Tip of the Month, February 2019 – Creating a Safe Environment

In this month’s blog post, “It’s Your Job!” we reviewed the book, Radical Candor[1], which emphasizes the importance of honest, timely and useful feedback in order to ensure quality results. Most of us would agree that doing this would be a great thing…and yet we often choose not to.
One of the main reasons we opt not to speak honestly and directly is because we fear how the message will be received.  We do not trust our colleagues or superiors. We do not feel safe.
And the result is lost opportunities to improve a product or project, to correct or avoid a mistake, or to retain a valued employee.
So, how do you, as a leader, create an environment that encourages clear, direct and helpful communication? Here are some tips combining ideas from some of my favorite authors as well as my own experience.[2]

  1. Publicly affirm your desire for honest, timely communication. If this will be a change or adjustment from the way you have been doing business, you’ll need to explain why and what this type of communication looks like.
  2. Don’t expect anyone to believe you at first. Be sure to manage your responses to efforts at honest, timely communication. If you are committed to the change, be gracious, accept effort, even if awkward, abrupt or bordering on rude.
  3. Have a discussion with your team about their comfort level with how these communications proceed.
    1. Set some team agreements including things like no personal attacks (it is about the work), not interrupting (depending on your group culture), taking the time that is needed to come to the best solution, etc.
    2. Commit to creating an environment where everyone’s input is needed and valued.
    3. Interrupt behaviors that violate the team agreements and remind everyone of the agreements.
  4. Capitalize on opportunities to identify and celebrate examples of this type of communication.
    1. If two people begin having a discussion (a disagreement) in a meeting related to a plan or outcome, stop action long enough to point out what is happening, that this is exactly what you are hoping to see more of and invite them to continue.
    2. If someone gives you clear and courageous feedback, thank them for their honesty and courage. You may or may not have an immediate answer for them, but definitely consider their feedback seriously and ensure they receive a timely reply.
    3. If the feedback above was given to you in private, share what happened and your answer in a group setting so people have that example as well.
  5. Tune in to non-verbals in your group.
    1. Can you see that there are people who look puzzled, uncomfortable, concerned, etc. who are not speaking up? Invite them to share what they are thinking…and leave some silence while they collect their thoughts. (Then, of course, thank them for sharing, acknowledge their opinion or ideas, and reflect on a strategy to integrate their thoughts into whatever decision-making process is occurring at the time.)
    2. Is there a silent leader in the group who keeps others from speaking up?  Watch for facial expressions, eye-rolls, etc. that indicate some form of negative control.  This may require some additional strategizing to overcome.  You may need to do some investigating to find out what is going on. (We might need another blog article to address this issue…let us know if you’ve had this experience and how you managed it.)
  6. Summarize meetings by reviewing what was agreed upon and identifying time lines and responsibilities.
    1. This is a great way to find out what people were hearing and what they are really committed to.
    2. Let the group share what they heard. You scribe. Let them do the work – it is amazing what will come out of this conversation.
    3. Be sure to leave enough time to re-explore issues that finally come out when the work is assigned. It is one thing for “someone” to have to do x, but when it is assigned to me, I may suddenly realize I have to speak out.  This is a critical moment when you are changing the culture.
      1. Do not get mad because they didn’t say anything before.
      2. Do not say, this was already discussed and cut off the conversation.
      3. Do not say, we don’t have time for this.
      4. Instead, go back to “tip # 3” and celebrate the fact that concerns are being brought up. This is what you want to see! Hopefully, your team will see that you mean it and bring up concerns earlier next time.
  1. Take a risk to give some feedback (use radical candor) privately with a member of your team or a colleague.
    1. Remind them that you are trying this new way of addressing issues and after you discuss the issue, you’d like feedback on how this worked.
    2. Then provide a balance of care and challenge in giving the feedback. “I know working toward excellence is important to you, so I wanted to share that ….”
    3. Ask for their thoughts about the issue, what they might need, etc.
    4. Once the issue is addressed, ask them what they felt about the conversation itself. Is there something you could do better next time?
  2. And ultimately, be consistent in your way of being. If your team is not sure what mood you are in, or how you are reacting “today,” they will not trust that your proposed changes are real.  You will not be creating a safe environment.  You need to model the behavior you want to see in your team…and then some.

_______________________________
[1] Scott, Kim. Radical Candor.  …
[2] Kim Scott, Patrick Lencioni, Kouzes and Posner and others…

IT IS YOUR JOB!

In Kim Scott’s introduction to her book, Radical Candor[1], she describes a frantic time at work where she was confronted with back to back, high emotion, high stress demands and interruptions. She called her coach and complained, “Is my job to build a great company, or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?” Her coach’s response is the most honest and difficult thing that a coach has to say, “This is not babysitting…It’s called management, and it is your job!”
IT IS YOUR JOB!!
Managing people is the hardest and MOST Important part of the work we do. In almost all work environments the cost of “human capital” is the largest part of the budget and yet we prefer to skirt the techniques that produce optimal results. We make sure the automobile fleet gets oil changes, brake checks and lube jobs on schedule, we change the air conditioning filters regularly and schedule a repair call as soon as we hear a funny noise. But when it comes to people, we postpone performance conversations and avoid or couch feedback that would improve an employee’s results because we don’t have the time.
The truth is, even with the myriad of management books, training programs and seminars on the market, we avoid dealing with our employees because of the emotional toll it takes – and the more we avoid addressing issues, the harder it gets.
What I appreciate about Kim Scott’s book is she clarifies the types of responses we make to employees on two axes – “caring personally” and “challenging directly,” and allows us to reflect on the outcomes of each of these approaches.

When we combine caring personally and challenging directly we have radical candor – which is telling people what they need to know in a way that is kind, compassionate and above all, clear.
When we challenge directly without caring personally, we move into obnoxious aggression.  I think about folks who pride themselves on “telling it like it is,” or “brutal honestly.”  The truth is more important than you or your feelings.  Now the plus side of this approach is that at least you know where you stand and what’s going on.  However, as you can imagine, it does not create an environment of trust and safety.  If you need to be ready for the two by four to the back of the head at any moment, you will be keeping energy in reserve that could be better used for creative, productive oriented work.
On the other hand, if we care personally but do not challenge directly, Scott describes a way of engaging she calls ruinous empathy. In this case, I am so worried about your feelings (or perhaps concerned about my own discomfort?) that I only share positives, hedge about any issues or concerns, and never tell you what I really think or what is really needed.  Scott shares a story of having to terminate an employee who was producing poor quality work over ten months. During the termination interview he asked, “but why didn’t you tell me?”  How much do we invest in failed hires that could have been saved with more clarity early on?
What is significant about ruinous empathy is how much damage it does under the guise of being nice: loss of trust, loss of relationship, loss of quality work, loss of time, loss of employee morale.  There is nothing nice about it.
And finally, in the fourth quadrant we have manipulative insincerity, engagement where the individual doesn’t care and doesn’t challenge.  They avoid the truth, say what needs to be said to get through the moment and move on without any relationship or feedback at all.  At least with ruinous empathy there is a sense that the person actually cares and is just stuck in “nice” mode.  Here we’ve got nothing.
Scott challenges us to assess our own actions and responses whether as a manager or a colleague.  Few of us get it right all of the time, but by being cognizant of what we are doing and the impact our actions are likely to have, we have the opportunity to change and improve.
And that is where the book gets even more interesting! Because in amongst the stories and examples, Scott provides useful recommendations on how to begin to implement radical candor in the workplace.  It is solid people-management best-practice!
She discusses strategies for both formal and just-in-time performance feedback, team development, addressing bias, structuring meetings and getting results. And, she provides time frames and time lines to address the anxiety about how to do all that and “my real job!”
Ultimately, it is about creating an environment where employees can “bring their best selves to work.”
Check out her book and go to her website: radicalcandor.com
_____________________________
[1] Scott, Kim. (2017)  Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. New York: St. Martins Press.

Build Bridges – Structures We Sorely Need Right Now

We are living in a very difficult time where we are viewing the world from polar extremes.  This becomes a challenge in the workplace where even a hint of one’s political affiliation may be enough to impact a work relationship, damaging trust, confidence and credibility. Many of us were raised with instructions never to discuss religion or politics in public settings…and this is one way to avoid problems.  But perhaps we’ve been damaged by this rule…where we only talk about our beliefs (religion, politics, etc.) with like-minded people, and we only get our news/input from like-minded media outlets.
By doing this, we remain comfortable and secure in our own world view and those that do not agree are “the other.”  How does this fit with what we know about productivity, innovation and risk management in the workplace which rely on encouraging diverse perspectives? For these diverse perspectives to be effectively utilized, we need to learn to be able to listen, suspend judgments and be open to possibilities.  And the data indicate that companies that master this are ultimately the most profitable.
We know these skills are learnable.  They are not mysterious…but they do require a willingness to try something different. What would happen if we committed to using these same skills to bridge the divides that are causing so much pain in our world today?  What would happen if we took the time to:

  • Actively listen – hear what the other person is saying and confirm that what you think you heard is what they said. When people feel heard they are more willing to seek understanding as well – even if we do not agree.
  • Suspend judgment – don’t prepare your rebuttal while they are talking – consider the possibility that they have a reason for their point of view (that they are not a (insert your favorite denigrating term here for someone who doesn’t agree with you).
  • Be open to possibilities – what if they actually said something that made sense – how could you fold that into your belief system without it crumbling like a house of cards?

We know that it is easier to do these steps with people we care about and in fact, when we understand where people are coming from, their story, we hold them with respect and compassion.
So perhaps we need to start with a new first step – first hear people’s stories. Use active listening, suspending judgment and being open to possibilities as we learn more about how someone came to be where they are…and they can learn how we came to our place as well.
Stories bring us together, they build empathy, trust and compassion…they build bridges – structures we sorely need right now.
Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning, began her studies researching what makes people happy.  She discovered that happiness is just transitory comfort and ease.  What provides people with resilience, strength and satisfaction is meaning and she defined four pillars to living a life of fulfillment and meaning.  They are belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.
I see these pillars operating to help us not only find our own meaning but to share in a larger sense of meaning in this world.  I spent a number of years as a member of a local Rotary club.  There were only about 20 of us in this particular club so we knew each other pretty well and we came from very different political, religious and other perspectives…and we knew it.  However, we were all committed to making the world a better place.  We ascribed to slogans like “Peace through service.”  We joined together to help at-risk youth, to support the annual Veteran’s Day parade, to support literacy, feed the hungry, and ensure folks got dental care…and we supported global projects to bring clean water to remote communities and to eradicate polio.
This was amazing work!  We found meaning and purpose together.  And we spent time learning about each other.  Once a month, a member was invited to tell their story – both professional and personal.  Suddenly an 80-year-old retiree was a daring fighter pilot again, a 25-year-old “kid” was a courageous peace corps volunteer, we learned more about the police commander, the healthcare worker and the immigrant. Each of us emerged as whole, complex human beings.
It takes time and effort, it takes desire to know our neighbors and not hide away.
Imagine how telling our stories can bring us closer to belonging as we learn to understand each other, how we might find shared purpose in our lives and transcend our small divided viewpoints for a broader and more promising whole.
If you’d like a chance to explore meaning and purpose in community, consider joining us on November 9th for the 12 Annual Leadership Summit.  Share in conversation with some 70 other curious, courageous and unlike minded people to find a way of Being on Purpose.  Click here to find out more information.
 
 

Why is Accountability So Hard?

What is the number one frustration for people managers?  In my coaching work, I hear repeatedly that it is getting people to do what we expect them to do.  Whether it is how they prioritize, the process they use to get results or the actual tasks they do, I repeatedly hear folks sigh, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself!”
So why can’t we get people to do what we want, when we want it, how we want it?  Here are a few observations:
1) The most important thing we can do is be clear about our expectations. Whether we are working with a brand-new employee or a long term established employee, we need to take time to be sure we are clear on priorities, goals and processes and how the employee’s work links to the organizational mission.
I remember speaking with an executive who prided himself on never providing feedback or assessments to his “good” employees. “I only do evaluations when people are not performing well,” he said.  He went on to explain that they received their job description when they came in and they should know what to do.
Can we really expect a job description to cover all our expectations?  Don’t things change over time?  Even with high level employees, is it possible that what they think is important is not what we think is important?
While there is a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of annual reviews, there is no doubt that setting expectations, updating them and providing feedback regularly is critical to performance success.
2) And then, whether we set expectations or not, our next challenge is how we communicate what we want. We are totally clear in our own heads – I know I make sense to myself. However, I have discovered that what I think I thought I said is not what other people hear.  If you want to be sure you are on the same page, you need to summarize what you’ve discussed and agreed to…preferably in writing.  How does this play out?

  • On the fly comments are not captured.
    For example, I am walking with someone to a meeting and say something like, “and I’d like it if you did x, y or z…”  I remember I said it. I see it as a directive.  Did the person I related it to write it down? Did we discuss a due date? Did we prioritize? What are the chances this will be retained after the meeting?  Would I remember it if the tables were turned? Be careful that we don’t think we are so important that our “in passing thought” will be retained.
  • Weekly meetings end in confusion.
    You have a typical one-hour meeting with your direct report or your team and discuss a dozen different items. Time is up and off you go, each of you totally clear in your own minds about what was important, the priorities, strategies and time lines.

Stop the meeting with ten minutes to go and review what you have discussed. Ask your direct report(s) to summarize…that way you will know what they heard and plan to do.  This is a great way to identify misunderstandings, ideas that were dropped and disagreements with the plan of action. You may discover that you need more than ten minutes for the summary.
Often, it is not until the review that you discover that someone is not buying in to an action item.  They were silent during the meeting because they were still thinking about it and/or disagreed but didn’t want to bring it up, but now that you mention it again and are defining it as a priority…well it is time to speak up because it isn’t going to disappear.
How often have you raised an item at a meeting and there is no response? We usually assume that everyone is on board, but the truth is, silence is sometimes cloaking discomfort, dissatisfaction or confusion. One of my favorite concepts from Patrick Lencioni is to assume silence is disagreement. Invite affirmative commitment to a plan before you think you are ready to go forward.
Ultimately, summary reviews should include priorities, responsibilities, timelines and check-in dates.  And, how will you document these? Format can range from a white board, easel page, spreadsheet or project management program depending on your team, the complexity of the projects and preferred workstyles.  If it is not documented, it isn’t going to happen!

  • Direct requests are not followed up on.
    This is an interesting item.  I am amazed at how clearly we think we are saying things (remember how clear we are in our own heads?) and yet we are often vague, noncommittal and ultimately unclear in what we want.  I’ve invited myself into meetings with directors and managers who are beside themselves with frustration because they do not get the results they want from their direct requests.  I’ve heard some of the following:
  1. Would you be willing to do x? (and then they are surprised when the employee declines to do x.)
  2. It would be helpful if you could do x. (Employee hears, a “nice to do” not a “have to do.”)
  3. I’d like you do x when you have the time. (no time line, no importance, no priority…are you surprised it isn’t done?)
  4. What do you think about doing x? (interesting idea…oh, do you mean me?)

And in all of these cases, the leader/manager/supervisor thinks they have made a direct request. I’ve come up with two possible reasons why requests are framed this way…and would like to hear your thoughts.

  • The leader/manager/supervisor does not want to come across as too bossy or demanding. This can often be the case when someone was promoted from within the ranks.  It is also possible when there are differences in social identity where there is a hierarchical imbalance.  (E.g. age – younger boss to older employee; gender – female boss to male employee; race/ethnicity – person of color boss to white employee.)  A lot of times these changes in how requests are made are not even conscious.
  • The leader/manager/supervisor thinks they are so important that they expect their employees to jump at their every wish. We shouldn’t have to write it down or review it, they should just do it.  I am too busy to take the time.
  • Why else? Cultural differences? Personality differences?

3) And finally, the biggest challenge of all is follow-up. I’ve heard over and over again, “who is going to hold people accountable?” The answer is…you…by setting deadlines, requiring updates, expecting people to inform you ahead of time if they are facing a problem and/or are not going to be able to deliver on-time.
I spoke to an employee recently who was given an assignment a year ago. He’s been asked several times how he’s doing on completing it.  He says, he’s working on it.  His manager knows he should have it done by now but hasn’t said much more about it. The truth is, the employee has been overwhelmed by the task and has avoided it by keeping busy with other projects. How important is the project if it has been drifting along for a year?
We don’t have to be mean and nasty to get results. In a nutshell, we need to:

  • Set clear expectations that include priorities and expected outcomes.
  • Be mindful of when and how we frame requests.
    • “On the fly” requests get lost.
    • Casual requests may sound like suggestions or low priority.
  • Summarize action items from meetings to ensure timelines, responsibilities and priorities.
  • Link requests to the goals and purpose of the organization. We know that people are able to embrace their work more effective when they can connect the dots to purpose and meaning.
  • Follow-up in a timely manner. If it isn’t important to you, why will it be important to anyone else?

Lessons Learned

As we approach the end of the year, it is a wonderful time to reflect and take stock on what we’ve learned. Some learnings are easy, many come through unexpected challenges.  We’ve asked our consultant team to share some of the lessons that have emerged for them this year, and hope they provide you with insights that you will find helpful.
Experience Fun!
What I’ve settled on is as much something I aspire to, as something I’ve learned. Here it is. Life may turn out to be shorter than we had imagined, but one thing is for sure – Life is definitely better than we could have ever imagined. We have all been richly blessed. There’s so much joy and beauty available to us every day, and so much fun to be had in almost every moment. I’ve learned that I want to be more lighthearted and playful, and really experience all the fun that’s available to us. This is a bit of a reach for a serious, hard-working German girl like me, so if you see me off track, please remind me to lighten up.
Clean House
One of my lessons focuses on my 2017 year of “cleaning house” – both literally and figuratively.  Sold my condo, said goodbye to being Condo Board president for 15 plus years, now sharing a tiny little house with my sweetie, gave away more than half of my furniture…. and simplified.  The smallness is comforting, the shedding of “stuff” allowing me to breathe more freely.  Marie Kondo’s book, “The life-changing magic of tidying up” was inspiring.   Admittedly, progress on eliminating “keepsakes” and books/documents (some of which are still sitting in the basement…old family photographs (half of the faces not identifiable!), the syllabus for a class I “might” teach, past work creations) are slower-going, as Kondo suggests they can be – but my progress is real, shedding a light on how “tidying up” has freed (and continues to free) my mind and my soul.
Be Present!
I have come to carry 3 words with me this year that have meant A LOT! Be. Here. Now. They point me to the understanding that the present is all I have, and I dare not waste this precious resource by micro-planning every little step of an anticipated experience, nor replaying (and often affirming my own righteousness in) an unpleasant past experience. “Be here now”, has helped me stop to breathe, to stop the flow of words in my head, and to listen to the sound of my heart, my breath, or the silence inside me. Quieting my mind has become a practice I look forward to every morning. . . I am an early riser and I love to watch dawn color the sky. Being here now, in the present, is also directly linked to presence, which is the very best part of myself that I can give to another. Or to the sunrise.
Manage Anger and Frustration
I have been working hard to control my anger and frustration when situations arise. Since I am the only person that knows when anger is building, I have learned to recognize the danger signs when they begin. I can choose how to react in a situation and just because my first instinct is to become angry doesn’t mean it is the correct response.  I realize that when I start to get angry I need to stop what I am doing and breathe deeply. This interrupts my angry thoughts and helps put me back on a more positive path. Also, if I imagine how I look and behave when I am angry I probably would not want to be around someone like that.  A great person once shared that if I “Pause, find Peace and Pray, I can’t but help create an Attitude of Gratitude.”
Redefine Time  – this came up twice! As consultants, we are not bound by the typical 9 – 5 clock of an employee. Does this impact how we see time?
I have been challenging my misconception about time. . . the clock is useful for some things, but not as a way to experience and evaluate my life. Have I done everything I wanted to do before I turned a certain age? Did I get everything finished that I wanted to do on Friday? What crazy pressures! Because my life is no longer constrained by the clock, I am experimenting with the natural rhythms and ebb and flow of things . . .like my energy, the need to balance work, play and rest, the times for eating.
One lesson for me this year is to be mindful of how I spend my time. I am aware that time is a finite commodity. Am I doing what I want to be doing? What I need to be doing? Or am I just doing?  I am working at being more aware of the choices I make in how I spend my time both at work, in volunteer capacities and at leisure. Even when all I am doing is playing spider solitaire on my cell phone, I can give myself permission to be in a restful state — almost meditative — accepting that down time is a reasonable choice sometimes rather than berating myself about “wasting time.”  And I can make intentional decisions about the work I choose to do — having fun, finding meaning and earning money!  Rather than feeling obligated or compelled to work at things that are stressful and demotivating.  (Yes, I am fortunate to be able to choose this.) And I am finding that being is a valuable way to spend my time — being with family and friends, being outdoors, and being with my colleagues – with you all … who provide me with energy, perspective and support.
See Beyond our Thoughts
I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is to realize that I don’t need to believe everything I think or anything that anyone else thinks. I grew up in a household that was incredibly loving, full of extended family members who created a safe space for me and my cousins to play and laugh. It was also a household where “father knows Best” and everyone else’s thoughts came in second or third or nowhere at all.
So, in college, I was suddenly in a place where everyone wanted to know what I thought. Thinking was encouraged. And I got to voraciously read and discover other thinkers thorough-out history. I got to organize my thoughts around theories that inspired me and writers who were so articulate in discussing and defending their thoughts. I had many many journals which I used to express my thoughts about everything. You could say I became enamored by my own thoughts. And eventually gained expertise in helping myself and others explore their thought patterns, understand their origins, determine whether they were limiting beliefs and learn to shift or change them to create better results.
So, you can imagine my surprise, during my final year of my doctoral program, as I’m finishing up a 400+ page dissertation, to realize that I don’t need to believe what I think and that I don’t need to even heal my thoughts or shift my thoughts or have anything to do with my thoughts.  And that there’s a space beyond thought, a place of Presence and stillness and nothingness that holds more beauty, more potential, more joy than any of my thoughts or other people’s thoughts could ever imagine or express.
This experience is allowing me to relax into being “ordinary” and free to be with other people’s thoughts without the need to be on the defense or offense of anything. It’s bringing into my life a sense of groundedness and compassion and curiosity and insights the likes of which I have never experienced before.
Accept Ourselves as We Are
This year has been a year of unfolding awareness around the passage of time – of shifts in the way I hold myself in relationship to the world, an enlarging awareness that my presence – our presence – on the earth is but temporary, and the startling reality that things I never expected have planted themselves firmly in the landscape of my life.
I have been toying with existential questions – why are we here, what purpose does any one individual have, what is the meaning of this thing we call life?  I invited myself to lift and lift and lift above the details of the daily human experience and really try to SEE what made sense about life and living.  What a surprise when I realized that my presence on this earth – from a larger perspective – is absolutely and utterly insignificant!  Creation will not care if I eat kale or write bad music or am good at cleaning the kitchen.  I will not invent the light bulb or paint the Sistine Chapel or have my name attached to some doctrine.  The details of my daily life are inconsequential, and I am not required to place any kind of signature whatsoever on human history.
Paradoxically, the moment I had that realization was the same moment in which I understood fully that it is my own unique way of being, instead of my way of doing, that contributes to all of creation in a way that is meaningful and sustains the goodness that surrounds us always, whether we know it or not.  It was the moment in which I knew, without doubt, that expanding in love and kindness, compassion and generosity, caring and integrity, honesty and grace and offering THAT to the world (and to myself) is truly the only job I have as a human being.  Less doing, more Being!
So, let time fly or drag or whatever it does today or tomorrow.  My intention is to love every moment of this glorious, mysterious, messy, confusing gift called life – and to graciously forgive myself if I slip now and then!  To paraphrase one of my favorite sayings – when the tide rises ALL boats rise!!
And we invite you to share your lessons learned or your aspirations for next year with us as well in the spirit of giving that frames this time of year. Here’s a start on 2018. . . 
Study Sound
Next year I want to study sound, and the effect it has on our lives. . . the good, the bad, and the ugly. When friends from a big city come to visit me in rural Arizona, they consistently say, in a reverent way, “It is so quiet here!” The effect of abusive noise, including those noises in our heads, and the benefit of beautiful sounds (like Joyce’s harp at the Summit) are topics I want to explore.
Thank you to all our contributors: Julie Wechsler, Jill Bachman, Michael Cavanaugh, Mary Lockhart, Rory Gilbert, Noushin Bayat, Carla Rotering

Reflections on Being of Service: Leadership Summit 2017

Thunderbird Leadership held its 11th Leadership Summit on Friday, November 10th. When the planning team convened, they discussed its proximity to Veterans Day and we were all taken by the notion of service. What does service mean? How do we serve? Who benefits? The day evolved into exploring notions of service, mercy and compassion…recognizing potential avenues to impact others as well as the need to care for ourselves so we have the genuine capacity to serve.

Dr. Gladys McGarey was the keynote speaker. She will be celebrating her 97th birthday this month and shared the story of her life in decades starting with her early childhood in northern India where her parents were medical missionaries. Clearly, she was born to service. Her story depicted a life of courage, seeking truth, and finding ways to bring healthful living to people throughout the world. We were struck by her challenge to change the medical model from “a war against disease,” to one that seeks life and balance – moving from fear to love. Her story was spellbinding and the consensus was that we could have listened to her all day!

How often do we take time to truly listen to others’ stories? Each of us has a tale to tell of how we arrived at this moment in time.

Our next speakers were Dr. Gladys’ extended family – who spoke about well-being. Julie Wechsler, a certified executive and well-being coach, shared factors that matter for overall well-being in our lives and differentiated surviving and thriving. She integrated how service was a critical part of thriving and introduced her daughter-in-law, Ashley, to share what service has meant to her. Ashley told her heartfelt story of being a “Big” for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and how it has profoundly changed her life. Ashley has been a Big Sister to the same girl for seven years…their families now entwine even more with connections, love and honor with Ashley’s Little Sister’s brother and sister.

The message was loud and clear – when we give, we receive.

Dr. Carla Rotering talked about mercy and forgiveness. Her gentle, thoughtful and deep remarks challenged us to “radical mercy,” to have compassion for ourselves and others without evaluating who “deserves” it. How do we navigate the world if we believe people are doing the best that they can? How do we treat ourselves if we believe that about ourselves? What is the impact on the world? Dr. Rotering completed her presentation with a poem she wrote, “The Reckoning,” that left us speechless – a journey from doubt and pain, to compassion and self-acceptance.

And the tenderness of your true heart rises up to meet you
At the higher place to which you have come
And the shroud that has bound the secrets to your spirit for so long
Simply falls away.”
Carla Rotering, 2002

So, here we are at a Leadership Summit about service and we are being asked to take care of ourselves – recognizing that we cannot genuinely serve others if our own self is untended, uncared for. I am reminded of a concept from Dr. Brene Brown who stated that the people who are the most compassionate have the best boundaries. They know themselves, care for themselves and act from the heart, from love and “radical mercy,” not from obligation.

And the truth is, we can all feel that difference, can’t we?

In the afternoon, we heard from Katie Owens and her story of resilience, depicting how we can move from disappointment and rejection to new opportunities and possibilities. Once again, the message is about inner strength making space for genuine service.

Out beyond stories of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field, I’ll meet you there…”  Rumi

And finally, Mary Lockhart, Noushin Bayat and I finished the day looking at how the messages we tell ourselves impact our ability to act, to serve. Back to stories once again! We challenged ourselves and our participants to differentiate fact from fiction, observation from interpretation. We asked participants to “turn to wonder” when things get difficult, turning away from, “I don’t,” “I can’t,” “I never,” and opening possibilities for new stories and new perspectives, concluding with a quote from Viktor Frankl,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And then, the day was over. Our heads were filled with messages of care, compassion and passion for ourselves and for others…to see the world in a new way and to find our place of impact, not to wait for the right time, but to make today the right time.

P.S. – There were so many fabulous contributors to the day that enhanced the experience of the Summit for everyone. Check our photo gallery to see the support of our sponsors, imagine the day graced by harpist Joyce Beukers, massage therapist Heather Paslay and graphic documentarian Stephanie Levine. A Silent Auction inspired generous giving which netted well over $2000. Every participant had a chance to submit “their” charity of choice for the Silent Auction proceeds, and this year, the Humane Society was the lucky recipient. We hope you will be able to join us next year!