By Leo Bottary, Founder, Peernovation and Co-Founder, The One Advantage
During a recent business trip, I spoke at a retreat for two Vistage groups in Medora, North Dakota. It’s not only a beautiful and historically rich part of the state but also about a 30-minute drive to Wibaux, Montana. This proximity was significant for me because, until the other day, I had visited 48 of the 50 U.S. states, with just two left to cross off my list. You guessed it – North Dakota and Montana.
As I sat at a restaurant in Wibaux, enjoying a local Irish Crème Ale from Beaver Creek Brewery, I reflected on all the fantastic experiences I’ve had and how grateful I am for the diversity of the people and places that enrich our lives. It’s the kind of reflection you can have at any time, and if you do, you’re likely to rediscover the power of love in leadership.
My Journey of Appreciation
I had never traveled outside New England before visiting Jacksonville University (J.U.), where I would attend college shortly after that. So when I arrived on campus, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to what I knew from living in greater Boston. And to be honest, I had an attitude. For example, the woman in charge of the women’s residence halls back then was on her way to a concert featuring the Jacksonville Symphony. Before she left, I jokingly said, “I hope you enjoy the ‘band’ tonight.”
Having grown up with the Boston Symphony in my backyard, I somehow felt licensed to disparage a perfectly excellent orchestra for a cheap laugh. For the next several years, Boston remained my measuring stick for every place I would ever visit. However, after a great deal of travel upon graduation, I would come to realize the error of my ways. To this day, I love Boston, but there’s something special about every place you go if you’re open to seeing it. Today, I appreciate places for what they are, not for what they aren’t.
Being in Medora and talking to residents and tourists alike, I saw them beam with pride and appreciation about the community, its beauty, amenities, and history. And beam they should. One of these days, I will return to Medora when it’s not part of a business trip, so I can experience everything the area offers.
Extending this Philosophy to People
As leaders of teams, we must look at people in the same way. Who are we to judge or make comparisons? Yet we all do it—to our detriment. While I have made progress (just as I did with places), I want to be as good at appreciating the best in people. The following story, life experiences on the road, and an actual role model are helping me on my people journey.
President Biden tells a story of when he first entered the U.S. Senate, shortly after his 30th birthday. Upon his arrival, he tended only to see the differences between himself and many of his Republican colleagues and quickly developed contentious relationships with those with whom he disagreed. However, Montana Senator and Majority Leader at the time, Mike Mansfield, took Biden under his wing and explained that in the Senate, “We have to work together despite our differences.”
Mansfield told Biden that every Senator was elected by his constituents because those constituents saw something inherently good in that member. He challenged Biden to do the same —to find the good in his Senate colleagues, no matter how vehemently he may disagree with them. Biden followed that advice. Rather than focus on partisan differences, he looked for common ground. By doing so, Biden discovered the good in each of his colleagues. Over time, despite a rough start, he became renowned for his effectiveness at reaching across the aisle.
The story applies to politics, business, and our personal lives. I know that seeking out the best in others works better for all involved. With a great deal of focus, I am getting better at it for three reasons: 1) I know it’s the right thing to do; 2) When I do, I always learn something; and 3) I am married to a woman who is better at this than anyone I know, and the power of her example guides me every day. Imagine a world where everyone is as good at this as my wife is.
Our life experiences shape our mental models, which can cause us to jump to conclusions, render us more judgmental, and impede our ability to keep an open mind about people, places, and life. For example, when was the last time you didn’t get the job you thought you wanted or failed to receive the promotion you believe you deserved? The chances are good that you were pretty upset at the time. Years later, however, you can see that the job or promotion you thought you wanted so badly put you on a different path that shaped your life in ways you could never have imagined. If not for what I once regarded as failures and setbacks over the years, I would never have met my incredible wife nor do the work I enjoy so profoundly today.
Amor Fati is the love of fate. The more we can embrace the places we visit, the people we meet, and the lives we live, the more likely we will make a positive difference in the world during the relatively short time we are here. Authors of The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, will tell you that leadership is about love. So let’s harness that love to inspire a new level of appreciation in our colleagues, companies, and communities. Start by embracing it as the right thing to do, learn from your positive experiences, and find a role model to guide you.
Amor North Dakota and Montana.