You Can Develop Resilience

I chose to use this quote to talk about resilience when the world is on edge due to the Coronavirus.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 

Chinese Proverb –

No, the irony is not lost on me.

In its own way, this proverb says a lot about resilience.

As leaders, we cannot stand up one day and say, “Today, we are going to be resilient.” It takes time, it takes effort, it takes practice.

I’ve been involved in Information Technology disaster recovery in some way, shape, or form for over 30 years.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you must be prepared. Being prepared means:

  • planning ahead.
  • putting processes and procedures in place.
  • testing the plan.

These same principles apply to personal resilience, team resilience, and organizational resilience.

Is your organization ready?

Is your team ready?

Are you ready?

Five Keys to Resilience

Building resilience in your team is much like building resilience in yourself.

Your team needs to learn when:

  1. faced with insurmountable odds, change the narrative;
  2. a retreat is not an option, face their fears;
  3. they are physically and mentally exhausted, take time to rest;
  4. each day brings new challenges, reflect on the day but move ahead; 
  5. mistakes occur, don’t hold grudges – instead forgive. 

Change the Narrative

We’ve all heard the axiom, usually attributed to Einstein, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Nowhere is this truer than in the practice of building resilience.

To change the narrative, try changing your perspective as you look at a problem.

We tend to get myopic as we struggle with a problem; by elevating our view, we get a different perspective (picture climbing a hill to observe the landscape ahead).

Many times this process reveals a different path forward.

Face your fears

Our brain has a way of showing us the worst possible outcome of a situation, even if that outcome isn’t all that probable.

Many times retreat (or procrastination, or avoidance) is not an option, and in fact, can lead to a worse outcome. Take that step and move forward with confidence.

By facing our fears, we build confidence; confidence builds resilience.

Facing our fears does not mean we are not afraid, but it means we are strong enough to move forward despite being afraid. 

Rest

Sounds simple enough.

Our bodies and our minds get tired. We need time to recharge and our teams need time to recharge.

When faced with a challenge, rest can be just what we need.

This may be taking a break from an intense project by sending your team home early or even giving them an extra day off.

It may seem counterintuitive to rest with a deadline looming, but you and your team will come back the next day reinvigorated and ready to attack the problem head-on. 

Reflect

Reflection is not the same as rest. It helps to spend time reflecting on the day and on its challenges.

Some may use journaling (or blogging), some may use meditation, and some may use yoga or running.

The key is to think back over your day. What worked – and what didn’t? How did you react and why? What would you do differently the next time?

Writing down your reflections enables you to review them and learn from them in the future.

As your perspectives change, so too will the lessons in your reflections. 

Forgive

This may seem out of place in a post about resilience, but not holding grudges – and not letting others’ mistakes eat you up – will help you be more resilient.

This is true for us as individuals and for teams.

Others are going to make mistakes.

Others are going to let us down.

Holding grudges merely serves to build walls and silos in an organization.

Forgive and move on! 

Do You Feel Resilient?

If you don’t feel resilient, or you don’t believe your team is resilient, now is the time to develop the necessary skills.

Don’t wait another day.

Resilience is something you should continue to develop: learn the skills; put processes in place; and practice, practice practice.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

How do you practice being resilient? 

 

The question of a good or bad boss started with a phone call from a business colleague, who also happens to be a reader of this newsletter.

I had just hosted a podcast titled “Powerful Lessons from Bad Bosses” in which I interviewed John Rouda. In the episode, we traded some war stories about some of the horrible bosses we have had in our careers. The business colleague raised an interesting question and a challenge. 

The Boss Question?

Why is it that some aspiring leaders are more focused on not exhibiting the negative traits of bad bosses instead of focusing on the positive traits of the good ones? 

The Boss Challenge?

Write a post encouraging leaders to model good leaders and mentors. 

My Initial Reaction

Maybe it is human nature…the negative is more memorable than the positive.

Just watch the evening news…storms, fires, accidents, political discord…it grabs our attention. The feel-good story is cute but draws little reaction. It certainly doesn’t draw in an audience. 

Perhaps a bad boss impacts us in the same way. 

Perhaps, it is because the pain and discomfort caused by a bad boss hit our psyches deeper than the affirmations we receive from a good boss. 

I thought back on my own career. I have had some truly bad bosses. They certainly are memorable.

I once had a boss tell me to fire one of my team members because they walked too slowly across the parking lot. “If they walk that slow, they must code that slow”.

Have those bosses impacted my leadership style?

Without a doubt!

Did I consciously try to avoid the methods that I viewed as “bad”?

I most certainly did. 

The Bad Boss Characteristics

I have had a lot of bosses during my career, some good, some bad, some a little bit of both. I’ve tried to learn from all of them… 

  • Micromanager?

I try to provide an environment of autonomy. I love the way one of my bosses described his style, “autonomy with accountability”.

Great way to counterbalance the Micromanager. 

  • RIP (Retired in Place)?

Now that I have reached the twilight of my own career, I certainly do not want to be remembered as RIP.

I would rather be remembered like a boss that continually tried to battle the status quo, to inspire a team to greatness, a boss who would always go to bat for the team. 

  • Tyrant?

Never. Not my personality.

If management and leadership involved belittling those around me, I wanted no part of it. I try to be patient, I try to be kind, I try to be encouraging.

I’d rather coach and teach than yell and scream! 

The Good Boss Characteristics

  • Servant?

Absolutely!

In the early 2000s, I was introduced to the Servant Leader, through the book by the same name. That was the type of leader I wanted to be.

I have had several bosses during my career that I would describe as servant leaders. Their focus was on us, their team. They:

  1. cared about our careers.
  2. cared about us.
  3. removed roadblocks.
  4. held us accountable.
  • Mentor?

A resounding yes!

I have had some wonderful mentors throughout my career. Some were my boss, most were not. Some probably didn’t even know I thought of them as mentors.

I continue to work with mentors, even while mentoring others. To me, it is one of the best ways to learn. I think I learn more from those I mentor than they ever learn from me. 

  • Strategic?

Transformational? Sign me up!

Those leaders who have a vision, can articulate that vision, can lead us toward that vision are the leaders I will follow anywhere!

That is the type of leader I strive to be each and every day. I don’t always succeed. It takes time, energy, and a perspective of the future. 

The Question and the Challenge

I believe it takes both.

I wish all managers were great leaders.

That fact is, not all of them are. We can:

  • learn from both.
  • learn what to do…and what NOT to do.
  • observe, we tune, we seek feedback. 

I would love to hear from you.

What type of boss has impacted you the most?

What have you learned from your bosses…good, bad?

How do you encourage those around you to learn and grow as leaders?

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

What is your vision for the future

Do you know your vision?

I’ve spoken about connections to the past quite often. Vision plays a role.

Call them connections, call them reminders, call them divine coincidences, sometimes the universe ties events of the past with things transpiring today. Sometimes they are “huh, that was interesting” moments and sometimes they hold powerful lessons if we choose to look. 

I subscribe to the newsletter series by Jason Barnaby of Fire Starters (if you don’t subscribe, you should). Jason sends out quick thoughts three times a week. In his Monday blast (aptly titled M3 – Monday Morning Motivation), a few weeks ago Jason spoke of vision, but not just vision. Repeated here, with permission, Jason said:

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

“If you serve a magnificent God, do you have a magnificent vision to match?”

“These are two quotes by T.D. Jakes from the Global Leadership Summit several years ago that I think about at least once a week. They had a PROFOUND effect on my life’s direction and what I am doing now with Fire Starters Inc.”

Even if you aren’t a person of faith, the question of magnificent vision still applies.

So how is your vision for what you are currently doing and hope to do in the future?

      • Are you happening to it or is it happening to you?
      • Are you being proactive or reactive?
      • Worse yet, are you living someone else’s vision for your life? 

You have gifts, talents, abilities, experience, wisdom, and insight that the world is waiting on and desperately needs.

As many of Jason’s posts do…it got me thinking.

I talk to Information Technology departments (and HR and Marketing departments, too) a lot about vision.

We discuss how to create one, how to communicate it and how to define and execute strategies to achieve it.

But…

What about my own vision?

Is it a magnificent vision?

And, what of leadership?

What of my leadership? 

Wow, pretty heady stuff for a Monday morning! But this post is about connections, right?

Then it happened.

My son, Brad, was dropping off his son, Jordan, for another fabulous day with grandma. When he arrived, he handed me a folder. “Mom found this as she and Randy were packing for their move. She thought you might want it.” 

In the folder was a picture. The picture was taken about 34 years ago. A picture of my dad, holding on to my two sons, Jeremy and Brad.

A vision I could follow

Having just visited my dad the day before lying in bed at the nursing home, seeing the fifty-five-year-old version of my dad was a bit shocking, to say the least.

The man in that picture is six years younger than I am today. Yet in a 35-year blink of an eye, he is nearing the end of his journey. 

The folder also contained an old newspaper. A copy of the Indiana Baptist Observer from December 1995. There on page one was a letter from my dad to the American Baptist Churches of Indiana reflecting upon his pending retirement on the 31st of that month. In it, he reflects back on his 40 years in the ministry with the realization that his calling, the calling he had been following his entire career (and perhaps his entire life), was a call to lead.

Dad was a great preacher, teacher, coach, and counselor, yet, his calling was to lead…and lead he did! 

Though he never used the words “magnificent vision” (or, even vision for that matter), what jumped off the page to me was his magnificent vision for the churches he served and for the denomination organizations he led. He had a vision for what they could be and what they could accomplish.

Others followed too 

He also wrote of his vision for the future of the church, the challenges ahead, and the need for a new generation of leaders to help the church navigate that future.

Jason’s quote of T.D. Jakes rang in my ears.

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

Gene Ton would say,

“If you are being called to lead, why aren’t you listening to that call to lead?”

Whether it is for a church, a business, or your family, friends, and organizations…quit sitting back waiting on others: lead, my friend, lead!

You might be surprised how many others believe in your vision, too. 

#AmplifyYourLeadershipOn the eve of their first North American tour in four years, a tour projected to make 100s of millions in revenue for the band, the Stones abruptly announced they were postponing the tour. Within hours, Jagger himself (well, whoever manages his Facebook account) took to Facebook to apologize to fans: 

“I’m so sorry to all our fans in America & Canada with tickets. I really hate letting you down like this.

I’m devastated for having to postpone the tour but I will be working very hard to be back on stage as soon as I can. Once again, huge apologies to everyone.”

Resiliency Like Jagger #AmplifyYourLeadership

 

It wasn’t long before rumors began to spread…it was health related…it was Jagger’s health…it was Jagger’s heart. Within days, the official announcement was given. Jagger, age 75, was to undergo a heart valve replacement. Fans around the world (and in Indianapolis) were on pins and needles waiting for word. Soon, a picture of Mick walking in the garden a few days post-op appeared. Then the rescheduling of the tour was announced. Finally a video of Mick rehearsing his Jagger moves…but still we wondered, on stage, in front of thousands, for hours on end, could he still move like Jagger? 

Finally, opening night. Soldier Field, Chicago. 61,000 of our closest friends. All with that question in our heads. I’ve got to think the band was asking the question, even Jagger himself. Jagger didn’t wait long, shortly into their first number, “Street Fighting Man”, he pranced the stage and the runway. You could almost see the sense of relief on the faces of the Stones. Charlie’s grin said it all: “He’s OK, we are OK.” 

“Resiliency Like Jagger” probably wouldn’t be a hit like “Moves Like Jagger” was for Maroon 5, yet there are some lessons we as leaders can take from the Rolling Stones front-man. 

Resilient: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. Check! No better example of resiliency than a 75 year-old performing like a 30 year-old 2 ½ months post-op. As leaders, we must be resilient. Our teams are watching us. We have to lead through the successes and setbacks. How we react will serve as a model for our followers. It’s not about ignoring adversity and hoping it goes away. It is about acknowledging it and attacking it head on. 

Empathetic:  the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Check! Just re-read his post made shortly after the postponement. “I’m so sorry”…”hate letting you down”…”devastated”. He understood our feelings, he made us feel like he was sharing in those feelings. For a leader, empathy is a critical skill. Those around us want to know that we feel what they feel, that we understand the challenges they face, that we are in those challenges with them, side-by-side. 

Communicative: ready to talk or impart information. Check! Jagger and his team took us through the journey. The announcement, the apology, and the progress. They shared the why, they shared the plan, and they shared the results. The old adage “Communicate early and often” is truer today than ever before. It builds trust. It creates confidence. It develops understanding. Communication is not a one and done. Leaders who master the art of effective communication will be able to lead their followers through adversity. 

Committed: feeling dedication and loyalty to a cause, activity, or job; wholeheartedly dedicated. Check! The Stones could have cancelled the tour altogether. Jagger could have said I’m done. It’s not worth it. After all, they’ve been doing it for over 50 years. They certainly don’t need the money. They showed commitment and dedication to their craft, to their love of music and to us, their fans. Know a leader who gives up in the face of a challenge? They won’t be a leader long. Commitment to the vision, commitment to the mission, is vital for our followers. If we change plans every time the going gets tough, our teams will get frustrated and give up. 

There you have it. Your moves like Jagger! Resiliency, Empathy, Communication and Commitment. Let me ask you. Are you ready as a leader? Are you ready to bust your moves like Jagger? 

 

The hustle and bustle of business travelers grabbing the hotel breakfast before they headed out to this meeting or that meeting barely registered in my consciousness as I mentally prepared for my fourth talk in four days. After finishing my oatmeal, I googled Top Golf, the location of my talk later that morning, and checked the drive time…nine minutes. “Still plenty of time to rehearse a couple more times before heading out”, I thought to myself. 

After rehearsing in front of the hotel room mirror (timing myself with the clock app), I checked-out on my phone (I love technology!), and headed to the parking garage to jump in the rental car. Having spent some time in the area, I had driven past the Top Golf many times. Their giant nets jutting up into the sky are hard to miss. Being unfamiliar with the highway system and traffic patterns however, I pulled up my calendar app, opened the meeting invitation and clicked on the address of the event to navigate by GPS. Still about nine minutes drive time. I fired up the podcast I’d been listening to last night when I’d arrived and headed out.

Expecting to turn left at the first traffic light, I was a little confused when Google said to go straight at the intersection. Hmmm, must be routing me around some heavy traffic. I’d gotten into trouble before when I thought I knew better the Google. In a few minutes when it directed me to merge onto the interstate heading east, it seemed odd. I knew the Top Golf was west of the hotel…or I thought I knew. Surely, Google knew how to get me there, besides, it now said six minutes to destination. I kept driving. Maybe there is more than one Top Golf in the area?

The map showed my exit approaching. Exit right, turn left and go over the Interstate, turn left again on the frontage road and I’ll be at Top Golf. I glanced to my left, expecting to see the familiar netting stanchions, but only saw blue skies above an office building. More confused than ever, I dutifully followed the route guidance. A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination. Not only wasn’t it a Top Golf, it was a residential neighborhood. I pulled into one of the side streets and stopped. 

Now What?

I googled Top Golf and it said I was 14 minutes away. What is going on? At least now my technology was telling me to drive west, which made far more sense to me than heading east. Within a few minutes I passed my hotel and several minutes after that, I saw the familiar netting of my destination.

I’d been listening to a podcast about the various ways great speakers mentally prepare themselves on the way to deliver their message. Some want silence, some want a playlist, none listed getting lost by blindly following a GPS as a way to prepare. I was thankful, I had left plenty of time to navigate here from the hotel. The thought, “must have been a bug in the interface between the Calendar app and the Maps app that took me the wrong way”, crossed my mind as I walked into the venue.

Ironically, my talk that morning was to a group of Information Technology leaders and the theme was driving your value in this amazing time of technology evolution. As way of an example, one of the questions I ask is “how many of you used your GPS to come to the event today?” As I got to that part of my talk, I had to chuckle to myself about my morning.

That afternoon, still curious about what went wrong, I discovered the issue. The address on the meeting invitation was missing the first digit of the address. It was a mere coincidence that the error resulted in the exact same nine minutes of drive time, in the opposite direction. Somehow, the fact that it was human error made me feel better about blindly following directions that I knew in my gut to be wrong.

Later, as I drove home (heading east correctly this time), I had time to think. There had to be a lesson in this experience.  A lesson beyond, “Ton you are a dumbass for relying solely on technology and not your gut instinct!”

Leaders and Followers

Leaders need followers and followers need leaders. Sometimes leaders are followers and sometimes followers are leaders. As a follower, we have the responsibility to use our brains (and our guts). We don’t just follow blindly. Verify the facts. Reach our own conclusions. If our conclusion differs from that of the leader, respectfully ask why. It is our choice to follow. If the why rings true, or the consequences of not following outweigh the discord in our guts then follow. However, when the facts don’t align, and we have asked our “why”, we know our truth, we have the right not to follow, and, in fact, become a leader ourselves.

As a leader, we have a responsibility as well. In this data driven world, we have to acknowledge data can be wrong. When our gut is telling us one thing and the data is telling us something entirely different, we must pause and ask why, we must verify the facts. If we still reach the same decision, then so be it. We will not always be right, but we will know we used the data available to us and we will know our “why”. We then have the obligation to explain our “why” to those who follow us, so that they too, understand the decision, even if they disagree with it. Those that share our belief in the “why” will follow. Those that don’t, won’t…and that’s OK.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a class of college students at IUPUI. We discussed a wide variety of topics including: globalization, outsourcing, culture, career choices and professional networking. It was the latter topic that got me in trouble. You see, I mentioned Twitter. My comment was met with some laughter, some eye rolls and almost in unison, “no one uses Twitter any more. It’s for Olds.”

Olds, now there’s a new one. Olds. I needed no explanation for what it meant. One need to look no further than the gray highlights in my hair and beard to know I fit squarely in the definition of Olds. UGH! Somehow this stung a bit more than being introduced last year as one of the “elder statesmen” of the Information Technology community. THAT came from one of my peers. This came from a group of students young enough to be my grandkids. OK, so yes I am an Olds.

Now, back to Twitter. Ok, class. You may be off using one of the myriad of applications that have replaced Twitter in the thumbs of your generation. But I am not talking about connecting with your peers. I’m talking about connecting with us Olds. Those of us who are in leadership and management positions, those of us who will be hiring you in May when you graduate. Why is connecting with us on Twitter (and LinkedIn) important? To learn. For all of us to learn. Here’s what I mean.

Leveraging the information shared on Twitter is an excellent way to keep up with today’s business news. Much of the tech news I read is a result of a link being shared on Twitter. If Isaac, or Charlie, or Paul or one of the other few thousand people I follow wrote new content, I want to read it. But it is also not about what they wrote, but what the read and found important enough to share it with me (as a member of their network). It’s up to the minute, fresh, it gives you a glimpse into what they are thinking.

I follow a Twitter list. The 100 Most Social CIOs. Imagine that. I can get a peek inside the mind of 100 CIOs in an instant. Just today, here are some of the topics:

It is a way to keep track of an industry (technology) that is changing at an exponential pace!

Some of my most trusted mentors, I “met” on Twitter. I started following them, reading what they shared. Re-Tweeted them, adding my own thoughts. Direct messaged them with questions. Slowing built relationships. Some of them I have now met in person during my travels, some I have interviewed for blog series, others I have interviewed on our podcast.

I also follow our company. I want to see what others are saying about us. Are our products meeting their needs or not? Are we living up to their standards? Who is interacting with our company posts? What things are on their minds? I follow our major competitors for much of the same reasons.

Need another reason to hang out with us Olds on Twitter? When you are interviewing for that dream job, how about following the company. What are they Tweeting about? Who is interacting with their Tweets? Are people generally reacting in a positive manor, or is the Twittersphere full of bad customer services Tweets? Find out the names of the people who are interviewing you. Follow them on Twitter, what things are they thinking about? How do those things apply to the position you are seeking? You can work those topics into your answers during the interview.

Follow people that are in similar roles and other companies. What things are on their mind? Reach to them directly. Find out what’s a “day in the life” of that position. It can be valuable information and it will set you apart from the hundreds, if not the thousands of candidates vying for that same position. You will be amazed how willing they will be to help.

Keeping up with your peers is important. I am not suggesting you abandon the channels you use to stay in touch, I am suggesting you give Twitter another chance as you enter the workforce. It will be a valuable tool for your career.

Now, I’m going to go back to my Rolling Stones music and reminisce about the forty years that have passed since I sat where you are sitting. (btw HOW old is Jagger?)

(Image courtesy of www.ClassicCarCatalogue.com) 

#AmplifyYourLeadership

 

Many of you are also subscribers to my newsletter (“What? You have a newsletter”, you ask? Why yes, I do. You can sign up here), let me start again. Those of you who read my January newsletter saw the 2019 goal I have set for myself to write my next book. The book will be Amplify Your Leadership, in it I will explore ten traits of a leader and the actions you can take to grow as a leader.

Some of you have heard my keynote address “Everything I Learned About Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark”. This book will build upon those themes and ideas to serve as a guide as you explore what it means to be a leader in your own life (professional and personal).

This is where you come in! I need your stories. Have a story of a great (or not-so-great) leader? I would love to hear from you. No, you don’t need to write like Ernest Hemingway. Just tell me the story. If it is one I select to be included in the book, we can set up a time to talk live, I will take furious notes, and then wordsmith for the manuscript. Of course, I will give you full acknowledgement in the book (how cool is that?!!?).

Here’s how I envision this working. Periodically, I will post here and in my newsletter (you do remember I have a newsletter, right?) asking for stories related to a specific trait of a leader. If you have an example of a leader in your life (or you yourself) exhibiting that trait (or not exhibiting that trait) just jot a few sentences (or paragraphs, if you like) and either leave it in the comments or send me an email at Jeff@JeffreySTon.com.

Our journey will delve into these ten traits of a leader:

A Leader:

is Transparent
is Honest and Truthful
is Accountable
is Patient
Seeks Input
is Committed
has Integrity and Character
Admits Mistakes (aka vulnerable)
is Flexible
Takes Risks

If one or more of these sparks an idea in your mind, you don’t have to wait until I post about that specific trait…send me your story today!

Are you ready? Let’s start with: Transparency.

BusinessDictionary.com defines transparency as:

  1. See-through, clear piece of acetate used for projecting data, diagrams, and text onto a screen with an overhead projector.
    2. Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.
    3. Minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verification.
    4. Essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.

    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/transparency.html 

OK, we can probably throw out the first one for our purposes. But, does anyone remember using those crazy overhead projectors and transparencies? As I think about leaders and transparency, I tend to focus (like how I did that, overhead projectors…focus…) on the second definition, but, the third can really come into play as well.

Who, in your experience, has exhibited transparency and what did that help drive in your business or life? Have you worked for someone who was not transparent? What did that cause in your organization?

Send me your stories!

“Bueller. Bueller.”

 

by Courtney Joy Jemison

Today, I am excited to feature a guest post from Courtney Joy Jemison. Courtney and I “met” on social media. She reached out on Twitter after seeing some of my posts for People Development Magazine. As I read some of her posts, her messages resonated with me, and I believe they will resonate with you. Read more about Courtney at the end of this post. 

I’m on autopilot—completely lost in thought as I turn left down the main street I always take to get home.

Copyright Matt Choquette via Sapulpa Times

The street is unusually busy.

Reality slowly peels me from my pensive musing, but by the time the anomaly registers, it’s too late. I’m forced to a stop and I’m surrounded.

There’s a line of cars on my left, a brick wall to my right, a barricade of people in front of me, and a line of cars forming behind me. The neighborhood homecoming parade is slowly snaking through the blocked-off roadway. Not yet committed to the worst-case scenario, I lean forward and strain to see if the tail-end of this slithering sea is visible.

It’s not.

I throw my car into park and sit back. I’m conflicted. One part of me is nostalgic as I see the tubas towering over the proud populace. I remember the pride of being part of the marching band in the high school homecoming parade. The disciplined pace of your feet perfectly in sync with your musical comrades. The tight cadences of the snares and bass drums resonating in the streets—those streets that were specially blocked off just for us.

But the other part of me just wants to get home to see my babies. I become overly aware of the seconds ticking away, cutting into my precious time with them, and frustration overtakes me. I whip out my phone and write a stingingly sarcastic and defeated text message to my husband, whom—would you even believe it—has zero control over my ability to get home any faster. Nevertheless, the reasonless emotions have descended and deceive me into thinking that venting will somehow help.

In situations like these, our human nature tends to focus on finding someone with whom we can share the struggle rather than finding a solution to the problem at hand.

I become annoyingly aware of this truth and after my snippety text message, I’m feeling convicted. I know better than this. I made a vow at the beginning of the year to eliminate the negativity and instead, look for opportunity. Committed to upholding this vow, I turn to look behind me and I see an entrance to a neighborhood just 200 feet away.

I pull up the map on my phone and follow this street all the way through the neighborhood and out to the main road. I look behind me again and see that the line of cars I thought was a mile long is actually only three cars deep (amazing how negativity can augment “manageable” to “unattainable” so quickly in the mind). With only three cars in the queue, I know I could walk up to each and coordinate a streamlined reversal into this neighborhood starting at the back of the line. I realize if I’m going to do this, I have to act now before this becomes a logistical impossibility. A fourth car pulls in, seemingly mocking my indecisiveness and further threatening the ease of escape. All at once, my will breaks through my paralysis and I jump out of the car.

I walk up to each one of the drivers with confidence and purpose (mostly to convince myself that this is going to work). One by one, I deliver the hopeful news that if we all back up and turn into this neighborhood, it will conveniently take us out to the main road. You’d think this promising solution for escape would be received with enthusiasm. Man, was I as wrong as the girl who shows up to her friend’s wedding ceremony dressed in white. I was amazed to find that it was like talking to zombies that had to be snapped out of their tunnel vision. And in two out of the four encounters, I got push-back from people stating that they lived in the neighborhood just beyond the parade. I stayed upbeat and smiled as I assured them this road could lead them to those neighborhoods as well.

It’s incredible how committed we can be to the struggle even when opportunity is so clearly in front of us (or behind us, in this case).

Ultimately and thankfully, I was able to convince these four drivers to trust me and they began backing up one by one. We all managed to successfully slip the parade perimeter and make it out to the main road where opportunities were now closer to endless. I took an alternate route home and only ended up about 15 minutes passed my usual arrival time, greeted by those wonderful baby smiles and a husband genuinely surprised that my plan worked.

********************

Up until my recent pledge to reprogram my pessimistic tendencies, I was the person that always had a reason for why something wouldn’t work. I’m ashamed to say that this was actually something I used to be proud of. I, of course, never saw this behavior as negative. I saw it as responsibly reasoning through something and giving a realistic assessment of how it would most likely play out.

Pessimistic people love this about themselves. They think they’re healthily dosing circumstances with a realistic prognosis, when in reality, they’re conceding victories and solutions yet to be realized by calling time of death prematurely.

Optimists, on the other hand, create their own realities. They shape their lives and their futures through proactive thinking, consistent habits, good decisions, and positive outlooks. They aren’t paralyzed by likelihoods and potentialities, rather, this energizes them to embrace new direction and forge new paths in their lives.

Optimism breeds creativity and creativity breeds solutions.

Knowing that, let’s immediately sever the socially acceptable pairing of optimism and naiveté. Naiveté is ignorantly swearing allegiances and blindly forming conclusions. So, let’s not fold the rotten fruit in with a perfectly promising batch of dough. Consider optimism for what it really is—a very powerful tool. And when it is employed as such, it can serve as an objective and creative filter through which all possibilities are considered before a final decision is made. It gives one the emotional and intellectual flexibility to entertain many different perspectives and outcomes, thus engendering the creative solutions that the pessimist is incapable of arriving at.

Caution: the conclusions healthy optimists reach also engender responsibility. This is what the pessimist is so skillful at avoiding. If they can suppress innovation and write off potential solutions from the outset, then they’ve successfully skirted the responsibility to bear them and see them through.

So, contrary to popular opinion, optimism is the more remarkable show of mental fortitude. It takes courage, discipline, and grit to shoulder the risks and responsibilities that come with being dedicated to problem solving.

So, the next time you feel the urge to pipe up in dissent, ask yourself, “Am I assessing or am I solving?

Challenge yourself to lock up your input unless it includes solutions. And always remember:

 

Negativity concedes the victory.

Optimism fights for victory.

 

Negativity assesses reality.

Optimism creates reality.

 

Negativity suppresses potential.

Optimism embraces potential.

 

Optimism, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.

 

Courtney Joy JemisonCourtney Joy Jemison

Courtney is wife to her unwavering solid rock and safe place, John, and mom to two beautiful quarter Koreans, Olivia and Ethan. She is the Chief Creative Officer at Jonah Digital Agency in Texas and a passionate writer on the topics of emotional intelligence and selfless leadership. You can find her thoughts regularly posted on www.courtneyjoy.com and to her Instagram account @courtneyjoy. 

On June 13, 2o17 I was honored to be the headliner for Sparks Talk’s Fifth Anniversary. The transcript of this timed-talk follows. 

It’s 1780, August. You are a young Shawnee teen. Early in the afternoon you climb up the ridge east of the village and look down across the valley. The summer sun beats down relentlessly on the  village. The air is still, smoke from smoldering cooking fires creates a cloud throughout the clearing and tickles your nostrils as you breathe. Along the base of the hill, several small cabins form a circle. To the east a stockade sits atop the next hill. Fields of corn stretch for miles in each direction along the lazy river.

Some of the younger children play in the dirt near several of the cabins. Mothers keep a watchful eye while they go about their chores in preparation for the evening meal.

A dog wanders between the cabins, its tongue drooping from its mouth as it pants.  It enters the cool shade of a doorway, only to reemerge a second later with a yelp as one of the men inside swats at it so the council meeting is not disturbed.

Inside the cabin, the men are engaged in a great debate. The sound of their voices drift up along with the smoke.

You see motion in the corn…you see the flash before you…Crack! The sound of gunfire shatters the afternoon stillness.  Soon war cries filled the air from the west of the village. The long knives have arrived! The smell of burnt gunpowder mixed with the smoke of the fires and burns your eyes.

Why I was standing in a park in the middle of Ohio reading an historical marker on July 4, 2000 is a story for another day. What we are going to explore today are the connections. The connections that drew me to the past and propelled me into the future.

The sign I was reading was in a park dedicated to the Battle of Piqua. A battle between the Kentucky militia led by George Rogers Clark against a tribe of the Shawnee nation. What boy from Indiana doesn’t feel a connection to George Rogers Clark?

I read more of the markers. One was dedicated in 1976. I graduated high school in 1976. Connection.

A Shawnee boy survived the battle. His name was Tecumseh. I attended Camp Tecumseh YMCA camp as a kid. Connection.

Tecumseh grew up and along with his brother, The Prophet, led the Indian forces in the The Battle of Tippecanoe near Lafayette against the US forces led by William Henry Harrison. In 1976 I graduated from…William Henry Harrison High School…connection. The name of our school newspaper? The Prophet! Connection!

I hated history class in high school…and now I was hooked. Over the next decade, Carmen and I would spend every minute of vacation retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition. You see, Clark was the younger brother of George Rogers Clark. We discovered dozens and dozens of connections. We discovered a deep love for our country, and we discovered a shared love of history. In a sense, newlyweds when we embarked on these journeys, we discovered each other. Ah, but I’m not here to talk about our love story either, for that, you have to wait until my book “The Lewis and Clark Will Never Die Tour” is published!

All these connections are interesting…and we could talk about them all night…well, for another 6 minutes or so. But, what if I could show you how you could use those connections with the past to live in the present and plan for the future? Now THAT would be really interesting!

For the last five years, did you catch that connection? Five years…same time Sparks was launching. I told you connections with the past are everywhere, anyway, five years ago, I started working with an executive coach. Dr. Dan Miller’s approach to coaching is something he calls Creative Conversations. Through these conversations we study the life, or river as Dan calls them, of an historical figure and discuss points in their lives and how they relate to a problem or a challenge I am wrestling with today.

Over this time span, we have studied Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, William Sherman and Abraham Lincoln, albeit briefly. One of the interesting aspects of immersing yourself in history this way is the number of connections you will discover. Now I know those connections were always there, the study just raised your awareness of them.

When we embarked on our exploration of the Roosevelt River, our theme was Communication, Speaking Truth to Authority and Creating an Environment of Candor. The struggle to speak truth to authority was deeply ingrained. I grew up the son of a baptist minister. Children of the minister were to be seen and not heard, you certainly didn’t speak truth to his authority, especially when his authority was HIS authority!

Roosevelt ALWAYS spoke truth to authority. For him it seemed to come naturally. The lessons over the year were endless. However,, one the stuck out for me was his use of gestures. He was a master at using a gesture to make his point. I realized my dad, was a master of using gestures in his sermons. In some ways I adopted my favorite gesture of his, that of getting out from behind the podium and walking about to engage the audience. However, the key lesson here wasn’t the gesture itself, it was when to NOT use the familiar gesture to make a point. To stop walking around the platform and stop, freeze, and make a point.

As my career progressed and I began to be seen as a leader not just of my team, or even of my company, but in the community, this leadership in a new stage need exploration. Enter Dwight D. Eisenhower and the exploration of adapting to new issues and working with different stakeholders. What better model to use than the military man that rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Allied Forces in WWII and then on to the presidency. Moving from a command and control organization to one of politics and influence.

As Eisenhower established his leadership he saw a connection to two seemingly unrelated advances in warfare. This first was the mechanization of, well, just about everything. The Cavalries of WWI were a thing of the past, but unlike horses, jeeps and trucks need fuel. He leveraged that in his battle plans both for his forces and against the enemy. At the same time aircraft became a strategic part of warfare. Eisenhower was able to see the relationship between the two in a way few others did. For me, as an IT leader, it was about the cloud. But not the cloud alone, it was what it could bring when it was joined with organization agility. Together the two can have a multiplying effect. Look for the relationships in the seemingly unrelated!

Our final example come from the life of William T. Sherman, the civil war general. William Tecumseh Sherman…see how I did that? Connections! The theme we explored is “A Plan is a Contract between the past and the future”. Sherman had a plan. Sherman had a grand plan. His plan didn’t always work. He learned, he adjusted, and ultimately succeeded.

Sherman was involved in two battles near the town of Chickasaw Bluffs. In the first he suffered an embarrassing defeat. Some time later, he and Grant attacked the forces at Chickasaw Bluffs and were successful. Grant had used a strategy Sherman thought would never work. He saw, he learned and he acknowledged. We need to support and observe other leaders and other strategies, and adapt our plans for the future.

These are but a few of the lessons of the last five years. Connections to the past are all around us. Lessons from the past out boundless, and ever changing. Even now as I write this, I see new insights, new lessons, and opportunities to impact the future. As you look back over the last five years, over the last 50 years, 100 years, longer, what connections reveal themselves? What lessons are there to be learned in the present to plan for the future?

I am very excited to have a guest blogger for this installment of Rivers of Thought. This is from the pen (ok, keyboard) of a great storyteller. I have been after him for MONTHS to write a post for Rivers of Thought. This storyteller is none other than my cousin, Kenn Beckwith.

Kenn and I were pretty close as cousins go, even though he grew up in Milwaukee and I grew up in Indiana. A couple years ago we reconnected after being out of touch for DECADES! As we have gotten to know each other’s life journey, it is remarkable the similarity in our paths. So without further ado:

family, leadership, #AllLivesMatterIt was last October.

I was late for a meeting.

Traffic was heavy.

I was in the HOV lane because I can afford to pay the toll.

I was driving 69 in a 55.

I was pulled over.

As the trooper approached the car I had my license and insurance in my hand waiting for him. He took them and went back to the squad car. I have a clean record, but was bracing for an expensive fine.

Upon his return he noticed the windows of my recently purchased car and observed they were darkly tinted. After checking the glass with a gauge, he confirmed they were too dark. I explained I had just purchased the car and he told me to take it back to the dealer to rectify.

He then noticed my low tire pressure warning light was illuminated. I told him I had just swapped tires and the sensor had yet to sync. He walked around the car to check for himself.

He then handed me a warning ticket for the entire episode. He was polite, helpful, and in all ways, represented his profession well. I thanked him for the warning; since then I’ve slowed down and I’ve told this story many times.

I’m white.

A few nights ago ago a 33-year old man, his girlfriend, and 4-year old daughter were leaving a grocery store and were pulled over due to a broken tail light. We all know what happened thereafter. I used to have a carry permit – this man did exactly what I was trained to do – he notified the officer.

He’s dead now.

He was black.

I do not pretend to know what it is like to live as a black man in our society. Every time we add one more body to the count of dead people we hear the words “black lives matter.” Then we hear well-meaning people say “all lives matter.” As President Obama said yesterday, “you cannot ignore the data.”

The one question crashing around my brain every time I’ve told the story of my traffic stop has been, “would I have had the same experience if I had not been a 59-year old white male driving a nice car?”

No answers – just sad about the state of our country.

 

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