Do You First Notice How We’re Alike? Or Different?

October 14, 2014

When you first meet someone, what do you first notice?

Do you see ways we are different? Or do you focus on things we share in common?

Earlier in life, I tended to see first the differences between others and myself. With maturity and experience, though, I’ve learned instinctively to look at those things which make us alike. Life is so much better that way. Here’s why:

Advantages of focusing on commonalities

  1. Collaboration. Instead of thinking win-lose, I am able to begin visualizing partnerships where we can create synergy. Through collaboration, we all come out ahead and are able to create something none of us could have achieved on our own.
  2. Confidence. When I refrain from needless comparisons, I am able to recognize and celebrate strengths and competencies wherever they are found—in me or in someone else. The non-competitive stance makes me more secure in who I uniquely am, allowing others to feel more confident in their interactions with me.
  3. Growth. I’m walking along the same “life path” as others, though perhaps we are at different places along the way. Our shared journey creates opportunities where we can learn from each other. We can encourage each other through the difficult times. We can grow together and reach new horizons.

Disadvantages of focusing on differences

  1. Isolation. The more I focus on the divisions that separate us, the higher the walls become between me and the rest of the world. It would become very lonely to be incarcerated inside those walls.
  2. Competition. Seeing differences in others prompts us to make value judgments. We constantly evaluate which one of us is better, smarter, richer or stronger. We inevitably compete for superiority.
  3. Inferiority. When we notice differences first, we operate from a deeper sense of insecurity and inferiority. The more we compare ourselves with others, the more inadequate we tend to feel.

A favorite quote comes from the late Maya Angelou who said, “In minor ways we differ, in major we are alike.”

I choose to focus on the major areas of our shared life experiences. I will also notice and celebrate the minor areas of difference where we are diverse and unique. Those differences, when shared, strengthen everyone.

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Every Act of Creation Is First an Act of Destruction

October 1, 2014

Creating something new usually requires us to let go of something old. As Pablo Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

Transitions are painful because they destroy the status quo, pushing us beyond our comfort zones. Times of change are most excruciating for those most deeply vested in the old way of doing things.

New Growth

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso

Like many companies, my employer (the American Red Cross) is undergoing yet another major, national reorganization. The details have yet to be finalized, but one this is certain: Things will change. Dramatically!

We are in that phase of the creative process focusing on “destruction” (to use Picasso’s word). Within a few weeks, however, we should learn the details of the “act of creation.”

Uncertainty abounds. The winds of change continue to howl around us. Though I’m uncertain of many things, of this I am certain: Those who thrive in the new reality will be those who embrace Picasso’s wisdom. They will understand that something is being destroyed so something new can be created.

Not everything makes sense, but I’ll sort through the confusion and figure out how to succeed in this new reality. As I move forward, I’ll keep reminding myself of what Henry Miller, the American author, once said: “Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.”

The futurist Alvin Toffler paralleled Picasso’s sentiment when he said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

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I Took a Sabbatical

September 30, 2014

I took a sabbatical from blogging. Actually, I never quit writing. I just quit posting.

My Journal

“We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” – Cecil Day Lewis

When I began blogging more than half a decade ago, I gave myself permission to post when I had something to share, and to refrain when I did not. That has worked well for me. Now that I’ve returned to blogging, I’ll still adhere to that rule.

I often write my unedited thoughts in a private journal where they can incubate. Journaling helps me to sort things out, especially during times of transition and confusion. At least ninety percent of my writing is done only for me. I write to understand, and therefore I’m usually the exclusive audience. Although I am a professional communicator, only a small fraction of my writing is shared with others.

In a noisy, cluttered world, we sometimes need to be comfortable with our own solitude and silence. In a fast-paced society that demands immediate results and constant production, we sometimes need to stop and catch our breath.

We need sabbaticals to replenish our energy. We need downtime to incubate ideas. We need periods of silence to nourish creativity that would otherwise wither in the arid atmosphere that permeates where we live and work.

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I Wish You’d Been There

April 22, 2014

I really wish you had been with me in the mayor’s office.

I was in Darrington, Washington, the small logging town hit hard by the March 22 mudslide that destroyed much of the nearby community of Oso. The slide buried about a mile of the highway connecting many of the 450 families in Darrington with their jobs, their grocery shopping and even the shipments to and from their lumber mill.

Though I wasn't there on vacation, I did enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

Though I wasn’t there on vacation, I did enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

On disaster assignment for the American Red Cross, I went to city hall with our district operations manager to talk about our work in the community. When we entered his office, the mayor rose from his desk stacked high with papers and gave us a hearty handshake. He wore a ball cap and flannel shirt – just what a Midwesterner like me would expect to find in a lumber town quietly tucked away high in the Northern Cascades. A faint smile on his unshaven face, however, failed to mask the strain of his mayoral duties.

“Initially we had concerns about giving up space,” he said, referring to the many outside groups that came wanting to help. That’s a typical response from those living in rugged, close-knit and self-reliant communities. “The Red Cross is neutral and I appreciate that,” he said. “Your work here has been stellar.”

While pleased to receive the compliment, I pushed to uncover unmet needs where we could help. “What advice would you give to us at the Red Cross?” I asked. (Here’s where I especially wish you’d been with me.) Without hesitation, he looked us straight in the eye and said, “Keep taking good care of my people.”
Read the rest of this entry »


Do You Follow a Leader Who Deals in Hope?

March 27, 2014

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Hope inspires us to believe that better, brighter times are yet to come.

Hope inspires us to believe that better, brighter times are yet to come.

Last week I participated in three days of intense training near our national headquarters in Washington, D.C. I left filled with hope and optimism after I’d met with some of the top leaders in our organization, (the American Red Cross).

On my flight home, I began thinking about my renewed hope, and the quote from Napoleon Bonaparte pushed its way to the forefront of my mind. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

I thought about the leaders I’ve admired. They instill hope in others because they have:

  1. A vision. Leaders know where they are going. They envision what success will look like, and they paint a vivid picture so others can share in that vision. On the final day of last week’s training, our senior vice president for communications sat at my table in the dining room. As I asked him specific questions about the monumental changes occurring within the organization, he responded by saying, “I have a dream.” He then painted a picture of our yet-to-be-realized future. I could see it! I wanted to be part of it!
  2. A plan. Not only do great leaders know where we are going, they have a plan for how we’ll get there. They may delegate much of the navigation to managers who will guide us through the treacherous terrain, yet they always have a plan.
  3. Situational awareness. I don’t trust leaders who have a Pollyanna-like optimism. I want to follow someone who comprehends the complexity and challenges of the situation, yet is not daunted by that reality. Good leaders are fully aware they will face obstacles such as the scarcity of finances, the machinations of political opponents and the stubbornness of skeptics. Yet they press on.
  4. A team. Good leaders know they cannot achieve success alone. They recruit, train and empower competent team members. Like Moses, they have an uncanny way of reminding their followers that we’re all in this together.  Although we may spend time wandering in the wilderness, our leaders create teamwork by reminding us we are headed towards the Promised Land that flows with milk and honey.
  5. Resources. Too many people wallow in inertia, waiting until they are given ample resources. Early in my career a mentor said, “Resources flow to achievers.” That concept stuck with me. Early victories often are achieved with meager resources, but as momentum builds and success becomes a way of life, resources will follow. After all, wise investors want to entrust their resources to leaders who promise a great return on investment.

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The Night when Everything Changed

February 9, 2014
http://bit.ly/1iCEKZQ

Paul McCartney shows his guitar to host Ed Sullivan before the Beatles’ live television appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York, Feb. 9, 1964. *

Sometimes out of the clear blue, something unexpected happens. You didn’t see it coming. You didn’t fully understand it at the time.

Yet in retrospect you realize you have experienced a watershed moment, an event when everything changed.

Fifty years ago tonight I saw something that had historic significance, though as a young boy I had no idea what was happening.

I was only half watching the TV when Ed Sullivan announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!” Suddenly, the black and white tube became a magnetic force that drew me closer.

I remember two things about that night.

First, I loved the music. I’d never heard anything like it. At that moment, I became a life-long Beatles fan.

Second, my parents and their friends hated the music. In retrospect, I think they reacted negatively because they were merely unable to comprehend what was happening. After all, the culture at that time looked and sounded nothing like those iconic lads from Liverpool. (Years later, my mom admitted that the Beatles made some pretty good music.) Read the rest of this entry »


10 Tips for Winning at Office Politics

January 14, 2014

If you hope to succeed as a professional communicator, you must spend up to half your time engaged in office politics.

California State University, Northridge - http://blogs.csun.edu/faculty-development/naturally-biased-brains-building-inclusion-in-the-workplace/

I didn’t say it was your fault.
I said I was blaming you. *

I recently gave that advice to a starry-eyed idealist new to her job. That was not what she wanted to hear, though. As a young professional, she dreamed of rising above the political fray and focusing on pure communications. (Oh, what they don’t teach you in school!)

Success in communications requires that you be a savvy politician. Politics, by my definition, is amoral. In other words, it’s neither good nor bad. Politics is how things get done. When you engage in workplace politics, you can either build or you can destroy. Your choice.

Here are several ways I attempt to use office politics to help me succeed as a marketing communications professional:

  1. Create necessary alliances. Business thrives on partnerships and collaboration. I always want to work on important projects that are much bigger than I can accomplish on my own. Success requires that we align our resources and work together to create the synergy to get the job done.
  2. Think win-win. If one of us loses, we all lose. I look for ways to help others succeed, though I’m not shy about establishing boundaries and defining what a win looks like on my side of the equation.
  3. Focus on projects worth doing. I’m only human and can never accomplish everything. Therefore, I must prioritize my work. Negotiating during the prioritization process is very important. Call it politics, if you like, but I try to build a consensus among my co-workers and especially my boss regarding what projects are most important. Read the rest of this entry »

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