I’m stuck on a tweet that surprised me last week: “And just like that, 1970 was fifty years ago.”
In 1970, I was just another kid in the pack, rummaging the bayous of south Texas, glued to my bike from first light to dark, and listening (always) to the Beatles. Abby Road had just dropped, and Come Together was my anthem: “got to be a joker, he just do what he please.” I remember that when we dreamed forward (far into the future for ten year-olds) we’d struggle with the 21st century math (wait, how old will we be in 2020?) …
For each of us, our decades are characterized by special moments: gains and losses; good and not so good; and tests, trials, and tribulations. At times we’ve come through on top of the world … at others we’ve simply survived to stand another day.
Here we are, it’s 2020 – and I believe a special and extraordinary moment – for you, me, our teams, and the firm. New year, new decade, new chances. For my wife Megan and I, this moment is really big. We’re planning together an amazing journey in the roaring twenties – doing big things; reaching and helping more people than we ever dreamed possible; and living our life in color, out loud, and bolder than we dare yet even say.
It’s possible, you know (in moments like these) to make one of two directional mistakes: being either too bold in our dreams and plans, or not bold enough. At least it’s theoretically possible.
But it’s not what I see …
For more than fifteen years now I’ve worked with professionals – super-talented folks who create and deliver amazing outcomes for clients and communities. I’ve collaborated with nearly one hundred firms, and thousands of individuals. I’ve facilitated scores strategic plans, designed and executed leadership development and operations transformation programs, built and implemented new business development systems, and trained hundreds of teams in organizations from small to large, broadly diversified to niche specialist, around the block to around the world. And through all of it, I’ve rediscovered one truth, over and over again …
Almost none of us dreams too bold …
We all have the ability to see things big, but in the workplace it’s different. In the firm we work not alone but with others, and the group as a whole is timid … pragmatic, risk adverse, careful. Opportunity finds the skeptics, naysayers, and let’s-be-realistics. Aspirational results, audacious choices, and leading with the heart – attracts the cynics, the selfish, and the scared. Many in the firm are worried, anxious, defensive, and disengaged. There’s a lot of zero sum posturing around.
True leaders think and act differently – beyond this smallness – to see things more possible, to inspire others to action, and to move the group forward …
“Come together, right now, over me.”
One of our client CEOs encourages his leadership team to ‘jump out of the building, and pack your chute on the way down!” He’s not a crazed, illogical, risk-loving lunatic. He just sees the depth of talent and skill in his team of 800, and concludes that the risk of failure isn’t so great. Without him, this firm would undoubtedly be much smaller, and poorly positioned for success.
A bold vision for the firm isn’t just a line: ‘we want to be a premier firm and a great place to work’ – it’s a shot for the Moon – or for Mars. It’s worth doing, worth chasing, worth risking for. Not problem solving, but problem creating. Pushing the boundaries, stretching the limits, asking for more.
Be unrealistic. Make a difference. Change the world.
The US Moon-shot vision, crystalized by President Kennedy in 1961, laid out this astounding goal, and a dream so big that it demanded both the talents of our smartest and finest, and the unity of an entire nation. The mission was to beat the Russians (not just to the Moon, but to the finish line) and as Kennedy explained, “we choose to go to the Moon … not because it is easy, but because it is hard …”
That’s what we’re after in the firm: consensus, alignment, and deep commitment across the group.
But alignment is elusive in a professional firm, sometimes just a loose confederation of autonomous and decentralized project teams, and where principals sometimes act on their own (even in spite of the rules and boundaries). And yet without this unifying and compelling vision, it’s becoming harder and harder (and ultimately impossible) to do much more – to change, improve, and grow in a rapidly changing and challenging world; to become a great firm standing out in a sea of good ones; and to survive, thrive, and win on the Fast Future road ahead. As declared in Proverbs 29.18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
I don’t believe there has ever been a time more compelling than now – for dreaming big and doing more. There is so, so much to do in the world. Just as it was fifty years ago in 1970, there is turmoil, volatility, and uncertainty all around. The status quo is shifting everywhere (and on everything we know, or think we know). Accelerating change is in, it won’t slow down for us, and it’s here now for good. Staying put, riding the wave, being timid – these too are choices, and they’re not without real risk as well.
So, here’s my promise: in 2020, I will be bold, optimistic, enthusiastic, and engaged. I have big plans, for my practice and for our clients. I’m out to make a difference, to change the world (or at least my little corner of it) for good. ‘I got feet, down below my knees’ – and it’s time to get going.
Ready to do the same? If so, let’s talk … perhaps it’s time for our paths to cross.
“Come together … yeah.”