Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Mindful Mondays: What Any of Us Can Learn from Pope Francis September 28 2015 no responses


Like a lot of Americans, I spent a lot of last week transfixed by the coverage of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States. I’m not Catholic, but found myself moved by his words and images several times.

The pictures were what really got me. The look of joy of people in the crowds as Francis passed by or moved to touch them was unadulterated. The happy grin of the Pope as he waved to the crowds out the back window of his Fiat as it left Andrews Air Force Base was priceless. There’s a picture in the New York Times this morning of the white robed arm of Francis extended for a handshake with the tattooed, ID bracelet wearing arm of an inmate in Philadelphia. How can you not be moved by that?

Because I work with a lot of leaders in very visible, demanding roles (not the Papacy obviously), I’ve spent some time thinking about what any of us who are trying to make the most of what we do in life can learn from Pope Francis.

As the Pope was in New York last week, I had a call with a coaching client who works in the city. We shared a few jokes about whether or not he was caught in Papal gridlock and then found ourselves immersed in a conversation about why this Pope has had the impact he’s had on the heart of the world. The reasons are probably too numerous to count but a few stood out for us.

First, it seems like Pope Francis almost always shows up at his best. Whatever the situation or circumstance is, he seems to do or say just the right thing. He appears to be one of the most mindful people on the global stage today. He is usually exquisitely aware of what’s going on around him and, I suspect, inside of him. He then seems to act with focused intention based on that awareness.

This last week in America was a tour de force for the Pope. How does a 78 year old man with one functioning lung keep the schedule and pace that he kept? What are the routines that he follows that enable him to show up at his best so consistently? We have a little information on what he does to take care of himself and can make some educated guesses to fill in the gaps. For instance, in the physical domain of routines, I read that in the middle of a typically packed day in New York, Francis took several hours to rest. In the mental domain, it’s clear that Francis reads broadly and makes a habit of thinking deeply. Relationally, this Pope seems to draw enormous energy and perspective from connecting with and listening to people in all walks of life. And, of course, in the spiritual domain of routines, Francis ceaselessly asks the people he meets to pray for him or, if they don’t believe in prayer, to think good thoughts for him (a strong relational routine there as well).

When it comes to the outcomes Pope Francis is trying to create in homes around the world, in its millions of workplaces and countless communities, he seems very clear about his answer to a vitally important organizing question – who are you doing it for? Through his words and actions, Francis makes it clear that he’s doing it for the “least of these.”

Whatever your belief system is, I think there’s a lot any of us can learn from Pope Francis about what it means to show up at our best, the routines that make that possible and the outcomes we help create by showing up that way and being aware and intentional about who we’re doing it for. And the really cool thing is we can get all of that education just by watching him in action.

Mindful Mondays: The Case for Competitive Civility August 17 2015 no responses

golfers-civilThe executive that signed professional golfer Jordan Spieth to a long-term endorsement deal with Under Armour should get a raise. In the year, since he signed on, the 21 year old Texan has won two major golf championships, missed winning the other two by a total of four strokes and, with his second place finish in the PGA Championship yesterday, captured the number one ranking in the world.

He did all of this while remaining calm, steady and friendly. In short, he’s an absolutely killer competitor who is, by the standards of any era, remarkably civil.

I paid more attention to the PGA Championship this year because I had the very cool opportunity to be at the tournament site in Kohler, Wisconsin last Tuesday to speak at a program called Beyond the Green. It’s a day-long event that the PGA puts on for women executives and business owners. The setting at Whistling Straits was so stunning and the organization of the tournament was so impressive that I watched whenever I could over the weekend.

Here’s what I noticed about Jordan Spieth in yesterday’s final round. He started the day three strokes behind the tournament leader, Jason Day. They were paired together in the last grouping and went head to head with some masterful golf. The stakes for both were as high as they could be. If Spieth won, he’d be one of only three players (Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods being the other two) to win three major championships in one year. Day was trying to win his first major after some heartbreaking near misses earlier this year. Spieth did everything he could to press Day throughout the afternoon. Day never wavered. He finished where he started, three strokes ahead of Spieth, and won the Championship.

It was thrilling competition but what really stood out for me was the civility of both competitors. In spite of the tension and the stakes, they actually talked and laughed with each other. They interacted with fans lined up on the ropes for fist bumps and high fives. When Day boomed a drive on one hole 80 yards past Spieth’s own 300 yard drive, Spieth laughed and said to Day, “Holy ****, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” Day grinned back and flexed his biceps. By the time they got to the 17th, it was clear to Spieth that, barring a disastrous 18th hole, Day was going to win the tournament. As Day rolled a 40 foot putt within a couple of feet of the hole for an easy par, Spieth gave him a big thumbs-up. On 18, after Day tapped in his last putt to win the tournament, the two of them hugged it out on the green.

One of the things I said to the women at the Beyond the Green program is that golf, like so many sports, can serve as a metaphor for life. There are often times in professional life when we find ourselves in competition with others. It’s easy to get sucked into the competitive dynamic and lose sight of the humanity of the players involved – theirs and ours. Yesterday, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day reminded those who watched them that it’s entirely possible to be a killer competitor and still be a civil, decent human being. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Good on them for providing the reminder and good on us if we heed it.

Mindful Mondays: Love Casts Out Fear June 29 2015 5 responses

obama-charlestonIn a first century A.D. epistle to believers in Ephesus, John the Evangelist wrote that “perfect love casts out fear.” In the United States over the past two weeks, we have witnessed remarkable example after remarkable example of love triumphing over fear. As we begin a new week, it seems worthy to reflect on recent events and how they might inspire our actions going forward.

This extraordinary fortnight began on June 17 with the horrific murders of nine parishioners of Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young white supremacist who sat for an hour in their Bible study before he pulled out his pistol and started firing. Two days later, the family members of those murdered publicly offered their forgiveness to the killer through their grief and tears at his bail hearing. Five days after that, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley stood with other leaders of her state to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds. In recognition of the pain that the flag represents to African Americans, the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee soon followed suit and ordered the removal of the flag from state grounds and license plates. Dylann Roof, the confessed shooter in Charleston, acted out of fear. The family members of his victims forgave him out of love. That love compelled public officials to disavow an historical symbol of suffering and fear.

The day after Haley’s press conference, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional as written thereby assuaging the fears of 15 million newly insured Americans that they might lose their health coverage. Reasonable people can, have and will argue over the structure of health care reform, but one can hope that the Court’s ruling will put an end to fear mongering arguments over “death panels” and the “job killing” health care bill and that the conversations and work will continue on a higher plane.

And then, a day later, the Court issued its ruling that all Americans have the right to marry the person they love. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion:

“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

In Rose Garden remarks after the ruling was announced, President Obama began by saying:

“Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal…  The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times — a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.  And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

How did we arrive here as a country with such relative speed? There are a number of reasons but the biggest is that public opinion on marriage equality shifted as more and more Americans realized that they have family members and friends who are gay and that they want them to have the same right to liberty and happiness that they themselves have. Love won over the fear of change.

And, finally, just eight hours after he delivered his Rose Garden remarks, President Obama stood in the pulpit before 5,000 mourners gathered in Charleston, South Carolina for the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel Church. The theme of the President’s eulogy for Clem Pinckney was grace. (You’ve likely seen the video of him leading the assembled in an impromptu singing of Amazing Grace at the end of his remarks.) The President said a lot worth considering last Friday. He gave a lot of examples of how love casts out fear. This passage in which he refers to the families forgiving Dylann Roof captures some of the essence of what he said:

“It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism…

Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.”

And, that, an open heart is the prerequisite to love casting out fear. It’s been an extraordinary two weeks in the life of America. We’re unlikely to have many more fortnights that are so supersaturated with import and emotion. Let’s not let that stop us, though, from acting with open hearts this week and in all the weeks to come.

Individual action leads to collective change. What if each of us, in our own ways small and large, acted out of love instead of fear throughout the day? Our workplaces, our homes, our communities, our country, our world, our lives would be different.

It has to start somewhere. Why not with each of us starting today?

Mindful Mondays: Hug the One You’re With May 4 2015 one response

goldbergAs I was skimming through the headlines from the New York Times on Saturday morning, I was stunned to read the news of the death of Dave Goldberg. You may not have heard of him until this past weekend. He was the 47 year old CEO of the online questionnaire company, Survey Monkey. He was also the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of the mega best-seller, Lean In. Goldberg died while he was on vacation with his wife.

By all accounts, most especially Sandberg’s in her book, Dave Goldberg was a great guy. It appears he was one of those people who spent his life encouraging others while doing interesting things himself.

It’s a tragedy when anyone dies unexpectedly in the prime of life. What literally took my breath away when I read the news of his death was the stark reminder that tragedy can happen to anyone at any time. Power couples don’t get much more powerful than Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg. Wealth, fame, friends, access, interesting work, a beautiful family, a vibrant marriage – they seemed to have it all.

None of that, of course, could protect them from the tragedy of sudden loss. When it comes to that, we’re all in the same boat.

I’ve written a lot about being present in these Mindful Monday columns over the past month. What Are You More Likely to Remember? and What Do You Have to Share? are the two most recent examples. The subject of today’s post is one more reminder to be present with the people you care most about.

Take some time today to hug the one you’re with. There’s not going to be a better opportunity than the one you have today. Don’t wait.

Mindful Mondays: What Do You Have to Share? April 27 2015 one response

nepal-eqThe news from the devastating earthquake in Nepal this past weekend is tragic and heart rendering. It’s a natural impulse at times like this to want to help. Most of us, of course, are not qualified to offer help on the ground. Fortunately, there are organizations with volunteers who are. If you want to contribute to their efforts by sharing some of your own resources, this link provided by the New York Times will provide you with the donation links for over two dozen organizations that are moving to help the people of Nepal.

Tragedies like the one in Nepal spark our desire to share what we have with those in need. On a day to day basis, you likely have other causes that are important enough to you that you share your time and resources with them.

As we begin another week, I’d like to encourage you to also consider what you have to share with the people you come in contact with everyday. I’m talking about the people you live with, work with and come in contact with in the normal course of life. The situations I’m thinking of aren’t particularly dramatic; they’re just little opportunities that make a difference. They don’t require special skills or heroic efforts. We just need to be mindful enough to be aware of them and intentional about acting on them.

For instance, you might spend some time caring for a sick friend or family member. You might take a few extra moments to really be present and offer encouragement for someone going through a tough time. You might share what you’ve learned about working through a challenging experience that someone else is just starting. You might share your appreciation with someone who does an everyday job in an exceptional way.

Interested in investing a few minutes of your time that will practically ensure that you and some of the people in your life will have a qualitatively better week? Before you move on to the next thing on your to-do list, take five minutes to make a list of what you have to share this week. It could include time, money, encouragement, appreciation, care, compassion, knowledge, connection, coaching – your list will be uniquely yours. After you’ve come up with a list of what you have to share, make another list right beside it of the people with whom you want to share. Then, connect the dots – match what you have to share with the person you want to share it with.

As you go through your week, act on at least one opportunity each day to share what you have to share. As you do, I’d love to hear through your comments on this blog about the difference it’s making. Happy sharing.

Mindful Mondays: Considering Spock’s Legacy and Ours March 2 2015 one response

spock1When I looked earlier this morning, more than 1,000 people had left comments on The New York Times obituary of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mr. Spock. Obviously, I haven’t read all of them, but I have looked at a few dozen. Many of them are quite moving in the way that they describe the impact that Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock had on their lives. Susan in Madison wrote that she’s a scientist at a major university and that as the news of Nimoy’s death spread:

“faculty office doors quietly closed for five to ten minutes, and then reopened, its occupant looking a little sheepish and bleary-faced. The role of Mr. Spock meant so much to many of us. Mr. Nimoy’s character made science cool, made being a scientist cool. Countless colleagues are STEM professionals because of him.”

A reader named Ron wrote that Spock “so inspired me as a child that I later went into nuclear submarines to do acoustic research then got my pilot’s license and flew for many years.”

Reading about Nimoy’s life and the impact that Spock had on so many leaves me thinking about the legacy we create with the life we live. The biggest insight for me on this came from Nimoy himself in a video interview he did for the Yiddish Book Center Wexler Oral History Project in which he describes the origin of the Vulcan salute (most often presented with the phrase, “Live long and prosper.”) You can watch it on the Times web site and you should because Nimoy tells the story masterfully.

It turns out that Nimoy first saw what became the Vulcan salute when he was a young boy taken to synagogue by his father and grandfather. The elders of the congregation conducted a mystical ceremony that ended with them extending their hands forward with the middle and ring fingers separated to make a V shape. It made a very strong impression on young Leonard.

Years later, Nimoy was shooting a Star Trek episode in which Spock was going to interact with other Vulcans for the first time in the series. He said to the director that they should have some kind of special greeting that Vulcans do. As he recalled in the interview, “Humans, we have these rituals, these things that we do. We shake hands, we nod to each other, we bow to each other, we salute each other. What do Vulcans do?”

Nimoy drew on the legacy that his father and grandfather bequeathed him and decided that the Vulcan salute would be a raised hand with the third and fourth fingers separated in a V.

In finishing the story, Nimoy recalled that:

“That just took off. It was amazing. Within days after it was on the air, I was getting it on the street. It’s been that way to this day. It’s almost 50 years later and people are still doing it. It just touched a magic chord. Most people to this day still don’t know what it’s all about. People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.”

Being present and paying attention – as a young boy and as an adult – enabled Leonard Nimoy to fully embody a character that changed lives in ways big and small. Some people chose career paths because of Spock, others have spent time extending a blessing to others without knowing it.

All of us, through being present and paying attention, have the opportunity to create legacies that can change lives. Sometimes we’ll clearly see the impact of that; most of the time we won’t. Some of us will have big platforms like an iconic television show to multiply the impact of our legacy; most of us won’t. All of it matters though.

As Spock himself might have said, live long, prosper and leave your legacy.

Angela Merkel Shows Leaders How to Lean In February 12 2015 no responses

angela-merkelGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves to take the weekend off. As I write this, the outlines of a cease-fire in the Ukraine have been announced following an all-night negotiating session that Merkel and French President Francois Hollande mediated between the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement wraps up more than a week of non-stop shuttle diplomacy on Merkel’s part that took her to Moscow, Washington and various other locations in Europe. Her schedule has left me wondering how she’s gotten any sleep.

Given his track record, it’s hard to be optimistic about the efficacy of any agreement that Putin signs on to, but you have to admire Merkel for pushing for a diplomatic solution to a dangerous situation. After all, what’s the alternative? Someone had to take the lead and Merkel leaned in.

I’ve been in Germany twice this month for business and have mentioned Merkel’s efforts to a number of German colleagues I’ve met. To a person, they all appreciate what Merkel has been doing. Several of them commented that while they didn’t support her when she first became chancellor they’ve grown to respect her seriousness of purpose and resolve.

Angela Merkel may not be the flashiest leader on the world scene today but she commands and, I think, deserves respect and admiration. She’s diligent, persistent, well informed, reaches out, is cool under pressure and makes her positions and priorities clear. In short, she shows leadership by leaning in and sticking with the issues that she thinks matter the most.

If you’re looking for a leadership role model, Angela Merkel strikes me as a good place to start.

Three Interesting Reads from the Week of January 26 January 30 2015 no responses

ereading1As the week wraps up, I thought I’d share three articles that have caught my eye and made me think this week. Here’s the list:

Bitcoin and the Digital Currency Revolution:  A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a CEO who told me that Bitcoin puts a lot of companies in the same position that Kodak was in at the beginning of digital photography. This essay from the Wall Street Journal is the best article I’ve seen for an explanation of how Bitcoin works and why it could be a game changer.

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned:  Ben Casnocha is a bit of a prodigy who wrote his first book, My Start-Up Life, while he was in college and has co-authored two more books with Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. For the past three years, Casnocha has been in the room (or on the private jet) pretty much constantly with Hoffman while serving as his chief of staff. In this long write-up on his personal blog, Casnocha shares in bite size chunks 16 things he’s learned from working with Hoffman. My favorite: Reason is the steering wheel, emotion is the gas pedal.

A Note to My Readers:  Fifteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan started writing The Daily Dish, his blog of political and cultural commentary.  He was in the blogging game early and had a huge influence on how the form developed. In “A Note to My Readers”, he’s announcing that he’s quitting the blog and explains why. It’s a beautifully written rumination on choice and opportunity cost.

What have you read this week that expanded your perspective?

Mindful Mondays: What Do We Agree On? January 12 2015 2 responses

parismarch1Yesterday, millions of people in Paris and around the world marched in solidarity against hate and for human rights. In Paris, the march was led by 40 heads of government from around the world. On the front line, spaced four people away from each other, were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

By marching together, these two leaders along with the 38 others and millions of citizens in Paris and around the world showed a lot of mindfulness. They were all aware of the import of the moment and intentional in demonstrating a strong and clear stand for common values. Netanyahu and Abbas put aside deep and long standing differences to show their support for what they agree on.

All of those who marched on Sunday offer a perspective check for the rest of us. As we begin a new week and a new year, let’s stop and consider how we can work with and build on the values we agree on.

Seven Things Leaders Can Learn from Bill Clinton About Connecting with People November 13 2014 9 responses

bill-clinton1Delivering his monologue after the midterm elections last week, David Letterman was talking about President Obama’s low approval ratings and landed a great line:

“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.”

As Letterman said, before delivering his punch line, being President of the United States is a “lonely, lonely gig.”

Being an ex-President of the United States? Not so much. According to Gallup, the most popular ex-Prez is Bill Clinton. His approval rating earlier this year was 64%. There are probably a lot of reasons for that. Most Presidents are more popular out of office than in. In Clinton’s case, he likely gets a lot of credit for the work he’s doing through his Foundation. He also does a lot of public appearances and is a master communicator and connector.

Earlier this week, I got to see exactly how much of a master he is when President Clinton spoke to a packed house for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. For just under 90 minutes, Clinton held an audience of 1,500 people rapt as he answered questions on everything from Ebola to education to Putin to what his most favorite thing was about being President (that last question was submitted by the moderator’s 4th grade son).

There were a lot of things I noticed Clinton doing that makes him world class at connecting with an audience. There were a lot of lessons that leaders can use to connect with their people. Here are seven of them: