What do Scottish kilts, machine gun ammunition, cement mixers, graves, and Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress all have in common? They are all purported to be tied to the origins of the expression “the whole nine yards.” I have heard and read emphatic declarations that the real origin is . . . you fill in the blank. According to the New York Times, which ran a story on this topic on December 26, there is no clear answer. (I guess it was a slow news day.) They went on to quote language expert Ben Zimmer, “The phrase is interesting because it’s so mysterious.” Whatever its origin, most people who are fluent in English know what it means. Since its meaning is clear and its origin is so muddled, it is probably a safe.
Every year in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I read Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. It always moves me and forces me to think about life and leadership in a new way. Earlier today as I finished reading it, I began to contemplate my dreams for my life and career. Things have changed so much for me in the past five years, and so have my dreams. Having transformed myself from a corporate executive to an entrepreneur, I dream about how to better serve my clients and grow my business. As an executive coach, writer and speaker, I dream about changing the way people think about leadership. As the father of teenagers, I have begun to dream about my children as adults. These are some of my dreams. They are tightly coupled with my values and principles, and they serve me well. They help me keep my eye on the ball, but how well do they serve those I lead?
“How do we build a culture of accountability in our company?” That was a question one of my executive leadership coaching clients asked me recently. When I asked him what he meant by accountability, he had difficulty fully articulating what accountability meant to him. Finally, he said he wanted people to take ownership of their work and the results they produced. After we spent most of an hour exploring what was missing and what real accountability would look like, he made a bold statement. “The first thing I need to do to build more accountability is to stop talking about what we should do. I need to decide what I am going to do to be more accountable and promote accountability within my team.” It was as if a light came on for him. He realized that while we all want to foster accountability, we can’t. I can. He can. You can. Accountability happens when individuals take ownership, and that starts with individual leaders deciding to make it happen. Although my client had had a major breakthrough, he still had a big question to answer in the coming weeks, “How do I get started?”
What are you thankful for? I am thankful for the opportunity to share my musings with a community committed to growing as leaders. Today I want to explore what it means to be outstanding. So, what is the genesis of outstanding performance? This is a common topic of discussion during many executive coaching sessions. Leaders often look for ways to promote outstanding performance in those they lead. This usually involves leaders trying to understand what distinguishes truly outstanding work from the rest. It also usually involves a desire to understand the spark that leads to outstanding performance. Several weeks ago, I had the honor to be the keynote speaker at the Virginia Jaycees Outstanding Young Virginians Dinner. This event is modeled after the U.S. Jaycees Outstanding Young Americans Award, and both have a long history of celebrating the accomplishments of extraordinary young people.
Last Tuesday, I was working at the polls, and I met a young father who had his son in tow. I remember doing the same thing when my children were little. This father believed that voting was important, and he wanted his son to understand that and to see him taking part in the electoral process. We talked for several minutes, and he said he had to get back to work. He was a restaurant manager, and he wanted to see if anyone who wanted to vote had done so prior to the polls closing. I commented on how great it is for organizations to recognize the importance of voting and give their employees time to exercise this precious right. He laughed and said, “It’s not a corporate policy. It’s mine.” He said he really didn’t have the authority to do things like that, but he felt it was important enough to bend the rules. His rationale made sense to me. All of his employees live within a few miles of the restaurant, and he asked them to vote before or after the lunch /dinner rushes. This act of civic engagement cost him almost nothing, but it meant a lot to his employees.
Watch a short clip about the book: