Last week I posted about Bill Gates and the video he made regarding his upcoming last day at Microsoft. I complimented Bill on his self-confidence and his willingness to have a laugh at his own expense.
That story about Bill got me thinking about a parallel in my own life. Friday, May 30 was my last day at work for a particular client consulting engagement. It was my last day by my own choice, that is, I had resigned. In the process, I became more aware of my lack of integrity and truth telling.
The clue for me was was that almost immediately after giving my 2 weeks notice, I felt lighter and happier. It was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt as if it were my last two weeks and I could say and do whatever I wanted.
I am sure each of you have thought about this concept of doing whatever you want on your last day at work. I am willing to bet that at one time or another each of you have fantasized about something you would do if it was your last day. After all, on your last day, you don’t have to put up with anything or take any crap off anyone. Or so it seems.
The really really important thing is that we should be like this all the time. We should all be living as if today is our last day at work, if that is what it takes to feel the freedom to speak the truth. I don’t mean that we should pick fights, use the truth irresponsibly, or intentionally cause trouble. But we should do our best to tell the truth and live with integrity. We shouldn’t be relieved when we quit and feel like we can finally speak our minds. We should be living our lives in a way that makes it clear to others what we think and where we stand. And we should be living this way all the time, not just on our last day.
Do you think Bill Gates is going to do or say anything different on his last day in July 2008? I hardly think so. I don’t think he has been holding back a bunch of resentments toward his co-workers or his board of directors. What the heck could he possibly say that he hasn’t already said? I would argue that if he has been holding anything back, it would be holding him back. And as one of the richest men in the world, that would be inconceivable. Inconceivable!
Back to my situation, which, unfortunately for me, is quite different than Bill’s. When I reflected on why I felt a sesne of relief about resigning from my consulting position, I realized that I hadn’t been truthful with those I was working with. The story I told myself was that I lacked control of the situation and the only choice I had was to resign. I was acting as if I were the victim to the wishes of others around things like:
- The direction and progress of the program I was managing
- Requested changes to my schedule
- The length of the program
- My role on the program
While the story I told myself was that I was a victim to others, the reality was that I failed to take the initiative and personal responsibility. I abdicated. Further, when issues came up, I didn’t address them in an expedient and straightforward manner. My behavior was slightly passive agressive. Some type of relational breakdown was inevitable. I was like a ticking time bomb and only took one small event to push me over the edge and convince me to resign from the account. I was more comfortable resigning than pushing through the relationship issues and making this engagement what it could have (and should have) been.
Yes you can do anything you want on your last day at work. Just as you can do anything you want today, and tomorrow, and the day after. It takes courage, but it is the right thing to do. It is cowardly to not speak up or to pretend to be a victim to the wishes of others.
Instead, I encourage you to live every day as if it were your last. Do and say the things you need to say and do to be effective. Don’t let resentments build up to the point where reconciliation is difficult or impossible. Rather, do your daily work to clear up resentments and hurts so that your relationships can flourish. Otherwise, you may actually inadvertently make today your last day through a lack of effectiveness or leaking of your anger or resentment.
Whenever we find ourselves resenting others or making them bad because they are going for what they want, we should look at ourselves. We need to understand why it is that we are not going for what we want. This may be a lack of understanding of what we want – that is frequently my problem. It may also be a lack of courage to go for what we want, or belief that we won’t get what we want.
Here are a couple of tips to think about to help you understand and orient yourself.
#1 – Who is This About?
When we evaluate situations, we need to look at what each of the parties is doing. I thought of my sitauation on this consulting engagement as all about the other individuals involved. As soon as I make this about others, I become a victim and give away the power that I have to change the situation for the future.
No one did this to me; I simply made choices and agreed to things that in hindsight I wish I had not. The reason I felt relieved to be leaving was that I was unwilling to go back and negotiate the deal that I really wanted. That is a copout on my part. A much more effective strategy is to go for what I want.
#2 – Go for What I Want
To go for what I want, I simply need to be clear about what I want and need and negotiate the best deal I can. Instead of agreeing to something that was win-lose, as I did in this case, I should have strove for a win-win agreement. I should have tried (it’s not always possible) to create the project or engagement I wanted and believed it could be. Instead, I settled for what I thought the client wanted and needed and pushed my own needs to the back. I didn’t want to invest the time and energy needed into going for what I wanted.
Here is what it would have looked like for me to go for what I wanted.
- I would have negotiated to work from home two days a week, so as to avoid the hellacious traffic.
- I would have negotiated to keep my other speaking engagements and worked around them instead.
- I would have been more insistent about some of the challenges I saw on the program and proposed changes.
Not going for what I want and need reflects on me, not on others. There is no glory in saying that I didn’t get what I wanted. It is much better to go for it and go for it and go for it again until I get what I want.
#3 – Keep Short Accounts
I talk about keeping short accounts in my book. It is a concept that my mentor Rich taught me. The idea is to let others know when you are upset or have some type of issue. And to let them know quickly; to not let small issues fester or build up into larger ones.
In the case of this consulting engagement, there were little things that were happening that bothered me, yet, I continued to move forward and ignore them. Wrong approach. These little things bugged me, more than I thought. I should have taken action to “get clear”, that is, to clear up small misunderstandings and express hurt feelings in order to maintain a strong relationship. I let little things build up and eventually I reached a breaking point.
The key principles included in this post are all part of emotional intelligence and are elaborated in my book:
- Telling the Truth
- Keeping Short Accounts
- Going for What You Want
Don’t wait for your last day to start playing big, telling the truth, and living for this day. You may not get the chance to do it later.