Corner Office-Making Good on Good Intentions
Despite my best intentions, when I was a kid I’d occasionally fail to do my chores. When this happened, my dad would admonish me by saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I have to admit that Dad’s wisdom didn’t mean much to me then. I thought it was just one of those crazy things that parents said to make their children feel guilty. However, upon reaching adulthood and becoming a business leader, I learned what he was talking about. It’s critical to possess more than mere intentions—it’s imperative to make good on them.
A former grad-school professor of mine, Warren Bennis, who is considered a modern-day sage in the study of leadership, wrote in an article:
“Individuals who are recognized as leaders possess a common characteristic . . . ‘commitment,’ which gives them the ability to translate intention into reality, and to sustain it with action and behavior. This commitment is grounded in a set of positive beliefs coupled with an equally appropriate set of positive actions and behaviors. Without action and behavior, there is no commitment . . . merely good intentions. Effective leaders set the right example, serving as role models, having actions that speak louder than words, standing up for what they think are the ‘right’ things, showing the way, holding to the purpose, and espousing positive beliefs.”
A Role Model
One of the greatest leaders of the current age, I believe, is Tony Dungy, head coach of the 2007 Super Bowl–winning Indianapolis Colts. During the past few years, I have had the great fortune of meeting with him a few times. With each encounter, I have become more impressed with him, not just as an outstanding football coach, but also as a genuine, compassionate, humble human being, and as a genuine role model.
I was thrilled when I recently received his book, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life, for my birthday. Thousands of books have been written about leadership, and I’ve read quite a few. But I can honestly say that none was as inspiring as this one.
The book describes football strategy and stories, but anyone can appreciate its messages—about commitment, patience, loyalty, faith, coping with tragedy and adversity, and the purpose of life on this earth. Tony doesn’t pontificate about what a great leader he is, or how he masterminded a winning season. Rather, he talks about how fortunate he is to have achieved what he has by following his beliefs and values. He speaks to the human soul.Standing Up
It’s rare to find someone in the media spotlight who openly speaks about his personal values, but Tony does it. “I really wanted to show people you can win all kinds of ways…for your faith to be more important than your job, for your family to be more important than that job…we all know that’s the way it should be… I’m not afraid to say it,” he writes.
Regardless of religious beliefs, everyone can learn from Tony’s teachings about quiet strength, fierce determination, and a humble heart. For anyone who has suffered setbacks, coped with personal tragedy, or just thought their career or business would never be successful, Tony’s value-driven precepts will have meaning.
Some readers may be wondering if I’m getting some sort of kickback for recommending Quiet Strength so highly. Well, I’m not! It’s just that there is a lot of junk about leadership out there that doesn’t get to the core of individual leaders and their beliefs or value systems. Many people talk about “walking the talk,” but Tony is one of the few who actually does it. He does the opposite of most NFL coaches: no yelling, no losing his temper, no tearing players down. Instead, he gives second chances, is loyal to his players and coaching staff, and builds them up. These are life lessons that all business leaders should learn.
And off the football field, life isn’t easy, even for successful people like Tony. He lost his son, James, a few years ago when James took his own life. Tony writes openly about how his belief system helped him and his family survive this tragedy. In fact, his comments at his son’s funeral were strong enough to get through to even the most jaded, testosterone-driven reader.
As I read this book, I found myself reflecting back to my experiences as a college football player, a young manager, a coach for my son’s football teams, a young executive, and as president of a large financial institution. I would like to think that I applied the principles and values in my leadership roles in the way that Tony shows. But the truth is, I didn’t.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Recently, 75 distinguished members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s advisory council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop. Their answer? Self-awareness.With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that my drive for career success blinded me to the fact that my life was out of balance. And like many of my peers, I didn’t make time for self-exploration. I’m ashamed to say that I put winning above all else and never realized how shallow that victory was until later in life.
Too many business leaders believe that having a balanced life or sharing values is a bunch of psychobabble for weak people. To those, let me pose the question of whether winning and climbing the corporate ladder is really the most important thing? More important than time spent with your kids and your spouse? Your friends? Your community? Your place of worship?
I’ve learned that my dad was right: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I know people who are considered financially successful but are emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. I know people who call it success when they achieve the corner office, but their kids are spending too much time in the principal’s office. And I know people who are considered business winners, but are losers in the eyes of their families.
I don’t want to come off as a preacher. I’ve been fortunate to gain the awareness that I have a mission for the tread left on my career tires: to do what I can to improve the moral leadership of our business community.
The truth is that I am embarrassed, disappointed, and angered by the recent behavior of several greedy and dishonest business leaders. I can’t undo what’s been done by other people, but I can encourage all of us to clean up our acts. And the place to begin is with principled leadership grounded in solid belief systems based on doing the right things.
Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Inc., wrote in his book, Authentic Leadership, “Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads . . . they know who they are.”
My greatest wish is for more business leaders to possess the principles that Bill and Tony do—and that this style of leadership becomes the norm. My wish is that we learn what my dad was talking about, and make good on our good intentions, once and for all.