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October 03, 2011
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Home » To Change the World, First Have Three Kids (Part 2 of 3)

 Welcome to the second installment of the Top 10 Tips for Having Three Kids & Leading Change in the World. 

Here are the next four…
5       It's gonna get messy
Shortly after moving into our current house we held an impromptu BBQ for the neighbors. Our eldest, who was potty training, ran out on our back deck and proudly announced to everyone, “I went pee on the potty!” He then pointed at my next-door neighbor Marc, and said, “You pee standing up, because you have a peanuts.” Then he pointed to Marc’s wife Leslie, and said, “You pee sitting down because you have a pajama.” I went into a brain-freeze. Where to begin? Do you just laugh it off? Correct him on the appropriate terminology? Let him know there’s a right time and a wrong time to talk about going to the bathroom?
We didn’t plan this little parenting-crisis, but here it was. Now we had to deal with it. The same is true in leadership. We rarely choose the timing of the defining moments of our lives. They are chosen for us. All we can do is be prepared and try to get totally present in those moments. The employee with a crisis in his personal life. The natural disaster that sweeps away a community. The breaking news that turns your calendar into a joke. These moments come and they come on their own schedule.
A few months ago as we prepared to release the 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, Michelle Green, the head of Corporate Responsibility at NYSE Euronext called. We could hold the announcement event at the Stock Exchange, ring the closing bell, and get Harvard’s Michael Porter as our keynote speaker. Amazing, right? Here’s the catch: we had to do it on March 2nd, just three weeks away and almost a full month earlier than we planned to release the list. I gulped, and happily accepted her offer.
One of the biggest opportunities of our year came along completely unplanned and unexpected. We not only made the best of it, we hit it out of the park. But it got messy there for a while, which leads me to…
Last month I visited our local carwash. They had a special on to detail the inside of the car. I asked the guy how long it would take. He said about an hour and then poked his head in through my window to peak at the backseat. “Better make it two,” he said. I turned around to see what he saw: Cheerios strewn about, gummy-worms ground into the carpet, a mysterious sludge caked onto one of the doors. Better make it two.
The [car, house, face, hands] will get dirty. But don’t let that stop you.
In their recent report evaluating corporate responsibility ratings systems, our friends at SustainAbility basically called us all hypocrites. They criticized “raters” (not just us, all rating organizations) for telling companies to be more transparent while keeping their own methods, governance, etc., opaque. I went on to read a lot of dark conspiracy theories in the blogosphere about why we weren’t more transparent. 
Truth is we just didn’t know people cared! It hadn’t occurred to us that people wanted to know these things. So, we fixed it. We got a lot more transparent and fast. We didn’t get it right the first time so we took steps to correct.
When you set out to do something bold, you’re going to get dirty. You’re going to make a mess. The results will not always be pretty. But neither is life. Ever seen a baby being born?  I’ve seen three. Trust me.  It’s not pretty. It’s very messy. If God can’t create the miracle of life in a pristine condition what makes you think you can?  
The morning after a team of US Navy SEALs rid the world of Osama Bin Laden all I wanted to do was hear the news. My children had other plans.  My oldest, obsessed with Star Wars, had a bevy of questions about Jedi Knights. My daughter, anxious to copy him, had her own questions about “the good guys with the glow-sticks.” My youngest, needed breakfast. I could barely hear the story through the bedlam.
Yet, some how, I gleaned the facts. Sure, I would have liked to get the detailed analysis and watch the animated remakes. But I got what I needed and everybody got fed. 
The world is a crazy place and a million things will rise up to distract you. Some of them are critical (like making breakfast) and some of them are less so (like Jar-Jar Binks). It takes a lot of practice to sort through and focus on what will really make a difference to accomplishing your mission.
When I was in business school, a professor told us the most precious asset a company has is ROMT: Return on Management Time. Getting the straight facts out on the table and dealing with them takes a discipline few people have, but when you do, amazing things happen.
Why does nature give you something in need of so much patience while depriving you of the very sleep you need to have patience? It defies logic. My happiness as a parent waxes and wanes in direct proportion to how much sleep I get. The, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” machismo of my twenties has given way to the, “please dear child, go to sleep so I can,” realism of today. (For more on this subject, see Adam Mansbach’s “storybook for parents that live in the real world, Go the F*** to Sleep”).
Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, gave a great TED Talk on the value of sleep. She called on the women of the world to “literally sleep our way to the top.” Spotting and steering around the icebergs looming on the horizon requires a mental acuity only available with rest. It’s the old “work smarter not harder” mantra but with a realistic recipe for success: go to sleep.
I’ve found this advice incredibly helpful as a parent and as a leader. When I’m about to lose my patience, I’ve learned that I’m basically a baby: I’m either tired or hungry. It’s not the people making me lose my patience. I just need to eat something or get some more sleep.
Click here to view the previous blog post for Tips 1-3.
Want to put my observations on leadership to the test? Come to the Commit!Forum September 26-27 in New York City and see how the leaders of the 100 Best Corporate Citizents do it. Learn from the best and make actionable commitments for the coming year. Visit to learn more.
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