At the turn of the year, we often pause for a few moments to consider the passage of time, and perhaps sigh with either disappointment or contentment. It would serve most of us well to expand this moment of reflection into something more lasting and useful.
I was pleased to have a recent opportunity to hear Richard Leider describe the research for his book, Whistle While You Work. The clarity of his findings is extremely compelling, and it illustrates principles that apply to businesses and organizations as well as to our personal lives and careers.
Mr. Leider is the author or coauthor of seven books and partner in a training firm in Minneapolis. His research involved interviewing scores of elders to ask what they regretted about their lives, and what they would do differently if they could do it again. His three key findings are summarized below, along with my own interpretations and suggestions for business and organizational applications.
First and foremost, the elders said they would be more reflective. They wished they had taken time to stop and look at the context of their lives, to see the big picture and remember their priorities. All too often, this happened for them only at times of loss or crisis.
The application to organizations is direct: make time to consider the big picture. This can (and should) be a part of your company’s on-going dialogue, or you can consciously include it in a strategic planning process. How it gets done is not important, as long as it gets done consistently and thoroughly. For organizations, this big picture emphasis translates into a strong vision, a clear mission and set of values, and specific goals and objectives.
Mr. Leider’s second key finding from the elders was that if they had a chance to do it over again, they would be more courageous. They would take more risks and be more daring, both in love and in work. For most of us, work requires roughly 60 percent of our energy and time investment, so it is worth the effort to make the most of it.
For businesses and organizations, this again comes back to the benefits of strategic planning, which is really strategic thinking using a structured methodology. With the safeguards of an analytical, participative group decision-making process, risks can be evaluated and selected. A healthy company with clear goals and values that understands its strengths (and weaknesses) is in a good position to take calculated risks.
On an individual level, being more courageous in the workplace means bringing more of who you are to your work, being more authentic, more willing to share the breadth and depth of your experience and skills. It may mean having the courage of your convictions, taking more initiative, or speaking your truth even when it is a minority or solitary viewpoint. Please note that this is not a rationale for being inconsiderate, unkind, or impulsive. Having the maturity to be authentic also means taking responsibility for your actions.
In the third key finding, the elders said they would live with more purpose, leave a legacy, and make an imprint. In essence, they wished they had lived their lives with more meaning. On an individual level, this is a question that we would all do well to consider consciously and regularly.