Leaning Forward: Living the Dash

Scott Reed: Vice Provost and Director
Scott Reed: Vice Provost and Director
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I’ve been asked several times recently to make observations about people who have accomplished much in their lives or careers and who are moving on to other challenges.  Promise interns, Extension cooperators, university graduates, faculty promoted and/or tenured, recipients of the Eagle rank in the Boy Scouts of America, to name some. In thinking about the traits of those who share in such honors, I’m struck by a few items.

First, accomplished individuals have a forward lean about them. What’s a forward lean?  The term recognizes that someone has a defined direction. First characterized by the CIA in 1995, the concept identifies the value of being aggressive and taking risks. To me, the lean acknowledges a focus and commitment to forward progress: leaning toward a goal in the future.

What about “Living the Dash”? This is a phrase I first heard described in an OSU commencement address by Helen Diggs, when she identified the “dash” etched in a tombstone between a person’s birth and death years as the symbol that contains all of a person’s activities and contributions. I’ve since learned that the concept is actually a poem written by Linda Ellis and available on YouTube—check it out!

When I consider both items together, it’s easy for me to observe that  most successful individuals I know have both—something towards which they are leaning and a commitment to accomplishment. Together, the lean and a healthy “dash” signify energy given to making a difference.

But what are the actual desired behaviors? Here is where another leader, Stephen Covey, enters the scene. In Covey’s signature work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he identifies deliberate traits of people who have track records of accomplishment.  Here they are:

  1. Be proactive
    This refers to the ability to control one’s own environment; the power to decide.

  2. Begin with the end in mind
    This is the habit of personal leadership—developing habits of concentrating on relevant activities and avoiding distractions; making progress.

  3. Put first things first
    Covey calls this he habit of personal management—implementing activities in line with Habit 2.

  4. Think win-win
    Relationships matter, and few achievements are fully independent of others. There are plenty of rewards to go around.

  5. Seek first to understand, then be understood
    Listen and understand before inserting yourself into the conversation. In Covey’s words, “Diagnose before you prescribe”.

  6. Synergize
    This is the habit of creative cooperation, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Covey says that effective people can consider multiple things concurrently.

  7. Sharpen the saw
    Personal growth and renewal are the key points here. Pay attention to the overall health of an individual. Four key elements are 1) spiritual (not religious) health, 2) mental health, 3) physical health, and 4) social and emotional health.

My fundamental point in this brief analysis is to illustrate and motivate readers to contemplate and identify their forward lean and help in creating a fulfilling “dash”. Perhaps you have identified some actions that can strengthen both. I invite any responses and additional suggestions that may be useful.

Scott Reed

Vice Provost Outreach and Engagement, Director Extension Service