Leadership with heart, mind, and soul

Location Dependent

Added on by Sam Davidson.

I hear it time and again over coffee and while speaking on college campuses: “I just want a location independent job. I want something I can do from anywhere so I can travel and see the world."

There is no shortage, it seems, of people who want the same. Do a quick online search and “location independence” will bring up eBooks and blog posts by people who have claimed to achieved such and now spend their time Instagramming their lives from remote locales, all while apparently “killing it”, making a ton of money, and collecting the photos to prove it.

The king of this growing tribe is Tim Ferris, whose “4-Hour Workweek” is still the definitive manual for working less and seeing the world more. And while Tim has gone on to build an empire and worked hard to do so in the process, I’m wondering if the glorification of location independence is sacrificing depth on the altar of cheap thrills.

It’s time to make the case for location dependence.

Fly away with me

For the better part of the last decade, I felt most at peace high in the sky, locked away in an aluminum tube (you may know it as an airplane) cruising at 30,000 ft. on my way to give a speech. I worked from the skies, SkyClubs, hotel rooms, coffee shops, and rental cars. I could do my work (speaking) from anywhere.

I wore this like a badge of honor. Scroll back through my social media feeds a few years and you’ll see smug captions that accompany plane wing shots or show me on sandy shores after entertaining a crowd for an hour on a stage.

But the truth? I was lonely (I didn’t have the self-awareness or emotional ability to recognize this at the time). My quest for attention turned into a quest for frequent flier miles and the dopamine hit that came with their accumulation meant that I could very proudly claim to be location independent.

Look at me! I’ve made it! I can work from anywhere!

If you can work from anywhere, be careful. You’ll soon wind up belonging to nowhere.

Opportunity calls when you stay put

You think opportunity is knocking and asking you to flit away for a season? To do yoga in India in between client emails? You think that now is the time to backpack across the Andes while you drop ship nutritional supplements? While these may indeed be the deepest longings of your heart, make sure that the knocking you hear isn’t something closer to home. Just because the sound of opportunity is faint doesn’t mean it’s because the knocking is coming from a thousand miles away. (Click to tweet.)

While amid the busiest speaking and travel season of my life, Batch began to grow. What was meant to be a part-time hobby for me and two friends suddenly had the chance to blossom into a legacy company. But to achieve this, I couldn’t manage it from the road. I couldn’t serve as an example of dedication to colleagues and employees if my head was in the clouds and my feet weren’t firmly planted on the ground, packing boxes or going on sales calls when needed.

As we began to raise money to create something big, one investor turned us down saying, “Your scale doesn’t depend on technology. It depends on people. You have a physical company - humans are needed to put items in boxes and service customers. We’re looking for companies that don’t need people."

I have never been happier to receive a rejection from an investor. I’m glad I run a company that needs people.

Location independence has its distractions; location dependence has its relationships.

Travel, but know why

By all means, travel. Get a ticket. See the world. Create experiences for yourself. Take in views. Make memories. Try new food. Smile at strangers.

But know why you’re doing all this. If you’re escaping a reality you don’t want, then work to create one you do. Don’t assume that unplugging from true community will offer you the chance to find yourself. I think we find ourselves the minute we begin to share who we are with others (this is a lesson I didn’t learn until recently). That’s tough to do when all we can manage is to tweet what the sunset looks like in Sydney tonight.

So, go. But make sure you know where you can come back to. Yes - you want to go places that take your breath away for a moment. But you also need a place to catch your breath for a lifetime. You need a people and a place that is yours, that can breathe with and for you when needed. You need to depend on a location.

This artwork hangs in my home. Just last week my daughter asked what it meant. I tried my best to explain: “It means that whenever we’re together, we can feel like we’re home. Home is a safe place - a place where you always belong, where you can be yourself, and where people love you. And it doesn’t matter what a house looks like or how big it is. What really matters is that I love you, that you love me, and that if can remember that, we can feel safe and that we are where we need to be."

Ron Swanson knows

My main man Ron Swanson (of Parks and Rec fame) knows all about staying put for the sake of belonging. He drops some wisdom on Leslie Knope about a guy she’s dating, but with whom she can’t quite connect.

Swanson nails it thusly: "He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, he’s selfish. And you’re not. That’s why you don’t like him."

Tourist is a temporary designation. Community is a permanent one. The former you get by going; the latter you get by staying. (Click to tweet.)

How to be location dependent

If you, too, want to experience the deep meaning of belonging, you can. It’s easy. Pick any of the following and dive in. Soon, you’ll realize that your life and work depend on a place and you’ll never be happier:

  • Fall in love
  • Become friends with your neighbors
  • Join a nonprofit board
  • Adopt a pet
  • Start a company
  • Get involved at your church
  • Have children
  • Run for office
  • Create a life you don’t need to run away from

Then, go live into this Walt Whitman quote, now and evermore:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Climate vs. Temperature

Added on by Sam Davidson.

The best thing to do when it’s 99 degrees in Nashville is to fill up a baby pool, put some beers on ice and then invite all your neighbors and their families over for a few hours.

At least this is what we did last week in my part of town. It looks like we’re in for a long, hot summer here in Nashville, with temperatures already reaching in the upper 90’s with a steady dose of thick humidity most of the day. And while this sounds miserable (I had a friend half-jokingly question why anyone is moving here when she saw how hot it had been), those of us who have been here a while know this is the price we pay for wonderful springs and autumns and we'll make sure we have a good game plan for the next 60 days.

The difference between temperature and climate

It would be easy for any tourist to visit Nashville right now and just assume it’s muggy and hot all the time. And while it may have been muggy and hot for the entire time they were here, any quick research shows that it’s not always so unbearable outside. Wait a while - even until the sun sets - and you’ll see this is a lovely place to be.

Such is the case for many of us with various responsibilities and roles we occupy. We’re in a season of busy or a time of stress and we begin to think that it’s always like this, that nothing will change, and that we’re stuck with no viable options.

  • It seems like our newborn will never stop crying or actually sleep through the night.
  • This project is taking forever and the client will never be satisfied.
  • Our partner feels distant and we’ll never rekindle the romance we once shared.
  • The house is falling apart and it sucks to live in a money pit.

In tough situations, we can’t mistake the temperature (what is happening right now) for the climate (what is the overwhelming trend).

As an entrepreneur who errs on the side of optimism, it’s easy for me to think that a week of great sales means we’ll have a banner year. But, of course, I’ve got to step back and realize that all I need to do is be thankful for the unexpected uptick, not revise all forecasts so I can charter that private jet for our corporate retreat.

I ask the same of my employees. If someone offers up in our weekly meeting, “We sold a ton of candles. We should stock up and buy 600 more,” then before I place a PO with Southern Firefly, I examine sales data during the period in question. It may have only felt like we sold “a ton” of candles because this person just happened to process four orders in a row with candles. While she was helping other customers or after her shift ended, much more happened overall. A review of the data tells us that candles were only 2% of our sales that weekend. No need to outlay so much cash when the demand is actually less than it feels.

You’ve got similar situations at your job, in your home, or with your nonprofit organization. It’s great to hear from customers or employees, but our job as leaders is to balance how the temperature feels to them with how the climate is trending overall.

How to keep the climate in mind

The dumbest politicians to me are those who want to deny climate change by bringing a snowball onto the floor when it’s cold in February. Such an act mistakes the temperature for the climate while also misunderstanding the climate in its entirety (of course it’s cold in February - that’s the climate trend!).

So, if we are to lead our teams well so that they understand to deal with the temperature while not losing their grasp on the climate, we must remember these three things.

Look at the data
When we launched Batch and while it was in its infancy, my co-founders and I would need to make quick, critical decisions. At the time, we had very little to go on. So, we jokingly came up with rationale behind our decisions that we termed “hunch-based marketing.” How should we price this new product? Where should we market it? How long should we run the coupon offer? Each question we asked ourselves was answered by a hunch - a gut feeling - because we didn’t have any data to go on.

And while this may have to work early on for your new project, be sure to look at data as soon as you have it. This will be our 4th holiday season at Batch. We now have three full years of holiday sales numbers to look at, synthesize, and base predictions off of. We’ll certainly take into account what’s new and hot (temperature), but we’ll let the numbers (the climate) guide us.

Data will take away how something feels in a given moment and remind you of what’s happening longer term beyond your small world.

Compare apples to oranges
Not all data are created equal. While inventory or marketing decisions can be made with the assistance of spreadsheets, those of us trying to lead with heart, mind, and soul will also need to look at that which can’t be measured with a chart.

If things seem slow or you feel like the wheels are going to come off at any second, don’t merely turn to your P&L statement or look at your cash flow projections. Also consider things like employee morale, company reputation, or even your personal overall happiness level. While these intangibles won’t pay the lease, they are important indicators of climate. These factors also have to be examined to determine overall company climate or else you’ll soon create a climate where numbers matter more than people. Busy seasons can feel like that already; you don’t want that to become the overarching climate lest you lose people who are important to you and your success.

Take time away
This is the hardest thing for entrepreneurs and leaders to do (yours truly included). We’re in the middle of so much and so much depends on us, we can’t possibly take our hands off things for even a second, right?

If that’s true, then guess what? You’re creating a work climate that always requires you. And my guess is that will be unhealthy for you, your family, your team, and your customers. While there may be seasons where you have no choice but to be all in at all hours, that temperature cannot become the climate. Otherwise, you and your organization are doomed. Our companies cannot rest on the back of a single person. Systems become unstable and catastrophe results.

Find a time during a particular season where you can step back. Remove yourself from the blazing heat of the current temperature and find space to focus on the climate. Remind yourself (and your people) that while it’s hot now, winter is coming.

Leaders play the long game

Managers play the short game and are worried about the temperature (this month’s sales; this quarter’s returns). Leaders play the long game and are worried about the climate (what legacy is being developed; what a business’ reputation is).

At Batch, I hope to create a 100-year company that supports 100 other 100-year companies. There’s no way this happens if I am only worried about tomorrow’s operating margin per vertical.

I moved into my current house nine months ago and didn’t know anyone on my street. Last week, when it was so god-awful hot, I co-hosted the regular Thirsty Thursday with my next door neighbor and our yards were packed with new friends I’ve made.

My social and emotional temperature looked bleak last September. But now I realize that my climate is thriving. (Breathe, Sam. It's all going to be okay.)

We Are All Works in Progress

Added on by Sam Davidson.

Last Friday, I ate for three hours straight.

I was honored to be asked to serve as a judge for the annual Pick Tennessee products competition. My duty was simple: listen as food makers across the state pitched the benefits and highlights of their products to a panel of judges in hopes of being named Product of the Year. In five-minute blocks for an entire afternoon, I sampled cookies, sauces, granola, pies, biscuits, and coffee. It was a tough job (but someone had to do it).

Some of the makers had been honing their craft for years and had distribution in as many as 400 stores. Others were just beginning and were printing bottle labels at home, rather than as part of some major production in a large-scale facility. For the panel, however, longevity or reach didn’t matter. What did matter was a commitment to producing the best possible item you could and a dedication to keep getting better.

Nothing is fully baked

No matter how long we’ve been at something, if we’re leading or creating something we believe in, we want it to be the best it can be. But no hero of ours achieved excellence on the first try. Just because we humans tend to remember legacy as the final product of a life well lived, we mistakenly think that the greats were always great. In reality, the greats became great because they decided not to quit when they were really terrible.

The artist trying to make it faces this same dilemma. Here’s Ira Glass, host of This American Life articulating the tension between the art you want to make and the art you’re actually making:

The internet has said (I’ve heard several people reference this; I’m not gonna scour the entire web to find the originator) that we should never compare our start to someone else’s middle (or even their end). If I’m a new entrepreneur, why would I compare where I am now to where Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey is now? Of course I’m nowhere close. While I can aspire to those heights, I know I’m not there yet. Better for me to stay on my level, keep getting better, and be open to guidance and improvement.

We need works in progress as role models

One of my most popular keynote speeches deals with the topic of young people and entrepreneurship. Whether it’s current college students launching a company while living on campus in a residence hall, or helping a large corporation understand why so many of their Millennial employees eventually want to begin their own venture, I encourage my listeners to help young people embrace entrepreneurship by steering them away from idolizing the likes of Zuckerberg or Beyonce.

We all know of those who have reached the pinnacle of success in their given field. Whether they write code or song lyrics, today’s media is saturated with success stories. But the worlds of leadership and entrepreneurship are bigger than mega-success.

  • There’s the local dentist who runs a thriving practice and is home for dinner with his family each night.
  • There’s the financial planner who launched her own firm and gets the chance to meet exciting new people every week.
  • There’s the honey farmer who simply wanted a job that allowed her to raise her daughter in the country.
  • There’s the candle maker who dreamed of a job where he’d get to spend more time with his wife.

I could go on. The above entrepreneurs are all people I personally know; I could list a hundred more. But each time I get to meet and listen to the ups and downs of any entrepreneur, I freely share my struggles and successes, too. While it feels great to get congratulated for making headlines, the reality is that it’s more important just to make progress.

Make sure your problems keep changing

When people ask how things at Batch are, I’ve stopped saying, “Great!” or “Busy.” Instead, I tell them that I’m thankful to still be on this ride, in the driver’s seat, with a bus full of people I love to work with. I also add, “The problems we have this year are not the problems we had last year.” To me, this is a good thing and proves we’re getting better as a team, living into our collective identity as a work in progress.

  • Last year, we had to figure out how to scale back in markets that weren’t thriving. This year, we’re figuring our how to keep up with rapid growth in markets that are working.
  • Last year, we had to figure out how to deliver quickly using a third party provider. This year, we’ve had to figure out how to fulfill everything in house.
  • Last year, we had figure out how to drive people to our retail storefront. This year, we’re adjusting forecasts due to growing demand while also being aware of overall reliance on a single vertical.

And again, I could go on. Just because you grow and have more time under your belt doesn’t mean your problems disappear. Being a constant work in progress means problems will arise time and again and if you want to keep climbing toward better, then you simply can’t give up when you know you’re not as good as you can be.

How to work on progress

Whether you’re trying to lead a large team or you’re burning the midnight oil of a venture that is yours alone, we must remember that all of us are works in progress. Perfection isn’t the goal. Progress is.

Three ways that I remind myself I’m not done yet and that my team still has work to do.

Seek feedback
Ask and you shall receive. While the highest standards that will ever be placed upon me will be those I create, I also ask for feedback from a select group that I trust to be honest with me and also want me to be the best entrepreneur and CEO I can. When they speak up and let me know how I can be better, I know they see me as a work in progress and want me to keep improving.

Resolve to get better
Once I hear how I can do better, I’ve got to commit to taking the steps to put those ideas into action. It’s called being a “work in progress” because you’ve got work to do. So don’t take your feedback and ideas and sit on them; get busy trying new things, pushing yourself into new areas and measuring how it’s all shaking out.

Feedback and resolve are not singular activities that happen once a year during a review or downtime. They are constant exercises that any leader must undertake on his or her journey toward company and self-improvement. So, be sure to ask for feedback and then make commitments based on it regularly. Perhaps this happens once a month at a routinely scheduled meeting or even more often based upon the speed of your company’s work and how it’s changing as things grow. Pay attention to all the ways you and your organization are works in progress and you’ll ensure that you actually are working toward progress.

Let’s be nice to each other, ok?

Remembering that you are a work in progress will also equip you with the grace and patience you need to work well with others, be they direct reports, colleagues, supervisors, vendors, customers, or investors. No one is done yet - nor should we expect them to be. This life is long, and some seasons are really difficult. The beauty is that it keeps going and we’ll all be better tomorrow than we are today.

Leaders and Love

Added on by Sam Davidson.

The Avett Brothers tell us:

Dumbed down and numbed by time and age //
Your dreams to catch the world, the cage //
The highway sets the traveler's stage //
All exits look the same

Three words that became hard to say //
I and love and you

The big thing for me and my sixth grade classmates wasn't kissing your girlfriend or boyfriend under the monkey bars. It was saying "I love you." Liberated by the magic of the telephone (back when call waiting was a luxury), I remember calling my sixth-grade girlfriend every Friday night. After all, I wouldn't see her again until Monday (going on dates wasn't really a thing). And after a few weeks' worth of these calls, we closed one of the phone sessions with a reciprocal "I love you."

I remember feeling so grown up, mimicking what I'd seen my parents do on their calls to each other. I walked into school the following Monday to tell my best friend Drew the news (he'd been telling his girlfriend Jessica the same for over a month). Newsflash: things were serious.

This four-letter word - LOVE - does that. It makes things serious, especially at work. 

Love vs. Fear

Fast forward 20+ years to a chamber of commerce event I attended. The keynote speaker was taking input from the audience on what companies they loved to do business with. Cries rang out of local and national companies and reasonings and the speaker then (weakly) challenged us to similarly grow a business people love.

Not so fast, haircut. Love is not a word that belongs in our corporate vernacular. Right?

Think about it:

  • When was the last time your boss told you she loved you? Or even loved your work? 
  • When have you told a colleague you love him? Or his contributions?
  • Have you let a customer know you love them? Or their recurring loyalty to your products and services? 

We're all fearful of saying the word "love" in our board meetings and stand ups, mainly because ever since attorneys got their hands on our employee manuals, we're scared that sharing a feeling as serious as love will land us in the hot water of HR's crosshairs. 

We've replaced love with fear.

The worst companies have been doing this for decades. They're selling products that appeal to customers' fears rather than their love. A fear of attack, a fear of solitude, a fear of missing out - these all peddle products and bring out the worst in us. Imagine if company leadership today took a different approach and shared how their offerings helped you love your family more or show love to your neighbors more often.

It's easiest to talk about love when it comes to customers. We want customers to say they love our products. But it usually stops there. Love doesn't make its way into culture manuals. 

But it's time it should.

Here's a case for it. Research shows that a loving culture (complete with hugs - oh my!) results in higher job satisfaction. Need more proof? When you share personal stories from the heart (love!), you and your employees are more likely to reach your full potential

Where love comes from

We want our employees to say they love their jobs. We want customers to say they love our products. But we leaders need to model love if we want it to take root in those ways. 

For leaders, love can't originate at work. Especially for entrepreneurs, whose heart, soul, talent, and identity is wrapped up in the company we birthed, it can be easy to seek love within the confines of this work, especially since those confines can extend (if we're not careful) to every aspect of our entire life - nights, weekend, dreams, nightmares. We would do better to find hobbies we love, spend time with people we love, read books we love, go to places we love - and bring this to our work - as a model for our teams and customers. 

Secondly, we can all work on saying the word "love" more. Perhaps we should bandy it about like my sixth-grade peers did, allowing for the seriousness to sink in a bit. Yes, love is serious business. So is work. Why shouldn't the two meet? If anyone is going to tie them together (work and love) it should be those in charge. 

No; you can't make anyone love anything by sheer force of will. But you can create something wonderful that speaks to our collective human drive to share and give love. And whether it's a workplace or a solution to a problem that someone will pay for, love can show up there. 

Love is serious, but it's also a force that can't be stopped. When it grips you - or your team or customers - it'll take your work to new heights. But its authenticity must be palpable, like Mary Oliver (who writes beautifully about life and love) notes:

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
  careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable —
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.

If you want to create products people love and a place people love to work, don't go about it slowly. Race headlong into a life of love yourself and watch everything that love touches transform anyone who comes into contact with it.

What Leaders See

Added on by Sam Davidson.

"Da-Da!" she nearly screams at me as we're strolling home. "Do you see me?"

"Yes," I try to convince her for what feels like the hundredth time. "I see you walking on that wall."

And then, lest she forget, I add, "I always see you."

And so it goes on the weeks I have my daughter and we walk home from her school. The route normally takes me 10 minutes, but we stretch it to half an hour when we're together, mainly because every stone wall is a jungle gym, every pine cone must be counted, and every cloud already looks like something else. 

All this she takes in and openly discusses with me. (Urban walks can excite the imagination like no other in both adults and children, which is why I'll never move to the suburbs.) And I fight hard my reflex to complain. After all, in a few years' time, she won't want much to do with me, I imagine. That's because then, she'll want to be seen by someone else.

But what my daughter doesn't fully realize now is that I see her. Since she arrived on the planet, I've seen much of what she's done, from spitting up to dance recitals, from first encounters with Mickey Mouse to art that covers my fridge. This seeing is second-nature to parents; we focus on our children because we love them and want to protect them. Evolution and biology have thankfully teamed up to make it natural and desirable to see what our kids are up to.

But what about leaders? What do we see?

Leaders see people

At a recent CEO roundtable, one participant threw out a question to get us started: "What are you focusing on these days?"

These monthly gatherings of peers are designed as safe spaces where a handful of entrepreneurs and leaders get together for an hour or so and discuss the ups and downs of our businesses. We share ideas, ask questions, lament, celebrate, and offer challenges. I always leave refreshed and with ideas and ways to move forward in my work. 

People began to answer:

"Growing my gross operating margin."
"The new menu roll out."
"Pricing strategy."
"Edits to the employee handbook."
"A cool new marketing idea."

It was my turn. I was about to give my stock answer when folks ask me how Batch is going. I was about to say, "This year is all about inside baseball. So, I'm elbow-deep in financials and performance, working hard to increase the top line 40% while making sure we post an operating profit of 20%." 

But that's a lie. 

Well, not entirely. But it's not really where my focus is, I'm discovering. Yes; I want those results to happen, but I'm learning that one cannot focus on numbers. While this may sound counter-intuitive, I'm learning it's true: when you focus on numbers, you can't focus on your people. And the number one driver of numerical results in a company are its people. People drive numbers. Always. It's never the other way around.

So I called a mental audible and changed my answer.

"I'm focused on my people," I said.

What gets noticed gets improved

Ever since any of us showed up on this planet, we've only ever wanted to be seen. The luckiest of us have been noticed by parents our whole lives. As we got older, friends noticed. Teachers, mentors, or coaches did, too. Then maybe a lover or two. A partner. 

And if we know what it's like to be seen by someone, for someone to take in our flaws and our strengths, both our assets and our liabilities, we understand how life-giving and identity-forming that can be. When we are seen by someone, we know we're not crazy. We're not just some orb floating through planet Earth. We actually live and move and have being. We are because someone else recognizes that we are

Why wouldn't leaders focus first and foremost on people, then? When we see our teammates and employees, we give them the best and biggest motivation to keep being who they are, working hard at what they do, and finding fulfillment in the tasks they perform. And if and when they do their jobs well, top and bottom lines will improve. 

But you can't just look at people. You've got to see them.

This is why when I watch a baseball game, I don't look at a that last play, a groundout to shortstop. I see the third baseman crouch low pre-pitch, hugging the line because this right-handed batter tends to pull the ball. I see the second baseman break for first base when the ball is hit far to his right so he can back up the incoming throw from the shortstop. I see the baserunner from the other team take a hard turn when rounding third just in case said error happens so he can score the go-ahead run. 

I see all this because I love baseball, having grown up playing it. I don't look at the game like thousands of others in the stands. I see the on-field ballet occurring because I know what it's like to do any of those things, to play any of those positions. 

It's why some of you, after watching a touchdown run, notice how the left guard opened up the hole for the running back to dart through and break lose. We look at the end zone dance; you saw the war in the trenches. 

It's why I look at a plate of tasty tacos, but you see the delicate work of the chef to shave those radishes just thinly enough to add a kick of flavor without detracting from the signature mole sauce. 

It's why I look at a fun play on stage, but you see the blocking done by the director so the lead gets to her spot downstage just as the song crescendos and we can all feel the emotion as if it's our own while she belts out her lament in the second act.

It's why leaders can't just look at who showed up at work today. We've got to see the humanity in front of us, the ones who will be serving our customers and our clients. These people are mothers and sons, friends and volunteers, dreamers and the heartbroken. And to think that we as leaders can see them as anything less - or that our focus should fall anywhere else - is an oversight that will ruin our company.

Leaders must be willing to be seen

But leaders aren't the only ones doing the seeing. Eye contact works both ways, you know. 

For the longest time, I was drawn to leadership roles and opportunities due to both natural abilities and natural fears. Yes; I've got a higher tolerance for risk than most, a dedicated (and maybe genetic) work ethic, and a willingness and fearlessness to stand up and speak out. But I've also long thought that being out front meant that no one would notice me there.

The irony.

This is a logical failure of the highest order. Those out front get noticed the most - that's a byproduct of being out front! But I believed that if out front, people would only notice the endearing qualities that made me a leader while I'd be working hard to hide all my shortcomings so no one would see them.

But, of course, this isn't how seeing and noticing works, at least in any authentically human sense. If we want to be fully seen, in that life-giving way I've mentioned above, then we have to be willing to be totally exposed so that our people can take in all that we are. 

And this is scary. But it's also the foundation of real relationship, real community, real teamwork, and real success. It's like walking a tightrope - frightening as hell but there's no exhilaration in standing on the platform just thinking about it. 

I remarked to my friend last weekend during a consulting session, "I'm trying to come up with a metaphor...hang on." And after some more quiet deliberation, I added, "I've got half a metaphor. .... Which means I've still got no metaphor at all."

Being seen is the same. If we only want someone to notice part of us, then they miss us entirely. We have to show all of who we are, or else no one will notice anything. This puts us in a figurative blind spot: we're out here, moving and living and doing, but no one can see, especially those we most deeply want to take note of what we're up to. 

But! There's a way out. And it can start with those closest to us - friends, lovers, parents, confidants. If we're willing to indulge them and allow ourselves to be seen by them, we'll experience the relief and affirmation that comes with someone who sees all of us and doesn't run. Who takes in exactly who we are, warts and all, and stays. 

It's natural to think that our actual self won't line up with their perceived version of us. But quickly this will be dispelled when you learn their perception of you was never perfection. It was authenticity. So the energy you (and I) spent trying to present perfection time and again can now be directed toward somewhere else.

Like seeing people. And letting them see you. 

Leading is seeing.