If You Plant Corn, Corn Will Grow

“If you plant corn, corn will grow” – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching

I ran across this quote a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. I did a little research to find out the source and underlying meaning, only to discover its tie to Buddhism. I have always appreciated the teaching of Buddha, largely given its context of the internal reflection and conflict we must overcome to gain both enlightenment and fulfillment in our existence. This isn’t an article on Buddhism, but the connection is helpful.

I love this quote because of its profound simplicity. “If you plant corn, corn will grow”. Sounds like something you would hear on a Hotels.com commercial from Captain Obvious, right? But its meaning is deeper than what you see on the surface. Perhaps similar to the verses in the Bible – “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians) and “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. The connection with corn, or farming as is referenced in the bible, is a simple yet effective metaphor to illustrate the long term effect of near term actions. Continue reading

What your Ch’i says about you…

“Your energy introduces you even before you speak”

[Unknown]

Recently I was visiting one of my branch operations when a team member made an interesting comment to me.  “Are you OK?” she asked.  “Yes, why?” I responded.  “Because I’m sensing a vibe with you right now that suggests otherwise”.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  A vibe?  What kind of a vibe?  What in the world was she talking about?  Heck, I came in to the office clean shaven and sharply dressed.  I was composed, professional – like I always am.  And I didn’t think I had any type of scowl or frown on my face.

And yet she sensed a vibe.  She sensed a negative energy that stood out clearly in me.  My energy introduced me well before I even spoke a word.  And had I not been given the feedback or a chance to reframe, I would have left a completely different impression than the one I hoped to leave with my fellow team members.

So when I saw this quote pinned to the branch leader’s wall in this very same office, I had to take note and reflect on its importance.

“Your energy introduces you even before you speak…

In the study of martial arts, many of the disciplines emanating from the Asian continent speak of a term called “ch’i”.  Ch’I (or qi) is described as an individuals “life force”.  Other ancient cultures have a similar concept – “ki” in Japanese, “prana” in India, and “Great Spirit” in Native America.  It is an energy within us that differentiates a corpse from a living body.  This energy de and is as real as the physical bones and muscles we can touch and feel.

What these cultures also believe is that this energy can be channeled to create a healthy mind and body, or if left unmanaged, can lead to unhealthy outcomes.  The ancients believed so fiercely in this that many rituals and practices were tailored to nurture and channel ones Ch’i.

You have no doubt seen examples of small framed men and women with less than impressive physiques breaking boards, bricks, or other hard surfaces with their bare hands – and left with no damage to their bones or muscles.  They achieve these feats by channeling their Ch’i – their life energy.

Now, this is not a message designed to encourage you all to become martial artists.  Rather, the reference is designed to help illustrate both the importance and power of the energy we all carry in us.  Our life force.

In leadership, and in our own pursuit for personal success, this same energy can be used.  It can be channeled and controlled as long as we have an awareness of its existence and a willingness to feed it.  And as they say, what goes in, must come out.  Positive energy channeled within exudes positive vibes to others.  No doubt you have heard the term “he/she lights up a room”.  How?  Well, in many respects, its their energy level.  Its their output.  Their energy introduces them before they speak.

So, what does your energy say?

Purpose Matters in Business

“Lean in to Purpose”  – Jonathan Mildenhall

I was recently at a conference where Jonathan Mildenhall was a key note speaker. For those of you who don’t know Jonathan (and I don’t expect you to), he was previously the Chief Marketing Officer at Coca Cola and is now the Chief Marketing Officer at AirBnB. His marketing pedigree is not the topic of this message, but his passion for building “purpose driven companies” is.

His presentation was fantastic. In fact, as he took us through a journey of his career and some of the hallmark marketing campaigns he has overseen with Coca Cola and AirBnB, you could clearly see the impact that purpose has on those two organizations. And its not that these two companies are charities – far from that. But their commitment to purpose helped drive both to notable growth and brand success. Consider the following elements of Purpose from each of these companies:

• Coca Cola: To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
• AirBnB: Creating real connections/friendships between likeminded people

Continue reading

Actions Speak More Loudly Than Words

“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think about that quote for a moment – “What you do speaks SO LOUDLY I cannot hear what you say”. Simple yet prophetic. Truer words have never been spoken.

While researching quotes specifically for this leadership message, I thumbed through dozens, but this one struck a chord. An artist with a pen, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a master at communicating thought. A poet, lecturer, and essayist – his writings often centered around key ideas such as individuality, self-determination, self-reliance, and the capacity of the individual.

That’s why this quote caught my eye. I, too, believe in the capacity of the individual & our ability to achieve great things, when we put our mind to it. I believe both in the importance of self-determination and self-reliance. But, I also believe in something more – our ability to influence the action and behavior of others (both positively and negatively), and the significant responsibility it accompanies. Continue reading

No Substitute for Hard Work

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

I’ve been pondering this message for some time – writing about the importance of hard work. It seems so cliché these days to write about the obvious benefits of hard work – and even more cliché to start a leadership blog with such well-used quotes as those from Vince Lombardi. What’s more, I’ve worried about whether my message will offend those who might interpret this message as an affront to their work ethic.

But this message is important. It’s time to put the softer elements of leadership aside and speak to the heart of the matter – and quite simply it is this…most people don’t put forth the effort that is truly required to be successful in their life pursuits. Whether that’s at work, with family, with friendships, or in our hobbies, too many of us think that we can shortcut that process and still succeed.

Newsflash! Nothing in life comes easy. More importantly, nothing in life is worth having if it isn’t earned. “No pain, no gain” – isn’t that how the saying goes? Why then do so many people long for success (professional, financial, etc) but fail to put in the effort required for that achievement? Continue reading

Opportunity or Difficulty – You Decide

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

Those who know me recognize my affinity for Sir Winston Churchill. His leadership, while cantankerous and arguably self-serving, may well be the very reason the allies were victorious during World War II. What’s most interesting about Winston Churchill is to understand the history that forged both his style and his philosophies on leadership. Bear with me as I share highlights of his life and the connection to the quote above.

Born of nobility in Great Britain in the late 1800’s, one could argue he was given all the opportunity necessary for success. Despite this privileged status, he had an interesting and somewhat rocky childhood. Raised largely by his nanny, his interaction with his parents was fairly removed and arguably of limited influence.

Churchill struggled mightily during his formative years. A young, stocky red headed boy (I can relate to that), he spoke with both a stutter and a lisp (something that plagued him most his life). In and out of 3 different schools, Churchill’s early academic record was quite poor. And while excelling in certain subjects (Mathematics, History, and English), he was generally thought of as “a poor student”.  Continue reading

It’s Time to Think of Yourself as a Leader

We’ve made leadership in to something bigger than us. Something beyond us. We’ve taken this title of leader and we treat it as something that one day we are going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves now is a level of arrogance that we are not comfortable with.”  – Drew Dudley

A few weekends ago I was catching up on my ‘white space’ activities, one of which is to watch TED Talks on business, leadership, and innovation. As much as I might think I know about leadership I still spend countless hours researching and gaining insight from others who offer a new and different perspective.

On this particular day I was watching a clip from a speaker named Drew Dudley. In this clip Drew opens his speech with the question “How many of you are completely comfortable calling yourself a leader”? Only a handful of people raise their hands. Perhaps not surprising, but most of those in the audience were uncomfortable recognizing they are leaders in their own right today. And what’s amazing is that the audience for a Ted Talk is generally individuals who are enamored with the topic of leadership. Of all people you would think they would overwhelmingly be ‘leaders’. Continue reading

Engagement and Respect

“Jim, you are not doing a good job of hiding your disdain for your company” – Jim Spivey

I was recently sharing my thoughts on the qualities I look for in members of my team with a fellow colleague. The first is simple – capability. Each member of the team must be able to do the job asked of them in a competent, effective manner. Experience, effort, tenacity, and a willingness to learn are all part of being a capable team member. No surprise there.

The second is more abstract but vital to the success of any team – integrity. Members of any group that don’t practice integrity both in words and actions becomes a hindrance to the team. It forces the other members to operate in an environment of distrust, clouding the focus on its objectives. Eventually the team will fail. Again, no surprise here.

But the third quality I look for is just as important – Engagement and Respect. That includes a passion and intensity for the job, but must also come with an equal conviction to the team…and the organization that team serves. One that weathers the daily challenges and the ebbs and flows of progress without resorting to critical and unconstructive behavior – overt or subconscious. Continue reading