Thoughts on Leadership: Success and Your Personal Philosophy

By: Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting the year off with my typical Monday WIG calls. On Tuesday, I had a Berkshire Hathaway Energy weekly executive team meeting and on Wednesday, I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Energy 2021 Executive Leadership Conference, “Transforming Our Business,” a four-and-a-half-hour virtual session about leadership in 2021 and beyond. The rest of the week was spent planning for the virtual, two-day HomeServices of America Leadership Conference, which will take place January 20-21.

The Executive Leadership Conference was a great lead-in to this blog because Bill Fehrman, Berkshire Hathaway Energy president and CEO, and Greg Abel, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., vice chairman of non-insurance operations and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, talked about the culture of Berkshire Hathaway as one marked by continuous improvement.

In the name of continuous improvement, I’ve been listening to one of my all-time favorite mentors, Jim Rohn. On Audible, I can conveniently access “The Ultimate Jim Rohn Library,” which is 11 hours and 23 minutes of pure leadership wisdom. Here are a few gems I picked up this week that I hope will inspire you:

Personal philosophy is a major factor in how your life works out. You are 100% responsible for the results of your life and it all goes back to your personal philosophy. Rohn describes this as the way we process ideas and use our mind to interpret the action we’ll take, which determines the direction we will travel like the set of the sail. The wind blows the same for us all but it’s the set of the sail that determines where we’ll go.

Throw away the excuses. Why aren’t you as successful as you want to be? When he was 25 years old, Rohn was penniless with creditors calling and when he thought about his current situation, he’d constantly blame his circumstances. Taxes were too high. The economy was bad. Things cost too much. This is “all the stuff” as Rohn calls it that got in the way of success (or so he believed).

The problem – and the solution – is our own personal philosophy. Our personal philosophy is what separates us from other lifeforms. As Rohn explains, we are the only lifeforms on the planet that don’t just operate by instinct and it’s a benefit and a crutch. It’s a benefit because we have the ability to alter our philosophy and our actions but it’s a crutch because we also have the choice to not fulfill our complete potential. Do trees decide they’ll only grow half as tall? He asks. No, of course not. But for humans, we can decide doing half of our best is good enough. That’s the bad part about not operating on instinct. The good part? Choice. Geese may not be able to fly anywhere but south in the winter. We can fly wherever we want. “You can turn around, go north, go east, go west. You can order the entire process of your own life,” Rohn explains. We can think critically about our personal philosophy and come up with a better strategy for our goals. As Rohn says: “Philosophy helps us process what’s available.”

To change your future, change your mind. In his speech, Rohn uses the analogy of farming. You have certain variables to work with – the seeds, soil, rain, sunshine, seasons – and you can’t change that. You can only take those variables as they come and deal with them. What you can change is your approach to the constants and the circumstances around you. You can transform them into equity and promise. From whatever soil you’re given, you can grow the stuff of your wildest and most important dreams. Rohn says, “To change your future, change your mind.” The problem isn’t what’s around you, the problem is how you’re dealing with what’s around you as filtered through your personal philosophy. For his own life as a struggling 25-year-old, Rohn was determined to change his personal philosophy. “The early results of those philosophical changes tasted so good, I’ve never stopped the process of refining,” he says, and it was true. By age 31, he had become a millionaire.

Failure is defined as a few errors in judgment repeated every day. But judgments don’t have to be grand-scale decisions; they can be the slightest things you do that when compounded over time, make a huge impact. Imagine every night before bed you eat a chocolate bar and then one day, you decide that night to eat an apple instead. Over time, if you continue eating the apple, you’ll have more energy and you’ll be healthier, and it all started with that one, tiny decision to replace chocolate with apples. “My own errors in judgment brought me in six years to pennies in my pocket, nothing in the bank,” Rohn says. Failures are simply being lax in judgment, deciding not to develop your personal philosophy to better your life. Failure, as Rohn defines it, is accumulated disaster.

The formula for success is a few simple disciplines practiced every day. If you decide to switch the chocolate for the apple today, you’ve started the process of changing your personal philosophy, Rohn says. You don’t have to change anything staggering; the first step can be as simple as waking up a few minutes earlier or listening to 15 minutes of a book every day this week. “After today you don’t ever have to be the same again, only by choice,” Rohn says.

Success is a reinforcement. When you’re in bed in the morning, you can hit the snooze button and think to yourself: “What’s a few more minutes of sleep going to do?” The truth is, those few minutes can be the difference between changing your personal philosophy for the better or remaining stagnant. Rohn says: “It does matter. It will matter. How easy is it to get up in the morning when you’re anxious to make progress toward your dream? It’s a whole different story.” In other words, with the right motivation, you’ll be excited to start your day. You might even wake up before your alarm clock goes off because you’re just that eager to begin building your dream life. Which leads us to the idea that …

Success fuels ambition. The feeling of success will inspire you to want to feel that way again. Once you experience success, momentum takes over; it’s a snowball effect and you’ll find success faster and with more efficiency than ever before. Rohn says, “Pretty soon the disciplines that were so difficult in the beginning are now part of your philosophy.” This kind of positive reinforcement builds better habits and creates the energy we need to fuel our dreams, desires and goals.

Success is not a number but a potential. How do you know when you’re successful? The answer is different for everyone because it depends on what you can do when you’re playing full out and taking all the necessary action possible to succeed. (Remember, as Rohn pointed out, human beings are the only living creatures that have the choice to live up to their full potential or not. The apple tree cannot decide if it wants to grow all the apples it can, it simply does.) Rohn says, “The key is to do the best you can.” If earning $50,000 a year is the best you can then wonderful, he explains. If it’s $500,000 – then fantastic. If it’s $5 million – great. Success isn’t a number, it’s the fulfillment of your personal philosophy to achieve everything you’re capable of accomplishing.

So, what’s the message? To be human, to be a leader is a gift and a decision. We’ve been given the “dignity of choice” as Rohn calls it, and it’s up to us to become part of what we can be or all of what we can be.

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