Monthly Archives: September 2015

Yes and Yes, And

In previous posts I’ve discussed curiosity as one of the fundamental pillars of being a great leader. The only way to continue to learn is by constantly seeking out novel experiences that expose you to different perspectives and ideas, and cultivating boundless curiosity is a great way to do that. The easiest way to fuel and feed curiosity is by saying “yes” to everything.

The great thing about saying yes is that it often triggers a chain reaction. You say yes to go to a conference or a party or an event. There, you say yes to meeting new people. They, in turn, invite you to other events, or ask you to collaborate on something, and you say yes, which turns into something else. And on it goes. For each yes, you get countless more opportunities to say yes. You should particularly jump at the chance to say yes to things you normally wouldn’t, perhaps to attend something you don’t know anything about, or meet with people who don’t necessarily share the same opinions as you, or go to something alone where you don’t already know anyone there. This doesn’t only allow you to grow your network and experiences, it will also lead you to places to push you out of your comfort zone and into new territory you haven’t yet explored. Staying insular and only orbiting around the same groups of people who validate your world view constrains your ability to see the larger picture and striving to be well-rounded will allow you to be a leader who has the context to represent and take into account all people.
Saying yes is also a motivating tool to be more proactive. When you see an opportunity to write an article, or volunterring yourself to speak at a conference, going after those things is another way of saying “yes” by putting yourself forward, even if you’re not directly being asked. Don’t only wait for opportunities to say yes to come to you, seek them out for yourself.

 The first rule of performing improv is that you always have to say “yes, and?” The philosophy behind this is that when you negate your improv partner and say no, instead of yes, you kill the forward momentum. Instead, you need to accept whatever reality is put forth by your partner, no matter how crazy, and then build upon it. Most of us have had the frustrating experience of having a boss who loves to say “no.” Think about the stifling feeling that no creates and how it affected your motivation to bring new ideas in the future. Like saying yes to everything, adding the “and?” allows you to also grow that idea and see where it goes. This isn’t only great for you, it’s also great for the people you are working with because it gives their ideas room to be heard and explored.

Approaching things in the positive instead of the negative can often feel like a risk. It’s much easier and safer to say no, since when you say no, generally that means nothing needs to change, it maintains the comfortable status quo. But think about where “no” leads you – nowhere.

Hopefully this goes without saying, but it’s important to state regardless, that there are obvious times where it is important to say no – especially around your safety or at the expense of your self-care. Every person has a different threshold, so use your common sense and gut check, and say no in those situations. 

But on the whole, err on the side of “yes!” and see where it takes you. Why not?

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On Meeting the World Where It’s At

I’ve always loved the practice of harm reduction in public health work. The concept is, rather than ask or expect people to change, we recognize that they are going to do the things that they are going to do, and so we put practices in place that at the very least will help people to not do more harm to themselves than necessary. To illustrate an example, drug users are a common group in which the harm reduction model is used, where organizations not only offer resources to help people stop using drugs, they also recognize that while people are using, it’s important to provide things like clean needles and safe spaces to reduce any further harm.

I find that I have been generally dogmatic in my opinions around what I expect the world and people to be. I believe that people should be more discerning, caring, human-centered, insert myriad other words to describe conscious and compassionate living practices. I believe that companies should be more responsible to their employees, in their supply chains, and to the environment. I believe that government’s predominant purpose should be to set a level playing field for all of its citizens so that every person has the opportunity to achieve greatness without systemic and institutional obstacles in their way.

But what purpose does rose-colored glasses of idealism really serve? The world isn’t going to change overnight, and many will even argue that it shouldn’t. So all you are left with is judgment and disappointment that soon slips into cynicism and jadedness. To be a great leader, you must meet the world where it is at. Like the practice of harm reduction, recognizing the steps, however small, and however long they take, even if it means just keeping the status quo in order to avoid any further harm, is an important part of the change process. It’s not holding people to your sometimes righteous and unreasonably high standards, even if those standards come from the genuinely good place of wanting the world to be better than it is. It is understanding why things function the way they do, and however frustrating and sometimes painful, it is pandering to those ways, even if you disagree with them, so that you will be able to start to move the needle.

Practicing radical incrementalism is a helpful way to navigate and strive for your idea of what should be while also being rooted in reality. Radical incrementalism is exactly what it sounds like, making radical, strategically mapped out, micro-shifts that don’t completely disrupt the existing paradigm at once, but slowly and methodically over time. Instead of taking the revolutionary approach of wanting to tear everything down and start over, employing a tactic of radical incrementalism may get you much closer to the just and equitable world that you want to see.

As a caveat and a confession, as practical as this all sounds, writing this was hard for me, because I feel that so much does need to change now and that not making those changes immediately has profound and deleterious effects on people’s lives and wellbeing, and the revolutionary in me sometimes feels like all of this is just a fancy excuse for conceding or giving up. But in marrying the fantasy with the practical, I realize that to be a successful leader in these complex times, we need to be well versed in reality, recognizing there are many players with many stakes, that at many times are at odds with one another, and to be productive and effective we need work within it’s confines, rather than without, to successfully make the change we want to see.

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