Words of Wisdom

Mark Holden, Sr. Vice President and General Counsel of Koch Industries

The most important piece of advice I can give anyone is to strive to help people improve their lives. I believe if that is the ultimate focus it will fuel success and lead to a fulfilled life. Here are some thoughts on how to accomplish this.

1. Make every situation better than when you first encountered it.

This doesn’t mean you will always do this or always remember to do this, but if that is your North Star, you will be heading in the right direction. This includes helping people you don’t even know. Or helping those who need a break in life or who have been broken by life.

Ann Landers (if you’re old like me you remember her) said “The true measure of a person is how they treat someone who can do them absolutely no good.”

Put another way, as Mother Teresa said,

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

Try to help people improve their lives in your communities, your workplaces, in commercial interactions, and in your personal relationships.

In every situation, when confused, angry or agitated, try to take a deep breath, center yourself and focus on making the situation better. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We need more of that in today’s society.

2. Be completely honest, act with integrity in all your dealings with everyone you meet, and adhere to the principles you believe in.

Dwight Eisenhower said:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

This is a high bar and we all sometimes fail. We see every day that this isn’t necessarily what happens in our world. You all have the chance to change that.

Integrity is an absolute prerequisite for being successful in your life. If people don’t trust you, you won’t be surrounded by people who will make you better. You will be surrounded by people who will make you worse.

3. Work hard; be prepared; be a team player

Not a whole lot to add to this other than people who work hard and get along with others and are productive will usually always find success. Those who don’t usually won’t.

As legendary coach John Wooden said, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

4. Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect and expect the same in return.

Fear no one, respect everyone. Pretty simple, but extremely important. And closely tied to the next 2 points.

5. Have true humility. Get humble or be humbled. It is essential to being able to remain sane and productive in any endeavor.

Don’t take my word for it; take it from a true genius — Albert Einstein who said “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”

In fact, if you are humble, you will end up learning more because the reality is that every person you will meet in life knows something you don’t know. That means you can learn something from everyone if you want to. And you should want to learn as much as you can in life. More importantly, true humility keeps you less focused on yourself, and more focused on the mission, the team, and your real objectives. Also, if you have humility and admit your mistakes and shortcomings, people are more likely to give you another chance or a break. If you’re a jerk, they won’t.

This is pretty simple. It is in your self-interest to be humble.

6. Have the courage and conviction to fight for the things you believe in. Speak your mind in a respectful way; try to listen more than you speak.

When you disagree with someone about an issue, let them know that in a respectful and positive way. When you have an idea about an issue, also let people know that. True leaders welcome disagreement and other’s ideas. They do that because they know that makes everybody better, including the leader. And a humble leader, who is a servant leader, also knows what she doesn’t know. Know your limitations and embrace them!

If you find yourself dealing with a coworker or boss, or anyone, who shuts down discussion and challenges or doesn’t value your input, it is a sign that you may be in the wrong environment or in an abusive relationship. All of you deserve better than that. None of you have time for that. Find someone that values and respects you.

7. Embrace failure and learn from it; in fact, it is really the only way to succeed.

Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go onto the next challenge. Someone told me early on, and it has been reinforced since then, that if you never lose, it probably means you aren’t doing enough.

Pro tip — when starting out try to fail small and try to not fail the same way more than twice!

8. Persevere. Life is hard. Life is unfair. But keep on keeping on

Calvin Coolidge said it best (and this was something my Dad used with me all the time for good reason!)

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Put another way — be like Tom Brady.

Be a grinder; don’t give up. Embrace the grind. Grinders usually always prevail. And if you have a talent deficit like I do, eternal grinding can close the gap with people who may be more gifted but don’t work as hard.

9. Be not afraid.

You are loved and worthy, and you belong wherever life leads you. As my family and I often say to each other before we encounter something new, different, or seemingly monumental; BE BOLD AND MIGHTY FORCES WILL COME TO YOUR AID!

10. Finally, live a full and happy life. Find love, fulfillment, prosperity, success, and meaning however you define it.

As the poet Mary Oliver said:

“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”