I mentioned in my previous article in Issue #29 of Australian Business Solutions, “The Courage to Move from Management to Leadership” the great importance we place on teams developing and owning an agreed team or organisational trademark.

However, as diligent as some leaders are in driving this trademark (or values) with their teams, I am often surprised at the numbers who don’t carry out the same exercise at an individual level as a leader. In other words, if it is good enough for our team/organisation to have a clear, aspirational trademark, (in the ideal world, how would we want our team to be described?), then why would it not be equally important for the leader to model that behaviour at an individual level?

Having a personal trademark is something I have certainly found to be of great value in life. To begin developing a personal trademark you simply begin with the end in mind.

Imagine you get the chance to write your own obituary. I found it helpful to write my trademark from a number of perspectives – imagine your partner, one of your children, a close friend and a trusted business colleague were to speak on your behalf and honestly.

For the sake of clarity I am happy to share my personal trademark:

  1. Ray led a useful and productive life.
  2. He had an absolute passion and belief in what he did. He stood by those beliefs when it got tough.
  3. He always provided wise and caring counsel and could be counted on.
  4. Most importantly he always displayed a positive and optimistic outlook on life.

I started framing my trademark about 20 years ago. I began by doing a personal audit – I started by listing all the things I accepted as being true about me. I did this list over a period of time and then looked at the habits/ behaviours I saw as productive in my life and the ones that were unproductive. I then started to shape my trademark.

This should not be seen as an airy fairy exercise. It becomes your guide under pressure. Only recently at a personal level I found myself particularly challenged around maintaining my optimistic outlook on life.

I have been married to Sally for almost 30 years. Six years ago at the age of 47 with three teenage children, she was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma (cancer). I still remember sitting with the specialist as he told us that this rare, aggressive and erratic form of cancer would mean Sally’s life expectancy could be as little as one year.

That was six years ago. Sally has since had 10 significant and invasive surgeries. She has also had repeated doses of radiation and chemotherapy. She still has eight tumours on her lungs but because of the significant number of operations she has had, surgery is no longer a viable option.

Every morning I get out of bed I look at her and then almost scare myself to death with the thought of what life would be like without her. I then force myself to choose optimism. Sometimes it takes all of my energy and discipline to make that choice. I also know that for the majority of times she makes the same choice and I know it is infinitely more difficult for her to do that.

So what does choosing optimism mean?

Firstly, it means continuing to look for purpose in life. As an example, Sally is still striving to be the best Netball coach she can be with the Lake Wendouree Senior Netball team in the Ballarat Football Netball League. Since she was diagnosed the team has made the Grand Final each year and won 5 of 6. I can assure you the winning is very important but not as significant as the lessons in life the team are picking up from the coach.

Another choice in optimismis concentrating her effort on those she loves. I amindeed fortunate to be one of the recipients of that love along with our children, her extended family and the group of amazing and supportive friends she has.

She also creates opportunities each week to have something to look forward to. This could be as simple as morning tea or movies with a collection of friends from her network.

By the time I have showered and got ready for the day, I just apply the same thinking to my circumstances. I consider my role as a leader in our business and as a facilitator striving to help our clients improve their performance. I know that any choice other than optimism would be soul destroying.

Other actions I am conscious of as an optimist is to sell hope to those around me. I read a great quote a number of years ago and it has become in some ways my mantra; “Seek joy in life – Misery will find you!”

I also am aware that optimists imagine success rather than failure and use affirmation and visualisation to remain in a positive state. You are then able to arrest negative thinking more quickly. I can assure you I have made poor decisions in my life and have had miserable days. However, I now have strategies that enable me to see these events or poor decisions as aberrations that I must move on from. I do accept that it can be tough to plan when you feel you are at the bottom of the well.

I can recall over the last six years sitting beside Sally in hospital thinking what small steps can I take from here. As silly as it sounds, if you try to do something for someone else when you are most in need of support that can help. Making sure that when Sally was well enough I picked up her favourite chocolate cake was a start.

From purely a work perspective, if you don’t choose optimism you can’t perform at your best. As a facilitator responsible for helping teams and individuals improve, I have to be prepared to give everything I have got in those sessions. It may mean I chunk things at times, and when the session is over I go back to deal with the other concerns I might have. If I am heading to work with a client it doesn’t change how seriously ill Sally is but I know she would expect me to be at my best and then we will regroup when I get home.

I have also found that if you are genuinely an optimist you make the connection that money and happiness are not linked exclusively. I liked a quote from Malcolm Forbes: “If you think money buys happiness you are shopping in the wrong place”.

Sometimes when I have had a bad day or I am feeling sorry for myself, I ask “what if” questions.

  • What if I did blame others or circumstances for where I am today?
  • What if I was so stuck on a poor decision that I have made that I couldn’t move on?
  • What if I did think that money was the only answer?
  • What if I modelled these pessimistic behaviours to my kids/our staff/our friends?

I hope by sharing just one component of my personal trademark you are encouraged to try the exercise yourself. Imagine the role model you could become for all the people you lead and influence.

Ray McLean

Ray McLean

Ray founded Leading Teams in 1992 after working as a leadership officer with the Air Force. He has published two books, ‘Any Given Team’ and ‘Team Work’. Ray is based in Geelong.
Learn more about Ray.