Getting Beyond Stereotypes

Greetings.  Let me start this post with the following joke:

What did the Black guy, the Latino guy and the Asian guy all have in common? 

Believe it or not, they all liked cantaloupe.

Probably not what you expected.  Because all of us have been conditioned to think about people in terms of the stereotypes–both good and bad–that we hold.  And these stereotypes tend to come out at parties, picnics, bars, other social events and even at the office when we think it's okay to be funny at someone else's expense.    

Which is probably why I find this joke, or anti-joke, and others like it to be so very helpful in thinking about people, innovation, collaboration, leadership, learning, the customer experience and the real keys to business and personal success.  And I also find it to be more than slightly funny.

Too often we are quick to pass judgment about other people based on their cultural backgrounds, personality types, jobs or roles, training, politics and a host of other things that make them "different" from us and unlikely to be the perfect colleagues, collaborators, bosses, business partners and potential customers we hope for. And if they happen to be strangers we are likely to place even greater emphasis on these stereotypes as instant deal-breakers that keep us from engaging them and gaining their perspectives and insights.

Even though we are all very similar.  Similar enough to connect as humans if given the chance.  And different enough, if also given the chance, to add real value in stretching our thinking about the best ways to solve pressing problems or create new opportunities.  But not different because of our stereotypes.  Different because of the unique richness of who we are and how and what we think.

So just as we should cast a wider net in our search for ideas, we should also cast a wider net in our openness to connecting in meaningful ways with a broader circle of people–in our own workplaces and beyond.

Cantaloupe-vitamin-c-lg 

We win in business and in life when we get beyond stereotypes.  And when we allow our unremarkable similarities to open the door to our remarkable differences.

Cheers!  And if you'll excuse me, I think I'll have a slice of cantaloupe.

The Genius of Imagination

Greetings.  I've often led leadership teams in dramatic readings of "Where the Wild Things Are"–Maurice Sendak's classic children's book about overcoming our fears and the power of our imaginations.  So his passing this week provides a reason to think about his special talents for storytelling, illustration and inspiring kids of all ages to imagine new worlds filled with possibilities where demons (and challenges) can easily be tamed.

I could write a long blog post about him, and maybe someday I will.  But for now, I'd simply like to suggest that you and your colleagues do your own shared reading of "Where the Wild Things Are" or another one of his stories.  Then imagine how you might work together to break through the barriers that separate your company or organization from reaching its full potential.  And how you might endeavor to tame the wildest creatures in your world before returning to the comfort and safety of home. 

Wild Things

We win in business and in life when we dare to use our imaginations. And when we discover that we're never too old to learn from the magic of a children's story.

Cheers!

Leadership and Caring

Greetings.  Thanksgiving is a day when many newspapers offer upbeat stories about people in their communities who are making a real difference.  Neighbors helping other neighbors in a time of need.  People coming together to provide food for the hungry among us.  Soldiers coming home to the welcoming arms of family, friends and even strangers who stop to thank them for their service in protecting the freedoms we hold dear.  People overcoming great odds to achieve a dream that some thought was beyond reach.  It's a day to pause and be thankful in the face of challenges.  To count our blessings.  To appreciate the simple things.  To honor the people and things that really matter.

And on the front page of today's Washington Post is a wonderful story that strikes a powerful cord.  It's a story about a remarkable young teacher and football coach at Coolidge High School in the District of Columbia.  A high school whose students often face great obstacles and distractions on their journeys to academic and life success.  A school that will today play in the City's championship football game (also known as the "Turkey Bowl") against Dunbar High.  And while the Coolidge High Colts are rarely in this game, Dunbar is a perennial power. 

But what's more amazing than this year's success on the field is the fact that the real focus of the Coolidge team is on becoming the most successful students and people–a commitment driven home by Natalie Randolph–their coach, mentor and biggest fan.  And, quite possibly, the only woman currently coaching a high school football team anywhere in America.  A woman whose own life, in addition to teaching environmental science, is driven by a passion for helping every one of her students and team members to learn, build character and reach their full potential.  To resist the strong temptations of teenage life and the surrounding streets in exchange for discipline, focus, teamwork and success in the classroom first and on the football field second.

Whether you are a football fan or even a sports fan, the story of Coolidge High and Natalie Randolph will challenge your thinking about leadership, caring and the things that matter most.  And about one person's ability, in a relatively short time, to making a compelling difference in the lives of others.

Coolidge

We win in business and in life when we give our undivided attention to bringing out the genius in others.  It might be the single greatest act of genius in a world filled with possibilities.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Leading By Example

Greetings.  I knew that it was bound to happen.  It was simply a matter of time before I actually saw a police car with turn signals.  And since I wasn't able to take a picture given the compelling need to remain focused–rather than distracted–on driving, I realize that some of you just won't believe me.  In fact, I'm still in a state of shock.  But there I was, driving home from one of our projects, when the police car in question had the audacity to signal before thoughtfully coming into my lane. An act of civil obedience that has challenged me to question my assumption that these cars lacked turn signals and my lengthy quest to figure out the reason why.  

At first I imagined that there was something about the nature of turn signals that made it more difficult to perform the duties of a police officer successfully.  Then I imagined that the lack of lane changing guidance was due to a deliberate attempt to make police cars more discreet when pursuing the bad guys.  And recently I've conjectured that given the current economic climate it was a visionary move that was intended to save money that could be better spent on more important police equipment.  In any event, I had convinced myself that police cars came from the factory without turn signals.  Even though one might expect police officers to lead by example when it came to observing our traffic laws and demonstrating the best possible driving behavior.  After all, there are a lot of drivers out there who could use a strong role model.  Student drivers.  Distracted drivers.  Drivers from other countries where it is even easier to get a license (if that's possible).  

Of course, even I could appreciate the fact that there were times when officers were in the heat of a chase, or racing to a crime scene, or in need of an extra large cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee after a long shift.  But most of the time they seemed to be driving along just like the rest of us–with no great sense of urgency.  Or, at least, driving along like the rest of us who need to have our turn signals repaired. 

And I started thinking about the times that we expect the leaders in our companies and organizations to be role models.  Talking about the importance of innovation, or building strong relationships with customers, or being remarkably responsive, or collaborating and sharing insight and information…and acting in a way that demonstrates their commitment.  Rather than ignoring promising new ideas or stifling initiative, or not making customers a priority, or not having an open door, or not sharing valuable information that would challenge and empower employees at all levels.  Because they didn't see the power of leading by example.  Or because they'd simply gotten out of the habit of using their turn signals. 

Police car

We win in business and in life when we lead by example.  And when we never forget that no matter how busy we are, impressionable minds are watching.

Cheers!

Winning With Values

Greetings.  I don't write about sports very often even though I am a serious sports fan.  And I rarely use sports analogies in my work even though I believe that sports offer important lessons for success in business and life.  And I rarely ever quote the coaches of top teams even though they are often exemplary leaders with important things to say.  Maybe it's because I realize that a significant percentage of readers and participants in my seminars and speeches are not sports fans and I don't want them to dismiss my ideas because they can't relate to sports.

But the remarkable story of the Butler University Bulldogs, who play tonight in the college basketball championship game against UConn (i.e., the University of Connecticut), is worth noting for several important reasons.  Because it's a story about values, leadership, teaching, teamwork, grace and skill under pressure, and the genius in everyone.  And that should be of interest to practically everyone who tunes in to this blog.

It seems that the heart of Butler's success in basketball over the past several years has not been a star player or players–though the team is not lacking for talent, but rather a set of values that are known affectionately as "The Butler Way."  Five core principles that frame the way that players are recruited, coached, developed, and educated as team members and as people.  And that frame how they interact with each other and everyone around them.  These "core" values are passion, unity, servanthood, humility, and thankfulness–and they provide a clearer and more compelling framework for success than one might ever imagine seeing for a basketball team, corporation, or any organization doing work that truly matters. But more importantly, they are lived by everyone who has anything to do with the basketball team.  And they are embodied by a coach with such high integrity that there is never a question about how to behave.

Passion.  Unity.  Servanthood.  Humility.  Thankfulness.  And whether or not the Butler Bulldogs win tonight's game, they have changed our understanding of how to compete in basketball or any other highly-competitive "arena."  And, in the process, they have created a legacy of what it means to unlock the true genius in each other.

Butler-beats-VCU

We win in basketball, business, and life when we follow a set of values that matter.  And when we challenge ourselves to believe in the real power of teamwork.

Cheers and enjoy the game!