Courtesy and cold fusion

One yardstick of wealth is how much you give away. It’s easy to run out of time and money, but there are no hard limits to your supply of courtesy and consideration.

I’ve had several interactions with courteous, engaged service people this week, and they made a huge difference to a difficult week – I still feel glad about them. Being courteous – assuming the best, being polite, giving respect and space to people before you’re forced to concede ground or fight for it – is a wonderful form of generosity. It makes almost everything better, feels great, and almost always creates more energy than it costs.

It’s cold fusion.

Leadership: don’t say it

You may have a very good point.

You may be entirely in the right.

It may be that you’ve understood their (bad) motivation perfectly, that they are wrongheaded, inconsiderate and rude to boot.

It may be that there’s a values-conflict that’s going to take a lot of deep and difficult work to address.

Some of the above is probably true. All of it may be true*… But saying it to them now – saying it how you’d most like to say it, maybe throwing in a few of the things that you’ve been carrying for a while – saying it now, in the heat of the moment, won’t help.

Grit your teeth. Breath deeply. Don’t say it. Instead do the harder work of fixing the deeper issues and slowly, slowly getting the boat moving in the right direction.

 

P.S. Of course, I said it. 

*And of course, it’s just possible that many of them are not true, or that you need kick in the empathy to know how to respond properly

Passionate about their beliefs

This familiar phrase gave me pause when I heard it on the radio recently, used in praise of a cast member who passed away. It was a tribute to a loved colleague, but I thought to myself: “I hope they don’t say that about me.”

Intensity can be a virtue. Passionate commitment can change the world – but direction matters. “Passionate in their commitment to insert cause here.” is much better.

Better still to say something specific about what they actually worked for: “… working to help people in poor communities gain access to clean water, driven by their belief that a better life should be possible for everyone,” or similar.

Better still if they have something to say about the way you did it: “They were known for countless small kindnesses and many large ones, and for (only rarely stumbling in) their graciousness toward those they disagreed with… and for having fun along the way.”

At the end of the day, though, I’m not sure that passion is as important as commitment,* and – to misuse Eugene Peterson’s phrase – “a long obedience in the same direction.”

*Though in my experience they feed each other

Debt to society

If you want to talk about our debt to society – the question of what we owe the other people who share our culture, and share the planet with us – it’s helpful to start with this: without other people, you’d be dead. Even if you’d somehow managed to be born on your own, without other people you’d never have made it.

But ‘debt to society’ is the wrong way to frame it. It helps to think less about giving-up-what-is-rightfully-ours because of what we owe (though we do), or because we feel guilty or obliged (though perhaps we should), or because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t (though there might be good reason for this).

What do we want?

Let’s talk instead about contributing towards what we want, and the benefits we might expect to enjoy if we lived in a kinder, more generous society. A society – just for example – in which as many people as possible get a leg-up when they’re just starting out (by being born, or starting school, or starting their careers), and the hand-up that makes all the difference when they’re down. We know that these things don’t just make it better for other people’s kids, but for our kids.* A better society is better for all of us: no-one wants unhealthy, poorly educated, tormented neighbours. (And no-one wants selfish neighbours either).

We all do want human flourishing, and most of us want it for everyone. We don’t even disagree that much about what it looks like, just about how to achieve it** and sustain it. And most people want to contribute towards achieving it.

Better

If we focus on “better”, if we say the words and describe it, it becomes much easier for people who usually disagree with us to say, “Actually, I want that too – but I think we’ll get it by doing this...” And it becomes easier for us to agree to try one way, then the other – or to find a different, better way.

And focusing on contribution towards building something better is a great story. We can feel good about what we’re giving, a part of what we’re building, and hopeful about what we’re moving towards.

*And at the end of the day, they’re all our kids.
**Perhaps particularly about whether a
flourishing life is something that can be given.

Their thing

It’s great that you have a thing – that you’re clear about it what it is and how important it is, and that you’re talking about it and taking action and enjoying it to boot. It’s great that it’s yours.

The temptation to avoid is to try to make it everybody else’s thing as well.

Trying to get people who aren’t really into your thing to play a significant role in it – as employees, implementers, sales people or evangelists – will only lead to disappointment all round.

Trying to give or sell your thing to someone who has different priorities will end in frustration and exhaustion.

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Find the people for whom this is their thing too: people who already share your vision, or one that significantly overlaps with it. Lead: say the words, ravel the network, build a tribe.
  2. Find people who have their own thing but will willingly put it in service of yours. There are passionate accountants, dedicated administrators, superb policy people, committed teachers, and fantastic IT technicians who will be delighted to do what they love in service of a good cause.
  3. Find partners for whom your thing is an integral part of theirs. At the charity I work at, our thing is teaching children to read and love reading. We do it by serving schools, charities or parents with a bigger vision – education as a whole, or community development, or raising flourishing kids – of which we provide a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The first group are rare gems. Finding them often takes consistent generative work, but it’s worth it. The right partners will bring far more energy than you spend on finding them, starting a chain reaction of possibilities and results.

You can’t live without the second group – they hold key pieces of the puzzle to making your thing a reality. Your job is to help them thrive and flourish doing their thing, as a subset of yours. They’re also the people who will get the most exposure to your vision, values and culture – by playing to their strengths, putting them to work with their thing, you make it much more likely that they’ll start to own yours.

The third group are your clients or donors or customers. They – or the people they serve – are why you’re here in the first place. Always as a leader, you’re a person serving people who serve people.*

*This is vintage Tom Peters

Complementary goods

Basically this means that since the demand of one good is linked to the demand for another good, if a higher quantity is demanded of one good, a higher quantity will also be demanded of the other, and if a lower quantity is demanded of one good, a lower quantity will be demanded of the other.

Wikipedia – Complementary Good

The more your work helps others to do theirs – the more your success adds to theirs – the more you’ll find that people want to work with you, and cheer you on.

Can you find ways of being so generous and useful to your customers – even to your ‘competitors’ – that their success is a win for you, and vice-versa?

You might become an indispensable part of someone else’s product, or the add on that people buy to complete or enrich their purchase.

It’s a good thing for them to miss you if you’re gone – it’s transformative when they can’t imagine doing it without you.

The butter to their bread

You make everything a little bit better and people include you without thinking. When they do forget you, they find that their sandwiches go soggy, and everything falls apart.

The cream in their coffee

There are other ways to do the job, but you hit the spot. Your presence turns something good-but-no-frills into something safe but luxurious.

The chilli to their gorengan

You’re not for everyone, but you are transformative. You the add the spice and interest that turns a greasy little something into a pick-me-up with a lasting glow.

The rubber to their sole.

They may think they’re hitting the road, but it’s you making what they do stick. You’re the interface that gives them traction.

What is that’ll make them sing about you?

Motto (4): Have Fun

Driverless Crocodile

Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.

You only get to do this once, so how are you going to play?

There’s a time for gritting your teeth, grinding it out, pushing through barriers. No pain, no gain is often true.

But for everything that isn’t necessarily hard, what’s more of an incentive to show up – hard work or fun?

If little and often is the best way to build something, to help people, to grow – what’s going to bring you back often?

What’s going to make people want to come with you?

Life is too wonderful, funny, tragic and absurd not to have fun along the way. The older I get, the more important I think this is, and the more ridiculous it seems that we put on po-faces for so much of our working lives, as if curt nods and knitted brows signal expertise and authority more reliably than a bit of levity and, dare I say it… joy?

Catch and sing the sun in flight.

The acid test

If my potential…

customer / employer / client / donor / partner / supplier

knew what I know about my…

product / last job / service / organisation / attitude / manners

would they still…

buy it / hire me / use it / give / join me / want my business ?

Better still…

Would they be eager to do so?

Hat tip: SG

Giants – all sizes

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

Greats and GOATs

There are giants who loom large for us all: the Greats who laid the foundations and those who shook them – men and women who broke through and shaped the world.

In a sense, who made us.

There’s no need to name them – we know who many of them are, and we learn more about them as we go. And besides, there are too many to name and most are far away.

Small Giants

And there are the smaller giants: smaller people who stand tall in our eyes because they stood close. They gave us a boost, helped us see, carried us before we could walk or when we couldn’t walk any further. I won’t name these because I can’t – or rather, I can only name some of my own.

Grow in Stature

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

What will you do to help others stand on yours?**

Happy New Year – have a giant 2019.


** You could start by asking:

  • Where am I standing?
  • Who’s standing with me?
  • Which way is up for them?
  • How can I give them a leg-up?