When he started having children, four before he was 34, finances were tight. He was driving a used Dodge Omni, 30 miles each way to work. On the way home on Friday night, if it was a good week, he bought a six-pack of Heineken, and at the end of the bad weeks, he bought a six-pack of Old Style.
Something had to give.
Jim was making less than he needed to support his family and certainly less than his business school friends. The cataclysmic event was when he asked his boss for a raise and learned he was at the top of his pay scale.
This conversation spurred him to look for a new job. At 29, he became the seventeenth employee and one of seven founding partners of a startup management consulting firm with a niche in a recently deregulated industry. Jim knew this industry from his previous dead-end job and was a perfect fit.
Jim loved his new boss and his new company and couldn’t have been happier with his career. While he was making a bit more money, finances were still challenging. Jim remembers the day he was driving his new boss in his rusted out Omni, in 90 degrees with no A/C, and his boss turned to him and said, “You’d look great in a Mercedes.” Indeed, at the time, this seemed a most unlikely prospect.
Yet, a mere eight years later, he was driving a new BMW. The company had grown, gone public, and the seven founding partners, including Jim, would never have to work again.
During those eight years, he traveled three days a week and saw his family very little. So little, in fact, that one night while he was waiting for a taxi to the airport, his youngest asked him, “Daddy are you going home now?”
Jim is the first to say he was lucky. Lucky to have landed in an industry that deregulated, lucky to have met and gone to work for the founder of the new firm, and lucky the sacrifices he had to make were over in a relatively short time.
Yet, the transition from pinching pennies to no financial worries presented its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge was he lost his sense of purpose. He went from his children asking if he even lived there to them asking, “why are you home, daddy?”
It took Jim ten years to rediscover that sense of purpose. He pushed himself into many things, from running an NFP, becoming an investor and unpaid COO for a startup, to a series of partnerships with friends.
One of his favorite stories is a partnership where they were flipping foreclosed homes. When all was said and done, he and his partners made $1.37 each.
Undaunted, after having too much to drink one day, he and some of his partners bought a parcel of land in the Dominican Republic. The plan was to develop the property, and instead, they spent years tied up in legal challenges with various previously unknown entities who held claim to the land.
The truth was the “too much to drink” had itself become a pastime, and Jim realized, much as had realized back when he learned he was at the top of his pay scale, that it was time for a pivot.
During his discovery years, two of Jim’s activities were coaching (baseball and hockey) and serving as a company board member. So when he learned about SCORE and started volunteering there, he realized he could apply all of his experience in a meaningful way to benefit others. Today, in addition to volunteering at SCORE, where he enjoys working with immigrants from all over the world, he is an executive coach working with founders, owners, and CEOs.
Advice for Others
It’s not about money: Initially, I wore my income on my sleeve; I didn’t know any better. I learned that staying genuine, true to myself, and accessing my core humanity is all that matters.
Our life stories are parables: I’ve learned a lot about what not to do. I share my story here in this blog and with my clients, hoping that others can take something from them. Every day is learning, even the bad days. For me, it’s about learning and self-correcting.
How you treat others matters: Not everyone thinks the same, acts the same and is motivated by the same things you are. Today I am incredulous about some of what I have said in the past and work hard today to self-manage.
Communication Matters: I’ve learned that if you want people to join you on a journey, you must share your vision and keep them informed.
Good fences make good neighbors: I’ve learned to set boundaries. I’ve learned without a value exchange, others will not take you seriously. I’ve learned first to think about what I am interested in and good at before saying yes to an opportunity.
Finally, I’ve learned that life is all about being a worthy human being.
Big things often have small beginnings. Lawrence of Arabia
Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. Khalil Gibran
My friend was saying that the second group seemed to lack the intimacy of the first. When we dug deeper and explored the differences between the two, here is what we uncovered.
The first group had been together for a long time and was homogenous. The members were all male, all from the same socio-economic class, and all about the same age. On the other hand, the second group was diverse with gender, race, ethnicity, background, economic class, and other differences.
In a previous blog on this topic, With Diversity Comes Diversity, I share my experience in building diverse teams. What is missing in this previous story are the questions my friend raised, “What was different about the second group? Why didn’t it have the same level of intimacy as the first?”
I believe Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks gave us the answer in his Ted Talk entitled How we can face the future without fear, together. Rabbi Sacks talks about what he calls “the us of identity.” Comparing the monuments of the United States and Britain, he points out that in the United States, we “read” memorials, e.g., the Martin Luther King Memorial has more than a dozen quotes from his speeches. In London, the monuments contain only the names of their famous leaders.
Why the difference? According to Sacks, the difference is because America was from the outset a nation of wave after wave of immigrants. Hence, it had to create an identity by telling a story that we learned in school, read on memorials, and heard repeated in presidential inaugural addresses. Britain, until recently, wasn’t a nation of immigrants, so it could take its identity for granted.
The two groups my friend experienced typify the groups described in With Diversity Comes Diversity. Group One had similar backgrounds, which led to shared interests, and they often agreed on topics; they had an us of identity. Contrast this with Group Two, a diverse group with little, if any, natural common ground, lacking an us of identity.
Intimacy and a feeling of shared destiny, i.e., an us of identity, are essential for building trust and ultimately effectiveness in any group, a business peer group, or a team within a company or a country, in Sack’s opinion.
Research shows that diverse points of view deliver better decisions, and yet, homogeneity is comfortable, easy, and therefore compelling for a leader.
Does this mean we either settle for lower quality decisions, i.e., homogeneity, or get better decisions and have to settle for lower trust?
Is it possible to create intimacy in a diverse group?
I believe the answer to the first question is a resounding no and the answer to the second question is yes. And, the leader of a diverse group must do the hard work. S/he must weave a common story, an us of identity, that team members can rally around. This us identity then becomes the shared destiny that leads to trust and intimacy.
When the leader intentionally creates a diverse team AND weaves a common story, the resulting group will consistently outperform the homogeneous one.
NOTE: I am taking a sabbatical for the month of April. I will be back in early May with my usual Sunday Stories.
Thank you, Bruce Springsteen, for this quote. It seems today that the chorus of “glory days” conversation has increased. Perhaps it is because of Covid-19, or larger than that, a longing for the perceived pace of the past?
My response to this is, the glory days were only golden in retrospect. Every period has had its opportunities and challenges – it is only with hindsight that we see the value of a particular period in history.
Next time you find yourself longing for glory days, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is it specifically that appeals to me about the past period?
- What feels missing in the present?
- What can I create today to give me the same feeling?