Keeping Your Sword Sharp

otcpinkpetro17 Source: Houston Chronicle/May 2015. Mayor Parker, myself and my little one.

Last year when I launched Pink Petro I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Annise Parker, the Mayor of Houston, an amazing dynamic different kind of leader who has pivoted from private corporate experience to politics.   Her last term just ended with the new year and I have no doubt she's going on to amazing things.

Mayor Parker proclaimed Pink Petro Day and came to our launch reception to speak with energy and community leaders across the world during the Offshore Technology Conference last May.  At the time the energy markets were plunging.  She did something every good leader does:  she asked me what I thought?  What did I feel was important to stress in her remarks with the crowd?

We agreed that the #1 thing anyone can do in any industry is to keep your sword sharp.

What does this mean?

For me it's a few things.

First of all. Every business has a cycle.  And in an increasingly connected world where trade and information flow is dynamic and ever-changing, change is the constant.  Global markets drive the psychology of how we respond as people, businesses and shareholders.  In an instant a company can lose value.  With a blink, markets can drive disruption that have rippling effects. Shifts happen more rapidly than ever.  We cannot control them.  But we can control how we respond.

And our response should be to stay relevant ahead of disruptive cycles.

Here are four considerations of what I think keeps the sword sharp.

Build a wide diverse network.  Ever heard that saying..."it ain't about you?" Well they are right, it isn't.  Plain and simple, you have to find people different than you.  This means step outside of your cube, office, department, division, line of business, company and industry.  And dear God, please step out of your neighborhood, city, and geography!  My fellow Americans are notorious for having a view, and generally it's quite polarized.  If you have the opportunity to travel in your career or work in a global team, go for it.  My best growth was working on teams across geographies. Embrace the internet and social media and follow or connect with someone who is different.  Difference drives value.

Build diverse teams.  Building a diverse network goes one step further.  If you're a leader of any sort - small or large team in a company or perhaps as a volunteer, apply #1 above.   Building a diverse team is about consciously selecting people who will bring something unique to the table.  And go beyond what people generally think diversity means: race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Go deep and find the "difference" in their thoughts and experiences.  Tap people's gifts in a way that can generate awesome results.  Again diversity and difference drives value.

Become a life-long learner and develop a real passion to grow.  The world needs and deserves you to feast at the banquet of curiosity and knowledge.  It's good to haPace_quoteve core deep skills, but don't hang your shingle on one. And while I'm not suggesting you do everything and be all things to everyone, it's so important for you to be versatile, pivot when the time comes, and demonstrate you are willing to learn new things.

Last, but certainly not least...

Do the unpopular.  If I had a $1 for every time I've been unpopular on a position or decision...I'd be a millionaire Unpopular is hard.  And one of the most unpopular and most difficult things we face today in society is taking the longer view.  The digital world has driven us to become short termers.  One of the things that resonated with me about Mayor Parker, is despite her politics, she always looked ahead and thought ahead of today.  Every corporation I've worked with and for has a revolving door.  We move on quickly and don't always get to see the fruit of our labor. Going long requires us to really sharpen the sword, to think sustainably and about the future when really NO one has the crystal ball. And here's a secret:  It's unpopular to be popular!

I would argue if you're not actively seeking out diverse relationships, building diverse teams, boosting your learning and taking unpopular positions,  you're biggest risk is becoming irrelevant.  Period. Penguins are black and white and hang in the cold.  You can't pick out the penguin who stands out because they all look the same. But what if the penguin was purple (or pink in my case - and I don't like pink by the way).  What if the penguin hung out on the beach and not in the Arctic? Find color in people, your work, learning and how you contribute.  This has nothing to do with skin color.  It has everything to do with going beyond who you are to discover the world out there that can bring you a wealth of knowledge and learning you don't have.

That knowledge and learning is what keeps the sword sharp...and no one can take that from you.

What else have I missed?  How do you keep your sword sharp? Ever take the unpopular view? I'd love to hear your stories.

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