Motivational speakers can take listeners on a journey inside their own hearts and help them discover basic truths so they can grow into the person they want to become. That’s why business conference organizers usually hire one or two to address their attendees. Pump them up with new ideas and new ardor, the reasoning surely goes, and they will sail back into the world to become better widget-sellers or doctors or CPAs or financial planners.
But, at least for me, something entirely different happened on the path to self-discovery when I listened this week to a keynote speech at the Financial Planning Association conference given by Jim Collins.
Collins is the author of the best-selling book, "Good to Great" which explains that good companies become great because hard-working leaders at the top never rest on their laurels, pass on blame to anyone else, face hard truths when they have to, and die unhappy.
You read that right, die unhappy.
By way of illustration of this "Good to Great" principle, Collins held up the example of Darwin Smith, the late CEO of Kimberly-Clark. Over 25 years, Smith presided over the company’s transformation from an ailing coated-paper provider to a consumer products powerhouse. His achievements in the face of a hostile press, skeptical employees and a wary Wall Street are certainly commendable, and he did, indeed build great value into the company.
But what struck me most about this story is one sentence uttered years later by Smith’s widow. Collins said he visited Mrs. Smith at one point during his research and asked her if her husband was happy. "That question does not apply," she said.
Whoa. That, readers, was a defining moment for me, allowing me to see this energetic professor and rock climber with a best-selling book, and a triathlon-winning wife in a whole new light.
He deifies leaders who dare to challenge convention and push themselves and others to ever-higher heights, but he hasn’t a clue about how to really live here on earth.
I don’t want my legacy on this earth to be a proud badge claiming that I worked myself to death in the pursuit of excellence. I don’t want to stay awake at night figuring out ways to make my good career a great one. I just want to die happy.
And I don’t think I’m alone. A satisfying career, the respect of my peers, raising self-confident and loving children. If that’s the best I do by the end of my time here on earth, it will be enough for me. If you ask me, "Good to Great" is for those who don’t understand that sometimes it’s great just to be good.
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