What Are You In It For? March 6 2009

If you’re looking for the outrage of the week, look no further than the front page story in yesterday’s New York Times about how top executives of the former subprime mortgage lender, Countrywide, are back in business collecting on the delinquent home loans that the government has been buying from other banks.   The new company, Penny Mac, keeps 20 cents of every dollar they collect.   You’ll no doubt be happy to know that John Lawrence, their head of loan servicing, says that business is “off the charts good.”

Sure, we absolutely need a process for working through bad assets,  but isn’t it just a little bit troubling that the very leaders who personally pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars selling loans that people couldn’t afford are now making additional millions on the back end of the deal?  Bear with me while my blood pressure recalibrates to 120 over 80.

There is so much to mentally process these days, it can be overwhelming.  I believe that shorter blog posts are better than longer ones so I’m not going to go into detail on all the things that have been crossing my radar screen this week and making me think about what the real obligations of leadership are.  (For the source material, check out this post from Seth Godin, this Terri Gross  interview with theologian Bart Ehrman on NPR’s Fresh Air, this article on Warren Buffet’s letter to his shareholders  and this dialogue on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. ) 

Here’s the question I’m thinking about at the end of another momentous week for the world.  What are you in it for?

Let’s just get real for a minute.  We are in this financial crisis because a lot of people in leadership positions were in it for one thing.  The money.   Nothing else.  Just the money.  It’s pretty easy to see where that’s gotten us.   I’ve got nothing against money.  I’d much rather have some than not.  I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem to work out too well for society when influential leaders hold it as their primary or sole motivator.

If you’re reading this blog, my strong hunch is that you’re in it for a lot more than the money.  You have other motivators.  Here’s my suggestion on how to spend some of your time this weekend.  Make a list of what else you’re in it for.  What are your other motivators?  What are you really trying to do here?

Once you come up with your list, I’d encourage you to do two things.  First, tell people about it.  Tell them what you’re in it for and why you think it matters.  My guess is you’ll be stunned by the way people respond to your authenticity.  Second, act on it.  Look for ways – small and large – to act on what really motivates you as a leader.  Create opportunities for others to get involved. 

You and people like you who are clear about what they’re in it for and go out and act on that motivation are what’s going to get us out of this mess.  Gandhi famously said, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”   Can we all agree that there’s a lot that needs changing?  We’re leaders, let’s go do something about it.  After all, what are we in it for?

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