How To HELP When You Don’t Have To.

We all wanna help, don’t we?

It’s what I like to tell myself. Is that actually true? There are loads of examples of narcissists who don’t help anyone but themselves. Is this just one of those feel-good clichés we cling to?

I’m not talking about doing your job well. I’m talking about helping others at work when you don’t actually have to.

Here’s a study that got me thinking about this. In her illuminating Wall Street Journal “Mind and Matter” column, Susan Pinker describes research conducted by Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Washington (WSJ, 3/7/2020). Barragan tested 96 toddlers to see how likely they might be to help a needy stranger. Yes – those impatient 2-year-olds who are inclined to kick, scream, and bite if they don’t get what they want!

The research. Each child met an adult who was sitting behind a desk. The desk was gated, and the toddler stayed on the other side of the gate with a parent nearby, to ensure the child would not feel threatened. The adult behind the desk selected a piece of freshly cut fruit which then suddenly slipped out of his hand and landed on a tray on the child’s side of the desk.

In 2 control groups, the adults reacted very differently to the loss of the fruit. The adult in the first group acted dismayed at the loss of the fruit, grasped the air unsuccessfully to get at the fruit, and displayed his desire to get the fruit back. The adult in the second group acted nonchalantly after the loss of the fruit.

The outcome. When faced with an adult who was clearly yearning to get the fruit back, 60% of the toddlers retrieved the fruit and promptly offered it to the adult. With the adult who did not seem to yearn for the fruit, only 4% did the same.

Yes, when faced with a clear need for help, the desire to help runs deep. It’s near primal. Even toddlers are wired to help.

Think, for a moment, about less extraordinary circumstances. Think of your own everyday behaviors at work. What are some ways in which you can be of help, every single day, beyond what your job requires you to do? And, conversely, what might be some helping instincts that may actually NOT be helpful?

1.   Offer to help.

We ask if there’s anything we can do to help. We don’t impose help. We don’t force help.

Sometimes, it may be helpful to describe specific ways in which we can be of help. When I curated a Pechakucha Performance event in Miami, for example. I approached my 11 presenters with some “helping questions.” Would it be helpful to look at the slide deck together? Would it be helpful to have a quick run-through? Our helping questions may elicit a desire for help that has been heretofore dormant in the other person.

2.   Extend networks.

One of the most potent ways of helping others is to connect them with someone else who might be able to help. When a colleague struggles with solving a problem and you know a colleague who has solved a similar problem in the past, offer to connect her with that colleague. When a colleague might benefit from a conversation with an expert outside of your company and you know just such an expert, offer to introduce him to this expert. My entire practice as an Executive Coach is predicated on the kindness of someone introducing someone else to me because s/he thinks I can help. Powerful.

Making an introduction is quick. It’s simple. And it strengthens the relationships of every party involved in the introduction. Triple win.

3.  Be an ally.

A good half of my clients in Senior Executive roles are at times accused of not speaking up enough in Senior Leadership meetings. When we probe a little more deeply, these are the sort of comments I tend to hear: Well, someone already said what I was going to say. I don’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to take up unnecessary air time.

Someone has already made the point you wished to make? Terrific. Speak up and let the group know that you agree with what was just said. Support their point-of-view. Be an ally. An ally is one of the most influential roles we can play in any situation. And it’s a powerful way of being of help. Bingo.

4.   Join communities of help.

I like to joke that I don’t do anything alone anymore. Yes, it’s a joke – and there’s a strong grain of truth in it. When I was about to launch my first business, Influens, I joined a Mastermind Group in Manhattan hosted by an organization called Small Business Strategy. I attribute much of the success of my firm to the wisdom, insight and guidance I received from my entrepreneur colleagues in that group. I now host Mastermind Groups, and I belong to a Mastermind Group comprised of top global coaches. I see it in both, all the time. Being in a community of help is an exponential success accelerator for everyone involved.

Let’s be clear. In a community of help, there is no other agenda but the desire to be of help and receive help. These are not networking communities or lead generators. There are no hidden agendas. There is only the shared purpose to help.

5.   Ask for help.

If the need to offer help is primal – even if subverted in a few folks we know – the willingness to ask for help is sublimated in even more of us. We may feel that asking for help at work is a sign of weakness. It may show that we are less skilled, less certain than we pretend to be. It may tap into the part of us that feels a little like an impostor.

Got it. Consider this, however: When I ask you for help, I tap deeply into the part of you that wants to help others. I allow you a chance to act on your innermost instincts. Toddler, anyone? How selfish it would be to deprive you of the opportunity to be of help to me. I mean, really!

Helping at work does NOT mean I do your job for you. Does not mean I help for my own hidden EGO gratification. Doesn’t mean I enable you to stay less competent than you need to be. It doesn’t mean I rescue you.

So, help freely. Help when your help is wanted. And notice how in the act of helping, you help yourself, as well.

Wins all around.

What do your employees REALLY need from you?

Earlier this month, Emma Goldberg wrote a compelling article in The New York Times that caught my attention: “Head of Team Anywhere and Other Job Titles for an Uncertain Time” (4/8/2022).

Some of the new job titles had me chuckling.

And I got the point.

In a time when millions of people who used to go an office are still working from home and may never go back to a physical office, all the essential work-satisfaction-questions return in new form: Why do folks stay at a company? What makes them feel like they belong? What meets their deepest desires for job satisfaction?

Goldberg points out that job titles have always changed with the times. When new information technologies emerged in the 1980s, suddenly we had Chief Information Officers. When political leaders starting showing up in tech firms, we suddenly had Chefs of Staff. And as the competition for talent has become increasingly fierce, we suddenly have Chief People Officers instead of Chief Human Resource Officers.

Here are some of the new job titles that have emerged during the pandemic as companies grapple with workplace disruptions and a workforce that literally – and emotionally – feels a lot more distant:

Yes, you too may chuckle, but LinkedIn has seen a 304 percent rise in new titles that reference hybrid work or are related to the future of work.

I appreciate the burning questions that underlie these job titles. Why would anyone want to work here, with us? How do we make this a place where the way we work works for our people?

In 2011, Daniel Pink tackled these questions in his now classic “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” He spelled out the 3 areas that unleash any worker’s intrinsic motivation. Fancy new title or not, I invite you to consider these 3 areas and translate them into how you operate in the midst of your new pandemic-workplace-reality.

Daniel Pink’s Key Workforce Motivators

Autonomy

Is there room for those who work for you to make decisions? Is there an opportunity to initiate projects? Is there a chance to experiment and try new ways of doing things? Are there opportunities to stretch and fail? Are there substantial chunks of a work cycle that do not require a review or approval process?

The opposite of autonomy: The General Manager of a $ 400 Million dollar revenue worksite tells me of having to go “up the chain” and waiting for 7 weeks to hire a new part-time employee. And you wonder why he left?

Mastery

Do folks who work for you have a chance to take on increasingly challenging tasks? Do you hold real and honest conversations about enhancing workplace performance (as opposed to going through the motions because you have to conduct a performance review)? Do you have leaders who know how to appropriately challenge their teams and help them live up to their potential? Do you offer training, coaching and other developmental opportunities at every organizational level? Is a personal-growth-mindset fully integrated into how you “do work?”

The opposite of Mastery: You are limited to forever performing the one or two tasks you do very well. You become known as the expert in these tasks - but you never tap or master your full potential.

Purpose

Does your business have a purpose beyond enhancing shareholder value? Is this a true purpose (as opposed to a clever marketing purpose on your firm’s website)? Is everyone’s work contribution tied to such a deeper purpose? Are your statements of purpose and values actually “lived” and embodied at work? Do the leaders you work for/with show interest in your personal purpose, separate from what the corporate purpose may be?

The opposite of Purpose: A purpose connects us to the heart-and-soul reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. It channels our dreams.  Going to work in a place without purpose is like living a slow death every day.

The frameworks and models for taking care of our employees are well-tested. We know what they are. Remote or hybrid work was alive and well before Covid came around. Whatever you are inventing now has been invented before.

Have fun with the job titles. But it’s about more than a new title. Isn’t it?

In case of doubt, consider Pink’s 3 workplace motivators as your North Star.

Address these 3 needs, and you will fare a lot better than if you don’t.

The Case for Curiosity

I had a birthday last Friday. We celebrated over a meal at Pinch Kitchen, an eclectic and award-wining eatery in Miami’s Upper East Side neighborhood.

I could go on and on about the joys of Pinch Kitchen. I won’t. Here, however, is what I want to share with you: I love Pinch’s publicly stated ethos – a pinch of this, a pinch of that. It’s an ethos of experimentation and exploration. An ethos of innovation. Curiosity.

My birthday dinner at Pinch got me thinking about all of this and more. A younger version of me arrived in South Florida 18 years. At Pinch, munching on olives and warm octopus salad, I found myself remembering the brilliant Miami episode of Anthony Bourdain’s series, “Parts Unknown.”

In the final minutes of that episode, Iggy Pop, scraggly-faced musician, former front-man for The Stooges, the grandfather of punk (and these days a Miamian), and Bourdain stand in the sand on Miami Beach, looking at the sky. Two aging men who, by most people’s standards, have been there, done that, seen it all, muse on what’s left.

Iggy: I’m still curious. You seem like a curious person.

Anthony: It’s my only virtue. (Said with a chuckle.)

Iggy: There you go. All right. Curious is a good thing to be. You know it seems to pay some unexpected dividends.

Final words of the Miami episode as birds soar in the sky and Pop’s song “The Passenger” pipes in. Quintessential Florida.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

In the end, back to curiosity.

You and I know that when work starts to feel stale, curiosity can be hard to come by.

Before I opened my first firm I spent 5 years on the road, delivering training programs for an international training company. Within a year the programs I facilitated had become entirely routine for me.

It forced me to think. In the face of routine, what am I still curious about? There were endless nuances to program content, but I knew these nuances would reveal themselves on their own. My curiosity needed to transcend the task I was performing.

My choice: Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Every person who showed up at one of my seminars was the variable. Every latest trend in the training industry was the variable. Every new city I trained in was the variable.

Be curious about everything. That’s the grand thought.

Easy when we stand on the beach with Iggy Pop and Bourdain and contemplate the meaning of life.

At work, however, focus your curiosity. If you’re not the one who makes presentations to your firm’s Board of Directors, perhaps let someone else be curious about that. Fire the curiosity that will drive your commitment to the things YOU do every day.

Be curious about the variables in your sphere of influence.

You decide. But be curious, please.

Here’s a conversation I have had with more than one person I have coached.

Coachee: I dread all these endless business dinners I have to attend.

Part of me empathizes and understands. And yet, here’s where I draw the line

Achim: Not attending is not an option. What would it take to attend with curiosity?

Dale is a fellow who shows up every day at the breakfast joint where I like to grab my morning bagel. When I ask Dale how he’s doing, his answer is always the same:

Same old, same old.

Curiosity extinguished. Same old, same old is simply not an option.

The unexpected curiosity dividends?

Curiosity is a choice. It requires vigilance. It is available to us every moment of every single day. It keeps our inner spark alive. It adds a deeper purpose to every task you and I perform and every conversation we engage in. It connects us to a larger world of wisdom and possibility.

Bourdain took his life. That is a choice, as well. I have a brother who made the same choice. I am curious about the why. We will never truly know.

But Iggy Pop, unlikely punk survivor, got this one right. 

Curious is a good thing to be.

Routine has the potential to unleash a rich deep curiosity. Be vigilant. Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Be specific. But please, be curious.

And collect your dividends.

The Power of Everyday Transitions

We’ve all had THAT day.

Meeting upon meeting upon meeting. Our head starts to swirl by early afternoon. By evening we’re drained. And feel incapable of thinking one more thought.

The entire day has felt like a ride on a runaway train.

How do we stop this train?

How do we slow down the pile-on madness?

I learned about the power of transitions several decades ago when I was a trainer for Langevin Learning Services, the largest train-the-trainer company in the world. I delivered 20 different programs, designed by a professional instructional designer.

Here’s what was designed into each of these programs: After learners returned from a break, I would not immediately delve into teaching new content. I would, instead, deliver a short and hopefully enjoyable brain teaser to allow learners to transition from the hallway chit-chats, phone calls and email catch-ups, back to the focus of a learning environment.

Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” 

Nancy Levin, best-selling author

A brain teaser would take no longer than 5 minutes. Here was the thinking behind this convention: When you don’t build in a transition and go straight to content, instead, learners are not ready to fully focus on what the trainer is about to present. Their mental energy is still on what they were thinking about in the hallway.

By incorporating a transition (the brain teaser), learners are able to better transition from what had happened outside of the room to what is happening in the training room. 5 minutes buy a much higher degree of learning focus. Much better work happens in class because participants are able to transition into a learning state-of-mind.

I’m not proposing you do brain-teasers all day. I’m also not proposing that you start each meeting with soft chit-chat, as often happens in a business meeting these days.

No, I propose that YOU start creating and managing YOUR own transitions.

Have a transition mindset. And consider the following very specific ways of putting transitions into action throughout your work day.

4 Transition Practices

The 30-Minute Preview

Instead of launching into your day first thing in the morning with a crucial meeting, schedule 30 minutes of private time before you “go public.” Think of these 30 minutes as your preview time. You look ahead to your day, the meetings that are in store, the deadlines you must meet, and you consider what you need to do to bring your Best Self to all of these circumstances.

While a Preview is not a transition, you have the chance to consider your transitions for the day, first thing in the morning. What do you need to do, at any given moment, to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually present? What do you need to do to remain energized until the final meeting? Yes, review key documents that will help you to contribute meaningfully in a meeting - but also consider the sort of transitions that will help you to move with ease from one situation to the next throughout your day.

Prepare with data and information. And prepare for flow.

The 5-Minute Regenerator

Where can you find 5 minutes in-between meetings, tasks, obligations to simply stop? 5 minutes is the magic number I followed at Langevin to help my learners “transition.” While I might have felt the pressure to cram more content into an hour, 5 minutes facilitated a much richer engagement in the minutes that followed. And the moment we decide, we will always find the 5 minutes, no matter how busy we are. Always.

Only you know what will be regenerative for you in those 5 minutes. Close your eyes and meditate? Step outside and enjoy a change of scenery? Look at a bit of nature? Have a quick jog? Eat a power bar? Chances are, going on social media or chit-chatting with colleagues, no matter how much you like them, won’t do the trick.

Know what regenerates you. Make sure you choose an activity that is realistic and do-able for you. Make this activity a habit. If success in life is predicated on simple habits that set us up for success, make your 5-minute regenerators a habit you don’t negotiate away.

The 1-Minute Focus Moment

Surely you can take a minute, just ONE minute, to focus yourself before you join a meeting. A minute in which you mentally and emotionally put yourself into an optimal state of mind for the meeting you are about to attend.

What do we do in that minute? What will help us focus? If our mind is chattering away with fears and predictions, consider taking a few deep breaths, eyes closed, to bring yourself back to fully being in your body. If you want to make sure that you will be a helpful thought partner in the meeting, affirm that it will be so. I am a thoughtful and valuable contributor to each meeting I attend. Affirm this quietly, a few times over, in the minute before you join. It will calm you and affirm that it will be so.

Anchoring techniques (an affirmation IS an anchoring technique) are powerful self-management techniques that quickly put us into an optimal state of mind. They are the sort of techniques actors use before they need to act and athletes before they enter a race or competition. Visualize the perfect meeting with an impeccable exchange of ideas. Listen to your favorite piece of music that instantly lifts you into a great mood. Curious about anchoring techniques? I urge you to do a bit of google research. Anchoring techniques are perfect helpers in your 1-Minute Focus Moment.

The 15-Second Reset

Meetings tend to shift and swerve and sometimes veer into unexpected directions. We have all sat in that meeting where a topic was covered, the conversation has moved on, and someone harps on something that was talked about and tabled 15 minutes ago. Dude, you think to yourself, we’re done with that one. Move on!

The individual who harks back to previous matters has not transitioned to where the conversation has evolved. S/he has simply not noticed. S/he has not adjusted or transitioned, along with the tenor and flow of the conversation.

A 15-Second Reset is internal. It happens in the midst of a conversation. It is based on our observation of the collective mood of the moment. I guess this topic is done. There is no collective appetite to kick this around anymore. Let me switch along with the group.

Simple. Helpful. Quick. And most importantly, conscious.

A transition mindset is a true self-management mindset.

I am mindful that my energy is not limitless.

I am mindful of making choices that best manage my energy and don’t overload my brain.

I understand that transitions are a key tool for managing my everyday energy flow, and I commit to honoring my transitions every day.

Simple stuff. Powerful.

Please go do it.

Cultivate the EYE of the BEHOLDER

The news can be so grim some weeks, says Scott Simon. You may want to hear about something happy, even charming. I saw such a scene a few days ago, on vacation with my family in France.

Scott Simon is a best-selling author and the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. This is my Saturday morning routine: I work out with my trainer Chris at 7, hop in the car afterwards and head to Dania Back Shack for a tantalizing breakfast. And I listen to Scott Simon who comes on the air right at 8 am.

I love Scott Simon’s gravelly voice. It oozes authority. And boy, does Simon have a way with words.

There's a Paris restaurant called Tour D' Argent, Simon elaborates the morning of his 7/9 newscast, that's mentioned in the books of Hemingway and Proust, and inspired scenes in the film "Ratatouille," where a rat named Remy comes to live, and cook, in the kitchen.

Just across the street from the Michelin-starred establishment is the Rotisserie D' Argent, which my wife recalls from her student days in Paris. It has red-checked tablecloths, manageable prices, and rotisseries that churn like small Ferris wheels, spinning glistening chickens, filets of salmon, and fat slivers of potatoes that blister to an incandescent bronze.

Sorry to get carried away...

To keep going during COVID, the rotisserie has set up tables not just on, but across the street--on the Left Bank of the Seine, just above the river barges, and strolling, smooching lovers. What transpires is a great show. People order, and servers in bowties wait for red lights to halt traffic, and bustle across the street with grace and purpose. They dash back a few minutes later, hoisting icy metal buckets with bottles of blushing rose wine, and sparkling platters of roasted chicken or fish, spilling not a jot of au jus.

Sometimes, a server shoulders a tray and holds up a hand to hold back a car making a turn. Sometimes, they wave a car through with the sweep of an empty tray, like a matador with a cape.

I ordered an espresso at the end of our meal. Nicola(s), our server, nodded as if being entrusted with a mission from General De Gaulle. He waited for a green light to illuminate the crosswalk, dashed into the rotisserie, then out moments later with an espresso sitting on a metal tray like a precious pearl on a velvet pillow. When I called him a hero, he shrugged, which is what heroes do.

The whole scene, the small, great show on a street along the Seine, was a snapshot I will carry in my mind. Even when the world feels tumultuous and even dire, it is possible to find moments of art and delight in our everyday lives.

Yes. Simon has a way with words.

Easy to see the charm of the everyday moment when you’re on vacation in Paris, you may think to yourself. Harder in the middle of a distracted day at work.

Much data and evidence about events in the world IS grim. Catching the beauty of the everyday moment is our choice. Scott Simon reminds me of how critical it is that I exercise that choice.

Last Tuesday I step out of my apartment building and see my Uber driver across the street, waiting for me. He sports an outsized mohawk do and flashes an extravagant grin.

Gustavo is from Uruguay, I am from Germany. Within 30 seconds we’re talking soccer. Gustavo professes his admiration of German soccer. Has Uruguay ever won the World Cup? I inquire. 3 times, I learn, the last time in 1950.

We talk about the German 7:1 soccer rout of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. Gustavo proclaims his love of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top pro soccer teams. I tell him I was born in Hagen, 20 kilometers from Dortmund.

I learn about Gustavo’s 2 sons. They play soccer. Are they good enough to play professionally? I ask. The oldest one, 22, does in fact play professionally in Europe.

You must be very proud of your sons, I say to Gustavo. He beams.

Gustavo drives Uber and also works as a physical trainer. I tell him about my work as an Executive Coach and my former side-gig as an Airbnb super host. As we chat, I find myself thinking about Gustavo’s American dream, and I find myself contemplating my own.

It’s a 12-minute ride from my building to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It contained all the charms of Scott Simon’s Paris adventure.

The conversation was a choice. Every moment within the conversation was a choice. I am grateful for the 12 minutes.

The following night, I find myself sitting on the patio of the very savory Café Lucci in the Chicago suburb of Glenview. I’m with the Executive Leadership team of a manufacturing company, breaking bread and sharing stories.

Glenn, the fellow sitting next to me, has just purchased a 21-acre property that has its own shooting range. Steve, the fellow sitting across from him, is also an avid gun owner and hobby gun shooter, as is Alison, the firm’s VP of HR who is sitting across from me.

I suddenly find myself in a conversation with gun hobbyists. I have never had such a conversation before. We’re having this conversation 2 towns down from Highland Park, a week after the Highland Park Fourth of July shootings. I listen with fascination as I hear Glenn, Steve and Alison talk about the shooting ranges where they shoot, the many guns they own, the various type of rifles, and the guns owned by their family members.

You have AR 15s, right? Alison asks Glenn. He nods affirmatively.

So do we, Alison affirms.

I listen in silence. I have never owned a gun or fired one. I am a pretty skilled conversationalist, but this is unfamiliar conversational turf.

Is this conversation making you uncomfortable? Alison asks me.

I know nothing about guns, I say.

I suppose I was a little uncomfortable. And at the same time, I fully cherished being in an entirely unfamiliar conversation. This conversation had a rich beauty of its own.

Seeing that beauty was a choice.

I wrote a little book called “The Moment” a few years back. It celebrates the power of simple everyday moments, and our choice to notice and find meaning.

It need not be Paris. But thank you, Scott Simon, for the reminder. In a world where news is so frequently grim, some choices are always mine.

And yours.

Why I Believe in the Power of Masterminds

2003 was a year that changed my life. I don’t use the phrase “changed my life” lightly – it did. I was completing a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology and International Relations at New York University. I got a contract to write my first book. AND I joined my first Mastermind Group.

Every other Monday evening, five of us met for two hours in an office on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. The meetings were hosted and facilitated by Kathi Elster, a small-business strategist. This was a group for successful small business owners who wanted to accelerate their business impact by sharing and receiving wisdom from other small-business owners. We met for a period of nine months. Participants had been personally vetted by Kathi. I was the “new kid on the block” who was just launching his first business.

The lessons I learned in this Mastermind Group were more impactful than anything I learned in Graduate School. My colleagues helped me clarify the business model for Influens, the firm I was about to launch. They showed me how to define a clearly global brand. Offered practical and well-tested guidance on the many micro-decisions I was making and would have to make in the future.

My fellow Masterminders acted like my own private advisory board. That’s the power of a Mastermind Group.

Influens became a highly successful business.

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others succeed.”

Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill started it all

The notion of a Mastermind was first popularized by American success thinker Napoleon Hill in his seminal book “Think and Grow Rich,” published in 1937. Hill stresses the obvious benefits that I just mentioned from my own Mastermind experience. More importantly, perhaps, Hill emphasizes the psychic impact of communing with exceptional like-minded colleagues. No two minds, Hill writes, ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind. (Hill, Think and Grow Rich, Fall River Press Edition, 2012, 125)

The third mind, or Mastermind, is the collective energy and wisdom that are unleashed through group interaction. This energy lasts well beyond the conversations that occur, and it exponentially accelerates the personal growth of every individual in a Mastermind Group.

While Hill focuses on the use of Masterminds to build business success, the principles work powerfully for any committed group of individuals who share a common purpose. As I reflect on the many experiences that have shaped my life over the last 2 decades, one thread connects all dots. I participated in Masterminds.

I mention the names of my fellow Masterminders because any Mastermind is only as compelling as the collective energy and wisdom of the individuals in the group. It’s why the best Masterminds are invitation-only.

How Do I Get Invited Into a Mastermind?

Folks often ask me, so how does one get invited into one of your Masterminds?

I love the question. Curating a Mastermind Group is a bit of science and a lot of art.

Here’s how this works with the FOURTH ACT Masterminds I host. I just completed work with one cohort and will launch a new one this fall. The curation process is, thus, very much on my mind.

It all begins with the purpose for a Mastermind. The purpose for a FOURTH ACT Mastermind is very specific. It starts with a question: IF LIFE IS A FIVE-ACT PLAY, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN YOUR FOURTH ACT?

More about this question and who joins a FOURTH ACT Mastermind: You’re a highly accomplished professional. You are proud of the impact your work has had in the world. You relish the many relationships it has birthed.

And yet, you know, the time has come. You’re done with doing what you’ve been doing. You’re NOT done being of service to the world.

That’s the starting point for participating a FOURTH ACT Mastermind. And what exactly is a FOURTH ACT?

I’m a former professional theater director. The great classic plays – the ones by Shakespeare, Aristophanes – all run in 5 acts. So does each hour-long television drama

The FOURTH ACT – it’s the one after primal conflicts have peaked and unraveled. The agita of life is behind us. The pieces suddenly start to fit. At its finest, it is our Act of untethered renewal and possibility.

We’re not in our FIRST ACT any more, and we’re not in our last. There IS a FOURTH ACT, and perhaps a Fifth. How do we make them the sweetest, the most rewarding and the most adventurous Acts yet?

That’s the purpose for a FOURTH ACT Mastermind.

Best wishes for a wonderful week. I know mine is always better because I’m masterminding with amazing peeps.

Do You KNOW What You Don’t KNOW?

Last Tuesday I had a chat with Mitch, the President of a manufacturing company. Mitch announced that he had just promoted a fellow named Arturo into a General Manager role.

Do you think Arturo is ready for the job? I asked Mitch.

Well, Arturo knows what he doesn’t know, Mitch replied.

We both understood this to be a good thing.

Personal growth can be unleashed only when we know what we don’t know. At a time when so much of what goes on in the world seems beyond our control, you and I can choose to uncover more of what we don’t know about ourselves. Any moment, any day.

You and I see leaders everywhere who don’t know what they don’t know, right? We see how reckless their decisions can be. The pressure in the C-Suite to know, or act as if we know, can be daunting. After all, we’ve been anointed to a senior role because we’re supposed to know and have solutions to problems. We’re not supposed to NOT know.

I think of a conversation I had in 2002. I was chatting with a fellow named Ben at a cocktail party in Manhattan. When I asked Ben what he did for a living he explained that he owned a temporary staffing office, with an office in Brooklyn and another one in Tampa.

I could never do that, I blurted out without much thought.

Sure you can, Ben said with a kind but firm voice.

Whoa, what did I just say? I thought to myself as I left that party.

I have no idols. I admire work, dedication, and competence.”

Ayrton Senna, Brazilian race car driver

6 months later I was offered a contract to write my first book. Besides having to write the book, it was also very clear to me that I needed to start my own business around the content of my book. That’s when I remembered my chat with this Ben.

I was terrified of starting a business. I really DIDN’T KNOW how to run a business. The gift of this fellow’s comment? He brought something that was hovering just below the surface into consciousness for me.

He helped me know something I didn’t know.

Mitch’s comment about Arturo, and my cocktail party encounter with Ben, remind me of the classic 4 Stages of Competence Framework that I haven’t thought about in many years. This framework is often erroneously attributed to the psychologist Abraham Maslow but was, in fact, first developed and popularized in the 1970s by a management trainer named Noel Burch.

Here is how this Framework breaks down our stages of knowing and not knowing:

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence (Ignorance)

We do not understand or know how to do something and do not necessarily recognize our deficit. We may deny the usefulness of the skill. We must recognize our own incompetence AND the value of the new skill before we move on to the next stage.

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence (Awareness)

Though we do not understand or know how to do something, we recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. Our willingness to make mistakes can be integral to our learning process at this stage.

Stage 3: Conscious competence (Learning)

We understand or know how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. The skill may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing this new skill.

Stage 4: Unconscious competence (Mastery)

We have had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task, and we may be able to teach it to others.

Powerful, right? Our world needs more leaders with Mastery. These 4 Stages are such a wonderful gift for personal reflection. I invite you to ask yourself the following questions as you consider how you currently “show up” in the world:

I believe in life-long learning. The moment we are rigorously honest with ourselves, these questions never go away. Deny these questions, and you are likely stuck in Stage 1 in some aspect of your life.

The gift of my cocktail party moment? While I was writing my first book, I enrolled in a Think Tank for small-business owners. I began my journey toward Business Mastery. How liberating that was!

Choose to know what you don’t know. The alternative isn’t pretty.

Work Is Love Made Visible

It has percolated in my head for days. This little quote from Khalil Gibran.

Work is Love Made Visible."

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese poet-mystic.

I have occasionally reflected on this quote for many years. I remembered it this week as my rage at the fact that a teenager can buy a weapon of war and kill a host of people at will took over.

As I sat at the Dusseldorf Airport a few years ago, waiting to board a plane, I caught a video in one of my of social media feeds. A tarmac worker – you know, the guy that waves the red light sticks to safely guide a plane to its gate – in Rochester was unknowingly filmed as he was ferociously performing his job like a dance on the tarmac:

#tarmacman #employeeoftheyear

Full commitment.

No holds barred.

Fierce.

The video made me weep with joy. It has been viewed by over 17 million people. When Kyran Ashford, the tarmac dancer, was interviewed by his local ABC station he said his goal is to give at least one traveler “30 seconds of positive vibes.”

I trust the 2 teachers who were killed in Uvalde made love visible. I hope the students who attended Robb Elementary made love visible. And I hope that at least some of the police officers who showed up at the school know how to make love visible.

The power of love made visible. In the midst of performing an entirely routine task.

The pastry chef who hands you the muffin she just baked. The clerk at the bank who greets you with a smile. The Uber driver who gets out of the car and lifts your suitcase into the trunk. The rockstar boss at work who happily mentors you.

It’s a choice. All choice.

I had a conversation with the taxi driver who took me from my Duesseldorf hotel to the airport, back when. The fellow was a Venezuelan who lives in Germany. I’m a German who lives in Florida. We banter back and forth about the benefits of living in the US versus Germany. He has family in Atlanta and knows the US well. I am the sort of German who no longer wishes to live in Germany.

Living in Germany, he declares adamantly, is a choice. I LOVE Germany. And as we pull up to my hotel, he’s the one who says to me Thank you for the conversation.

He gets it, I think to myself. How we feel about where we are. How we do the moment, every moment. Choice. Work is Love Made Visible.

Tarmac man has a hyper-routine job. It’s a choice.

In a world where so many things seem beyond our control, THIS we can do. It IS a choice.

I leave you with the words of David Whyte. Whyte is an acclaimed and wildly prolific Anglo-Irish poet and philosopher. He is the rare poet who speaks not only in bookstores or at poetry conferences but often in corporate boardrooms. Whyte’s now classic book “The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America” topped the best-seller lists in in the United States in 1994.

I think of Whyte as a modern-day Khalil Gibran.

Today I call my representative.

I call the one who represents

my representative:

Representative,

                                    you

floating somewhere over my shoulder, crow

on the telephone line, squat black span

of my hand in the polls,

what little mark

do I make on the white

landscape of this world that

asks for my blood

and asks and asks as the bandage

asks the wound

till the wound is gone-

it is not through my

absence

that the world is healed.

The Art of the ANTI-WOW

It’s a by-product of getting older, I think.

I try less hard. I care a lot less about what you think of me. And I truly do not wish to wow you with anything I do. I mean, anything.

I contemplate this as I flip through an old issue of the monthly Wall Street Journal Magazine. I sprawl in my sofa and settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.

“Anti-Wow”

That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.

“Anti-Wow”

Love this term. It has instant meaning for me. Not trying to show off. Not intent on dazzling. Trusts simplicity. Doesn’t put on a show.

Let’s relate this to how we humans show up in the world. The choices you and I make, intentional or not, in every social interaction we have.

From the sea of effortlessness, let your great uncaused compassion shine forth.” 

Hakuin Ekaku, Japanese Zen Buddhist Master

I want this program to be a WOW, John, a VP of Learning and Development, says to me as we discuss an upcoming training event.

Sparkle, impress, be memorable. That’s how I hear his request for the Wow.

We love Gina but she just needs to be a little more polished, Miriam, a VP of HR says to me as we discuss a coaching opportunity.

I coach folks on Executive Presence, and in my conversations around presence the word polished is often thrown into the mix. It makes me squeamish, every time. Many of us are too polished. We work for the Wow. Sometimes consciously, more often not. Usually, we work for it just a little too hard.

I un-polish folks, that’s my private little joke. With a little bit of craft thrown in.

“Yes, Anti-Wow”

A conversation with a cab driver in Chicago. I used to be a housing inspector, he says to me. I have inspected hundreds of houses. And then he adds: Don’t let anyone tell you that houses don’t have energy.

The house in Morocco. It makes an impression without going for the dazzle. It trusts simplicity. Easy energy. That’s the anti-Wow. How do you and I do the same thing in our everyday interactions? With a client, a boss, a peer, a friend?

Consider the following Do’s and Don’ts as you contemplate your very own Anti-Wow:

The Don’ts:

The Do’s:

You are the house. I am the house. We are vessels of energy. Pure, unfettered energy is the anti-Wow. It’s the real deal

The “Anti-Wow” is a quiet Wow. It’s an honest, effortless Wow.

It wows by not trying to wow. It wows by trusting itself. It wows by not rushing, not trying too hard.

And it leaves a lasting impression. Always does.

Will You Please Just RELAX?

Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself as you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

Before I begin a coaching engagement with a client, I invariably have two key conversations. One with the individual I am about to coach, another with that individual’s boss. These are the conversations where we articulate the goals for the coaching journey.

I had one such conversation last week. Arturo is a boss, and our chat was reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had. We spoke of Stephanie, the individual I am about to support. After praising the many things Stephanie does well, Arturo recounted some of the scenarios where he felt Stephanie’s behavior had gotten her into trouble. Then, after a bit of a pause, Arturo ended with this statement: I think I just want her to relax.

You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer

I ponder Arturo’s words as I sit in my car that evening, driving to Miami, tuning my radio to NPR. A certain radio program host is on. I have always enjoyed this host’s keen mind and rich, sonorous voice. And I have always been a little distracted by his slight over-articulation of words. Clipped. Arch. Trying a little too hard. This evening, the archness in the voice is gone. My host sounds less announcer-ey, more conversational.

He has learned to relax, I think to myself.

It often is such a fine line, isn’t it, between relaxed and not? I don’t wish to review basics like taking a breath, meditating, slowing down with you here. Practicing mindfulness.

Yes, DO those things.

Here, however, are some additional behaviors you may wish to consider when the stakes are high, time is tight, you have an agenda and want to get stuff done. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to fly out the window.

Stop forcing.

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal time-frame. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.

Notice, and pull back.

Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. For me, that’s when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap-swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember, and drop into that state.

Allow for silence.

 Some folks go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is likely to become repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment, and settle into silence.

Make it about them.

 An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. I, I, I. Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others, and feel your body unwind.

Have faith. 

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax.

This, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation consciousness here, and we’re talking relaxation practices. They’re intertwined. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self. This remembering will require a mental prompt.

Yes, connected. Consciousness and action. Such fun to play with.

And choose to relax as you play.