The first time I heard the story about the little cow, it was from the lips of a millionaire. Gathered in the conference room of some hotel in mid-town Montrèal, this man who had made his money from the financial services industry was urging us on to let go of our little cows, mainly JOBs (which people in his circle called “Just Over Broke”) and go chasing those dreams that will stretch us, pain us but in the end be most gratifying.
Recently, I decided to search online for the story and finally found it, author unknown. Here goes.
The Little Cow – Unkown Author
A master of Wisdom was traveling through the countryside with his apprentice when they came to a small, disheveled shack on a meagre piece of farmland. “See this poor family,” said the Master, “Go see if they will share with us their food.”
“But we have plenty,” said the apprentice.
The master said, “Do as I say.”
The obedient apprentice went to the home. The good farmer and his wife, surrounded by their seven children, came to the door. Their clothes were dirty and in tatters.
“Fair greetings,” said the apprentice, “My Master and I are sojourners and want for food. I’ve come to see if you have any to share.”
The farmer said, “We have little, but what we have we will share.” He walked away, and then returned with a small piece of cheese and a crust of bread. “I am sorry, but we don’t have much.” The apprentice did not want to take their food but did as he had been instructed. “Thank you. Your sacrifice is great.”
“Life is difficult,” the farmer said, “but we get by. And in spite of our poverty, we do have one great blessing.”
“What blessing is that?” asked the apprentice.
“We have a little cow. She provides us milk and cheese, which we eat or sell in the marketplace. It is not much but she provides enough for us to live on.”
The apprentice went back to his Master with the meagre rations and reported what he had learned about the farmer’s plight. The Master of Wisdom said, “I am pleased to hear of their generosity, but I am greatly sorrowed by their circumstance. Before we leave this place, I have one more task for you.”
“Return to the shack and bring back their cow.”
The apprentice did not know why, but he knew his Master to be merciful and wise, so he did as he was told. When he returned with the cow, he said to his Master, “I have done as you commanded. Now what is it that you would do with this cow?”
“See yonder cliffs? Take the cow to the highest crest and push her over.”
The apprentice was stunned. “But Master…”
“Do as I say.” The apprentice sorrowfully obeyed. When he had completed his task, the Master and his apprentice went on their way.
Over the next years, the apprentice grew in mercy and wisdom. But every time he thought back on the visit to the poor farmer’s family, he felt a pang of guilt. One day he decided to go back to the farmer and apologize for what he had done. But when he arrived at the farm, the small shack was gone.
Instead there was a large, fenced villa.
“Oh no,” he cried, “The poor family who was here was driven out by my evil deed.” Determined to learn what had become of the family, he went to the villa and pounded on its great door. A servant answered the door.
“I would like to speak to the master of the house,” the apprentice said.
“As you wish,” said the servant. A moment later a smiling, well-dressed man greeted the apprentice.
“How may I serve you?” the wealthy man asked.
“Pardon me, Sir, but could you tell me what has become of the family who once lived on this land but is no more?”
“I do not know what you speak of,” the man replied, “my family has lived on this land for three generations.”
The apprentice looked at him quizzically. “Many years ago I walked through this valley, where I met a farmer and his seven children. But they were very poor and lived in a small shack.”
“Oh,” the man said smiling, “that was my family. But my children have all grown now and have their own estates.”
The apprentice was astonished. “But you are no longer poor. What happened?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” the man said, smiling. “We had this little cow that provided us with the slimmest of necessities, enough to survive but little more. We suffered but expected no more from life. Then, one day, our little cow wandered off and fell over a cliff. We knew that we would be ruined without her, so we did everything we could to survive. Only then did we discover that we had greater power and abilities than we possibly imagined and never would have found as long as we relied on that cow. What a great blessing from Heaven to have lost our little cow.”
COW & COIN CONCLUSION
Everyone of us has a little cow that stands in the way of fulfilling our full potential. So what’s your little cow? Now imagine a little child who remains tight-fisted over a quarter, a 25-cent coin, when you are eager to give them a $100 bill you’re hiding behind you and encouraging them to ‘open up’ and ‘let go’ of the quarter to receive. They aren’t able to receive the $100 because they would rather keep the little that’s surely in hand than open their palm and risk losing the quarter, although they might very well know that what they could gain might be way better.
You probably have heard it said that often the enemy of the best is the good. What is your little coin or little cow. Let it go; kill it!
One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to record a short video each week to pep people up in LIFE–Leadership, Integrity, Family, Entrepreneurship. Although speaking-wise I am an award-winning Toastmaster and have been on various media, including hosting television programmes even way back in my medical school days and early professional life, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to starting a YouTube channel and recording something ‘short and sweet’ regularly for my colleagues and coachees.
If today the January goal can now be marked as “done,” having recorded something every single week between then and now (June), it is because I had accountability to close a certain growth gap. The accountability I got was first from my Growth Mastermind group where I shared by goal at the beginning of the year. Exactly on January 15, one of the members, a U.S.-based consultant with Accenture, sent a group WhatsApp message reminding me of my action point to start recording that day. Did I feel ready? No. But to keep my word, I did it anyway! Apparently, we hardly ever ‘feel ready’ for anything. At some point we’ve got to “just do it!” It was Bruce Springsteen the musician who once said, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man [male or female] you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
MY GROWTH GAPS
In the very opening chapter of his masterpiece on personal growth (Maxwell 2012, 3-9), Dr. John C. Maxwell lists eight growth gaps people get trapped by:
- The Assumption Gap–“I assume that I will automatically grow”
- The Knowledge Gap–“I don’t know how to grow”
- The Timing Gap–“It’s not the right time to begin”
- The Mistake Gap–“I’m afraid of making mistakes”
- The Perfection Gap–“I have to find the best way”
- The Inspiration Gap–“I don’t feel like doing it”
- The Comparison Gap–“Others are better than I am”
- The Expectation Gap–“I thought it would be easier than this”
What had been keeping me from shooting my video snippets and starting my own YouTube channel were the Mistake and Perfection gaps. Those two, I find, are actually two sides of the same coin. There was a ton of information online about how to/not to shoot videos. Now, having 10,000 friends and followers on FaceBook and being well-known and respected in certain circles I didn’t want to come across as a jerk! I was being paralyzed by lighting issues, how my little home office should be arranged, which background would be the best, whether my phone camera was good enough etc. etc.
In fact, I look back with a bit of embarrassment at my first YouTube video which I shot in my decade-old comfy sweater with a Covid-19 bushy hair look, yet I’m so proud that I took the dive. Mistakes and failures are the price ticket to improvement and innovation. No price, no prize. My parents’ generation used to ridicule ‘Made in Japan’ products. My generation has high respect for everything Japanese, from Toyota and Honda through Yamaha to Sony. The Japanese were ridiculed as copycats with poor quality products but the kaizen principle of continuous improvement has brought them this far. Today’s generation has no paradigm of a bad Japanese product. They’ve constantly closed their mistake and perfection gaps. Now, some laugh at China the same way. China would laugh last if they too continually close their growth gaps because guess what? “A mistake is simply another way of doing things,” according to author and professor Warren Bennis. After 10,000 hours of practice, you and I can become geniuses at anything, as my fellow black Canadian, Malcolm Gladwell, asserts in Outliers, largely based on his interpretation of Anders Ericsson’s research.
TO MY FELLOW MISTAKE-AVOIDERS
The desire to find the best way and to be the best is good but I learnt from my mentor John Maxwell looking for the best way can actually be getting things backward. We rather have to get started if we want to find the best way. He says, “it’s similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you’d like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving“ (Maxwell 2012, 7, emphasis mine).
I once met the American Christian televangelist, pastor, author and motivational speaker Dr. Robert H. Schuller (picture above) in the mid 1990s. As a World Vision Youth Ambassador, my cohort had the privilege of visiting his ‘all glass’ Crystal Cathedral, singing there (oh the acoustics!) and appearing live on his weekly Hour of Power television programme which be began hosting in 1970 until his retirement in 2010. He is noted for many famous quotes but one that has most gingered me to overcome my mistake and perfection gaps has actually been this poignant question of his: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”
So! Half of the year has gone. If you find there’s a gulf between your year-start goals and your mid-year achievements, it’s a growth gap. Ask yourself: “how do I need to grow to close this gap?” If we would resolve to grow and close the assumption, knowledge, timing, mistake, perfection, inspiration, comparison and expectation gaps, we will end the year smiling. Focus on your growth, not so much on your goals. Then you will grow to hit them. I have, in my video-shooting goal. Now off to the rest!
Maxwell, John C. 2012. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. New York: Center Street.
After my last blog on Why I strive for work-life integration and not work/life balance, some got it and said, “important distinction.” Others thought it was just semantics, just a different choice of words but saying the same thing. I beg to differ.
Here’s another attempt to distinguish one from the other: work/life balance (apart from seeming to pit work against life) is the attempt to distribute time, energy and other resources equitably to all four buckets of life to ‘tick all the boxes’. On the other hand, work-life integration is radically different because it harnesses the power of all four buckets, making other buckets better by the power of other buckets. And it is living in such a way that one doesn’t have to hide the other buckets (say, on LinkedIn), pretend they don’t exist or be different things to different people in the different buckets. I’m quite certain a few poignant examples below may make the distinction clearer.
FACEBOOK AND FAMILY
Who doesn’t know about FaceBook and its 2.7 billion users. That number is the combined population of China and India, the two most populous nations in the world. 2.7 billion is more than twice the population of the entire continent of Africa! I was fascinated to learn that as founder/CEO, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt at the integrated life in Facebook’s early days was to host FaceBook strategy sessions at his home on Monday evenings. And for Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, instead of missing dinner with her family, she would bring her children into the office. Here’s her testimony: “Facebook is incredibly family friendly, so my children were in heaven, entranced by pizza, endless candy, and the huge pile of LEGOs the engineers shared with young visitors. It made me happy my kids got to now my colleagues and vice versa” (George 2015, 173). I don’t know everything about FaceBook’s corporate culture, but these right here are great examples of the integrated life at FaceBook.
I’m proud of Databank in Ghana that has created a nursery in the workplace for nursing mothers as well as a quiet time room for staff to go and nourish their spiritual lives, especially after rushing from home at dawn in order to beat the crazy Accra traffic. These are laudable examples of the integrated life in corporate circles.
I love lions. I call my children cubs; not kids, hence we are the Perbi Pride. Last week, I handed over to the next CEO of ISMCanada after being at this role for eight years. One of the things I recalled at the handing over ceremony (and nearly everyone remembered) is how not long after I took the role I travelled almost the entire stretch of Canada (the second widest country on earth!) to get to personally know the staff and listen for the pertinent issues from the ground. What I haven’t told you yet is that as a family we decided to integrate our lives with my new work by making this a fun family trip. We rented a minivan and spent 30 days travelling from Montreal (on the east coast) to Victoria (beyond Vancouver) in the west. It was beautiful to see the different types of Canadian landscape and wildlife. Because our children our homeschooled, such opportunities are precious as ‘all of life is school.’ By the time we got back home we had clocked 13,000km and had enough geography, history, sociology etc. to last a lifetime! That is one of the best examples of the integrated life we’ve ever had as a family. Family did not get in the way of work or vice versa. We made both feed off each other and were the richer for it.
Over the last couple of years, I have adopted a tradition of travelling with one of the older four children. Just one, to make them feel special and have a one-on-one time with daddy. Don’t forget these are work trips for me and fun trips for them. After doing a Philadelphia and Washington DC road trip with our then four-year old she insisted upon returning home that “I’m Daddy’s travel buddy’ much to the chagrin of the others. I’ve been far from perfect in integrating family and work but I knew we were doing something right when my children got so used to the ISMCanada world that one day our then seven-year old son asked, “Will I become president of ISMCanada when I grow up?” Almost as if it were a family inheritance.
I’ve always worked from home over the last 8 years as CEO (or from an airport/airplane)–way before the rest of the world was forced to by the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home and homing from work has its pros and cons but it certainly has helped more than harmed my work-life integration.
IMPACTING THE WORLD FROM WITHIN–‘AN INSIDE JOB’
In an article posted on the Harvard Business Review, author Stew Friedman rightly said that the most impactful leaders find ways “to integrate the different parts of their lives to reinforce and enhance each other.” Everywhere he looked he found successful individuals who used who they were as a person to influence how and why they worked. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (as I already shared above) through Michelle Obama to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, many influential people channel what made them a powerful person into creating a powerful product, service or project.
Take Michelle Obama, the 44th First Lady of the United States, for example. Michelle considers her daughters to be her first priority, even if this stance vexes those who would have her do more in seeking broader political and cultural change. However as Friedman rightly observes, in making sure her own children were receiving the most nutritious food possible, she began to advocate for better nutrition through the national initiative Let’s Move!. Her policies have won national and global acclaim.
One of the most impactful social enterprises in Ghana right now is the PerbiCubs Library Services, reaching 2,000 children in 200 schools. It might interest you to know that this did not start out as some mega altruistic attempt to ‘change the world’ through getting every child reading but out of our own family’s need for good, well-curated, reading level-appropriate books upon a long stay in Ghana. Whether it’s the Obamas or the Perbis, we’re running this for ourselves–we only get to scale and share with the rest of the world. If nobody signed on, we would still do it. It’s not just a job ‘out there’, it’s an ‘inside job,’ so-to-speak.
RUNNING MY FAMILY LIKE A CORPORATION
I’ve had partners complain about how their spouse is great at XYZ in the corporate world but doesn’t show even an iota of that competence or skill at home. There are those who might argue that they use ‘all of it’ out there and just want to chill and relax when they get home. While that might make some degree of sense, is it not inauthentic that who we are out there is different from who are at home? If you really believe in the power of vision and mission statements and values in your corporate world, for example, how come you haven’t couched one for your own family?
I’m learning to run my family like a corporation, in the sense of applying the things that have made organizations I’ve run succeed. Why not? Wherever two or three come together, you have an organization! I’m sure you can relate to how some of the most treasured members of your community, say church, actually are so because they bring their corporate skills to bear on the communal organization? On the flip side, I’ve also been the beneficiary of running businesses like family and seeing co-workers go over and beyond their job description and their contractual call of duty. The integrated life is the way to go.
CHOOSE INTEGRATION TODAY
“When you give your whole self to the moment, you not only benefit personally, but it dramatically impacts your business as well.” So says my mentor Bill George. The work-rest of life thing doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Bill is right about how “Many leaders are reluctant to combine their work and family lives, but bringing the two together can lead to more productive and fulfilling lives, both personally and professionally” (173). I have seen and testify that it takes being open-minded about this work-life integration notion, hard work, creativity, experimentation, patience, much discomfort and many failures to make it work but when it does, it really does.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Even as a boy, I felt there was something not quite right about hardly knowing my dad’s fellow partners and their families at the ‘big four’ accounting firm he worked at. Of course I knew a couple of the names and faces but that was about it. I felt they could organize some social events and such to intentionally bring their families together but hey, what did I know?
In fact, even now I wouldn’t be able to make out the wife of the senior partner when dad was deputy senior partner. The very kind, burly man’s children currently live barely five hours away from my family in the same country (Canada) but we don’t know each other well enough to even give the other an occasional ring. Oh wait, I got to talk to one of them once, when their dad was seriously ill and had been hospitalized in their town, but that’s been about it.
I think what I longed for, even as a boy, was a bit more of work-life integration, without even knowing that was actually ‘a thing’ or that such a term even existed. A feeble attempt at it has become largely known in the corporate space in recent times as “work/life balance” but what I speak of is more profound than that. How can anyone not see that there is a problem pitting “work” against “life” as if life doesn’t encompass work itself as well as one’s personal life, family and community? And it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, work or die, inasmuch as there tends to be many tradeoffs.
BUY ONE, GET THREE FREE!
It’s a no brainer that having a bad home situation can adversely affect your professional performance and vice versa. Also, despite how stringent your personal health routines might be, your community relationships are a significant determinant of your mental and physical health, a 75-year study proves. Life is not as separate as we would like (or like to think). Somehow we know this when it comes to how something negative in one aspect of our life can spill over to botch another aspect but what if I told you that being a great dad can make you a better CEO or that the skills you use in your community can be a life-saver in some work project? Yeah, work/life balance isn’t the way to go; work-life integration is. I’ll tell you why.
Author Stewart Friedman concurs: “From years of studying people in many different settings, I have found that the most successful people are those who can harness the passions and powers of the various parts of their lives, bringing them together to achieve what I call “four-way wins — actions that result in life being better in all four domains.” These four domains Stewart speaks of are illustrated in ‘The Integrated Life’ diagram below. He continues, “My research has shown that there are ways for everyone — from the managers of sales teams, to executives in government agencies, to computer engineers, to florists, to coaches — to achieve professional success without always having to sacrifice the things that matter in their personal lives.”
COVID-19 BLESSING IN DISGUISE
One of the gifts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to not only highlight how important the place we call “home” is, but how it is central to our children’s formal education and our own professional lives. Heck, we’ve even done community, like church, from home! Online. This is perhaps the most physically integrated most people have been in their entire work lives. And those of us who like to keep everything prim and proper with no drama have had a really hard time.
I do a fair bit of social media. I find FaceBook much more integrated in terms of all four aspects of life than say, LinkedIn. Several times, I have seen people literally apologize and “make an excuse” or “make an exception” to post something faith or family-related on LinkedIn. I’ve tried to push those boundaries myself sometimes but it’s a weird, I must say. When I recently shared on LinkedIn that I daily run the daycare at home for the youngest ones of our seven children, I was really honoured to have one of my mentors, Bill George (Harvard business school professor and former CEO of Medtronic), affirm me as follows: “Thank you, Yaw, for being the authentic leader you are.” This must be why: Bill really believes, “For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfillment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of life“ (George 2015, 16).
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
At a just-ended eight-week Family Foundations Mastermind I hosted, the prime place of family was underscored over and over again but by the penultimate session we needed to ‘get real.’ How do we do family well while keeping a demanding job, juggling community roles and trying to stay sane? This is where the rubber hits the road.
As I’ve stated before, integrity comes from the Latin root integritas which means whole, entire, undivided. On the other extreme are those who completely separate their professional life from other aspects of their lives. Then there are those who in the name of work/life balance, hop from one of the four parts to the other, trying to “fulfill all righteousness” and tick every box with as little guilt as possible. What I subscribe to and strive for is integration. Bill is blunt: “To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, family and friends so you can be the same person in each environment” (159-160).
We’re striving for the word integrated rather than balance. Subtle difference, apparently, but HUGE. Stewart gets it: “The idea I think to replace work/life balance, which treats these categories as independent, is work/life integration. You’re treating yourself whether you’re at work or at play in basically the same way.”
BIG ROCKS FIRST
All the buckets don’t have the same weight. I believe we ought to carry the more important yet not always more urgent buckets of personal and family first, putting the big rocks in first as Stephen Covey would put it, and all the other things will be added to us as well. Easier said than done, but it must be done nonetheless.
My favourite corporate example of this is Nike CEO John Donahoe (former eBay CEO), when he was a consultant with Bain decades ago with a young family. I was most impressed about how he told his client, ”It is important to me to be doing this. I’m committed to working hard, but I can’t be there before 10am.” This is because he insisted on taking his children to school before heading to the client site. The result? Donahoe was amazed that his clients appreciated the choices he was making. “The client responded positively as he appreciated my commitment and contributions even more” he says. “I didn’t have the courage to think about it that way before. There’s an inclination in business to put on a tough exterior to give the impression that you have everything under control” (162).
Bill George reports that “Donahoe learned that the more he integrated his life and embraced his humanity, the more effective he became as a leader … by showing his team and clients his [priorities and] vulnerabilities, he discovered his teams performed better and his client relationships strengthened.” (162)
This is not to say it’s all easy; but it’s worth it–just like med school or doing an MBA. Hear Donahoe: “The struggle is constant, as the trade-offs and choices don’t get any easier as you get older. My personal and professional lives are not a zero-sum trade-off. I have no doubt today that my children have made me a far more effective leader in the workplace. A strong personal life has made the difference” (160).
To be whole (integritas), we need to integrate our personal , family, community and professional lives, not pit one against the other like ‘work/life balance’ suggests. Real life happens were all four meet and they can enhance each other. Indeed, they should. It isn’t easy. How do I know? I’m still trying. So should you. It’s worth it.
In my next blog, I will share a number of practical examples and ideas of how people have made life-work integration happen, and how my family and I have tried to, also.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
ONCE UPON A TIME
A number of years ago I was invited to do a keynote for one of the high profile speakers in a certain country. In our private conversations I expressed my deep concern about how an imminent divorce by another significant leader in the country was likely to have a really bad ripple effect on millions of people. In my naiveté I asked, “can’t anyone speak to him?” You know what the answer I got was? “WHO?” “WHO, Yaw, WHO?” In other words, there was no one high enough to hold this ‘big man’ accountable. Apparently, none of the ‘big names’ from around the world I felt might have the gravitas to make this man on a pedestal, rather on a precipice, answerable was worthy.
You see, this otherwise great leader had set himself up to fail by not putting in place relationships and structures to hold himself accountable and to bring him to book. Needless to say, the divorce happened and not only his family and organization but even the nation has not recovered since.
Last week I shared with you A Sure Way to Destroy Your Leadership (and Organization). Well, today I would want to share another sure way to destroy your leadership: not making yourself accountable. My favourite synonym for accountability is answerability. In the sad story I just shared, you could say there was no answer to the question of this big man’s answerability.
TODAY & TOMORROW, PERSONALLY & ORGANIZATIONALLY
Over the last few weeks, there have been significant allegations made against the leadership of a major church denomination originating from Ghana. Everyone I know who I thought was close enough to the denominational head has said to me, “No, I’m not.” The obvious ones, whether by family relation or organizational chart, who are positionally supposed to be in the inner circle are allegedly asking those pushing for a response and/or reform to “PRAY TO GOD TO SPEAK TO THE MAN because he is only accountable to God—no one else can counsel him, let alone question him!” WOW!
Not planning to be accountable is PLANNING TO FAIL—invariably you will, it’s just a matter of time. And principles are not respecter of persons. A survey of about 400 leaders who had all morally failed over a two-year period revealed that none of them had accountable relationships.
So organizationally, do not take lightly the power of a governance board. If you don’t have one, set it up—not a kangaroo board (for the show), a real one. Only last week the accountant of the Canadian charity I’ve been leading as president/CEO for the last eight years called me about a decision I had made to launch a very innovative fund, something that hadn’t been done in the organization’s nearly 40 years of existence. In her opinion this needed board clearance; I did not think that was relevant. Instead of trying to bulldoze my way as CEO and to remove every shadow of doubt, I immediately sent an email to the board chair and entire board presenting the issue to them and requesting a board vote electronically. Within a few hours, it was done. Imagine I had no accountability?
I even heard of a pastor whose church offerings are sent to his house after church. Only God knows the difference between what is taken to his house and how much ends up in the bank, if it ends up at the bank at all!
So organizationally, have a functioning governance board, but personally also, have an accountability partner. In fact, I have a friend who has a personal board which I am privileged to serve on, checking on him each quarter. My best friend of about 30 years is my accountability partner. Franklin was my best man is happens to be my brother-in-law as well. We meet monthly to keep each other accountable—we call it ‘FFF’, First Friday at Five.
The other day, our accountability time fell at a time when I was scheduled to fly out of the São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil. I remember so clearly the exact corner of the huge airport I was seated during that conversation because I recall the shock of my life I experienced, hearing from him. As it turned out, a very prominent member of the music industry had reported to him (Frank is an accomplished musician in addition to his I.T. career) that I was going after a married friend of his in the United Kingdom. I was like “WHAAAT?!” But Frank’s response flabbergasted me even more. He was laughing. Laughing! He laughed and informed me that he emphatically told the person that he must have the wrong guy because if it was really Yaw, he (Frank) would have already been voluntarily told by me! Wow!
Of course the allegation wasn’t true, but more importantly I had such a renewed sense of hope in the art and science of accountability and was energized even more to be 100% vulnerable and transparent with my accountability friend.
SWINDOLL’S ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTIONS
Everyone needs accountability about everything but particularly when it comes to the more common temptations of money, sex, power. In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson (who was imprisoned for his involvement in the Nixon Watergate scandal) lists these seven accountability questions used by Chuck Swindoll:
1. Have you been with a woman [any gender, really!] anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Church Smart Resources have compiled a comprehensive list of a number of accountability questions from different sources, including John Wesley. You may access it here.
“ACCOUNTABILITY” IS A LOVING WORD
I pity people married to unaccountable spouses. I have warned my emerging leaders: Don’t marry people who have no accountable relationships. You’re as good as dead if you do. Friends, we’ve got to have a paradigm shift and consider “accountability” as a loving word. It will save you and me many sorrows and preserve our lives and leadership. It might sound ridiculous to you if I told you I knew someone planning to fail. But I tell you, not having intentional accountability is invariably planning to fail, destroying your life and leadership. And guess what? Invariably, it happens. No matter how ‘big’ you are.
So the church split. I wish it hadn’t; indeed, it needn’t have. I tried to impress this upon the pastor in the centre of the brouhaha but to no avail. It did split. Why? The leader bit into the same thing that has destroyed many a leader, ancient and modern, male and female, irrespective of race, colour or socioeconomic status. Oh, and this isn’t one church split I speak of. I have witnessed quite a number–from the same root cause. Same as some landmark corporate meltdowns.
YOU WILL MESS UP
The truth is, as a leader you will mess up (you’re already messed up, anyway). The fascinating thing though is that in itself isn’t what will destroy your leadership. In fact, if that were the case, there would be no existing leadership anywhere at all because ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’
Precisely because we’re all messed up, team members and followers (all pretty messed up too) are very willing to forgive leaders and find the best way to move on if and when these leaders recognize they’ve messed up and ‘fess up.
What people cannot stand is a leader who refuses to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me” when they are found or caught in some kind of mess.
MY GURU WITH A GUN
The mentor who first brought this to my attention was himself, in 2009, got caught in a situation that really threatened to derail everything he had worked hard for and stood for all six decades of his life then. What happened was that John C. Maxwell received a handgun as a gift after a speaking engagement in Birmingham, Alabama, and placed it in his carry-on luggage. Airport security-wise, it really didn’t matter much as he flew privately back home. But then he then forgot about it as he was racing to catch a commercial flight to Dallas to speak a few days later. When he put his carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, airport security found the gun and immediately arrested him. In his own words, “I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail, where I was fingerprinted and photographed. Needless to say, it opened my eyes to a world I’d seen only in the movies. I was glad when I posted bail and was able to leave.”
Did John mess up? You bet. Big time. But John not only quickly ‘fessed up, he publicly shared this embarrassing story himself in self-deprecating humour to those of us who are part of his John Maxwell Team (JMT). He even titled it “Stupid is as Stupid Does.” This is how he began:
I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. Early in my marriage I would win arguments with my wife, Margaret, and hurt her feelings really badly. I have made business moves that lost tens of thousands of dollars at a time. And I’ve made leadership decisions that led to failures for my organizations. But up until now, none of the dumb things I’ve done has gotten me arrested.
And then JM went about writing about it in SUCCESS magazine. It is one of the stories I believe he tells in his book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. This posture and gesture has endeared to me and many many more.
WILL YOU FESS UP?!
As a leader, the worst thing you could do when caught in a wrong is first of all to deny it. The second worst thing is to dismiss it. And thirdly (the killer blow) is to double down. To double down is to dig one’s heels in, to “strengthen one’s commitment to a particular strategy or course of action, typically one that is potentially risky.”
Some people not only double down personally but also begin the spin machine organizationally, churning out one traditional news and social media story after the other . That is a sure way to finish your leadership. Take responsibility, ‘fess up for the mess up, otherwise you double down and you’re going down.
Recently, I wrote about how authentic leadership has nothing to prove, nothing to hide and nothing to lose. When the issue of popular Christina musician Sonnie Badu’s doubtful degrees came out, what did he do? He kept defending the dubious degrees and soon deteriorated into name-calling. It was all over the internet that he had said to his ‘detractors’ that he would pay them no mind because he was a lion and that “LIONS DON’T RESPOND TO FROGS.” Frogs!
LANDING THIS PLANE
Fellow leaders, it doesn’t matter whether it was a mistake or an indiscretion or something you even knowingly did. When you confess you will receive grace. If you don’t, well, disgrace. So when you mess up, ‘fess up, get up and let’s move on. The next time you hear I’ve done something stupid (we all will have our opportunity), don’t make excuses for me or come up with a lame hashtag like #IstandbyYawPerbi. Remind me of this blog and encourage me to take response-ability to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.” I won’t be a perfect leader; but I do know one sure way to lead to last.
Over the last week, somehow this notion of needing to work harder on yourself than you do on your job has come up with two or three different coaching clients. For the CEO of a crucial agro business firm in West Africa, the financial services entrepreneur in Canada and the PhD-wielding academic on the east coast of the United States, the three reasons I’m about to share held true. It is true for you too.
For the record, I work hard and believe in hard work. I also work smart and absolutely promote the idea of brain over brawn anyway. Over a decade ago I came up with the phrase, “brain power pays; muscle power pains.” I subscribe to the Pauline exhortation that “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for man.” So by all means, work hard and smart on your job, but work even harder and smarter on yourself.
Here are three reasons why:
1. WHO YOU ARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU DO
No matter how hard or smart you work, the instrument for the doing the do is you. If the input into you doesn’t match or exceed the output, that will soon be your undoing. Let me put it in a way one of my staff in British Columbia said it to me a few years ago: “If your output exceeds your input, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” Classic! Not only will you soon not be effective and efficient when your self input is less than your job output, it is unsustainable and you might end up becoming irrelevant. And sometimes, irrelevant not just in terms of knowledge and skills for a context that has progressed because you’re not healthy or even physically alive anymore–you killed the goose that lays the golden eggs!
Consider these sagacious words of educator Palmer Parker:
“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless—a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for…. One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
Remember, who we are is more important that what you do, because we do whatever we do out of who we are: our identity, character, values.
2. ONE MEANS A LIVING, THE OTHER MEANS A FORTUNE
Classic motivational speaker of blessed memory, Jim Rohn, poignantly put this in a way like nobody else has: “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself you’ll make a fortune.” This statement, I believe, is a variation of timely advice Jim himself received from his mentor J. Earl Schoaf. Jim had heard him give the reason for why the job only pays the bills but the latter ends in billions: work harder on yourself than you do on your job; your income is directly related to your philosophy, not the economy; and for things to change, you must change.
From a one-year college drop out living from pay check to pay check as a stock clerk at Sears, this advice catalyzed a five-year mentorship of Rohn by Shoaff, encouraging him to develop himself and pursue his dream of a better life such that by age thirty one, Rohn was a millionaire! It was a really sad day when this motivator of motivators like Anthony Robbins, Less Brown, Brian Tracy and Denis Waitley, passed away in December 2009.
Friend, work harder on yourself–from your paradigms through your attitudes to your skills. It’s the software that you carry and apply to a variety of endeavours, not only your job, that will unlock abundant wealth and well-being.
3. JOBS COME AND GO BUT YOU’LL STILL BE HERE
Sometimes people leave jobs; other times jobs leave people. In the kind of post-pandemic economies we have now, more jobs leave people than people leave jobs. Certain whole industries have been wiped out, for crying out loud! I’ve marvelled at how many pilots have been literally grounded and have had to find some other kind of livelihood. What if all you did was work hard on your job and never grew your other interests, talents and skills or even never networked beyond the ‘boys club’ in your profession?
When many years ago I decided to take the path of the risk of entrepreneurship rather than the ‘security’ of a regular paid job, some people who thought I was crazy later found out they had been crazy to think ‘owning a job’ was better than owning a business when in spite of their qualifications, loyalties and skills their jobs were cut. Former Microsoft COO, Kevin Turner, said it best: “The only job security we have is our individual commitment to personal development.” Your job today may not be there tomorrow–in fact your entire industry might not be there–but you will. Work harder on yourself than you do on your job forwhen tomorrow comes, your preparation will meet opportunity. That’s what they call success.
Do the following to ensure you are working hard on yourself for your personal growth and development: set aside a time for YOU, a ME time, everyday. Mine is 5-6am everyday during which I read my personal mission statement, review my goals, read for at least 15 minutes and express my thoughts and feelings in writing.
For all the coachees I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, each was working super hard at their jobs. It is my job to ensure that while they do that, they strive towards working even harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. There’s no great future for anyone without that.
I wouldn’t be where I am today but for books. I mean precious books like the Holy Bible (which I’ve read cover-to-cover about 10 times), Rich Dad Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren), Before You Say I Do (Yaw Boamah), The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell), The E-Myth (Michael Gerber), The Prayer of Jabez (Bruce Wilkinson), Create Your Own Future (Brian Tracy), The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Peter Scazzero) etc. My life five years ago is totally different from my life now—and so was my life five years prior to that totally different—just because of the books I’ve read.
Consequently, for a decade-and-a-half now I’ve been a serious reading campaigner. Now, not only have I grown further fierce in campaigning for people to love reading, my wife and I have stepped up by stepping down. What I mean by that is, we’ve enhanced our campaign but decided to go further down to the age where humans are most pliable: childhood. And we began with our own seven children. This is the philosophy behind Perbi Cubs Library Services. You may find the story behind Perbi Cubs here.
But being a reading enthusiast, let alone champion, hasn’t always been so. I used not to like reading, at all! Then two statements hit me hard and totally shifted my paradigm, absolutely altering my way of thinking.
THE ‘RACIST’ & ‘TREMENDOUS’ STATEMENTS THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
The first statement, I randomly encountered on the internet. I was but a youth then. As I confess in my book READ!, “I was so angry my intestines could have gushed out. If I were light skinned my face would’ve turned tomato-red instantaneously. Yet deep, very deep down my heart I knew there was a truth in this almost racist statement glaring at me from the computer screen.” This is what it said: “THE BEST WAY TO HIDE SOMETHING FROM BLACK PEOPLE IS TO PUT IT IN A BOOK!” Ah! Upsetting! Yet in many ways this is true, I’m ashamed to admit: We don’t read!
The other paradigm-knocking statement was Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones’ rather prophetic pronouncement: “You will be in five years where you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
These two statements turned my life around to not only become a voracious reader and prolific writer, but an advocate of the same!
WHAT IS READING?
We all have read (or even still reading even right now) academic or technical texts to pass an exam or for promotion, for professional growth etc. That is not what I mean by my read campaign. When I speak of reading I mean leisure reading. Also known as “recreational reading, pleasure reading, free voluntary reading, and independent reading,” it is “independent, self-selected reading of a continuous text for a wide range of personal and social purposes. It can take place in and out of school, at any time” (International Reading Association).
Samuel Johnson shares the following sentiments: “A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.” I get him. Leisure reading must be voluntary and pleasurable–not just a chore–if it is to benefit us maximally.
WHY MANY ARE SCHOOLED BUT STILL “ILLITERATE”
Several of us who have learnt “ABCD…” and can practically function simply do not read. In my book READ!, first published in 2005, here’s my thesis: If you know how to read and you don’t, you are no different from the illiterate! The bottom line is the same: you both don’t read! That’s why the subtitle of the book is “You are an “illiterate” if you can read but don’t.” Many years ago Mark Twain put the same idea this way: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
If it’s any comfort to you, a guy who used not to like reading today reads several books at the same time! Even further, I’ve acquired this new habit of writing several books at the same time too! Something you need for your future to happen is hidden in a book near you. As they say at Perbi Cubs, “success is just a book away.” And it’s true. If you don’t believe Perbi Cubs or Charlie ‘T’ Jones, take it from me.
In my late teens when I was introduced to the whole area of personal growth and success I started practising a number of things successful people do without necessarily knowing why. One of them was that they always took their receipts upon purchases. That became an adopted habit for about 10 years before I really got to understand why (that will be for a different day and blog).
One other thing that really fascinated me was the notion that successful people are predictable, consistent; or if you like, plain boring. This was not only in the sense of living a principle-centred life and holding unswervingly to their values but that they had fixed routines. You could literally ‘time them’ and ‘assassinate’ them because it was predictable where they would be, when, and what they would be doing literally every day of the week. That’s precisely what I mean by “successful people are boring.” Same. Same. Same. Same.
So I began to adopt strict routine in many areas of my life including consistently waking up at 4am to spend time in scripture and prayer, thinking, reading and writing. And I have done that consistently for over 25 years now. By the time the rest of the world wakes up and gets going, I would’ve had a 2-3 hour headstart and been über productive.
But now I understand why that consistency breeds success. This is in line with a number of fundamental, universal truths, three of which I would like to share here.
1. RIDING THE LAW OF CONSISTENCY
The Law of Consistency, which leads to growth and success states, “Motivation gets you going; discipline keeps you growing.” Anyone who gets a spark of inspiration or motivation overcomes the law of inertia momentarily but really how long does it last? I heard someone complaining about how transient the umph one gets from motivational talks is. A seasoned motivational speaker responded, rather tongue-in-cheek, “Of course! So are breakfast, lunch and supper!” Like meals, morsels of motivation also need to be taken in reasonable doses several times a day (and in a week) to jumpstart us but what really keeps the wheel of success turning always is discipline. Discipline is doing what we need to do even when we don’t feel like it. And that is the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. E.M. Gray was spot on: “The successful person has the habit of doing the things that failures don’t like to do. The successful person doesn’t like to do them either, but his dislike is subordinated to the strength of his purpose.”
Disciple is hard; but what makes it more bearable is having a strong WHY, a strong end in mind. The other thing that makes it more doable is discovering your personality (eg. through the DISC behavioural assessment) and linking how you’re wired (what motivates you naturally) with the act you need/want to be consistent with. So for me, being a high D and loving to be in control, I’m greatly motivated to take charge of my morning knowing fully well that no one would be up to disturb me and I can get stuff I want to do done. You’ve got to a find a way, man, for success lies in our daily routine.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” is famously attributed to Aristotle. What he actually (originally) said was, “As it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.” The essence of both statements is the same. John Maxwell pulls no punches here: “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.” What are you like E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y; what do you do E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y?
2. RIDING THE LAW OF MOMENTUM
People who are consistent with routine don’t waste precious time and energy figuring out every single day what to do with themselves. If you don’t have a menu, for example (my household does), you know by now how much time and energy can be consumed just by the question: what am I going to eat this afternoon? I have spent an hour on that useless exercise before!
Just like Newton’s first law of motion states, every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. What is true in Physics–and we tend to appreciate physical laws much more than the unseen laws of life–is the very thing that makes habits so powerful! “Once you pop, you can’t stop” says the Pringles advert. Success can become a habit; so can failure. In fact, Vince Lombardi once said, “once you learn to quit it becomes a habit.” Let the Law of Momentum
When John Maxwell launched 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth in Atlanta, I was there in person. A privileged few joined him for an intimate lunch session. I couldn’t believe the degree of his consistency when talked about his “daily five.” He said, “Everyday I read, I write, I think, I ask questions, I file.”
“Everyday, John?” we asked?
“EVERYDAY,” he responded.
On your birthday, John?
“EVERYDAY,” was his reply.
“On Christmas Day to0, sir?”
3. HOW GENIUSES ARE MADE
It was my fellow Canadian, Malcom Gladwell, who first brought to my attention in his book Outliers, that 10,000 hours of practice of any skill makes one a genius. Most people, he said, would’ve done 10,000 of practice within 10 years. During an ongoing Growth Mastermind I was almost envious of the surgeon among us who says everyday he operates; e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. Imagine his success in 10 years’ time when because of this consistency he has such gained ingenuity! What worthy thing are you doing everyday? Until you’ve done it consistently for 10 years, don’t give up on success just yet.
Something you are doing EVERYDAY is determining your future. Conversely, something you are not doing EVERYDAY is determining your future also. More often than not, motivation is overrated. Motivation gets you going but discipline keeps you going, keeps you growing. What will you say is your single most consistent practice (everyday) that has brought you where you are in life today? Please share.
Truly, truly, “you must see value in yourself to add value to yourself.” The author of The 15 Laws of Invaluable Growth calls this principle the Law of the Mirror. Author Denis Waitley put it another way: “Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time, and energy needed to develop yourself.” Investment in your personal growth yields interest–not simple but compound interest–and it is a great deception to not significantly invest in yourself under the guise of ‘self-sacrifice’ for others when the real truth is that you do not see significant value in your own self to make that investment in you.
You are of immense value. This is not based on your net worth or network, salary or social status. It has nothing to do with your height or weight and whether or not you are photogenic and have a great social media following. You and I are of immense value simply because we are human, made in the image and likeness of the Great One. Theologians call this notion of being made in the image of God, imago Dei.
When as coaches we speak of adding value to your life, therefore, we are not implying you could be worth more or less as a human being but that you could develop the innate gifts, passions, dreams and personality traits you have to maximise your potential and impact. Many people, sadly, do not realize they are of immense value and worth that investment. They run around all year, every day, adding value to others through the goods and services they produce as workers but don’t make the time or put aside the money to grow themselves. I repeat: it is a great deception to not significantly invest in yourself under the guise of ‘self-sacrifice’ for others when the real truth is that you do not see significant value in your own self to make that investment in you. Not all so-called ‘self-sacrifice’ is actually ‘noble.’ Yes, “you must see value in yourself to add value to yourself.”
CHICKEN OR EGG
So which one comes first? Seeing value in ourselves and so adding value to ourselves or adding value to ourselves first and then beginning to see value in ourselves? John Maxwell says, “It doesn’t matter which occurs first. One feeds the other. What matters is that the cycle of value starts.”
In addition, adding value to others, making a difference in their lives, has been documented to lift our own self-esteem. As Maxwell puts it succinctly, ‘It’s hard to feed bad about yourself when you’re doing something good for someone else.” Under normal circumstances, “adding value to others makes them value you more” also. In fact, another aspect of seeing and appreciating our own worth comes when we add value to others. Hence the value cycle below.
THE REAL CAP AND REAL KICKER
Herculian governments, Machiavellian bosses, helicopter parents (and the list goes on) can all put a ceiling on our potential but by far our own self esteem is the most significant lid on our potential! Psychiatrist and self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden put it succinctly: “No factor is more important in people’s psychological development and motivation than the value judgments they make about themselves.” “It is the lid on your potential,” Maxwell chimes in. “If your desire is a 10 but your self-esteem is a 5, you’ll never perform at the level of a 10. You’ll perform as a 5 or lower. People are never able to outperform their self-image.”
And the real kicker is this: the value we place on ourselves is usually the value others place on us. “If you put small value on yourself,” again says Maxwell, “rest assured the world will not raise the price.” I remember being interviewed for the presidency of a Canadian charity and the board requesting that I move my family from one end of the country to the other (and don’t forget, Canada is the second widest country on earth!). I did not feel that was the best move, literally and figuratively, for my family, our God-given purpose in the city of Montreal and even for my vision of expanding the organization beyond where it had been limited to in 25 years. Knowing my value I said “No, thank you.” I politely but clearly and strongly said to the august board: “If this move is that important to you, then I’m not your man for the job.” Needless to say, they went along with my decision and I had the privilege of serving in the role for eight years.
When I mentioned on social media this notion of how others (and indeed life) will only treat us according to the value we place on ourselves, my childhood friend Samuel in Minnesota, USA reminded me of a classic Jessie B. Rittenhouse poem that succinctly captures this principle:
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is just an employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.
SO WHAT’S YOUR WORTH?
Everyone needs to find the happy middle between being selfless (as if only other people count) and being selfish (as if nobody else counts). If you don’t like what you’re reaping in life then check what you’re sowing. Do you see in yourself the value the Creator does? Do you believe in that value enough to invest in yourself to see grow exponentially, flourish and bless others? For real, there’s a whole wide world waiting to be impacted by you but truly, truly, “you must see value in yourself to add value to yourself.”