Shoot for the moon and other values to live by: Lessons I’ve learned from John, John and John…
By Kathleen QuinnVotaw
John, my father, is an Irish immigrant who used to tell me every night at dinner, “Shoot for the moon honey; if you only get halfway there I’ll be proud of you.” His father, John, never left the Old Country, but raised five remarkable boys alone. John, my son, is my pride and joy. And John, my brother, is my rock.
I thought appreciatively of the Johns in my life and what they’ve taught me as I listened to John Kelley, Chairman and CEO of CereScan, speak at the monthly Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) luncheon. John is the former CEO of McData and a seasoned executive who speaks knowingly about ethics, where they come from and what happens when they’re absent. What sparked my reminiscences was his remark that honor starts with the family; that family values are the foundation for everything. As he continued, it occurred to me that he shares the values of so many that I care about.
John Kelley said there is a great need in America for more ethical leadership and that we all need to rise up to the efforts of our grandparents who lived in an era of doing the right thing, the principled thing. Our personal ethics are what should guide us in raising our families, and in leading our businesses, universities, communities and government.
I told John I’d like to hear more, and he sent me a copy of the 2010 commencement speech he gave at Heidelberg University. In it, he poses some interesting questions along with offering powerful insight. Two points in particular resonated with me:
- Is the saying, “Winning is not everything; it is the only thing,” now a core value we live by? What coach Vince Lombardi, who is credited with coining the phrase, actually said was: “Winning is not everything; wanting to win is.” John’s point: What is right is right, no matter what the circumstances are.
- Have we forgotten what can happen when seemingly good people don’t adhere to their ethics, virtues and values? Is going against the rules okay if you don’t get caught? John’s point: Reputation is what you get when everyone else is watching. Character comes from what you do when no one else is around to see it.
How often do we talk in our families about what winning means if it’s at someone else’s expense? How often do we let someone laugh away bad behavior with a quip like, “At least I didn’t get caught”? Ethics and values get passed from generation to generation in two ways: by modeling them within the family and sticking tightly to them out in the world; and by speaking regularly about what they are and what they mean.
As Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” We need to instill our values in every way our children will absorb them. It’s the only way to ensure that ethics permeate our families and our lives.
John, my father, encouraged me every night at dinner to try hard, and he gave me permission to fail by saying he’d still be proud if I didn’t make it. I’m sure that family value
has much to do with my entrepreneurial spirit. And my husband, whose name is Andy, is about as close in values to a John as you can get.
Thanksgiving month is a perfect time to not only think about what our family values are and what that means to the larger community, but to express them in words and deeds. I know they’ll be part of our Thanksgiving dinner conversation, and I can’t think of a
better Thanksgiving wish for you. Shoot for the moon!
\\Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-838-3334 x5.