Don’t be lazy

Are you willing to work harder than everyone on your team to lead? Not everyone is…yet we think we are supposed to be leaders. Its the same reason why we all feel routinely underpaid but rarely overpaid.

I was on a field, playing soccer amongst classmates the other day. And there were moments when I felt downright lazy. I did not feel like running back to defense. I was conserving my energy, acting strategically. As I observed the complexity of grown people who did not approach the game with any more understanding than 10 year old children, I decided to poach in the offensive third, and sleuth for a loose ball that I could convert to a goal.

Was I wrong? Why should I go back and do someone else’s job? Aren’t we supposed to empower by trusting others to complete a task independently without micromanagement?

So what did I do? As I was waiting for the ball I was yelling from the top of the line telling people what to do without getting my hands dirty. All this yelling and direction but no influence. It was when I had the ball and dribbled past people and made accurate passes and scored a goal that I instilled confidence and my teammates could make a connection between my words and actions. There was congruence between my strategy and the critical tasks to accomplish that strategy.

We have a fantasy that leadership happens from a Skybox with a remote control. However, that’s not true. The leader has to be more productive, creative and strategic than his staff. He offloads repeatable tasks to his team so his mind can reflect and produce value. But in order to do that he has to prove to his team that he is worthy of that time and space that they create for him. He has to have more courage, more stamina, and more heart.

One in a Million

I was riding up 85N to Ithaca to a new beginning at a new school. Long road of lush greenery. Silence.

I was listening to Aaliyah’s One in A Million, a hot track by Timbaland…but a sad track because I could not help thinking about Aaliyah’s singing talent cut too short by tragic circumstances. What were the chances of her passing in a plane crash? One in a million.

What were the chances of me getting into b-school? One in a million.

And then I thought about a close friend, who has dedicated his life to the cause of training high school students in Atlanta to be leaders — the types of students who in most cases have been overlooked by our educational system and have a one in a million chance at getting into college. This friend, who I view as a role model in servant leadership, recently confided in me that he has had some regrets about his decisions in life. Ten years ago, he started the application process for b-schools like Cornell and Harvard. He attended their prospective weekends. He even had a class photo (or at least the class with whom he would have been matriculating) that he saved as a memento for his past ambition. But for some reason, he didn’t go through with finishing the process. He did not feel his undergrad GPA was good enough for these elite MBA programs. Instead of following through, he stopped himself short before these schools could “reject” him. He will never know what his chances were because he never applied.

Fast forward to today and he is telling me that he is proud of my perseverance at getting into business school. He says that I must succeed in business school for the decision he never made that tortures him still. And all I can do is remain humble. As much as I would like to take credit for it all, it took a village of supporters to make it happen.

For example, here I am riding down this highway to a new beginning, but I’m getting there because my dad is helping me move all the way from Atlanta, driving the truck.

In life, it is very easy to play Monday night quarterback. It is very easy to hit rewind and criticize your every move and beat yourself up for not having insight or foresight. But the truth is that in real time all you can do is practice good judgment. My friend is an amazing inspiration to those kids who have a one in a million chance at getting into college. His decision not to attend b-school is the decision for me to attend and do well for him. Its because of his decision not to apply to b-school that those kids will attend college. One in a million. I say not.

Ropes: Its not about you


I climbed a 30 ft pole and jumped to catch a trapeze at a ropes challenge course.

If you have never done it. Think: The pole is a metaphor for “You’re the cause you’re looking for.”

So many of us need a track or one more peg to indicate what we should do next. We are good at coloring our lives inside the lines of others. We are good at climbing so long as the course is outlined. But for real dramatic growth, at some point you have to realize you are the end point. There are no more steps to climb, no more grooves or pegs to hold your foot in place. You have to believe that you can will yourself to a standing position on top of the pole and leap for your goals. The first time I got to the top I wobbled off the pole and failed miserably. The second time, I was successful. I scaled up like a monkey and got to a standing position easily. It was the trapeze that gave me trouble. No matter how determined, after three more tries, I was unable to leap out, catch and sustain my grip.

While I would have liked to have accomplished my goal of leaping and holding on the trapeze bar, in life you have to recognize that its not about you all the time. One of my classmates had gone first in that exercise. He climbed the pole, reached the top, jumped but missed the trapeze. He was terrified, and discouraged. He did not think twice about trying the challenge again. But after he saw my dogged persistence — jumping four times— he tried again. He climbed up the pole, got to the top, jumped and caught the trapeze! He even did a upside down monkey flip to dismount.

I did not accomplish my goal but I released my classmate to accomplish his goal. My persistence enabled and ennobled him to go after the pole again. And he became a success for both of us.