Over the past few days, internal auditors around the world have been mourning the sudden loss of Phil Tarling, one of the profession’s most widely known leaders. Phil was a professional colleague and a close personal friend of mine for more than 20 years. As I reflect on his passing, I am reminded of an article I wrote 10 years ago: Do You Live Your Life in Color? As I shared then:
We have all encountered individuals in our professional lives who are living their lives in black and white. While I am sure they love their families and enjoy their personal lives, in their professional lives, they are literally and figuratively just punching the clock. I have always struggled to understand how anyone can spend such a substantial percentage of their adult life going through the motions in the workplace — simply watching the clock until the workday ends. But I see it around me with frightening regularity.
Rather than living my professional life in black and white, I have strived throughout my career to live it in color, whenever possible. I have been inspired not only by my aunt and (a close) college friend, but by countless others whose passion for their work inspired me to live my professional life as if I would only live it once. I am sure there are times when — to borrow the illusion from the Wizard of Oz — I stepped out of Oz and back into Kansas. When that happened, I either changed my attitude or my job as quickly as I could.
Like my friend and aunt whom I wrote about in 2013, Phil’s was a life lived to its fullest. His passion for internal audit was overflowing, and his love for the profession (particularly in Africa) was second to none. Phil served on The IIA’s Global Board of Directors for more than 16 years – a term I suspect is a record. He also served as president of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors, president of the European Confederation of Institute of Internal Auditing, and chairman of IIA Global. I was pleased to see all three organizations post tributes to him in the past week.
Even after serving his final board term, his flame for life in general (and internal audit, in particular) continued to shine bright. In recent years, he was a regular presence on the stage of internal audit conferences across central and southern Africa. Whether jetting off to eastern Europe, where he continued to work in the profession, or to Africa, Phil’s goal was the same: Lift the internal audit profession higher. My last trip with Phil was just this past April, when we appeared jointly at events organized by IIA Rwanda and IIA Uganda.
Phil was an outspoken advocate for internal auditing. Some might have found his style a bit abrasive on occasion, but Phil would have been the first to admit that he “didn’t suffer fools lightly.” If he felt someone or something was wrong, he had the instincts and courage to call it out. I often found myself coaching him to employ more diplomatic language while secretly admiring his tenacity. His theme as IIA Global chairman was “Say it Right.” I often joked with him that the theme should have been “Say What You Think.” As I recently told a mutual friend of ours, “Every profession needs a Phil Tarling.”
As a tribute to Phil’s legacy, I encourage everyone to ask yourself if you are living a life in color. As I have shared before, there are five questions that you should ask yourself when making that assessment:
Are you passionate about your work? To live your professional life in color, passion for your work is the table stakes. Without passion, I believe there is no color. If you don’t think your work is important or can make a difference in some way for others, it will be obvious to others that you are simply consuming oxygen in the workplace. With my extensive travel obligations, I spend a lot of time on airplanes, and it is always obvious to me which flight attendants are passionate about their work. The same is true whether you are an internal auditor, a professor or a restaurant waiter. Be passionate about what you do – or move on to another role.
Do you settle for less than excellence? This goes with passion. Too many professionals are content to be average and to generate average results. Obviously, there has to be an average, but individuals who are passionate about their work and who live their lives in color are not content to be there.
Do you treat those around you with dignity and respect? Passion for your work and obsessive pursuit of excellence often come at a cost. Those around us can simply become instruments to helping us excel. Those who truly live their lives in color respect that others may be trying to do the same thing. We must treat our colleagues and others with dignity and respect. We should recruit others to live their lives in color alongside us.
Do you dwell on the negative? It is easy to find negative aspects in the workplace. I often find that those who live their lives in black and white thrive off of negative energy. When you identify things to be negative about, strive to change them or circumnavigate them. Otherwise, they will doom you to a life in black and white.
Are you genuine? Finally, you must be genuine. Just as we can typically identify a fake piece of jewelry or a knockoff article of clothing, it is easy to identify professionals who are not genuine. Acknowledge your faults at the same time you embrace your strengths. Others will respect you more than if you only boast of your accomplishments.
Those are a few of my thoughts on how we should live our professional lives. We will all make mistakes along the way. I certainly have. However, life is so much more rewarding when we strive for rewards beyond the obvious. I encourage you to live every day of your professional life in color. I will be eternally grateful to Phil Tarling for his service to our profession, and for further inspiring me to live my life in color.
If you have thoughts on how Phil inspired your life, or you want to comment on this blog, please post them to LinkedIn or Twitter. Alternatively, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.