How will you measure your life?
That was the heading given to an article in the New Straits Times, Friday, August 10, 2012, I was reading over breakfast at the Hilton Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Essentially, the article focused on the importance of evaluating the qualifications and practices of the person conducting the valuation of a property in relation to its location and surroundings, and the planning provisions governing the development of the area. Primarily, because much of the decision-making concerning the property is based on the depth of expertise offered by the valuer.
I contemplated this article having only the previous day finished taking nine leaders through a two-day executive leadership development program called, The Leadership Trajectory Plan (LTP). This program draws together a comprehensive story of each person’s unique leadership journey – what has shaped them, how those characteristics influence their leadership today, and helping them to reflect on the future of their leadership. One of the participants, a Global Chairman and CEO, remarked that “this is the first time my leadership story has ever been captured comprehensively in a single place.”
A key component of the LTP is seeking to align leaders’ motivation, values, and sense of purpose with their organizational, professional and personal goals – it’s not unusual to find these in conflict with each other, and personal strategies need to be developed to resolve them.
However, back to the article. It made me think carefully about how easy it is for us to place a high value on some things more than others, and to trust the judgment of those who determine its value.
While there is no argument some things are more valuable, and costly to pursue, buy or invest in, what often comes into play is the significance of the subjective value attached to it – how it is perceived through the “eyes of the beholder”, or the person seeking to acquire it.
In much the same way the article was presenting a case for investors and companies to engage the services of qualified valuers with extensive experience and expertise, I couldn’t help but think that we – as individuals and leaders – need the wisdom, insight, and objectivity from others who understand where we are in our leadership journey, the direction we want to go, and the values and goals we consider to be of primary importance. As one leader recently commented to me, “some people have read the menu, while others have eaten from it.”
This seems like good, common sense, but it clearly isn’t something we find easy to do.
One Harvard graduate and lecturer, Clayton Christensen, co-authored a book called, How Will You Measure Your Life?
In the introduction Christensen shares a story that reveals the motivation behind the book. Briefly, he describes how after graduation, along with his former classmates, he attended a series of five-year reunions. At the fifth year reunion, there was a big turnout, and “everyone seemed so polished and prosperous.” Everyone thought they were part of something special.
By the tenth reunion, things had changed quite drastically. Some of the classmates didn’t attend, so Christensen decided he would call them. Slowly, he began to put the pieces together.
“Among my classmates were executives at renowned consulting and finance firms like McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs; others were on their way to top spots in Fortune 500 companies; some were already successful, and a few were earning enormous, life-changing amounts of money. Despite such professional accomplishments, however, many of them were clearly unhappy.”
This led Christensen to question what happened between the fifth-year reunion and the ten-year reunion? Why was there so much dissatisfaction? Why were there so many family failures? After all, they all had a great education and it resulted in the careers they had dreamed of years earlier. What changed?
Only a few months back, I experienced this firsthand. I was sitting with a group of high achieving corporate CEOs and executives who shared their stories. From the twelve that were present, five of them had experienced divorce. Their professional success had come at great personal cost, alienating them from the very people who loved them the most. For some, where not enough time had yet lapsed, the pain was still evident. No-one in the group was judging them – there was no need to, as they carried the burden of that themselves.
There is great wisdom in the pages of this book. Every leader and every parent should read it. However let me summarize some key points to whet your appetite:
- There is a big difference between ‘what’ to think and ‘how’ to think
- Many never make it back from the path of compromise
- You can’t have a meaningful conversation about happiness without understanding what makes you tick
- How you allocate your resources, energy and time is where the rubber meets the road
- Businesses and families are similar – we want our managers, and our children to make the right choices each day without requiring constant supervision
In recent articles I looked at the five cultural dimensions identified by Hofstede, and it was fascinating to see two of these dimensions clearly evident in many of my conversations with the group of leaders I was with in Malaysia.
The first related to a leader’s future orientation (having a short-term or long-term orientation), and the second was how perspectives and outcomes centered around the importance of the ‘collective’ society or the shared common good, in contrast to what was considered best for the ‘individual’.
Both of these dimensions are woven throughout the principles shared by Christensen, Allworth, and Dillon, albeit unintentionally, as they encourage the reader to consider the dangers of investing in those activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. Don’t pursue “the trap of marginal thinking” they argue, instead chase the most important investments.
I’m off to Seoul, South Korea, next week. Can’t wait to find a new headline, and perhaps a fresh perspective on leadership!
 “Evaluating valuers”, New Straits Times, Malaysia. Friday, August 10, 2012. 4.
 Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon, eds. How Will You Measure Your Life? Finding Fulfilment Using Lessons From Some of the World’s Greatest Businesses. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
 Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon, eds. How Will You Measure Your Life? 12.
 Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon, eds. How Will You Measure Your Life? 72.
 Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon, eds. How Will You Measure Your Life? 176.