Leadership Lesson’s from Hemingway

oldmanHemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is a wonderful story of modern man. Although the story takes place in an underdeveloped Cuban fishing village over a half a century ago, the struggle of a man becoming a hero, enjoying internal satisfaction over monetary reward, is a story to which we all can aspire.

Santiago, an old fisherman, had gone nearly three months without catching a fish. Others spoke of his demise behind his back, and he knew it, though he paid them no mind. He was a fisherman – and he would continue to fish no matter what others may say. That was his lot in life and he enjoyed it. Like King Solomon’s admonition of wisdom, Santiago found satisfaction in his toilsome labor during the few days of the life God has given him… [he was wise enough] to accept his lot in life and be happy in his work – for this is a gift of God .

Santiago refused to be haunted by his past, both his failures and especially his successes. Living up to memories can be a daunting thing and recapturing the elation of earlier victories becomes more and more unlikely as time further separates us from the glory days. Like Santiago, whose old and overly- repaired sail “looked like the flag of permanent defeat,” we are often overwhelmed, discouraged, and tired.

But one day, like Santiago, we rise up early in the morning with enthusiasm and valor, the source of which we cannot explain, and set sail for our greatest victory yet!

You may be setting out on that journey now.

You may have been tired, exhausted, and weary of pessimists. But you won’t give up. Why? Because you, like St. Paul continue to earnestly proclaim, to this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.

Santiago fought for 3 days and nights until the great marlin finally gave into his steady determination. He tied the giant carcass to the side of his small boat and headed home with his prize. On the way back, after the battle was over (or so we thought) a new war raged as sharks began to attack his prize, carving away his profit with every bite of flesh they tore away. At first Santiago would calculate in his head how much money he was losing by estimating the pounds of meat being torn away from the fish. Soon, however, a greater fear emerged. He may not make it back it all. Or even worse yet, he may make it back, but without the fish. He can’t return without his trophy! Not after what he’s been through! After all, can a hero really be a hero if no one knows about his victory?

When it was all over and the crowd had gathered around his skiff to gawk at the nose and tail attached only by a stripped skeleton, Santiago had collapsed with exhaustion in his shack, having lost all of his profits – there was no meat left to sell. We still smile though. We smile with admiration and respect for the hero, but mostly for the great relief we feel now that others knew of his victory. He succeeded after all. Oh sure, he made no money, but that wasn’t the point. It never was. He had won – and that was all that mattered. The prize was the victory itself, not the reward, not the spoils, not the money.

It’s not about the money; it’s about the meaning!

We read the last few pages of the book with a lump in our throat, thinking that we would give anything if we could just pull off something like that ourselves. We don’t give a thought about the money; we want the meaning. We want the personal glory for overcoming insurmountable odds and defeating every enemy, especially the unexpected ones like the sharks, whatever they may look like today.

Your sharks might take your money but they’ll never take your meaning. Don’t give up. See to it that you fulfill whatever cause God has given you.

NEXT WEEK:  “COURAGE: Fuel from the fire of failure”


Now What? Life after a job loss, part two

If you have been laid off or are facing a possible career transition, keep four simple things in mind:

mentoringIMAGINE: Because of the amount of time after this transition, you need to understand how important it is. You have an opportunity to make a serious shift in your life. This should not be frightening or overwhelming, but instead invigorating and exciting. Think about it. You have a chance to undergo a dramatic transformation. You get to start over so take the time to dream! What do you really enjoy doing and is there a way you can make a living doing it?

INQUIRE: Networking, which is never out of date, is much more than connecting over lunch or at some after-work mixer. Networking is a time of inquiry. It is a time for questions. It is a time to listen. Now is the time for learning. It is a time to explore industries, organizations, and job functions. Take time to meet with at least one person each week to learn about their careers. What do they enjoy about their jobs? How would you enjoy working in that industry? Spend less time complaining about your job woes and more time listening to them. This is a time to gather information and learn.

INVEST: There are immediate and practical benefits to additional training in addition to better employability. Learning increases a person’s confidence and self esteem. Spend a little time and money gaining new skills and new knowledge. An extended vocabulary is critical while exploring new career opportunities so consider learning in new areas or at least areas unrelated to your previous positions.

INVENT: Half of all the jobs that will be filled ten years from now don’t even exist today. This is an opportunity to create something completely new so examine your true motivation. What gets you excited? Most likely when you began your career, you were more motivated by money than anything else. But now, times have changed. Your motivation has deeper meaning. You no longer seek profit, but rather purpose.

In “Mid-Career Changes” Shingleton & Anderson suggest that our definition of success changes. True success is much more than financial gain. We also work for the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings, the social contacts it generates, and the opportunities that unfold. It often fulfills the need to create, develop, and implement plans by which we can be measured.

How do you want to be measured? Invent your own measuring stick if the old one doesn’t fit anymore. There is an interesting exercise that I often encourage people to try: How would you like to be introduced at a social gathering? Your “title” should reflect both who you are and what you do (a topic for another article). As you try on new possibilities, imagine the various introductions. “Hi, this is Andrew Stenhouse. He is a professor of Organizational Psychology.” (I love that one!)

Try on several titles and I guarantee that when you hit the right one, you will feel it in your soul. Now, remember that it’s not really about the title. It’s about the purpose – living out your vocation, or calling – doing what you believe you were meant to do. A title merely provides the context for the vision.

Career moves are hard, no matter how you look at it. The key is to treat the transition as the golden opportunity that it is. It is a time to dream, a time for new beginnings, a time for a fulfilling purpose. 

– Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
– Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.
– Anyone who keeps learning stays young.
– The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. (Henry Ford)

(NEXT WEEK: Leadership lessons from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea)

Now What? Life after a job loss, part one

job lossNow what? Her hands were shaking as her eyes filled up beyond capacity.  “I can’t afford to be out of work. I have responsibilities. I have rent. I have children!

“I understand,” I calmly replied. I felt so bad. I felt so useless.There was absolutely nothing I could say that would help this woman feel better about losing her job. Nevertheless I persisted.

“Everything will work out fine.”

That was it? That was all I could say and for this I was actually getting paid? Everything will work out fine?

She had been laid off from a large pharmaceutical company after nearly 20 years in management and was absolutely devastated. Still, we went on to talk and slowly a sense of calm emerged as we set up our schedule and established a short-term plan of action. We met several times over the next few weeks and Connie began to sense excitement and enthusiasm as she started to imagine the possibilities.

By the time we had our last meeting, she was a different person. “Getting laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me. I never would have taken the chance on my own.” (She decided to finish her college degree and enter an entirely new line of work – less money and pressure, but more satisfaction and freedom.)

I can’t count the number of times I have had this sort of conversation with people who have been terminated. However, getting to this point is not easy. The pain and anguish of getting laid off and conducting a career transition can be excruciating. It is one of the most devastating things imaginable.

In his book, Reinventing Your Career, Stephan Adams admits that losing a job is hard not to take personally. It feels like a personal rejection. Sometimes that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there either. There’s generally plenty more rejection in store for the average job prospector before she finds her pot of gold.

Richard Hanscom puts it this way: “Finding a job is the toughest work you will ever find. You will find rejection constantly.”

So what do you do if you’re facing unemployment? First of all, realize that it is not the end of your life. In fact, it could actually be the beginning of something new, something better than what you had. So don’t panic! Step back and put your life into perspective by looking at your life as a timeline.

time line

If the above line represents your life, the tiny space between the two marks represents this time of transition. Notice how much has transpired before now and notice how much is likely to transpire afterward. This transition is merely a tiny dip in a very long road. The best is yet to come!

(NEXT WEEK: NOW WHAT? Life after a job loss, part two: “If you have been laid off or are facing a possible career transition, keep in mind four simple things…”)

RELATIONS: The Starting Line for High Performance Teams, part three


A great benefit of team accomplishment is the heightened team confidence that follows.

I think the reason that confidence is greater in a group is that a team sustains pride longer than individuals can through its perpetuating legends.  Face it, when we enjoy success individually we begin to doubt ourselves and eventually suspect that we just got lucky and eventually doubt if we could ever do it again. It is harder to experience that spiral of doubt in a group because team members tend to perpetuate the accomplishment by reinforcing it through story telling.


When people feel that they are good at something they are more prone to try new things.  Their confidence is greater and so is their enthusiasm.  Teams are no different.  People (individually) and teams (collectively) are more enthusiastic when confidence is high. Enthusiasm is a contagious optimism that opens doors of opportunity for organizations as well as individuals. Perhaps the most telling evidence of a team’s level of enthusiasm is its eagerness to embrace new challenges. “We did it before and we can do it again…only better this time!”


Team members who win in today’s organizational race have the ability to work with a team and create change. They are constantly working to enhance the relations with their colleagues.  These enthusiastic team players make an immediate contribution to the whole organization and are committed to the ideal that if the team doesn’t win, no one does. They accomplish great things with their teams and are open to change, not stuck in the trenches of habit and predictable patterns based solely on history. They are confident in their future because they understand and appreciate their history.  Team members are enthusiastic because their confidence is based on genuine accomplishment that is shared by a team with which they continually and intentionally optimize their relations.

RELATIONS: The Starting Line for High Performance Teams, part two


The starting line for teamwork is the relations among the members. I am not suggesting by this that people are expected to see each other socially outside of work or even that they like one another (although this often occurs as a result over time). I am referring to efficient work relations, not necessarily personal friendships. Teams with good working relations operate with a collaborative interdependent exchange based upon mutual trust, respect, and commitment to the organizational mission and team objectives.

These members know that others have skills and insights which are unique and that add value to the team. These members also realize that they themselves contribute in unique ways. They trust each other because they understand that all members are committed to the task at hand and are not out to satisfy their own personal agendas. Concentrating on relations first causes a chain reaction of high performance.


The sense of accomplishment is always greater in a group than it is individually. If you have ever participated in an individual team sport you know exactly what I mean. Wrestling, tennis, track, and swimming are all examples of individual team sports. Individuals compete, win or lose, based on their own performance. The team score is predicated on the collective individual scores.  An individual could have won all of his or her matches, while the team lost.

As a high school wrestler, I remember the joy of accomplishment being so much greater when the team won. While I won every one of my league matches, the bus rides home on the days the team lost were pretty quiet with no real celebration. However, the days the team won, I celebrated enthusiastically. My team won! The sense of accomplishment is always greater when the team wins. Organizational teams are just the same. It is simply impossible to experience that type of accomplishment alone.

RELATIONS: The Starting Line for High Performance Teams, part one

Team 1“Which is more important; relationships or tasks?” The seasoned students, familiar with Hersey & Blanchard,  Fred Fiedler, and others, will confidently respond, “it depends on the situation.”

And that, of course, is a good answer. Still, I probe further. “Sure, we need to do both. But which is most important?” After a lively debate across the aisle of the classroom I finally offer my opinion.

We must focus more on the relations because it is the most difficult thing we do.

Most employees are good at their job. (Otherwise we wouldn’t hire them, right?)  Their technical competence is why they’re employed – they have skill. The problem is that when they go to workother people are there. And they screw everything up.

The challenge is usually not task or technical competency, but relational competency.

Over the years, I have watched teams develop into driving forces with fully devoted members who are absolutely committed to their objectives and are completely aware of their interdependence on one another. I have observed these highly functioning teams pass through the stages of orientation, conflict, emergence, and now operate at an optimum level of high performance. These teams have technical competency but what’s more is they have a high level of relational competency.

This high functioning teamwork first begins with a deliberate initial focus on the relations among members. Then the phenomenon is set in motion that heightens the sense of accomplishment; increases the collective level of confidence, and sustains a great intensity of enthusiasm.

The R.A.C.E. begins…