Who Do I Admire?

My head hurts. Not from a classic, garden-variety headache but from the feeling of too many ideas elbowing each other for space in the clown car that is my brain. I’ve spent the last four days with talented, capable women who (like me) are focusing on their professional development and it has been all I can do to furiously jot notes down for future consumption. I’ve probably got fodder for 10 future blog posts, but my head is stuck on one question:

Why can’t I name someone I admire when the question pops up?

Here’s the thing, facilitators and speakers love to ask this question. I’m sure my psychology major friends could provide a scientifically framed explanation, but I have a suspicion. I bet it’s a great way to generate positive feelings and a list of worthy attributes based on one’s lived experience. But, no matter why it is successful, I will tell you that it is so common that it has happened three times at this conference alone, not to mention the myriad of times over my lifetime. And every time I am asked, I pause frustrated as my brain goes foggy. And I guess that would be fine if a shiny hero walked out of the fog with her sword ablaze — but she doesn’t.

What is wrong with me?

I’ve always had a mental gap in idolizing famous people. The weird thing is that it is not for a lack of respect. I have an abundance of respect for the mega-talented, but it has never translated into a desire to put those individuals above others in my pantheon of admiration. If I’m honest with myself, I think it’s because of my need to know someone, in a “sit down and chat” kind of way, before I can see them as a person worthy of admiration. Yes, I can observe someone’s capabilities from a distance (acting performance, sports accomplishment, company’s stock price, singing voice) and be in awe of their skill in their craft, but a question pops up in the back of my head.

“Yes, but is she a good person? How do I know she is a good person?”

On the other hand, the people I know in real life are like flowers flourishing in a garden of admiration. Each one is unique and beautiful, no two admirable for exactly the same reason. If you were to walk through my garden and point at each one, I would be able to share a story or a moment that would bring their petals and color to life.

  • That one, she’s resilient — life has knocked her down over and over again and she simply rises up again with grace.
  • That one, he’s brilliant and witty with a self-deprecating humor — he struggled to find his confidence and took his insecurities out on people when we were younger, but grew through it and now is an ally for the outsider.
  • That one, she will make you work to be worthy of your friendship, she wants to know you will stick — but once you do, she will be your shield mate and support for the long haul.

When I scroll through my Facebook feed they all make me smile, each of them so worthy of my admiration, whether they believe it or not.

Tuesday night, as the conference was coming to a close, I chose to skip the big celebration. Mentally exhausted, I gifted myself the solitude to let my brain quiet and try to process the big learnings. I called the hotel salon and grabbed the last manicure appointment of the day, walking quietly in the dark across to their building.

As I sat across from my nail technician, a woman many years my senior who had emigrated from Lebanon, I started to frame her flower in my head. Courage, for bringing her three boys to a foreign country. Nurturing, for holding her now grown sons together by cooking them dinner every Sunday. Patience, for absorbing the disappointment of customers without anger. At the end of the hour, her flower was as bright and beautiful as my shiny red nails.

Don’t get me wrong, I love heroes. I watch every super hero movie that comes out and my favorite books are high heroic fantasy where someone rises from a challenge to achieve greatness and save the world. But, in my real-world there are no long-stemmed roses that can be handed over as a perfect example of admiration. In my world, there is a bouquet where each flower adds its unique beauty to the vibrance of the whole. I know the question will come up again and I have just one request.

Ask me why I admire someone, don’t ask me who I admire.

A Room with a View

As I was boarding my plane yesterday I smiled at the woman merging in front of me and observed cheekily that people were nicer on Saturday. She looked uncertain so I clarified, “Absolutely. You should see people on Thursday at 4:00pm. It’s completely different.” She laughed then and noted that I must travel a lot. The irony was undeniable as we were standing in the group six cattle call and I was heading to a middle seat at the back of the plane. I looked at her wryly before retorting in good humor, “I travel a lot, but not enough to get status.”

Check-in at the hotel was another remarkably predictable experience. Many years of business travel have conditioned me to have my ID and credit card out and to respond knowingly to the questions asked by the employees working the front desk. As the woman concluded my transaction I accepted my room keys without pause, shuffling off to the elevators. I was pressing the up button before I even realized that I’d been given a room on the lowest floor. My sinking feeling got worse as I exited the elevator and saw the sign for the room numbers. My room was closest to the elevators and once inside I walked to the window and grimaced at my view: a flat gray roof displaying in mechanical systems, pipes and a satellite dish. Before I could stop myself the self-pitying words framed in my head.

How did I end up with the worst hotel room here?

It’s amazing how quickly and easily the human mind can complete a comparison and find itself wanting. Within a minute I had gone from being excited to disappointed, forgetting all about the opportunity I had been given to develop my leadership capabilities among other talented women. Why? Because I would be spending a handful of hours over four nights sleeping in a room without a view. And, to be honest, I might have stayed in that frame of mind and grumbled about my sorry lot if it weren’t for a recent podcast I listened to this week that put what I was experiencing — envy — into perspective.

The podcast was Counting Other People’s Blessings on the show Hidden Brain. I’m a new listener, but the show positions itself as using science and storytelling to “help curious people understand the world — and themselves.” I found it to be a fascinating exploration of why individuals compare their lives to others and as I stared out the window I connected back to what I had heard. I realized that I wasn’t mad about getting a bad room, I was mad that I got a worse room than someone else. I was envious of the people on the higher floors with views of sunsets and skylines. I wanted what they had, because what they had was better.

Comparison can be positive, helping us identify role models and aspirations, leading us to be better people. I regularly feel inadequate at these type of leadership conferences because I am surrounded by talented, sucessful people who remind me of all of the things I can’t do and may never accomplish. I’m certain that I went to Smith for the same reason, to push myself to develop capabilities in an environment where it couldn’t be argued that I was already done. Surround yourself with enough amazing people and the idea that you are finished growing becomes more and more laughable. How could I think I was successful when she’s done that? I mean really, what the heck was I thinking?

But comparisons can also be toxic and disempowering, leading to victimization. I felt righteous indignation about being stuck in a poor room, but what was I complaining about really? The room was large, well-appointed, and comfortable — it had everything that I needed. If I had returned to the front desk and pleaded my case it was a certainty that someone else would have ended up with it. I was embarrassed to consider what that person would think and how they would react to my assumption that they were somehow less worthy of a great view and a quiet night than I was. Ultimately, I decided that the best thing I could do was accept the judgement of the hotel gods and take a swipe at envy by sharing it in a post of my own. I could laugh at myself and the feeling of being slighted by shining a light on my own experience.

In the grand scheme of things, feeling envious of a great hotel room is a small matter or a witty Facebook post. Maybe the bigger issues is that we talk so rarely about the ugly side of envy, how we look at the successes of others and instead of feeling warmth for them we use it as a measurement to diminish our own happiness. We don’t talk much about envy in our polite society, but maybe we should. Maybe we should shine a light on the many times each day that we compare our lives to others and find ourselves wanting because guess what, someone always has more. Μore money. More beauty. More success. More stuff. Someone is always getting ahead faster or easier or better. How many times do we ask ourselves, in the dark moments we don’t admit out loud, why can’t I have what they have?

I don’t have an easy answer; this blog isn’t about easy answers.

All I know is that I find I am happier and more able to tackle life’s inevitable obstacles when I start with supporting people in their successes and looking inward to create new opportunities for myself. So, I channeled that mindset this morning when I got up and headed to the bathroom to get ready for a day of learning and growth. Focused, I laughed out loud when I turned on the shower and found myself staring at the best water pressure ever in a hotel bathroom. Ok, I thought, message received. It is not the worst hotel room here.

For all it gave me, it might just be the best.

Unexpected Inspiration

This week I was sitting in the airport in that experiential wasteland when it’s not time to stand up to board but there isn’t enough time to pull your laptop out and do any real work. I had already finished my moderately satisfying dinner, so I mentally considered what I could do keep my fingers from twitching.

I grabbed my phone and opened Facebook — don’t judge me.

As I looked at my feed, I was surprised to see a new friend recommendation for a woman that I had worked with in my past. Within minutes we were connected and I popped out to “chat” with her to let her I know I appreciated the relationship. I noticed her pictures had a theme and I tossed out a purely personal reflection, commenting on her dogs and noting that they were cute. It was the kind of small observation I make 100’s of times a week and I didn’t think too much about it until our conversation turned to the importance of pets in family. I shared with her that it had been two years since I lost my own dog and we hadn’t found our way yet to bring a new dog into our family. And, on a whim, I noted that if she wanted I would share the blog post I wrote when I realized that it was almost time for us to say good-bye to our beloved pet.

“Please,” she said.

Even with permission, I hesitated a bit to send the link. It may seem weird, with more than 150 posts completed, but I still cross my fingers every time I send my writing out into the world. As I press the “Publish Now” button I remind myself that great results only happen through action and I hope for the best. I hope that this time I have found a way to put some little piece of life into the right words, to compose something so universal that it captures the heart and so unique that it sparks the mind. That’s a tall order, one that great writers spend a lifetime trying to achieve, and I often find myself disappointed. Not with my readers who fail to shower my posts with love, but with myself for failing to create something lovable. But, Getting Ready to Say Good-bye is one of my most widely read and loved posts, so I copied the link and hit send.

A few minutes later, she came back and said, “That was so hard to read. Wow. I am so sad but you captured it.” I had warned her that it was a tear-jerker, but I worried that I might have overstepped; I don’t like to ambush someone with a Hallmark moment. I shouldn’t have worried, she came back and assured me that it was the right kind of emotion and then she said the words that amateur writers long to hear, “You should look into truly writing.”

It’s important to note that this woman knows me as a successful, accomplished business professional. So as we went back and forth negotiating between blue sky dreams and grassroots practicalities I couldn’t simply brush off her encouragement. “You’ve got a bigger purpose,” she insisted. In fifteen minutes she had gone from a respected colleague to an engaged fan rallying around my possibility. I listened, trying to stay balanced in the here and now, but before I boarded the plane I had made a promise to connect with her by my birthday. She wanted a plan to to bring my dream to life. I got the feeling that if I hadn’t she wouldn’t have let me go.

Inspiration can’t be controlled. Demand that it lift you up and support you through challenges and it scoffs and leaves you wanting. Give it up, thinking you’ve tapped every source dry and that you have to bear the weight of your dreams alone, and it barrels at you with fresh energy from an unexpected vector. You can no more summon inspiration than a weatherman can call rain to parched garden. You can’t count on it, but you also shouldn’t ignore it when the big drops are falling on your face.

It’s been a few days since that lightning strike and already I am sliding back into the familiar success: work that I know and a life I can predict. It would be easy to forget the words of inspiration and possibility and drop back into what is. But, I promised someone that I would create a plan that would let me be a writer. It might be a crappy plan that I never execute, but I’ve got six weeks to think through what it would take.

A promise is a promise.

A Joy of Storytelling

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m sitting in a grocery store cafe. As much as I appreciate the opportunity to focus on my writing for a few hours, weekend sleep-ins are my private luxury and I give them up begrudgingly. When I was a young over-eager analyst with little kids, my husband would get up at the first sign of activity and quietly sneak from bed. He would herd them both to the other side of the house with a soft, “Let’s let mommy sleep.” Now, more than ten years later it’s a chauffeur trip for my daughter that had me setting my alarm for 5:23am. “You’re a good mom,” my husband told me as I headed up to bed last night. Then he paused and corrected himself, “No, you’re a great mom.”

Sipping my chai tea latte, I’m not inclined to argue.

When I started this blog I made a conscious decision to stay away from writing about my kids. They were already in middle and high school, years when drawing attention to yourself is strongly discouraged. And as much as I wanted to interrogate my own journey through motherhood, any stories I would share were bound to put a spotlight on their own development. The more I thought about it, the more it felt wrong to share those thoughts: I signed up for the transparency of Too Much Mel, they didn’t.

No, I don’t write much about my kids, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the lead characters in the majority of my stories.

This week I was reminded about how important storytelling is to me and the way I show up in the world. We had an all day leadership meeting that included an exercise on how to give and receive feedback. I’ve written copiously about the importance of feedback so I won’t belabor that point. What was interesting was the appreciative feedback I got from one of my colleagues, a close friend who took the time to find me across the crowded hotel ballroom to pass on her thoughts.

She told me that I was one of the best she had seen at explaining the “why” of things, making ideas understandable for people no matter what their level. She shared that it was a struggle for her and she appreciated my natural ability to do it and the way I made it look easy. I thanked her and then told her that I believed she had as many if not more experiences than I had that could be packaged as stories — her personal and professional journey is inspiring to me and I knew it would be for others. The trick, I told her, was to reflect on those experiences and take the time to frame them so that they can be told and retold with authenticity and impact.

As I was sharing that perspective, I realized that I had followed my own advice earlier that week. I presented to a computer science class to support our campus recruiting efforts and was talking over dinner with recruiters and students. The talk turned, normally and naturally, to family. Did the students have siblings? Were they older or younger? How had going away to college impacted their family dynamics? My kids are just a few years away from college and the same age as their younger siblings, so I ended up contributing to some of the conversation. And when the dialogue shifted to the challenges of mothers and daughters, I pulled out one of my favorite stories.

When I was working on a college campus, I had an office in a residence hall. At the time, my daughter was just entering the pre-teen stage when kids begin to see their parents as human, starting to question their wisdom and capabilities. I suddenly found myself booted from hero to an unwelcome and unwanted part of my daughter’s life. I struggled with it mightily. One night, as I was walking to my car I overheard the young woman working at the residence hall front desk talking with her mother. The conversation sounded engaged, positive and, although I wasn’t listening to the words, she seemed eager to get advice and appreciative of the call. When she said good-bye, I thought I heard the same love in her words that I had always heard from my little girl, until I hadn’t.

I waited to the side until the call was over and then walked up to her. “I don’t mean to eavesdrop,” I said, “But I heard you talking with your mother and you seemed to be having a great conversation. I’m interested in getting your perspective: when did realize your mom wasn’t the dumbest person in the world?” She looked at me with a completely straight face and considered my question. With barely a pause, she stated factually and without any humor, “Second semester sophomore year.” We both smiled and I thanked her and wished her a good shift. As I walked away a thought went through my head — at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

As I finished the story the table laughed. The students, wise juniors safely beyond their sophomore year, could appreciate their own growth to that point. Looking back at their younger siblings, struggling with their parents, they could see what they still had to learn. The mothers at the table were either struggling with or had survived evolving relationships with their own children. It’s one of my favorite stories because it encapsulates so simply a snapshot of the human experience and I remember with great vividness the feelings I had in the moment.

My daughter is still in high school and there are moments when I know she thinks I’m nutty as a fruitcake. The eye rolls are still there and she often says, “Things are different now, mom.” She’s right, the world is different than it used to be in many, many ways. And yet, I’m certain that there will be a time, about four years from now, when she will realize that what I know and what I’ve learned is a treasure trove that she can dig through anytime she wants. She doesn’t get it but I have faith that time will come.

And I’ll be ready to take the call, second semester sophomore year.

Going, Going…Stalled

Tuesday night I started to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat. I pushed it off, the week was already over committed with critical meetings and a ton of deliverables; I felt I didn’t have the luxury of slowing down. I woke up Wednesday feeling nauseous, but pushed through it because I had a training scheduled with a group that had traveled from across the country to get there, so I ate a bland piece of toast and got in my car. I made it through, but felt much worse after and, afraid I might lose my lunch around my colleagues, I drove home and took my last meeting from the chaise in my library.

Thursday, I wasn’t much better but I pushed it again. Same drill, except this time I found myself light-headed in my boss’ office with him looking at me like I was a lovable but misguided fool. “Go home,” he admonished. I took another meeting from my library that afternoon and after a sleepless night due to a throat on fire, I went to the doctor on Friday morning. No, I didn’t have strep. I just needed to drink fluids, rest and ride it out.

Those were not the words I wanted to hear.

When you’re a Type-A, always on personality, being told that you need to slow down and just rest is the ultimate punishment. Mentally, you can feel your to-do list growing longer and longer and you are powerless to take anything off it. For me it is like the I Love Lucy episode where the girls have to wrap chocolates on the conveyor belt, except in my “rest and fluids” version they have their hands tied behind their backs. The conveyer speeds up, the chocolates pile up, but there is nothing to do but sit idly by and watch the candy fly by, unwrapped.


I suspect that is why I have a tendency to ignore the tell-tale signs of being sick under the misguided hope that if I fail to acknowledge it I might somehow avoid it. Forty-four years of experience in this world and I still persist in believing that I can will myself to be well. It might be a hereditary issue, my grandfather subscribed to the idea of mind over matter. If you told yourself you didn’t have a headache, you wouldn’t have a headache he told me disappointedly when I asked whether he had Tylenol.

He didn’t like to slow down either.

We’re both wrong, of course. The germs won and I spent all day yesterday wrapped in blankets on the couch, shivering and miserable. I missed a concert my husband and I had been planning to attend for months, my teenage son went instead. I expect to spend today and tomorrow doing the same thing, sitting as I am with my iPad, and the cold essentials: a box of tissues, a glass of water and a bag of cough drops. It isn’t any fun, but I’m trying to remind myself that it isn’t as bad as the time I had to spend five weeks on bed rest when I was pregnant with my first child. That was before tablets and streaming video and I watched hour after hour of Law and Order and Murder She Wrote on A&E, unable to get up to do anything but go to the bathroom. I only pulled it off because the doctor told me my daughter’s health was at stake — I’m not sure any other rationale would kept my butt on the sofa.

My husband, saddened to see me in this condition, pointed out that he can see a pattern. Once a year or so, I’ll push myself too hard and end up so run down that any little germ can find its way past my body’s normal defenses. It’s like my border patrol has been working too many double shifts and, asleep at post, they let the bad guys can just waltz right in and take over. I get it, I probably do this to myself. But I also believe it’s probably worth it. 360 days of super Mel might be worth five days of this.

Maybe, maybe not.

But, there’s always an upside. For the first time in the 27 days of 2018, I took the time to write. Being stuck flat on my keister has allowed me to focus my thoughts and put words on the digital page. And while I’m not sure it’s worth being sick, it’s better than nothing.

What Brings You Passion?

Before Christmas I found myself in a church auditorium enjoying a performance by the Agape Ringers, an elite handbell choir in the Chicagoland area. I didn’t grow up knowing a handbell from a doorbell, but I was lucky enough to get introduced to ringing by a good friend who attends handbell summer camp every year. She invited me to the concert one year and little by little I pulled the whole family into it. Now, it’s something we all look forward to each year.

Anyway as I was sitting waiting for the concert to start, I thumbed through the program and read the bios of the musicians. Reading through the snippets (family life, work life and tenure with the group) I was reminded just how much collected passion the performers had for thier craft. No matter who was important to them or what they did for employment, I’m willing to bet that ringing handbells brought them significant joy. In my opinion, it’s hard to be really good at something without a lifelong investment, and having seen the group before, and watched the adoration on my friend’s face, I knew they were really good.

I got to thinking about that — the idea of what brings people passion — as I was driving home. Culturally, we have a tremendous bias toward work and the idea that fulfilling work is the central tenant to a fulfilling life. We spend a lot of time at work, after all, so it feels good to believe that people are fulfilled by that activity. But, I know that isn’t true. For most people work is simply a necessary evil, something that needs to done to put food on the table and roof over their heads. And yet, like most people, I still persist in walking up to people at events and asking, “What do you do?” as if the question will bring a twinkle to their eye. I really should know better, because it’s one of the reasons my husband hates parties. He’s always trying to figure out how to answer that question, either apologetically or covertly, because saying that he is a stay-at-home dad carries such baggage.

Ask my husband about what he does and you’ll get a lukewarm answer, but if you ask him about what he’s passionate about, you will get an earful. Talk to him about the time he brought a 1971 pinball machine back to life or when we got stuck sailing on Lake Erie in a storm. Ask him about his family or the odds of the Red Wings making the NHL playoffs. Those are the things that matter.

I find that it’s the same with most people.

A good friend of mine from high school is a drummer, so in love with the art of drumming that he built a sound proof room in his basement. I know that when I want to see that fire in his eyes I should ask about his most recent drum kit or gig — not about the very successful, well-paying job he has had for over 20 years. Whenever I see a YouTube video of someone drumming like a mad fool I think of him and smile.

My brother has spent most of his adult life writing a musical about the origins of the video game industry. He was able to share the idea with one of his idols, Ralph Baer, and it made him happier than just about any other time I have seen him. I’m not sure I want to know how many hours he’s dedicated to taking it from a rough idea through the fine tuning necessary to make him proud. It’s amazing and even so I’m not sure he will ever think it is good enough. Artists can be pretty hard on their creations.

A guy my husband knows is really into pinball. When he and his wife decided to renovate their house, they dug out their basement to double the square footage and expand his collection. He even had a specialized elevator built to make it easy to get machines up and down. I used to think my husband was too into pinball — and then I went out to his friend’s house, looked around and rode the elevator. On the drive home I acknowledged that I was wrong, his pinball hobby was normal.

I’m a workaholic and I’ve spent most of my life a little in love with my jobs. Like any dysfunctional relationship, when things have gone poorly it’s hurt a lot because I’ve wrapped so much of my own happiness up in doing well. It’s like having a huge stock portfolio in only one stock — I haven’t been very diversified. Heck, if I didn’t have my family, and now this blog, I’d be at risk of putting all of my life eggs in my work basket. Happily.

So, I sometimes forget that the vast majority of individuals don’t get that kind of passion from their work — until I see a handbell concert.

A friend of mine from college just announced that she is leaving her job. She’s one of the most professionally successful people that I know and I am confident that people will look at her decision skeptically. They will wonder what the heck she is thinking. But, if they had truly listened to her, they wouldn’t have to wonder. They would know that after doing what she had to do, doing what was needed, she is giving herself the freedom to pursue her passion. Her passion isn’t in a paycheck or a fancy title, it’s somewhere else and she’s heading in that direction. And knowing her commitment and focus, I’m willing to bet she gets there.

Whether it be hobby, habit or happening, here’s hoping that you have a little bit of energy left over from doing what you have to do for whatever brings you passion. And remember, when you meet a stranger at a New Year’s Eve party don’t ask they what they do. Ask them what brings them joy.

Slow Down

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings’.”

– Dave Barry

My work-life is filled with meetings. On an average day my calendar may have less than an hour of non-committed time, with the rest locked down in 30-minute and 1-hour blocks. I run to conference rooms scattered across two buildings and ten floors. No matter how hard I try to make sure I have time to live my “open door” leadership philosophy, no matter how hard I push to say “no” when I am not the right person for the dialogue, I have been unsuccessful in controlling the creeping ooze that is meetings.

And, that is why what happened this week was so surprising and delightful.

As I approached the end of year holidays (and the week I habitually take off between Christmas and New Years) a remarkable thing happened. I watched with giddiness as one by one meetings fell off my calendar, cancelled or rescheduled for next year. It felt like everyone took a collective breath and admitted, all at once, that their crisis wasn’t as urgent as they thought. Nothing catastrophic would happen if the discussion or decision or action happened a few business days later. We wouldn’t all turn into pumpkins if it didn’t happen before — bwahaahaa — the end of year.

In the course of a day, my calendar tipped from 90% meetings to 90% free time. And, faced with that unusual reality, I was able to act differently. I was able to lean into three transformative conversations and address each issue with my full capabilities, giving it not just 30-minutes of my thoughtful attention, but the amount of time the relationship or challenge needed to make true and real progress.

One of those examples started with a completely random event. Walking to the restroom, I saw a project manager from one of my big development efforts heading back to her desk. I paused and asked her how she was. She made a throwaway comment, the kind that says, “Not great, but I’m working it out.” In my normal life, faced with my normal calendar, I would have given her a conspiratorial wink and told her to keep at it.

But, not this time.

In that moment, with a calendar unconstrained by another meeting, I slowed down. I listened past her words to see the tension in her eyes. I thought I could sense that, under the bravado, she was signaling that she needed help. My help. With a wide-open calendar the next day, I asked if she happened to be in and whether she could free up some time for chat. She was and could. She scheduled 30 minutes for us the next day.

We connected as planned and after our 30 minutes were up, she had barely had enough time to brief me on the knotty challenge she was facing. On a normal day, I would have whipped off a few witticisms and metaphorically shouted “next!” to whoever was in my waiting room. But, with the freedom of an open calendar, we had time to explore. I asked probing questions to gain understanding. I jotted down ideas on my white board. What about this? How would that be perceived? Are these ideas connected? Would this be understood?

Together we realized that we didn’t have one challenge, we had four. And that the challenges were not independent but tightly related to a single business trade-off that we could address on a continuum. With an aligned mindset, we modeled an approach that would allow our business leaders to explicitly respond the in an upcoming meeting; we defined a way that would allow us to enlist them in the deciding the answer instead of pushing something on them.

It was invigorating and I went home that night feeling that I had done less but delivered more.

The next morning as I was getting ready for the day’s activities I looked up to see her standing in my doorway. She was smiling and just wanted to let me know that after we talked she had connected with our business sponsor who had been just as excited about the direction we had identified. We talked a bit about the progress we had made the day before and what had made it possible: Approachability. Purpose. Listening. Time.

Later that morning I found myself with another executive and I shared the experience. I told him that we needed to find a way, as leaders, to create more opportunity to shift from activity to engagement. We needed to give ourselves the time to think deeply and help our teams pause long enough to understand the issues fully so we could really resolve them. I looked at him and asked rhetorically, “What happens if we can only count on those moments happening once a year when the vast majority of our team members are on vacation?”

I don’t have an answer. All I can say is that I have been as guilty as the next leader of incorrectly correlating productivity with activity and motion with progress. But this week I was faced with a striking example where real results were connected not with “time-boxing” and “efficient agendas” but with simply being open to listening and letting the conversation go where it needed to go, with letting connections happen not purposefully but organically. That example has led me to a goal for myself.

Next year, I will create an opportunity to do it more.