Of all the great advice that my father gave each of his seven children, “Never Eliminate Yourself” has been the most valuable. I don’t know if he made it up or picked it up, but the wisdom in his words remains as relevant for seasoned leaders today as it is for teenagers just finding their sea legs.
Vince Doyle was a sports broadcaster and a good enough shortstop to have been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a competitor and knew a lot about what it takes to win – on any playing field. “If you aren’t good enough or not ready for something you want, others will eliminate you,” he would remind me. “You won’t make the team. Someone else will get the job. Or, you'll lose the election. But if you never try, you’ve eliminated yourself.”
Over the years, I’ve discovered there are nearly as many ways to eliminate yourself as there are to be in the starting line-up. Two examples happened close to home just this week. One is about losing your courage; the other is about losing your moral compass.
If you never try, you’ll eliminate yourself.
Barb Fornasiero, a personal friend, mother and terrific public relations consultant (www.eafocus.com), left this message on my cell phone the other day. “Anne, my 15-year old daughter, Lucie, is trying to convince her best friend not to quit the basketball team. She asked me, ‘Mom, what’s that thing Anne Doyle says about not eliminating yourself?’” I laughed out loud in delight to think that my Dad’s advice was reaching another generation. I called Barb back and reminded her of the rest of his words, hoping they would help a young woman regain her courage to "go for it".
If you lose your moral compass, you’re risking eliminating yourself.
One of the other most common ways of eliminating ourselves from opportunity and success is by losing our moral compass.
I live in southeast Michigan. Here in the Detroit metropolitan area, we’ve had our fill of witnessing promising leaders self-destruct. First, it was Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff and alleged lover, Christine Beatty. They are facing felony perjury charges and a trial this fall for lying under oath. Then, it was the FBI investigating members of the Detroit City Council for possibly taking bribes related to the awarding of a $47 million-a-year wasterwater sludge treatment contract.
Now, Fanchon Stinger, a TV news anchor for the Fox-owned Detroit affiliate and rising media personality, has been caught up in the widening sludge scandal. According to the Detroit Free Press, Ms. Stinger formed a media company and “was hired to help Synagro (the company that won the suspect contract) choose time slots and media outlets for its commercials while she was working as a morning news anchor.” In her statement, Ms. Stinger points the finger at others for damaging her 20-year career and costing her a $300,000 a year job. However, if her actions violated the ethics code of The Society for Professional Journalists, as the facts seem to indicate, she should be searching as hard for her moral compass as for a new job.
Regardless of how successful we become, how experienced we are in the ways of the world, each day we face crossroads and choices that will define our future. Some are bigger than others. But even the small ones add up because they shape our patterns and form the template we will use for making the life-shaping decisions.
Whether it is overcoming doubts and continuing to stretch for our personal best or picking ourselves up after a fall – and we all stumble -- the toughest challenges of leadership always come back to how we lead ourselves.
My Dad had it right. Never Eliminate Yourself. It’s a leadership essential.
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