowing money just to make payroll and keep your doors open, you really aren’t growing a for-profit business.  The goal in business should be to get better problems, not continually revisit the same old ones. And, believe me, the universe will keep pushing you to learn a lesson until you get it.

Don’t get me wrong, change just for the sake of change is never good.  There are certainly many strategies that need some time to come to fruition.  Don’t bailout just because you’ve hit a bump in the road and it’s hard.  It’s equally important not to be pig-headed, fearful, or persistent to the point of being illogical or naive.  Usually, there are people around you who care about you and see what you don’t see or choose to ignore. Listen to them!  Courage isn’t about proving yourself right, it’s about accepting the brutal facts of your reality and doing the right thing.

I’ve witnessed the following areas where business leaders get stuck far too often:

  • Embracing old market paradigms of doing business when things have irrevocably changed;
  • Holding on to technological solutions that are no longer responsive to industry/market needs;
  • Not rethinking the product/marketing strategy when sales trends are flat or trending downwards;;
  • Getting too comfortable with existing market dynamics and being too slow to expand and diversify;
  • Under-investing in sales capacity and putting the business development  burden on too few people;
  • Under-capitalizing the business given your growth strategy – you cannot consistently grow on the cheap;
  • Using a pricing model that no longer reflects market realities;
  • Treating variable expenses like fixed expenses especially when it comes to labor costs;
  • Continually growing in-house administrative capacity/expenses without properly vetting outsourcing options;
  • Offering employee benefit packages the business can’t really afford due to profit margin realities;
  • A regular pattern of maximizing debt burdens/ceilings and keeping it that way, allowing no margin for financial error;
  • Going into more debt when you are already losing considerable money;
  • An unwillingness to confront problem employees who are doing damage to your culture and adversely affecting customer relationships;
  • Sticking with a vendor out of personal loyalty that you have outgrown and who cannot get you to the next level;
  • Hiring and promoting family members/friends who are unqualified for the job and making everyone else cover up for their non-performance;
  • Saving the jobs of a few at the expense of the many;
  • Listening to only those people who validate what you are doing rather than actively encouraging constructive feedback.

 

Leadership Thought #375 – Leadership Lessons From The Movie Moneyball

As a New York Yankee fan, I must admit to not being all that excited about the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt when it came out.  The story is about the exploits of Billy Beane as General Manager of The Oakland A’s when he literally transformed his approach to running a baseball team.  When it got nominated for an Academy Award I thought maybe I should see it one day, but didn’t rush out to but it.  I finally saw it last week and was blown away.  I guess at this point I should pretty much trust anything Aaron Sorkin is involved with.   Not only is the movie well written, directed, and acted, it also has many important lessons that are applicable to my work with business leaders.  It was almost as if they had a leadership/management expert on the writing team.  I’d like to highlight the following takeaways:

  • Never get complacent about leadership, especially when you have had some success. It is your job to push the organization to make it stronger;
  • Always be on the lookout for talent and don’t too get hung up on a person’s status or experience when screening possibilities;
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way of listening to what other’s have to say about the state of your organization/industry – be open to constructive non-conventional thinking;
  • Just because you don’t initially understand something doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it and apply it to our organization (especially if you hire someone who is well versed in the concept);
  • Accept your reality and design a strategy that is aligned with it – not every team has Yankee money;
  • Expect resistance when you decide to make major changes and challenge conventional wisdom, but don’t lose your nerve and keep moving forward;
  • There is big difference between earning people’s respect and being popular – always choose the former over the latter;
  • Pick your battles wisely and don’t avoid difficult conversations with key people, but instead be honest and straightforward with them;
  • As the leader, many people need to feel that you believe in them before they can fully believe in themselves;
  • Don’t be afraid to change people out who are a bad fit with your culture/system – remove the nonbelievers and bad role models;
  • Understand that your job is to build the best team not become enamored with superstar position players – sometimes you need to let talented people go;
  • There are times when the leader has to embrace his/her communication role and rally and/or challenge the team;
  • When instituting major change, expect a performance dip before things get better – it takes some time for people to adjust;
  • There are more important things than money, starting with how you feel about yourself, your work and the needs of those closest to you.

I’d recommend that anyone who is in a leadership position watch this movie and identify commonalities with your own experience.  When it is at its best, art feels like an accurate reflection of the human experience and resonates deeply on an individual level.  And, leadership will always be as much art as it is science.

Daily Leadership Thought #137 – Have We Lost Our Way?

Maybe it’s my age and being more aware of things, but I am convinced there are more egocentric people today than when I was a younger.  You meet people like this all the time.  Whatever happens is always about them regardless of the situation and its consequences (for others).  Sadly, they have been buoyed in their attitudes by a cottage industry of self-help gurus and marketers that continue to reinforce the worldview that everyone should be the center of their own universe and each individual’s primary concern should be their own happiness and self-satisfaction.  It feels like people can no longer compromise or handle adversity.  How many of us even truly grasp and embrace the concepts of delayed gratification and self-sacrifice?

We expect to be happy and fulfilled all the time and paradoxically we are less happy.  You see the evidence everywhere: divorce rates now above 50%, parents putting their own needs ahead of their kids, parents over scheduling and stressing out their children and trying to live vicariously through their exploits, people switching jobs every 2-3 years, children living at home well into their Thirties, the number of people you know on anti-depressants, etc.  The offspring of the “ME” generation have clearly been paying attention to the actions and attitudes of their parents.  It is all quite sad.

The following secrets leading to a happy and fulfilling life have been communicated down through the ages, across cultures and religions:

  • Money and material things aren’t the pathway to joy or enlightenment and never will be;
  • True happiness comes from giving not getting;
  • Pay attention to your own attitudes and actions before rushing to judgment of others;
  • Treat people the way that you would want to be treated or better yet, treat them how they want to be treated;
  • Important relationships are like gardens – they need to be properly maintained or they will wither and die;
  • The grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence – count your blessing and be grateful for what you have;
  • People tend to live up to your expectations (either good or bad) and most people are good and deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise;
  • You get out of life what you put into it;
  • The moment you stop learning and growing is the moment you begin to die;
  • The important lessons in life will get continually more difficult until you learn them;
  • Life isn’t fair.  You often can’t control what happens to you but you can control your response to it.
  • And, we all meet the same end what will ultimately matter then is the impact we had on other people.

It feels like as a society we have begun to lose our way. The disproportionate celebration of the individual has come at great expense to the family and community.  Other people have become props in our life who are discarded as they no longer suit our purpose.  We tolerate less and expect more.  We want what we want and we want it now.  We are worried more about what strangers think than strengthening the bonds of our existing relationships.

It’s time to get back on track and it starts with you and me.  We know the answers.  We just need to wade through the murky waters of self deception and conceit to get there.  The lessons and values we need to embrace are widely known, time tested, implementable and lead to better results.  We just need to let go of the Ego and embrace our Super-Ego.  We need to stop always putting ourselves and our needs first and then rationalizing our behavior.

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