5 Brief Quotes That Keep Me Thinking

Are we turning the corner on a new day of reinvention and reinvigoration, or are we swapping one set of enormously complicated challenges for another?

I’ve been think about that a lot as Covid-19 vaccinations are welcomed by increasingly more people and the doors to a rejuvenated nation continue to open at an encouraging pace. Still, it’s hard to ignore that much of the conflict that existed in the pre-Covid world remains in the post-Covid world.

The economy is rebounding with optimism in investment, yet income inequality is as deeply embedded in our interactions as it has ever been. High profile convictions for the abuse of power have been handed down, yet racial injustice remains in the daily headlines. International travel is resuming, yet lives are being lost in battles across and within borders.

We remain too often divided, and find little in the way of broad consensus that will adequately address sustainable remedies. Has the world learned anything from Covid-19, or are we picking up where we left off?

On days that are difficult to explain, I find myself looking to tiny bits of wisdom that keep me inspired and focused in good times, bad times, and when I can’t tell the difference. Here are five fragments I keep top of mind that I hope you will find perennial and inexhaustible.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” — Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He had every reason to be a pessimist given the treatment he endured, yet he was a fighter of the most noble order and seems to me a true optimist. He had a gift that he transformed into a cause. He led by example. He teaches me there is no other way to lead than by example.

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” — Walt Disney

Walt Disney was another optimist, but in a different way. He focused on pushing the imagination to unimaginable bounds. He knew beyond all financial gain that our aspirations live in our dreams, and that our stories are mirrors of our souls. He teaches me there is creativity in all of us, and nurturing that expression is essential to our fulfillment.

“All we are saying is give peace a chance.” — John Lennon

John Lennon expressed this in lyrics, so when I hear it, it is more music than words. Is it pointlessly naïve to think after centuries of combat, conquering, and attack we can make the active choice to seek peace as he suggests? To think less seems to me impossibly cynical. He teaches me that hope is at the root of getting past the seduction of old ways, and those old ways find a terrible way of repeatedly deceiving us.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank

Anne Frank left the world much too soon and in the unfairest of ways, yet it is the majesty of her child’s voice that reminds us initiative to improve is always within our grasp. Her courage holds the uplifting power to bypass the contaminants of cruelty in favor of a bias toward action. She teaches me that no matter the debilitating obstacles confronting our values, we must remain true to a commitment to heal the world.

“One voice can change a room.” — Barack Obama

Barack Obama is the one person quoted here who is still alive, tirelessly active in his advocacy for our shared wellness. He remains a controversial figure and his impact on our world will be debated long after his poetic voice passes into history. He often cites another of my favorite quotes around the arc of the moral universe. He teaches me there is intrinsic reward in tackling audacious goals, and that where progress may appear thin, there is ever more necessity in maintaining navigation toward a North Star.

That’s a lot to invoke in relatively few words. I have another batch of these I may share at a later date, and of course I would love to hear the words that inspire you in these ambivalent times. The concise wisdom of others is often enough to help us make a better decision, sculpt a bad choice into an improved choice, or just fire up our engines when fuel is hidden from our view. As I get older, I seldom see the obvious clarity I once anticipated would always reveal itself.

Sometimes you have to Think Different. Sometimes you have to think harder. Sometimes a little listening helps us discover the path beyond the noise.

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Photo: Pixabay

What’s Going On?

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On?We wake up to news that the prior night an innocent person was killed at point-blank range. We come back from lunch to news of a mass shooting in a public gathering place. We drive home from work but have to go around downtown because there’s a bomb scare. We sit down to dinner and try to dissect the political ramblings of where to plant the blame and why it’s someone else’s fault that nothing can be done about bloodshed. We go to bed trying to shut out the squabbling hysteria and another gunshot rings out. This time maybe it’s across the street.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

The slaughter of five police officers in Dallas.

That’s was in 72 hours, folks.

Last month we suffered Orlando. Last year it was San Bernardino. Two years ago it was Ferguson. Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Columbine might seem to some like ancient history. We can’t even keep an inventory or a timeline in our own minds —and that’s before we even toss in the endless acts of organized terrorism around the globe.

Some of the shooters are mentally ill, some are socially broken, sadly enough, some are cops. You try to tease them apart — it’s not the same thing when a psychopath fires into the crowd as it is when a jittery police officer kills a pleading African-American on the street — but under all of it you find the common theme: unrestrained hatred, reckless emotion taking power over determined action.

Violence, murder, death. Blame, finger-pointing, posturing. Every single day now. What vision of America is this? How did we get ourselves here? The victims fall pointlessly and then the rest of us argue to exhaustion. We have to be better than this. We just have to be better than this.

If the best minds speak out, will we hear them?

We are simultaneously irate and numb. How exactly can we be both of those at the same time?

Is it the 300 million cheap retail guns? The mass economic inequality? A sudden perceived freedom to express racist thoughts as “just saying candidly what’s on someone’s mind?” Too much pent-up anger in the institutions empowered to protect us from widespread chaos?

Marvin Gaye sang it the last time we rumbled nationally on the topic of civil rights. What’s Going On?

It’s more than we can see, hear, feel, or perceive. It’s not us and them. It’s not here and there. We are all in it all the time whether we want to be or not. Hello, Social Media, the untethered connectivity that weaves us together habitually and perpetually.

I am convinced the internet itself has to be at work here, although I see it as an equal plus and minus given the freedom it has already inspired in developing, previously autocratic countries. It’s not a coincidence that public violence and social media are exploding together.

Think about it. TV was the fuel of Vietnam protests and the Civil Rights Movement. We saw stuff everyday on analog television that we never saw before, and that made us mad, so we reacted. Now the internet lets us see and hear everything in realtime, it lasts a second in impact, and then a meme wipes that out with another. Nothing is edited, vicious words and horrific images fly around the globe at light speed. Regular folks like us gobble it up and talk about it like tallying statistics, while other “less regular” folks do who knows what because of it or maybe even try to make their own news for a few seconds.

Pretty soon we are on overload, frozen in inability to combat the madness.

Yes, the for-profit media is playing a role, but I don’t think it’s the big money professionals who are whipping up the frenzy as much as our addiction to social media. I don’t think any of us understands the impact the constant give-and-take-and-tackle-and-refute is having on us because we are devouring the scraps embedded in the platform simultaneously with its invention — without enough history, context, or perspective to make real sense of the role we are playing as nodes.

This is not a value judgment on our actions, mind you, it’s an observation. I am as guilty as anyone of living in the fray of exchange. I am more guilty because I am a writer and any good I try to do in getting you to think about this stuff can and will backfire and create more angst in its dismissal and rebuttal.

Sorry, I don’t have any brilliant answers. I’m a little frozen as well, a lot like you. I’m an observer and an interpreter, one voice trying to wrestle through the noise and rhetoric. I am convinced that it is not going to be a politician who leads us out of this muck. Martin Luther King wasn’t elected. He inspired his following. He paid the price, and he made a difference. We need that badly. I don’t have a clue what a Dr. King looks like in the 21st century or even if such a thing is possible anymore given our cynicism. I hope someone out there can figure out how to be one, the real deal.

Here’s one answer: Don’t let social media demoralize you. Don’t let the random ramblings of reactionary tirades spin you. Don’t be confused and don’t be manipulated by entrenched greed or opportunistic power grabs. Stay focused on ideas that resonate with your values, but listen thoughtfully when someone who looks or sounds different from you is making a compelling case for justice. Celebrate unsung heroes who are quietly making a difference. Catch someone in an act of compassion and sing their praises. The self-imposed noise around us can be divisive or unifying — it’s a rather important choice and always a choice.

Apathy and the status quo aren’t a solution. Terror can’t be a norm. We must find a way to unmake this mess. Don’t give up. Demand better. Demand sanity. Listen for the silenced voice in the room without an agenda. The better answers won’t be in obvious places. It is time to Think Different.

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This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Harnessing The Bern!

Dear Bernie,

You did a great job.

You galvanized a young generation of voters.

You helped change the dialogue to one of fairness.

You helped us to Think Different.

Now it’s time to be a mensch.

What’s at stake is everything.

We all have to row together in the same canoe.

I’m With Her are winning words.

Please be a mensch.

Love,

Those who need you.

bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton-democratic-debate

Author’s Postscript:

If we step out of campaign mode, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton really aren’t that far apart on the key issues that change our lives. They both share a core set of humanistic values and so do their constituents. Bringing us together will accomplish way more of the Progressive Agenda than an artificial wall.

We can continue to build upon the legacy of President Obama if we unite. Our commonality is way beyond our differences.

Bernie is going to join the Clinton campaign, I’m certain of that – the question is when and how ardently. None of his critical concerns will be ignored if he takes his seat at the table. He has earned that seat. It’s a good seat. He has to RSVP sooner rather than later because every minute counts now. He has to make that choice. I have faith he will do the right thing. Then Bernie can still be Bernie.

It begins. Onto November.

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Photo: DNC Presidential Debate, April 2016.

Leading Teams Toward Success Using People, Products and Profits

I’ve written the words People, Products, Profits (In That Order!) so many times over the years it would be easy to think of them as simply a slogan I use, a catchphrase meant to pique your interest. I assure you this is no more the case than Apple using the words Think Different as a clever tagline. Like the words Think Different, People-Products-Profits is part management philosophy, part rallying cry, and in an aspirational context, part religion. When I invoke these words to set the table for embarking on the outrageous, it is with the full knowledge that I could sound silly, fail miserably, fall on my face, or possibly convince you that relentless pursuit of the extraordinary is within your grasp. That’s a lot to bite off in a very few words. It’s meant to be.

In my new book, Endless Encores, a veteran CEO named Daphne spends an evening talking with an up-and-coming executive named Paul, helping him come to terms with the potential first failure he could be facing following a huge initial success. They are stuck in an airport, passing the hours. She is a leader and he is leader, only at the moment he is too obsessed with his own personal exposure to realize that he is failing to be a leader by trying to duck out of the way of his own mishap. By worrying more about what he has done than what he has learned, he has shifted the weight of his problem from marginal to endemic. In truth, the failure he might be facing is not so much a setback as it is an opportunity. By the end of the story, he has embraced that and reset his sights on the long game.

Save for the guidance from Daphne, Paul might have missed the boat. And the plane. And all that might have been ahead of him in the form of material reward, passionate accomplishment, intellectual richness, and emotional fulfillment. It’s a close call, but he makes it over the coals. You can, too, if either you have a Daphne in your corner and you’re willing to listen, or if you otherwise come to acknowledge your role as a leader is more about the long-term example you set than the specific offering you at the moment champion. One is permanent and tangible, the other fleeting and beyond your control. Where would you prefer to focus?

Leading through People, Products, and Profits means committing to the idea that talent is a priori to all success. This has much less to do with your own talent than the talent you assemble, empower, and inspire. World class products and services don’t create themselves. They are created by human beings, most often high performance teams, and the time you devote to building and bolstering those teams is a direct reflection of your values.

When your team identifies a product concept that is worth pursuing, leadership becomes the championing of execution over the touting of an idea. We can all dream up big ideas, but few of us can bring them to market. Those who can almost invariably need some form of stewardship to hold the team together through unending punch lists of details. If that’s not challenge enough, you can have the best team in the world and the best product in the world, but if your business model is not sensible and doesn’t sustain the enterprise, it really doesn’t matter what you set out to accomplish. A business has to create value, usually measured in the form of profit, and if you can’t lead a team to do that more often than not, you’re not likely to get many chances to stand in the center ring.

The point of the rallying cry is to set a tone of priority, balance, and perspective. Everyone likely wants a business that is profitable, but leaping straight to the outcome ignores the most valuable element in the mix: your customers. An exceptional team that has been well-directed puts the customer in first position, in essence their supreme boss, with the primary hope that if a customer’s expectations are exceeded, that customer can become a customer for life. When we talk about the notion of lifetime value, we are talking about just that: Have we surprised and delighted a customer in such a way that they ascribe emotion to the brand we represent? Will they come back for more with cost-effective prompting, and will they tell their influence circles about the breadth and depth of their fine experience? That’s why a business leader is accountable first to customers, because they hold all the cards, and that’s why when they pursue a business opportunity, they place investment in talent first, product innovation second, and business model third. You need all three, but put them in the wrong order and you are left extracting value from a customer rather than bonding a customer who becomes a partner in creating value.

Yes, you have to juggle three balls at once in sequence if you want to repeat success, and you have to do it over and over. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy, because if it were, you wouldn’t be worthy of praise or wealth because anyone could do it. Likewise, leadership is a choice. It’s not for everyone. The rewards are far often more intrinsic than measurable, and falling on your face in a public forum is never going to be fun. You will fail. We all fail. If you learn when you fail you will also win. You have to decide if leadership is really something you’re ready to shoulder. If you are, choose your words and the order of those words carefully. The talent around you will only become cynical if you’re insincere and don’t stand for something more than winning right now.

Repeating success is about the journey. Leading is about tone and substance. Projects are always short. Careers can be short or long. The choice is always yours. Your values always matter. If you’re deliberate in determining how you build a culture of shared values, the best around you will always be listening. Stay authentic and their results will surprise you. Those are likely to be extremely pleasant surprises.

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This article originally appeared on Leadership Now.

Photo courtesy of Free Range Stock