How do you think about your professional mortality?
🎧 #33 | Listen Now (5 Min) | On Leading bravely, my favorite definition of leadership, and questions you need to ask yourself today
When you think of Broadway, you probably think of shows Alladin, Wicked, and Hamilton. While these shows take place “On Broadway,” they aren’t located on the oldest North-South thoroughfare in NYC, Broadway St.
They are considered On Broadway because they have more than 500 seats. Theaters with less than 500 seats are off-Broadway. Today there are 41 On Broadway theaters and 120 off-broadway theaters. Who knew? I didn’t.
There is this thing that happens around these theaters. Restaurants all fill up fast, everyone eats, and then they empty all at the same time. It’s called pre-theater - a mad rush of humanity trying to make a night of it. One afternoon a decade ago, I found myself on Broadway - Broadway and 47th.
Before the rush, I sat with the General Manager of one of these massive pre-theater restaurants - let’s call him DF. Names are abbreviated to protect the wonderful.
He and I were both in new positions, and we spent time getting to know each other. Honestly, the ‘me’ of a decade ago was probably assessing, judging, and trying to sum him up. Sorry DF.
I asked him, “What is leadership to you?”
He said, without skipping a beat, “It’s when they know you have their best interest at heart.”
I’ve taken his lesson to every role I’ve had since and done my best to apply it. The use of heart here is intentional. It’s about love and care. We all want to be loved, and all want to know we aren’t in this alone. We want to know someone is fighting for us. Someone who will be loyal to us when we aren’t in the room.
It even means when you are telling them they no longer have a role on the team. You are doing it because it’s right for them. After all, you care about them, love them, and want them to win.
A handful of years later, I’d find myself back in NYC, and another colleague would lay down more wisdom. I shared a discussion with him in a post two years ago this month and thought it worth resurfacing his terrific view on life.
He was in a car accident and had a 5% chance of survival. He stared death down and, with determination, was able to walk away. From that day on, he called his life a ‘bonus round.’ Like getting that 1Up mushroom in Super Mario Bros. An extra life.
That statement hit me hard because your lens changes when you’ve danced with death and made it home by curfew. Every day after, you feel lucky to be sucking in oxygen instead of pushing up daisies—your relationship with mortality changes.
“This is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happen to us.”
Nothing is permanent - not you, your hair, your title, and thankfully not your ego. Your job won’t last forever - one way or another, it will end. Also, you won’t last forever - every day is a bonus.
The sooner you get comfortable with these facts, the better. As it relates to your people, ask yourself:
Are you leading with courage, or are you trying to protect your position?
Are you making decisions in the best interest of the team or your best interest?
When it is all said and done, do you want them to say you did what was right for your 401k or what was right for the 400 that count on you?When they know you will sacrifice for them, they will do the same for you, the mission, and the people to their left and right.
Just like you don’t want to waste your life, don’t waste your leadership opportunity. If you lead by putting people first, they usually help you solve difficult problems. Put people last, and you will come in last - one way or another.
Today matters. You might not get tomorrow - act accordingly
Lead bravely - make decisions that are best for the team, not what’s best for you
Lead with love
I’ll leave you with this from Viktor Frankl’s book Yes to Life:
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked—and behold, duty was joy.