Pausing to Tell a Story

Story: It’s how we have communicated for years. Thousands of years ago, stories were told through pictures which evolved into spoken and finally written word. The Gutenberg Printing Press changed everything by allowing stories to be reproduced rapidly, replacing hand-written books. Today, stories are told almost instantly on social media. Many are not even true, even though they seem true to the person who reads them. 

Several years ago, I used the quote below in a keynote presentation:

Photo of Albert Einstein with quote: I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

Every time I shared this, I observed people in the audience reacting in agreement, often taking pictures with their phones. They were visibly moved and the point hit home. The quote certainly seems true in today’s world. However, there was one problem: Albert Einstein never said that. Someone I knew and trusted posted the quote and the accompanying graphic on Facebook (and if it’s on Facebook, we know it must be true!). I started using the graphic in my presentation, but it wasn’t until someone in the audience brought it to my attention, and a quick check online verified what they told me, that I discovered Al was not the author. There was no way to retract my mistake. It had been shared with thousands of audience members who had heard me speak.

While storytelling is vital in today’s world, it is more important than ever to tell the truth. That’s why telling your organization’s story is critical.

Recently, I had breakfast with my friend Gina Evans, AVP of HR and Talent Development at Credit Union of America. Somehow, we began talking about story and how it shaped CUA’s culture. Their CEO sought to simplify CUA’s mission statement, which was so long and convoluted that no one could say it by memory. Ultimately, the company replaced it with this purpose statement:

Purpose:

“We come to work every day inspired to make a difference in our members’ lives.”

At every Credit Union of America meeting, the person in charge of the meeting shares the purpose statement and asks someone to tell a story about how they implemented the company purpose that day. They simply ask, “Who has a story?” The employees at Credit Union of America are sold on the power of story, and you should be too.

Make it short and simple—shorter than this post!—and share it every day.


This is the second in a series of six posts based on my Six by Six Principles of Leadership. Click here to read the first article “Read to Succeed“.

Pay it Forward

Over the last week, I have been the recipient of a few pay it forward experiences.  

Last week, I attended a funeral for the father of my friend John with whom I worked almost 22 years ago. Our working relationship involved training staff at an oceanfront resort to obtain the Five Diamond status. His continuous support for my role there resulted in a strong friendship. Within a few years of our time working together, he moved to the Bahamas to take a job as the general manager of an island yacht club. Five or six years ago, we were both in Fort Lauderdale for business and met for lunch. During our lunch, he invited my wife and me to visit, and when we did a few years later, the red carpet was rolled out for us.

His wife made us “Janana Bread” (her name is Jana and her bread is legendary!) to welcome us. They introduced us to one of the club members who took us fishing and lobstering. John provided all the necessary dive gear for our use while we were there. He also loaned us two bikes so we could bike around the car-free island.

We later came to the island with our entire family and received another dose of John and Jana’s pay-it-forward hospitality.

They exemplify a pay it forward mantra in everything they do. Three weeks ago, John texted to inform me that his father was likely in the final stages of life. We shared messages back and forth for several days. He shared sweet stories of the time he and his four siblings had with their dad. I was traveling home from a keynote in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago when I heard the news. My friend’s father had passed away. I wanted to attend the funeral later that week, but it may not have happened were it not for the kindness of my friend, Mike.   

Mike was a pilot, so when I had the idea to attend the funeral at the 11th hour, I contacted Mike to inquire about getting a buddy pass for the trip since he had offered them before. We worked late into the evening trying to find a flight that fit with my schedule, and one for which he could use one of his allotments of steeply discounted passes. After we found a flight and he gathered all my travel information, he told me to check my email to make sure the trip details and other information were correct. I did and soon realized that Mike had paid full price for my ticket instead of the less-guaranteed stand-by buddy pass. When I protested, Mike said,

I know the last few years have been tough for your business and your family. I can do it and am happy to do it. Just pay it forward.”  

Just a few days later, I was in Wichita, Kansas, and experienced another pay it forward experience. A speaking colleague had recommended I visit Doo Dah Diner which happened to be right across the street from my hotel. I was pressed for time the morning of my return flight, but I still needed breakfast. I called ahead to get my order started and walked across the street with my luggage as I had planned to hail a ride from the restaurant to the airport. 

Eating at a diner means eating at the counter – at least for me. I loved the feel and look of Doo Dah Diner so I engaged in a conversation with the general manager Patrick, “PK”, who told me the history of Doo Dah’s including how he and his wife moved from Denver to work there.  

After I finished eating, I placed my credit card on the counter for my payment, which Patrick offered to process so I could get on my way quickly. A few short seconds later he said, “your bill has been paid.” When I asked what he meant, he said I owed nothing for my meal. “What do you mean?” I asked. I pressed my server and learned that a gentleman named Jeff, who was sitting at the end of the counter, had seen my luggage and overheard my conversation with PK.

Jeff knew that I was a first-time visitor to Wichita and he wanted me to leave with a positive impression of the area, so he paid for my breakfast. Before heading to the airport, PK handed me a Doo Dah Diner shirt for me—a physical reminder to practice paying it forward. 

I have experienced the unexpected generosity of others in many ways. My recent experiences remind me that it is my time to pay it forward. How about you? 

Though Easter Sunday has passed, it is a reminder that the ultimate sacrifice was made for all of us. Some have done without so you could have. The kindness of others has been demonstrated and perhaps not acknowledged. An unexpected act has brightened your day or been a source of encouragement. Much has been given to you, now it is your turn to do for someone else. It’s time to pay it forward. 

NOTE: This post was supposed to be the second in a series of my six-by-six plan (here’s the first post titled Read to Succeed.

Recent pay it forward experiences interrupted altered this schedule but I will continue the series in my next post. Please subscribe to receive notifications of future PAUSitivity newsletters.

Read to Succeed

shelf of leadership books

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing six different ideas that will move you to or keep you as a top gun in your organization. I call it the six-by-six plan. Do these six things every week and in some cases every day:

–       Read

–       Listen

–       Learn

–       Exercise

–       Pause

–       Serve

And then repeat them regularly for the rest of your career.

Week 1 Read:

If you desire to be at the top of your game professionally, commit to regularly reading. Don’t become like the 23% of Americans who didn’t even read one book in 2021.

If you’re new in your reading journey, you might try this:

Every year, read at least six business books related to your field each year along with six other books that have nothing to do with your career.

Earlier this year I decided to re-read some of my all-time favorite, most impactful business books rather than reading anything new – at least in the short term.

If you are like me, you’ve unlikely mastered everything in the first few readings of your favorite books. Some on my list to re-read include The Tipping Point, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Never Split the Difference, Atomic Habits, and classic favorites I read early in my young adult life – The Magic of Thinking Big and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Each of these books will provide further insight each time you read them. Similarly, A Tale of Two CitiesThe Hobbit, and To Kill A Mockingbird are some of my fiction favorites and books that everyone should read at least once. Consider making one of your six non-business books a literary classic.

 As an avid reader for most of my professional life, I have noticed what you have likely noticed as well – business book themes are quite repetitive. So if you’re like me, maybe your reading strategy needs a facelift. If so, you might try this:

Read at least six books that make your brain hurt – books that you might not otherwise read. Read books on philosophy, religion, academic books, scientific books, or books on anthropology.

In my professional circles, I’ve noticed the tendency to gravitate toward the same business books – the current or recent bestsellers. If you desire to look like, sound like, act like, or lead like everyone else, keep reading what everyone is reading. Reading those books only expands an increasingly commoditized business landscape. Stop asking people in your profession about book titles or refrain from using the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller list as your reading list. Here are some alternative approaches to consider:

Try reading Aristotle, Aquinas, or Plato (click here for a list of 20 of the greatest philosophers and their big ideas)

Read the writings of our founding fathers. Search for concepts, ideas, and insights from your reading and deeply ponder their relevance in your organization

Ask for book suggestions from people for whom you might not typically solicit book suggestions. For example, ask a history professor, a counselor or therapist, your doctor, a successful athletic coach, a landscaping company, your plumber, a pastor or priest, or your hairstylist. Chances are you’ll hear titles that you would never have found on your own.

Mix it up. Reading books out of your normal interest could very well inspire some new thoughts and ideas you had never considered. Read books that fascinate others and see if you might become fascinated as well.

Whether you are reading business, philosophy, or fiction, take notes on the interesting ideas or concepts you read. Since there can be learning from all types of books, meet with your team – you guessed it – at least six times per year to share your insights. If you are reading classic fiction books, the ideas for discussion could include the creative use of imagery, character development, lessons from the protagonist, or the juxtaposition of two contradicting ideas. If you are reading a business book, contact the author and ask for or help create 3-5 questions per main idea to discuss with your team. If you are reading a brain-busting book, isolate a key concept or main idea for your team to contemplate in your work environment. For example, you could read the works of a philosopher like Marcus Aurelius, who wrote:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I think there are lessons applicable to our professional lives in that quote – particularly that last line.

Try reading the big ideas of one of the top 20 philosophers in the link above. Then dive into the meaning of one of their big ideas. See if you relate it to the goals of your team, a new product idea, or a way to serve your customers in the highest possible manner.

We are in danger of losing our competitive edge as we drift toward sameness. Reading and thinking about unique content can distance your organization from your competition, create loyal members, clients, or customers, and reduce the predictable practice of copying everyone else.

With daily discipline, you can easily combine these ideas to read six business books as well six brain-busting books. Make sure along the way to consider reading other books strictly for pleasure or for a diversion from the books that make your head spin.

Perhaps it’s time to clear off your nightstand, take the books off your desk (and dust underneath them), and dive into a book. It’s time to read.

Love is Love, Let’s Go Brandon, Black Lives Matter, Jesus is my co-Pilot, Vote for Richardson!

Signs. They are everywhere. They tell us what to do, what to buy, when to buy, where to go, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. Signs tell us when stores are open and when they are closed. Signs lie to us and they tell us the truth.

The signs and messages people display can tell us a lot about them. For example, if we see political signs in a neighbor’s yard, those signs tell us how they vote – which tells us how they feel about certain important issues. Messages on t-shirts can also tell us about a person (where they have vacationed, a favorite musical group, their favorite sports team, or what brand they love).

Bumper stickers can reveal a person’s faith (or not), their sense of humor, or their physical/athletic endeavors. If we read these kinds of signs and messages carefully, they can tell us a lot about people, their values, their beliefs, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had signs on people that told us how they were doing? They are not likely to wear a sign that says, “I am angry, anxious, fearful, upset, disappointed, stressed, confused, embarrassed, etc.” However, their tone of voice, facial expressions, eye movements, and nonverbal cues can tell us a lot about what they are thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

There are times when I am talking to my wife that I can change the outcome of a conversation. For example, I am a big picture guy and my wife is very much a detailed person. I like change and can pivot in an instant. She likes the familiar and change can be stressful for her. So if I am watching her nonverbal signs, I can tell when to stop talking and when to start asking questions. I’ve noticed that when she slightly opens her mouth as if she wants to say something during a conversation – or maybe she’s biting her tongue – she isn’t in agreement with me. When I see this, it’s a warning sign not to continue down the road I am traveling. It’s time to start empathizing, listening, or asking questions. It’s not the time to propose a new idea that is too far out of the box or spring something new on her. 

We need to watch signs with those we lead as well. If you have had a tenured working relationship, you no doubt have picked up signs and patterns of your colleagues. If you haven’t noticed these things, start paying careful attention and use the signs you see to communicate and lead more effectively.

You won’t see these signs if you are in your office, on back-to-back Zoom calls, or have such a rigid schedule that there’s no time for connecting with others. It’s important to make time for checking in with your team members, colleagues, customers, clients, or members. Ask questions that delve deeper than the proverbial “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”. Those are good starter questions but continue to probe. For example, try asking, “What are you working on today that is challenging you?” or “How can I help you solve a pressing problem, respond to a challenging customer, or increase your productivity?”. Listen carefully to their answers and check for understanding. You will learn a lot by paying attention to the signs and signals they give in their responses.

Maybe it’s time to start searching for more “people signs” and reading those signs more effectively.