Simple yet profound

Real Leadership
September 1, 2018

An elderly women dies in a small community. She was a simple women, lived a simple life and had outlived all relatives and friends. When she died the local newspaper attempted to write her obituary. While the editor had known of the women most of his life nothing really stood out as noteworthy to mention in her obituary. Frustrated, he delegated the task to his junior editor.  She found herself in the same predicament and passed the assignment to other associates eventually landing on the sports editor’s desk. The following week the elderly women’s obituary read, “No Hits, No Runs, No Errors.”

This lady could have been any of our grandmothers who from an outsider’s perspective didn’t stand out as contributing anything particularly newsworthy. But like my grandmother and probably yours, she supported, developed and nurtured greatness behind the scenes everyday of her life. The above story and many like it prompt me to question my contributions. Specifically, what is my purpose? What drives my behavior? Where am I spending my time, my energy and where is my focus? What legacy do I want to leave?

I’m reminded of a story of Steve Jobs recruiting John Sculley who at the time was vice-president at PepsiCo where he had successfully made Pepsi the number one brand in the Cola Wars. There was really no reason for him, one of America’s top managers with a secure and highly paid position at PepsiCo, to join a bunch of young computer nerds at Apple. The reason Sculley finally agreed to join Apple was a question Jobs asked: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

In Bob Buford’s best-selling book, Half Time, he uses the metaphor of a football game. He suggests the “first half” of our lives we don’t think too much about the contributions we’re making. We rush through school, get married, start a career, climb the company ladder and buy lots of toys. At some point in our lives however we start to wonder if this is as good as it gets. Somehow, keeping score does not offer the thrill it once did. During the first half, we take some vicious hits and often suffer personal setbacks.

Buford suggests that while we start the “second half” with good intentions we get blindsided along the way. While the first half was about success, the second half for many is about significance, about making a difference. The game is won or lost in the second half, not the first. Some people never get to the second half as the prevailing view in our society is that once you reach your mid-forties, you enter a period of aging and decline. Like Buford, I challenge us all to discredit the view that the second half of our lives will never measure up to the first and change the focus from success to significance.

So as we start a New Year maybe we should ask what contributions are we making? Are we seeking significance over success? How would you define your purpose? And as morbid as it might sound, how would your epitaph read? “Several hits and runs, a few errors with the batter going down swinging!”