|My grandmother and her first husband some time|
in the early 1900s
It is now officially 2017 and 2016 is just sad history. Many people are already failing to live up to the resolutions they made two days ago. I, for one, don’t make resolutions. I follow the rules set by my grandmother, who was mainly responsible for raising me from around the time I turned twelve; her philosophy was that if you had to make resolutions to do better at the end of the year, it meant that you’d been slacking off for a whole year, and that you’d likely slack off again, resolutions or not, so it would be better to try and live right all the time, and not have to worry about making amends at the end of the year.
As a gag once, I used one of those computerized sign generators found online to make a little poster of Bart Simpson writing on a chalkboard, “I am what my grandmother made me.” This was a parody of the central thesis of my first published book, a short essay on leadership entitled, Things I Learned from My Grandmother about Leadership and Life.”
Subsequently had occasion to reflect on that sentence (I am what my grandmother made me) and I came to the conclusion that what I meant originally as a joke has a larger truth imbedded within it. Furthermore, I realized that for leaders, this is a truth that must be fully grasped. As we mature, we are shaped by our education and experience, but the basic core of who we are has already been formed by those who guided and mentored us in our formative years. For many of those of my generation that was largely grandmothers and other older relatives who were too old to work in the fields; and to whom fell the responsibility of “taking care of the young-uns.”
Places like West Point or the Harvard School of Business might teach us the sophisticated techniques for gaining the trust of our followers, but the basic traits of honesty and integrity either will or will not have been engraved into our behavior at the knees of that older relative before we hit our mid-teens. Lacking that basic honesty and integrity learned from them, the techniques you learn later in life become merely tools of manipulation and exploitation.
Self-confidence is enhanced by increased knowledge and experience. But, a true belief in yourself and your ability to succeed will have been learned from a caregiver who treated you with respect and taught you that you were a person of worth; who taught you to think highly of yourself—but, hopefully, not too highly.
This is not to say that people are incapable of change. Far from it, but, without understanding the influences that have shaped a person during the formative years of childhood, change is more difficult. It is especially difficult, as a leader, to change people who have had the wrong values engrained from childhood.
Most importantly, though, if you’re to understand what motivates you as a leader, it helps to consider your upbringing. You might be surprised to learn that your habits and preferences in leadership or in life in general, stem from what you learned as a child. Once you have that knowledge about where you came from, you can more clearly see where you are, and plan intelligently and effectively for where you want to be.
So, instead of making resolutions, I make a call to action: decide what you want to be, and then be that person all year long. You’ll slip now and then, but you’re only human, and to err is human. When you do slip, pick yourself up, admit your mistake, and get back on track. That way, come the end of 2017, you won’t need to make resolutions.
It’s just that simple. That’s what my grandmother taught me.