Soon, the holidays will have come and gone, and we will be left with a new year full of resolutions and fresh goals to achieve. As leaders, regardless of position or number of employees, we should ask the question of ourselves, “How can I live better and lead more effectively in the new year?”
I’m a big fan of author Stephen Covey’s concepts of personal leadership and the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” When I first heard him speak, I was struck by the power and simplicity of his words and how they rang true especially with leaders who felt inadequate both in their personal and professional lives. The appeal of his message was in the wisdom of principle-based leadership that seemed to resonate with just about everyone.
I loved the way that Covey’s seven habits were separated into two sections, three for individual, “get yourself together” habits and three for interpersonal behavior or “team” habits and then the seventh being just the self-improvement habit he called, “sharpen the saw.” The book has sold 25 million copies in 40 languages worldwide and remains one of the best-selling nonfiction business books in history. U.S. President Bill Clinton invited Covey to Camp David to counsel him on how to integrate the book into his presidency.
Of course, the seven habits in the Covey framework are all so much easier said than done. At Michigan Credit Union League and CU Solutions Group, we give all of our new employees the 7 Habits book as a sort of personal leadership and personal happiness bible. And we structure mid-year and year-end recognitions around these concepts.
I’m proud and honored at the holiday season to give our employees a $100 pay it forward gift card. It’s amazing to see how they take a small gesture and multiply it – to make an impact on so many lives. This year, six of our staff took their gift cards and, along with a special Christmas card, and delivered them on a chilly Sunday evening to the home of 5-year-old Lily Bowen, a little girl diagnosed witha type of nerve cancer called neuroblastoma. After a well-child visit, the family received the devastating cancer diagnosis that gives her a 50% chance of survival and requires a 5-day chemo treatment every 21 days. Our caring staff paid forward their holiday gift cards and surely made an impact that night by showing love and support to Lilly and her family.
During this same weekend, our credit union community heard of the sad and untimely passing of Adam Kearns, VP of Business Development with the Ohio Credit Union League. Adam was an incredible young man with a big heart and passion for doing good. He left behind a loving wife Katie and two adorable young children. His death, just one week before Christmas reminds us all of the importance of holding our loved ones close and the need to make an impact every day of our lives.
These are just two stark reminders of how we should all have a sense of urgency for doing good and showing love and compassion within our sphere of influence.
Covey taught that people want to find happiness and betterment in the way that they live, love, learn and leave a legacy. What a great framework for understanding what drives our happiness and success! As a New Year approaches, for me as a leader, I find myself introspective about how I need to improve in these areas and strengthen my seven habits.
A few weeks ago, I was so moved by the eulogies given at the funeral service for President George H.W. Bush. Watching his son, George W. Bush, a former president himself, well up with emotion as he honored his dad with the spoken word was so moving and poignant as four other presidents listened on the front row. President Bush referenced his father’s inaugural address and challenged all of us to lead in kinder, gentler ways espoused by these words:
“My friends, we are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend; a loving parent; a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. And what do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we’re no longer there: That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”
I believe that managing our perspective every day is the secret to happiness and leadership success. There will always be reasons to be hard on ourselves or to feel inadequate. And we will always be flawed. But finding joy in life despite our shortcomings and negative experiences comes from altering our perspective to a more positive, humble and service-oriented tone, just as President Bush so eloquently encouraged.
This great credit union movement gives leaders at all levels the opportunity to make an impact on peoples’ lives by working together with the “people helping people” philosophy that is the hallmark of credit unions.
So, my four big new year’s resolutions for how I live, love, learn and leave a legacy are these:
1. Live Better: I want to live with a greater sense of urgency for making a difference in the lives of my family, friends, work colleagues and even the occasional stranger whose life I can impact.
2. Love Better: I need to repair damaged family relationships by being the one to reach out. I also don’t want to take for granted my family and loved ones. I can show them and express to them my love in words and actions. And I can love my colleagues and staff by listening and leading with greater compassion and respect.
3. Learn Better: I need to be entertained more by reading and watching non-fiction vs. fiction. I need to be more open to learning from my partner, my family, employees and colleagues in exercising the humility to realize that I’m not supposed to be the one with all the answers. Listening and learning from those closest to me will make me a better person and a better leader.
4. Leave the Right Legacy: I want to double down on doing the right thing rather than the politically expedient thing in my work and with my family. In my work life, principle-based leadership, better listening, improved collaboration, and belief in the team will be my focus. In my personal life, I want to treat my partner and children more like friends and never as projects. Seeking first to understand, then to be understood is the habit I most need to foster and improve.
As leaders, we always need to remember that there is a long line of people who could do our jobs as well as, or better than we do them. Leadership is a stewardship and a privilege that we should never take for granted.
Good luck with your important new year’s resolutions for improving the way you live, love, learn and leave a legacy. I’m looking forward to working toward mine.
Happy holidays and a happy new year!