Good friend and PathNorth member, Debra
Waller, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jockey International
observed the following several years back:
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
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.
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
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.
(PS. PathNorth is gathering January
15-16 in New York to explore just such matters. Try to come: http://pathnorth.ennect.com/events/january )