He was sitting on his favorite lawn chair in his usual spot in the back yard; the sun on his face and a small table next to him with a half-filled glass of water. I grabbed a chair myself and sat down next to him, we shook hands and exchanged greetings. He leaned over and grabbed his glass and was going to take a drink but stopped midway, smiled rather wryly and stared at his glass and said, "You know they have all this half empty/half full stuff all wrong." I smiled back at him and asked him what the hell he was talking about.
Lou was in his late 80's when I had this conversation with him and he had a lot of experience working with a diversified international business before his retirement. Every once and a while during our brief encounters, a golden gem of an observation would be gleaned in between discussions about the weather, economics and, let us not forget, the Green Bay Packers!
He said that over his 40 or so years in the business he worked with quite a lot of people. Some were optimistic and upbeat while others were more pessimistic and rather sullen. To Lou though, it didn't matter whether they were half full or half empty kind of guys because all he wanted to know was if they were the kind of managers that knew what to do with what was in their glass! All this banter about your outlook on life is nice but it doesn't move the ball forward. When you are as old as Lou and you are reflecting on your 80 some years on this planet, you aren’t reflecting on how you felt. Instead you are looking back at what you accomplished with the tools you were given. Just like the glass of water, in business we are given certain raw materials to work with but Lou said, “Trust me, no one has a full glass! We all have good and bad behaviors to work with and it’s our job to figure out how to make the most out of what we got!!” When the period of silence that immediately follows such wisdom came to a close, he looked at me and asked if I wanted something to drink. Not wanting to offend my elders, I gratefully accepted and poured water into my glass, but while doing so I could not help but think: What is the balance of my behaviors? How much of this “stuff” do I have? What will I accomplish with it?
Not all of my conversations with Lou were this challenging nor this thought provoking, but I must admit this one has stuck with me for a long, long time. I also believe it is this kind of backyard common sense that speaks to almost every over achiever.
There were two take-aways that I recall vividly from my conversation with Lou that day.
1) No matter how much stuff you have, you can make things happen so there is no room for victims! There may be others who have more to work with or just a better mix than you but you will be judged based solely on what you have done with what you were given. Reflecting on this, I then began my journey to identify my behaviors (and boy that was quite a journey) and once identified, I started leveraging my stuff daily.
2) Sometime in the future as I sit reflecting in my lawn chair, I envision the toughest judge imaginable holding court for me. The judge, of course, is me. So no matter how I may rationalize why I was unable to "move the ball" or effectively convince others of the level of success I have accomplished, either by accumulation of wealth or status, the judge (me) would know absolutely if I have done everything I could have. Therefore I have let other advisors into my life to keep me honest – to make sure I am dealing with reality and not some contrived justification that can only work in "Barry's World".
So this story begs the following questions – Do you know your stuff? Who is helping you stay reality based and what will your judge be whispering in your ear?
My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.