The Secret of Life

Cape Cod Massachusetts

The secret of life is “enjoying the passage of the time” so says singer-songwriter James Taylor in his classic hit The Secret O’ Life.  Country singer Faith Hill offered up another view in her own The Secret of Life ballad.  The “Secret of Life” she sang, ” is a good cup of coffee and is to keep our eye on the ball.”

Clearly, this Secret of Life stuff is some kind of mystery and a source of great curiosity (musical guidance aside).  How else to explain the 26, 700,000 Google search results or even for that matter the 437,000 results a tighter search criteria reveals?  There’s the Secret of Life: DNA Edition from PBS; the Secret of Life blog (Spirituality with a Smile); there’s George Lavhosky’s 1925 treatise on radiobiology, The Secret of Life – Cosmic Rays and Radiations of Living Beings (no kidding); and Brian Clark’s stand-out blog about the intersection of a snowboard, a subdural hematoma, a new baby boy and the secret of life.  Need I go on?

Well I did.  It got me to thinking about the Secrets of Leadership—was this too a mystery to so many?  12 million Google references later having covered everything from Jack Welch’s Leadership Secrets to the Taboo of Leadership, maybe I’m getting closer to an answer. With a bit of index tightening the overall number of “secrets” fell quickly to about 733 ideas and references (and lots of duplication).  To whit; “the secret to leadership is to let the other guy catch a fish once in a while and stay out of his way while he’s doing it.  Seth Godin‘s new book Tribes is widely quoted, “Do what you believe in, paint a picture of the future and go there.  People will follow”.    Noted management authority James MacGregor Burns hoped that the secret of leadership was “that people can be lifted into their better selves”.  Even the late historian Stephen Ambrose got into the Secret’s universe with his observation that “I very often get asked, ‘what’s the secret of leadership’  And my only answer to that is ‘I’m dammed if I know,… But there’s one great quality that all great men share, and that’s luck. Napoleon ‘ was asked what qualities he was looking for in his generals, and he said, ‘just one–that they be lucky’.”

Perhaps as some have suggested the Secret of Leadership is all about building & maintaining a bond of trust with followers or more simply put, having others who are willing to follow.  Just maybe it boils down to this bit of leadership poetry from Victor Antonio G., “To lead by example is the true treasure, the secret of leadership, in one simple measure.”  One thing is certain, the advice is bountiful—if occasionally ineffectual—but rarely as humorous as what comes from the Fred Farrell School of Business courtesy of writer Garrison Keilor, “The secret of leadership is communication, and that doesn’t mean sitting around for hours in meetings picking fleas off each other.”  So what are your secrets?

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