The importance of staying flexible, nimble, and agile—stretching ourselves and building on our team’s strengths
When I was a kid, Sunday afternoon drives were a big deal—starting the moment somebody jangled the car keys and said, “Let’s go for a ride.”
I can remember sitting in the back seat of our old car—the windows rolled down, the radio up, and the breeze in our faces. We didn’t live in a big town—it took less than 15 minutes to drive from one end to the other. Once we drove east on Long Island, there was nothing but farm fields and open road. We could just go—for miles and miles—and just for the pure pleasure of it.
These days, we all long for that sensation. After a year of isolation and sometimes insulation, our coiled-up energy feels like an electrical charge in the air. We all want to be going somewhere—anywhere.
Just like a carefree Sunday drive, being in motion can be enough for some people. And we know that the path of progress is often less like a straight line and more like a labyrinth. Not everyone has an exact destination in mind—and that’s okay. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, asking the Cheshire Cat for directions, but not really caring about where she gets to. And so, as the Cheshire Cat observes, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
But for others, there needs to be a destination with a sense of purpose. That duality can coexist because that’s the reality of where people are right now.
Our worlds are opening up, thanks to the vaccines. It seems like nearly every phone call and every conversation starts with who’s been vaccinated and who’s going to get it next. It’s the new “how’s the weather” conversation, but it does more than merely break the ice.
As many of us receive their first and second shots now—finally— you can visit your elderly parents. It’s a hopeful story that’s repeated, in various forms, all day, every day.
It’s a perspective on why sharing these stories is so important. It helps move us out of the total darkness of the unknown. And, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it aligns with spring—the promise of a new season.
With each vaccination, one more person safely makes it over the wall. More pathways begin to open, allowing people and organizations, once again, to be on the move.
The essence of any leadership journey is transporting people from one place to another—inspiring them to believe in what we can achieve. An analogy I’ve used to illustrate this is to imagine leading thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, countries, experiences, and perspectives on a cross-country trip—New York to Los Angeles—by foot.
Not everyone is in the same place. Some people are bringing burdens from last year—losses, weariness, loneliness. At times, however, it may seem like heresy to ask them to take one more step, to do one … more … thing. Others, though, long to sprint ahead—they can’t wait to get moving.
Along the way, leaders are “shepherds”—sometimes in front, sometimes behind, but always beside others. Here are some thoughts:
- A purposeful drive. It was another Sunday drive—but this one started with a very specific purpose, destination, and outcome. “I want to show you something,” a friend of mine told me on that day, during a visit to Kansas about 15 years ago. Our objective: the Hutchinson salt mines, now part museum. As a young boy, I had salt rocks (I can remember licking them to taste the saltiness) but didn’t think much about where they’d come from. And even if someone had told me, I couldn’t have imagined it—not until I saw it with my own eyes. My friend and I stood in a cavernous mine—some 650 feet underground and a constant 68 degrees. The Hutchinson Salt Company mine covers 980 acres, and the network of tunnels measures 150 miles. Stored in a secure area of the mine—safe from floods, fires, and tornadoes—are priceless collections, from the original footage of Hollywood classics to valuable documents from all 50 states and foreign countries. Until that moment, I never knew what existed all along—right below my feet. And all it took was someone to show me.
- Failing to fail. It’s a question I hear in almost every conversation with executives these days: How can we ask people to do one … more … thing—to help them feel motivated and empowered? My answer, surprisingly perhaps, starts with failure. A year ago, companies everywhere took any and all actions—unconcerned about the prospect of failure because everything around us was failing. There was freedom to act without fear. Now, moving forward, if people are afraid to fail—if there are punishments or if rewards are withheld because of failure—then people won’t feel empowered to take chances. And without those risks, there will be no innovation. As we push the restart button, the only real failure will be failing to fail. When people know it’s safe to fail, learning happens.
- Marking our calendars. A year ago, when the world turned upside down, the only way for any of us to get through was to look out just a few months—even a few weeks—at a time. Imagine if we had known then where we are now—it would have lifted a lot of burdens. But we couldn’t see it and wouldn’t have believed it. Yet, here we are, and our perspectives have been reset. Now as certainties replace the unknowns, milestones are easier to set—with purpose and optimism—three months, six months, a year from now. “We all need to listen, to meet people where they are—and we also have to talk about the future,” Doug Charles, the President of our Americas region, told me this week. “It’s taking both one step ahead of the next—and thinking six months out in front of us.”
- Time to stretch. Like marathon runners about to take that last stride over the finish line, we’re on the cusp of celebrating a major achievement: we made it! How fast, how slow—it does not matter. Getting here is everything. And just like a marathon runner after 26.2 miles, we cannot just sit down. We have to stay in motion, and then it’s time to stretch—our moment of celebration. We need that pause to savor just how far we’ve come. Unless we stay flexible, nimble, and agile—stretching ourselves and building our strength—it will be impossible to start another race. It’s not intuitive, but that’s what leadership is—yin and yang, pushing and pulling, knowing when to tap the brakes and when to accelerate. And, above all, it’s showing appreciation for the distance we’ve traveled and just how much more capable we’ve become.
Cliff Locks is a trusted mentor, confidant, and advisor to CEOs, C-Level Exec, and high-potential employees to help them clarify goals, unlock their potential, and create actionable strategic plans.
Available to join your Board as a Certified Master Professional Board of Director and Advisor.
I am a trusted mentor, confidant, and advisor available by Zoom and by phone to be your right-hand man, who will make a significant contribution and impact on your way to success.
As a Trusted Mentor, Confidant, and Advisor, I support you, along with your company’s strategic and annual operating plan. This plan may include marketing, sales, product development, supply chain, hiring policies, compensation, benefits, performance management, and succession planning.
Most successful leaders enjoy talking to someone about their experiences, which is why most develop a close relationship with a Trusted Confidant—a person with whom they feel free to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas without fear of sharing too much or being judged by the people they lead, or their colleagues and superiors. I am a sounding board who will help you to better develop and see your ideas through to fruition.
The most effective Executive find confidants who complement their strengths and sharpen their effectiveness. Bill Gates uses Steve Ballmer in this way; Warren Buffett turns to vice chairman Charlie Munger. In the end, both the Executive and their organizations benefit from these relationships.
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What many executives feel is missing from their busy life is a trusted business person who understands the holistic complexity of both their business and personal life.
I strive to provide solid financial, business, and family expertise and serve as a dispassionate sounding board, a role I like to call “Executive Confidant.”
By holding a safe place for the Executive to work on life path issues as well as direction, I repeatedly see remarkable benefits as personal values become integrated with wealth and family decisions, enhancing a more meaningful life.
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The job of an Executive can be lonely. For various reasons, confiding in colleagues, company associates, family members, or friends presents complications. Powerful, successful, and wealthy individuals often isolate themselves as a protective reaction because of their inability to find people they can trust and confide in.
Successful people are often surrounded by many people, yet they insulate and isolate themselves to varying levels of degree. This isolation factor is not often discussed in the same context because the assumption is that success and wealth only solve problems. The false belief is that it does not create more problems, when, in fact, sometimes it creates a unique set of new challenges. Success and wealth do not insulate you from the same pitfalls that the everyday person faces. It may give you access to better solutions perhaps, and that is what I can help you achieve. Financial business success can create unique vulnerabilities, often overlooked as most people feel that the “problems” of the wealthy are not real-life problems.
The Executive Confidant can be particularly helpful when:
• Aligning life priorities with the responsibilities of wealth. • Wanting more meaning and purpose in life. • Desiring a candid and experienced perspective. • The answers often come from within, and we cannot arrive at them easily. • Clarity often comes into focus, with skilled questions and guided discovery. The right questions can be the first step in achieving ideal outcomes.
Who can you turn to when you need to find clarity? Who is your “Executive Confidant”?
Referrals to a team members or family members are always welcome.
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