Monday, November 7, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence

The dinner meeting took place in a very fancy restaurant. The food was good and the wine was excellent. The conversation flowed well. Just before desserts were served, the woman executive to my left turned to me and said, “We talk work life balance but we do not live it. We are constantly running on half empty given the pace.”

It made we think of the young minister and the old Vermont farmer who met on a Sunday morning in the middle of a wild snow storm. Being this was his first sermon in the community, the young minister asked the old farmer what he should do given the old farmer was the only one to show up that morning. The farmer paused and said “When I drive a wagon of hay out to feed the cows and only one shows up, I feed it.”

The young minister smiled and launched in to a grand church service with hymn singing, an altar call, devotional readings, a long sermon and then more singing. When he was done, he ran around to the back of the church to say good-bye to the only person who had shown up on his first morning. When he greeted the old Vermont farmer, he asked for feedback on his first service. The farmer replied, “When I drive a wagon of hay out to feed the cows and only one shows up, I don’t unload the whole wagon.”

More and more people right now are emptying their whole wagon at work and coming home at night drained and exhausted. Given what they are finding at home, many are starting every morning on empty, too. “I just can’t keep up” is becoming more and more of a common problem that I hear in executive coaching sessions. In short, quite a few people are exhausted right now from unloading the whole wagon every single day.

Quite a while ago, I explained how this current economic recession has lead to an emotional recession, citing the work of Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich in their book, The Why of Work, McGraw-Hill, 2010. Now, I believe the emotional recession has lead many to a purpose recession. People just wonder what is the purpose of it all. They can not find any meaning in the work they are doing. As a young man many years ago, I learned that it is only work if you want to be some place else. Right now, a lot of people are questioning what they are doing and they are wanting to be some place else.

Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure, Harvard Business School Press 2011, writes that today’s leaders need realistic optimism, a subservience to purpose, and the ability to find order in chaos. I agree and also believe that today’s leaders need to purse and rediscover personal excellence.

“Personal excellence is not the about leading others; it is self-leadership” writes Christopher P. Neck and Charles C. Manz. And I agree completely. For me, personal excellence is the combination of inner strength and inner clarity. When it comes to personal excellence, here are our normal choices I am witnessing during all of my recent travels and consultations. First, many just ignore it. They are too busy to focus on self-leadership. Second, some resist it, especially if they have to change their habits. Third, some just give up on the concept all together and just go with the flow, no matter where it leads. Finally, those with inner courage and strength, commit to personal excellence and embrace the journey.

This week, ask yourself if you are ready for personal excellence and self-leadership. If so, then now is time to no longer except running on empty as normal or healthy.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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