Mall of Asia, Race for Life 2015
“Are you going to run with me or run ahead?”, Yasmin asked, throwing me off-guard.
I answered a nano-second too slow.
“You’re going to run ahead aren’t you?” She followed up.
I was still torn, knowing that we would be running slower but I answered, “No, I’ll run with you.”
She smiled. And right there I already won the race.
I was thinking about that moment at the race, and about the adjustment needed when choosing to walk with others in relationship. It’s difficult for me being so used to setting my own objectives and running at my own pace. I’ve realized that I have in many ways become an efficiently selfish guy. Which I never realized being single, because the ability to mark objectives, fix your schedule, and discipline yourself towards those objectives is seen as a strength, and it is. But being in a relationship introduces a new dynamic to my day, and it’s no longer “How am I going to maximize today?” but “How are we, Yasmin and I, going to make something beautiful?”
Working as a team is harder than it sounds because it’s not simply about agreeing to pray together or sharing your dreams. It’s an uncomfortable process of learning to change your rhythm or lack of rhythm and calibrating to run at a pace you both can sustain. In many ways for me it means speeding up, particularly my maturity and learning to communicate with a female better. (Which probably means I should stop referring to ladies as females.) But it also means slowing down. It means not just running around and be content to share things on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, but learning to put things down, call her on the phone, and say things like “How was your day?” or give a more detailed account to my day than “It was ok.” That might sound funny given that I’m a writer with over a thousand posts floating around, but as Yasmin has figured out by now, I’m not actually that great at communicating on the spot, that my posts are not the product of some communications expert but a process, a long one, of reflection and draft after draft. But I don’t get draft after draft with Yasmin. No guy gets a “save as draft” when communicating with their lady. We only get “published”. And I need to learn how to do that right if I’m to make something beautiful with Yasmin.
“Woah! Look at him!”, Yasmin pointed at a lean-muscled African runner speeding past, already on his way back, much much ahead of all the other runners. “Now he’s fast!”
And he really was. I have to admit to the insecurity of my heart, as my first thoughts were, “I could be running faster than I am now but I have to run at your pace. I’m faster than this.” I felt a tug-of-war within me. One side wanting to run ahead, push my capabilities, and see how well I could perform, and the other thinking about my commitment to run WITH Yasmin, not ahead of her. In hindsight, no one really cares about my time. It’s not like I’m a pro-runner or some sort of celeb. The only person who really cared about my time is… drumroll… ME. I think part of maturing in a relationship is going from wanting to be impressive to your partner to just being there with your partner through everything. That’s more mundane but not because it’s unimportant, it is, like many of the most important things in life, fundamental.
“If you want to run ahead, you can.” Yasmin said, reading my mind. “I can see it in your face.”
I looked at her and resolved to stop considering running ahead. I replied, “No we’re running together. And I’m going to pull you if I have to. We’re not going to stop until we finish.”
And that’s what I did. I took her hand, running a few steps ahead I pulled her to run a bit faster than what we were doing. Yasmin laughed, “You’re so competitive.” And I am, but I realize now that the competition wasn’t about me trying to win a race I never would have won anyway. The real fight was between me and myself. Would I let my personal desire to clock-in a better time beat my greater desire of finishing with Yasmin? I silently told the selfish part of me what I tell everything and everyone I compete with: “I’m going to beat you.” Then I pointed at a couple running ahead of us, “There’s our target. Let’s finish before them. Let’s go!” Yasmin just kept laughing.
I think there’s an extreme that’s quite prevalent in Philippine society, that what’s important is that we all get along in relationship regardless of our performance. That’s a loser’s mentality. And when we gather a bunch of people who think that way, we end up with a bunch of losers. Yes, relationships matter, but performance matters too. Yes, enjoying a party together matters, but waking up early, being responsible, and being highly successful at your calling matters too.
Here’s why: To say that you love someone means that you’re giving them your best. If your best sucks, then what your loved one will get won’t be amazing. If I say that I love someone but won’t push myself, discipline myself, fight my feelings, fight my laziness, fight my fears, fight my selfishness, to be amazing for that person then maybe I need to rethink about what I understand is love. It means I’m ok that the people I love don’t get something amazing.
I’ve realized that to love someone means that the thought of them having less than amazing is more painful to me than the pain of the effort and sacrifice of giving my very best.
And if the pain of the effort and sacrifice is greater than the pain of knowing the person you love will have less, we should really check out hearts.
This is why we need leaders who run ahead. People who say “Don’t settle! Fight!” But we need leaders who’ll take our hand even as they run ahead, reminding us that “Yes, we’re not going to settle, but you’re more important than the goal, to run with you is the goal, and when we achieve greater goals together we will enjoy greater fruits! Let’s pick up the pace!”
Many times Yasmin runs ahead of me. Especially in the area of patience, kindness, and gentleness, which are all part of the Fruit of the Spirit, and just as crucial as self-control (discipline) and faith. It’s also an adjustment for her to see how slow I am at that race, and I appreciate it when she runs ahead, exhibiting more patience than I do, showing kindness when I’m unkind, and being gentle when I my temper starts flaring. But I appreciate it more that she does all of those things not to show me how much better she is, but to be the partner pulling me to perform better in areas I’ve done poorly in. I’m happy that she doesn’t go down to my level of impatience or to my level of unkindness. That would be settling for less. In this race to have more of the Fruit of the Spirit, she doesn’t slow down because I’m slow, she pulls me forward.
Sometimes we run ahead of our partners and the people who follow us, and forget to stay linked. We forget that being good or smart or strategic or creative or kind or full of faith or brave or to have any talent or skill, is for us to run at an excellent standard YET stay linked, with arms stretched backwards, pull people to a higher standard. Sometimes, we stay linked at a low standard and we wonder why life doesn’t seem to be getting better or why things aren’t improving. It’s because we’ve settled together and have forgotten to grow together.
There was a part of the race where Yasmin’s knee started to hurt and instead of stopping, I went behind her and pushed her. Every time she felt like stopping, I would place a hand behind her and push her gently. A friend of mine who saw me, joked, “David! Slave Driver!” We laughed. Yasmin, told me, “Don’t stop. It helps. I want to finish without stopping.”
To make a long story short we finished. It wasn’t my best time, but it was OUR best time. Come to think of it, this was the most fun I’ve had in a race, so I did have my best time. And to see the look of accomplishment on Yasmin’s face after, to know that we didn’t stop, and to know that we finished together is priceless.
I guess here’s the lesson I would like to share: In this race of life, and maybe race isn’t the best analogy, so let me change it, in the journey of life, whether we’re building a family, a business, a community, or whatever, sometimes we need to run ahead. We need to set a high standard and not allow people to settle. Mediocrity is evil. It is selfish. It is an attitude that fails to understand that to love God and love others means to say “the pain of knowing you don’t have my best is worse than the pain of giving you my best.” But sometimes we have to go behind, pushing people forward even if it means we lag for a bit, but communicating that “You’re more than your performance, you’re my partner. And you better ante up because I’m going to push you.”
I’ve learned that being a leader, and we’re all called to lead amazing lives, requires the wisdom to know when to run ahead and when to run behind. But I’ve also seen that in a highly democratized world, where the Internet has given us access to information, perspective, and the power to influence others from our vantage points, a key skill for leaders will be our ability to run beside others. In a world of a million influences, it’s not the leader who says “Look at me. Follow me.” who will change the world. It’s the leader who says, “Run with me. Train with me. Fight with me.” who will succeed. To develop people means that someday they’re running beside you, not behind you. To help the poor means that we’re restoring equity, not simply giving handouts. To educate others means that they someday can contribute to intelligent solutions not merely learn to appreciate the brains of another. To raise mature people means that someday they’re not dependent on you or others. They’re able to carry their own weight.
Maybe we should also judge our leaders differently, not asking “Are they great?” but “Do they make others great?”
I truly believe that the leaders who desire to run with others will beat the performance of those who just simply run ahead of everyone. It’s the sustainable to path to grow. It’s also the more enjoyable way to live.
In the journey of life, if we are to thrive, sometimes, we must run ahead, setting an example, pulling people forward, and not letting them settle. Sometimes, we must run behind, giving people a strong base to push forward. And for this new world of highly empowered individuals, we must learn to run beside, influencing more than ordering, coaching more than commanding. And no matter where we are, ahead, behind, beside, we must always run in the same direction – together.
One of the most rewarding things about work is developing people. While I believe that financial rewards are important (people have to survive and thrive), fulfilling a shared purpose is a greater reward for a successful career. This being said, it isn’t easy to develop people. Development is not something we command out of people (unless your in the military maybe). When dealing with more creative and intelligent people, you need to be able to appeal not just to the strength of positional authority but the mind and heart as well, which Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership.
A level 5 leader has the qualities of the first 4 levels he identified, which are: Highly Capable Individual (able to do job), Contributing Team Member (helps team succeed), Competent Manager (organize groups to achieve specific goals), and Effective Leader (able to galvanize group to achieve a great vision), PLUS a unique blend of will and humility that’s necessary to truly be great. There are a lot of people with strong wills and a lot of people with humility but it’s the rare blending of these two that in a person who has the capabilities and management skills that make level 5 leaders rare.
My honest assessment of myself after reading about this concept was: NEEDS GREAT AND IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT. Since then I have been looking for new ways to lead and achieve, that not only get things done, but also develops the necessary trait of humility in me.
I came up with the following framework to explain the importance of personal humility, it’s logic, and benefit to the teams I work with. It’s not original in the sense that I draw from things other people have taught me. One of the benefits of not being brilliant is that I’ve had to develop ways to simplify things in order to make sense of anything. I just couldn’t understand stuff as quickly, as deeply, or as broadly as others. I needed it in a simple format just like I needed lines on the sheets I wrote on. This has actually becoming sort of a strength, the ability to make an idea simple enough to understand and execute, and has been beneficial for working with others effectively.
Let me take you through it:
1. Let’s start with a PROBLEM.
Problems are opportunities in disguise. Knowing this, our job shouldn’t be to avoid problems but to wisely uncover them for the gem they’re hiding.
2. Problems have 2 common causes: Lack of Clarity of Objective and Incompetence
– LACK OF CLARITY OF OBJECTIVE
What’s the goal? What’s our purpose? Why are we doing this? These are some questions that need to be answered in order to align on an objective. Many of our problems are caused by a disagreement in objectives or a miscommunication of the objectives. Having different objectives, even if it’s by mistake, will lead to a gap between results and expectations. Failed expectations cause problems.
Are we capable of achieving the objective? Setting an objective is one thing. Setting the right objective is another. Achieving the set objective is a completely different thing. Setting a goal is important but having the abilities, resources, and intelligence to make it happen, and actually making it happen are critical. Many problems arise not from not knowing what to do but from not being able to do what we know we should.
3. Let’s start with Lack of Clarity. We’re left with a few options:
– I need to change (in this case, I need a clearer picture of the objective)
– They need to change (they need a clearer picture of the objective)
– We both need to change (we need a clearer picture of the objective)
4. If we choose the 3rd option (We need to change), we’re back with options 1 and 2.
5. Whether we choose “I” or “They”, we’re left with 2 options: “Change” or “Don’t “Change”.
4. If we choose “Don’t Change” we’re left with the following options:
– I suffer. (Because the problem hasn’t been addressed)
– They suffer. (Again, because the problem hasn’t been addressed)
– I let go. (Meaning I leave the company, the group, or the situation that’s in a problem)
– They let go. (Meaning they leave or they let me go)
6. Choosing the options that include “Let Go” can only lead to the end of the engagement or a dead end. Choosing the option of “Suffer” leads us back to problems.
7. Choosing problems leads us back to the start of our decision-making process.
8. But if we choose to change, and we can truly only change ourselves, we improve and this leads to progress.
9. The process is the same for problems stemming from incompetence.
This simple way of tracing the decisions and end-results shows us that having an attitude that is willing to improve is important for progress.
Why would anyone not want to progress? I don’t think it’s so much the idea of progress that people don’t like but the risk of not benefitting from it that holds us back. This is selfish and stems from our own self-importance, which is simply pride. When we put our interests first, particularly our own validation and security, we will inevitably cause the roadblocks that prevent the success of others and ultimately our own success. If everyone has to change but we don’t then the people who keep progressing will outgrow us. If no one progresses in the organization then competition and modernization will beat us. But if we set an example of true humility that constantly learns, grows, stays open, and isn’t defensive, the hope of progress remains alive.
This is why, along with empathy and grit, I’m adding humility to the list of most important traits of a great leader. There’s just no way to progress without it during our tenures and beyond.
Humility is a highly logical assurance for never stagnating and never becoming obsolete.
4 Things that are important to teach kids (and many adults):
1. Every thing has a cost – Every thing has a time, money, and energy cost, and when anything comes to be it is because someone paid the cost. If we get something free that means someone paid the cost for us. Too many people appreciate the cost payers too little because no one ever taught them to appreciate the reality of costs. The best way to teach people how to take things for granted is to give them everything they think they want, to bail people out, and be a crutch. Proof of how little we understand this is how we feel entitled to things without considering the cost implication on the person we expect it from.
2. The greater the value the greater the cost – You want a certain lifestyle? It will cost you. Want a certain body? It will cost you. Want a strong spirit? It will require taking up our cross. Even Jesus had to pay a price, the price, for us. You want a certain level of success? It will cost you. You want a certain family? It will cost you. You want a certain business? It will cost you. Want a bigger business? It will cost you more. Even doing good to others will cost you? Building homes for people costs a lot, feeding people, and putting them to school as well. The greater the value of what you want the greater the cost. By the way, inspiration doesn’t pay for anything. You won’t accept play money for a real thing. Inspiration is what helps make us willing to pay the real cost. That’s it. Too many people have a ton of inspiration but have very little to show in terms of accomplishment because they were never taught that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” as Thomas Alva Edison said. I find that most people tend to highly value inspirational things and don’t nearly appreciate enough the contribution of those who perspire most. Proof of this is how we are more impressed with what celebrities (including celebrity pastors and businesspeople) do than we are with what our parents do every single day. We’re so impressed with our superficial knowledge of famous people and so easily resentful of the limitations of those who have been contributing most to us.
3. There are trade offs – There’s only so much money, only so much energy, and only so much time. If we’re pouring in 20% of our resources, then we can only pour 80% into other things. Knowing what’s truly valuable and surrounding yourself with people who value the same things helps you not trade truly valuable things for instant gratification and to be comfortable with losing things for the sake of more valuable things. When we invest in one thing we don’t invest in another. It’s that simple. Because we do not have a disciplined awareness of the trade offs we make decisions that cause us to lose more valuable things.
4. There are seasons – Life is not so much about balance but about recognizing and responding to the seasons of one’s life. During summer you don’t act like it’s winter, and you don’t act like it’s summer in winter. If the winter is longer than normal you don’t curse the sky and go out in a swimsuit. When it rains, for however long it rains, you respond to the rain. If there’s a storm you respond to the storm, for however long it goes. When you’re younger and setting a foundation, pay close attention to working hard and what you’re building. Pay the necessary costs of the season and enjoy the fruit of the season, even if it’s little. This is the wet cement period of your life. Shape yourself because the season will change and the cement will harden your practices into habits and your thoughts to paradigms – for better or worse. Not everyone will be in a the same season. That’s ok. What’s important is to respond to your season. You will find that many things will have to go or change, including people, simply because you’re in different seasons.