Obstacles on the Path to LEGACY

Wizard of Oz Legacy

Last week, one of the true legends of my organization retired after 30+ years of dedicated service.  There are very few people able to single-handedly and consistently improve the fortunes of a large company… and this is one of those rare individuals.  She very successfully promoted a culture of innovation and also invested an immense amount of time and energy in training, teaching, and coaching countless individuals throughout her career.  Our business, our products, our consumers, and our employees are better because of her efforts, and her day-to-day impact will be severely missed.  She left a clear and deliberate “legacy” on the entire organization, and it is amazing how directly that her philosophy drove her time investments, which directly drove her organizational impact and ultimately her results.

Concurrent with this retirement, I personally am crossing a milestone of my own having spent 15 years of my life and career at this same company.  Honestly, I want to say that I am celebrating this anniversary, but I am feeling less celebratory and more anxiety.  This represents the half-way point to the traditional (even if no longer entirely relevant) 30 year career, and that realization is strangely disconcerting. Looking back, I am proud of my first decade and a half, but also frustrated
as I reflect on wasted time, unfulfilled dreams, and missed opportunities.  And as I look forward, I have a heightened sense of urgency on defining my own purpose, on maximizing my impact, and on determining the legacy that I want to leave behind when all is said and done.  Really, this conceptually seems simple- figure out what I love to do, what I was made to do, and what I yearn to do… and just do it.  But if it is that simple, then why do so many of us struggle with this very same question.  “What is my purpose and what legacy do I want to leave?”

While I could, and ultimately will, spend time on answering that big question, today I am instead focusing on the obstacles that get in the way on the road to “Purpose”.  I believe that there are three main barriers that need to be overcome:

1)      Mental Clutter:  Work and life are filled with so many distractions and, frankly, “garbage”, that it is easy to lose focus and to wander off the road to meaning while being overwhelmed by the meaningless.

2)      Ego:  It is far too easy to get in our own way and to get too caught up in trying to fulfill our own or others’ superficial expectations.  It is not that we should abandon goals like promotions, raises, and status, but if we prioritize them over doing meaningful work that we love, we will struggle to find purpose and fulfillment.

3)      Fear:  Whether it be fear of failure, fear of straying from a comfortable situation, fear of judgment, or some other fear… being too frightened to make a change will ultimately prevent that change from ever occurring.

And thus the Wizard of Oz analogy… while the journey to finding meaning and purpose in our careers may seem “black & white” at first, it ultimately is far more colorful.  While searching for the “Yellow Brick Road” that leads to our legacy, we need a brain to overcome the mental clutter, a heart to overcome the ego, and the courage to overcome the fears.   It was inspiring last week to see someone I admire to retire with such a strong legacy. I pray for the focus, the passion, and the conviction to find “my way home” and to more consistently and deliberately work toward my lasting purpose.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

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Let the Players Play, and the Coaches Coach

Softball Blog

I am coming off of a long publishing hiatus, as my crazy spring (yes, I realize that it is July) has come to a close.  Bear with me as I finally try on my new format here- instead of holding myself to lengthy, profound (at least in my own mind) chapters, I will try instead to pen much shorter, pithy perspectives.  In the background, I am still fighting to finish the first draft of my book, but still don’t want to lose the discipline and the connection of this blog.  I now have a backlog of topics to get out of my brain and onto the screen, and I plan to hold myself to 500 words or less.  For those who know me well, conciseness is not on my lists of strengths… but I hope that this allows me to write more regularly via stream of consciousness while still making a key point or two.  Can I be profound and pithy?  Only time will tell…

And no… my long-winded 177 word intro doesn’t count against my 500!

 

Let the Players Play, and the Coaches Coach

Part of the reason that my writing took a backseat is that I put away my author’s quill for a few months and replaced it with a baseball cap.  This spring, I held the prestigious position of head softball coach for my daughter and her 8 year-and-under girls softball team.  It was my second year coaching, and this has easily become one of my favorite ways to invest my time.  No, I am not a huge fan of managing the logistics of rescheduling rainouts or insuring that the critical snack duties are fulfilled for every game (The parents failed to deliver a snack for a game last season and I was concerned that the world might actually come to an end).  But the day-to-day working with the kids, helping them to love and learn the game, and watching their vast improvement from the first practice to the last game is something that I have enjoyed far more than I could have imagined.

Given that this is a beginner’s softball league, there initially is a lot of necessary “micro-management” to not only keep the games moving, but also to protect the safety of the kids.  Combine metal bats, projectiles, and the attention span of many 8-year olds, and it is easy for all sorts of chaos to ensue.  In an effort to contain this “entropy”, typically two or more coaches stand out in the field as and help to “direct traffic”.  Depending on the coach, this role can range from “Molly, quit building a sand castle” to “Mary, throw it to second base!”

This year, my coaching staff made a very conscious effort to remove ourselves from the field of play as the season went on and to empower the kids to take what they learned in practice and to own it for themselves.  While this was somewhat uncomfortable and assumed a certain degree of risk, it paid huge dividends for not only the confidence of the girls but also for the results on the field as well.

1)    The kids took accountability for the results.  They encouraged each other, communicated back and forth (“Force out at 2nd Base!”), and paid far more attention than when coaches were on the field.

2)    The girls felt far more pride in their achievements.  When a brilliant play was turned on the field, it belonged solely to the girls… and the pride was contagious.

3)    They better learned from their mistakes.  When something went wrong, they had to figure it out themselves and the lessons were far more likely to stick.

4)    Hustle increased dramatically.  As they became owners of their destiny rather than blind followers of the coaches, their passion and energy grew immensely.

5)    The coaches could step back and focus on the big picture.  Instead of being “puppet-masters” for the game, we instead could think through strategy and motivation.  By actively managing less, we were able to coach more… and the results improved while our own satisfaction increased.

This lesson applies to many “grown up” organizations as well, as coaches feel obligated or even pressured to “play” for their player rather than to “coach” them to do it themselves.  Particularly as pressure increases to win, it takes discipline, trust, and courage to step back and to let the players own their own destinies.  While in the short-term there will be some bumps in the road, in the long-term not only will the results of the “game” get better, but the team will get infinitely stronger to deliver an empowered culture, a winning “score”, and also sustained results.

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Okay… so this was 600 words, but at least it is a step in the right direction!

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com