In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Bill Taylor, co-founder and editor of Fast Company Magazine, shares important lesson with great leaders to avoid being stuck. He refers to John Gardner’s famous speech, Personal Renewal, to McKinsey & Company addressing the question of “why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives.”
From life’s situations and challenges that take a heavy toll on people on their journey, Gardner says that “Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometime an act of courage.” The harsh fact that great leaders need to face is the “fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit.” The reason for this is that they cease to learn and grow. They have grown complacent and fixed in their attitudes.
The remedy? He turns to Gardner’s counsel which Taylor says is “the challenge for leaders is not to out-hustle, out-muscle, or out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and get there before anyone else does. The best leaders I’ve gotten to know aren’t just the boldest thinkers; they are the most insatiable learners.”
And how to sustain and grow that fire for learning? Taylor writes about Robert Spence, author of The 10 Essential Hugs of Life (e.g. “Hug your failures,” “Hug your fears,” “Hug yourself”) special hug – “Hug your firsts — to seek out new sources of inspiration, to visit a lab whose work you don’t really understand, to attend a conference you shouldn’t be at.” It is being a child again when everything is a first. Spence share his learning from his friend Jim Collins: “You’re only as young as the new things you do,” he writes, “the number of ‘firsts’ in your days and weeks.”
Hug your firsts! Find those incredible gifts within you that await to be discovered. Look through new lenses. See the world through the eyes of a child. As you do, remember the concluding words of John Gardner’s speech:
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”