I was in Louisville recently for the mighty Forecastle Festival and it was a terrific three days of fun. I attend one of these festivals every year and, as always, spent money like a foreign tourist, stayed at the amazing (and soon to be in Indy) 21c Hotel, ate the local cuisine and sampled the local culture. And I wasn’t the only one. The festival was crawling with Indiana folk. Half the crowd high fived me the day I wore a Butler t-shirt.
My beloved Indianapolis, like so many American cities, is in full bloom. Chef centered restaurants with the good kale, fat tire bike sharing, a wonderful orchestra, bearded hipsters in vests offering $14 cocktails and all the other trappings of Big Time City Living.
What are we lacking? What do we need now? A music festival. A proper multi-day festival. The time is now. NOW. NOW…
“I’m not creative.” It’s one of the most often refrains that I hear from leaders when discussing methods to help engage people. In the last week, and in this coming week, I’ll have had great experiences that tell me that, “YES, you are creative!”
Last week I spoke to a group of child welfare professionals on how to creatively reward and engage their teams. At first, folks were stumped when it came to coming up with a creative way to encourage their team for their contribution to their organization. But the minute two or three people get together to talk about ideas, prompted to “help each other”, the energy changed in a big way and creativity ran rampant.
And this coming week, I look forward to my favorite week of the year when I’m able to join colleagues from around the world at The Leadership Challenge Forum. It’s a great time of learning from each other, catching up and building our community. It’s amazing how much we talk about what we can do that’s new, next or better with each other – capturing some great ideas in the moment and then bringing those creative inspirations home to our teams.
So when you are thinking you are in it alone, or not feeling creative, take a cue from my friends:
Lean on your colleagues with your next leadership challenge. Stop by their space, call them, or buy them a coffee.
Take just 15 minutes to brainstorm with a friend. Solving problems is sometimes just slow on your own. Check in quickly to get a different perspective and you’ll see the problem with renewed vigor! (Really)
Take 5 minutes to reflect. What will help your next interaction, solution or leadership move be a success? What metaphors might help you describe that?
Oh, and share a laugh while you’re at it! Let’s have some fun while we do the work of the world.
Last week I decided on a career change. I want to be an actor. More specifically, I want to be Bradley Cooper. Okay, so I have absolutely no experience in acting (though Dr. Reece McGee suggests that teaching is acting.) A February Fresh Air interview of Bradley Cooper won me over and I’d love to have an actor’s life.
In listening to dozens of podcasts over the last three months while driving between Indianapolis and St. Louis – many of them about Hollywood and Entertainers – I’ve not found many in this short survey of actors in interviews that I find likable. Obviously, I am not familiar with the process of acting, or the Hollywood scene. But it has rang rather hollow to listen actors in the build-up and let-down of the Academy Awards talking about what they do. “I just wanted to play this role as honestly as I could.” I’m not sure what that means. And when repeated over and over, “honesty” becomes jargon. It’s likely that they mean that they want to play the role as authentically as they can, given that they are not the person they are portraying.
So why do I want to be Bradley Cooper? In two words: Empathy and Passion. Of all of the interviews I’ve heard, Mr. Cooper seemed to me to be so in-tune with the roles that he played. From Chris Kyle, a modern American Hero (a few argue anti-hero) to John Merrick, the elephant man, on the Broadway stage, Cooper embodies the role, and we see it on the screen. The Hangover? Silver Linings Playbook? American Hustle. All such different roles, and in each, Cooper manifests the perfect mix required for the character. How can he “become” his character without a keen sense of empathy? His transformation before and after a role are in a small way similar to what his American Sniper character went through when returning home.
In the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Cooper showed not only his passion in the process, but his passion for the US Military. While never enlisting in the military, he started doing USO entertainment stops when no one knew him, or even the show he made guest appearances on (Alias.) It’s as if he was preparing for the role of Chris Kyle all along.
So, okay. Now that I’ve had some time to seriously contemplate the career change, I’ll stick with working with leaders. So I will ask: What can leaders learn from Cooper?
1. Know Your Role: Cooper has been intrigued by John Merrick since he was 12 years old. He did the research to learn as much about Merrick, his life, his mannerisms as he could. Research your role, learn about leadership and keep learning.
2. Follow Your Passion: Cooper was so passionate about playing John Merrick, that he’s worked since he was 12 to “become” the role, and to produce the play on Broadway. What is it that you are passionate about? What makes you talk fast and loud, and waive your arms? That’s a passion, my friend.
3. Empathize Deeply with Others: Leadership is not about the self. Just as Bradley Cooper became others in his acting, leaders are only successful if they can empathize with those they lead, building relationships with others.
As we walk the path of our own leadership, I can only hope that my path crosses those of you who bring the empathy for others and the passion for your role that Bradley Cooper does. Lead on!
What is Lean?According to goleansixsigma.com, Lean is simply a method of streamlining a process, resulting in increased revenue, reduced costs and improved customer satisfaction. I’m interested in the interplay between innovation and leadership and in my second visit to the conference in two years, was impressed that so many of the presenters stressed the critical importance that leadership and coaching play in creating Lean government.
I met a woman this week named Carol who works in the Toxics Cleanup Program in Washington State Department of Ecology who has biked an incredible 33,500 miles to work since April of 2001. No, that is not a misplaced comma – thirty three thousand, five-hundred miles! This is a woman who is dedicated to the environment. In the last 13 years, the only times she has NOT taken her bike to work, she commuted with a neighbor or took public transportation (like on days with ice or more than 8 inches of snow).
Did I say “dedication.” Yes, this is an excellent example of what true dedication is. And it made me wonder, “who else do I know that is dedicated to something meaningful?”
My friend/brother Jeremy @ www.theartfulfundraiser.com, has dedicated himself to the arts. He engages the leaders of arts organizations to understand how they can keep their doors open by appealing to the hearts and minds of their constituents. He works with leaders to find ways together to engage folks in creating sustainable arts programs.
Best friend to many, Susan is dedicated to all of her friends. What do you need? She’ll help you. While she is especially good at helping design your kitchen, she’s open to helping you with your mulch, your wardrobe, your latest work or love-life drama, or even helping you pick out the perfect diamond for the girl of your dreams. She’s all-in to do all of those “true-friend” things you can think of.
Belinda in D.C. wants to transform the way that women give birth in the U.S. and will be a first-class midwife once she transitions out of her government job in H.R.
Mike, Deb, Troy and Vicki are dedicated to helping others see the impact they can have on how we treat and envision the aging among us.
Tom, Dan, Amy, Tracy, Evans, KJ and Brett are each dedicated to helping leaders understand the power they hold, and the potential they have in making our workplaces healthier.
Celina is inspired by the possibilities of restoring Washington waterways.
This all takes me back to a phrase my husband, Dennis, says to me each time I work with a new group of leaders: “Use your powers for good.” I always smile when he says or texts it to me. But it has a deeper meaning to me as well. There are lots of ways every day that we are not so kind; not so giving; not so hopeful; not uplifting or uplifted. And some people, I would swear, dedicate themselves to that dark side of things.
So, this is my heartfelt appreciation for those who are making the world a better place. Who are dedicating themselves to work that matters and who are making a real difference in the lives of others. Thank you for being you! “Use your powers for good.”
This week I spoke about leading change in challenging times to a group of child welfare professionals. At the end of the session I touched base with a leader who had been focused on a difficult challenge. Before she said goodbye, she stated confidently that she was going to refocus her energy and push local government and law enforcement officials to address the growing problem of heroin abuse in her Southeast Indiana community. Wow. Her passion, and the potential impact of it impressed and humbled me.
I thanked her for working to make her community better. She said, “You inspired me.”
Again, wow! This may sound funny coming from someone who facilitates leadership workshops for a living, but it’s not a natural state for me to want to be inspiring. I want people to see their own potential, and I want others to be inspired. Frankly, a huge part of the time that I spend facilitating is talking about leaders who inspire others and sharing ways that they do that. But, I – as a person who tends toward introversion – don’t feel that I have to be in front and center, a star or an inspiration to others. I don’t aspire to give rousing performances for an audience. I’d prefer that people “get it” without me putting myself out there.
That said, one of my core beliefs is that people want to contribute to something greater than themselves. I do want to help leaders help others to get there – to feel that they are a part of something bigger. To be inspired by that bigger picture. So…
…that means that I do indeed have to work at inspiring others.
What I’ve learned from @Jim_Kouzes and Barry Posner (@bzposner), of The Leadership Challenge fame, is that we inspire others when we’re inspired. While the stereotypical “charismatic leader” may be what we have in our minds as the only one who is capable of inspiring people, we each have a passion that we can tap into in order to enlist people in what we believe can make a difference in the world.