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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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What is a Miracle?

As a writer, I sometimes find myself compelled to create things, to put words down, even though I’m not exactly sure why. I’m not exactly sure what it is I need to say so badly, what it is I am trying to express – there are simply words there, somewhere deep inside, asking to be written. And so I write them.

I find this often happens to me in life as a whole. In moments I don’t quite expect, when I can’t quite be sure why, I will find myself compelled to make a particular decision, go to a certain place, talk to a certain person.

And what I’ve learned is that, if I obey the calling, if I listen to my heart and follow her lead, I find myself directly in the middle of a miracle.

What is a miracle?

I will ask you to tell me.

When you look out into the world, what miracle is it that you see?

In your day? In your life? In your week?

For me, on Tuesday night, it began when I sat in my hotel room at the Marriott San Jose at a ridiculously late hour. I had been fighting a headache most of the day, brought on by the disruption to my normal coffee routine (you never mess with a Starbuckian’s coffee routine). I had taken a few pain killers, and yet still no relief. Later that evening, while mingling with the other partners who had recently arrived here in Origin with me, I half jokingly said I would write another blog post if my headache cleared up.

A few hours later, it did. Apparently my heart wasn’t kidding when she asked me to start writing…

And so despite the late hour, despite the looming arrival of an early morning and a full day, I sat down and wrote.

I wrote because of that voice, that little intuition inside had been pestering me all day. “Write some fiction, it’s been too long, you know,” she said. “Just a short story, it will hardly take you any time. Tonight you have the freedom, the liberty, to tell any story you want about the farmers. No truth, just imagination. Write.”

My mind protested my heart’s encouragement. “But I have no idea what I am even writing. What story am I supposed to tell?” I asked her.

“Don’t you worry about that, just write. I promise you, you will know what to say,” she responded.

And so I did. I sat in my hotel room, in the heart of this beautiful country, and I sunk into the moment; into the breeze floating through the terrace window, into the sounds that color the darkness of the night, into the ten years of imagination and coffee knowledge that has been brewing in my mind. I called the words forward and I wrote.

What emerged was a story about a fictional character named Romero, an expression and an illustration of the love that I imagine a coffee grower has for his trees, for his farm, for his living.

It was two days later, that I realized I had mis-named my fictional character, and that in fact he was not fiction at all.

I stood at the Chacon family farm on Thursday while Ernesto, the owner, told us the details of his life. As he explained about the terrible impacts of the coffee leaf rust fungus, his son, Alonzo, heir to the family’s 10 acre farm, pulls a branch off a nearby tree to show us the disease.

He holds it up on display, eager to share about his family’s hardships and realities with the group of 50+ onlookers. Ernesto then continues talking about the farm, and all attention turns back to him. But I am still watching Alonzo.

I am watching Alonzo, off to the side, as he begins to turn the branch over in his hands, examining the stems and the leaves, lost in a world of his own.

ElAmordeAlonzo

Time stands still as he stares down at the branch, twirling it quietly between his two calloused fingers. I look at him and I see only one thing:

Love.

On Tuesday night, I thought I had written a work of fiction.

It turns out I had written a work of truth; I just hadn’t met the main character yet.

And that, my friends, is a miracle to me.

 

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Don’t Forget the Roots

I stood in a coffee field today, in the back-yard of a small-stake farmer named Ernesto. I walked through his garage, past his bright blue “camion” to get there. Past his son, his grand-daughters, his daughter-in-law, his wife. Past his house-plants, his patio; the man’s whole life.

As I was nestled deep amongst the coffee trees, I engaged in another conversation with Orlando, half my broken Spanish, half his broken English. It amazes me how much two people can communicate on halves; a miracle, really. This time, he pulled back a tree and kneeled down into the dirt, and summoned me to follow.

He carefully brushed back the top soil around the base of the plant and began to explain to me about the root system of the coffee plant. He pointed to the white roots, referencing that this indicates they are healthy and active; able to take up the nutrients that they are fed.

“It is unbelievable,” he tells me in Spanish, “I have talked with farmers who have been in this business for 10, 20, 30 years or more, and they have never looked at the roots of their coffee plants. You see, it doesn’t matter how much you fertilize, if your plants don’t have healthy, active roots that can actually take up the nutrients. They don’t know this, they don’t realize. For 30 years or more they only look at the leaves, at the top of the plants, above the ground.”

I nod and indicate my understanding as he explains, actively listening and reflecting back to him my understanding of what he is saying with incorrectly conjugated verbs and a much simpler Spanish vocabulary. He lights up and smiles, and I know I have understood correctly.

I begin to process it all. Decades and decades of farming knowledge…and they’ve never looked at the roots?

How often, I wonder, do we do this in life? Do we overlook the root systems of our lives, or families, our work, ourselves? How often do we fail to see the whole picture? To nurture ourselves below the ground? What nourishment are we missing out on in our lives, because we have failed to cultivate the health of our own root systems?

It made me remember just how easy it is to get lost in our own worlds. How easy it is to be stuck within our own mindsets, our own traditions. And without the proper support, without that third party, that person to push us and expand us and help us see, we will never notice.

It made me remember, just how much power, how much potential, each of us holds to change the life of another, to help them see something differently so that they can grow.

Did you hear me?

Each of us holds the power to change the life of another; to help them see something differently so that they can grow.

Now get out there and change someones life. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the roots…

 

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Knowledge…or Experiences? A Challenge to Partners

knowl·edge

noun\ˈnä-lij\

1: the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association

How do we gain knowledge? Through experiences.

As a nine year Starbucks partner, I’ve come to learn and see a lot within the organization. From serving coffee on the front lines as a barista, to participating in 10-year strategy and visioning sessions with our senior leadership team, I’m astonished at the experiences I’ve had here.

Did you catch that? It’s the experiences that have left an impression. Sure, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge because of those experiences. But all the best kind of knowledge comes from first-hand experiences.

So why then, as a company, do we focus so much of our energy on “Coffee Knowledge” instead of “Coffee Experiences?”

By focusing on knowledge, and not the experiences that build it, we’ve created a coffee culture that is intimidating, overwhelming, and quite frankly, uninspiring. People are asked to host a coffee tasting, and immediately pull out a guided tasting or fact sheet, a coffee tasting guide, and a french press. They prepare a list of interesting “facts” to tell their audience.They brush up on the basic steps to tasting coffee. They go through the same old motions. They do the same old thing. Like referencing a history book right before an exam, they gather up just what they need to know to pass the test, only to forget it a day, a week, a month or two later.

What if we approached coffee tastings as experiences? If we asked ourselves “what do I want people to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear? What is something they can’t get from following a guided tasting sheet? What equipment or products or formats or philosophies do I want to share with them? What questions will I ask to understand what they already know? To uncover what they’re passionate about as it relates to coffee and spark dialogue? What will I do to reinforce that there are no right or wrong answers with coffee, and encourage exploration, experimentation, and play? How will I ensure I create an engaging experience?!

I have a challenge for all you Starbucks partners out there; let’s flip the paradigm of “coffee knowledge” on its head. Let’s promote a culture of “coffee experiences” instead. The concept is simple:

Forget knowledge; create experiences

Forget telling; spark conversation

I dare you to take on the challenge. In fact, I double dare you.

Go out today, in your stores, in your teams, with your customers, with your neighbors, and help turn the paradigm of “coffee knowledge” on its head – the one where we go to books and texts and things like Coffee Tasting Guides (now coffee passports) and Coffee Master Journals and Coffee & Tea Resource manuals to gain “knowledge” of coffee, and take that knowledge and turn it into some stereotype of a coffee-tasting where we dump our “knowledge” onto other people and lecture them with regurgitated facts and stuff they either don’t care about or won’t remember. Nobody likes hosting these kinds of coffee interactions. Nobody likes participating in them.

Let’s go out and create inspired moments of connection. Let’s go out and create engaging coffee experiences.

And how will you know you’ve done it? Because you’ve created something that’s participative. Something that’s inventive. Something that’s spontaneous, and fun, and inviting. Something that’s memorable, and inspiring. Because you’ve created an experience.

ex·pe·ri·ence

noun \ik-ˈspir-ē-ən(t)s\

1: the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

 2: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity

3: something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through 

 

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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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