A quick hit is a short riff, rant or observation. An idea worth sharing, but not worth waiting on for a full-blown podcast episode. And not worth devoting an entire episode to either.
This morning I did my usual glance drive-by on Facebook and other social media platforms. I noticed this post by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook:
For some years now I’ve been increasingly focused on the mental health and fitness of business people. Particularly business owners and CEOs. In fact I recorded an entire podcast episode about what I think is going to be increasingly top-of-mind moving forward. It’s my work or business related podcast over at GrowGreat.com. This particular episode was focused on the mental wellness revolution that is bound to happen because of the pressures of doing and being in business.
Business owners and leaders suffer an isolation that seems paradoxical. Surrounded by lots of people, yet lonely. Socially often busy, but alone. During the times when the biggest challenges and opportunities arrive, business people are mostly alone to figure it out. I’m working to put my own mark – a very tiny mark – on the problem by helping a small group of business owners overcome isolation and loneliness by helping them make better decisions in real time, by helping them more properly execute those decisions inside their business and by helping them do it more quickly — because speed is a critical competitive advantage for small business.
Talk is cheap. And it’s everywhere. People talk a big game when it comes to empathy, but I don’t see it exercised much.
Maybe people don’t know how to do it. Or maybe they don’t really have much of it. No matter, the outcome is usually the same. People who are too focused on themselves to notice. I’m a noticer. It can’t be helped. It’s not some calculated thing, it just happens. A conversation is happening among a group of people. Somebody says something, maybe seemingly innocuous, and in a moment one person silently walks away. Maybe it’s a slight drop of their head. Maybe it’s a look in their eye. Something triggers in my brain making me know that what’s just been said has hit them in some way. I follow, approach and ask, “You okay?” Sometimes tears start immediately. Sometimes expressions of anger. Sure enough, something was said that caused them to feel something. Something they didn’t feel comfortable sharing in that moment. But here we are. Just the two of us. And they’re sharing.
It happens for me with great regularity. I’m not looking for it. It just happens. There are dozens of other examples of how my empathy drives me. But that gives you a clear idea (I hope) of how vision and noticing work for me (and I know I’m not alone).
I’ve now been on the planet going on 60 years. Hard to believe. But that’s long enough now to know how rare (some might say “odd”) I am. Until the last few years I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think what I did was out of the ordinary, but I’m finding out that it is extraordinary. Not much about me is extraordinary, but I’ve learned in the past few years to tell people that I know I have a couple of super powers. Empathy and connection (communication). Well, okay – they may not be SUPER powers, but they’re qualities or characteristics that are at the forefront of my life.
And as I look back to my youth, I’ve always had these. It begs the question, “Are these innate qualities or did I learn them?” I’d argue both. But I don’t really know.
My childhood is riddled with stories of neighborhood kids who got into it with me getting between them, talking them off the ledge before somebody started throwing punches. I’ve always stepped forward quickly to make peace. At school. On the playground. In sports. At work. Everywhere. Partly it’s about keeping peace, but mostly it’s about wanting to help people solve problems in more positive ways. And not wanting people to get into unnecessary trouble.
This came into play for me professionally when I was a young business leader. Maybe it’s why I always aspired to positions of leadership. Not for the power, but for the authority to serve people. Since I was in my 20’s I’ve maintained the same philosophy I still employ in leadership: serving the people in the organization is the only reason why leaders exist. I knew that my ability and authority as a leader centered around my ability to remove obstacles that others didn’t have the authority to remove. Why else have a leader if they can’t or don’t help you get accomplish something?
Vision is key. Most people don’t have it. They don’t see what I see. They’re not paying attention to the things that leap out at me. I’m not judging, just observing. I understand that people are living in their heads. Focused on their problems and opportunities. I am, too. Except in real-time, when interacting with others, I can’t avoid noticing behavior, hearing words, listening to tone, watching body language and connecting dots.
CONNECTING DOTS (Making Sense Of It All)
Okay, I’ve got a 3rd super power, intuition. Some have observed it’s an ability to read people. Maybe, but it’s more than that. It’s reading situations. The word I ascribe to it is congruency. I’ve driven to find congruency. When things aren’t congruent, I’m driven mad.
It happens constantly. People say one thing, but do something different. A husband claims to love his wife or family, but behaves poorly. It’s not congruent. Makes no sense. I know he’s lying. Other people talk of his struggles. I focus on connecting the dots of what he does, not what he says…because I know his actions speak his heart. Harsh? Not at all. Truth.
A business owner claims to really care about his employees and wants to take care of them. But he orders a new Bentley while simultaneously cutting another 7% of the company’s contribution to the benefits package for employees. He’s a liar. He doesn’t care about the employees as much as he wants people to think. Harsh? Not at all. Truth.
If the husband and father made the truthful declaration that his family is holding him back from doing what he wants…from being happy as he defines it, then I could at least respect his honesty.
Or if the business owner would declare, “Listen, my wife really wants a new Bentley and I love her more than I love the employees so I’m trimming our contribution to the benefits package…” – I’d respect that. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I could respect the candid honesty.
No, I don’t expect those truths to be stated. But people can still act with congruency. And I know that deep down, people do. We all do. It’s just that our congruency isn’t always based on what we say. It’s always based on what we do. So I watch what people do, compared to what they say. It’s like that clever quote,
“After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
EMPATHY, CONNECTION & MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
I’m feeding what I’m good at and not resisting it. True confession – I’ve resisted it in the past. Yes, there have been times in my life when I tried to be something I’m not. Where I tried to soar with strengths that I don’t possess. No, it didn’t work. It never works. But it’s the delusion many of us suffer. Convincing ourselves that we can be or do something that is difficult, if not impossible for us.
I’m not immune from inner conflict and head trash. I see people online who want us to think they’ve got it all figured out. They’re super humans who have such an elevated state of self-awareness and inner strength that nothing gets to them. See, as a dot connector I know that’s not true…no matter how gifted they are at convincing us otherwise.
Fear. Loneliness. Anxiety. Dread. Common to all of us. ALL OF US.
Which is why Sheryl Sandberg’s post this morning caught my eye. She lost her husband Dave (CEO of SurveyMonkey) a few years ago. Suicide was suspected. Still is by many people. I have no way to know, but it’s clear that Ms. Sandberg and Facebook are mindful of the recent live streaming video of people who have taken their own lives. Is it completely altruistic? Not likely, but I’d like to think mostly.
With failure. With success.
With problems. With opportunities.
With business. With home life.
I’m driven – always have been – more by helping people through the struggles than by anything else. Nothing fuels me more. It’s been that way since I was a child. And now that I’m old, it’s still that way.