Seeking Wisdom

Glory, Lies, Humility, and Hustle

You can seek wisdom or withstand the hardships required to gain it through experience. Learning from others, through study and observation, is certainly a less painful means of benefiting from life’s lessons. Inc. Magazine article, “5 Lessons Most People Learn Way Too Late in Life,” provided a worthwhile list, but why stop there?

The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus reminding us that all glory is fleeting and we are but mortal.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on July 21, 2017.

Inc. Magazine’s 5 Lessons:

1. Perception is Reality.
2. Everything is Temporary.
3. The Importance of being Present.
4. Do What You Love; Love What You Do.
5. Being Happy Takes Work.

Below are some additions to the list, Lessons #6-8.

6. All Glory is Fleeting.

Sic transit gloria mundi. I can picture George C. Scott in his cinematic portrayal of General George S. Patton. Scott embodied the swagger, confidence, and self-importance of this iconic American General. The audience witnesses, in the scene shown below, a wonderful moment drenched in either contradiction or self-awareness.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.” 

The imagery invoked and inner turmoil revealed here is awesome. It demonstrates the constant tension required of all high-achievers. A push and pull between ambition and humility, enthusiasm and self-awareness. It also reminds us that we are only as good as our last “rep”. Momentum is a cruel mistress; she can turn on you in a moment. Every repetition counts, and if it is worth doing then it is worth doing right. Treat every rep as if your professional reputation depends upon it.

It is about maintaining balance and perspective. Developing our “professional reputation,” but not getting wrapped up in our “legacy”. Concentrate on the work at hand. When we concern ourselves with the work to be done and the people we can influence, the legacy builds itself. While reading The Presidents Club, a book by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy about the relationship between sitting Presidents (of the United States) and their predecessors, an obvious trend appeared. Their most embarrassing personal and professional errors were often made in attempts to create, protect, or shape their “legacy”, which brings us to Lesson #7.

7. Most Mistakes are Acceptable – Lying Isn’t.

Studying the mistakes of famous leaders in industry, politics, the Armed Forces, etc. demonstrates an interesting lesson. We, as people and as followers or constituents, often forgive mistakes…when our leaders admit to them, own them, and apologize for them.

President Nixon and Watergate, President Clinton and Monica, King David and Bathsheba, and so may other massive career/moral missteps were born out on the public stage. It’s easy to think people and history condemned these leaders for their mistake/moral violation. In actuality, their stories are forever tied to their lie. Attempting to save their individual legacies, they each did the one thing that would destroy it; they lied.

Consider, instead, President Reagan or Toyota Motors. When you hear the name “Ronald Reagan”, the word association game would eventually turn up “Iran-Contra Scandal”, but not likely as the first response. I venture to say this is because, on August 12, 1987, President Reagan sat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and – addressing the nation – said:

“My fellow Americans, I’ve thought long and often about how to explain to you what I intended to accomplish, but I respect you too much to make excuses. The fact of the matter is that there’s nothing I can say that will make the situation right. I was stubborn in my pursuit of a policy that went astray.” (Full Transcript Here)

Own Your Mistakes!

Toyota Motors recovered from what could have, and for most other companies would have, been a door-closing business killer. In 2010, Toyota Motors began three recalls: an issue with the front driver’s side floor mat that could cause pedal entrapment, a mechanical sticking of the accelerator, and their anti-lock break software. While it appeared Toyota covered up safety defects rather than issue recalls, their quick response to mounting accidents and cooperation with outside investigations provided transparency and built trust with the public.

The lawsuits and declining credibility could have ended their relationship with the consumer, but once again a leader stepped forward and took responsibility in “the buck stops here” fashion. President and CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, faced the public.

“Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick. I would like to point out here that Toyota’s priority has traditionally been the following: First; Safety, Second; Quality, and Third; Volume. These priorities became confused, […]. We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced. Especially, I would like to extend my condolences […] and I will do everything in my power to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.” (The Guardian)

This mistake (vehicle defects) is common and part of the business. Every vehicle manufacturer goes through defects. Companies lose when they try to hide their mistakes by lying about them through omission or cover-up. In 2017, Forbes Magazine listed Toyota as the #13 “Top Regarded Company” with a market cap of $171.8 Billion.

8. Humility and Hustle are both Free. 

Self-centered thought demonstrates a lack of humility. It drives us to place ourselves at the center of the story instead of others. This is how we become obsessed with things like legacy or glory. Confidence is ok! In fact, feigning insecurity or failing to develop our natural strengths are both means of lacking humility. But, inward preoccupation and self-absorption are not acceptable. Humble yourself before you are humbled. Call it fate, cosmic justice, God, or karma…name it what you will – life will humble you. It is much more painful to be humbled than it is to be humble. Humility is free, but a lack thereof will cost you.

Hustle is my absolute FAVORITE word in the English language. I am a coach’s son and my understanding of leadership was first developed on the practice fields. My Dad used the words “hustle up” in a kind but stern voice. Whether it was to come inside for dinner or run back into the dugout from the outfield, the expectation was clear: do it with purpose. Our mandate as kids, students, and athletes was clear – whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. Do it with purpose; what a beautiful way of looking at every task. Hustle is free.

Glory, Lies, Humility, and Hustle are just three more pieces of wisdom from the experiences of others. I know there are so many more truths out there. What lessons do you want to add to the list?

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