Who would have thought that the “Piano Man” could also be an eloquent leadership consultant? Yet, after taking in the Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago, he did more than tickle the ivories – he piqued my interest with the applicability of many of his lyrics to lessons for business leaders. Here are a few that really align well. (Try to sing the lyrics as you read. After all, this is a multimedia blog!)
“Slow down, you crazy child. You’re so ambitious for a juvenile…
Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You’d better cool it off before you burn it out.
You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day. Hey. Hey…”
Early in my career, I had just started a position with a new company. Within a few weeks of starting the role, I was already performing at a high level and attracted the attention of a senior manager in another department. He approached me about leaving my current role and joining his team. Oh, did I mention that my current manager had relocated me across the country for the job and this “new” manager wanted me to now relocate to his unit in a different city? I did not know what to do. So, I turned to my only source for advice in those days (Remember the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when young George must deliver the capsules to Mrs. Blain, but he knows that Mr. Gower, distraught from the death of his son, mistakenly put poison in the medicine? George does not know where to turn and then looks up and sees an advertisement on the wall of the drug store for “Sweet Caporal” tobacco. The ad says “Ask Dad. He Knows!”) I called my Dad.
As you already know from The Gospel According to Fred, my Dad always told me exactly what he thought and usually taught me a lesson at the same time. After painstakingly walking him through my situation, my Dad exploded (the next part is “NSW / NSM”) – “What is your f#@king hurry! Do you know how many guys I have seen over the years with rockets strapped to their asses? They all crash and burn just as spectacularly as they take off!”
It is great to have ambition. It is great to have drive and goals. However, you also need patience. Sometimes your career moves faster than you deserve. Sometimes you get roadblocked for no good reason. Ultimately, the employment/career market is an efficient one and most people end up exactly where they are supposed to. Best to enjoy the journey. “When will you realize Vienna waits for you?”
“They’ll tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place.
Then they’ll tell you can’t sleep with somebody else.
Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it’s O.K. you wake up with yourself”
One of the phrases that I banned from being used at Equity Risk was “Word on the street is…”. I hate that term. I did not care what the competition was doing. We focused on building our firm our way. Let the competition worry about us. The competition is “They”. Who cares? Your ultimate responsibility is to yourself, your colleagues, and your family. Focus on them. Forget about “they”. “I don’t care what you say anymore. This is My Life. Go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone.”
“You have to learn to pace yourself
You’re just like everybody else
You’ve only had to run so far, So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with
The old saying goes that a diamond is just a piece of coal that was able to withstand the pressure. In business and in life, how we respond to crises and pressure defines us. It is a fact of life that we cannot escape. The secret is not to figure out how to avoid pressure. The secret is to figure out how to deal with it; how to channel it into better performance, more focus, deeper commitment. If you figure that out, you will certainly have a “chart topper” of a career.
“Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you”
If I had to pick one word that defines success in business and life, it would be honesty. In today’s corporate and personal climate, honesty is sorely missing. I just finished reading I Love Capitalism by Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot. The main lesson I took away from his story was his ability to be brutally honest with everyone he encountered. Of course, the other benefit of total honesty is never having to remember what lies you have told.
“Because you had to be a big shot, didn’t you?
You had to open up your mouth
You had to be a big shot, didn’t you?
All your friends were so knocked out
You had to have the last word, last night
You know what everything’s about
You had to have a white-hot spotlight
You had to be a big shot last night”
At Equity Risk, we spent a lot of time and effort trying to recruit and develop young talent. The challenge with young talent is that they do not follow the first example of this post. They are all in a hurry. One way that manifests itself is by trying to impress those around you. I saw it so often that I coined a phrase – “You will know you are the “big man on campus” the day you stop feeling compelled to tell people you are the “big man on campus”. Being secure enough to know that your performance will speak for itself and, ultimately, you will be rewarded accordingly is a great trait to master as early in your career as possible. Have faith that we are watching. Have faith that we can tell the difference between luck and skill.
It’s a pretty good crowd for a business/life blog
And WordPress gives me a smile
‘Cause they know that it’s me you’ve been comin’ to read
To balance your business and lifestyle
And the thoughts, they come like a rainstorm
And the words, they flow like a stream
And they sit and discuss, “Can this really be us?”
And ”How do we get to live the dream?”
Hint – You already are!
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, and the former founder, Chairman and CEO of Equity Risk Partners.