I recently had the honor of delivering the commencement speech for the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri. It didn’t take long for the thrill of saying yes to my alma mater to turn into the reality of the challenge in front of me: Distill 30 years of experience into the final 12-minute lesson on campus for an amazingly talented group of B-school undergrads.
As I prepared, I kept coming back to a simple question I was asked a while back: “What are you prepared to change?”
Both personally and professionally, this question has helped me find clarity, meaning and opportunity. I have since realized that it comes down to honoring and nurturing three things:courage, relationships and passion.
Oh, the courage I had to have early in my career to simply say yes to larger than life requests. Following a stint as a financial analyst, I accepted my dad’s invitation to join the family business back in St. Louis. A few weeks on the job and my dad tells me he’s acquiring a business in Peoria, Illinois. My assignment is to go “See what we’ve got and figure out how we’re going to pull this all together.”
I remember looking at him incredulously and asking if he had lost his (sweet but possibly overconfident in his daughter) mind. With an impish grin he said, “What’s the worst that can happen? They can’t eat you!”
Then adds seriously, “But if you don’t think you can do it, I guess I’ll have to.” If you know me at all, that is a sure way to get me to accept a challenge.
So, I loaded up my bright blue Delta 88, headed up I-55 and proceeded to pull over twice to throw up. What if they figured out I was a rookie? That I didn’t know what I was doing? Because…well, I didn’t. And I figured that was because I was young and inexperienced.
By the time I arrived, I had decided it was best to just come clean. I let them know how excited we were to be on the same team but confessed this was uncharted territory for me. George, the wise owner, just smiled and said, “You know, this is the first time we’ve done this too. Where do you want to begin?” He was not young or inexperienced. But he was a good, honest leader who showed me this feeling doesn’t end after your 20s. That partnership, and our courage, paved the way for 15 more successful acquisitions.
So, I ask, what are you afraid of? They can’t eat you. Saying yes to the unknown is a muscle that gets stronger each time you use it. Throw up if you must…and step into the discomfort. I’ll let you in on the secret I learned that day: most of us don’t know what we’re doing – and the best leaders say yes anyway.
Fast forward a couple of years and I am a fresh MBA out of Washington University prepping for a big negotiation to acquire a key company. In walks the distinguished CEO of our target company with nothing in his hands but a dark blue, two-pocket dime-store folder. Inside was a single sheet of yellow legal paper with his hand-written list of the dozen items Pat wanted to discuss. How would his team share in the rewards of what had been built? How would they be welcomed into the new structure? How could his group be successful in the new organization?
Then – and only when we could assure him that his team would have a promising future with us – did he turn to his last few items: his economics.
His approach stopped me in my tracks. The economics are last on the agenda…? He had built a huge, successful organization and what mattered most were the relationships he created along the way, the responsibility he felt to those he was privileged to lead.
Don’t get me wrong, Pat knew his business and what made it financially successful – but most importantly, he deeply understood the reason why his business was successful. In the end, true success is measured by the depth of the relationships we create.
After growing and eventually selling our family business, I started my own company based on two priorities: be more present to my children (all three now MU Tigers!) and build on the success we achieved in the family business. My real estate and development business was successful, but it wasn’t my passion. I discovered what I enjoyed most was helping my clients focus on the purpose of their work and then guiding them to build, develop, and align their teams to achieve incredible results.
So, I took a sharp left (starting to see a trend here with the risk-taking?) and embarked on a new path that led me to the BW Leadership Institute, a business aligned with my passion and talents.
To find your passion, look for the signals: When does your skin tingle? When do you lose track of time? When do your head and your heart feel most connected? Take notice and honor what you feel! You’re on the path to finding your purpose – that powerful intersection where your talents and the needs of the world collide. Be fearless in pursuit of that connection.
What are you prepared to change?
- Be courageous. Explore new opportunities, question assumptions, step into the discomfort.
- Build meaningful relationships, not just a network.
- Pursue your passion. You didn’t work this hard and come this far just to get a job. Bring your energy, your talents and your influence to the daily effort of creating a better future.
Oh and – go get ‘em Tigers!