Nobody can predict the future – but we can create it. Think back a few months and consider what has happened in the world and in our country – in your own life and work – that defied all expectations. To name but a few:
• The top construction industry leaders illegally fixed multi-billion state and other contracts
• One of South Africa’s golden boys implicated in a murder charge
• The brutal murder and rape of Anene Booysen was a rude awakening about crime statistics in SA – every four minutes somebody is raped.
• President Zuma blaming apartheid for the violence in our country
• Business leader Patrice Motsepe donating half of his family’s annual earnings to improve the lives of the poor.
We can be astonished, confounded, shocked, stunned, delighted or terrified, but rarely prescient. None of us can predict with certainty the twists and turns our lives will take – life is uncertain and the future is unknown.
In a blog by Tony Schwartz on Harvard Business Review, he redefined greatness. Consider the following qualities: confident vs humble; courageous vs prudent; tenacious vs gentle; honest vs compassionate; decisive vs flexible; deliberate vs spontaneous; strong vs vulnerable.
Which quality do you value more in each pair? Is there any doubt that most of us tend to choose upsides between qualities, valuing one in preference to its opposite? Although most companies value the first mentioned qualities over those noted second?
Many companies build leadership programmes around developing “competencies,” a list of core qualities they expect all their leaders to embody – it’s one size fits all, and the aim is to help people to get up to speed wherever they fall short.
The problem is that the challenge to be great is sometimes oversimplified in a world of relentlessly increasing complexity. Trying to build one’s unique strengths turns out to be just as limited as single-mindedly seeking to overcome liabilities.
Confidence untempered by humility, for example, turns into arrogance. Courage without prudence becomes recklessness. Tenacity unmediated by flexibility congeals into rigidity. Honesty in the absence of compassion is cruelty.
Greatness demands both decisiveness and flexibility, courage and prudence, strength and vulnerability, action and introspection.
The true measure of greatness is our capacity to navigate between our opposites with agility and grace — to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never to stop trying to get better.
Financial markets are out of your control. Customers are out of your control. Competition is of out of your control. Technology changes are out of your control. Most everything is ultimately out of your control – but not your own choices. You can choose to be honest and stand for good. You can choose to be great.
I’ll end with a quote from Marcus Aurelius, the last great Roman Emperor: “A man’s true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examinations, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself about what other may think or say, or whether they do or do not think which he thinks and says and does.”