Looking back to look forward

The story behind my goal to become the best leader I can be begins at about 1:00 am on December 3 when I received the worst kind of phone call anyone can ever receive. My father called to inform me that my mom—his wife of 58 years and grandmother to my three kids—passed away in her sleep. It was a total shock and tragedy that our family has yet to get over. She was the central figure in our family, the mastermind of gatherings with friends and family that always brought us all together. I had never fully contemplated what it might feel like to be without her—to wake up one day without a mom.

Mom and me doing what she loved

In the ensuing grief of losing my mom, my number one fan and perhaps the person who unconditionally loved me the most, I began asking myself whether I had been the best son I could have been? Had I called often enough? Had I visited enough? Had I told her how much I loved her often enough? If my mom were here to debate me, I am sure she would say that is ridiculous, that she would never have asked for anything more from a son, but it is impossible to not look back and wonder.

In the days after my mom’s death, I found myself searching for some way that I need to be different going forward. In an attempt to console my sister and father in their grief and to address my own, I proposed that we three could live differently and with a shared mission: We would live the rest of our lives in a way that we would have no regrets about the relationships we had with the people we care about. The idea being to live in the moment with the knowledge that our future selves would look back, and to make sure there would be no regrets.

The more I thought about making this my personal mission, the more it influenced how I thought about the professional goals I might set for myself in the new year. I kept coming back to the same concept: Looking back at my performance from the future and making sure I have no regrets. Ultimately, I translated this into the goal of becoming the best leader I can possibly be for the colleagues I care about.

As the CEO of an amazing company called World 50 that I am privileged to be part of (and even more privileged to represent ), we measure our progress on new empirical goals every year, plus a handful of qualitative ones—achieve this, build that, start this new thing. While it is not possible to map becoming the best leader I can be to any of those goals, it still feels like the right goal for me and the company, too.

A handful of retired CEOs I am lucky to know and admire, such as Hubert Joly and Steve Grimshaw, taught me that building the best company you can—one that is led by a meaningful purpose and makes a positive impact on customers and employees alike—is always the best north star. The rationale is that other forms of success will come if you focus on that. World 50 is at the stage where its success in creating positive impact for our members is increasingly in the hands of my many talented colleagues more than my own. Being the best leader I can be is in service of these goals. Better said, it is probably what my colleagues, if not also our members, most deserve from me.

I find the lens of looking at actions or decisions as if from the future to be an effective one. What action or decision would my future self wish I made? I have used the method to make many a decision, whether how to spend a family holiday or what new investment World 50 should or should not make. I had not really considered using it in the more abstract sense of becoming a better version of myself. It will be new territory, but territory I relish the pursuit of.

Like every leader, there is never a shortage of ways to improve. I can listen better. Communicate better. Allocate time more wisely. Facilitate better collaboration. The list is long. My plan is to look back at the end of each day and ask myself how I did. At the end of the week. At the end of the month. Not just my own self-assessment but also by soliciting candid feedback along the way. It will be an ongoing journey and I will continue to drink my own Kool-Aid by learning from the amazing leaders World 50 serves. After nearly a dozen years of being CEO, I see this as a refreshing challenge.

The year 2022 is not a year I will recall fondly. However much I wish I could go back and tell my mom how much I love her, hug her one more time, or just hear her voice, the one way arrow of time will not grant me any such opportunity. While I wish someone had told me, “You are going to lose your mom one day. Act accordingly,” I am not going to let my new knowledge go to waste. At the end of 2023, I hope to be able to say that I was the best father, husband, son, brother and friend I could be. I also hope to be able to say that I was the best colleague and leader I could be. Both goals will mean doing things differently, behaving differently, with my future self on my shoulder. Neither will be easy—old habits die hard—but I have the best motivation I could ever have: The mom I love and miss so much.

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