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.