There’s a scene near the beginning of Tomorrow Never Dies where James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is taking on way too many bad guys, and he is about to do the impossible. M (Judi Dench) and others are watching on a video screen, and an Admiral says, in a moment of panic, “What the hell is he doing?” and M says “His job!”
I think of that line often. The world is filled with people who do their jobs every day, pretty well. And others,… not so well.
And today, I want to tell you about the person who does the best job of doing her job that I have ever seen.
Her name is Jeannie Mayeux. We’ve been married since 1971, and though there have been some stretches of time when I did not do my job very well in this family, she has been faithful to her task for a lifetime.
For the last year and a half, she has been a wonder to behold. We read these “phrases,” like “the sandwich generation.” Well, she is living it. Her dad moved in with us about a year and a half ago, and every day, without exception, she takes his blood sugar and his blood pressure, multiple times every day, injecting him with insulin multiple times a day, watching his blood sugar carefully, preparing every meal to the calorie and ingredient, so that he can be ok. And every meal is ready, and wonderful, like clockwork.
And, the last two weeks, she drove to San Antonio to help our son and daughter-in-law adjust to the new routine of a new baby along with her two-year-old sister. Our oldest son is in Medical School; it was finals week. He needed his mom., and two precious little girls needed their grandmother. And Jeannie showed up, as she always does.
She gets no “breaks.” She just keeps doing her job.
She has worked outside the home at times through the years, and done those jobs with her same sense of dedication and thoroughness. (She is thorough!) But her real job has always been that of the mother, in the very best sense of that word.
When Evan, our youngest son, got serious about baseball, Jeannie went out and bought a tackle box and created her own thoroughly planned, always well-stocked first aid kit. By the second week (and up through Evan’s high school years), other moms just knew when their own sons needed attention, “oh, go see Evan’s mom with her first aid kit.”
By his third year of baseball, she bought a new, larger first aid kit – about the size of an aircraft carrier. The boys were getting bigger, and the cuts and scrapes just a little more intimidating. Jeannie was always ready.
When I sent her to Israel for six weeks on an archeological dig, she was a touch older than the college students making up the majority of workers. As she told me the stories, it was pretty clear that she soon was recognized as the group mom.
Understand, she never “volunteers” for these assignments. She just does them. She just “is” that person. And people recognize it pretty quickly.
When she was gone these last two weeks, her sister and I did get her Dad’s vitals taken, and the food on the table. But, especially when it was my turn, there was a noticeable lack of elegance. There is never such a lack when Jeannie is around.
A lot is happening in our family. It takes a full-time+ mom to keep it going well. And she is always there…
What is she doing? Her job. And she is simply the best at her job that I have ever seen anywhere.
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one’s self.” Søren Kierkegaard
In The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company, Revised Edition, William Capodagli and Lynn Jackson explain that their book “tells the inside story of just how Disney’s success was achieved — not by epiphanic flashes of creative insight that produced a Pinocchio or a Dumbo, but by the force of a much-considered, carefully wrought process of managing innovation and creativity and by an adherence to a firmly established system of beliefs.” The foundation of that system, the Disney Way, consists of four “pillars”: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.
Although Whitney Johnson follows a somewhat different sequence of thought in her book, she agrees with Disney and other great visionaries throughout history that it takes courage to dream and to dream boldly, and then even greater courage to pursue that dream with relentless faith and tenacity to make it come true. Hence the wisdom of Kierkegaard’s insight, quoted in the title of this review. However, many (most?) people are unwilling and/or unable to summon the courage to “dare to dream.” With vigor and eloquence, Johnson provides a wealth of material to help them to follow the example of Tennyson’s daring and dauntless hero, Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find…and not to yield.”
What I especially appreciate about this book is that much (most?) of the most valuable material is provided by several dozen quite different men and women with whom most readers can readily identify. They are real people, in real situations, struggling to answer real questions and to solve real problems. Their personal stories, in their own words, are carefully organized and presented within 15 chapters, divided among three Parts (DARE: Why Dreaming Is Essential, DREAM: Boldly Finding Your Dreams,, and DO: Making Your Dreams Happen). In Parts One and Two, they help readers to understand how to
o Make meaning of their life
o Find their voice and authentic self
o Truly “grow up”
o Demonstrate to children by example how to dream
Note: This material (in Chapter 4, Pages 53-70) will be of great value to parents, of course, but also to teachers, coaches, school officials, physicians, and anyone else with whom children frequently interact.
o Be the hero or heroine of their story
o Make “space” for their dreams
o Invest in their strengths and competencies (i.e. increase them)
o Know (really know) their deeply-held beliefs
o Build on their strengths
o Rightsize their dreams
In Part Three (Chapters 11-15), Johnson shifts her attention to “Making Your Dreams Happen.” Twenty contributors share their own experiences when seeking to achieve that goal. They also share the lessons they learned – and what others can perhaps learn – from those experiences.
However, only a reader can achieve Johnson’s ultimate objective: To make their life and their achievements “remarkable” by daring to dream. In fact, as Johnson and countless contributors to this book affirm and then reaffirm without hesitation, a “chain of dreams” must be initiated and then sustained. These dreams need not be epic in scope or universal in impact. In essence, each dream (whatever its nature and extent) offers a “snapshot” of what can be better, more fulfilling, of greater value to one’s self and to others. As for the “chain,” it will be created during a personal journey of discovery. Whitney Johnson prepares her reader well for that journey. Let it begin now.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Deborah Farrington, a founder and general partner at StarVest Partners, a venture capital firm in New York. She says she watches for their ability to understand what they are and aren’t doing well. To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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What were some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
I found early on as a manager that it was hard to learn how to delegate. I think that most people in their early leadership positions either tend to delegate too little or too much. And I delegated too little at first. I felt I needed to know everything that was going on, so I ended up doing a lot of the work myself that the people who reported to me should have been doing. I found myself working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I stepped back and said, “This is not going to work.”
So I sat down and talked to the people who worked for me, and we agreed on various goals. But then I delegated too much. When they came back at the end of the quarter and I saw what they did, I realized that approach didn’t work well, either. So I learned the importance of weekly check-ins, and then I think I got the balance right.
I had a terrific boss at Merrill Lynch who taught me that the most important conversation you can have with anybody who works for you is the performance review. Because people, especially those who are goal-oriented and very high-achieving, want feedback. They need that. And my boss made me feel that nothing was more important than this conversation. When you’re young, you know you can improve; you want to improve. You need feedback, and you need constructive feedback.
So when I coach and rate C.E.O.’s today — if I’m on a board, if I’m hiring them or giving them feedback — I’m always looking to see if they understood what they’ve done well. Do they understand what they didn’t do well? Are they listening to my feedback? Can they accept it? How do they then modify their behavior?
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.