The Identity Circle Newsletter                                 Issue Fourteen | March 2012

Living leadership (Lessons from the dying)


No, I'm not in a morbid mood. Nor do I feel depressed. And, no, I haven't misstated the connection between leadership and dying.  


The other day, a friend of mine sent me a fascinating article in Daily Good. Daily Good (www.dailygood.org) is a portal that shares inspiring quotes and news stories that focus on the "good" we can find in our world each day, along with a simple action to continue that goodness. The article is entitled Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.  


Without further ado, here are the top 5 regrets:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I didn't work so hard
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

Reading these regrets stopped me cold. I, like you, run around taking care of business, doing what needs to be done in order to take care of my family, as well as my clients. As I "tried on" each of these statements for myself, it dawned on me that, independently and collectively, these seeming regrets contained a message relevant to successful leadership, not just successful living.  


By the way, you don't have to lead an organization to benefit from what I learned. You can lead a team. You can lead a family. And, as all of us must, you can lead yourself. 


Here are the leadership lessons I discerned from these 5 regrets and what you can do to turn them into a positive force for your career or your life.


I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me ...


... Countless studies point to the power of personal authenticity as a prerequisite to leadership effectiveness. When you know who you are -- as well as who you're not -- and you communicate that clearly and confidently, people are automatically attracted to you. Call it charisma. Whatever it is, employees want to follow leaders who have the courage to be themselves because, secretly, they too want to live that kind of life.


Try: Clarifying your identity. Find opportunities to share what you discover with others, especially in situations where you want to build deeper connections. To really learn what people have to offer, give them permission to be themselves.


I wish I didn't work so hard ...


... One of the most sought-after organizational traits these days is a family-friendly culture -- one that genuinely supports taking the time you need to care for your family as well as your colleagues. Yes, doing your job well is expected, but the expectation is that you're an adult and that you will fulfill your responsibilities.


The idea of productivity has expanded greatly since the days of Henry Ford and conventional assembly line economics. Today, many companies seeking higher levels of engagement recognize that getting the most out of employees calls for treating them like full-fledged human beings, not just a set of hands.


Try: Leaving the office once in a while at 3pm. Don't sneak out; walk out and make sure folks know you're going to watch your son's little league game, or your daughter's dance recital. As a leader, set the example. Show people that it's important to be a person, not just a worker.


I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings ...


... News flash! The days of the all-knowing, rock-ribbed, eternally cool-handed boss are fast disappearing. No, they're not being replaced by gushy, teary-eyed softies. They are, however, being replaced by execs who understand the power of expressing their feelings in ways that demonstrate self-confidence and, ironically, a kind of fearlessness.


If you don't believe me, check out this exchange between former GE CEO Jack Welch and former J.P. Morgan chairman, William Harrison:


"In addition to holding their strategic discussions, Mr. Welch and Mr. Harrison spent significant time together honing the executive training program at J.P. Morgan.
Mr. Welch was particularly impressed with Mr. Harrison's use of a group exercise in which senior J.P. Morgan executives, including Mr. Harrison, wrote on a board the personal and professional experiences -- the more painful the better -- that helped them evolve as people. 'Bill was very good at it,' Mr. Welch said. 'It makes you become simpatico with the guy.'"


Try: Letting people know when you don't know. Step up and express vulnerability from time to time. It will lead to deeper dialogue and better results, by building the trust great results call for.


I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends ...


... If you're really good at what you do, you will continue to lead others even after you've left an organization (or others have left you). How? By having been a good teacher, mentor -- and example. I'm not advocating that you become buddies with your teammates. As a leader, there are boundaries you need to keep in order to maintain objectivity and enough distance to make hard choices. On balance -- yes, this is a bit extreme -- you're going to be better off treating people like a friend rather than an enemy.


Try: Staying close to people - peers, direct reports, even rank-and-file employees you've come to know. Over the course of your career, many of the people you work with will become actual friends. Others will become references. Still others will be advocates and resources. Stay in touch with your "friends." You'll need each other.


I wish that I had let myself be happier ...


Joy is contagious. So are distress, anger and gloom. A leader's basic attitude carries enormous weight in setting the tone for the organization as a whole. Companies whose leaders promote happiness as a way of being tend to perform better than those that prefer grumpiness and negativity. Case in point: Zappos, the highly successful online shoe retailer, and Tony Hsieh, the company's founder and CEO. In short, happiness is serious business!


Try: Showing up happy whenever you can. By "happy" I don't mean party-ready. I mean cheerful, positive. But don't overdo it, because you'll be found out, fast. Thus, the real challenge: No matter how stressful things get, allow yourself to find and hold onto the happiness you deserve; not just because, as a leader, you need to set the tone, but because as a person you want to stay healthy. And happiness is part of living a healthy life.


I heard it in the movies (and the movies never lie)


Parting shot: In the prison movie, The Shawshank Redemption, there's a critical interchange between Tim Robbins, who plays Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman who plays Red, Andy's new friend. Andy, who's in for life, says to Red, "You have a choice; you can get busy livin' or get busy dyin'." We all have that choice. 


I choose livin'. How about you?  


Have thoughts about how the prospect of dying inspires living? Regrets you want to avoid at all costs? Share your views at Identity Beacon.



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OK, this particular offering is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely. Many people harbor the desire to have a different name. I'm not really a 'Sally.' I'm more of a 'Lauren.' Or, I don't see myself as a 'Bill.' I feel more like a 'James.' ... and all the imagery, personality, and possibilities that come with that "other" name. Here's an article that talks about how a name change can make a difference; if not in who you are down deep, then how you engage with others.   


(c) 2012  Identity Insights is a trademark of The Identity Circle LLC.  

Larry Ackerman 2  

Larry Ackerman
Founder and President

The Identity Circle LLC  

Employees want to follow leaders who have the courage to be themselves because, secretly, they too want to live that kind of life."   
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