Thoughts On Leadership: The Four Agreements

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Texas, prepping for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention, which will take place March 10-12 in Las Vegas. (Learn more at www.bhhsevents.com.)

For Sales Convention each year, the team selects a theme and this year we’ve chosen ALL IN. The concept of ALL IN is particularly meaningful, not only from the perspective of the wide-ranging technology, resources, marketing and education the brand provides but also from the perspective of a leadership philosophy that starts and ends with you. To be ALL IN means to commit fully to your own success, knowing that you and you alone are responsible for your happiness, prosperity and your positive perception of the world around you.

In the past two weeks, I’ve listened—twice—to The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by don Miguel Ruiz. (If you haven’t yet read or listened to The Four Agreements, I recommend downloading it or visiting your local bookstore and purchasing it today. Over the years, I’ve listened to it at least five times.)

In the book, Ruiz outlines the knowledge and practices of an ancient society known as the Toltec, who were scientists, students and artists living centuries ago in Teotihuacan, just outside of Mexico City.

Ruiz describes the Toltec body of knowledge as a “way of life, distinguished by the ready accessibility of happiness and love.” In other words, following the guidance of the Toltec allows you to be ALL IN, taking back the freedom to let yourself be free.

This might sound too theoretical or spiritual to be an actionable leadership philosophy, but the Four Agreements are directly applicable to all aspects of a leader’s personal and professional life. Here are my key takeaways after a recent twice-over digestion of the author’s impactful ideas:

The First Agreement – Be Impeccable with Your Word. This agreement, as Ruiz writes, is “very, very powerful.” Any words spoken allow the speaker the ability to create, like a magician, something from nothing. People can harm or help others, wage war or spread fear just through the awesome might of their words. “The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life,” Ruiz writes. He explains how the word “impeccable” itself is loaded with meaning. In Latin, pecatus means “sin” and im means “without.” To be impeccable with your word is to use the word without sin. “You take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself,” Ruiz says. He also notes we should understand the weighty magic our words contain, brandish them wisely and know that the words others use derive from their singular version of what they believe to be true. Someone can say, “You aren’t good at writing.” We can choose to believe this as truth or, we can take the phrase as just a collection of sound, uttered from the misinterpretations and misgivings that have formed in that person’s mind.

The Second Agreement – Don’t Take Anything Personally. “Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me,’” Ruiz writes. He says all people live within their own mind and perceptions, shaped by their own thoughts and dreams. He says: “When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” He likens hurtful opinions or gossip to poison and says when people deliver this poison and we take it personally, their poison becomes ours. If we understand that all opinions are manifestations of someone else’s reality, truth and beliefs—and they have nothing to do with ours—then we are given the gift of immunity to the poison. Nothing and no one can derail your happiness because it is solely determined by you.

The Third Agreement – Don’t Make Assumptions. Ruiz writes: “Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.” In any relationship—business, personal, familial—we assume someone else knows exactly what we are thinking. But, as Ruiz explains, no person is inside our minds and no person has the exact same belief system or dreams that we have. We assume everyone sees and experiences life just like we do, yet no one experiences it like us. This means even the tiniest assumption can cause unhappiness and suffering in a relationship. Ask questions, communicate clearly and cleanly, and assume nothing.

The Fourth Agreement – Always Do Your Best. Of course, our “best” is relative but as we instill the habits of the Four Agreements into our lives, Ruiz says this “best” will become even better. “If you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself,” he writes. “Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your family, to your community to everything.”

So, what’s the message? To be ALL IN as a leader really means to commit to making the necessary changes in your mindset, lifestyle and life that will lead to greater happiness and fulfillment. To be ALL IN is to understand that every word you speak carries intense meaning. It means realizing that others’ opinions should have no bearing on your own perception of yourself and the world around you. To be ALL IN is to assume nothing and question everything in order to better understand the people and particulars of your life. Finally, to be ALL IN is doing your best, however you define it, and knowing that when you’re ALL IN, you can never lose because just making the conscious decision to give it your all means you’ve already won.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from the Super Bowl

This week my travels found me first in Atlanta, where I got to watch Super Bowl LIII with Chris Stuart, CEO of HSF Affiliates. After Atlanta and a victorious Patriots celebration, I flew to Northern California and finally, I reflect on my week from (somewhat) sunny Southern California, where I’m in alignment sessions, film shoots and meetings.

But let’s return to the East Coast for a while and talk about leadership lessons from the Super Bowl. As you may know, this past Sunday the New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl. The franchise is now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins in the 53-year history of this epic American sporting tradition.

While on paper, the number of wins may be the same, what differentiates these two football franchises is that every Super Bowl win by the Patriots is credited to the same coach and quarterback. Yes, you read that right. Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are the only two constants leading a team that has now made it to nine Super Bowls. This is a record most football followers believe will never be attained again.

And on a side note as a lifelong fan of football, I’ve never seen so many Tom Brady jerseys as I did on Sunday when I scanned the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and its estimated 70,081 Super Bowl attendees. The stadium was a veritable sea of 12s—Brady’s number—and it seemed like every other person was wearing a Brady jersey.

Anyway, back to the game. If real estate is about location, location, location then football’s most lofty achievement in its history is about leadership, leadership, leadership. (A convenient twist for our Thoughts on Leadership series.)

Leaders are often characterized by how well they inspire others, delegate when necessary and also by the examples they set. So, let’s evaluate these two leaders by that criteria.

Belichick is considered by many, if not most, as the greatest NFL coach of all time because of how deftly he delegates. Brady is called by most football aficionados as the greatest quarterback of all time or the G.O.A.T. (“Greatest of All Time.”) His status is due in large part to how well he inspires others and leads by example.

The indispensable quality that is the thread between the achievements of Belichick and Brady is exceptional and unmistakable leadership.

First, let’s consider the quarterback position, which is an assignment that relies on solid leadership. Even though the coach is the ultimate leader of any football team, the quarterback is often likened to a coach on the field.

As New England’s resident coach on the field, Brady leads by example, which is a requirement we’ve identified as necessary for any leader. He possesses legendary calm on the field while in the midst of so-called battle and is impeccably devoted to his fitness and preparedness. He is also renowned for bringing out the best in his teammates, displaying humility and always professing the importance of teamwork. For example, Brady famously took less compensation, giving up an estimated $60 million in his career with discounted contracts, so his team could acquire other players of value.

Brady, however, is an extension of his team’s ultimate leader, his coach. Should Brady not be willing to be a disciple or follower of his coach, then the winning alchemy that is required for repeated championships would be undermined.

For his part, Coach Belichick epitomizes the characteristics of great leaders: He’s an effective communicator and a tireless learner. Coach Belichick was forever influenced by watching his father coach at the United States Naval Academy, one of the world’s greatest citadels for leadership development.

In addition to figuring out how his father dissected the game of football, Belichick is also devoted to studying and learning about the lives of other great leaders throughout history. For instance, Belichick looks to Paul Brown, (the co-founder and first coach of the Cleveland Browns, a team which now sports his name) as a shining example of leadership and excellence.

In addition to a constant penchant for learning, effective communication is another staple of successful leadership. Belichick is renowned for delivering what is arguably the single-most iconic leadership message in all of sports: “Do your job!”

This profoundly simple yet simply profound call-to-action is monumentally resonant because Belichick has first painstakingly educated every member of his team and coaching staff, so each team member understands precisely what “doing your job” entails. Belichick also underscores how it’s not only about doing your job but also understanding how your performance at your job affects the jobs of others. This interplay is critical to the Belichick coaching philosophy. Therefore, his leadership creates both individual and team responsibility and complete clarity.

Belichick and Brady stand at the forefront of the “do your job” mantra. Both are known for their interminable willingness to do their job then figure out how to do their job even better than they did the day before. This requires an unending eagerness to learn and prepare. These qualities—collaboration, accountability, clarity, preparedness, a willingness to learn—create a winning team culture. Everyone knows they must do their job or be gone.

When comparing the scoreboard, other organizations will point to what a great coach or incredible quarterback the Patriots have and say that these two things alone can explain the team’s astonishing success. This rationalization is easy; it’s much simpler to explain away lesser success by attributing it to the overwhelming athleticism or intelligence of player and coach, rather than conceding that the differentiation may very well be due to leadership. While some teams have a single, stand-out leader, the Patriots are blessed with two—Belichick and Brady. Fortuitously for their fervent football fans, they each landed in Foxborough, Massachusetts nineteen years ago and have been leading—and winning—ever since.

So, what’s the message? In the end, it comes down to discipline, teamwork and a profound willingness to do your job. Then, when you do it and win, you must still think about how you can do your job even better tomorrow. James Harrison, two-time Super Bowl champion, former Defensive Player of the Year and former Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker (who played one season with the Patriots and Brady) said it best in a recent Super Bowl LIII interview. (Watch the full interview here.

He recalled that when he first arrived in New England, he wanted to “hate [Tom Brady] when I got there.” He thought the hype surrounding Brady couldn’t possibly be real. Then, he watched him in action and Harrison’s entire opinion shifted. The former Steelers’ linebacker noted that Brady was just as friendly with him as he was with teammates who he’d been playing with for a decade or members of the practice squad. “He’s very consistent and that’s why guys love him,” Harrison said, adding that he’s never seen anyone with Brady’s incredible study habits. In the span of a season, Harrison recognized exactly why Brady finds success year after year, and when asked during the interview if he thought Brady was the greatest quarterback in the history of football, Harrison replied without hesitation, “Best quarterback, no question.”

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