The inspiration for this blog piece came to me in late December, at three am when I could not get the Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dyin’” out of my head. The lyrics: “I went skydiving. I went rocky mountain climbing. I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu. And I loved deeper. And I spoke sweeter. And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin.” And his words, “Someday I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dyin” incessantly repeated themselves to the point that I was about to get really annoyed! Then my inner voice suddenly changed the lyric to “Lead like you were dyin.” I thought about the implications of this and kept coming back to the same four words: – Love, Empower, Appreciate and Demonstrate. It took me a second to clue into the fact that the first letter of each of those words collectively spelled L.E.A.D..
As I got out of bed at 7 that same morning, I felt compelled to open my night stand (which I rarely do) and so spotted the book, “The Last Lecture” written by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon. Pausch was asked by the college to give a lecture with his words of wisdom to the world, as if it was his last lecture. Having been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, he knew in fact it could be the last one he ever gave and he called it “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” That speech hit the bookshelves as “The Last Lecture” and has sold more than five million copies to date.
Questioning why the song interrupted my sleep and why I was led to find the book again, I discovered the link…. Both had guidance about what it takes to live and lead your best life. I believe each and every person in this world can be a leader. My definition of a leader is any person who strives to be their best self and empowers others to do the same. That is a similar message to what the book and the song are communicating. And since both of them are about changes are ways when faced with death, I pondered, “what if people led as if they were dying?” Below are the concepts that presented themselves to me in response to that question.
Leadership requires a love of people. Now I am not talking about the love we have for our spouses, partners, children or family. And I am certainly not talking about romance or sex. Love in this context means expressing a genuine appreciation, caring, compassion and interest in people. However, as my favorite mantra says “You can’t give what you don’t have.” This means that if I don’t love and appreciate yourself first, you can’t give love. And while this may concept may be controversial, my personal experience has taught me that it is the absolute truth. In order to be a true leader that genuinely loves others, you must start with yourself first! Some believe that loving yourself is narcissistic and I say that is not real love. Self-love is recognizing your gifts and talents as well as cutting yourself some slack for your perceived imperfections, mistakes and weaknesses. Loving yourself means that you have high expectations and strive to be your best, however, acknowledging when good is good enough. Self-love requires vision, acceptance, forgiveness, a positive mindset, encouragement and celebration. If you focus on providing all of these things to yourself, loving others becomes instinctive and easy. Leaders love themselves first so they can share the love with others.
Empower means to give someone the authority or power. Of all the leadership concepts, I believe this one is the most misinterpreted and misunderstood. Many leaders I have worked with believe empowerment is either about delegating or giving up control. My experience with empowerment is that it is neither and it is both at the same time. To empower another person, you must feel powerful enough to give up control while recognizing that people still need direction and encouragement when you hand them the reins. So for any control freaks in the audience I invite you to embrace that your power can really come from letting go and letting other’s help. And when you do get the courage to allow others to help you, choose wisely. Pick someone you believe has the right ingredients to get the job done. Communicate your vision of what you are trying to achieve along with a successful outcome. Share with the individual why you believe he or she can do the job and then create a space for their skills and talents to make them successful. One more thing, letting go does not mean washing your hands of the project completely. It is critical that you are available for support and encouragement along the way. Leaders let go of control and empower others to make an impact.
In the financial world, the concept of appreciation means when an asset grows in value. When you appreciate people, experiences, and things they too become more valuable. Both the song, “Live like you were dyin’” and the book “The Last Lecture” highlight how frequently we forget to appreciate something or someone until it’s no longer in our life. It’s not only in the face of death that this phenomenon occurs, think about when a loved one moves away or moves on to a new relationship or when a team member leaves for a new position, don’t you often find yourself gaining a new respect for those people? Why not practice appreciation and being grateful on a frequent and consistent basis? Research shows that when people feel valued and genuinely appreciated at work performance indicators like absenteeism, tardiness and turnover decrease while productivity and customer satisfaction ratings increase. However, this admiration requires authenticity and a respect that is communicated with sincerity. Great leaders are able to do this genuinely and consistently in their personal and professional lives.
Walking the talk in your personal and professional life is THE most important attribute of a leader in my book. Demonstration requires you to understand and embrace your values, talents and perceived weaknesses. It means that you don’t dwell on the past or fear the future and that you live every day to its fullest. Don’t wait for tomorrow to do better, be better right now. Don’t wait for perfection to happen before you fulfill on a dream or a long overdue task because there is no such thing as perfect. Demonstrate that everyday counts and be the example for people in your life. Be your best self each and every day and then when you are faced with death, you will have no regrets! Leaders inspire others by demonstrating living their best lives regardless of the circumstances.
I encourage you to be a LEADER in your personal and professional life NOW! There is no need to wait for someone to give you a title or deem you a leader. Love, Empower, Appreciate and Demonstrate and be the leader that I know you are!