I recently won a quinella. What’s that? For those without any interest in horse racing in simple

terms it’s a double gift, a first and a second but both of equal value at the end of the day.

My gift came in the form of two reflective pieces of journalism – one of them about an Australia CEO

written by Australian newspaper columnist John Durrie. The other was titled “The Moral Bucket

List”, a beautiful ode to finding a life of character written by the New York Times (David Brooks).

Both these thoughtful narratives on life and leadership shared a simple but existential truth about

happiness and contentment and both were based on stories of very real people.

 

For David Brooks, the important life stories recounted concerned a thing he calls “the virtues” of

which he thinks there are two main kinds; the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume

virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace, the eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked

about at your funeral – were you kind, brave, honest or faithful?

I won’t attempt to paraphrase all of David Brooks’ musings but here is just a taste – “we all know that

the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume ones. But our culture and our educational

system spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the

qualities you need for the inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than

on how to build inner character”. For Brooks, wonderful people are made not born and after

contemplating a host of great leaders and humane contributors, he arrived at the very simple but

profound conclusion – that the things wonderful people did are more likely to come about through

a deep understanding of the stories of their respective lives than the accolades, adulation and

critique that comes from the external world. He called this understanding “the moral bucket list”.

 

In John Durrie’s piece on APA CEO Mick McCormick, similar reflections are explored. Mick it seems

grew up in the sugar cane fields of Queensland where very early in life he learnt some valuable

lessons on how even as a young man he could make a big contribution by delivering on some very

small things. “Picking up the sticks” involved a very basic story told initially through the eyes of a

boy and his hard bitten father and how everyone in a family, a team and even a large enterprise

need to believe in the importance of active participation in the work of the team. In Mick’s case, the

proposition was a simple one, “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”. The important thing here is not

the moral obligation for work, even Lenin’s Communist Manifesto contains this same exhortation.

Rather the message concerns the importance of a belief that it’s what you do that is truly

important, that it matters. Mick McCormick in his role of CEO today appreciates the importance of

this small life story and how it enables him to draw a picture for others about how having a real

sense of participation is critical for building a sense of purpose for APA leaders. When your team

knows where your drivers come from, it’s much easier for them to appreciate the basis of your

strategies and priorities including the difficult decisions you make and the way you chose to

celebrate your successes.

 

Back to the Moral Bucket List. It doesn’t really matter where you draw your bucket list from, it

might be the Bible or the Qur’an or it might even be Don Bradman or your Mum but a similar place

holder for life can be drawn by recognising how the stories of your life can shape the things that

you do, the points of view you hold and how at some time you might just make a small mark on

the world. You might care to start your own moral bucket list. I’ve started my own and so far it’s

only small comprised of one or two thoughts but there’s plenty of time to add to it. It starts with a

long held belief in the benefit of surrounding yourself with lots of people but at the same time

being really selective about the people with whom you elect to share your journey. It’s really a very

simple proposition, some things and some people nourish us and some just don’t, they deplete us.

Spend more time with the “nourishers” and far less with the “depleters”. Be open to explore but

quickly cut the things that sap your spirit and energy. When you find the things that nourish you,

jump headlong in, take some risks as your source of nourishment will find a way through the

difficulties and above all, be really grateful for your discovery. Sometimes it can take nearly a

lifetime to make this discovery!

 

There is a Yiddish saying “give while the blood is still warm”. I think that while this possibly refers

to tales of Jewish families and inheritance, it can equally apply to all of us in the important

responsibility and privilege of sharing our knowledge, skills and stories. Too often we hear and

read reports of retired leaders in sport, politics and business tearfully saying “it’s now time to give

something back”. Well I tend to think… what took you so long? Why not start the giving back nice

and early. Look for ways to share what you know and make your focus one of lifelong teaching and

development. One trick to having a focus on development involves understanding the important

conditions for human learning and development to occur. The US-based leadership experts PDI

framed this quite nicely by conceptualising a pipeline of development. First, when seeking to assist

someone in their development, help them to appreciate what it is that they truly want to develop,

next explore with them their underling motivators (intrinsic motivators), teach some new skills, give

them a chance to practice these new skills and above all hold them accountable for applying these

new skills or knowledge. If, in your development focus with others you attend to all parts of this

pipeline, success will likely come. Ignore any one part of this pipeline and the development journey

becomes a lot harder. When you focus and apply all five pieces of this pipeline you may be surprised

to see just how quickly your development messages are able to be heard and even more

importantly, they are able to be acted upon.

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