gasp: a sudden, short intake of breath, as in shock or surprise
I had the luxury of spending Thanksgiving week at one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life…Cape San Blas, Florida. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon to Amazing Grace (right) just in time to see one of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever witnessed…and I gasped! It literally took my breath away…the vivid mix of orange, pink and red on a canvas of blue with a gigantic sun shining as the centerpiece, watching the big ball slowly dip below the horizon over sparkling water. I have seen similar views but nothing like this. It truly made me stop dead in my tracks. I so wish I had had a great camera at that moment. I tried snapping a similar sunset two days later with my i-phone, but it just did not capture what I wanted to show.
Then, on Friday, as we were all watching the Alabama/Auburn football game (Roll Tide…I am a U. of Al. alum, but my brother-in-law believes that my Alabama degree should be taken away since I know absolutely nothing about Alabama football), the story about Tiger Woods car accident flashed across the screen, and I gasped. I was in shock! I heard he was in serious condition, and I felt worried and really just shocked. My son has played golf competitively since he was age 5, so we do follow golf closely here at the Fields house, and we do agree that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the history of the sport and has forever changed the way golf will be played…he has raised the bar, has made golf a “sexy” sport (no pun intended…it was once thought that golf was a boring sport reserved for out-of-shape men who cannot run or pump iron) and has taught all golfers that being in strong physical and mental shape is critical to winning this game.
As the week went on with the rumors and stories of Tiger Woods alleged affairs, I gasped again, but my emotion quickly shifted from shock to skepticism to disappointment and a bit of anger that one of the most well loved and admired role models in the world of professional athletics is not exactly what we all believed he was…a man who talks openly about his commitment to family values. So, the “gasp” and worry shifted into a few other emotions…and today, as I sit here and write, my emotions have shifted again to a great deal of compassion for the entire Woods family…for a man who obviously is missing something in his life or who has pressures that most of us will never experience in our lifetimes and for his wife, children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends and many fans who are probably more than likely feeling betrayed.
In life and in leadership, there are always moments that take our breath away to the point that they are forever etched in our minds. For me personally, the moments in my life that were so inspiring, shocking and stunning that they caused me to gasp are:
- The day my husband, Mike, proposed to me on the Gettysburg battlefield
- The day my children were born and the first time I held them in my arms
- September 11, 2001
- The first time my employer called me in at age 22 to tell me that a physician had reported me to the medical review board for writing in a medical record about a possible food/drug interaction with a patient I was counseling. I was a Registered Dietitian…not a physician, and I needed to stay out of discussing medications or ANY decisions made by the docs (this was the first time I realized that what I had been taught to do during college was not what the real world wanted and that most of what I had learned needed to be tossed and that to succeed in healthcare meant playing the game strategy designed by the docs)
- The day my mother died
- The day I heard one of the living legends of storytelling, Donald Davis…I never knew that one man with such a gift could inspire me so much that I shifted the way I thought about telling life stories and the impact they can have on others
You may be reading this wondering what in the world this blog post has to do with leadership.
I have learned through the years that mediocre life and leadership events do not create true or lasting change. If we are leading our lives or others through ho-hum activities, there won’t be enough of a jolt or inspiration to create true change in others or the world. Shocking, gasping, inspiring life events most often drive change, and unfortunately, catastrophic events seem to create the greatest catalyst for change, because they trigger pain and heartache. And…most humans will make a drastic change if they are faced with anything which threatens their security or life. The Tiger Woods events of late will indeed result in something life changing (maybe for Tiger, maybe for his family and friends and possibly even for the world of golf…we won’t know until the future unfolds).
Does this mean that as a leader, you should deliberately set out to create chaos, problems and shock? Possibly.
In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote the book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, and in the book he describes a process of creative destruction that can revolutionize the economic structure of a company from within by destroying much of what worked in the past to allow new, fresh, creative ideas to emerge. One modern day leader who relentlessly practiced this concept of creative destruction is Jack Welch. Although he is no longer at the helm of GE, Welch practiced creative destruction by knowing when to pull a product or service (even if it was working) if the product or service was “behind the changes in the market.” With these radical changes came shock, the loss of employees and people scratching their heads in disbelief over Welch’s bold moves, but he is one of the most studied and celebrated CEOs of the last four decades. And…there are no lukewarm feelings about Welch. You either love him or despise him. Welch even has been quoted as saying:
“Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”
“If change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside the end is in sight.”
On the same note, as a leader, you must be willing to create true “inspirational experiences” for your company. This takes leading out there on the bleeding edge and being willing to shake up the norm to bring in something that is going to disrupt the coherency a bit. If people are just plodding along, doing their job to get a paycheck and there is nothing exciting to have them dance out the door each morning, then you are not doing your job as a leader.
One story that has come across my desk recently is the story about Russ Berland, the Chief Compliance Officer for BearingPoint. One of his first tasks when he was hired for this job was to redesign the company’s ethics-and-compliance training program. He could have gone the traditional route of holding boring internal trainings and reading out of a policy manual, but he chose to do something quirky. He latched onto the series The Office to create a film series that would highlight the activities of a single IT consulting engagement team to get the point across about ethics and compliance. You can watch one of the six films on Fast Company in the article How to Make Corporate Training Rock.
As you read this post today, I would like to ask you to consider these questions:
- What are you doing that is radically innovative enough to cause your employees to gasp and become inspired?
- What products and services do you need to destroy so that you company can actually thrive in the future? And…do you have the right people on the bus and are they sitting in the seats that will help your company stay competitive in the marketplace? Maybe it’s time to look closely at the effectiveness of the people in your company. Are they truly making the impact your company needs for the future?
- When you consider the marketplace today, how far ahead or how far behind is your company? If you are behind, what plans do you have for 2010 to get out of your same old, ho-hum way of doing things to shake things up so that you can stay competitive in a world that is in chaos?
- Think about the Tiger Woods story for just one moment. On a scale of 1-10, how much are you living in integrity as a leader? By integrity, I mean living true to who you are, doing what you say you are going to do and not just speaking about what you value but living your life according to those values? Are you doing anything at all that could damage you and/or the reputation for your company? If so, snap out of it and make things right!
- Are you communicating your vision and your story to your employees in a way that has them dancing out the door each morning? If not, maybe it’s time to start working on just that!