Happy New Year, L’Shana Tova

Tonight begins the Days of Awe in the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year in the Hebrew calendar, marks this period’s start; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, marks the end. It’s a time for reflection, which I enjoy, even though I do not consider myself religious.

The prayer we read at the opening of the service goes something like this, ” On Rosh Hashanah, it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that everything is pre-ordained, yet the Stoics remind us of the same thing, Amori Fatal, Momento Mori. The message of the ancient rabbis and the ancient Stoics is the same, make today matter, it may be all you have.

For me, this reminder causes me to pause, reflect, ask and affirm that what I am doing today, and each day, in the words of Steve Jobs, is what I would be doing if I knew today was my last. L’Shana Tova, Happy New Year.

What Is Your Personal Strategic Plan?

September is the time of the year most companies begin their strategic planning process. But what about your personal strategic plan?

As part of my You Pivot™ Program, I suggest that my clients write a personal strategic plan. And I further recommend that they apply the techniques they have learned from business planning to this personal plan; frankly, most find it challenging. 

Business people are comfortable with and adept at business planning but rarely do these same executives choose to define their mission, vision, and strategic plan for their lives.

If you want to give it a try this year, here is a suggested approach:

  • Begin with your mission, your personal Why? Listen to Simon Sinek discuss finding your Why here
  • Then spend some time getting clear on What Matters to You, what really matters. 
  • As you reflect on your personal Why and your What Matters together, you should be able to craft your life vision. 
  • Finally, begin to draft your strategic plan, the actions you want to start, stop or continue so that you can achieve your life vision. 

Same, same, but different from your business plan. 

Who Is Right?

A few days ago, I was in conversation with a few like-minded friends about each person’s desire to make a difference in the societal challenges that matter to each of us.

One of our members asked, “what do you find is the common theme amongst people in leadership roles in the not-for-profit world?” My observation is these leaders are willing to accept that their impact may be small.

Another member expressed frustration, saying this is a defeatist attitude, “can’t we strive to do more?”

And another said, “for me, it’s most important not to be a bystander.”

This conversation reminded me of the following classic story.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

Who is right?

What Is Empathy, Really?

The dictionary defines empathy quite simply:

It’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

For most of us, this simple sentence describes one of life’s most significant challenges. We come at everything from our point of view, and our style, combined with our backgrounds and experiences, drives how we see things.

A few years ago, I attended a retreat for leadership coaches. The retreat began with a speaker from a local theatre group. His talk was about empathy. He gave us a peek into the life of an actor and drew a parallel between acting and leadership. From his perspective, a successful actor can empathize with their character and really get inside and understand their story.

Actors follow these three guides to becoming their character:

  • What if I were in their situation? What wants and fears drive who they are?
  • “What if” allows us to empathize even when we cannot sympathize.
  • And then, to truly empathize, we must listen with charity.

With genuine empathy, our speaker said, while we may not sympathize with a murderer, we can empathize and then become the character. We begin to understand the character by asking ourselves, what wants, fears and experiences drove them to take another person’s life?

Then, he challenged us, isn’t this the same with leadership? Or, for that matter, with all our interactions with others? If we can step outside ourselves, if only for a moment, can we see the world as the person sitting across from us sees it?

The Maxims of Delphi

Last week I was in Greece, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Delphi. Inscribed, in ancient Greek, at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi are the following “maxims”:

  • Know thyself
  • Nothing in excess
  • Certainty brings ruin

In addition to these three, another 147 Delphi maxims provide a framework for an honest, worthy way of living. These “maxims,” short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, are intended as guidelines and advice, not absolutes, and speak to the following:

  • character
  • worship
  • justice
  • knowledge
  • work
  • finance
  • family

One hundred years later, Confucious teachings were remarkably similar to those found at Delphi. Did Confucious travel to Delphi and copy them down? Doubtful. And, of course, modern religions are also based on these principles.

A few days after visiting Delphi, we visited Akrotiri, where archeologists uncovered a town from the 16th century BC. What was most stunning about this town was the level of sophistication of the inhabitants, including indoor plumbing!

As I left these two historic sites, it occurred to me that the only difference between humans today and in the past, no matter how far back in the past we go, is our technology.  

We have and probably always will strive to understand the motivations of ourselves and others and seek to understand the meaning of life.

No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.

Is it the being or the doing that makes us uncomfortable?

How often do we hear people say that they embrace diversity and then behave another way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear your words.” 

My sense is this happens because embracing diversity is easy most of the time. It’s not when folks are different from us; it’s when folks do something different that we feel challenged.

As leaders, it is our job to create an environment where everyone feels included so that we can successfully optimize our common organizational goals. At the same time, in these polarized times, leaders are increasingly finding team members looking for those “doing differences.”

What to do when we find these doing differences? 

I remember once we invited two couples for dinner, and we were surprised when we opened the door, and one of the couples brought with them someone we didn’t know. They introduced the guest as a family member visiting from out of town. We set another place at the table and politely didn’t say anything, hoping the expressions on our faces didn’t reveal our surprise. 

After they left, we talked about how inappropriate we thought they were to bring someone without asking or at least telling us. Later on, we remembered that there were always extra people at the table when we had been to their house. It was the custom in their culture to include everyone in a meal, so it didn’t occur to them to ask.

The questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How do we set aside our differences and, at the same time, embrace them so that our organizations benefit from the broader thinking that diversity brings?
  • How do we know when to confront behavior that seems in conflict with what we are accustomed to or when to leave it be because the behavior results from life differences rather actual conflict?

Listen, Please

As leaders, we are problem solvers. Problem-solving is a crucial strength required in a leader. And yet, sometimes, the best solution is to simply listen.

When I first began working as an executive coach, I believed that my role was always to motivate my client toward action. While I still believe action is required to achieve results, I have also learned that, and often have to remind myself, that sometimes, it’s best to just listen.

Sometimes all a person wants is the opportunity to think out loud. And for us, as the listener, to do just that. To simply listen, not offer advice, perhaps ask a question or two and then allow them to sit with their own questions, their own reflections, and come to their own answers. 

Sometimes being heard is enough. Perhaps at a later date, it’s time for action.

What Does Spring Mean For You?

The first official day of spring was two weeks ago, and today in Chicago, the high is expected to reach 43° brrr. Yet, spring is in the air.  

We see it in the bulbs sticking their flowers up through the dirt, in the longer days, and in the hopeful attitudes and smiles of people we meet. It’s almost here, we exclaim!

Each season marks the passage of time, and each spring, we celebrate an awakening. For some, it is a time for beginning. For others, it is a reminder that there is a time for every season, both darkness and light.  Still, others consider how many or how few springs they may have left. 

  • What does spring mean to you?
  • What are you grateful for with the coming of spring this year? 
  • Is there something you want to begin for the first time or begin again?