We’ve all faced this moment in our personal or work life. You’re in a work culture where your priorities and values are being challenged, and you have to make a decision. If you didn’t have the external pressure to get results in your work, your internal answer would be simple; but it’s not that easy is it?
So what do you do?
Leadership Lesson Learned
In his book, From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, Harry Kraemer addresses the need for self-reflection to keep one on course. This former CEO/Chairman of Baxter International, a multi-billion dollar international healthcare company, tells a story that taught him an important lesson in making decisions as well as living intentionally in personal leadership development.
Here’s His Story…
He accompanied his parents on a trip to a retirement home where they led the residents in a time of singing familiar songs. Kraemer’s mom played the piano while his dad led the music and often sang memorable songs from Broadway musicals. Kraemer sat in the audience with the residents enjoying meeting the people and learning about their life stories.
On this particular occasion, he noticed a distinguished elderly man dressed in a tweed sport jacket and a bow tie who looked very professional. During one of the breaks, Kraemer approached this man and discovered that he was a retired senior executive from Pillsbury.
Always the student of learning, Kramer asked this man questions about his career and life. He specifically wanted to know what this former high-level executive would have done things differently now that his career was over.
This 89-hear old man pondered Kraemer’s question and then shared this golden nugget:
“You know, back in my early forties, I wanted to leave corporate America. I was on that ladder climb and doing well, but I wanted to leave corporate America and become a teacher. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of high school kids.”
But he said, “I never did it because I was worried about what ‘they’ would say. I’m 89 now. I’ve had a lot of time to sit and reflect about the ‘they’ that kept me from pursuing my dream. And I think, who were the ‘they’ that was driving so much of my decision-making?”
Like a wise sage, the man continued:
“Here’s what I want to tell you: People can be divided into two groups. The first group is composed of people who genuinely care about you. I mean, they want to celebrate with you, they want to encourage you, they want to be with you on your life journey, they want you to succeed and have the highest of times.
But they’re also going to follow that up with a question such as, ‘How are you doing? How is this promotion going to help you take care of yourself? What are you going to do to maintain your balance?’ These people will ask you the difficult questions because they’re concerned about you.” He said, ‘for most of us, we’re really lucky if we have five to eight people who fit that category. That’s it.’”
Then this former Pillsbury executive said:
“That other group, that’s the ‘they.’ These folks are good folks, and they may ask about you every once in a while; but for the most part, they’re busy living their lives. What I came to find out is they really weren’t thinking about me anyway.
I gave them too much weight because I was worried about what they were going to say, and they weren’t saying anything because they weren’t thinking about me; they were busy living.” He said, “If you don’t pull aside to self-reflect and assess, you allow the invisible ‘they’ to determine your life course.”
Where Are You?
You may be in a very critical situation in your work where your values and desires aren’t aligned with your organization, and it’s not easy to make the difficult decision to either affect positive change for better alignment or make the decision to leave.
As an executive coach, one way that I help my clients is to establish a PQM: a personal quarterly meeting. This practice of self-reflection assists you in focus and to remain aligned with your values. Through the coaching process, we drive down to the core of what you desire to define you as a leader.
On a quarterly basis, set aside an hour or more to focus on where you are on your leadership journey. Here a few questions to answer during your reflection –
- What are your top leadership priorities?
- What are your top three values?
- Where are you driving change based on your core values?
- Where have you allowed the pace of business to move you off course?
- How am I letting the “they” influence my decision-making?
- What is it that matters beyond anything else in your life right now?
As Harry Kramer reminds us, you must take the initiative to map out time for personal reflection and evaluation because no one is going to map it out for you.
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