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Refining Our Best Effort

In marketing circles, a “positioning statement” is the single nutshell idea that captures the essence of one’s service to the world.  My favorite example of powerful positioning is that of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles: Nothing stops a bullet like a job.

For roughly 15 years, the message accompanying my name and logo on business cards, email, website and whatnot was ‘a friend to leaders’.  It is a statement born of a quote central to the partnership of the heart that my beloved and I have nurtured since we met in 1974:

A friend is someone who leaves you
with all your freedom intact,
but who, by what he thinks of you,
obliges you to be fully what you are.  
~ J. L’Heureux

Professionally, that’s what I have aspired to be for those I serve, men and women  responsible for the vision of an organization, even an organization of one.

Then, we moved from our farm of 20 years.  This of course instigated the need of a new street address on all my professional communication.  A perfect opportunity, I mused, to reassess every other way I was presenting myself to the world, particularly my website.

Step one was asking Dear, my beloved, and the person whose insight I treasure on every move I make, “What do you think of this friend to leaders statement?  Is it really the essence of what I’m about?”

Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “I’ve never liked it.”

You’d have to appreciate just how close Dear and I are to understand the joy that prompted my howl of delight in response to her remark.  To be the beneficiary of Dear’s wisdom is like an aspiring tennis player whose best friend is Serena Williams.

“I get the friend part,” she said.  “But the term leader means nothing.  It’s just a title.  It doesn’t imply the person has a commitment to understand themselves, or make truly healthy decisions.  Just because someone is a leader doesn’t mean you can help them.

“I’ll tell you what you do for me, “ she continued.  “And I think it’s what you do for lots of people.  You’re the most relentless person I’ve ever met when it comes to focusing on the big picture.  The world could be coming to an end, and you’ll be talking about how the experience is a gift encouraging us to grow our understanding of what’s essential to make healthy choices.  It’s really very helpful.  When I’m wrestling with something, I know that you will always see things from the biggest possible perspective.  And I’m sure just about everyone who enjoys spending time with you would say the same.”

Funny, I’d always felt at a level beyond thought that ‘a friend to leaders’ was pretty good but slightly incomplete.  It had a nice ring.  Yet, while it suggested a benefit, it didn’t actually articulate one that reflected the fundamental service offered.  How could it?  Until my beloved pointed it out, I didn’t truly grasp that service myself.  No big deal.  Life is the continual refinement of what was once our best effort.

I’ve shared this story, and my new positioning statement, with just about every friend and colleague whose path I’ve crossed––all pretty savvy characters––and to a person they agree: I married well.


For a video version of Working Together: Refining Our Best Effort, click here.

I would bet that many of the happiest, wisest and exceptionally accomplished people on earth do nothing but attempt to fail better.

Essay: What Our Resume Will Look Like in Our Next Life