by Jim Bruce
Here we are, a week after New Year’s Day. Now, if you are a typical American, there’s a 40% chance that you have made one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Babylonians made resolutions 4000 years ago, and since then, a lot of us have followed. I think this is good news. Since most of our resolutions call for us to engage in an activity that is for our own good, this can be a very good thing. Not so good, however, is the result of research that found that only 8% of those of us who make resolutions are successful in achieving them even though 57% of us were initially confident that we would be successful.
This year I want to change our focus in two ways: First, I want to urge you to work to own – that is, to make regular use of – three new practices. And second, I’m going to make it easy for you by giving you the three practices.
On November 30, 2018, George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States died. Much has been written about his achievements as President and about positions he had taken as President and at other times in his life. Lily Rothman, History and Archives Editor at Time Magazine, has recently reviewed what has been written over the years about the former president and has identified three life lessons that have inspired many people from a broad spectrum of ages, professions, and political views. She reports on these lessons in an essay “3 Crucial Life Lessons From President George H. W. Bush.”1 When I first read her essay, I was attracted to the universality of the lessons and how they encompass much of what the MOR Leaders Programs teach. It is in this spirit that I share with you these three practices:
Be nice, but not weak. Garry Wills in a cover story about Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign said, “George Bush is authentically nice enough to put one’s teeth on edge,”2 meaning that he was so nice that it might feel unpleasant. However, in this case given his past history in sports and his service record in World War II, being very nice shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. Bush was a star athlete in high school and the youngest naval aviator of his generation. He was far from weak.
The advice to us then is that we should be nice to others, treating them with the care and dignity with which we would like to be treated. And, at the same time, we can be strong and not weak leaders, striving to complete the tasks we and our teams are engaged in with excellence and without excuse.
Don’t forget to say, “thank you.” The Tuesday Reading immediately before Thanksgiving Day was an essay titled “Learn to Express Your Gratitude.”3 There I wrote: “Treat others with the same level of courtesy as you expect to receive – smile, show kindness, exhibit patience, don’t interrupt, and listen.” Remember not only what you have received, but what the cost of the “gift” was to the giver.
While President, every evening George Bush would take time to write cards and thank you notes to friends, political allies and strangers. While some saw, and perhaps we see, efforts like this as a waste of time, it built relationships that made significant positive differences in what the President was able to accomplish. As he said in his inaugural address, “goodwill begets goodwill.”1 So, step up and say “thank you.”
Do your best, try your hardest. This was advice that President Bush’s mother gave him. It was also the advice that my mother and my father often gave me when I was complaining about how hard a task was or my lack of knowledge. Why would you ever do a half-hearted job on a task? Why not give it your very best effort? The way you approach a task will be seen by others and it will matter.
So, three practices to carry with you throughout each and every day:
• Be nice, but not weak.
• Don’t forget to say, “thank you.”
• Do your best, try your hardest.
Let them represent a new lens through which you visualize your work and your interactions with others. Look for opportunities to “practice” them. I do believe you’ll find that it will change you and those around you.
Make it a great week for your team and for you. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.