Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Wishes




With a view on a snowy Christmas day in West Newbury Vermont, I want to pass along my very best holiday wishes to everyone!  Thinking back to a recent  blog entry where I commented that "the world needs more love,"  here are a few thoughts/inspirations from a variety of sources:










Lyrics from U2's song, "One"

One love 
One blood 
One life 
You got to do what you should 
One life 
With each other 
Sisters 
Brothers 
One life 
But we're not the same 
We get to 
Carry each other 
Carry each other 

"We frail humans are at one time capable of the greatest good and, at the same time, capable of the greatest evil. Change will only come about when each of us takes up the daily struggle ourselves to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving, and above all joyful in the knowledge that, by some miracle of grace, we can change as those around us can change too."

Maíread Corrigan-Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder of the Community of Peace People in Northern Ireland.


Lyrics from the Beatle's "All you need is Love"
Love, love, love, 
love, love, love, 
love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done. 
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. 
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game It's easy. 
There's nothing you can make that can't be made. 
No one you can save that can't be saved. 
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time - It's easy.  
All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, 
love is all you need.

Finally, with a nod to my favorite movie,"It's a Wonderful Life," there is a scene in the middle of the movie, where George Bailey is in his office at the building and loan and on the wall, underneath the photograph of his recently deceased father Peter Bailey, there is a framed quote that rings true:

"All you can take with you is that which you've given away."

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

LAX Terminal 5


Thirty years ago as a freshman in college, I read Mircea Eliade’s book, The Sacred and The Profane.  While I won’t try to summarize the book here, its central thesis is that the core of all religions is highlighting and maintaining the distinction between what is sacred and what is profane.  I still remember writing a freshman class paper on that topic, identifying various worldwide sights that had been “sacred” for multiple religions.  Examples included Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, originally a Byzantine cathedral that was transformed into a Muslim mosque, and the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, originally built as Hindu shrines then transforming themselves into Buddhist temples. 

Whether we think about sacred spaces as such grand historic models, or as a simple neighborhood church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, I have always thought of sacred spaces as unique places apart from the daily grind.  For me, there is a chapel at Emory University that stands out, having been the site of my wedding, the wedding of my sister-in-law, the christening of my two children, and the memorial service for another sister-in-law.  There is nothing about that physical space that I find “sacred,” yet every time I enter the chapel I am overwhelmed by the memories and experiences, the smiles and the tears, and the heartbreak and the joy. 

It’s with this background in mind that I fast forward to a recent trip to Los Angeles.  I have been working a lot in Southern California recently and flying regularly through LAX.  On a recent trip, I was at the gate with some time on my hands, waiting to board the flight back home to Atlanta.  In typical fashion, I had my I-Pod on, listening to random songs on a playlist, and writing a draft for a blog entry.  The first song that came on was Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” which instantly reminded me of my friend Bruce.  I remembered sitting by his hospice bed before he died this summer, talking about music and him telling me about this specific song.  The next song that came up on the random shuffle was Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” the song that was played at the graveside of my sister-in-law Carrie.  It was just down the hall here in a men’s room in LAX’s terminal 5, after helping to clean out Carrie’s apartment after her death, that I changed out of my cleaning clothes and threw them away in the trash bin. 

After those two songs, my blog writing had ceased, and I was waiting for what song might be next.  It came from the Indigo Girls, with my sister-in-law and band member Emily singing  “I’ll Change.”   It was a song that I played for Bruce this past spring – in the final chorus of his life – on a ride through the Wisconsin countryside.  It was at this moment, sitting by gate 59B, that I broke down and began to weep.

Without a word, an older woman sitting a few chairs away reached into her handbag, drew out a pack of tissues, reached over to me and mouthed the words, “Keep it, it’s yours.”

 A simple act of kindness to a stranger, offered with grace, received with tears.

I understood then that somehow LAX’s terminal 5 had become “sacred” for me.  Through some amazing combination of random song selections, road weariness, and the kindness of a stranger, I became aware of what this otherwise “profane” place means to me. I’m certainly not suggesting for you to head to LAX’s terminal 5 to seek inspiration.  The walk down the central hall, past McDonald’s, a bookstore and a coffee shop, likely would come off rather generically…just another airport terminal.

What I am suggesting is that for me, that spot has taken on greater meaning.  For me, that hallway, those seats, the one specific men’s room, all evoke a set of memories and feelings that I find truly powerful.  My encouragement is to find the LAX terminal 5 in your life.  Look beyond the historic definitions of “sacred” or “inspirational” spaces and look into your life and history.  Find those spots, those unusual yet everyday locations, that allow you to be connected to your feelings, your experiences, your history, and maybe most importantly, to those who you love or have loved.

I am certain that Eliade was not referring to LAX when he wrote, “the religious symbol translates a human situation into cosmological terms and vice versa …. This means that man does not feel himself ’isolated’ in the cosmos.”  Look for your LAX terminal 5 as a way to allow yourself to be connected to, rather than isolated from, the world and the cosmos.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Advent "four step"

On a recent Sunday, the pastor of our little Lutheran church, Pastor Bradley, gave a simple yet powerful children’s sermon, obviously not solely targeted at the little ones. He shared a few thoughts about the meaning of Advent, the time of preparation, and he asked the kids to recite with him four key ideas: Worship Fully, Give More, Spend Less, and Love All. Once the kids had the four phrases down, he had them follow him around the altar, repeating the four phrases as they walked, ultimately bringing the entire congregation into the act reciting loudly: Worship Fully, Give More, Spend Less, Love All, Worship Fully, Give More, ……

While moving and poignant at the moment, those four simple ideas have continued to grow for me over the past days and I’ve been thinking a lot about how each phrase connects to my life and me this holiday season. Whether you have a faith tradition (be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or another) or not, these four ideas can be helpful and powerful to all of us as we head to the end of 2009.

Worship Fully: The dictionary describes “Worship” as “The feeling and expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” In this season, it is so easy to become lost in the hectic consumerism of the holiday season. It’s hard to take a step back and remember that the axis of the universe does NOT spin around our individual lives, but that we are all part of a larger cosmological dance. Regardless of tradition, this is a good time to step back and be thankful and appreciative to have the chance to participate in the dance called life.

Give More: As I mentioned in a previous entry titled “The Lens of Success,” it’s important to remember that half of the world’s population of more than 6 billion people live on less that $1.00 a day. We take for granted how much we have, and need a reminder that there are tremendous needs not only half way around the world but in each of our communities every day. Over the years, Jennie and I have hosted an annual holiday party that we’ve titled “Peas on Earth.” As a price of admission everyone is asked to bring canned goods, and we collect, sort, and deliver them to the local food bank. Over the 17 years of holding the party we have collected thousands of pounds of food, yet the need at the food bank continues to grow – not decline – every year. All of us have a few things we can share today, whether it be a few dollars or a few cans of peas.

Spend Less: For those of you who are parents, you likely will relate to my metaphor of an overflowing toy box. My kids’ “toy boxes” are filled with a cornucopia of dolls, games, balls, puzzles, etc. On a somewhat regular basis, my wife will bring out the donation bag and we’ll sit with our children and work our way to the bottom of the “toy box” to see what toys that are not being played with might be still be in good enough shape to donate to those in need. Our lives are like the “toy boxes.” We surround ourselves with stuff and things, needing temporary storage units to store the stuff in until the day comes that we want to downscale and simplify our lives. Then there is a mad rush to find a destination of all the “stuff.” Maybe by spending a little less now, we can work on ways to simplify our “toy boxes.”

Love All: Certainly the most challenging phrase of the four. Pastor Bradley did not encourage us to “love more,” or “love fully,” or “hate less.” His nudge was in the word “all.” How do we love all, especially the ones we don’t want to love? How do we love neighbors or acquaintances who haven’t seemed very nice? How can we possibly love the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or Hezbollah or some other group seemingly intent on our destruction? There are no simple answers on this one, but a few things are clear to me. The world needs more love and less hate… the world needs more compassion and less indifference… and the world needs more giving and less taking.  

As you find your way through the holiday season, remember these four phrases. Find ways to bring these four ideas to life in your everyday life. Whether by circling the altar at your church/temple/synagogue, walking around your kitchen table at home, or speaking them out loud in your car, look for ways to step out of the rat race and practice these four “steps” in the dance of life.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Tobacco Plug

Sometimes we learn from the most unlikely of places. A number of years ago, I went to visit my grandmother, then 82 years old, in White Sulphur Springs W.Va. I didn’t visit her often, but since she was going to be alone that Thanksgiving Day, I thought the least I could do was to stop by for a long weekend. After a fine meal filled with wild stories of family members long passed, my grandmother announced that she wanted to pay a visit, over the mountains, to her sister Marge the next day. The plan was set; early after breakfast I would drive “Mama” over the mountains to Marge’s farm.

The trip began without event, with Mama strapped into the front passenger seat of my bright yellow 1976 Datsun B-210. Now, my car was a lot like most of my friends’ cars. It wasn’t much to look at but was filled with interesting distractions: cassette player, dart board, two or three bottles of beer, an old pair of Nike’s, and – maybe surprisingly – a small pouch of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco. Unfortunately, it was the tobacco that Mama spied first. Immediately she asked if it was mine. How can you lie to an 82-year-old grandmother? “Yes, Mama, it’s mine,” I replied sheepishly, not sure of what question was next. “Do you want a plug now?” was the next question out of Mama’s lips. I wasn’t sure what my response should be. I did indeed enjoy a little chew while driving in those days and we had a few hours to get to Aunt Marge’s farm so, hesitantly, I said yes!

What Mama then did was a mix of art, love and history. She proceeded to tell me that her father, William Bryson Hill (the namesake of my son Bryson), chewed tobacco every day of his life, and was very particular with how he liked his plug. With that, she began pulling leaves out of the pouch, pinching off the stems and butts and smoothing those tobacco leaves out in her soft leathery 82 year old hands. After nine or ten leaves, she tucked the ends and rolled the leaves into what looked like a small black cigar. “Just how he liked it,” she said, with the glint in her eye of a ten year old and in the voice of an old woman. With that she passed me the plug and said it would last all day.


Thinking back on that day, now 27 years past, I realize I had the chance to actually experience history. I never asked Mama the last time she had made a plug of tobacco for her father. Was it 1910? 1915? Certainly no later that 1919, when she went off to “Standard School” to become a teacher. Regardless of the exact date, I felt a powerful sense of the hand of my great grandfather, reaching across the decades and thanking his eleventh child, my grandmother, for a fresh plug.

Over the years I have tried to replicate the plug that Mama rolled that day. I have counted out the leaves, picked off the stems, even rolled and tucked the ends into a small plug. Even with practice, it’s never been the same. It’s often that way in the lessons of life. We must find a way to keep our eyes open in the here and now. Too often we are worrying about something that is looming in the future, or maybe ruminating over something that has happened in the past. This life of ours is happening “live,” right now in the present! We need to keep our eyes open, ever expectant to experience history, and possibly to receive a tobacco plug from another century.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lens of Success

I’m not certain when it started. Sometime maybe ten years ago my wife, Jennie, and I were asked the question, “What do we aspire for our children?” At that time we had only my son, Bryson; Marie had not yet appeared on the scene. Without much hesitation, we responded that we hoped for him to be happy, healthy, self-sustaining, and a productive citizen. Jen and I hadn’t discussed it in detail. We hadn’t used any sort of analytical process to clarify priorities. I don’t even remember if I came up with some of the ideas, and Jen others. What I do know is that for the last ten years or so we have shared those four simple priorities numerous times and our conviction around them continues to grow.

Interestingly, as our children have grown, the questions from family and friends about our views of their future have become more and more pointed. Someone will hear Marie at the piano and ask whether we hope for her a musical future and career. Another person will see Bryson pitch at a little league game and ponder about his potential as a left-handed big league pitcher. Regardless of the vector of the question, we always respond with our four wishes, that whatever they choose to pursue, we aspire for them to be happy, healthy, self-sustaining, and productive citizens.

As often happens with parents who actually listen to things they say to/about their kids, I started to reflect on these four simple aspirations and wonder how they apply to me. Over the past 20+ years of my professional life, I have aspired to and achieved numerous goals. I have had the chance to lead large organizations, be accountable for large P&Ls, travel professionally all across the globe, and attend amazing world events. Additionally I have had the chance to work closely with a range of well-known individuals including numerous corporate CEOs and a former U.S. President. Regardless of the achievement associated with these experiences, did they drive me to be happy, healthy, self-sustaining, and a good citizen?

As I reflect not only on my life, but also on the world at large, I am reminded of the dangers and limits of certain definitions of success. In a recent conversation with an old friend, we compared notes on a worrisome phenomenon. Both of us had worked for major, publicly traded, Fortune 50 companies. In both, there was a tendency inside the culture to view senior executives in a different light than all other employees. My friend commented that in his company, “it seemed that if you were a Vice President or above, you weren’t just in a higher position than others, you were a better person than others.” When did the title of a job, define the character of a person? When did professional promotions recognize core human values? I have known numerous senior executives across my career whose characters couldn’t hold a candle to the associates within their organizations.

The past few years, with the worldwide economic challenges, must remind us that material achievement is not the highest calling of humanity. When did materialism and consumerism become the ultimate aspirations of humanity or America? We cannot allow ourselves to be tempted to think that one’s purchasing power actually defines one’s character. We must aspire for more, or maybe actually less. The following are a few touchstones that may make better aspirations for all of us than Gordon Gekko’s simplistic admonition that “greed is good.”


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
-- Declaration of Independence

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!”

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” Speech


While these two points of inspiration may seem a challenge in the day-to-day routine of life, maybe we can all start by considering our own “lens” of success, and by aspiring for our kids, ourselves, our countries and our world to be:
happy, healthy, self-sustaining and good citizens.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"To whom much is given, much is expected"

Anyone who has ever known me, worked with me or even spent a half-hour over a cup of coffee with me knows that I’m an optimist. Maybe it comes from falling in love with the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a boy, or maybe from losing my mother at a young age and realizing that life is a precious treasure. Regardless of origin, I try to view each day as an opportunity rather than a chore. And while I don’t completely believe that “practice makes perfect,” (I know nothing in human achievement that can be described as “perfect”), I do believe we have an infinite ability to make tomorrow better than yesterday.

To put it simply, I try to live on the sunny side of the street.

But things got a little cloudy the other day when I had lunch with an old friend. He is in his late 50’s, in good health, and retired a few years ago with a tidy nest egg in the high seven digit range. He dreamed of lots of golf and lots of time with grandkids...and appears to be enjoying both. But what dominated our conversation were not tales of birdies and babysitting, but the impact that the financial decline had on his precious nest egg. It became clear that the market contraction between 2007 and 2009 caused a similar contraction of his savings. This certainly had a significant impact on him, one that was dominating his thoughts and disturbing his dreams. Instead of trying to relate my blog story of “Anton Ego” I decided to take a different path.

Referring to World Bank data from 2008, I started to share the income facts of the world for with friend. I reminded him that the world has just over 6 billion residents, and that while it seemed hard to believe from our comfortable seats with lattes in hand, almost 1 billion people live on less that $1.00 perday. To make the point even harsher, almost half of the world – just shy of 3 billion men and women, boys and girls – live on less than $2.50 a day. Finally, I reminded him that more than 80% of the world, almost 5 billion souls, live on less than $10.00 each day.

I know it’s easy to get caught up in our worlds and our lives, with our issues and challenges. We all do it! While losing millions of dollars from your retirement savings is no small concern, remembering the millions that you still have may be the better place to start. I am not sure what my friend is going to do differently in his life, but I can promise you that the nature of our “coffee chat” changed dramatically.

Try to remember that we all have so much compared to most of the world. What can we offer at our local food banks and soup kitchens? What can we generously give to UNICEF, CARE, or other groups across the world? Whatever form it might take, we can all do more and the world is crying out now more than ever.

A recent report on world poverty paints a haunting picture.

According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Sure, it’s painful when our portfolio takes a hit. And maybe we can’t avoid a little rain on our side of the street. But how can that possibly compare to the plight of the rest of the world? With that message ringing in our ears, I am convinced that while I don’t think we can make tomorrow “perfect,” there is so much that we can all DO to make tomorrow better than yesterday…
EVERY tomorrow better than EVERY yesterday!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Execute, Build Skills, and Excel

As my final entry to complement the past three, I want to briefly cover a simple three-part concept that I have found helpful in my work personally and my work with clients. In “PBR,” the first of the past three, I focused on the need to slow down and take a moment to reflect on alternatives before engaging. Secondly, in the entry titled “Act with Intent,” I covered the idea that through solid planning, we can guide our actions for maximum impact. Finally, in “Act with Intent: Redux,” my focus was on the fact that our actions, not our intentions, are the testimony of our lives.
The three concepts are both simple to grasp and often difficult to bring to life. If we can find ways to keep the three ideas of “Execute, Build Skills, and Excel” fresh in our minds as we enter new roles, or face new challenges, we will find ourselves more and more successful over time.
First and foremost, we must focus on execution. Do the work that is required at the moment in whatever role you may have. As I discussed in the entry “Breaking the Ice,” regardless of the nature of the role, do it well. We have all faced situations in our personal and work lives when the best crafted strategies and plans fail on the rocks of poor execution. Stay focused on the requirements of the role you are in and “Execute” well!
The second idea is to always “Build Skills.” Whether you are early in your career or have been at it for decades, you always must be focused on learning new things and building your skills. At a recent lunch, a 66-year-old CEO friend shared with me a powerful story about how much he was learning TODAY as his company is working to expand into a new channel of trade. Not only was it inspiring for me to hear, I also could tell from his energy that this process of “building skills” was reinvigorating for him, even though he has run this company for more than a decade.
Finally, we should find areas of our work or personal lives where we can “Excel.” Look to find situations where you can bring your skills, experiences, and passions to bear and perform in a superior way. Not only will the organization benefit, but you will find yourself becoming a teacher to others in YOUR areas of excellence. As I covered in the entry “A teachable point of view,” the best leaders are the best teachers!
Again, easier said than done. Find ways to bring all three concepts to life as you think about your work. Focus on the “execution” needs facing you TODAY! Look to “build skills” EVERY DAY, regardless of your age or tenure in role. Finally, get in touch with the areas of your role where you can truly “excel” and find ways to become a practitioner and teacher in those areas.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Act with Intent: Redux


To extend the concept that I wrote about in the last entry, I wanted to explore and share a few more ideas on this subject.  This idea of “acting with intent,” working to be thoughtful and present in the actions in our lives, is relevant to young and old alike.  Regardless of whether we are students or professionals, children or parents, we are often faced with situations and challenges that call for a moment of consideration before diving into action. 

Recently I encouraged a dear friend to read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and watch the movie, “The Reader.”   Since seeing the film for the first time last year, I have continued to think about, and be challenged by, a number of its themes and messages.  While there are many concepts and issues brought to life, the film makes a dramatic statement about taking action.  More than halfway through the film, there is a very quick scene in which the young protagonist is having a private conversation with his law professor.  In an effort to gain advice, the student shares the details of a complex dilemma that he is facing.  His professor responds strongly:

 

“What we feel isn’t important, it’s utterly unimportant. 

The only question is what we do.”

 

While I can’t say that I believe all of our emotions, feeling and intentions are “unimportant,” the film makes an extremely strong point that we are all judged by our actions – or inactions – not our intentions and feelings.

As a final thought on this subject, I wanted to share a quote from President Obama’s eulogy for Senator Edward M. Kennedy:


“We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know what God's plan is for us.

What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and with love, and with joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of others."

It should be all of our aspirations to work hard to make tomorrow better than yesterday.  To make mistakes, but not be derailed by them, ever looking forward to what we may do to make a “better world.”  To realize that while our time is “fleeting,” we CAN and DO have a “lasting impact” on those around us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Act with intent


 

It has struck me over the past few weeks how often I have been talking to folks about the possible actions that lay ahead in their worlds; trying to play a role to help them think through the issues and possible alternatives that lie ahead of them.  Whether chatting with personal friends, or in discussions with consulting clients,  I have been interested in the number of common themes and situations.  There is typically an issue at hand, either business or personal (often mixed), and the intensity of the moment combined with a heavy dose of emotions leads to the desire to take action immediately.  Remembering the recent entry on "PBR", my first nudge is to try to slow down the entire situation.  Usually by asking a few innocent questions, i get the individual to describe the situation, the issue at hand, what actions brought the current situation to a head, etc.

 

While this technique usually slows down the "heat" of the moment, it also allows me to start understanding the situation, always looking for the "core issue" at hand.  In a training class that I attended more than ten years ago, we were trained to "ask why five times."  This idea helps one to dig into issues, and whether the right number is five, versus three or seven, the key is to dig. Once some sort of problem statement is clarified, I try to facilitate a discussion exploring alternatives.   By focusing on options "close-in" at first, the discussion usually flows freely.  Next by pushing to discuss radical, or "out of the box" options, the ideas can seem farcical and almost impossible to even discuss.  This "stretch" discussion opens the door to a third group of options, somewhere between "close-in" and "radical".  It's often in this section that actually the best options arise, the outgrowth of the conversation exploring the edges of possibilities.  Now we are ready to talk about the action plan ahead!

 

This rambling discussion is my way to say that all of us have issues and challenges at hand.  Whether in our work lives, or our personal worlds (or the confluence of those two streams),we all need to slow down a second and map out our situation and look at alternatives before diving impulsively into action.  After one of these conversations, I recently encouraged a friend of mine to track down  that  piece of fresh thinking, Art of War by Sun Tzu, from the 6th century B.C.  In thinking about it's core concepts, there is a fundamental belief that acting without planning is unwise and dangerous.  A great quote from the piece follows:

 

    Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.  Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat:      how much more no calculation at all!  It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

 

 Even if the situations we are facing seem daunting, we should slow down, try to understand the problem at hand, make our "many calculations", and act with intent!

 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"PBR"... Maybe not what you think!

I know, I know... an unlikely image for one of my blog entries!  Just to set the record straight, I have nothing against Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.  In fact, i have enjoyed one or two (maybe a few more!) over the years and there is something special about drinking an ice cold "PBR" out of a 16 oz. "tallboy" can.     Very refreshing!

What I want to share today is how those letters, the easy to remember "PBR" have become an often used coaching tool in my vocabulary.  Through out my career, I have often found myself in the middle of some discussion, presentation or debate "chomping at the bit" to answer a question, refute a point, or clarify an issue.  I don't know about you, but especially early in my worklife there were moments when I wouldn't be able to stop myself from butting right in and responding.  I realized over time that if I could just slow down for a moment, listen more deeply to the discussion/debate, that I would understand the situation much more clearly and my response was able to be all the more impactful.  While not foolproof, I started to work on this idea and I co-opted the famous acronym ,"PBR", to help me remember to slow it down.  "PBR" started to mean to me to "Pause", "Breathe", and "Reconnect" .  The idea was that rather than quickly diving into an issue or a debate with a not very well thought through comment, my metal model was to try to slow down and "Pause", take a moment and "Breathe." Assess the situation, the landscape, the personalities, the politics, the body language, etc. Then and only then, "Reconnect" to the discussion/debate and bring a more thoughtful response to the issues at hand.

Over the past few months, this idea of "PBR", has become the center point in discussions with a number of friends and consulting clients.  I have found myself looking for logos, cans, 12packs, t-shirts, etc. all with the famous "PBR" logo, to use as helpful reminders.  The friends and clients have put them in their offices, into their notebooks, on the back of their blackberries, all trying to keep the idea of "Pause, Breathe, and Reconnect", front and center in their day to day environments.  What has been interesting to me is the feedback from these folks trying to use this simple idea.  Their comments have been that while it has been helpful in live interactions (where I personally needed the most help), many have found it very helpful in the midst of e-mail interactions.  How easy it is to shoot off a quick email or text message with out taking a moment to slow things down and consider the situation ...  another moment for "PBR"!

As you go about your day, keep "PBR" in mind.  Whether in live interactions, phone calls, or email/text communications, practice "Pausing, Breathing, and Reconnecting", and see how it might enhance and improve your communications.  As part of the process, if you need to drain a few cans or bottles to acquire the required "mnemonic triggers", please enjoy responsibly!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Living without Regret


In the last of the three conversations that I had recently with my friend Bruce (who passed late last week), we talked about the idea of "living without regret."  This conversation was a little different from the other two because this question/topic was on my mind and I wanted to get Bruce's opinion of the question... "how did he think about the concept of "regret" and did he have any insights about living life as best we can without it?"  No small question!  After just a few moments he started talking about the concept of "regret", and how he was thinking about it at that time, just a few weeks before he passed from us.   He talked about that "regret" was a trap, and could be dangerous, because while we have an infinite ability to affect tomorrow, we have an equally significant inability to affect yesterday. That "regret" can make you inactive, pondering the "should have's/could have's/would have's" of life rather than trying to make tomorrow better than yesterday.  He talked about how he felt little regret as he looked over his life and that if he had any, it would be in those relationships in his life that he never told people who were important to him just how important they were.  He asked me whether there were people in my life who I cared about that might not know it.  He paused, gave me a penetrating stare, and said "do something about that.... today!"

As I reflect about this conversation, I keep thinking about what he wasn't talking about.  He didn't regret not taking a certain trip, or buying some specific car, or achieving some title at work.  He focused on relationships, between the people that matter in our lives.  Not only does this ring true deeply in my heart, I was reminded about a conversation that I had with my grandmother almost 11 years ago.  I wrote about it in the first post on this blog titled "Legacy", but as she reached her life's end, she didn't want to talk about the "stuff and things" of life, just the relationships.  True for MaMa, true for Bruce!

I hope that over the past few weeks and months,through a few entries in this blog,  that you have gotten a little glimpse into my friend Bruce.  I have learned a lot from him over the years and I am certain that I will continue to learn a lot from him, his life, and his lessons, in the years ahead.  I hope you have, and you will, too!

Bill

Friday, July 10, 2009

The inspiration of Bruce


Before I continue with the third and final conversation that I had with my friend Bruce (I'll post that next week), I need to recognize, communicate and share his passing yesterday evening.  Bruce has, does and will mean a great deal to me and I have learned so many lessons from him, many of which are still finding their ways into my life!  What follows is an entry from his "CaringBridge" site that he dictated a few hours before he passed.  Join me in being totally blown away by his wisdom, his inspiration and his peace.


As this point, we would be remiss not to thank you for all your love, care, and prayers. We have been deeply strengthened and encouraged by your overwhelming response, not only in the CaringBridge postings but also in all your cards, emails, personal visits, and many acts of kindness.  Thank you more than words could ever express.

Regarding my health, the disease has continued to deteriorate the quality of my life, most noticeably in my limited ability to talk and swallow foods.  My breathing continues to be a daily struggle.

Many of you have commented on what you perceive to be my braveness and courage and while we have choices, my choice has been the goodness, kindness, and grace of God. So, if you are encouraged by my journey, please know that God has been at the center of it.

My journey on earth is quickly coming to an end. As I look back, these have been some of the richest days of my life. I have so much enjoyed talking about the more meaningful things and the love of God.

Don't forget to be kind to the suffering and the needy, and don't forget to work with God in determining those important things in life...and then live it.

I look forward to seeing you in heaven.

Love,

Bruce  

Monday, July 6, 2009

Communities Matter!

I mentioned in the previous entry, "Authenticity, the Foundation of Leadership", that I was going to write about three conversations that I had recently with my dear friend Bruce who has ALS.  The following is the second in that series centered around the idea of "Communities".

As our conversation ranged over the day or so we had together on my last visit, we covered a wide range of topics.  One moment we would be talking about some corporate topic and the next we were talking about our favorite bands from previous "Summerfest" shows.  On one of those conversation "turns", we somehow got on the topic of the people or the "communities" that were surrounding Bruce as he was facing his mortality.  He talked about his immediate family, his fantastic wife Sarah and their three marvelous daughters.  He talked about his neighbors and his church community.  He talked about his work associates and friends.  He talked about his old friends that knew him before he was married.  As he continued, he kept describing these groups as "communities", and that as he was thinking about the end of his life, he found so much comfort, support, and love from feeling "encircled" by these strong "communities."

I joked with Bruce that when I was working for him 20+ years ago, we used to talk about "communities" in a very different light.  We were always talking about how hip it was when we traveled to Chicago, or New York, or Miami, or L.A. vs. the small town in Wisconsin where we lived and worked.  How the music scenes in Austin Tx. or Athens Ga. far eclipsed anything happening locally.  He smiled remembering those days and commented that we were so naive; that we used to think "communities" were defined by their clubs, their restaurants, their weather, and their architecture.  How wrong could we have been! 

 Bruce then asked me if I still had the yellow sheet of paper that he had written on from my last visit.  I went to my backpack and pulled out the sheet he referred to, a lined yellow sheet of paper that he had written some names on during my last trip to see him.  In candor, I had kept the sheet because it was the last thing I saw Bruce write before he lost the use of his hands/arms.  He went on to describe this group as a "special community of people, all who help each other, all very close, all help each other's families, very special people."   He said that's what we all should be searching for and working on, real relationships with people where we are trying to help and support each other as we walk though this journey called life.  Not alone, but encircled by "communities".

As I came back to Atlanta, I paused to think about the "communities" in my life.  My wonderful and giving wife Jennie. My two beautiful, smart, and creative children Bryson and Marie.  Our extended families here in Atlanta, in Virginia, in New Jersey, and in Phnom Penh.  Our friends who are parents of  our children's friends.  Our friends from past work environments, or from before we were married.  After just a moment, I realized that I/we are "encircled" by marvelous "communities".  "Communities" that help, love and support us through thick and thin.  While I am not sure why it is so hard to see what we have around us, I am very appreciative to have a friend like Bruce that can be a great reminder that "Communities" matter!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Authenticity", the Foundation of Leadership

Last week I had the chance, the fortune, to spend a few days with my friend Bruce who has ALS.  I have written about him before, see the entry "Always pursue the Truth";  and while his disease is taking it's expected, unrelenting course, my time with him was precious.  Over the course of a day or so, we had the chance to have some amazing conversations which ranged widely over topics that Bruce wanted to talk about.  There were three conversations though that have stayed with me, that have affected me deeply, and over the course of the next few weeks I am going to write about all three.  The following is one that has to do with "Authenticity" and "Leadership".

As I commented on in earlier entries, Bruce was my first boss out of business school and proceeded to have a very significant career at a major, publicly traded, consumer products company.  He held a number of senior executive roles across his career and had the responsibility and accountability for a multi-billion dollar business and a large organization in his last role.  I am not sure what prompted him during my last visit, but somewhat out of the blue, Bruce brought up the topic of "Leadership" and asked me what I thought about "Authenticity" as a leadership characteristic.  Rather than diving into a rambling "sermonette" of my opinions on the subject, I had the good sense to ask Bruce what he thought about this idea of "Authenticity" in a leadership context.  Even with his voice restricted by a respirator, he started to talk about "Authenticity" as a critical variable in leaders.  That organizations knew immediately whether their leader was being "Authentic" or not .  In those moments of "Authenticity" , Bruce felt that organizations trusted their leaders dramatically more than when there were impressions of Leadership "Inauthenticity".

I asked Bruce how he evaluated/measured "Authenticity".  His comments rang true to my experience, but I was having a hard time trying to figure out how you might evaluate/assess this characteristic.  He said very simply, "alignment between words and actions".  He talked about an executive that he worked closely with who "talked a good game" about caring for and being focused on his team; but his actions showed that he really cared for and was focused on himself.  A clear example of misalignment between words and actions... a clear example of a lack of "Leadership Authenticity."As a result,  the organization doesn't and probably won't trust this leader very well.  Obviously a limiter to performance. In many  ways it would have been better for everyone, including the broader organization, if the executive in the example wasn't trying to portray an image that was so different from who he really is.  

Since returning home, I found an old article from 1997 written by Kevin Cashman, titled "Authentic Leadership".  The following is a quote from the article that articulates Bruce's point well:  

The foundation of leadership is authenticity. How do we go about expressing ourselves more authentically?  I constantly challenge clients to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?”  Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited place?  Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are?  Or is it only coming from our persona, the external personality we’ve created to cope with life circumstances.



As I mentioned above , I am not sure what prompted Bruce to want to talk about this topic; but I have always found Bruce to be an amazingly "Authentic" person, friend, and boss.  This conversation gave me more to think about regarding the alignment of my words and actions, my "Leadership Authenticity". I hope that it might be a trigger for you too!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can we have it all?

I recently had a marvelous dinner with a dear friend named Susan who I hadn't seen in almost a year.  Too long!  In our far ranging conversation, we talked about her being at a recent event where a moderator posed the question : "Can we have it all?"    That question has stayed with me over the past day or so and what I have been ruminating about is, what does "all" mean?  What does it mean to you, and how is that different from what it might mean to me?  What does it mean to me and my family today versus what it might have meant when I graduated from high school or college?  While the questions piled up, unfortunately (but not surprisingly) no simple answers came.   I tried to answer, "if I had it all, what would it look/feel like?"  What I was surprised about was that three images/ideas started to take shape: a painting/drawing, a song, and a speech.

First, I have included a visual of Picasso's "Dance of Youth", a drawing that has inspired me for years.  I have had the fortune to work at an office that had a signed print of this inspiring piece.  On those tough days at work, I would take a break from my work or a meeting and take a moment at the print, trying to envision a world where youth of all races dance around the dove of peace.  A very dear friend named Chris gave me a copy of this drawing and we have it in the front hall of our home, hoping to inspire our friends, our children and ourselves! 

Second, I have included a copy of MLK's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  I have written about the specific words that talk about the "isness" versus the "oughtness" of mankind.  Strong words that give us all hope that tomorrow can be dramatically different, and better, than yesterday!

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1964

Acceptance Speech

Martin Luther King's Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1964

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible - the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live - men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization - because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners - all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty - and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1964, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1965

 


Finally, I think about the recording of the Indigo Girls (with Girlyman) singing the marvelous hymn, Findlandia.  With the music from Sibelius, and the lyrics from a 1934 Methodist Hymn "This is my Song", the unbelievable harmonies of this recording stir in us the belief that: 

May truth and freedom come to every nation;

may peace abound where strife has raged so long;

that each may seek to love and build together,

a world united, righting every wrong;

a world united in its love for freedom,

proclaiming peace together in one song.


Now I am not certain that everyone would define their "all" in this same way.  No mention of fame or fortune. No mention of achievement, beauty or advancement.  But for me, these three inspirations: a drawing, a speech and a song, all illuminate the common themes of peace, love, and optimistic possibility... my definition of "all" tonight!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

A teachable point of view

 
Over my 20+ year business career I have had the chance to work for a wide variety of manager and leaders.  As I mentioned in my previous post "Three impact points of leadership", there is a significant difference in the work of management vs  the work of leadership.  In hindsight, I have had a number of bosses over the years who "got" that truth and maybe a larger number who unfortunately did not.  One such leader who I had the chance to work under and learn from for a few years was Neville Isdell, when he returned to the Coca-Cola Company in the role as CEO and Chairman.

As Neville came back from retirement in 2004, he lead an effort to reinvigorate a large global company and bottling system and re-establish a strategic direction for the future success of the Coca-Cola enterprise all over the world.  In that effort, he gathered a number of executives from around the world to work on what would become a strategic roadmap called "The Manifesto for Growth."  I had the pleasure and honor to be one of those executives at the time and to this day it was one of the most dynamic learning experiences of my career.  I am not going to go into any details about the content or the process of that experience, both of which were unique and inspiring.  What I do want to share is one quick story from one of those meetings that has dramatically altered my view on the role and nature of leaders.

As part of the process I mentioned above, Neville lead a series of meetings/workshops that gathered 125+/- executives from around the world.  The meetings were mentally and physically exhausting, and it felt like the work we were doing was crucial/vital to the future success of the enterprise.  It was at the end of one of those days that there was an open Q&A session where one weary participant asked what seemed like a simple question, "Neville, these meetings would go a lot faster if you just told us what you were thinking and we then could work on how to make that happen".  While I am certain this individual verbalized what was on other's minds, we were all surprised by the intensity of the response.  Neville came up on stage and with a strong voice quickly remarked that he didn't need leaders of Coca-Cola who needed to be told what to do!  He needed leaders with a point of view, no..." a teachable point of view".  Somehow this phrase hung in the air that night and I can still hear it ringing in my ears today.  Leaders with a "teachable point of view"... leaders as teachers.

Now this idea that great leaders should be great teachers doesn't sound very revolutionary.  Since my "epiphany", I have started to see this idea commented on and reinforced in many forums.   One such example is in the area of "Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing" where there are numerous references to the idea of leader as teacher.  What has been new for me is to think about what makes a great teacher and how can I bring that into the workplace every day.  Think in your mind who some of your best teachers have been from your days at high school, college or graduate school.  As I have done this, a very clear images and memories come to mind.  I then thought about their common traits, their similarities (which is hard when you are thinking about a scottish professor of systematic theology and a southern professor of strategy).  

Here are a few of my reflections:

1.) Competence.  These folks all knew the subject matter/material, deeply!  They knew what they were talking about and didn't have to work very hard so that we students all knew that THEY knew what they were talking about.  

2.) Challenging.  They all set very high expectations both for themselves and clearly for us as students.  Somehow it was those expectations that became OUR expectations for ourselves.  We weren't working hard in a course just for the professor's appreciation, we started doing it for OURSELVES!

3.) Fairness.  Whether we were star students, average performers, or less, we were treated commonly and equitably.  From the grading of exams, feedback on papers, discussions in seminars, we felt that we were all given the same chance/opportunity to learn and succeed.

4.) Availability.  While it was not always as much as some of us needed, my best teachers had time for us students.  Time to ask the silly questions, time to make the naive point, whether in class, in their office, over coffee (or a beer) or in the hall.  We felt like we could be heard.

5.) Student orientation.  My best teachers somehow made it clear that the class wasn't about "them", is was about "us".  Even in times of significant lectures the best teachers would work to draw the students into the lecture, fostering (or sometimes creating) debate to advance "our" learning.

None of these five themes are very unusual, but they ring true for me when I reflect on my best teachers from my past.  What gets interesting is to use these five themes to assess the leadership around you.  If you have the honor to lead teams, how competent are you?  Do you set high expectations?  How fair are you with your team?  etc.  Do you have a "teachable point of view"?  Are you a great teacher?
If you are an individual contributor, are you learning the skills that will allow you to be available to your "class"?  Will you be "student" oriented?  Do you have a "teachable point of view"?  Are you a great teacher?

Let these questions linger as you reflect on your own situation.  Give yourself the freedom to always look for ways to learn, grow, build skills and become a better teacher! 



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Always pursue the truth

In a recent entry, “The story of Lester”, I mentioned a visit from an old friend named Bruce. I commented that he has ALS and that my visit with him was quite an inspiration. Since that entry, Bruce’s disease has sadly progressed dramatically. Over the past few weeks I have spent a number of days with him and his family, trying to help in any way possible. It has been an amazing and inspiring honor to have those moments, and I want to thank Bruce, Sarah and their daughters for allowing me that intimacy and privilege. I will cherish those memories for the rest of my life!
During one of those visits, Bruce had just finished a video that was shared across the company where he has worked for over 25 years. The following are a few themes from his video message, please take a look and think of ways of how to make some of Bruce’s ideas a reality in your life!

Always Pursue the Truth Always Pursue the Truth levisay7349

Monday, May 11, 2009

MaMa's Tomatoes


As I think about all the people who have had an impact on my life (and there are many!) I often think about my paternal grandmother, known to many as "MaMa". My first entry in this blog was about a long ago thanksgiving dinner and an experience that I often think back on today. The entry is entitled "Legacy", go and take a look if you have a second.

Well MaMa was not only an influential person to me an many, she was also a wonderful cook and gardener. Over the years I enjoyed many meals at her table, often laden with homemade rolls, deviled eggs, southern pole beans, and if in season, fresh tomatoes from her garden. One variety that she raised over the years was some sort of yellow tomato that when ripe, took on pink stripes. She would save the seed year to year and over the years, those seeds were passed to my father , my brother and me to propagate season to season. Not of us are certain when MaMa started raising these tomatoes but my father remembers them from when he was young and he was born on 1930.

I have planted those tomatoes in various gardens and cities over the years and have shared the seeds with friends across the country and across the world. Recently I taught a module in my son's 5th grade class focused on family/history/ and botany. We took the seeds that I had saved from last season, planted them into "mini greenhouses" and watched the process of germination up-close. After a few weeks we thinned the seedlings and finally after enough growth, we transplanted the seeds into little pots and all the students (and the teachers) had at least one tomato plant to take home and plant in their own gardens. It was something special for me on my last day in the classroom to see a picture of my grandmother posted on the wall. It made me smile to think of MaMa and all the things she has passed along to so many over the years, including a class of 5th graders in Atlanta!

My lesson from this experience is that we are all affected by many important people in our lives. Whether a parent, a spouse, a boss, a friend, an aunt or a grandmother, we have all learned many "lessons of life" from those that have meant the most to us. My encouragement is to try to find ways to be "generous" with those lessons to others in our lives. Find opportunities to share a story, pass along a recipe, or maybe a few tomato seeds, and in the process continue the chain of finding and sharing ways to make this life better for all!

Below is the prep-sheet that I used with the 5th graders recently, take a look!

Mama's Tomatoes Mama's Tomatoes levisay7349

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Crease of Dawn

Recently I have had the pleasure to work on a number of very interesting consulting assignments. These assignments have ranged from working on new product launches, sales force redesign, strategic planning, board communications, team meeting facilitation, and executive coaching. One executive coaching project recently took me to work with a client based in Melbourne, Florida. Now I don't know about you, but I had never been to Melbourne until recently. The city is on the east coast of Florida, very near to Cape Canaveral. Upon arriving at the airport (MLB), you are greeted by a sign that welcomes you to the "Space Coast" of Florida.

On my last visit, the schedule called for me to stay overnight and I asked my client for a hotel recommendation. He gave me a few ideas but somewhat offhandedly suggested that since I was from Atlanta and rarely saw the ocean, maybe I might like to stay on the beach. It just so happened that his company had a great rate at a beachfront hotel so very quickly, reservations were made. That day was a busy one, full of discussions and content reviews , that merged pretty seamlessly into a dinner with my client. I want to highly recommend the restaurant, The Yellow Dog Cafe on the Indian River, and the deck is a perfect spot to unwind and work on the problems of the Universe! With that said, I was dropped off that night at around 10 pm at the above mentioned hotel.

After traveling extensively for my work over the past 20+ years, a late night hotel arrival is no new territory. Upon checking into my room, I set my blackberry alarm, plugged in my computer, turned on ESPN, and proceeded to crash for the night. The 5:30 am alarm came and brought me back to life. After a few groggy thoughts wondering what hotel I might be in, I arose to start the little in-room coffee maker. It was at this sleepy moment that I almost made an unfortunate error. Thinking that I had a few hours before I needed to catch the airport shuttle, I began to sit at my computer and begin working on a summary of my past day's work. It was after the second sip of the unassuming in-room coffee that I started to put together a simple logic stream of:

1.) It's before Dawn...... 2.) East Coast of Florida......3.) Beachfront Hotel......

I started to think that if I got my act together, threw on shorts and a t-shirt and got outside, I might be able to watch the sunrise. Leaving my computer idle, I donned my togs and made my way to the beach. Unbelievably, the sky had started to lighten with shades of turquoise, and yellow but as of yet the sun was still well below the horizon. I started to walk up the beach, mostly accompanied my pelicans fishing and sandpipers chasing the waves. Everything was very quiet and still and after 15 minutes or so, I stopped to sit in the sand and watch the "lightshow"! The sky was perfectly clear at the horizon and it was unbelievable to watch the first glint of the sun break the horizon's plane... "the crease of dawn." The awe and beauty of the moment was breathtaking and I sat on that spot in the sand for 20 minutes or so until the entire orb of the sun had entered our skies.

As I walked back to the hotel, completely in the "afterglow show", I was blown away by how close I came to missing an amazingly beautiful moment. How easy it would have been for me to pour that second cup of adequate coffee, work on the computer for an hour or so, and miss the entire experience. How many times have we all "stayed in the room" and missed the amazing experience just outside our doors? My lesson from that recent morning in Florida is to slow down the "normal routine" long enough to look around, remember that life is fleeting, and think if we might be able to see the "crease of dawn" or it's equivalent, just outside our doors.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anchor or a Sail

The following story is a lesson from early in my career and it continues to resonate today.  Having perspective on how a business is performing and finding ways to share the learnings from the best performers across an organization never goes out of style!  Take a look and let me know what you think!


Are You an Anchor or a Sail Are You an Anchor or a Sail levisay7349