Ever struggle with balancing ambition and principle? If so, you’re not alone –and here’s how to maintain that balance.
I call it the “Front Porch Question”: What will you reflect on when you’re old and gray and sitting on your front porch looking off at the horizon? We’ll all think a little about our accomplishments, but we’ll think a lot about how we went about achieving those successes.
That’s the difference in living for your resume (or your checkbook) and living for your eulogy, the title of a great TED Talk by David Brooks. Brooks references Joseph Soloveitchik, the Jewish philosopher who feels we all exist in a state of “perpetual self-confrontation between external success and the internal value.”
We’ve all experienced that inner conflict. Is there a way to balance the desire for external validation with the need to stay true to your convictions?
Celia Grimes, Director of Marketing at LaserMax, a high-tech laser manufacturing company, definitely feels there is.
Strong leaders are guided by core ethical principles and a personal code of conduct. Strong leaders believe there are clearly distinguished lines that should not be crossed, rules that should not be broken, and fights that should not be fought.
Those principles don’t limit their success; they actually make success more likely — and more rewarding.
Here are some principles that can hep you balance your drive for success with your personal conviction:
1. When in doubt, go without.
Instinct is a distinctly undervalued source of knowledge. When something doesn’t feel right to me, I accept that it probably isn’t.
Then I ask myself: Is this immoral, unethical or illegal?
If the answer is “maybe,:, the buck stops there and I don’t proceed. And I never ask a member of my staff to do something that would bring them dishonor.
2. Change brings opportunity.
One of my best-loved maxims comes from transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Another important reflection, ostensibly penned by Mark Twain, reminds us that, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
So, if maintaining the status quo is so limiting, why are so many of us afraid of change? Are established paths to predictable outcomes good enough?
While I would never belittle a legacy employee for being locked into a settled practice, I don’t have confidence in doing things a given way just because that is how they were always done. Instead, I tend to ask hard questions and often find myself serving as an agent of change, both within organizations and social groups.
That fact notwithstanding, I do not believe in change simply for its own sake. My goal is to always keep an open mind, but, as Carl Sagan put it, not so open that my brains fall out. That would not be the least bit attractive.
3. Adapt, improvise and overcome.
Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape. I come from a Marine Corps family and, as such, mental agility is a trait that I pride myself on. I candidly revel in my ability to quickly formulate a Plan B, C, D, and beyond.
While we can’t always get our way, we can always find a new way, and we can do so without undermining others.
Dwelling on setbacks serves no one.
4. Recognize that all boats rise together.
Managing marketing teams at small- and mid-sized businesses in an industry I love has been an extraordinary blessing one I am truly thankful for.
One of the things I value most about my work is the incredible network of professional associations I have built. I suspect that one of the reasons my colleagues, vendors, clients, salesmen, and artists say that they like working with me is because I genuinely regard them as friends and peers. I think of us as a team of avengers, each with our own superpower, and endeavor to cultivate our successes together. Consequently, I am not the buyer who will engage in the blind pursuit of profitability, fleecing vendors and negotiating contract employees into performing services below market value.
If a business arrangement, agreement or collaboration is not an equally “great deal” for the company I represent and a “great deal” for the person I am partnering with, I’d really rather not do it.
5. Don’t overthink.
Overthinking is a special form of fear that causes us to identify problems that do not exist.
Although creativity is driven by being fully awake, as Ray Bradbury so aptly put it, “Thinking is the enemy of creativity…You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
I feel much safer faced with a blank sheet of paper than a file cabinet filled with arbitrary guidelines.
6. Be honest.
Honesty is one of my key operating principles and I admit that this disqualifies me from serving as a “yes-man.”
Since I am paid for my opinions, I tend to not keep them to myself. I can think of several instances where my blunt testimony has immediately silenced a room full of senior staff.
Honesty is not always easy or comfortable, but I sleep better knowing that I have not only done my due diligence but also shared the results.
7. Inspire quality collaboration.
Over the course of my career I have had the good fortune of managing remarkable professionals, but I also pride myself on inspiring fellowship and collaboration across cross-functional teams.So often, I have found, achieving exceptional results hinges on the participation of stakeholders who do not report to me.
Why do they lend their assistance? Perhaps it’s because I highly value their contributions and make sure that they know it.
Or maybe it’s just because I don’t treat them like dirt! To quote Jello Biafra, “It’s so easy not to base your life on how much you can scam.”
8. Never accept defeat.
It is a truism that we cannot “fail” at something unless we stop trying. I don’t know about you, but I am energized by successes that are hard won. I view insoluble problems much as I do extraterrestrial lifeforms–while I admit that they may exist, I have never seen one personally.
This perspective is contagious, by the way. Believe you can and you’re half way there.
9. Maintain a winning attitude.
A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of acquiescing that your circumstances have power over you. Since our attitude and the way we respond to adversity are one of the only things we are in complete control of, it boggles the mind to see so many people give that away without a fight.
10. Be a leader. No, really!
John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” The best part? The “others” don’t have to report to you.
Leadership is action, not position. We all have sparks of greatness within us that are poised to ignite. Fan the flame you see in the people around you and you’ll both benefit from its warmth and radiance.
While I take pride in adding accomplishments to my resume as much as the next gal, I care far more about being remembered for deeper virtues. As individuals, our capacity to make a lasting impact in the lives of others is as limitless as our days are numbered; we have only to seize the opportunity to act on conscience and inspire others in meaningful ways.
What’s more, by balancing business with conviction, we take significant strides toward settling the score between our dueling natures.
This article first appeared on inc.com