When I had some medical challenges earlier this year and had to have surgery, I wasn't worried, not at first. I'd put away money for just such a thing. Like a good soldier, I had my surgery, recovered, and went back to work.
It was while I was building my clientele back that I understood for the first time that I had crossed some invisible line. I realized that:
- I do coach my clients, but I can not define myself as simply a coach, not anymore
- I do consult with my clients but I would never want to be classified with the likes of the McKinsey's
- What I do and how I do it is very different than anything that has been tried in the past, and
- I've gone to the very edge of my comfort, that place on the ancient maps that says, "Beyond here th'er be dragons!"
In the midst of this discomforting insight, a family member asked me, "Why? Why do you keep going? You don't have anything to prove. It wouldn't be a failure. Just let it go. Come back to the East Coast. Get a job here, any job."
In an instant, every moment I have ever failed flashed through my head and with brilliant searing clarity, I realized that failure wasn't even possible.
The secret is out. MacGregor, Schein, Csikszentmihalyi, they started it. And these leaders, all have lead the way: Tony Hsieh, John Mackey, Tim Ferriss, George Zimmer, Roxanne Emmerich, Tony Schwartz, Stephen M. Covey, Christine Comaford-Lynch, Keith Ferrazzi, Bill George, Hazel Henderson, Sarano Kelley, Tim Sanders, Casey Sheahan , Vicki Robin, Shai Agassi, Ping Fu, Lance Secretan, Tami Simon, Randy Komisar, Chip Conley, Juanita Brown, Richard Barrett, Lisa Nirell, Srikumar Rao, Bo Burlingham, Bettie Spruill, Paul Spiegelman, Marcia Wieder, Alan Gregerman, Kellie McElhaney, Chester Elton, Monika Broecker, Ari Weinzweig, Ahmed Rahim, Jeff Hayzlett, Simon Sinek, Raj Sisodia.
And me! I have added my piece - Transforming the human side of enterprise is one of the four components of creating sustainability. People, planet, profit and purpose, the quadruple bottom line, all connected.
Failure isn't possible simply because I am in too much good company. But something else nagged at me. Why don't I just quit? And the answer came:
.... because I'm still afraid.
In 1999, I raised my hand timidly at Columbia Business School and asked my professors, "In what class will we learn how to get along with each other and work together?"
Complete silence. Then one of the academic supervisors said, "HR is next semester." Everyone laughed. Except me. I didn't get it. Where were the 'people' people? But, I tucked my head and went back to coloring inside the lines.
It's been twelve years since that day. And I've picked at this scab every day, chipping away at the idea that how people work in a business is just as important if not more important than how the business itself works.
I've heard it said that 'to stand alone and risk looking ridiculous' is the measure of a true leader. Until last Thursday I was uncertain of my leadership status.
At the Boeing Auditorium at the University of Washington, I stood alone and said, "Ten years from now, not a single company or enterprise will exist without a Chief Culture Officer, a Director of Culture, or even simply named, the 'people' people."
I suppose I can quit now.