Learning while waiting…

​”Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”

Joyce Meyer

Ah, patience…definitely not one of my strongest virtues.  Though I can’t think of one time in my life where patience hasn’t been rewarded in some way or another.  Though in many cases not in the way that I expected.  

I believe there are two ways one can handle being patient.  First, one can have the “why isn’t this happening already?!” approach.  This is where not having a good attitude can be very dangerous.  It makes it hard to remain positive and learn anything beneficial.  

The second, and much more powerful approach, is is to refocus and ask yourself this question, “What am I supposed to be learning during this season of waiting?”  Doing this requires that one have a positive attitude and it enables your ability to grow and learn while waiting.  

If you can reframe waiting to view the world through the lens of learning it can change how you feel about being patient.  Don’t misunderstand, being patient is still extremely challenging, but maybe waiting is more about learning than it is achieving…

 

Sometimes “done” is just the beginning…

“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”

Henry Miller

adventure alps amazing beautiful

Do you climb the mountain to get to the top, or to see how the world looks from the peak?  Is it the journey that matters or is it simply a task to be checked off the list?  

How often do we achieve some dream, goal, or destination to simply mark it “complete” and then move on to the next thing?  I know that I am guilty of this all too often and I that by doing so I am missing the real value of achievement; what you learn from having experienced something new and building a new set of lenses through which to view the world.  

Why is this so hard to do?

Is it simply easier to numb yourself with the next new thing than it is to look internally and say “how could I have done this better?” or “what did I learn that can help me the next time?” Or perhaps it is simply that achievement has become the idol in life where the pursuit of more is the way of our modern world and this takes precedence over reflecting on what we have learned and how we have changed.  

Maybe getting to the destination isn’t the goal at all.  It is simply the beginning of a new journey.  A journey that will be forever different because of our experiences and the lessons learned on our way to the our last destination.  The next trip is different because of what we have experienced.  But only if we take the time to pause and reflect on what we have seen.  

 

Do you own, or do you rent?

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”

Pat Summitt

Ownership.  What does it mean? Think of the difference between renting a home and owning a home.  When you rent, you treat the home differently.  You don’t worry about the little things, you don’t put the extra effort in to care for or protect the property.  For example, you might ignore the roof that only leaks when it really storms, or the sink that leaks on occasion.  Maybe instead of ignoring the problem, you just call someone else, the owner, because it isn’t your problem.  You don’t have to fix it.  But if you own the home you pay attention to these problems.  You know that if you don’t address them quickly it is likely to become far worse, and much more expensive to repair.  

If you are the owner, you write the checks.  And by checks I don’t just mean in terms of money.  You have to fix the problem.  You are accountable for how you, the asset, the team, the organization performs.  It starts, and stops, with you.  You must look to yourself first before you look to others, regardless of fault because you are responsible and accountable for fixing the problem, whatever that problem might be.  

Have you ever heard the saying “drive it like a rental?”  What exactly does this mean?  It means when you rent a car you don’t treat it the same way you would if you owned it.  You don’t have to care about the maintenance, what it is going to drive like next week, next month, next year.  You don’t have to care because you aren’t accountable for your decisions, or in some cases the lack of a decision.  The rental car won’t be your problem in the future. For renters it is someone else’s problem.  Even if you caused it…

We all have an active decision make, do we own or do we rent?  This project, this initiative, this team, this relationship.  Yes, sometimes ownership sucks.  It isn’t fun to have to fix problems, especially if you caused them, whether intentionally or not.  But it has to be done, because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t look inwards first with self-awareness and reflection and have the accountability to own it, you are just renting your space as a human and a leader.  Don’t be a renter…

How do you measure return on investment?

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”

John Ruskin

Who am I going to become, versus, what am going to get?  These are fundamentally different questions.  I’ll admit that I have spent a lot of my time in life thinking about “return on investment” and that I haven’t spent nearly enough time time thinking about it at an experiential level.  

Working hard is fun.  It is awesome to put in the effort and the labor and see the results that come from it.  But perhaps the most important results are the ones that we don’t measure through tangible “things” but are instead the experiences we have gained and the relationships we have built.  Those are the things that shape us, mold us and create the platform that we build upon for the future. 

To measure success more holistically I think I need to spend some more time thinking about the question “who am I going to become from this effort?” 

 

Threat level zero?

“If you are humble, if you make people realize that you are no threat to them, then they will embrace you.”

Nelson Mandela

I really like the way Mandela framed this in that it is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that those you wish to lead know that you are not a threat to them. I would go so far as to say that the minute one positions yourself as a threat to another person you have lost any semblance of humility.  To make yourself a threat to others is to position yourself ahead of them, higher than them, more valuable or worthy than they are. 

I’ve often heard that to be humble is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.” I’ve long believed that if you talk about having humility, you don’t. I think I am going to add “ensuring that people realize you aren’t a threat” to the list of requirements for humility and servant leadership.  

 

What your problem isn’t, and what it is…

“Let me take some pressure off. Your problem is not discipline. Your problem is not organization. Your problem is not that you have yet to stumble upon the perfect schedule. And your problem is not that the folks at home demand too much of your time. The problem is this: there’s not enough time to get everything done that you’re convinced—or others have convinced you—needs to get done.”

Andy Stanley

Sometimes I read a quote and it just hits me between the eyes.  This is one of those.  Let me start by saying that Andy Stanley is one of my absolute favorites.  He has a special gift and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak please take full advantage of it.  He is exceptional.

There’s not enough time.  Period.  End of story.  It just can’t all be done.  When you come to terms with this fact it is liberating.  Give up the feeling of failure and insufficiency and and instead embrace the feeling of control, define what is most important and say yes to only those things.  Easy to say but oh so hard to do.  

I know that the challenge for me is figuring out just how close to the edge I can walk without falling over. I need to be uncomfortably close to the limit in order to feel challenged and inspired.  I must be stretched in order to grow.  The question that I am really pondering right now is whether or not I am choosing the right things to stretch for  Not only do we need to say “no,” we need to choose the right “yes’s.”  

 

Be water, my friend…

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Over, under, around or through…  Water always adjusts to its environment. It’s too bad it isn’t as easy for us humans.  When I first read this quote I admit that I thought it was a cool one because it was Bruce Lee. But then I really started to think about each sentence and what it can mean from a life and leadership perspective.  The more I reflected, the more I realized that the wisdom expressed here is simply incredible.

How much time and energy do we waste trying to get the world to conform to us, to our wants and needs?  Why is it often so hard to sit back, surrender our ego and simply be as water? The learning and knowledge that dances just out of reach until we humble ourselves and adjust to the world and become aware of the outward things that disclose themselves to us. You can learn so much when you sit back and observe, when you take the time to “Empty your mind, be formless.”

The lesson I take today is just how important it is to just let go of your ego, be humble, be willing to adjust and learn and always flexible in your approach.  Look what grand things happen when the way of water is followed…

arizona canyon deserted geological

 

Who do you serve?

“If you can’t serve, you can’t lead.”

Unknown

I was blessed very early in my work life to have been mentored by some incredible people.  Several amazing people took me under their wings and taught me some of most important lessons I have ever learned in my life.  One of those folks introduced me to the concept and philosophy of Servant Leadership. This resonated deeply with me and learning how to become a better servant leader has been my  lifelong quest.  

Col. Greg Camp was that mentor and is a person to whom I owe so very much.  Greg had retired from the Army a year or two before I met him after an exceptional career.  He  was working at Columbus Bank & Trust when I joined the company back in 1997.  Greg was one of those people who was an exceptional teacher and had a knack for pulling out a persons hidden talents and gifts.  From day one I knew he was different because he told me that “his job was to ensure that I had everything that I needed to be successful and that when I was successful, that we as a team, division and company would be successful.  That in no uncertain terms he worked for me.” (Reflecting back on what I learned from Greg I realize that I could write countess posts about his leadership influence and impact.  Maybe I’ll do that one day in other relevant messages.)

One of the practices that Greg introduced to me was the idea of having a “leadership book club” at work so that we could learn and grow from each other.  We would become much better leaders by having heard what others think about particular topics. This practice is something I still use today for the very same reason.

I vividly remember our first “book club” meeting even though it was well over 20 years ago now.  Those meetings were held once a week before work, at “0-dark-thirty,” or to be more precise, at 6:30 AM on Friday mornings.  I was very excited to be part of the leadership team and to learn from some truly amazing and very seasoned team members.  The book we started with that morning was Leadership By The Book (which is still a personal favorite) and it opened my eyes to the philosophy of leading others by first serving them.  

Servant Leadership requires inverting the traditional hierarchal leadership pyramid and understanding that in order to create success one must first serve those you work with and ensure that they have the things that they need to be successful.  It requires a willingness to really lean in and understand your team and ensure that you are giving them the vision, direction, skills, talents, resources, accountability, etc that they need to excel at their jobs.  It requires that you are continually focused on having the right people on the team and in the right seats on the bus (to borrow from Jim Collins).  The team must know that you serve them in their success AND that they OWN the results of their efforts.  A very wise person once told me that “servant leadership is like being a great parent, it comes from your servant heart and you have to know when to praise and know when to spank, and your team has to know that you serve them by doing both.” 

I can’t possibly begin to explain all the nuances and impacts of servant leadership.  Many great books have already done this but the bottom line for me is this.  Over twenty years ago I was given one of my greatest gifts of my life when I learned that “leadership is not about self, but it is instead about those whom you serve.”

 

Why are you planting seeds?

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

IMG_0178
Rose at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg, CA

For a seed to grow it needs good soil, sunshine, water, and fertilizer.  The right combination of ingredients leads to amazing flowers.  But which of these elements gets the credit for the flowers when they bloom? 

It really doesn’t matter does it? The credit for the end result is less important than the beauty that is achieved.  Yes, there is joy in the process of growth, and all the players matter, but not more than the achievement of the goal.  

It works the same way when we as leaders are focused on the end results, not on who gets the credit.  

 

Good ideas become great when they have the benefit of the input of others.  Are you planting seeds for you or for a greater good?

The weight of words…

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.”

Amit Ray

I love the magic in a meeting or a conversation that happens when the focus is on what is being said, not who is speaking.  That’s when a team is working together to solve problems and not simply waiting to be told what to do. Teams will be most excited and most engaged when the weight of the words being spoken by any one contributor aren’t first measured by their title or position.  The leaders job is ensure this happens by creating an environment that recognizes and rewards collaboration and the results that occur. 

The traditional model of leadership hierarchy has its place, at specific times and for specific purposes. But if you want to unlock the real potential of a team as a leader, ask more questions and facilitate more collaboration.

I have met the enemy…

“Incompetent leaders spend too much time evaluating others and not enough evaluating their own leadership.”

Unknown

Well snap. And I don’t mean in a “snap, crackle, pop” rice krispies kind of way either. Yes, I fully recognize that I am not demographically qualified to use the term “snap.” I validate that by knowing that Snap, Crackle and Pop are the names of the gnomic elves that pitched Rice Krispies for decades. Don’t believe me?  Check this out. Hmm, now I’m not sure where to go from here. Oh yes, incompetent leaders…

snap crackle popPerhaps real leadership only exists when self leadership is there first? How much easier is it to say “it was their fault” or “they are a horrible leader” than it is to ask the question “how can I improve my leadership?” If it is their fault then I have nothing to worry about right?  WRONG.  I speak from experience.  If I “snap” and excuse it because “they” did it, deserved it, or earned it, then then I’m an incompetent leader.  Period. Thank goodness leadership growth is a journey.  Leave the snap for the cereal.

Right between the eyes…

“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.” 

Jim Yong Kim

Someone once told me that as soon as soon as you profess “I am humble” you have ceased to be so in any way.  Humility is hard.  We all want to be good.  Heck with that, we want to be great!  But what does it mean to be great?  Is it all about doing it for me?  For I?  For the ego?  The self?  The pursuit of selfish endeavors or selfish gains?  That is the opposite of humility!  For me humility is the recognition that I still yet have a lot to learn.  That I will always have more to learn and that everyone can teach me something.

My Dad (who by the way is one of the greatest influences in my life from both a leadership and human character perspective) taught me when I was very young that the value of a person wasn’t measured in the car that they drove or the clothes that they wore.  Instead, the value of another man was measured entirely in how they treated other people.  Interesting right?!  The value of a human being measured not in what they have, but in what they give.  Respect.  Honor.  Dignity.  Compassion.  Service.  These are just some of the gifts that the greats give, regardless of the size of their bank account or their station in life.

So, for today’s quote this is one lesson that I hope I never forget.  Ask for feedback.  LISTEN to the response.  Get better.  Period.  The day you think you have arrived your journey has ended.  Leadership is learning and growing.  I am a better leader today than I was one year ago and I hope that what I am today is a pale shadow compared to what I have become a year from now based on really listening, learning, and growing.

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