Thursday, April 19, 2018
Over the past nine years ( hard to imagine!!) of writing this blog, I have never "re-published a historic essay. While I have often connected current essays to historic themes, or even expanded on historic essay topics in current essays, I have never before fully re-published an essay until now. Earlier this week, I had a very close friend and long time work partner ask me to send him a link to this essay as it pertained to a key issue he was dealing with in his work. As I dug it out of the 175+ essays, I re-read it and was struck how pertinent it felt to the political and social landscape we are living today. Too often the words and actions of our political and business leaders are mis-aligned, "saying" one thing but "doing" the opposite on a surprisingly consistent basis. I worry that we are getting "numb" to this "new reality," this "double-talk," and we need to check ourselves and our attentiveness to the actual "actions" not the "spin" of our leaders or their communications teams. Take a second and read (or re-read) this essay from almost 4 years ago, I think it will ring true to what you are seen and feeling today. ( Thanks to Todd for his nudge to republish this story from 2014!)
"Watch the Feet": 5/15/14
Over the past few months I have found myself coming back to a theme that continues to ring true broadly in my life. In numerous professional situations, personal discussions, or political realities I am struck by how many times I keep finding myself saying to not get distracted by the talking points/discussions or “the words”, but to “watch the feet,” and let the actions of the situation betray the truth.
I was in a recent private discussion with an old friend who had introduced me to a new professional colleague. I had just met this person as we sat down to lunch to discuss a challenge she was dealing with professionally, and my role was to be “the outside guy”, not encumbered by ANY knowledge of the specifics of the situation. She described numerous meetings, and pronouncements by the different parties involved the posturing back and forth and the debates on various key issues. After a few minutes of quietly listening she looked over to me as asked, “Bill, what does this all sound like to you???” Maybe it was lack of sleep or too much travel, but I blurted out in almost a “rain manlike” tone, “well, it sounds like a bunch of chatter, just a bunch of monkeys in the trees!” Well the conversation stopped and I apologized for being so abrupt but I asked her to describe NOT what people were saying or talking about, but what they were DOING or NOT DOING. While there had been a lot of “chatter,” it became clear from her answers there was very little action of any kind.
I shared the story from the movie “The Reader” that I have quoted in earlier essays where the student in the movie approaches his professor, asking his opinion about a challenging situation he was facing. The professor after listening politely responds sharply that the student’s feelings and intentions were “utterly unimportant” and all that truly matters is what the student “chooses to DO!” It’s the actions, not the words/intentions/feelings that are important to assess.
Shakespeare in his tragedy Coriolanus has a marvelous quote that amplifies this same concept:
“In such business action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant more learned than the ears.”
This idea that “action is eloquence” is the center of my point. Even in this lesser known of Shakespeare’s plays, he advises the audience to watch the actions of the characters, more than listen to their speeches, enabling even the most ignorant to become truly learned.
Recently I was on the phone with an old friend who was once again missing a college reunion activity. He expressed his frustration on the date of the get-together and it’s conflict with his teaching schedule and while I listened for a moment, I did interrupt his commentary; reminding him that since he had missed our 5 , 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 year reunions, I wasn’t surprised that he was missing this recent activity. Flustered and a bit defensive by my comment, I just said that we would miss him and we would continue to invite him in the future, (clearly with no expectations for his participation.) Watch the Feet!
We often see this dynamic in the political arena worldwide. How many times have you seen some world leader give an eloquent speech that is a description or more likely an obfuscation of the actual facts on the ground? It is not bounded by country, party, or ideology, this habit of using “spin” (another word for “chatter”) to “reposition or clarify” the actions are unfortunately common across the globe.
Whether in business, personal affairs, or in politics, the more we can “watch the feet” and not be distracted by “the chatter in the trees”, the better we are all off to truly understand the environments where we operate. We need to work hard in our media dense world to not get distracted by the “monkeys in the trees” that bombard us every day, but to keep our eyes on the “eloquence of actions” across the landscape.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Preface: I have mentioned in recent posts how lucky I am to have a consulting practice with such a wide range of clients and projects. Ranging from tech and food startups, to massive global biotech companies (and quite an array in-between,) it’s an amazing experience to be 30+ years into a business career and having the chance to learn so much! Over the past few months I have begun work with a dynamic and exciting “Association” in the women’s sport space, lead by two exceptional leaders Danielle and Shannon. The work is significant and the organization very inspiring. A pivotal event in their annual work occurred last week at the NCAA Women’s Div. 1 Final Four in Columbus Ohio. I had the chance to participate in that event, which is a backdrop for the following essay.
After finishing my key deliverables last week at the meetings on Thursday and Friday, I had the chance to attend the two semi-final games of this year’s NCAA Women’s Div.1 basketball championship last Friday in Columbus. Joined by my son Bryson and wife Jennie, e headed to the arena early to get a “lay of the land” and truly “soak up” the entire event. Expecting two good basketball games, played by four exciting teams, we had no idea what was in-store!
The first game featured Mississippi State University playing against the University of Louisville; the second game featured U Conn vs. Notre Dame. What a pair of matchups! I won't cover any specific “play by play” highlights but each game was unbelievably exciting, each game had “buzzer beater” shots, each went to overtime and each taught me a lesson in “Strategic Inspiration.”
As a casual fan, its impossible to imagine the locker room speeches/sermons/dynamics/hysterics that must go on at half-time (none the less leading into OT) at big games like these. While I don't know exactly what was said or done by the two wining head coaches (Coach Schaefer from Miss. St., and Coach McGraw from Notre Dame) in that “pre- OT” locker room moment, each of their teams came out to win, and win they did!! What struck me was not only the exceptional level of their play, but their belief in their ability to win! These two teams were “strategically inspired” to win their semifinal games in order to advance.
This dynamic of “belief” linked to a specific “objective”; in my language this “strategic inspiration” drove the success of those two teams last Friday night and is often so pivotal across companies/departments and teams in business. Organizations need to have the right strategies/tactics/tools/talent and resources to accomplish their objectives, yet those items are “required but not sufficient” to ultimately achieve success. They need to be coupled with a belief/drive and focus on the objective at hand…. whether it be winning/closing a new customer contract or succeeding on OT in two basketball games in front of a national TV audience!!
We will never forget those two games and that night in Columbus, by far the most exciting sporting event that we (my family and I) have ever witnessed. But once the cheering and excitement subsided, the lesson of that night has stayed with me. We as business leaders need to remember those two coaches and their ability to “strategically inspire” their teams to come out of the locker rooms and achieve success/victory at the end of that fateful over time period!