Of all the chapters in life, consider retirement. It may seem like a strange place to start a message on leadership, but that is precisely what Stephen Covey does in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The second habit he introduces is titled, “Begin with the End in Mind”.
How do you envision the “end”? Each of us grows closer to it daily. What will we celebrate? What will we regret? How do our ideas of retirement impact our activities and those we interact with in the present? Stephen Covey writes, “If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.” To begin with the “end” gives a heightened perspective of a life, well lived.
Recently, I was privileged to attend a company retirement celebration. As I reflected on the topics and discussions of the celebration, it occurred to me a retirement party provides specific and unique information about the people and the organization represented. This was not a time of reciting any stale mission statements, policies, guidelines or codes; it was not a time of academics. It was a time of celebration and reflection. I was surprised by how much I learned about the retiree and the company. There was a deep connection between personal events and professional life, and decades of memories were shared through photos and stories.
At a moment like this, it’s almost impossible not to consider questions like, “What will my retirement look like? Who will attend? What will they say?” I would like my retirement to make others consider the George Strait lyrics, “Life’s not the breath you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” Will your retirement represent the convergence of your personal and professional life?
My recent retirement event experience was for an employee who spent a large part of her career as a receptionist. This wasn’t merely about business. The moments that were celebrated were the unexpected discretionary efforts of everyone as their lives intersected. Whether it is experiencing the challenges of parenthood, life losses, or joyous milestones, lives were shared together. I came away with a renewed awareness of the specific generosity of employees, employers, and those who were served. In a world that so often focuses on “What’s in it for me?” this retirement event reminded me to celebrate a life lived with others for a purpose.
Before the celebration, I intended to write this article with a focus on how effective leaders get people to believe or leave. Now I see this as, not the main theme, but rather an important element in the context of effective leaders that create an environment where everyone on the team recognizes that effort in technical skills and human element is welcomed and celebrated. Believing is more than merely accepting. It is embracing. And perhaps even embracing what is yet to come and may be unseen. Leaders must nurture a culture where everyone can authentically pursue their passions. Gracefully letting go of those who do not fit is just as essential as inspiring those who do fit. Effective leaders initiate and respond to the initiatives taken by others with grace and generosity. The stories disclosed of uncommon grace exhibited by those in authority and those with limited official power are equally compelling and inspiring. Knowing what is right for the people will be right for the business, which includes both work families and personal families. To exemplify a “care-frontational” behavior and to engage others in a meaningful, emotional connection will continue to draw others to believe not only in our effective leadership, but something bigger than themselves.
Who inspires you? Where does that come from? What can we do to pay it forward? This is the kind of discretionary effort that is forever remembered by those impacted. This is the kind of discretionary effort that is shared when we are privileged to have a time to look back and celebrate. How can those around you experience your discretionary effort today? How can we all arouse discretionary effort that will eventually make our retirement celebration something everyone would be inspired by? Today, you are in a unique position to make your effort matter, whether you are chairman of the board or a receptionist. In the theater of life you will be transitioning between “acts,” but the greater question lies ahead: what contribution of your time and talents will you give to the world to impact your community, your family and friends? I urge you to make abundant use of the opportunities around you today. It is the nature of our world that resources are always scarce. Look at a life well lived and you will find that opportunities abound.
Amidst the chaos, scarcity and ugliness of the world, it is important to be the kind of person that looks for and finds the order, abundance and beauty surrounding all of us. The retiree we celebrated exemplifies a person who is grateful, joyful, and hopeful regardless of the circumstances. She is the kind of person who makes a positive difference in the lives around her. Effective leaders exhibit these traits and associate with others who are like-minded. Thanks to Roberta for inspiring me through her contributions and loyalty and her personal and company values which have obviously been authentically interwoven!