As the campaign chair for a United Way of Dane County fundraising campaign, I was asked to attend and speak at the first meeting of the Loaned Executives, a group of community volunteers loaned from or sponsored by local businesses. At this first meeting, we were asked an icebreaker question: “What is your life slogan?” I was amazed that almost everyone was able to quote something very meaningful to them off the top of their heads. Some were very touching and many were very funny – people quoted everyone from Albert Einstein to Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. (“I drink and I know things.” – she clarified it was coffee that she drinks at work.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have specific words to live by or someone I could quote. What popped into my head was what I used to tell the soccer team that I coached from kindergarten until they got to high school. When they were in kindergarten, we weren’t supposed to keep track of the score or which team won the game, so I told them they were winners if they:

  • tried their hardest
  • showed good sportsmanship
  • had fun.

So when I was called on to give my life motto, that’s all I had. At the time, I wondered if I sounded like a goof. Do these things make sense for a 56-year-old business person like they did for a five or six-year-old soccer player?

Afterward, I had more time to consider if this is how I try to live and if these statements make sense in a business environment. I certainly think I try my hardest in my work. I believe it’s how you get ahead, and as a leader I believe that’s how you set a good example.

How does showing good sportsmanship translate? I think it ties directly to our company culture and living the golden rule, treating other people the way you want to be treated. If you were to look at a word cloud of our culture, a few words might be prominent, like “team” and “family,” but I think the largest word would be “nice.” I’ve blogged about the pluses and minuses of this culture before. This culture is so important to me, that if I had to change my title from CEO it would be to Chief Culture Officer.

“Have fun” directly correlates from kindergarten soccer to work. In fact, “have fun” is one of the items on our Statement of Beliefs, the core document guiding our culture. For me, life is too short to not have fun at work. Being a publicly traded bank can present challenges and can, at times, be very stressful for people. I try to make our day-to-day work environment a little lighter and help make it an enjoyable place to work.

This also reminds me of when I have been asked to convince an employee to stay. I’ve done this many times with some success, while other times I’ve intentionally not been successful. Occasionally, people say they’re just not happy in their jobs. In those situations, I tell them that I think it probably is best that they leave if they really think they’ll be happier somewhere else. Life is too short and you spend too many of your waking hours at work to be unhappy. You have to enjoy the people you work with and the time you spend at work.

The whole life slogan exercise and reflection on it made me realize that it probably is valuable to have words to live by. It’s a true north for yourself that you can use to assess what you’re doing with your time, who you are spending it with, and if that’s really fulfilling for you. Do you have a life slogan - a motto and words to live by, and, just as importantly, are you living by them?