Hi Leader,

Successful leaders have a talent for discerning the lessons presented in everyday life. They take the time to look around them, notice what is happening, then ask themselves what they can learn from those observations.

In this key we will reflect on how a lesson learned at the beach can have a profound impact on your business as well as in your personal life.

What Jim the Beachcomber Can Teach You

On my regular morning visits to our almost private beach, I have observed with curiosity a man who cleans the beach daily. He is an odd sight among the fishermen, the surfers and the sun-bathers.

Morning after morning I watched him trace the beach with his plastic bag and arm extension pick-up tool. One morning my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided I must find out the story behind his daily ritual. What compels him to clean the beach?

Until that morning I did what we humans tend to do when observing others: we make up stories to explain or justify their actions. The conscious mind doesn't like incomplete pictures; it is agitated by unresolved riddles. Thus we complete the pictures and resolve the riddles by making up stories. I learned this truth by discovering time and again that I had pre-judged situations incorrectly.

Since I love finding the truth about situations more than I care about preserving my invented narratives, I am always better off asking the other person to tell me his/her story. Here is my conversation with Jim the angel beachcomber:

"My name is Aviv. If you don't mind my asking, when did you start cleaning this beach? What makes you do it every day?" I said.

Pointing to his heart, Jim said: "I had a heart problem and the doctor told me I should exercise. As I started walking down this beach every day, I quickly noticed it was a landfill. There was too much waste and junk on this beautiful beach to my liking. My immediate thought was that someone must clean it up. Then I thought, why shouldn't that someone be me? This was three years ago."

"What have you discovered by doing this task?" I asked.

"My first discovery was that picking up trash is better exercise than just walking. The second was that a little cleaning every day goes a long way. The third lesson was that I feel good when I leave the beach a little cleaner every day."

"Thank you. I appreciate what you do. Every time I see you, I thank you, because this beach is much nicer because of your efforts," I said.

"Well thank you. I do it first for myself. It's great exercise and it makes me feel good."

As I learned more about Jim, I realized his story contains a teachable message: the best way to help yourself is by helping something or someone else. You serve yourself best when you serve a cause. You resolve your needs by addressing the needs of others.

That's the lesson I learned from Jim, the angel beachcomber. It's one that you can apply to your professional life. You resolve your problem by addressing someone else's problem. You thrive by becoming the answer to your clients' needs.

Now it's your turn. Turn the key. For what needs are you the answer? What will you do today to begin meeting those needs?

© Aviv Shahar