Gaps in our lives come in many forms and flavors. As I reflect on the gaps in my life, I think of the gaps in my teeth that an orthodontist took care of (LOL), I think of the gap in my skill of playing baseball that hours of practice bridged, I think of the gap in my knowledge as I attended my engineering courses in college that my professors helped me connect with and I think of the physical gap between my brother and I. My brother and I live, and have lived, many states away from each other ever since he went off to the Naval Academy in 1986. I remember that day and knew that life was going to be different for me. I missed him immensely over the years and as we have moved throughout our lives we have never lived closer than 1.5 hours away from each other and that was only for a few years. Most of our time has been states away. I have to say though, that we have always been close relationally. I think that has only been the case because of an intentional effort to close the gap between us. It has been phone calls and visits and special trips like our recent one to West Virginia (see us behind the title of this blog where we were hanging over a 100 foot cliff on the "Endless Wall" ). How I wish we lived closer to each other and could grow old together. Since we don't, I have set a goal to stay close to him in other ways. It is difficult sometimes due to the many activities in our lives—children, sports, family, church, and just life—but with the goal out in front of me, I know I will close the gap.
Closing the gap is a daily task of moving toward the goals you have set in front of you. Many times when we are not intentional about setting goals for ourselves, we end up trying to reach goals that others have somehow set for us based on where they think we currently are and where they think we should go. Those goals aren't our goals and a lot of times where others see us is not accurate because they are only seeing a portion of the "real" us. Their intentions may be good, but they are not assisting us to reach those places that we intrinsically want and need to go. To close the gap from where you are now to where you want to be will take a change of mind and behavior. The organization that I work for, Ambassador Enterprises, recently had a corporate conference and our CEO discussed how he believed we could close our leadership gap.
He said that for us to close the leadership gaps in our lives we would need three changes in our behavior and mindset. We would need to become more humble, more hungry and smarter than we ever have before. This is not something new that our CEO hasn't told us before. He has spoken on humility and how important it is to put others first. He has spoken on how we need to have a huge desire, passion or hunger for our work and he has spoken about how we need to be learners; always trying to become smarter. Today was different though. He talked about how it was a combination of needing all three of these characteristics that would make the difference.
He referenced a new book that just came out by Patrick Lencioni called The Ideal Team Player. Patrick discusses that there are three essential virtues that make you an ideal player in any environment and will allow you to close your leadership gap. In an interview with Chris Brown, Patrick said, "The combination of these three; humility, hunger for work and people smarts, were the key to becoming an Ideal Team Player." He said that being humble was thinking more about others and thinking about the good of the group. He said that if you are hungry you would "like to work hard and you would never have to be asked to do more." Lastly, he said that being smart was "not intellectually smart, but being smart about people," that you need to "know how to do and say things and understand the subtle interactions about people on a team." Patrick, similar to my CEO, stated that it is not just one of these three that allows you to be an ideal team player, to be a great leader and to close your leadership gap, but a combination of all three.
My CEO went on to say, "We as leaders think we know it all when really we don't know the half of it." We need to listen to others with every fiber of our body and when we listen, we need to listen to comprehend. We have prideful, foolish hearts and think that we can learn from our own mistakes, but that is a pretty stupid way to do it when we could learn from others. He said that we need to just opened our ears and mind to just listen. As referenced in a previous post, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself...it is thinking of yourself less" and I believe this is the start of what will close your leadership gap.
"Hungry" is an interesting term. I usually only use this term when I am hungry for food, but I can remember going through Marine Corps Officer's boot camp and enduring SULE II (Small Unity Leadership Evaluation - Session II), a three-day leadership excursion consisting of high physical endurance challenges, sleep and food deprivation and then leadership/mental testing. I can remember only getting one MRE (meal-ready-to-eat) per day and how hungry I was as the day progressed. When I finally was able to sit down and eat, I devoured the food. I think, for me, devour is a better word. I need to have a heart and mindset that wants to devour my work to be totally hungry to continue to learn and grow... EVERYDAY. For me, and I think probably for you, this is the hard part; to have this mindset and behavior everyday. As my CEO stated, "We make things better when we work hard and the only way to do this is to get better. We need to work hard and know that it won't always be fun, but when we work hard, then work becomes fun. When times get tough, we need to "bounce back" with grit and zest. " I couldn't agree more, but that doesn't make it any easier. The video at the end of the blog talks about following your heart. In the video there's a quote that immediately impacted me: "If you do what is easy, your life will be hard, but if you do what is hard, your life will be easy." Stay focused on the long-term vision.
Thinking smarter? Most of us work with people everyday, but as I reflect on all those interactions, I wonder how many times do I try to understand the person I'm talking to before I even get into the conversation? Am I preparing my mind and possibly adjusting my behavior? Am I trying to be smarter about the people I work with or the people I have an opportunity to lead, such as my spouse or kids? I need to be the example in this area and I can't teach others if I haven't experienced doing it myself. I need to go out and experience it. I need to do it or as the Officers would say in the Marine Corps; "we need to get in the trenches" so we fully understand what the people we are leading are going through. Daryle, my CEO made a comment the other day and it really stuck with me. He said, "We can't be an example... in theory." We have to take what we have learned and apply it or else it is just a waste.
There is a lot to apply in this post... I know... I can feel it now as I type. It feels a little bit overwhelming, but I think you, as a leader, have most likely been doing some of it already. Just remember the three areas to continually be working on and ask yourselves these questions regularly: (1) Am I learning from others?; (2) Am I hungry to learn and grow?; and (3) Am I trying to think smarter and be an example for those I interact with?
I think if we set this goal in front of us and regularly look out to it in the distance, you and I will slowly close the gap and we will grow as leaders together. I think you are up for the challenge. Let's go close our leadership gap!