Thursday, April 25, 2013

Do We Really Know?

Yesterday I was sitting in seat 25C of an Alaska Airlines jet mentally preparing for a few days of vacation visiting a dear friend. One of the flight attendants had caught my attention as I boarded the plane. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite place it. 

While my job doesn’t call for me to travel extensively, I would consider myself to be one that could go in the “Expert” line at security. I settled into my seat as the plane loaded and started doing my own thing. The captain’s voice filled the plane and the talking stopped while he gave his spiel. He handed off to someone else and the safety portion of the program commenced. I prepared to tune out, but the flight attendant that reminded me of someone was standing about 10 rows ahead of me. (Side note: The smirky smile and total disdain for the peasants riding in coach helped me connect which alumnus he brought to mind – one of my favorites.) I watched as the voice overhead reviewed the exit doors, the colorful brochure, the inflatable vest, etc. He had just finished waving his fingers to demonstrate our exit plan when something happened. The passengers gave up listening. Side chatter began and the volume grew to a point that I could almost not make out the directions droning on throughout the cabin. Intrigued by people in general, I watched my fella standing in the aisle as he finished his demonstration. Smirky smile in place throughout. He saw me watching and I swear I could see him
mentally roll his eyes. It was almost as if to say, “Well, the two of us listening will get out ok.” For, you see, our fellow passengers had checked out and stopped listening. They thought they knew what was being said: what the plan was in case of an emergency, what to do, how to do it and so they made assumptions and a choice to believe that what they “knew” would be applicable in the future.

Now, I am not an expert on airline safety. But I am someone who reads about, thinks about and studies the human condition. More often than not, I find myself in a place like my fellow passengers. I think I know what’s being communicated so I disengage and check out. Most of the time it works out for me. (I mean, there are only so many ways to exit a plane.) But, sometimes it does not. As I sat, watched, listened two truths came to mind.

First - when you are the giver of information, sometimes the audience doesn’t want to hear it. Our role is to press through and deliver what we know to be the important, sometimes life-saving, messages. It is ok to do it with a smirky smile, but be sure when you do so it is with the confidence that your message is what those who have entrusted you to lead them need to hear. Press through, especially if you know that what you are sharing is essential. Have humor, find joy, but deliver what needs to be shared.

Second – as those being led, we often assume we know what is being shared. We think we know, but we don’t always. We talk over those leading us with full confidence that “we’ve got this”. But, what do we miss when we approach leadership in this way? When we do this, we sometimes miss the real message. Or, sometimes just as significant, the secondary message. When not in the moment, we can also reflect that our behavior is not kind or polite. But, it is the norm. Right? I mean, why do I need to listen to this spiel, I’ve done this before. Well, maybe… Consider this - for all of the times I have been on an airplane and heard the safety speech, I have never actually had to exit the plane during a crash, put on a life vest, open that airplane door in the exit row. I think I know, but maybe I really don’t.

Happy travels to you all!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Exciting Your Spirit

I spent last weekend at a conference for fraternity and sorority members that was put on by an organization committed to leadership and values. When I stop to think about that fact, I am in awe of the reality. During the conference, I was able to lead three different sessions that were driven by the idea of considering things in a different way. When I saw the photo below, it captured my intention.
"Respond to every call that excites your spirit." -Rumi
What excites your spirit? What makes you want to work harder so that you can lay a road for others to follow? What makes you want to be more? What makes you pause and consider who you are becoming?

I want our fraternity and sorority community to be a place where all of those questions are asked. A place where, together, the answers are explored. I want to see us thinking and considering more than this moment. I want us to feel valued, connected, not so alone and isolated. I ventured into the land of Facebook and posed these questions. Below are some excerpts of the responses I received.
  • The opportunity to create something that solves a problem or issue excites my spirit most. ... When we solve problems, the solution can become the tool for those behind us to build with. 
  • People who have laid the road before me AND reached back, grabbed my hand and said, "You're coming! And you can do it!"
  • (Knowing) that what I was doing was helping someone else. Even just one person, knowing that what I am doing is even making someone think or reflect - even if they're not putting that into action- that makes me want to keep doing what I am doing. 
  • Knowing that each hour is a new hour and each day is a new day. Each minute is an opportunity to start over...  want to not just be myself, but be the best me that I can possibly be. I want to be a trailblazer. 
  • I find the most thrilling moments come from doing something new and doing it well.
  • Knowing that what I do creates a more level playing field, a more just world.
What I appreciate about these responses is that they are grounded in possibility. They all reflect movement, change, discovery. These are the important things to remember. This is our focus. Not referrals to the Greek Discipline Board, struggles with those not attending things when they are supposed to, not who said what to whom. This is the perspective I choose to have. This is the place that I want us to go. Now, today, and each day thereafter.