Two weeks ago, my wife and I visited my maternal grandmother’s grave. We called her “Momma Jessie.” She made a tremendous difference in my life. She had the unique ability to make me feel special and she taught me more than I ever learned in business school. For example, she encouraged me to trust my instincts; to take risks; to feel things first in my heart and then pursue them with my eyes, hands and legs; and to not let what critics said--or setbacks--discourage me. Her favorite saying was “Keep on looking up.”
Momma Jessie made me feel special by always smiling when she saw me, by telling me everything will be alright when things went wrong, and, most importantly, by correcting me, especially when I was doing what everyone else was. In my book, I share the story about the time she called me a “Damn fool” and asked “What are they unlearning you in college?” when I doubted my instincts and wanted to follow the crowd.
She lived through the Great Depression, segregation, and didn’t have more than a grammar school education; however, she was the wisest person I have ever known. I was always amazed how she could tell when it was going to rain before the weather forecasters; how she knew cash flow and accounting before there were spreadsheets; and how she understood people before there were personality assessments. Her greatest trait was her ability to make great decisions in times of tremendous uncertainty. That ability separates outstanding leaders from ordinary ones. Indeed, as you move up the career ladder and take on greater responsibility, you go from solving problems where there is a clear right/wrong answer that everyone agrees on to addressing dilemmas where the answer isn’t clear and, at best, 40% of people agree on what needs to be done. When those situations occurred, Momma Jessie would always go into her “Upper Room” where she got peace of mind, then come out with crystal clear clarity what we were going to do.
I’ve now come to realize that when we were out working in Momma Jessie’s garden she was also planting seeds and encouraging us to grow into leaders. To that point, I have always felt that leaders need to take a course in “Grandma’s Wisdom.” If they did, employee engagement, teamwork, and innovation would accelerate in their organizations.
You must have inner peace before you can have outward wisdom.