Authors: Robin Sharma
Gordon Gekko got it wrong: Greed isn’t good. Good is good.
Sorry for ranting, but this is a big topic for me. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m far from perfect. I’m just a messenger—an ordinary man. But I’ll tell you one thing—I do my best to be good. That quest keeps me up at night. And I hold myself to a standard far higher than anyone could ever expect from me. Do I always get it right? No. Am I always at peace and without anger? No. Do I always model my message? No. I try to each day but I slip sometimes.
I’m not saying that treating people with respect means you don’t hold them to high standards and expect excellence from them. It doesn’t mean you don’t set boundaries and get tough when you have to. Showing leadership isn’t about being liked by all. It’s about doing what’s right. And what’s good.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said in a speech: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” So true. What we are as human beings presents itself more fully in times of adversity than at times of ease. Anyone can be positive, polite and kind when things are going well. What distinguishes people with an extraordinary character from the rest of us is how they respond when life sends one of its inevitable curves. They don’t crumble or surrender. They reach deeply into themselves and present even more of their highest nature to the world.
Just a couple of hours ago, I was on the runway, ready to fly home from London. The flight had been delayed by a few hours so it felt good to be so close to takeoff. I had my iPod in place, a new book to read and my journal. Then, the pilot’s voice came over the public address system: “The ground crew has found a metal instrument in one of the tires. We regret that we must cancel this flight.” The reactions that statement provoked were fascinating.
One man close to me became belligerent to a flight attendant. A couple in another row grumbled loudly. A businessman
in a dark suit actually kicked the seat in front of him. Yet some passengers responded differently, with a quiet humanity. An elderly gentleman smiled as he helped others take their bags down from the overhead compartments. A teenager, rather than trying to rush off the plane like most of the other passengers, stopped to help a woman with a disability. The lady sitting next to me laughed and said, “Hey, it’s not the end of the world,” before calling her kids and sharing her adventure with them. The wisest among us have a remarkable ability to maintain grounded when times get tough.
No life is perfect; mine certainly isn’t. We all must face challenges, both large and small. This very minute, somewhere in the world, there are parents dealing with the death of a child. This very minute, someone has suffered an accident that will devastate their loved ones. This very minute, there are human beings dealing with illness in a hospital bed. Sickness, loss, disappointment. No one gets through life without experiencing this stuff. But you and I have the power to choose to rise above our external circumstances. We always have the choice to be strong and positive when things fall apart. We have the right to use our stumbling blocks as stepping stones to our greatest life. This isn’t motivational sloganeering. I believe this is truth.
What distinguishes people with an extraordinary character from the rest of us is how they respond when life sends one of its inevitable curves.
Grace under pressure. That’s what separates leaders from followers. It’s that beautiful quality that inspires others and reflects a well-developed spirit. It’s a trait that allows you to carve out a spectacular life—one you’ll be proud of at the end. My seatmate was right—things could have been so much worse. I’m safe. I have my health. I have two wonderful children. I have work I love and so much to be grateful for. Sure I now have to wait a few hours to catch the next flight home. Maybe I’ll get started on that book my editor keeps asking me about.
Spending all your time working will not make you more productive. In my experience, and I’ve been at this for over 10 years, few people get their best ideas at work. I invite you to take a moment to think about that. Checking your email messages on your BlackBerry every 60 seconds will not make you more effective. Burning the candle at both ends doesn’t tap into your natural pool of creativity. Refusing to take vacations will not make you a star performer. Here’s a big lesson I’ve learned: I get my best ideas—the thoughts that have really elevated my business and revolutionized my life—when I’m relaxed and having fun.
There’s great value in making the time to chill out and do the things that fill your heart with joy. Newton didn’t come up with his breakthrough observations on the laws of physics while rushing to catch a subway. Einstein spent a ton of time sailing and connecting with his childlike self. The creator of the sewing machine came up with the idea while dreaming about an island native holding a spear with a hole in the end of it. I came up with the whole concept behind
Leadership Wisdom from the Monk
Who Sold His Ferrari: The 8 Rituals of Visionary Leaders
while taking a long solo drive out in the country. When the idea hit me, I pulled over onto a dirt road and downloaded the ideas into my journal for more than two hours. An unforgettable experience for me.
I get my best ideas—the thoughts that have really elevated my business
and revolutionized my life—when
I’m relaxed and having fun.
I often joke with my audiences that I make most of my income on a ski hill. People smile. But they get my point. You need to make space for your genius to flow. We get our creative bursts, those idea torrents that take our business and personal lives to the next level, while we are skiing or drinking coffee in a Starbucks or walking in the woods or meditating with a sunrise. Those pursuits are not a waste of time. No way. Those pursuits are a superb use of your time. Creativity comes when you are relaxed, happy and enjoying the moment. And when it comes, it can bring ideas that rock your world. All it takes is one good idea to get you to previously unimagined results. Relaxing, taking vacations and making time for fun actually makes you more successful.
And these pursuits make you money. Mireille Guiliano, the CEO of Clicquot, said it well: “We have to take ‘beach time,’ a space for ourselves every day, because we live in a world of
burnout. Even if you take 20 or 30 minutes for yourself, you’ll be a better worker, a better colleague, a better person. It benefits the people around you as much as it benefits you.”
Get this: Hewlett-Packard recently noted that constant interruptions of technology actually took 10 points off the IQ of an average employee in a work environment. And the U.S. software firm Veritas saw something amazing happen after it introduced “email-free Fridays”: Friday became the most productive and creative day of the week.
So have some fun. Laugh with your co-workers. Go for a walk at lunch. Go fishing or swimming or golfing this weekend. Maybe sit on a beach for a week down in the Caribbean or visit the great museums in France and Italy. Or just take a nap and relax. And if anyone tells you that you’re wasting time, you have my permission to say: “But Robin told me I’m being productive.” And then go back to sleep.
I sometimes get a little bothered by ingratitude. I try to treat people well, help them win and celebrate them, so that they reach for their best life. Sometimes, I’d just love to hear two magic words: “Thank you.”
Yes, I know that if you do something good for someone with the expectation of a reward it’s not a gift—it’s a trade. And I know that good things happen to people who do good things. And I know that life has a very fair accounting system and as one sows, one will reap. But I’d still like to hear those two magic words more often.
I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He’s helped so many people in his organization realize their highest potential—as leaders and as humans. He looked at me and said: “Robin, after all these years in business, I can count on one hand the number of people who have told me that they appreciate what I’ve done for them.”
I believe I’m offering you a very real point. According to Gallup research, the number-one reason employees leave their organization is not because they were not being paid enough; they leave because they were not given enough appreciation. Your talent goes to the competition because no one said thank
you to them. Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, sagely observed: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.”
So today, take a moment and think about the people in your life who need to be cherished, appreciated and told that their support has been helpful. Offer a heartfelt and enthusiastic “thank you.” Those two magic words don’t cost anything. But they will make a world of difference.
Today, take a moment and think about the people in your life who need to be cherished, appreciated and told
that their support has been helpful.
I have no desire to be the richest person in the graveyard. To me, a life well lived is mostly about being surrounded by people I love, staying healthy and happy (no one’s happy all the time, except in the movies, by the way), stepping toward my highest potential each day, doing work I love and having an impact on the world around me. So how can you stay focused on the things that are most important to you amidst the daily pressures of life? Die daily.
I wrote about this in
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,
but the point of wisdom bears repeating: Connecting to the fact that life is short and no one knows when it will end is a great personal habit to stay centered on your highest priorities. Waking up each morning and asking yourself, “How would I show up today if this day was my last?” is not some cheesy motivational exercise. It’s a profound way to bring some urgency and commitment into your days. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said it far more powerfully than I ever could when he observed: “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life.”
Most of us let life act on us—we are asleep at the wheel of our own lives. And the days really do slip into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years. Before we know it, we are lying on our deathbeds, wondering where all the time went. I’ve talked to a lot of elderly people who express that very sentiment, with tears in their eyes. A participant in a recent seminar made the point beautifully, sharing the following quote from one of his family members with me: “When the sun shone and the shops were invitingly open—alas—I forgot my shopping. Now the night has fallen—and I remember my shopping.”
Waking up each morning and asking yourself, “How would I show up today if this day was my last?” is not some cheesy motivational exercise. It’s a profound way to bring some urgency and commitment into your days.
I have a gentle challenge for you: Die daily. Connect with your mortality each morning. Then give yourself over to life. Live like tomorrow will not come. Take some risks. Open your heart a little wider. Speak your truth. Show your respect for the gift of life that’s been given to you. Shine brightly today. Chase your dreams. It’s tragic that most people would rather cling to security than reach for their best. And then, wake up tomorrow and reach even higher. At the end, people will remember you as one of the great ones. And your funeral will be a celebration.
It’s Saturday morning as I write this chapter. I woke up nice and early to get a great start to this gift of a day. I spent an hour journaling, read and had an excellent conversation with my kids. I then set out to have a workout at the health club I exercise at, which opens at 8 a.m. When I arrived, I saw all these people standing in the parking lot. This particular club has a bridge going over a little river that leads from the parking lot to the main building and tennis courts. Yesterday, we had monsoonlike rains and the bridge collapsed. A few of the employees were checking out the damage.
So I walked up. It was about 7:50 and I was ready for a nice, big workout to energize me for the day. I’m a client, one of the people who keeps them in business. But they didn’t seem to get that. No greeting. No smile. No warmth. Just a continued conversation about the destroyed bridge.
I asked whether the club was still open. They laughed. One of the employees said, “We won’t be open for a while.” Okay … a little more information might be helpful, guys. But no more information came. No data on when the club might re-open or a solution for me such as alternative clubs that could allow me to work out for the interim until this place gets up and
running again. I turned away, receiving further evidence that this organization just doesn’t get it. And that it just doesn’t care anymore. It once did.
In the past, it offered excellent service, excellent facilities and excellent amenities. I’d get a birthday card signed by the whole team once a year and they always used my name when I walked in (which felt good even though I knew they’d look up my name when they’d swipe my card as I entered). Then things began to slip. They got successful. Nothing fails like success. Richard Carrion was right. They stopped training their team. They let the machines get old. And so they took us—the clients—for granted. The bridge isn’t the only thing broken there.