Especially when no one is looking…

“Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.  But especially when no one is looking”

– George Devine

I was recently having a conversation with several of my colleagues when the subject of parental impact and lasting nuggets of wisdom/guidance was broached in conversation.  One of those at the table, Lindsay Hale, offered the quote above as one she took from her father’s words and actions, remaining with her today.  I found it so profound that I asked if I could use it as my leadership quote for this month’s message.

Do the right thing

While it may seem a bit cliché, I have always loved this axiom.  It’s simple and straight forward.  Do the right thing.  But oh, how difficult it is to live by.  Life comes at you with such velocity, bringing challenges and opportunities, all of it requiring difficult choices.  Often, the easy path is to take short cuts, to compromise, or to do what’s in our own personal interests. 

On the other hand, the right path is generally the more difficult one.  It doesn’t follow short cuts but requires your full commitment.  It shuns compromise, and gives no extra credit for incorporating morals, ethics, or values.  And it requires us to balance both the instinct of self-preservation and the impact our decisions might have on others. 

In relationships, that means thinking of others as much as you think of yourself.  Give as much as you take.  Reach out, embrace, and connect.  Protect, defend, and support.  Offer gratitude, appreciation, and respect.  But for most of us, we aren’t naturally wired that way.  Our instincts kick in with a focus on our own wellbeing.  Not in a malicious way, but with a lack of awareness of the impact our choices will have on others. 

In business, that means taking the high ground.  Knowing the broader picture and contemplating the impact of decisions and actions on the whole of the team/organization vs the individual.  It means operating under a code of ethics, a set of values, and the purpose and principles that define the company.  Short term gains are never long-term successes if they compromise these fundamentals.  That applies to every aspect of your operations – your clients, your suppliers, your competitors, and your fellow team members. 

Even when no one is looking.  But especially when no one is looking.

All of which makes the second part of George’s quote so profound – “…even when no one is looking.  But especially when no one is looking”.  It’s hard enough to do the right thing, but the presence of others provides a temperament that can govern behavior in the right direction.  Yet when no one is looking, it’s much more tempting to take the easy way out.  To take the short cuts, compromise too much, and act in our own self-interest. 

But if you can develop the discipline to do the right thing when you are alone – especially when you are alone – you are well ahead of the game.  Doing so reflects awareness of the impact your decision has on others, and yourself.  Better to take the right path, however difficult it is, and be comfortable that you don’t have to look over your shoulder wondering when it will catch up to you. 

So, Lindsay and George – I, too, will aspire to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.  But especially when no one is looking.  It won’t be easy, and I’m sure I’ll stumble more times than not, but its sound advice worth following.  Thank you so much for sharing. 

Here we go again…

“It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger” – Unknown

This past Monday, August 30, the US reported 280,000 confirmed new COVID cases, falling just short from the 300,000 peak we saw in January of this year. This, following a spring and early summer that suggested we might be seeing the pandemic in our rear-view mirror. Unfortunately, the last two months have seen a dramatic reversal of that downward trend, and it seems we are right back where we started, deep in the middle of yet another COVID outbreak.

Here we go again.

The challenge we now face is a COVID mutation that is much more contagious. The random nature of evolution has resulted in a new pandemic, but one with a much stronger culprit. It has found a way to linger, to infect, and to make our lives difficult once again.

It doesn’t get easier.

But unlike before, we’ve learned from the past. The challenges we faced with the original virus taught us how to compensate, how to overcome. We developed vaccines that can defend against the virus, or at the very least, minimize the impact of infection. We’ve gained patience and understanding in the use of masks in large gatherings. Our infrastructure has evolved to test more quickly and treat more effectively.

Here’s the thing. My message today isn’t a lesson on COVID. It’s a metaphor for life. That constant cycle of facing challenges and learning to overcome them. Only to find that similar challenges will reappear, only this time even more difficult.

So much in life – and in business – follows this very same cycle. I’ve seen so many situations where we’ve successfully grown the company, only to hit an economic downturn that forces you to retrench, restructure, and rebuild. I’ve seen branches lose half their business and account managers lose almost their entire book, only to have to build back to where they were before.

It’s a painful process. But it makes you stronger. You learn from those experiences. As a business, you recognize that these challenges come back. Economic cycles happen, and they are unavoidable. But you also learn how to compensate. How to build in safeguards to weather them more effectively. Leaders learn this – painfully – but they learn it.

Same goes for us as individuals. In sales and recruiting, you work so hard to build your business only to have a client change direction, leaving you empty handed. Or you chase that huge deal, putting countless hours into the pursuit, only to lose it to a competitor.

Or maybe you are in a different role, working on several critical projects necessary to support the business. And then it happens. Something goes sideways. A system crashes. You lose all your hard work. And this project was a big one. It will take weeks, maybe months, to get back to where you were.

But you learn to compensate. The next time it happens you’ll be prepared. You won’t put all your eggs in one basket, you’ll have a more diverse client base to weather these challenges. You’ll learn how your competitor beat you, and you’ll approach the next pursuit differently. You’ll put in safeguards for that project, so lost files or system failures won’t set you back.

Life is just like that, isn’t it? The hardest of steel is cast in the hottest of fires. And the sharpest of knives come from repeated endurance of the roughest of stones.

“It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger”