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Throwback Thursday: Hemingway’s Inspiration For Growing Leaders

Sep 21, 2023 6:30:00 AM

Hemingway Studio

Throwback Thursday: Are you leading to your fullest? Great reminders in this 2015 blog, inspired by Hemingway, about being resilient, introspective, adaptive, collaborative, and clear.

On a visit to Key West, I was able to spend a little time at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. Hemingway resided in the house for most of the 1930s, as well as when he visited in the 1940s and 1950s. I was particularly struck by his writer’s studio on the second floor of a carriage house on the grounds.

Most think of Hemingway as a great novelist or even a wartime news correspondent. One theme that runs throughout much of Hemingway’s writing is his belief that we can become better.

He had a reputation for living life to the fullest and once wrote, Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

I think leaders can find inspiration in his work. What might Hemingway say about leading at your fullest potential? In my book, rEvolution, I touch on these same five areas

1. It takes resiliency. 

Hemingway: “The first and final thing you have to do in this world is to last in it, and not be smashed by it.”

Without dogged perseverance and a tenacious personal belief system I wouldn’t have made it at Gibson. This doesn’t mean I didn’t think about throwing in the towel. Everyone has a breaking point and I almost reached mine. With every story I heard or watched in which other leaders were having success, I felt like a failure. Yet when I found myself getting close to the brink I was able to lean on good friends, colleagues, and my spouse to help me through.

Don’t quit at the first sign of trouble but avoid becoming hardheaded and stubborn. Just keep working to get it right.

2. Recognize your shortcomings.

Hemingway: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”

For me, real introspection didn’t happen right away or for the right reasons. Early on, my frustration with the speed and amount of progress led me to question my ideas and approach. But that had a lot more to do with wanting to win for my ego’s sake. It took getting crushed in my 360 reviews to truly want to change and change for the right reasons. Even though you’re likely a major contributor to the issues, it’s not easy to admit it.

There is a fine balance you must find between remaining confident and being willing to question yourself. You have to get honest answers to these questions. My evolution needed – no, required – a combination of mentors, advisors, and ultimately the 360 reviews to find my answers.

3. Adapt and emerge even stronger.

Hemingway: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

Will you keep organizational success as your guiding light or will you allow tradition and legacy to burden your ambitions? Learning to adapt and embrace change will help you carry the day. Nothing is static these days and you can’t afford to be either.

Transform or die. It’s a message you have to be communicating to your team all the time. The more prepared they are to live in a fluid and evolving world, the easier it will be to implement necessary change in your organization.

4. You can’t do it by yourself. 

Hemingway: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

“Command and control” leadership won’t fly with today’s multi-generational and diverse workforce. Collaboration is about input and influence versus coercion. Your people want to be heard, understood, and most importantly, actively involved. Besides, you don’t have the market for good ideas cornered. Bring them into the loop and treat them like owners. Be transparent, fair, and accountable to them as you would a partner. You will be rewarded handsomely.

Additionally, when you harness the creative power and intellectual energy of a team, you will see exponential growth in your ability to innovate. Give your people a chance to contribute and they’ll likely surprise you.

5. It requires total clarity in words and deeds. 

Hemingway: “All our words from loose using have lost their edge.”

You need to have everyone marching to the same beat. This requires great organizational clarity. Start with a compelling mission, create your grand vision, and live your core values. Help everyone understand what’s in it for them and how they can contribute. Your language and actions will drive this. It’s the not-so-secret sauce.

No strategy or tactic can trump organizational clarity. Everything else becomes easier when it’s right. Embracing change, faster decision making, collaboration, team work… they all become the norm when you have clarity.

What’s The Risk?

The risk is in continuing to provide unremarkable leadership to your people. Sales will tumble. Customers will leave. Turnover will spike. Your team needs more from you. They deserve your best.

How do you it? As a leader focus your efforts on being:

  • Resilient
  • Introspective
  • Adaptive
  • Collaborative
  • Clear

As Hemingway wrote in The Old Man and the Sea, “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only one you.” Make sure you are leading to your fullest!

Topics: Executive
Tim Leman

Written by Tim Leman

Tim is Chairman and CEO at Gibson. He joined Gibson in 2005 as the Director of the Employee Benefits Practice and became a principal in 2007. He was named President in 2009, CEO in 2011, and elected Chairman of the Board in 2014.

With Tim’s leadership, Gibson has been selected as a Best Places to Work in Indiana, named to Principal’s 10 Best list for employee financial security, maintained its status as a Reagan & Associates Best Practices Agency, recognized as one of 20 Indiana Companies To Watch, and named to the Inc. 5000 list. Read Tim's Full Bio