Last week a friend of mine asked if I would fill a speaking slot at a local business expo/networking event this afternoon. I spoke at it last year and had a good experience so I was happy to do it again. I didn’t expect a big crowd both because of the time slot and the fact that my talk was a late addition to the program. Last year I spoke to about 20 people so I figured it would be in that neighborhood, probably fewer, this time around.
There are two more reasons I eagerly said “yes.” First, I absolutely love sharing my point of view. I relish any opportunity to speak and inspire, to challenge and to share ideas, to possibly move people to consider questions and invitations they have never considered. Nothing is more gratifying to me. Second, I learned a deeply important lesson this Spring about the risk of underestimating the potential of a talk to lead to a business opportunity. I found myself in the back room of a suburban diner about to speak to a whopping six people during a lunch meeting and I was pretty down about it. As I was being introduced I gave myself a quick pep talk, decided to seize the opportunity to learn from the experience and ended up earning a significant new client as a result. It only talks one, right?
That brings us to today. I titled my talk “Leading Change: A New Conversation With Complexity.” The time came, the time passed and nobody showed up. I should have named it “Free Beer and Snacks” because that’s what most folks were interested in. If you left work early to attend an event like this would you rather sit in a seminar about stuff few people really want to talk about or would you rather visit the booths and meet new people in between samplings from local food trucks and microbrews? Yeah, I know.
A few minutes past the starting time I was growing confident that the talk was a no-go so I decided to snap a picture of the meeting space. It’s pretty spare, a small partitioned section of a vast warehouse. Sadly, it reminds me an awful lot of how so many organizations look and feel these days. Caught up in the relentless layers of complexity and change we are all feeling and facing inertia has settled in, preventing aliveness, preventing possibility. One in eight workers worldwide – a whopping 13% of those surveyed – say they are “psychologically committed to their job” according to Gallup. I believe that’s because those places we call “work” have in so many cases ceased to be about those things we all really want: meaning, purpose, vision and being a contribution to something larger than ourselves. The organizations that will win in these tumultuous years ahead are those that will courageously reclaim the mantle of meaning. Making that change will require leaders who are willing to have the conversations no one wants to have but that must happen if we are to break out of this malaise. Those leaders will be an invitation to others through their deep commitment to speak to as many empty rooms as it takes before people take notice, before each room is brimming with the vibrant interaction of a deeply committed community of possibility.
That’s what I was going to talk about today. And I will gladly show up again tomorrow. Any takers?