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Following Happy Trails: On Leadership and Life

Recently, I was driving down I-17, heading for Sky Harbor Airport. At a certain point, I could see a full moon through my windshield, and the rising sun in my rearview mirror. It struck me that this was a pretty good metaphor for my current situation. The sinking moon and rising sun represent the close of one phase of the day, and the beginning of another. Similarly, I’m wrapping up one phase of my life, and beginning another. By the time you read this, I will be the former dean of the Franke College of Business. (I resigned almost a year ago, but served out this past year while the university searched for a replacement. I’m staying on as a professor, which is a pretty sweet job.) As a result, this is my last regular Flagstaff Business News column.

Shortly after arriving at NAU, I met Troy Bix, co-publisher of FBN. He invited me to write a monthly column, which I’ve been doing for almost five years. In those five years, I’ve learned quite a bit from writing these columns. As my swan song, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned.

I learned that there are many things to figure out. I like to think that I know a lot, but writing these columns reminds me that I really don’t know much at all. Every bit of knowledge gained leads to more questions. At times, this can be frustrating, but mostly it’s stimulating. There’s always something new to learn, another perspective to consider, another problem to solve. For a geek like me, this is a beautiful thing.

I learned that both leadership and life are simultaneously simple and complex … and related. Originally, my columns focused on leadership, but over time I started to write more about various life issues. Usually the concepts in my columns are relatively simple to understand at one level, but are really quite complex. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion … wait, that’s not right. It’s really more like a complex painting. Take da Vinci’s The Last Supper for example. When you first look at it, you know it’s a picture of a bunch of people having dinner. But when you look at it more closely, there’s a lot going on. Look at it again, and you notice a new detail. For many of the concepts covered in the columns, the situation was similar, the more I pondered, the more complexity I saw. Here’s the thing though, you can gain from even a simple application of the concepts, but usually the investment in a closer examination pays dividends. I also learned that the way you live has a big impact on how you lead. Being an excellent leader comes, in part, from being an excellent person.

Writing these columns taught me many other things, but I’ll leave you with just one more. Throughout my time writing this column, a month never went by without someone talking to or emailing me about a column. These interactions were almost always small affairs, a few words really, but they always provided a big boost to my dedication (and my ego!). This reminded me of how easy it is to make someone’s day. A simple comment, a short note … it doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s mood. Take the time to make another’s life a little brighter.

In an earlier column, I wrote about the benefits of gratitude. In that spirit, I’d like to thank Troy Bix for giving me this opportunity, and Bonnie Stevens for her amazing work as editor. Finally, my deep, sincere thanks to you. Even if I’ve never met you, I appreciate you taking a few minutes now and then to read my thoughts. Your kindness has made my efforts worthwhile. Thank you.

I feel a bit like a cowboy riding off into the sunset, a scene that closed many a movie. It’s easy to forget, however, that the cowboy riding off into the sunset is riding somewhere new. So here we are, at the end of this trail, but at the beginning of another. I’m not sure what’s over the horizon, but I’m pretty sure it will be interesting. FBN

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.

If you’ve enjoyed these columns, you can purchase a compilation of the entire set on Amazon in a book titled On Leadership and Life (amazon.com/Craig-Van-Slyke/e/B001JP7X3W/). (It’s only three bucks, and the proceeds go to dog, cat, horse and goat treats.) I’ve also started writing for the online publication Medium (medium.com/@craigvanslyke). You can follow my website The Excellent Living Report (excellentlivingreport.com/). Finally, feel free to email me at crvanslyke@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!



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