We need to be kind

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:18

The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted to me, more than anything else, how “the golden rule” has been eroded in a time where we need it the most.

Our public health experts have told us that many of the actions they have urged us to take to stay safe during the pandemic, including wearing masks, social distancing, and eventually being vaccinated, are just as much about protecting others as they are about protecting ourselves. If we all were to do those things, we could successfully limit the spread.

But something in our current culture is out of balance. It might be an overemphasis or misunderstanding of individualism, rudeness, skepticism of science and logic, or perhaps believing in conspiracy theories (or many other trends). These elements and others have eroded our kindness, compassion, and the understanding that we share this earth with others. More and more we live in our own headspace and are not considering the needs of our neighbors and those around us.

We all have work to do in this area, and I will be the first to admit that I need to do this work too.

But something from the last week gave me hope. It showed me that examples of how each of us should behave are still out there, and that while we are lost, we can still find our way back.

That inspiration came from a 13-year old boy named Brayden Harrington from New Hampshire. He inspired me with his courage to speak at the Democratic National Convention last week.

Here is Brayden’s speech:

The story of Vice President Biden meeting Brayden Harrington dates back to February 7th. Recently, I saw the video of that meeting on twitter.

Take a look:

Let’s put aside for just a moment that our country is in the middle of a bitterly divisive election. And let’s put aside the fact that one of the subjects of this post is Vice President Joe Biden who is one of the two candidates running for President. If you are an entrenched skeptic, I ask you to put aside your doubts about the genuineness of the interaction too.

I ask you to do this for just a moment, because what we can learn from these two men should not be at all political.

Brayden is a boy with his whole life in front of him. But, he has a disability, and one that makes his life different than most of ours. His disability, a stutter, is something he shares in common with Vice President Biden. Biden worked hard and overcame his stutter, and this young man wants to do the same and took inspiration from Biden.

Biden didn’t have to spend time with Brayden at all. He could have shook his hand, given him an “atta boy,” at their interaction in New Hampshire, and kept going about his day.

But he didn’t do that.

Instead he spent the time with Brayden. Gave him encouragement, which clearly helped him. All of a sudden an inspirational figure, who was a stranger, became a friend and a supporter for Brayden.

The more I have seen the events of the last 166 days unfold, the more I worry about the world my now 4-month old son and other members of his generation will inherit from us. Will that be a world of compassion or a world of anger and self-centeredness?

The more I read and hear, the more I believe that we are all leaders in answering this pivotal question. In these times, we are all just a cell-phone camera capture away from going viral; what was once reserved for celebrities, politicians, and athletes now allows basically anybody to become overnight viral sensations.

We need more moments of compassion like this one to go viral and spend less time on content that may just embarrass somebody else. We need more moments of connection, of support, and of encouragement. In this way, we are all leaders and are all being called to lead during a dark time in our country and the world. Leaders live by example. How can you be more compassionate, more kind, and more understanding to strangers? How can we disagree with civility? What world are we leaving for our children? How could we do better?

KEY TAKEAWAY: We are all leaders in curing the epidemic of anger, cruelty, and selfishness. We can learn from the story of Brayden Harrington and Vice President Biden that we are all leaders in making the world a more compassionate place.

This post was inspired by Brayden Harrington and the book The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki.

Asking the right questions

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Powerful questions can yield powerful insights. However, the nature of those questions will vary significantly based on the environment where they are asked, and the ultimate goal that the individual hopes to achieve by asking them.

I grew up around the media because my father is a photojournalist. If you watch a news conference, you may notice that journalists ask almost entirely yes-or-no questions. For example, this was one of the questions President Trump answered at a press conference just yesterday, “Thanks, Mr. President. I wanted to follow up on two things that you had said earlier in the cabinet room. The first was on TikTok, and the second was on coronavirus. On TikTok, you said that you wanted money for the US Treasury from the sale. Does that mean you expect the Chinese company to pay the US Treasury directly?

Most lawyers are taught the same technique. On a cross-examination, lawyers are taught to ask yes-or-no questions to help them build their case or challenge a witness’ account of an event. An example of Hollywood’s take on a cross-examination can be seen below from the classic movie My Cousin Vinny:

However, when leading teams or in coaching an individual, which is an essential requirement of leadership, powerful questions are rarely “yes-or-no.” In fact, powerful questions are just the opposite, open ended, allowing the team or individual to work through and explore the answers.

This concept has been on my mind a lot lately. While we have no clear signposts in the middle of this pandemic, we know that it is far from over. And while the hope of returning to normal activities soon still remains high, there are many steps that need to take place before we will reach the finish line of this pandemic. So how do we process what is going on? How to we stay focused on both the present and the future? How do we connect with optimism and hope during a time such as this?

As you consider those questions, imagine how essential workers in our communities are answering these same questions. I think about my colleagues and friends who deliver care every day to patients during the pandemic. Have they had time to take a deep breath and process the loneliness, pain, and suffering? How can they connect to an optimistic mindset?

Over the course of the last month, our patient experience team has tried to give our clinical caregivers the space to do just that. We came up with prompts and suggested that our caregivers write down how they were feeling. Our caregivers appreciated this newfound space to think about what they have been experiencing over the past 5 months.

Again, powerful questions can yield powerful insights. One of the keys to asking questions that can be transformational is to ask them in a way that encourages reflection, exploration, and depth. So when working with your teams, don’t be a journalist at a news conference or a lawyer in a courtroom—be a leader.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Powerful questions usually start with the words, “What” or “How”. They are open-ended and encourage reflection, exploration, and depth.

Journaling

notebook with blank pages

Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on Pexels.com

By my count, today is day 138 of the COVID-19 pandemic, or a little over four and a half months of social distancing. While my wife and I feel blessed to have a roof over our heads, jobs, our health, and a healthy new baby boy, that doesn’t mean the last 138 days have been easy. We miss our family, our friends, seeing people in our community regularly and, boy, what I would do for a night out at our favorite restaurant or to go to a ballgame.

With all of that said, there is one practice that I hope to keep when all of this is over and that’s journaling. Pretty much every evening, I have sat down and kept a journal and I have found that, despite the lack of normal activity, I have had a lot to say! I have already filled up 2 journals that I have previously started and stopped over the last decade and am on my third.

I find it therapeutic to get my thoughts down on paper, even if they are disorganized and incomplete. I do not put pressure on myself for it to be elegant prose or the next great novel, it just reflects what comes off the top of my mind and out of my pen. Journaling helps me reflect on and explore conversations I’ve had, think through problems, process things I am learning, and put events that are bothering me into a larger context.

Journaling also gives me a reference point for certain events. For example, without the journal, I doubt that I would have any memory of my son’s first 4 weeks of life. As those of you who are parents know, that time is a sleep-deprived blur. Not to mention that, because of the pandemic, it was just the three of us for that entire time.

Most of all, I have found that journaling gives me context. It is hard not to feel like every notable moment or decision is significant. However, I look back later and realize that I may have blown whatever was going on way out of proportion. Reading through it in a journal allows me to understand my thoughts and emotions so that when I am feeling those same thoughts or emotions in a similar context, I can put them into perspective, reminding myself how it turned out. I had this exact situation happen to me just this week, and by making the comparison, I was able to make myself feel better and better manage my emotions.

Seeing progress over time has been one of the best discoveries in keeping a journaling practice. I highly recommend it, especially if you are leading teams or you desire to engage in self-discovery. Happy journaling!

Journal of choice: Moleskine large soft cover lined notebook

Writing instrument of choice: Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum-Coated Classique Rollerball or my gift shop pen from the President Gerald Ford Museum

KEY TAKEAWAY: Journaling is a great way to collect your thoughts, especially during times of growth, change, or uncertainty.

Slow down

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty groggy. Feeling like I just went to sleep, I sit up in my bed in the middle of the night, half awake and I hear a voice in my head saying, “It’s a marathon not a sprint, slow down.”

This voice is neither premonition nor mantra (nor psychosis), but rather the literal voice of my wife, Sheryl, coaching our 5-week old son, Aaron, to slow down while he enjoys one of his middle of the night feedings.

AJS Nats

He’ll grow into it

I’ve listened to people for years talk about how much they learn from their children and I honestly did not pay it any attention and really just heard it as lip service, something parents say. Here I am though, just a few weeks into fatherhood, and Aaron is already teaching me something. Whether it’s moving his body too quickly or eating too quickly, Aaron seems to get into trouble when he rushes. I just wish I could clearly communicate  to him that childhood is a special time and he should hold onto being a child for as long as possible. While the world is a wide-open and exciting place, being able to experience new things with pure joy as a child is a time nobody should rush through.

Meanwhile, I’ve been engaging with friends and colleagues over the questions, “When this COVID mess is all over, what will you change? What will you never take for granted again? What will you do to make the world a better place?” It has left an impression on me that in nearly every conversation, at least one person says that they have learned that the world has not ended because they have been forced to spend more time at home with family, forced to not run to the next event, and forced to be with their own thoughts in reflective moments or boredom.

There is a lesson in here for leaders too. How important is being fast? Could we accomplish more, maybe lead more compassionately, if we just slowed down? If we allocated one afternoon or, dare I say, an entire day every week to reflection, thoughtful planning, and building deep relationships, rather than running around? How would that impact our ability to help the people we lead?

Personally, I have found that slowing down allows me to focus, feel rejuvenated, and actually be more productive overall. When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, one of my goals will be to capture time back for deep work. Adam Grant described this concept analogous to REM sleep, that we have REM work opportunities. When we are interrupted by needlessly long meetings or other distractions at inopportune times, we sacrifice productivity and REM work.

I hope this pandemic ends soon and that some of the therapeutics and vaccines in development are safe and distributed soon. One of the major learnings though that I will keep with me is to slow down, a meaningful first lesson from a great Little Dude.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learn from Aaron and slow down. It relieves pressure, allows time for deeper work, and helps us derive more meaning from what we do on a daily basis.

Update: Family strategy

On January 14th, I wrote a post about leading the “Most important organization in the world,” about leading a family.  At that time, I shared that my wife, Sheryl, and I put together our own family strategy that I would share at a later date.

Well, that later date has arrived with an extra twist! Sheryl and I had our first family strategy centered around preparing to become a family of 3. Our son Aaron was born a healthy 7lbs 5oz on April 13th, bringing us incredible joy during a time of incredible uncertainty. Aaron’s arrival and impact on our family has been immediate, and caring for him has been a welcome distraction.

Before we knew much about the novel coronavirus, Sheryl and I had a dinner date night and put together our family strategy, including our “rallying cry,” “defining objectives,” and “standard objectives.” Our strategy describes how our family is different. Our “rallying cry” is a short term focus, while the “defining objectives” are the steps to achieve the “rallying cry”. Finally, “standard objectives” are lasting areas of importance that our family has determined to be pillars of importance.

So here was our completed strategy board leading up to Aaron’s arrival (he was affectionately known as “Gummy Bear” before his arrival):

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For us, our family strategy is defined at the bottom of our board, which lives on display in our living room (it’s been a hit at dinner parties!). Our strategy is, “We are a family that is driven and goal oriented. We grow and change while always prioritizing faith, family, friends, and compassionate active listening. We are genuinely curious about our world and contributing to make it a better place.”

Our rallying cry, “Prepare for Gummy Bear” included the defining objectives of preparing his room and play room, getting stuff for him (like a car seat and stroller), taking the parenting classes, figuring out daycare, selecting a pediatrician, and establishing a birth plan.

Our standard objectives, which remain are managing financial health, physical health, spiritual health, the quality of our marriage, pursuing education, socializing, and fun.

Every week, Sheryl and I meet for about 5 minutes to assign tracking to each of the objectives. Red dots mean not accomplished this week, yellow means in progress, and green means complete. During the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving green status for the the social life standard objective has been especially hard due to social distancing.

Sheryl and I were both excited to create and deploy our family strategy. Having witnessed a couple of frantic family dynamics, it was our goal to get ahead of it and Lencioni’s model fell into our laps coincidentally. However, investing the time in developing a strategy and meeting about it weekly has been highly valuable for us. I find that the activity keeps us focused and grounded at home, just as work plans do for me professionally.

I really cannot recommend the activities of developing and tracking a family strategy highly enough. It helped us immensely, even in this time of social distancing, to prepare as first time parents bringing a newborn home with no physical help. Without it, it likely would have been a much harder road for us. Contrary to what we though, the first 3 weeks of Aaron’s life have been pure joy, with some sleepless nights thrown in.

You have the time right now during social distancing to create a family strategy. Everyone is home and looking for something to do. Go ahead and try it. Use The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family to get started. All the whiteboard materials are an easy order from Amazon. Happy strategizing!

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me.

Key Takeaway: Creating a plan and keeping it top of mind is the pathway for success in both business and with our families. Now is a perfect time to develop a family strategy and then to implement the objectives required to meet your goals.