The Real Lesson of Thanksgiving

Greetings. Another Thanksgiving has arrived here in the U.S. and with it another chance to slow down for a day or a long weekend, take stock of the year that is winding to a close, and count our blessings. And as most of the leaves have fallen and the weather has turned quite a bit colder, we can almost imagine what it must have been like on that first Thanksgiving back in 1621. But most of us will have to do a bit of re-imagining, because the story that we were taught as kids is not exactly what happened when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts almost 400 years ago. And the friendship that blossomed between the new immigrants and the native people they encountered upon their arrival was not quite as idyllic and enduring as we have been led to believe.

The First Thanksgiving

Yes, these strangers did end up sharing a meal to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest. And their actual “celebration” seems to have lasted for not one but three days…during which time they ate deer, shellfish, corn, and other roasted meat. No, there wasn’t a turkey (or sweet potatoes covered with mini-marshmallows) to be found on their dining table, and it is not likely that members of the Wampanoag tribe were actually invited to break bread with the immigrants in the first place. More likely the locals, skilled in hunting, fishing, farming, and living in the place now known as New England after being there for over 12,000 years, came to the rescue of their new neighbors by sharing their knowledge of how to survive, hunt, fish, grow crops, live in harmony with the earth and sea, and even prosper…albeit with a significantly different definition of what it meant to be prosperous.

And we have a pretty clear idea that their definition of prospering would shortly fall victim to the cultures and ambitions of a growing number of Europeans who would come to call North America home.

While we can’t change this period in history, we can at least try to learn from this meeting of strangers by thinking about the lost possibilities of their encounter and all of the opportunities that most of us miss to connect with and learn from people who are very different than us. People who know different things than we know and whose ideas, insights, and perspectives might challenge us to think in new ways about our lives, workplaces, communities, and the world we share. But to do this, we will have to be more curious and open-minded about the world around us, more humble about our own knowledge and its limitations, more respectful of other people from all different places and walks of life, and more committed to working together to address a set of shared challenges and opportunities that really matter.

Needless to say, Americans (other than native peoples) trace our histories here to immigrants. Folks who came to this land by choice or by force, but who were determined to make a difference and to live lives of meaning. Folks who became part of the fabric of an America that, at its best, has always been open to new people and new possibilities.

During this Thanksgiving and holiday season, as we enjoy family, friends, food, and for some of us football, most of us will pause to count our many blessings. But how many of us will also pause to think about the world’s latest wave of immigrants and how open we are to having them arrive at our shores? And how many of us will pause to think about how similar they are to our own ancestors who fled wars, persecution, and a lack of opportunity?

New Immigrants

We win in business and in life when, with a bit of caution, we make our tent bigger. And when we realize that strangers are, with a very few exceptions, something to be thankful for.

Cheers!

With Thanks

Greetings from Maryland where fall has once again brought its beautiful colors, crisp clear nights, a bit of rain, and a moment to reflect on a world filled with great challenges and even greater possibilities. At a time when our customers are expecting us to deliver even greater innovation and value, we must all figure out how to write a new and more compelling song…one that combines the best of what we already know with the fresh sounds and inspirations of strangers and a new generation. A veritable fusion of our greatest talents and our innate ability to be curious and open to new ideas, insights, and perspectives. Which suggests that it might be a perfect time to take a new and exciting look at your business, its potential, and the real needs and dreams of the folks you have the privilege to serve.

Kid's Photo

So round up your colleagues, partners, and even a few new people this holiday season and commit to creating your own new music…music that is tied to your past and firmly rooted in your future. After all, the vitality of your organization depends on it.

And, as always, giant thanks for being part of the life of our company in the past year and for all of your wonderful support for my new book “The Necessity of Strangers.” It’s off to a great start because of all of you! And sincere wishes for a Thanksgiving and holiday season filled with peace, joy, good health, laughter, learning, inspiration, innovation, and the chance to jam with friends and strangers!

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!