The Lightest Touch

The Lightest Touch
{David Whyte}

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests your whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.

I have never felt stronger about my belief that the role of leaders is to create environments in which the fullest, messiest and most productive qualities of the human experience can be safely expressed and harnessed for the good of the organization. To do so takes courage and vulnerability and fortitude and I have dedicated my professional efforts to fulfilling that vision.

While my sense of purpose remains clear, the quality of my intensity in bringing it to fruition is changing. That intensity no longer takes the form of impassioned, even heroic efforts at conversion (“If only they would just listen to me, they would understand!!”).

I am discovering, as all great influencers (and poets) know, and perhaps as a byproduct of age, maturity and experience, that I can trust the power of a nudge, a word, a moment, a pause to bring my vision to life. I can trust, most of all, that consistency, far more than unbridled passion – a daily regular presence, a living each day as if it that future state is already here – is how the entrance to the cave is finally freed of its stone.


grayscale photo of feather

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The Agenda

The organizational agenda is to plan, execute, measure, quantify and produce.

The human agenda is to love and be loved, to be seen, heard and understood.

Organizations are populated, organized and led by humans.

How can this be?

We hide our deepest longing because it is abstract and seemingly, frighteningly unattainable.

We acquiesce to, and even abet an alternative agenda for the perceived sanctity of an equivocal certainty.

We work at cross purposes because integration seems beyond our reach.

If we reach out a little further, we just might grasp it. The trick is in believing it is there to be grasped.


grayscale photo of person s hand reaching for the sky

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Which 15%?

I recently shared an idea with a group of 20 people.

Three of those people affirmed and encouraged it. That’s 15%.

Three of those people rejected it. That’s another 15%.

I did not receive a response from the other 13 people, the remaining 70%.

Now, the decision is mine: do I fixate on the 15% who rejected it or the 15% who encouraged it?

I am hardwired to do the former. We all are.

But no dream of creation ever came into being because it was hardwired. Sometimes all we’re given is the tiniest shred – far less than 15% – and our job is to take that sliver of possibility and breathe it into life.



DOUBT
{Kay Ryan}

A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
egg energy to apply to the weakest spot
or whatever spot it started at.
It can’t afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.
One backward look by any of us
can cost what it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger’s knock;
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who eats dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.


person holding brown chick during daytime

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Under Cover of Darkness

I have an enduring memory from childhood that both frightens and comforts me.

At about 5 years old, I woke one morning to discover that I could not see. Disoriented and afraid, I stumbled to the hall and felt my way to my parents’ room where I cried out in fear of my blindness.

My mother calmed me down by applying a warm washcloth to my eyes. I had gone to bed congested and through the night the discharge of that congestion covered my eyes and sealed them shut.

Slowly, the warm cloth broke through the barrier and I was able to blink my way back to sight.

From peaceful sleep to the terror of my unexpected blindness to the relief at its swift dissipation I traveled a long road of revelation in a very short time.

It was not for my 5-year-old self to make sense of that revelation, of course, but it remains the life work of the person who types these words. To be blinded by the discharge of unseen forces working under cover of darkness is to awake to the terrifying reality of no control.

I am not afraid of the dark, but I am sometimes afraid that when waking into blindness I may not be able to summon the mother within myself, the part of me that knows where to find the washcloth, to soak it in warm water and to hold it to my eyes with persistence and care.

When trapped in darkness, will I acquiesce to fear, or will I bring myself back into conversation with the light?


grayscale photo of person sleeping

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Actors in Our Own Becoming

Everyone is in the process of becoming.

The deeply personal reality of that truth is that each of us has the agency to influence the course of that becoming. We operate along a spectrum, always deciding in small ways and large whether and how to embrace the discomfort of change at one end or the comforting discomfort of the status quo at the other.

Stasis shadows our becoming through the consolation of a sense of permanence. The familiarity of our patterns, the seduction of having arrived, the temptation to believe we are done; these serve to bind our anxiety about the unknown but must, finally succumb to the truth that nothing stays as it is.

Between the boundaries of stasis and mutability is the space in which we are free to decide not if but how and what we will become. Like moving water, it as a conversation that is always flowing, one that does not demand but always welcomes our participation.


water of life

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From the Outside In

Real change begins at the edges, never at the center.

The center is dogmatic and certain. The edge is open and curious, the gateway to possibility.

To work from the outside in for your team, your work group or even your family, you might consider a series of small but potent actions in service of your highest aspirations:

  • Small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • Brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting or meal,
  • Brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting or meal,
  • “Below the line” conversations with customers about who they are, what they care about and how we can help them achieve it,
  • Common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • Regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • And how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.


time lapse photo of cliff coast during dawn

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At Ease

It is a difficult truth of the human condition that to feel at ease, to be filled with a sense of peace and calm, is to actually be on the edge of another thought entirely: how soon will this leave me? When will I feel “normal” again, anxious, uncertain, doubtful…easy prey for the vicissitudes of the voice in the head?

I won’t say that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have already lost that battle. Millions of years of inherited protectionism have guaranteed that.

Instead, I suggest that in those brief moments of relief, when our defenses have momentarily dropped away and we feel ourselves as whole and alive, we take a picture and put it in a scrapbook titled “possibility.”

That way, we have proof that we were there, an invitation to return again and again.


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On the Great Wall – June, 2002

Your Natural Best

It’s Wednesday. You’re busy. Your week is flying by and you don’t have time to read this post.

Pause.

Take a breath. (Count to 4 on the inhale and 4 again on the exhale. Repeat if you so desire)

D  e  e  p       b  r  e  a t  h.

Ok, then, just a quick thought experiment before you get back into the mix. Do you have just another moment for that? Here it is:

  1. Who are you at your “natural best”?
  2. Have you been at your natural best this week?
  3. If so, how did that feel?
  4. If not, what’s in the way?

You and me? We’re both much happier and we’re certainly more engaged when we’re operating at our natural best.

Something to consider, here on a busy Wednesday. Because, of course, none of this will ever work as well as it can if we’re all busy doing impressions.

Time for the real thing. Time for you and me to shine.


lamp post

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HT to the ever thoughtful Andy Wong.

Declare What You Want

Yes, you have to do good work and build a reputation that precedes you.

Yes, you have to build a strong, vibrant network of people who want you to succeed and for whom you pay it forward.

Yes, you have to stay humble, keenly self-aware and dedicated to continuous learning.

All of those things, yes!

And I will never succeed at defining which matters most or which, among the many things I haven’t mentioned, should also be considered just as important but here’s the thing that stands out to me as central to deeply meaningful professional success:

You have to declare what you want.

You have to stop saying YES to everything in hopes that you catch something that satisfies your heart’s desire and you have to start saying NO to everything that most certainly does not.

This is especially hard early in a career. This is especially scary when launching your firm. “Sure, I can do that!” I’ve said more times than I care to admit, so often to discover that I had agreed to work that I simply did not want to do.

What if we say instead, “This is who I am at my best. This is how I can provide you with the most value while also bringing me the most satisfaction (and, as a pretty great bonus, the money that I am worth).”

I believe to the depths of both my heart and soul that when a person declares who they are and what they want, the universe gets in motion to help make that possible. I have no other way to explain what has come to me when I have had that conviction and what has eluded me when I have not.

I believe that other people are deeply attracted to that clarity and want to help it become, not only real, but also wildly successful. I believe that when we have the courage to say, “This is it!” we shouldn’t sheepishly prepare for nothing to happen but instead, strap ourselves in for the trip of a lifetime.

At the beginning of this year, I made two clear declarations. Relying on the power of those declarations to say no to some other commitments, I had space for some new, very specific things to show up. In only a couple of months, that’s exactly what happened.

I will share more detail in the coming weeks but the wheels are in motion for an exciting new professional endeavor largely because I cleared the way for it to find me.

It is frightening to claim what we want. How terrible to do so and risk the possibility of failure. On the other hand, in the face of that fear, how wonderful to do so and discover something greater than we had dared to dream.


photo of night sky

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Saturday Morning

Sunday: “They preferred the name of the tree
to the taste of the apple.” (from Among the Intellectuals, Tony Hoagland)

Monday: Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water, a revelation of who you are.

Tuesday: Whole people with whole lives are here today, including myself.

Wednesday: …a reminder of the ways I allow myself to stay stuck in “good enough” when just one small action would open the door to an even better way to live.

Thursday: “The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live.” (Denis Edwards)

Friday: It is imperative that we acknowledge, finally, that the prison cell we have created is not locked, and it never was.


It is both a pleasure and gift to sit in the cool, quiet air of a September Saturday morning and reflect on the week that was.

I celebrated this week, taught this week, traveled this week, coached this week, consulted and conversed. I had full days of comings and goings and quieter days of reflection and planning.

The week began with the celebration of a wedding anniversary and ended with the celebration of the life of a friend’s mother.

This week I experienced the universal in the particular, the bumpy and uncertain ways each of us is navigating our experience, imperfectly attempting to reconcile ourselves to the unknown by holding on to what we know.

The current of life flows and flows and flows. It is always happening. It is always happening right now, another chance in an unknown number of chances to choose the deeper water or the safety of the shore.


cascade current dark clouds daylight

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