In 1983 I did something unusual. I cycled across the United States, starting the adventure in Tacoma, Washington, and reaching my destination in Moosic, Pennsylvania over 4,000 miles and three months later.
What made this unusual journey even more unique was that I undertook this adventure with my wife Berti and our 15-month-old baby Stephen.
Thirty-five years later I wrote a book about the adventure titled, “The Ride of Our Lives, Lessons on Life, Leadership, and Love.” Many people who read the book have contacted me with their thoughts and comments. Common themes have surfaced. People tell me their takeaways include vulnerability, values, and vision.
Acting on the three Vs takes courage. Something powerful occurs when leaders demonstrate vulnerability, live by their core values, and provide a vision. After some reflection, looking back on defining periods of my life, and examining the lives of successful leaders and entrepreneurs, I have concluded that the three Vs of vulnerability, values, and vision are fundamental to success in almost any endeavor.
Vulnerability, values, and vision all play a role in being a successful leader. This has proven true in periods of my life as different as cycling across America to leading 5,000 Soldiers and Marines in combat in Iraq. If the Three Vs could factor into these periods as different from each other as one could imagine, then I believe anyone could use the Three V approach to tackle just about any objective one sets out to reach.
On May 30, 1983, my wife Berti and I cycled away from the security of our apartment in Tacoma, Washington with our son Stephen literally in tow. As we took those first few pedal strokes on a typically overcast and cool morning in the great northwest, I could feel a sense of vulnerability surround me and my family. We were now the ultimate thin-skinned vehicles. There was nothing but us between the road we were cycling on and our destination in Pennsylvania.
Risk is associated with vulnerability. It is like rock climbing on the exposed rock walls in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York or taking that step out of an airplane with a parachute on your back. You are literally putting your knees in the breeze. It is a bit scary and exhilarating at the same time.
To be successful in life you must make yourself vulnerable. There is no risk without reward. With that said, the risk you take must be prudent and must include a risk analysis and risk mitigation measures.
Nothing is risk-free and very seldom can a person eliminate risk entirely. Although risk cannot be eliminated, leaders must identify ways to reduce the most probable and highest impact risks.
Taking a risk without first analyzing it and mitigating it to an acceptable degree is a gamble. Taking prudent risk is a bold move. German Field Marshall Irwin Rommel’s skill as a military professional was respected by many American generals. He was forced to commit suicide after attempting to assassinate Hitler.
This is how Rommel differentiated between a bold move and a gamble. Rommel said, “A bold operation is one which has no more than a chance of success but which, in case of failure, leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to cope with any situation. A gamble, on the other hand, is an operation which can lead either to victory or to the destruction of one’s own forces”. It is not preferable to gamble, especially with people’s lives.
Vulnerability means you must have the courage to put yourself out there in front of others, even at the risk of making a mistake or having people criticize you. To develop courage, you must overcome fear. After all, courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to overcome it.
No one ever achieved anything great without exposing themselves to naysayers and criticism. You must develop a thick skin and continue to move forward with the plan you believe in even though there are those who doubt you and criticize you.
You also make yourself vulnerable by having the courage to make decisions with less than perfect information. You will never have 100% of the information prior to making a decision. Still, you must decide.
Colin Powell has said that you will rarely have even 70% of the information required prior to deciding and you must be comfortable with that. On the other hand, Powell also said if you decide with less than 40% of the information you are merely shooting from the hip.
Choosing not to do anything is also a decision. Sometimes it is prudent to use patience and wait until more information becomes available before deciding. This does take experience, wisdom, and judgment.
Core Values and Value Add
You need to identify your core values and be clear on what you stand for. This is foundational. As a leader, you must take the time to identify and define your values and ensure you develop organizational values.
Both personal values and organizational values create a solid foundation that prevents destruction when the wind gets too strong. Values must be factored into one’s decision-making process and factor into the shared vision, goals, and action plans the leader and his or her team will develop.
You must be clear on the value you are adding to others with the objective you are setting out to achieve. Ultimately, if you are not adding value to someone’s life and helping others in some way, there is no need to move forward. You will get more out of what you want in life if you help other people get what they want. Add value or do not bother.
With this, you must be clear on your purpose. You must be able to answer the question, “why are you doing what you do?” You must establish in your mind what your ultimate purpose is. There is honor in working toward something greater than yourself.
You are more likely to achieve your objective if you are passionate about what you are doing. If you are not passionate about what you are setting out to do, it will be difficult to achieve success, especially when you face difficulty and adversity.
Create a Vision
Visualizing achievement is essential if you are to gain success. A vision must be a simple, unique, ideal image of the future. Ideally, the vision a leader develops should be a shared vision. A shared vision does not only mean everyone in the organization believes in the vision but also that representative members of the organization have provided input into the creation of the vision.
A leader should get feedback from others in the organization as he or she develops the vision. A good technique is for the leader to meet one-on-one with representatives from throughout the organization. This should include a sampling of people in various positions and of various experience levels in the organization.
Once the leader develops the vision, the leader must then communicate that vision clearly, concisely, and consistently. The shared vision should have a long-term view and it should not change from month to month.
The leader then must develop SMART goals that complement the vision. The goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (what is in it for you if you), and time-sensitive. It is essential the leader commits the goals to paper and visualizes the achievement of the goals. In the mind’s eye, the leader should see the fulfilment of the goals. The mind completes whatever picture we paint into it. It is essential to have strong faith and belief that the goals will be reached.
The next step is to develop an action plan. A vision and goals without an action plan are nothing more than a mirage. At a minimum, the action plan should identify obstacles and risks to reaching the goals, benefits to reaching the goals, the skills, training, and education required, the people who could help achieve the goals and the resources you need to achieve your goals.
Next, the leader must take that first step in executing the plan and continue to take the additional steps necessary, to achieve the goals. The leader must track progress and ensure milestones are reached on time. The leader should take the opportunity to meet with trusted advisors so that they could help goals stay on track.
The Three Vs Will Help You Achieve
Any endeavor worth achieving is usually going to be difficult and will require hard work and follow-through. By using the Three Vs to Achieve; having the courage to be vulnerable, being clear on your values and the value you add and developing a vision will set you on the path to success.