Last week I talked about Course Correction. How we shouldn’t be so married to our path or our views that we can’t onboard new data and make adjustments if necessary. That course correction early will spare you a lot of pain later.
However, there’s another side to the story.
I heard a quote years ago that goes something like this: “True leadership is to keep your head while people around you lose theirs.” Or put differently, to keep cool under pressure, focusing on what you are doing and executing, is harder than one thinks. The temptation to give in, to listen to too many voices, to join the mob… I reckon we’ve all been there, and it’s hard to stay firm in your beliefs and principles.
Principles, or values, are like muscles. You can have them, but if you don’t constantly work them out, they won’t stay that strong in the face of pressure. When someone else exerts their influence on you, and you don’t have a strong sense of what you want, you’ll end up doing what they want. And, quite reasonably, resent them for it without quite knowing how you could have done things differently.
So the key is to have a plan. A plan that is a product of your principles and goals. A plan that dictates your actions and choices, a plan that was conceived with your best data at hand at the time and looks at the long term, but tries to find the short-term wins that will get you there. But also a plan that is principle, not outcome-driven, and if the environment changes, you can course correct as needed.
Someone on our recent hike wanted to skip the most spectacular part of the route to take the shortcut. Part of me (the people-pleasing part) wanted to accommodate them – but the part that felt responsible for my own and the rest of the group’s experiences adhered to first principles, and I pushed back. There was a short-term cost in terms of group energy, but the result was justified. We did the beautiful but tough section of the course, and we were all glad for it in the end.
It was a fitting metaphor for a lot of what my life is about these days. A million different ways I could be swayed to the agenda of others, and the hard work is to stay the course. To interrogate the people-pleasing side of me, and to always ask whether the choice will also serve my own needs. To do and fight for the things that align with my family, personal and business values, and don’t do the things that might be fun but won’t fundamentally help propel me towards my goals.
Goals, by the way, that are set to include all stakeholders. My wife, my kids, my family. My friends, colleagues, clients and mentors. There are a lot of people counting on me, and taking them into account is some of my biggest work.
I had… have… great expectations of family life. But increasingly, I am reminded that it comes with a range of complex challenges that I am ill-equipped to handle. I am grateful that there are lots of people, resources and options available. But, when my son doesn’t quite want to follow the carefully constructed plan I have laid out for him, it creates a level of anxiety for me that I am unfamiliar with.
I realized this week, in the mountains, that I could be a much better father to my two boys. And that I could do a lot better at doing things my wife likes as opposed to the things that I want to do. That I have plans and goals and ideas in my head, but that I should let them be frameworks, not fixed structures. And maybe I should let go of my epic holiday plans this year and do the thing that will give us both joy. Turn that hell no into a f*ck yeah, and hurtle joyously to a new goal.
Trusting the process is a lot easier to teach than to practice, I’ll tell you. Stay the course? Change course? Who the hell knows? We are all out there working on our S.W.A.G. I suppose. You ask me what a SWAG is. A Scientific Wild-Ass Guess.
Yep. I’ll keep working those values muscles, and hopefully strong sense of principles will guide my hand as we walk this merry road of life.