Planting Seeds

Photo of wildflowers
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved

Have you ever wondered whether Johnny Appleseed went back to see what grew from the seeds he planted?

We’ve all heard the stories of Johnny Appleseed. Folklore has it that he spread seeds everywhere he went. Some stories say he created meticulous nurseries. Others suggest he strewed seeds randomly as he traveled along.

Seed planting is a powerful metaphor for leadership. Leaders are planting seeds constantly, whether they are aware of it or not. Sometimes the seeds are carefully planted with a specific outcome in mind. Sometimes it’s more like a person carrying a heavy burlap sack of seeds on their shoulder; the bag has a small hole in one corner; seeds are falling randomly as the person travels along their way.

In my career as a leader, there have been many times when I set out to plant seeds on purpose, to create a meticulous nursery. I had specific goals in mind for what I wanted to spring forth from the seeds I planted.

What I have found over the years is that the seeds that randomly fell from the sack were the ones that had the most impact.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is especially true when it comes to leadership.

No matter what we say or how fancy the animated graphics are on that PowerPoint presentation we use at our all-staff gathering, what we DO, how we BEHAVE, on a regular basis is what people will remember. Those are the seeds that will take root and grow.

Every once in a while, I hear from someone with whom I previously worked. They’ll say something to me that starts with, “You always said…”, or “You once told me…” and my initial reaction is, “I did?”

I enjoy these encounters, especially when what they took away was something that has been beneficial to them and/or others. Human nature being what it is, I tend to hear more of the positive stories than negative.

I recently received this text from a friend with whom I used to work:

I received the 1st quarter leadership award last week from our CEO. My team nominated me. Seems I’m making a difference in folks’ lives and careers. Sharing this not to boast but to let you know what a great mentor you are. Thank you.

I’d like to take credit for planting those particular seeds on purpose. But, I can’t, really. All I can do is turn around, realize that the sack I am carrying has a hole in it, and notice that some of what is falling has taken root to become something beautiful.

To be sure, there are things that have fallen out of my sack that did not grow into such a heartwarming result. I am sure there are people who could tell you about the weeds they have had to pull. For now, I will enjoy the good plants.

As a leader, you are always planting seeds. What’s falling out of your sack?

 

Watch, Do, Teach

Stylized photo of water
Photo copyright ©2011 David J Crone. All rights reserved

What phrases stick in your mind?

Here’s one I heard when I worked at OhioHealth: Watch one, Do one, Teach one.

The person who taught me this phrase explained that this philosophy was engrained in her as a nurse. To fully learn a new procedure, you watch it being done, you do it yourself, and then you teach it to someone else.

That last step is critical. It is what separates common practitioners of any craft from the masters. It is where most of us stop short.

Think about it. If you are going to teach something, there is a level of expectation that you know the material. It forces us to raise our game. We must have the confidence in our skills if we are to teach others.

I believe that is why so few of us teach; we lack the confidence in our own skills or knowledge. That is a shame. There are many people with much to give, who hide behind a cloak of fear.

A clear benefit to teaching others is that we learn more ourselves. One of  my friends in college taught classes at another school. He was not the smartest person in our own classrooms. But, he was a good teacher. His own struggles as a student helped him as a teacher because he could relate to his students’ challenges. He shared with me how much he was learning by teaching. He also shared his joy in receiving high marks from his students.

You don’t have to be a master of the material to teach. Some of my most memorable teachers in school were those who, rather than spewing forth their vast knowledge from on high, invited us to join them in their own journey of exploration on the subject. Those shared explorations were far more interesting than sitting through boring lectures.

Now it’s your turn.

Watch one. Do one. Teach one.

(Side note: I take this concept of teaching seriously. I now offer one-on-one coaching for speakers and entertainers who want to better connect with their audiences. If you want your time in front of others to be more powerful, give me a call.)

Exude Confidence

Justin Timberlake during Superbowl LII halftimeWhat image do you convey when you walk into a room? If you were able to watch yourself enter a meeting where you are in charge, what would you see?

I confess, I am a Justin Timberlake fan. But, even if you do not have the kind of JT bromance that I do, there is something to learn from his performance during halftime at this year’s Superbowl.

As always, there were critics who called the show “lame”, “mediocre”, and even “boring”. These critics were not watching JT’s face.

I challenge you to watch it again. This time watch through a different lens. Maybe even turn the sound off. Focus on his face. Here’s a direct link: https://youtu.be/2z3EUY1aXdY

Do you see it? Unbridled confidence, without a trace of arrogance.

When I watch JT perform, whether it is this halftime show, or the Netflix special of a previous concert, or perhaps someday actually attending a concert in person, what I most admire and feel drawn to is that absolute confidence that he belongs on that stage.

Coupled with that confidence is an air of welcoming you, the viewer, to come along for the ride. There is a sense of, “Hey, let’s have some fun together.”

Some performers display confidence, but there is also an air of arrogance about it. It’s more exclusionary. It’s more like, “I deserve to be here. I’m better than you. Watch me. Aren’t I great?”

This same attitude plays out in places beyond the stage. Think about how your boss, or others up the executive chain, walk into a meeting room. Do they treat you like a stereotypical Catholic School teacher, telling you to sit down and shut up? Or are they like JT – clearly in charge of the situation, but inviting you to be an active participant?

How do YOU behave in this situation? When you are the one in charge, do you lord it over people? Or do you maintain order while inviting participation?

Exude confidence. But, in the words of Han Solo, “That’s great kid. Don’t get cocky.”

 

Legacy

Photo of Bob Isaacson.
Photo copyright ©2015 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?

I have previously written about heroes and role models. One of mine recently passed away. Bob Isaacson. He was 80 years old.

Like many of my friends, I knew Bob from work. Bob was a ventriloquist. He was a staple at the Vent Haven ConVENTion, an annual gathering of ventriloquists from around the world. He was beloved by everyone who knew him.

One of Bob’s joys every summer was to be the Emcee for the Junior Open Mic event at the convention. Occasionally, he would perform as part of his time on stage. But, primarily, he saw his role as supporter of the latest generation of young people learning the art and craft that he loved. He took his role seriously. One aspect he was known to work especially hard at was to pronounce each person’s name correctly as he introduced them. Bob saw this as an important part of showing respect.

Everyone who has met Bob has their own story of why he is so special to them. To me, Bob embodied the term, “statesman”.

Merriam-Webster defines statesman as: a wise, skillful, and respected political leader. If you remove the word, “political” from that definition, you have a perfect description of Bob: wise, skillful, and deeply respected.

Bob was always eager to sit and talk with anyone at any skill level about the art and craft of ventriloquism. He would tell stories from his experience. Then, what made him unique, he would turn the conversation around to you, offering words of encouragement and gentle guidance. Bob had a knack for treating you as the most important thing in the world to him at that moment.

The other word that comes to mind when I think of Bob is, “gentleman”. While I have no knowledge of whether Bob comes from noble birth, he always conducted himself with the spirit of a true gentleman. Again, from Merriam-Webster, “A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior.” He was truly a gentle man.

Much of Bob’s influence was through his skills on stage. He brought laughter to many. But, as strong as that was, his impact off stage was even greater than on. Bob showed me what it looks like to be a kind, loving human being.

That is a legacy worth leaving.

 

Time out

Photo of flags on a flagpole
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When is the last time you called a Time Out?

Like much of America, I’ve been watching a lot of football the past few days. It’s college bowl season. The concept of calling a time out struck me as something that has meaning far beyond football.

In football, the purpose of calling a time out is to give the team a chance to pause, reconsider their current strategy, revise it as needed, and sometimes just to give the players an opportunity to breath before the next play.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often one in which I call a time out – from work. It is a time to pause, reflect, and spend time with my family. Sometimes it is simply an opportunity to breath before launching into whatever is coming next.

When do you call a time out? Is your play clock running dangerously close to zero? Could you benefit from taking a moment to reconsider your current direction?

Give yourself a break. Call a time out. Then get yourself back into the game.

 

Shake It Off

Photo of polar bear shaking off water
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved

How long do you hold a grudge?

I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. This past weekend I watched them play against the New England Patriots. Coming into the game, the Steelers had already clinched the division title. They’ll be in the playoffs. This game was about locking in home field advantage. A meaningful game, but not all that critical in the grand scheme of things.

In the final minute of play, it looked like the Steelers had regained the lead with a touchdown pass. However, after a lengthy review by the replay officials, they ruled it an incomplete pass according to a relatively new rule specific to a pass that leads to a touchdown. The game ended with a Patriots victory.

There has been much uproar among my fellow Steelers fans. Many are still talking about it, stuck in what could (should?) have been.

Meanwhile, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team are heads down, preparing for the next game. They are not wallowing in the defeat. They are not endlessly whining on social media about how the new rule is stupid, or that it was a bad call by the officials. They are moving on.

I have seen this repeatedly while watching my favorite team play. There is a questionable call on the field, or in replay review. It doesn’t go the way I’d like for my team. I get all upset, jump up and down, scream at the TV. I am stuck on that previous play. And there is coach Tomlin, calmly standing on the sidelines, focused on the next play and the next.

How often do we get stuck when one thing does not go as we think it should? That sales proposal we put so much effort into is rejected. Someone cuts us off in traffic. We go for a cup of coffee only to find that somebody else took the last cup and didn’t make a fresh pot. We don’t get the raise or promotion we thought we deserved.

We can’t all have the calm demeanor of Mike Tomlin. We get wound up in the unfavorable ruling on the field, or in the office. We rant. We make a fuss. And while we do, other people around us are moving on, getting ahead.

Not every play is going to succeed. Not every ruling is going to go our way. Not every game is going to end in a victory.

How do you react when things don’t go your way?

How long does it take you to get your head back into the game?

Taylor Swift captured this concept in her hit song, “Shake It Off“. Whether you like her music or not, these lyrics are a great reminder to move on. Let others get stuck complaining. It is better to keep moving forward.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my mind
Saying it’s gonna be alright

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Focus forward. Stay on target. Shake it off.

Island of Misfit Toys

Image from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer
Image from Rankin Bass Productions. http://rankinbass.com

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when, as a kid, I was teased mercilessly about belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys.

I always knew it was coming. It would start the day after the annual TV broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer“. From that day on, until winter break, someone would ask me if I wanted to be a dentist. At least once a day. Every day.

Why? The other kids decided that I looked exactly like Hermie the Elf on that classic Christmas special.

I don’t know why. I don’t see the resemblance. Do you?

Photo of David as a kid.
David as a kid. Copyright restricted. Unknown photographer.

It bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be a misfit. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted. So I did my best to conform to the expectations of others.

In the show, Hermie also wanted to be accepted. The difference is, Hermie was not willing to compromise. He refused to become someone he was not, to be just like all the other elves. He insisted on being himself.

As a result, he was ostracized by his fellow elves.

Until…

Until he did something that was of direct benefit to them. Then, and only then, he was finally accepted by the rest of the elves for being his wonderful, fully individual, self.

Have you ever felt like you belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys?

It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? We prefer to fit in. We want to feel like we belong. We actively seek out groups that allow us to be one of the gang. If we can’t choose the group, we intentionally mold ourselves to fit in with whatever group we are a part of.

Guess what. People don’t win a prize for being “the most like everyone else”. (Although, we do award prizes for “most conformance to arbitrary expectations”. That is a different matter altogether.)

Take a look at those you most admire. Why do you admire them? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because they are the best at fitting in. No. We admire those who stand out. What we most admire about them are the qualities that make them different.

Lately, I have come to embrace my inner Hermie. It’s taken me a long time. Now I honor him for knowing who he was and what he wanted to be.

As I look back over my life, I realize I have unknowingly made many choices that put me onto the Island of Misfit Toys. When I got to choose the group, it was often a group of other misfits. Those are my people. From my group of friends at the high school lunch table, to the fraternity I joined in college, to the people I most enjoy hanging out with now, I have always been happiest when surrounded by fellow misfits.

Being different can be painful. It can be lonely.

Embrace it.

Come join me on the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s where the fun is.

 

Sticks and Stones

Photo of sticks and stones
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Say it with me… Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Depending on where you grew up, you might have a slight variation on the ending. Any way you say it, the point is the same. When people call us names or say something negative about us, we are to move on and not let what others say rile us.

Eleanor Roosevelt expressed this in a different way:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I recently heard someone use this adage in a presentation. What immediately came to my mind was an additional ending.

Sticks and stones may break my bones and words may never hurt me, but your silence is killing me.

For me, I can handle criticism. I can deal with people telling me where I need to improve, even when it is done in a less than kind way. But, I can’t handle silence. For me, no response is far worse than the most scathing review.

In the words of Jeff Dunham’s character, Achmed, “Silence! I kill you!” For me, it is silence itself that is the killer.

Have you ever given someone a gift and heard nothing from them? I’m betting you assumed they hated it.

At work, have your poured your heart and sole into a project, then when it was completed the only thing you got was your next assignment?

Have you sent a carefully crafted email to someone and received no response whatsoever? Have you posted something on someone’s Facebook wall and waited in vain for them to click “Like”?

Where does your mind go in the absence of a response?

We all crave feedback. Sure, we prefer that feedback to be positive. We prefer praise over criticism. But, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Why? Because in the absence of feedback, most of us assume the worst. Our inner critic shouts, “They hated it. That sucked. You really screwed up that time. You’re going to be fired.”

Maybe you did screw up. Maybe you did disappoint. But, then again, maybe you didn’t. It is difficult to know in the silence.

My first job was working in a bicycle shop. Every bike we worked on was checked over by one of the two bosses. They even double checked each other’s work. The best response you could get was, “OK.” Not, “Good job.” Not, “You do good work.” Nope. The best you could get was, “OK.” I came to shoot for that response as my goal. But, even that “OK” was better than silence.

Are you with me? Do you have this same reaction to silence?

I wish I had great words of wisdom to share as to how to handle the silence and resist the temptation to assume the worst. I’ve got nothing. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, all we can do is to pay attention to when others are looking to us for feedback. Do your part to share honest feedback with them. Be overt in your thanks and appreciation.

Give others the gift of your input. The silence is killing me.

 

Back to the Beginning

Photo of stage
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Where did you get your start?

I recently had the opportunity to go back to where it all started for me as an entertainer. I did a show on the first stage I performed on as a kid. Several people in the audience had even been there for that first appearance approximately 45 years ago. While this show was a solo performance, that first time I was one of many acts performing as part of a youth talent show.

If you’ve ever experienced a youth talent show, you know that the range of talent being shared on that stage was quite broad. That didn’t seem to matter. I remember that every act was met with enthusiastic applause. Every one of us was made to feel like a star. We were applauded – loudly – for getting up there and giving it a shot.

What I do now would not be possible had it not been for the encouragement I received then.

Being back on that stage in that environment was deeply moving for me. It brought back deep-seated memories. It drove home for me the love and support I have been blessed to receive in so many areas of my life. It reminded me that I would not be where I am now had it not been for the encouragement of a countless number of people along the way.

Who has helped you on your journey? Who has been there with a kind word at the very moment when you needed it most? Who has been there for you to lend a hand, to help you up when you stumbled? Who has been there to cheer you on along your journey?

Where would you be now had they not been there to cheer you on?

Like that early talent show, I’m betting that many times you have been applauded even when your act kind of sucked. But, because of that applause, you kept going. It gave you the encouragement to continue. Perhaps you’ve kept going to the point where it (whatever it is that you do) no longer sucks. You might even be pretty darn good at it.

What if you had not received the applause before your act deserved it?

What a shame it would be if you had stopped. How sad it would be for those who now benefit from what you do well.

Take a moment to remember those who have cheered you on and encouraged you, even at a point in your development when it didn’t seem justified.

Now it’s your turn.

Who needs to hear your applause? Who would benefit from your words of encouragement and support?

Cheer them on. Applaud loudly.

 

Judgement

How strong is your competitive spirit? Do you enjoy the thrill of victory? Do you agonize over defeat?

Competition can be good. It pushes us to go farther than we would on our own. It encourages us to improve.

But, it can also cause us to shut down, to give up, to stop trying. We see the competition, realize there is no way we could ever win, and think, “Why bother?”

I have several issues with competition in the traditional sense. The first problem with competition is that it involves rules. These rules are often arbitrary and typically based on what has already been done. They leave little room for true innovation.

The second problem is that competition is relative – relative to others and relative to that set of rules.

Combining these problems, my main issue with competitions is that they do not necessarily measure what is important.

Have you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters?  Great fun, isn’t it?

Who won? I’m betting you have no idea. And I’m betting you don’t care. Because the final score was not the point.

You won’t see the Harlem Globetrotters in the NBA playoffs. But, that doesn’t stop them from filling arenas.

Is winning your only measure of success? Being in it to win it is good. It forces us to take it more seriously, to work harder.

However, especially with a competition where the winner is selected by a panel of judges, winning is often subjective. Those judges may not be the ultimate target (consumer) of whatever it is that you are doing.

Who is on your panel of judges? Who are you allowing to determine whether what you are doing is good enough to win the prize?

As a performing artist, the only measure that matters to me is the connection with this audience, right here, right now. Did this audience have fun? Were they entertained? Did they laugh? Are they leaving the event in a better state of mind than when they arrived? Do they have a renewed sense of hope?

That is how I measure the success of what I do.

What is your measure of success? Look to the right judges.