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Trust: A Leader’s Responsibility

This month I asked an esteemed friend and colleague, Heather Russell, to make a guest appearance on my blog. While she doesn’t profess to be a writer by trade, she is a self-proclaimed rock star (@rockstar_fac) and one of the smartest cookies I’ve had the privilege of working with. Her sweet spots include telling it like it is, sparking new ideas, and pioneering genius approaches to solving problems. I think you’ll find all three of these things reflected in her thoughts on the responsibilities and challenges that come with learning to trust yourself, as a leader and a human.

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In all aspects of our life, we as humans deal with getting input. Sometimes we seek it, sometimes it is unsolicited, but input is rarely in short supply.

In my experience, asking people for their input gets you two things:

  1. A whole lot of opinions (that often go sideways on you and have nothing at ALL to do with what you asked for feedback on in the first place) and
  2. An expectation that you will take each and every person’s input as the gospel truth.  Ok, so maybe not that extreme.  But close.

Input is a wonderful and glorious thing; it gives you perspective you might not have had prior to asking and allows you to see all angles of the situation.

But (and this is a big one here), too much input or input that’s too loud or coming from someone who has authority over you can erode YOUR voice.  Your opinion.  Your instincts.  

Ok, so maybe your boss won’t whack you over the head but they certainly can influence your performance rating, yes? This is the kind of authority I’m talking about.

I’ve seen it often in my career and personal life.  Especially when someone is trying to grow their career and is working on a highly visible project or temporary job.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever wanted to be successful so badly that you think you have to take all of the opinions of anyone who has ever lived?  Ever?

What winds up happening is possibly the worst outcome of all. You lose trust in the one person you should trust more than anyone else on the planet:

Yourself.

I just saw this happen.  A wonderfully smart person in a temporary job was trying to prove that she’d had an impact, and was faced with a championship game moment…the last meeting.  The last big opportunity to show what she had learned in this temporary job.

I watched her ask person after person what she should do.

I heard her say things like “maybe I should just do what x said” or “y keeps saying that I should do this, I think I should listen to y.”

She was circling the decision-making drain and couldn’t see how to get out of it.

As an outside observer, I could see clearly that she just needed to trust herself.

She had answers and input and observations that NO ONE else had.  She had the exact insights the leaders she would be meeting with wanted to hear.

But in her panic, in her well-intentioned decision to solicit input, she lost sight of that.

She forgot to trust herself and follow the guidance of her inner voice.

But she’s not alone. We all do this.

We get so wrapped up in the input, feedback, and perspective that we spend countless hours trying to make all the Jenga ™ pieces fit and make everyone happy.

But guess what?

If you always make everyone happy you aren’t being innovative.  You aren’t being creative.

You’re simply taking the dregs of someone else’s ideas (that incidentally they never acted on, ever wonder why that is?) and trying to marry them to another person’s recycled ideas.  Dregs and recycling.  Is that what you want?

Probably not. So why do we do this?

Because trusting yourself enough to hear what’s being shared, to examine it for what it is (one person’s perspective), and to consider if it has a place in your work is harder than it sounds. 

When you care a lot, when you are working with people in positions senior to yours, when you are going through a change yourself, it is challenging to have this kind of perspective.

And yet, when you trust our own ideas and lean forward on them, shouting out to the world, “HERE IS MY IDEA AND ITS AWESOME!” that is when you have the chance to succeed in ways you’ve never seen before.

Or fail.  (Yes, that’s always a looming possibility, isn’t it?  But it’ll still be YOUR failure and isn’t it pretty?!)

The point is to go be a unicorn, and follow your own sparkle-covered ideas straight into awesomeness.

Maybe we can’t all be unicorns all the time. Maybe we can’t all be awesome all the time.  And maybe we can’t all be awesome.

But we can believe in ourselves.

We can investigate the input we receive, examine it objectively and determine IF it has a place for our work.

When it does, we can take it and run with it. When it doesn’t, we can practice the art of politely thanking the person who provided it, and letting it go.

But only if we stay true to our sparkle-tastic unicorn selves.

Staying true requires vigilance. It requires awareness.

How do you know if you’re staying true?

1. Recognize the symptoms of eroded self-reliance. You’ll know you’re in it when you feel like you can’t decide. You can’t make a move.  You have the hardest time making the easiest decisions (like what to wear to a meeting or what to eat for dinner.)

You are in a really bad place and need to ask for help when you find yourself driving around in circles, hungry and confused about what to pick up for dinner.

Call a friend, they’ll tell you you’re ridiculous (if they are a good friend) and tell you to stop at the first place you see.  Ever had gas station burritos for dinner?  Mmmm…. (I’m not at all speaking from experience here.  Shush.)

2. Define and stick to your personal values. It’s hard to trust yourself without a touchstone, a “true north” that resonates for you.

Identify your personal values.  Keep em close.  Use them to make decisions.  Reflect at least annually if they have changed.  If you live by your values, you will always trust yourself.

3. Keep yourself in check. When it comes to effective leadership, self-reliance and self-trust are a fine line, my friends.  Too much trust in your own instincts can make you seem arrogant.  Can make you arrogant.  So trust.  Trust a lot.  But keep yourself in check.

These three things have worked for me. But don’t take my advice – there are a million books out there on building trust and building relationships with those people you lead.

Go out and find what works for you – what keeps you connected to your ability to trust yourself, and enables you to be the best leader you can be.

Then tell me all about it at www.twitter.com/rockstar_fac.

 

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Feeling inadequate about things that are not important

It’s the same as not being invited to the party that you don’t want to go to.

Why do we WASTE such precious ENERGY over these things??

This concept has come up for me a lot lately. A LOT.

Maybe it’s a product of my 20s. Maybe it’s just a product of life. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one who gets struck by these sentiments, or who wastes energy on these feelings.

It’s that feeling when you find yourself chasing something down, changing something about yourself, questioning something about yourself, or coveting something because somehow, intentionally or unintentionally, other people’s priorities and stack-ranked importances have rubbed off on you.

Suddenly, your wardrobe isn’t good enough and doesn’t have enough summer dresses, just because your best friend always looks like she walked straight off of the Jackie Kennedy catwalk. Forget the fact that summer dresses tend to look ridiculous on you, that you’re way more comfortable in shorts, and that all you happen to own are things in the less-than-runway-ready category. Suddenly her priorities, and subtle judgments of your style, have you wasting your energy on wishing you could update your wardrobe. Or, worse yet, have you spending your money on clothes you can’t afford that you’ll hardly wear because at the end of the day, they’re just not you.

It happens at work, too. Especially when you work on a team of seven other highly talented people who do exactly what you do. Only the job that you each do is not carved in stone, has no right answers, and a no one right way of doing anything. It’s a breeding ground for feeling inadequate. You hear about how someone did this or that, made this impact or that, and you think to yourself “Wow, why haven’t I done that?” which quickly turns into “What is wrong with me? I must suck!” Forget the fact that you’ve been rocking the job in your own unique ways, making headway and having a positive effect on the things that you deemed important to you – the things that play to your strengths, or the needs of your specific clients, or that you just plain have fun doing. Suddenly, someone else’s priorities and areas of success have you wasting your energy wishing you could be better at things you have no reason to focus on. Or, worse yet, have you feeling paralyzed and doubting yourself, your abilities, and what you ARE good at, even though at the end of the day, their strengths are just not yours.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s a wastee.

It’s a reality.

And the only thing I have working in my favor is awareness.

It doesn’t make it any easier to overcome these little thoughts and feelings that creep into my head. But it does give me a fighting chance.

And if you catch yourself thinking these things, you have a fighting chance, too.

So talk about it when it happens. Share it. Because it takes courage to overcome it. And when you share your story, you’ll not only help yourself overcome what is challenging you, but you’ll be helping someone else along the way.

Like when you tell me you own tales of how you’ve struggled with this concept, and you tell me the kinds of things that have helped you overcome feeling inadequate about things that are not important to you.

What’s worked for you? What’s helped you? What’s hurt you?

I’m listening.

 

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Tomorrow: Truth. Tonight? Fiction.

To me, coffee is all about stories. In fact, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that really, all of life is about stories. It’s about the stories we tell and the people who color them. It’s about the relationships and interactions that fill the basis for those stories.

Origin is no different.

The next three days are going to fill my head with wonderful stories, touching stories, enlightening stories. True stories.

Tonight, however, before all that magic begins to swirl, there is an opportunity. An opportunity to tell a completely different story. A fabricated story. A work of fiction, entirely from scratch, based only on the sights, sounds and smells of a foreign country…and my imagination. I hope you enjoy…

Romero
The wind flutters the curtains as a strong gust races across his desk. Invisible to the eye, the warmth and humidity takes it’s shape in surrounding objects, dancing across scattered sheets of paper, catching the curve of a pen and rolling it into a glass with a subtle clank.

In his exhaustion and haze he doesn’t react, too buried in the piles of notes and scribbled numbers that are the lifeblood of his farm. The breeze seems offended, and offers a gust bolder than the last, as if to demand his attention. As it once again collides the pen with the glass, a much sharper note is offered and Romero takes pause.

He leans back in the old chair at his desk, the wood ceremoniously creaking in response to the shifts in his weight. He stretches both arms over back of his head and he turns to look out over the terrace, the sounds of crickets and various native bugs filling the darkened void with enough noise to color the scenery. With a deep breath in, he closes his eyes, and quiets the chatter of his mind.

He quiets the buzz of numbers; all the estimates he’s been running, and predictions on yield. He quiets the drone of bills; the charges owed on the recent upgrades in milling equipment, and necessary maintenance all around. He quiets the rustle of paperwork; the notes from local co-ops, and buyers around the globe. With a single exhale and a creak of the chair, he quiets the noise of it all…and listens.

He listens for her asks. He listens for her needs. He listens for the quiet messages that she needs him to hear. And in that beautiful emptiness of silence, his beloved coffee farm speaks, with a balanced humidity in her breath, not too damp, not too dry. She speaks and sings to him the songs of her ecosystem, alive with diversity and health, with each creature awake and fully alive, a chorus of vitality. She speaks, and in her own quiet way, offers thanks to him for his patience, and dedication to her care.

“I love you,” he says with a deep sigh, and clicks off the light.

 

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At the heart of coffee

At the heart of coffee…

There is connection.

And what makes connection special?

The people we share it with.

Connection with family, friends, farmers, customers, community. Connection is all about il cuore – the heart.

For whatever reason, coffee seems to inspire us and connect us in so many ways. Whether it’s our inspiration to get out of bed in the morning when we imagine that inviting steam rising from a fresh mug, letting us greet that first connection of the day with delight, or our inspiration to stay up late at night doing all those things we never get to, maybe connecting with ourselves or with a good book. No matter the circumstances it inspires. It connects.

Last week it was inspiration for me to RE-connect with some wonderful partners who share a love of coffee. There used to be a small group of us who held a slight obsession with coffee, and who connected on a weekly basis to share in that. Someone would always bring a press or two or three, and typically we would go in blind. Our senses would take in the scenery, smelling for notes of this or that, slurping and tasting until we were sure we had identified at least several of the core characteristics of the coffee. And almost as special as the coffees themselves was what we would bring to pair it with. Typically a home-made treat, or at a minimum something picked out with tender care on an extra trip to the grocery store. Our tastings were always full of heart.

As with many things, life, work life in this case, eventually got in the way, and we gave up our weekly tradition. More than a year or even two went by since I saw these fabulous people, since I connected with them over coffee. And so I decided to change that.

Inspired by a recent recipe I found (that I thought would be even more incredible paired with the right coffee), and dying for a chance to try it out, I set up a little reunion. This weekend, in preparation, I made a trip to the specialty grocer for some ingredients, and whipped up a batch of chocolate baci (“baci” is Italian for “kisses” – they’re a traditional, delicious treat that’s incredibly easy to make and will make you never want to eat another Hershey’s “kiss” again). Special thanks to the incredible Bell’Alimento blogtress Paula for sharing this baci recipe on her BellaNutella site).

What a perfect basis for getting back to the heart of it all…getting back to some connection with wonderful people, delicious food, and a fresh press of coffee (we ended up pairing with Guatemala Casi Cielo and Guatemala Antigua).

And so I turn it over to you. What inspires you to connect? Is it a special coffee? A delicious pairing? Wonderful people?

I’ve set the table…now you can fill in the blanks. The baci recipe is at your fingertips…who and what will you pair it with?!

 

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The Absence

Have you ever noticed how the absence of something can sometimes teach you more? More than you would have expected, in fact?

I’ve been reflecting a lot this week, brought on by shifts and changes in a multitude of areas in my life. And a common theme I’m noticing is just how much can be discovered through what is not instead of simply focusing on what is, and doing more of it.

Perhaps it’s an extension of the age-old “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But this week, for me anyway, it’s been going deeper than that. It’s turned more into “what is the value in things unsaid?” or “when is the lack of something perhaps more interesting, more thought provoking, than the presence of something?”

You see our human brains create meaning, an understanding of what is, only by understanding what something is not. Take this for example: if I pointed at an object and told you “this is a table,” how would you know whether to agree or not to agree? What defines the characteristics of a table? Is it that there’s four legs and a horizontal surface? What about tables with three legs? Or six? Or multiple horizontal surfaces? Or one with a recycled-wood surface that is mostly horizontal but perhaps a little bumpy or jagged?

You can begin to see that your brain actually knows whether to agree with me that “this is a table” because it has a distinct understanding of what it means to not be a table. Tables are not things that our brains think of as a cup, a butterfly, a cloud, a telephone. You get the idea. It would be very, very difficult to describe the exact qualities the encompass what we mean when we say “this is a table.” But we learn, over time, how to associate a thing with the word “table” because we’ve learned what not to associate that word with.

And so I’ve turned my focus this week to that which is not present. Instead of focusing on coffee, and all it’s glorious forms which I (usually) am regularly consuming, coffee is on hiatus from my life this week. Some coworkers and I have (for better or worse) embarked on a 5-day journey together to “detox” our bodies. That means a fun diet of minimal calories, maximum nutritional value, and you guessed it…no “extras.” Meaning? No coffee. Yes, yes, I know. We’ve warned everyone that sits even remotely near us to stay away this week – we haven’t always been the friendliest bunch through this process!

Nevertheless, it’s given me some time to reflect on a week in my life without coffee. I know! Tragedy, right? But, actually, it hasn’t been. Neither has it been a tragedy to do without all sweets or anything really fun in the food category.

In fact, the absence of coffee this week has made me consider how coffee fits into my world. And, more so, what a personal experience it is for most of us, despite how much we all talk about the sense of community it can bring. The coffee itself, actually consuming it, drinking it, is in fact a highly personal experience. It’s something we look forward to, covet even, and something we feel the absence of when it’s not within our normal routine. Without it, I also realize there’s several things I don’t have to worry about. There are no good or bad shots this week. There’s no perfectly-measured french presses. No timers that misbehave prior to the four minute mark. There’s no “perfect cup of coffee” to potentially get un-perfected (because as coffee lovers, I know you’re all equally as obsessed with me over achieving that perfect cup of coffee each morning). And what can be more disappointing than coffee gone wrong, to those who love it the most?

No, this week, there is none of that. Without coffee in my daily routine, there is also no room for an unsatisfactory cup of coffee. There is no good cup of coffee. There is no bad cup of coffee. The absence makes that impossible.

But getting rid of that need to worry about and lovingly craft the perfect coffee beverage a-la-espresso, latte, or french press, has created space for something else. It’s created a little opening for me to explore coffee in other ways. To engage more with what the great wide world of coffee is doing and thinking and talking about. To discover a bit about things like #5awesomebaristas on Twitter and YouTube for my coffee fix, instead of staring at the bottom of my porcelain Starbucks mug while contemplating grabbing another shot from the espresso machine in the kitchen (these guys have some serious coffee and Starbucks passion!! Talk about what it means #tobeapartner).

In short, it’s given me some space to realize all the ways in which I haven’t been engaging with coffee, and inspired me to do some thinking about ways to break free from the porcelain-mug-at-desk effect (and the french-press-attached-to-arm effect).

This week, for me anyway, coffee is a thing left unsaid (or un-drunk, as the case may be). But its absence in terms of physical consumption has begun to make me think of it as something so much more than a standard presence in my day.

What are you feeling the absence of in your life? Is there more to appreciate from that than you might have thought?

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Reflection, Tasting

 

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Just Be(an)!!

Just Be.

Just Bean.

Playfully!

Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if we all took more time out to just be, experience, glean, experiment, romp, play…joyfully?

‘Tis the season for this, that, the other – shopping, shipping, stressing, giving…but not always so mindfully.

Are you focused on just the destination? Have you lost sight of the journey?

Whatever you don’t forget to savor each moment along the way. With no place to go and no place to be other than in the here and now, we’re all on a never-ending journey.

Will you pause for a moment and enjoy it with me? The present moment? And just be?

And if you like, bring some beans…they should brew up for enjoyment quite nicely…!  Try experimenting…a new type, a new brewing methodology. Experience your coffee playfully!

Happy holidays everyone and welcome the New Year cheering, whatever it may bring!  Next week, I’m off to Italy! (And some Ethiopia Harrar is coming with me…)

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Reflection, Tradition

 

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Curiosity killed the cat

They say that “curiosity killed the cat.” Hmm.

Let’s say for a moment that the cat in this blog post will be a symbol for a few things…ignorance, blind superiority, ego, right and wrong, exclusion, authority.

If we let the “cat” embody those things, well then sure…I can get on board with that. Curiosity killed the cat. And we should all be jumping for joy in that case!!  Who wants a life filled with ignorance, blind superiority, egotism, right, wrong, exclusionary tendencies, and parent-wagging-finger-at-child-style authority??

As far as I can see, curiosity only ever brought knowledge, enlightenment, discovery, questioning, seeking, thirst, hunger and passion for things. Why would we ever discourage this?? Which inclines me to believe that the age old quote is actually rather misleading…sure, our curiosity can sometimes lead us to things we didn’t expect, and knowledge sometimes can be a scary thing, at times even dangerous.  But that should never, ever deter us from seeking to learn and grow and ever-increase our capacity for awareness and understanding.

So what does all this have to do with coffee?

Well, curiously enough, there’s this word I hear a lot about Starbucks, in our press releases, about our position in coffee, the market of specialty coffee, how we want to be seen, perceived, known by our customers, by the world at large.

Authority.

Admirable?  Yes. Of course we strive to be a leader, a trusted and respected authority on our core product, on coffee.  Yet I shudder a little bit when I hear it. It just sounds so…condescending.  All I can seem to picture is a parent standing righteously over their child wagging an all-knowing finger down in disapproval. I know everything, you know nothing. It implies a stagnation, a final destination on what should be an ever-winding road of coffee knowledge, that really should have no end, no final point, no destination.

Is anyone, can anyone, should anyone, or any entity for that matter, seek to become an ultimate, all-knowing authority? On anything?

The seeking part is fine, but not when it blinds us to the path along the way. It seems to me this is a bit much focused on the destination, losing sight of the journey entirely, and in fact connoting that the journey is not what’s important, that the seeking of coffee knowledge in all its forms is not the point, but that getting to this place where we have become the be-all, end-all know-it-alls of coffee is what we have in mind.

And I’m sure that it’s not. Although Coffee Authority sure makes it sound that way.

So what’s getting lost in this message? What are we sacrificing, what are we excluding, what are we making ourselves blind do when we do this? When we set out to become a Global Coffee Authority?

I think we sacrifice our intent of community, to welcome in and involve customers. Our inclusion and warm, open invitation to people everywhere to seek us out, to be invited in, to make Starbucks their 3rd place between work and home, to pull up a comfy chair and stay a while, discover something magical, about the people, the places, the farmers, the coffee. Think for a moment…does anyone seek out the authoritative parent, who always “has all the answers” when they are in need, unsure of themselves? Maybe, but it probably feels scary to. Or, more likely, do they run to the kind, understanding, equally sure-footed parent that will listen to them, hear them, meet them where they’re at, and provide an experience, specifically for them, that will uplift them and bring enlightenment to their day, their week, their life, without any hint of condescension?

I think we sacrifice our passion, our company spirit that is ever present, which DOES continually seek to find new knowledge, discover new things, grow, evolve, change, constantly…that thirsts, desires, more ideas, information, understanding. We’re an endlessly curious collection of individuals at this company. We embody an entrepreneurial spirit. We have a passion, a love, a connection, to everything we do.  And every person I’ve ever encountered here, every partner, has a drive to learn, grow, and evolve every day. Would our partners be so curious to learn, know, grow in all things coffee if we told them that after you complete course A, B, C, you’re now a “Coffee Authority?”  That your learning and growth in the area of coffee, your coffee journey, is now complete? Of course not. Which is why, so many partners, years after year, have a continued passion to discover ever-more about this precious, delicious commodity we work in service of.

But more than anything in this, I think we sacrifice our business. We sacrifice our opportunity to connect and inspire people to care about coffee as much as we do, to inspire people to buy and sell our coffee, so that we can continue to give back to the communities who provide it.  We draw a box around ourselves that says “we live in here, we are the authority, you live out there, and only if you dare to cross this big scary line will we let you in on our secrets.” But we are not a secret society. We value transparency. We work tirelessly to find ways to tell our coffee story, to make known to the world all the wonderful things this commodity can be in service to, if you source it ethically, care about the farmers and the environment which so painstakingly produce it, if you give back to the places it comes from, if you deliver the end-result beans to customers in a way that is world-class, that connects people to it, inspires them with it. But how many people will cross a line when they come to it? What is there to motivate them to take the risk, take the leap? Their own curiosity, sure. But then they might remember that, supposedly, curiosity killed the cat.  And then they’ll shy away. Just like we’ve shied away from establishing ourselves as the seekers of ever-more coffee enlightenment, a constantly evolving, learning, growing entity, just like our customers.

We’ve failed to be vulnerable, to say “Hey, here we are! We know a ton, but we’ll never know everything there is to know about this incredible thing called coffee.  We’re learning every day…come learn with us!!”

Instead, we’ve positioned ourselves as the already-existing authority. We’ve essentially killed the curious cat. And as a partner of eight years, as someone who is slightly obsessed with our core product of coffee, I know, I can see in the daily actions of our company, across partners and teams and groups big and small, that to paint ourselves as some condescending, know-all coffee authority was never our intent. It is not who we are. Not at all.

And so I propose a new thought.

What if we let AUTHORITY kill the cat?

What if we embraced COFFEE CURIOSITY, instead?

Curious, isn’t it?

 

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