#32 – What Power is For

The purpose of power – at its highest and most noble application – is to make other people powerful.

At a material level, solar power is a great example of how this works. The panels on our home convert the sun’s rays into energy that is brought back inside in the form of electricity. We use a lot, sometimes most of what is produced on a sunny day but not all of it.

What we don’t use gets sent back into the larger system to be utilized for other purposes. We use what we need and give back what we don’t. And what we give away makes other things powerful.

At the human level, many people believe that power is to be accumulated and reserved for their own consumption, making it inaccessible and unusable by anyone else. They have not done the work to figure out how much they actually need so they operate in fear that any loss of power is a complete loss of power.

The irony of this miscalculation is that it is the reverse that is true. When power is distributed to others, through an increase in responsibilities, the opportunity to develop and practice new skills, to have greater influence, the power of the individual who helped to make that happen grows even greater skill.

The generous distribution of power converts to loyalty, commitment and engagement. Give it away and watch it grow.

This is #32 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Ready for another?


alternative energy building clouds energy

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Unique Human Needs: Contribution

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Contribution.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 6: Contribution

One of my clearest childhood memories is of riding along with my mom as she delivered food to the elderly and shut-ins in San Francisco as part of her volunteer commitment to Meals-On-Wheels. I remember that one of our stops was adjacent to a market from which I always got a few cellophane-wrapped sesame candies. I remember the smell of the food as not exactly enticing but certainly distinctive. I remember feeling purposeful, that we were doing something important.

Thirty years later I was looking for a way to engage my 6-year-old son and our family in some community service and I came across a Meals-On-Wheels flyer at our church. Those memories of Saturday mornings along 19th Avenue in San Francisco came rushing back and I saw the gift of being able to establish that same tradition with my own child.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re still making those deliveries thirteen years later. Duncan is off to college now and his sisters have since taken his place as co-pilot and navigator. It’s a Berry Family “thing,” a small but important piece of fabric that binds us to one another and to our community.


Tony Robbins classifies the core human needs of growth and contribution as the “needs of the spirit.” What I can’t stop thinking about regarding this final installment on contribution is that it carries within it the possibility of satisfying all of the other needs as well.

To make a contribution is to experience the pleasure of helping others avoid pain, or at least to alleviate it just a little bit.

It is also the manner by which we can immerse ourselves in new circumstances and conditions in order to satisfy our need for uncertainty.

Giving back is clearly a way to feel special and needed, and what better way to achieve that than in service of others?

It is also a means for us to satisfy our need for connection and to express love. To make even a small sacrifice so that another person’s life might be better is a pretty good definition of the everyday goodness of love when you think about it.

In addition to satisfying these core needs there are some other very real rewards of giving back. Among them are happiness, good health, cooperation and gratitude.

It may feel out of place to think of making a contribution as personally rewarding, that we should only give from a place of self-sacrificial concern. But that intention is so idealistic that it becomes restrictive.

What if we could just agree that making a contribution, giving of ourselves freely and generously is the most potent and compelling way to satisfy the needs that we all share?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Mona
{Naomi Shihab Nye}

Dear Mona, do you know
how your old stucco building
marks the spot of Something True?
Your hand-lettered red sign rises up
like a crooked, friendly flag.
I can guess the menu:
bean & cheese, potato & egg,
maybe a specialty of your own making,
avocado twist or smoky salsa.
Your nombre is nice.
One taco might be enough.
You feed the ranchers who just lived through
the worst drought and flood back-to-back.
They touch the brims of their hats
when they see you.
Don’t we all need someone to greet us
to make us feel alive?

West of town, soft fields
ease our city-cluttered eyes,
There’s a rim of hills to hope for up ahead.
Mona, mysterious Mona,
I don’t have to eat with you to love you.
Every morning I think, Mona’s up.


three purple plastic chairs

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10, 25, 45

I’m very interested in public speaking. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy listening to a great speaker. It’s a wonderful, even essential skill to develop for anyone who wants to have more influence, for those who wish to lead.

To that end, for those aspiring to increase their influence through public speaking, I’d like to suggest that you develop three talks of differing lengths; 10, 25 and 45 minutes.

Your 10-minute talk is one big idea supported by one story.

Your 25-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories.

Your 45-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories plus 5-7 minutes of audience conversation about how they feel about what you’ve been saying (because no one wants to sit for 45 minutes without a chance to talk…about themselves) and 5-7 more minutes devoted to their sharing of what they just said.

Two takeaways: first, you deliver one big idea, and only one big idea. Second, your talk isn’t about you, it’s about them. The longer you have to speak the more space you should create for your audience to do so.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Observations on a Southwest Flight

On a flight departing 30 minutes late, one flight attendant asks for the drink coupons and checks to make sure they are valid.

The other flight attendant waves off the coupons offered to her with a playful, “Put that away.”

It’s the same airline, on the same flight, on the same day. Just two rows apart, in fact.

Is there a policy that guides these choices? Is it simply personality, one a “rule follower” and one a “free spirit”?

Do we raise an eyebrow at the inconsistency, the “unfair” treatment?

Do we celebrate Southwest’s culture of employee “ownership,” even when it’s inconsistently applied?

It’s both confusing and endlessly fascinating to observe an organizational culture this closely. An enterprise as service-oriented as Southwest – one who wants us to feel the “LUV” – only makes it a more dissected entity.

Maybe they think we don’t notice the inconsistency? Maybe they know that we do (How can you not when the “service distance” of a 737 is the equivalent of a customer walking around the Starbucks counter to stand next to the barista while ordering?) and don’t really care? And not so much a harsh “don’t care” as a subtle request that we just accept the predictable human messiness of it all.

I’m one drink coupon lighter tonight and still grateful that the aspirations of this particular organization keep me interested and aware.

I can’t think of another service organization that makes me feel that way.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.