One of my favorite movie lines of all times is from "An American President." The fictional President running for re-election says, "I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job!
It may be this year's election season causing the line to echo in my head, but I believe this sentiment applies widely across government and business.
-Are you frequently struggling to keep your head above water?
-Do you find yourself taking the path of least resistance instead of doing what you truly feel should be done?
-When making choices, do you overweight what others will say and whether or not your decision will be popular?
-Are you trying to stay below the radar and not make waves?
-Are you grateful that "there but for the grace of God, go I" because something went horribly wrong?
-Do you wish you had better alternatives available to you in your business?
-Are there days when you lament out loud, "This shouldn't be this difficult or this much work?"
You get the drift. Whether you are a running for public office, CEO, board member, senior executive, or entry-level contributor, the reality is that life is hard, and frequently we don't get to have it our way. We need to be honest with ourselves about the reality of the current situation and then chart a path to the future that balances near- and long-term sustainability.
Frequently, making a difference and achieving some measure of success requires unpopular and troublesome choices. The alternatives are fraught with unintended negative consequences, and some might say that leadership of any kind is about choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable (to paraphrase John Galbraith).
But believe it or not-that's okay. It's far more productive to be realistic starting where you are than to engage in fantasy and then wonder why your choices didn't work.
Doing your job to the best of your ability requires a balanced combination of: Considering multiple points of view, even the ones you don't like Recognizing you may not be the only smart person in the room Realizing that sometimes the right strategic answer is no, even though it is immensely unpopular Understanding that it's always riskier to make the unpopular choice (that's the reason you are in a leadership position) Living your values, even when it will cost you money and profit
Those who read our newsletter regularly may recall that over the past few years, I have written individual articles for each of those bullets. I hope seeing them in one place gives you a reason to pause and reconsider them.
As a child, I was a news junkie. I remember Senator Everett Dirkson (R-Ill.) drawing the distinction between a politician and a statesman. As I recall, this James Freeman Clarke quote below summarizes Dirkson's sentiment quite well. "The difference between a politician and a statesman is: a politician thinks of the next election, and a statesman thinks of the next generation." As you lead your business every day, ask yourself whether or not you are successfully balancing between a politician and statesman. Clearly, there is a need for both. And if you think it doesn't matter to you, I would counter: are you sure about that? Are you so busy keeping your job that you are not doing your job? If you don't know the answer, how are you going to figure it out and when?