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What No One Tells You About Life and Leadership

Alan Andersen

We've discussed that perpetual hunger is a key characteristic of a healthy leader. But let's pause for a moment to clarify this metaphorical "hunger".

I recently met with my OD (Organization Development) mastermind group (technically we’re a book club, but let’s not put labels on things). Imagine a group of highly smart, articulate leaders that head up Learning and Development departments for hundreds of employees. It is an absolute privilege to reflect on how to be a better leader with these masters.

As we talked shop our discussion took a brief pivot on to the topic of “hunger”. Hunger in ourselves, in our employees, in the marketplace, etc. I expressed my belief that it is tremendously difficult to remain hungry in the context of America, especially as an employed professional in our marketplace.

Think about it, typically an employee has a predetermined annual salary and providing he or she does their job at a “satisfactory” standard there is usually an opportunity for a raise and/or bonus (side note: a bonus is a functional myth, but that is a topic for next time).

This is a big problem! The root of this problem is our topic at hand.

What I believe no one will tell you, or at least we don't discuss enough, is this reality:

To sustain a healthy life and leadership, in part, you must live hungry.

I'll share our central point in another and far more compelling way.

Toward the latter part of Socrates life, one of his pupils approached him and stated, “I want wisdom the way that you have wisdom”. Socrates response was noted as being, “Let’s go for a walk.”

The two go on a walk, walking through the town and down to a nearby lake. Socrates leads them both into the water. Once the water is up to their waist, Socrates surprisingly takes his compadres head and fully submerges it into the water!

For some context this pupil is allegedly Plato. And what most people don’t know about Socrates is that he was said to have been a valiant soldier. So not only was he philosophical, he was also scrappy.

Now initially Plato shared that he thought, “What pithy thing am I supposed to learn here?” But that thought quickly faded into a fight for his life. His arms began flailing, body started jerking in an attempt to get a fresh breath of air.

However, Socrates literally kept Plato’s head under water until the last possible moment. At which point Socrates pulls Plato’s head up from under the water and says, “When you are fighting to learn wisdom the way that you were fighting for the last breath of air, then you are ready to begin learning. Until then, you are not even ready for wisdom.”

Wow, love that parable! And while we need to be aware that this story may or may not be true, what is completely accurate is the concept. The paramount question we should consider asking is...

“Am I fighting to sustain a healthy life and equally healthy leadership?”

I assure you that if you’re not growing, you’re dying, albeit slowly. The way to live long is to live healthy and continue growing. So let's at least take our pulse on the level of hunger we have been exhibiting in our life and leadership.  Are we on cruise control or is there evidence that we are bringing our A-Game to each of the 168-hours in a given 7 day week?

In closing, I understand that “hungry” will look different for all of us. But don't miss out on the opportunity to see if you're still growing. Our short Socrates-Plato fable serves us well. It is a sobering reminder that we must continually live and lead from a hungry mindset. 

Pulling for you,

Alan Andersen

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