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Building a Life, Not a Resume — Tom Tierney

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Tom Tierney, Chairman and Co-founder of Bridgespan, the leader in non-profit consulting, and former CEO of Bain.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You are one of the six people I profile in Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.  In my analysis of your life story, I describe how you exemplify the skills of envisioning your legacy, weaving disparate strands, and seeing new ways of doing things.  What do you do to ensure you’re building a life and not a resume?

Tom Tierney: Tom Tierny I heard recently that “days are long but life is short.”  It’s important to step back and ask what matters.  We are all different and have an opportunity to take advantage of our unique circumstance and gifts and apply those to achieve “success” as we define it. I try to step back and ask, “Have we achieved those things in life that matter most to us?” “What have you done with your gifts?” It’s not what’s in the bank or on paper.

SF: So toenvision your legacy, you try to keep the big picture in mind.

TT: What is success in life for me? I ask myself periodically. And at the end of the year I do a retreat with myself, and with my notebooks.  How’d I do this year with my wife? My sons? Work? Community? My volunteer activities? How’d I do? What can I do better? I keep a journal. A couple of dozen by now.  The act of writing helps me think about it and to overcome inertia.  Time marches on and we have to get ahead of time. I keep notes, get feedback from others.  My wife is my best coach. She asks, “Are you sure you’re living up to what you want to achieve?”

SF:  You have a commitment to continual learning and reflection, examining what is and what might be. And you invest time to reflect. But you must face pressure to get on with other things and pressure from others to do so.  How do you keep that commitment to journaling, reflecting?

TT: Discipline is a really important attribute. Someone asked if, all things being equal I’d rather have 20% smarter or 20% more disciplined on my team. It’s the later, because that person is able to make tough decisions at the margins, tiny tradeoffs. For example, I walk to work, and then there’s the escalator or 45 steps. I take the 45 steps.

SF: You’re smart about your choices.  They’re deliberate.

TT: Discipline manifests itself in little ways.  Do I exercise? Work at home or go in on the weekend? Not check email in the evening.  It’s the little choices on the margins that add up.

SF: How do you manage pressure from colleagues? How do you keep those boundaries?

TT: I find that most of the challenge is in my own head; thinking that I’m indispensable. I’ve experimented with being off the grid and surprisingly the world does not stop. And of the hundreds of emails, I find that someone else handled it, or it wasn’t really urgent. We too often focus on what is urgent versus what’s important.

SF: How do you remain focused on what’s really important and not get caught up in the urgent?

TT: I’ll ask the question, “How important is it today? And how important is it for the future?”  Here are my priorities, things I value, that really matter to me.  We are too reactive to the urgent. It’s asking the question. Making time to look backwards and forwards.  Creating feedback loops. And not getting caught up with inertia or what other people want.

SF: Is this what you’re teaching about leadership at West Point?

TT: I conduct seminars on how to succeed at life. People say the cadets are too young.  But this is always relevant because we are always confronted with choices. And we can learn from each others’ experiences.  We are all the same. Who isn’t struggling with having a great home life and work life?  We want to learn from authorities. But everybody around you can teach you.  A 19 year old cadet asked the question: How can I develop confidence to confront superior who I think is making a mistake? I turned it to class. Some had been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. We had a robust conversation about how to address problems with a boss. How to manage up by exerting influence versus control? You can ask questions and go through others.

SF: Exactly, others can answer if you engage in dialogue. So, what’s been your worst mistake?

TT: I have diagnosed my mistake patterns. When I have strategic life decision like who you’re going to marry. Then I think long and hard. My mistakes occur when they’re insidious voluntary errors, tactical mistakes. I rush to judgment without leaving my mind open. I can pigeon-hole ideas and people.  I can shut down the receiver and when I do that I am worse off.

SF: Maybe that’s why you are relentless in asking yourself the difficult questions, to counterbalance this tendency you believe you have.

TT: If I’m not careful, I’ll ignore, because I’m task oriented. It’s my fundamental flaw.

SF: But youcompensate for what you perceive to be a flaw.  What do you do, and what can others do too?

TT: Awareness. And put on the brakes. If I’m off, tell me that. My son says, “Dad, I hear you, but have you ever thought about it this way?” That’s the cue for me to hit the pause button.

SF: To keep the receiver open.

TT: You miss a lot of texture if you shut stuff out that which doesn’t fit with your mental model.

SF: So what’s the big idea in order to lead the life you want?

TT: I find it’s true in philanthropy in volunteering:  humanity (care about something broader than just you), humility (it’s not just about me), and courage (do right thing in the right way).  Success is defined as building a life, not a resume.

Tom Tierney stepped down as CEO at Bain to co-found The Bridgespan Group, the leader in consulting in the non-profit sector. To learn more follow @BridgespanGroup, @ThomasJ_Tierney

 

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Comments

  1. Amit Singh says:

    Thank you for these pragmatically insights from your diary, I think at times we need to sincerely looks for insights from the “margins” to ensure, what defines internal satisfaction; I like your comment on coach and wife, all in one, I’m accepting this realty too.

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