Grandpa’s Onions

At grandpa’s house, when you want onion rings with your hamburger, you start by walking out to the garden and pulling one from the ground.

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The best kind of vacation – the best kind of break – is one that reminds you of the clarifying power of elemental, fundamental things.

The adventure of a road trip, even one you’ve taken many times before; visits with friends and family, in the care of their welcoming hands; grandparents and their rich histories, familiar and distant all at once; eating what has most recently been growing in the garden (and frying it to a perfect golden brown!); and being out of your element just enough to notice how easily being in your element has become.

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The Pretense of Self Sufficiency

I like to fix things. I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a qualified auto mechanic or electrician by any stretch, but if you need your new TV setup or your phone reconnected or your files moved to the cloud, I’m a good guy to ask.

I like being good at fixing these small things because they are appreciated and they give my ego a nice dose of self-satisfaction. Also, they let me maintain a sense of control over my surroundings.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to fix things, also. She’s really good at it. Especially in the technical domain she’s a much better problem solver than me.

I don’t admit that easily (see, “maintain a sense of control” above) because for the longest time I wasn’t willing, when she said “I know what to do,” to get out of the way and let her do it. Instead, we would jockey for position and I would finally snap at her to just let me figure it out.

I still do that once in a while but not nearly as much. I’ve learned that her development depends on the ability to express and use her gifts and that my job is to give her the space to do that.

Instead of seeking that ego boost for these small achievements I enjoy watching her proudly play this role in support of her family and friends. I also enjoy the new reality that whatever needs to be done doesn’t have to be done by me.

It seems to me that this is what great leaders do, too. They learn to stop clinging to any pretense of self sufficiency, to not just admit that they need help, but to relish in the opportunity to give others the chance to be helpful.

That’s a pretty great thing to be able to do for someone. It builds esteem, confidence and connection. It creates teams of problem solvers who learn to rely on one another’s unique abilities to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, it creates the widest possible feeling of ownership for whatever we have agreed to create together.

In your workplace today, is there someone you can do this for? Is there someone doing this for you?


It’s hard to see under water

It’s hard to see when you’re under water.

It’s hard to see under water because when you open your eyes it’s blurry and incomplete. There are forms and figures that are familiar but not quite themselves. Perception of distance is compromised, as is your confidence to move forward.

Trying to see under water is a lot like trying to navigate any significant change.

It helps to have goggles. Good ones. The kind that don’t fog up no matter what.

Since change – significant change – is inevitable, it’s important to always have your goggles at the ready. So you can see as clearly as possible as you make your way through the dark water.

The question then is this: who and what are your goggles?

Is it your internal compass? Your values? Your relationships? Your capacity for enormously challenging conversations? Your empathy and regard for others? Your humility?

Whatever it is, have it ready. Prepare it and tend it. You will need it sooner that you think.


man swimming on body of water

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More fun, please

img_6938It seems to me that the designer of this particular user interface had better options than this.

Instead of “No one is invited” how about:

“Who will you be meeting next?” or “Who’s on your invite list?” or “What are you waiting for? Make that call!” or “I can’t read your mind…who’s next?” or “Connection is the seedbed of creativity. Who will you be planting with today?”

I know, these aren’t great and I should stick to my day job, but I do wonder if the designer – team of designers? – knew that they had better options. I wonder if a better option got vetoed because it was “too funny” or “too creative” or “not in line with our customer’s expectations” or “not the best representation of our aspirational corporate image.”

I wonder when business got so dang boring, so risk averse, so disconnected from the actual human beings who work for them and from those they serve?

It’s not really a big deal, this unimaginative interface, but it’s just no fun. And we need more fun, much more of it, even in the form of a silly message on a corporate phone.


 

The Story Continues

A week ago I had the privilege of introducing “Storytelling for Career Success” to a group of young professionals who were generous enough to say “yes” to an invitation to test drive my new workshop. By their energetic participation they taught me what worked, what needed help and, most importantly, that what I shared with them is both practical and valuable.

This past Saturday was Round 2 and again I was inspired by a group of open and dynamic participants, each one willing to step into the unknown and share their story. It was an outstanding day, one I am smarter and better equipped for having led.

What I know beyond a doubt is that when we connect through story we break into a new world of possibility. It’s a world where we become known for more than the 12 point font of a resume, where we live into David Whyte’s affirmation that, “we shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” (Working Together)

One participant put it this way: “The highlight for me was figuring out how to tell an emotional, vibrant story with structure and organization. I was amazed to find that past experiences I never thought applicable in an interview can be used in an amazing, powerful way.” 

Another said this: “Before this experience, I was pretty confident in my story. What I realized throughout the experience is that I haven’t been telling it in the most effective, powerful way. This experience took my story from a little, shaky tale, to an intense, powerful testimony. Not only do I feel more confident about going into an interview, I feel more confident in myself.”

With humility and gratitude – and a powerful sense of purpose – I am committed to author, and be authored by, the unfolding of this new story.


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The Boss

Lyft driver: You are a business person?

Me: Yes.

Driver: You are the boss?

Me: No.

Driver: When you came out I thought, “He is the boss.”

Me: (knowing laugh) Is that because I look so serious?

Driver: (kindly) No, no.

Me: That’s ok. (In my head: It’s just the facade of competence and control I display when I am tired and no longer interested in any form of connection or engagement. My default is to look so serious and so important that people will just leave me alone.)

Driver: Hand sanitizer?

Me: Of course. Thank you.

Ah, the gift of feedback, like a faithful friend, right there when we need it most.


Any Given Day

On any given day…

You can pay attention. You can notice what happens as you engage and are engaged by the people around you. You can shrink from them, rise to meet them, learn from them, absorb their discomfiting needs, discard their demands, invite them in.

On any given day, you can also ignore. Whoever appears around you can remain a blurry sideshow to the central drama that is your life.

The first path is costly. You will have to feel, and in feeling you will be whipsawed from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

The second path is easy. Free from feeling, you will be safe, untouchable.

On any given day that you are alive, you may choose to attend or to ignore. Only one of these can be called living.


For my sister, on her birthday

Simplify the Story

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein


I’m always tempted to make it more complicated than it is.

There is only one reason that I am teaching storytelling to young professionals. I want them to understand – to physically experience and then embody – the truth that stories create “limbic resonance.”

More simply, that stories create connection.

How? The limbic system processes sensory information and compares it to past experience. Since all human beings share a common emotional database, stories that express emotion resonate with our past experience as “true” and therefore trustworthy.

And if the story is trustworthy, the person telling it must be trustworthy, also.

We can explain our qualifications – our competence – ad nauseam and get nothing more than a knowing nod of the head in response. But tell a story about that competence in action, how it made you or others feel, what was hard or joyful about learning it, how you failed and succeeded in applying it, and that will get someone to sit at the edge of their emotional seat.

Limbic resonance = connection.

Connection = trust.

Trust = opportunity.


boy child childhood happiness

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Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


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Boring, Predictable Humans

One of the most glaring mistakes of modern corporate leadership is the use of metrics to motivate performance.

“Our vision for the coming year? To make a gajillion dollars!!”

No.

Do everyone a favor. Tell a story instead.

Of course, we all want the gajillion dollars (and for it to be equitably and appropriately shared) and all of the opportunity it creates, but that will never replace the boring, predictable and completely fundamental human need to be a part of something larger than ourselves; to be part of a story that is worth the telling.

Leaders, be boring. Learn to tell a story.


photo of a boy reading book

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