September 2008

Friends.

Good friend and PathNorth member, Debra Waller, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jockey International observed the following several years back:

"The challenges faced by CEOs today are unprecedented.
Leaders need a way to see the bigger picture while in
the pressure cooker...but how and where to find such
help? As the elusive goal of success is pursued, we can
miss the most important things if we don't pay attention."

A friend from Tennessee drew my attention to the attached recent article in the Economist. It clearly spells out what most of us have known for a long long time: it is lonely at the top. The unintended consequence of great success in any endeavor is isolation, unless you determine to avoid such a plight. Yet precisely who one can trust and rely upon for candid perspective and practical wisdom with no ulterior motives, is not always easy to discern.

When I was a young White House staffer, I loved to watch the interaction of President Reagan with his longtime friend, White House Counselor and eventual Attorney General, Edwin Meese. They would constantly banter and joke and then immediately become serious when occasion necessitated.  There seemed an unusual rhythm to that special relationship which dated back to California days. Meese clearly had the President's back, as the expression goes.

I started PathNorth two years back, to begin to address several of the issues that the Economist identified. In our brochure I wrote: "For years, I have observed leaders up close and personal. They are, for the most part, fine people seeking to create value for their companies.  I have also observed an increasingly cynical, unforgiving climate with little margin for error.  Many are finding this situation neither enjoyable nor rewarding.  More CEOs stepped down last year than any time previous.  Leaders can feel overwhelmed, isolated, lacking significant relationships and in need of tools to help navigate these challenging times."  Sorry to quote myself, oh well, but the truth of the perplexing circumstance that leaders face is undeniable.

With discussions of executive compensation, the financial crisis and other related matters, leaders simply won't find an abundance of crocodile tears flowing their way. After all, Masters of the Universe, are strong, sure, confident, knowing precisely where they are going and how to get there! Yea...Right...NOT! as the pop saying goes.

I recall a number of years ago, a quiet conversation with my friend, the late Laurance Rockefeller. He attempted to explain to me what it was like to be a Rockefeller. That despite the name and wealth, and their important place in history, he sketched out a rather 'normal' family, real people with real issues who needed others on the journey. That conversation continues to influence me. Last year at one of our PathNorth gatherings in New York, we had a panel entitled: Overcoming a Famous Name. On the panel were John Tyson, Jr., Ben Du Pont and Wayne Huizenga, Jr. Fine, fine accomplished men in their own right. We had a wonderful discussion on the two sided coin of great name: track record, wealth and positioning on one side, and on the flip side a 'wondering'...Who am I apart from all of the 'stuff'? To greater or lesser degrees, we all consider the question of our real value. Who are we in the quietness of our room? Pascal spoke of this elusive subject in his 17th century unfinished work Pensees, or Thoughts. He saw that the fundamental problem for most of us is never learning to be content, alone within four walls. Our busyness can be avoidance at times.

These matters are all related: identify, isolation of leaders, trust, definitions of success, contentment, etc.  I’m not certain how to get our arms around all of this, yet I do know that the quest to discover 'true' satisfaction and connectedness is, at its core, a spiritual matter.

We need others on the journey with us as we attempt to sort it all out. Alone we can become discouraged and confused, frequently making bad decisions. In the Pentateuch, the inspired writer declares: "It is not good for a man to be alone." How true, how true.

Pax. 

doug 

(PS. PathNorth is gathering January 15-16 in New York to explore just such matters. Try to come:  http://pathnorth.ennect.com/events/january )

The Economist

http://www.economist.com/daily/columns/businessview/displayStory.cfm?story_id=12235260

 

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