Learning as We Go. Life’s Lessons.

What critical lessons have you learned in life so far?

One day when my older son was about mid-thirties, he said to me, “It certainly would be great to know, in advance, which of the life decisions you make are pivotal ones.” I agreed, and was happy that a child of mine had such insight. Then I pondered a bit and realized that all of our decisions are, in some way, pivotal. If you choose A then B is left behind. And the trajectory of your life depends on lots of decisions. Some made instantly. Some that direct us to a path on which we continue to travel.

Who you marry, where you live, who you call “friends”, how you vote, what you eat, whether or not you are sociable or reclusive – all of these are daily choices. In work, how you respond, how you conduct yourself, who you choose to spend time with, how you meet deadlines, and much more are your daily choices.

And some bad choices continue to be made, even fully knowing the consequences. We are human, after all, and we will continue to make mistakes. And that is good, as we will learn from those and forge on!

So, what critical lessons have you learned in life so far?

Indra Noori is considered one of the world’s most powerful women, and is currently CEO of PepsiCo, the 2nd largest food & beverage company in the world. Her critical lessons for business (some also applied to life, in general) are great.

Noori’s seven lessons translate into the seven characteristics of a great leader: Vision. Persistence. Persuasion. Listening. Learning. Collaborating. Humility.

1) Everyone needs a vision 

She knew that if PepsiCo wanted to continue to be successful in the 21st century, they needed to adapt the business to consumers’ changing preferences and offer them healthier food and beverage options.

Noori noted, “If we wanted to lower our energy and packaging costs and get a license to operate in water-strained markets, we needed to be more environmentally sustainable. If we wanted to continue recruiting and retaining world-class talent, we needed to meet the changing expectations of a new generation of employees…So, that’s lesson number one: Come up with a vision that not only reflects the direction of a company but moves people, inspires people to make it a reality.”

2) Think hard about time 

“A while back, The New Yorker published a great cartoon. The caption read: ‘Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time, we created a lot of value for shareholders.’ It not only made me laugh, it made me think about how important it is to balance short-term and long-term interests. So, my second lesson is to think hard about your time horizon…When you focus on the level of returns alone, you’re producing returns that, however high they may be in the short-run, are not sustainable.”

3) Ensure that culture change sticks

“So we stuck with it and teamed up with others in the industry to create the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. And together, we removed 6.4 trillion calories from our food and beverage products, surpassing our pledge by more than 400% three years ahead of schedule.”

“It’s crucial, not just to have a clear message, but to have a critical mass of supporters who can help you deliver it.”

4) Listen carefully 

“If you learned to follow, you’d be a better leader.”

“We should listen to the wisdom all around us.”

5) Be a student for life

“I’m constantly trying to consume as much information as I can from as many sources as I can. I can’t afford to stop learning. None of us can. CEOs need to be students for life, and all our employees do, too.”

6) People are everything 

“The success of an enterprise usually comes down to one thing: the team.”

“You need to appeal not only to your employees’ heads but to their hearts.”

7) “Leave the crown in the garage”

Noori tells the story of a visit by her mother that was humbling, but also a great life’s lesson.

“None of us is just an employee. We’re also mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, trying to balance multiple roles.”

“Let me explain something to you. You may be President of PepsiCo. But when you step into this house, you’re a wife and mother first. Nobody can take that place. So leave that crown in the garage.”

What critical lessons have you learned in life so far?