With today being my 83rd birthday, I thought it'd be a good time to take stock of things with my 9C's of leadership. Hell, wouldn't be fair if I didn't put myself to the test from time to time, too.
You may think, "Hey, what is there to be curious about when you're 83?" Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether they're twenty or eighty." I agree. I don't try to be a know-it-all. I still have a lot of questions. I'm still capable of being surprised. Hey, I'm surprised every day when I wake up and realize that George Bush is still president.
Which would you prefer-the guy who has a lot of ideas and gets some of them wrong, or the guy who sits like a lump and has no ideas at all? He's never wrong, but so what? I've had a lot of ideas in my life-a few of the real doozies happened in the last ten years. But I'd rather be wrong than be a potted plant. As I've said many times, I flunked retirement.
I make it a point to talk to a lot of people on the phone and in person. I talk to my daughters every day. I talk to my grandchildren. I talk to politicians and car guys and business experts and an occasional priest. What I don't do is email. You can keep your emails. They're mostly a waste of time. I read somewhere that the average office worker receives more than 100 emails a day. I figure about a quarter of those are jokes. A quarter are to cover-your-ass. A quarter are people trying to suck you in (also known as spam), and maybe on a good day a quarter are legit. Here's my rule of communication: Pick up the goddamned phone.
I know people have often accused me of being a character. Do I have character? I hope so. Here's the test: When I stand at the pearly gates and St. Peter asks, "Did you leave the world a better place than it was when you got there?" I hope I can say yes, although I'd be the first to admit to Peter, "Mistakes were made." Fortunately, as I grow older I make fewer mistakes. I don't worry so much about avoiding temptation. Temptation has started avoiding me. (Oh, and I hope Peter doesn't blame me for global warming or the performance of the Angels.)
When you're 83 you have to consider the difference between courage and just plain crazy. That distinction can be somewhat difficult to make. But I think it takes more courage to do just about everything at 83, because with age comes the diminishment of arrogance. It didn't take much courage for me to write Iacocca in 1984 because I thought I was a pretty big deal. Now I know better, so it took some courage to write Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
You've got to have passion and a fire in your belly. It isn't true that passion belongs to the young. It's got nothing to do with age. As Ben Franklin once observed, many people die when they're twenty-five and they just aren't buried until they're seventy-five.
You know what makes a man charismatic in later life? Optimism. It's what made Reagan so popular. At 83 I try to stay optimistic. My doctor advised me I shouldn't let aging get me down. It's too hard to get back up.
A lot of people think competence comes with age and experience. That's not necessarily true. Sometimes it's just the opposite. People get the crazy idea that they've earned the right to be incompetent. We see a lot of that in politics today. People get medals for messing up. I guess I come from the old school: If you're going to lead, you should stay away from the cliffs. (And read the manual prior to assembly.)
9. COMMON SENSE
Everyone always encourages me to be careful, be sensible, don't strain myself, don't take on too much. In other words, use my common sense. I'm not a kid anymore. But what is common sense at 83? Maybe it would be staying off the California Screamer, but I'm not so sure about that. I don't think it's bad to shake up the old brain cells every so often. I've always been a great admirer of Norman Vincent Peale, so I guess my basic philosophy boils down to something he said: "Live your life and forget your age."