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Tag Archives: Passion

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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Anniversary

Anniversary.

The date on which an event took place the previous year.

At least that how Webster’s defines it.

It’s astounding how quickly anniversaries usher themselves in each passing year.

At Starbucks, people hear “Anniversary” and they think one thing.

OH MY GOD, WHEN CAN I GET IT?!

…or something along those lines.

I’ve never been sure if it’s the cedary, spicy notes of the coffee contained within that draws us near, if it’s that beautiful, earthy-brown Siren that is always etched on the bag, or if it’s the impending arrival of Autumn. Maybe it’s a combination of the three.

When you work in retail, living a season ahead is just part of the scenery. Each holiday, each theme, each featured coffee or beverage flavor seems to arrive a little too early.

You spend so much time planning and preparing and learning about what’s coming, that by the time it actually gets here, you feel like you’ve already lived it. Pumpkin Spice planning begins in May or June. Christmas is a hot topic before July is over. It can be a little jading.

It’s a bit like the way that August, though a thoroughly heat-ridden and beach-bathed component of summer, is a month that signals the end of a season. (Writer Jana Eleanor explores this idea quite eloquently in her post “Read ‘Tuck Everlasting’ This August”. Seriously – you should read it. The post. And the book).

This August, summer came slamming to a close for me when I sat in a regional meeting a few weeks ago and took those first, glorious sips of this year’s Anniversary Blend.

anniversary

It was bitter-sweet.

The moment. Not the coffee.

The coffee was spectacular. A heavily spiced, complex body that dazzled with layers of flavor, each a unique expression of the impending season. It reminded me of the multitude of colors that Autumn paints the leaves of one single tree. It’s a single cup of coffee, with many colors to her story.

Our partners are what color those stories.

You brew up this coffee, you bring out this bag – everyone starts talking.

What stories does Anniversary Blend stir out of you?

Join the conversation and tell me what your Anniversary story is all about.

Special thanks goes to @cyndidrapeau for hosting the incredible Anniversary Blend tasting that inspired my post. Image courtesy of http://www.starbucks.com.

 

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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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Living at the Mercy

Each night in Origin as we traveled back to the hotel on our buses, we engaged in reflection and discussion about our day.

Sometimes our sentiments were uplifting, and shared of the passion that we felt or the excitement and the energy that infused us. Other times our sentiments were heavy, full of deeper levels of contemplation, of appreciation for the lives lived that make coffee possible.

One of the words that struck me at the end of the third day, and that has continued to resonate in my consciousness, is Mercy.

You see, in coffee farming, numbers are everything. Where the peg falls on this board determines your livelihood. It is the difference between a good year, and a bad year. It dictates if you can put food on your table to feed your family, and buy the fertilizer you need to feed your crops, in an attempt to do it all again next year.

In coffee, you live at the mercy.

You are at the mercy of the coffee leaf rust fungus, that can plague your crops when it is dry.

You are at the mercy of the american leaf spot fungus, that can plague your crops when it is wet.

You are at the mercy of the nematoads, that can plague your crop from the ground.

You are at the mercy of the broca beetle, and its eggs that destroy your beans.

You are at the mercy of the market, and volatile swings in coffee prices.

You are at the mercy of the laborers, and their ability to pick only ripe cherries.

Youare at the mercy of the rain gods, and their providing the water that you need.

You are at the mercy of the co-op, and access to the wet mill for processing.

You are at the mercy of the city, and her constant calling to sell off your land for development.

You are at the mercy of the coffee board, and the soundness of the advice given out to your region.

You are at the mercy of the exporter, and the agreement he negotiates on your lot.

You are at the mercy of your children, and their commitment to be a part of it all.

You are at the mercy.

Do you ever think about it? How closely each one of us actually lives to this life, without even knowing it or appreciating it? The idea that any of us lives in a state of less mercy than our coffee farmers is simply an idea of illusion.

We are all connected in this sate of living at the mercy, much more deeply than any of us care to realize or remember. That paycheck you rely on from your employer? You are living at that businesses’ mercy. That hurricane that devastated your family’s home? You are living at nature’s mercy. That person you rely on for childcare? You are living at a young woman’s mercy. That market crash that devastated your retirement savings? You are living at the economy’s mercy.

The only difference between you and the farmers, is the courage that they have to live life at the mercy so purely, so overtly, so completely.

No frills. No safety net. No escape plan. You have every inch of your skin in the game.

It’s no wonder the Costa Rican’s live by the saying “Pura Vida.” Their farmers live the purest, most courageous life I can imagine.

 

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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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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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