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Keep the monkeys? Or give them back?

Keep the monkeys? Or give them back?


One of my personal rules is that my phone is always off when I’m with a client or conducting workshops. Why? The people I’m with deserve 100 percent of my attention. Calls are returned and emails answered later.

While curled up in my hotel room one evening, I returned calls and answered emails. I saw that an acquaintance had called earlier in the day. She didn’t leave a message, so I did nothing, surmising she’d rung me by mistake.

When I saw her a week later, she was cool and clipped.

“Hey, is everything all right?” I asked, detecting the emotional distance.


“Anything I can do to help?”

“I’m mad at you.”

“Mad at me? Why?”

“You let me down.”

“How did I do that?”

“You didn’t call me back last week. I really needed to talk to you.”

“You didn’t leave a message.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Help me out. What’s the point I’m missing?”

“You saw that I called, right?”

“I did.”

“You should have called me to find out why I called you.”

Her expectation took me back years ago to a former boss. He kept a toy—barrel of monkeys—on his desk. When he gave anyone on his team an assignment, he gave us a plastic monkey and placed one on his desktop, telling us, “Now you know what to do, and I know what I asked you to do. We’re in this together.”

We returned the monkey to him when our assignment was complete. He’d return his monkey and ours to the barrel.

One day in a staff meeting, someone asked him why he kept a monkey when he gave us an assignment.

“It’s a symbol,” he said. “Giving you an assignment doesn’t take me out of the equation. I’m always responsible. I can’t give that responsibility away. I own it. The monkeys remind me of that ownership.”

“Is that something you’ve always done?” Asked a colleague.

“Early in my career, I asked an employee to perform a task. He didn’t get it done, but I didn’t follow-up with him either,” replied my boss. “When my boss asked me why the work wasn’t done, I told him I’d asked an employee to do it and that the employee had failed to get it done. My tone obviously implied the issue wasn’t my fault. My boss looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Don’t paint yourself as the victim here. Assigning work to someone never takes the monkey off your back. You own it, no excuses, no blaming.’ I learned a big life lesson that day.”

The boss gave all of us a barrel of monkeys game at the next staffing saying, “Remember, if you need it or want it, own getting it done.”

I still have my barrel of monkeys. It’s a symbol to me, just like it was to that long ago boss.

That acquaintance tried to give me her monkey. She blamed me for not acting when she hadn’t made it clear she wanted action, so I refused to let myself feel guilty.

Unspoken expectations are tricky things.

I think that being a leader who is clear about he/she wants and who follows up is a double bonus recipe for liking ourselves and for working better with others.

Your thoughts?



Image credit before quote added: Pixabay





The healing power of forgiveness

The healing power of forgiveness

power of forgiveness and grace of goodness

“After the first finger was pointed, the meeting went downhill fast,” said a distressed friend describing a really awful day at work.

“Everyone was in a race to the bottom to throw each other under the bus. Such hateful things were said that I wanted to disappear.”

What a lost opportunity! Imagine if someone had stepped up and stopped the downward spiral with what I call the “Charleston approach.”

That’s choosing to act with grace, curiosity, appreciation, and kindness.

That’s what the family members of the victims of the horrific Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina did a year ago.

In facing the one who took the lives of their loved ones, they could have resorted to rancor and labels. They didn’t.

Incredibly, they reached across the divide and offered not judgment but forgiveness.

The lesson I’ve taken from their example is that if one chooses, the grace of goodness can transcend polarization.

Leadership is both something you are and something you do. ~Fred Smith, Founder Fed-Ex

Hate won’t win. ~Emanuel surviving family member

We get to choose.

That’s incredibly powerful. The surviving Mother Emanuel family members could have pointed the “I’m right, you’re wrong” finger.

No one would have thought ill of them if they had.

What they chose was to transcend differences of thought because they saw a greater good.

To see the greater good, they had to think big. Not thinking bigger—that is, not looking for the greater good that rises above individual preferences—gives rise to mistrust.

Mistrust then fuels all the ugly “isms”—racism, sexism, ageism, and the like—that divide us unnecessarily.

Wrapping ourselves in our “rightness” and others in their “wrongness” builds walls, not connections that serve a greater good.

In a world where the six degrees of separation have become four, where we’re dealing with the hate and horror of the Orlando shooting, where we’re experiencing the animosity of a contentious presidential campaign, it’s time, isn’t it, to replace mean-spiritedness with curiosity, compassion, and a skoosh of vulnerability?

Being mean and lashing out is easy.

Deciding, choosing, and using the “Charleston approach” is hard. Really hard but really purposeful.

It means stepping up to be our best self. We must develop self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-control, and open-mindedness.

It means being eternally vigilant in assessing if our beliefs have hardened into dogma. When we’re no longer open to considering what others have to say because we know our position is the right one, we’re putting our lack of skill in doubting on display.

It means being mindful of the degree of our skepticism. Asking questions is a good thing that can become a bad thing if we’re unwilling to believe other’s answers.

It means being willing to seek out the hidden flaws and virtues that lurk in our blind spots and being gentle with others regarding theirs.

If we choose, we can replace our unfounded judgments—thoughts like liberals are idiots, feminists are bad, and the like—with curiosity. When curiosity takes the lead, we approach what’s different with the orientation that there might be something to be learned from other’s points of view.

When we chose to make this shift, we let go of our absolute rightness. When we let go of the need to always be right, there’s room to accept ambiguity and paradox because we’ve decided to exchange automatic rejection based on selective facts for openness.

That choice is liberating.

When we use the “Charleston approach,” we’re choosing to think big, not small.

We’re choosing to react with curiosity and compassion, not hate or violence.

We choose to be the tipping point in which we start to appreciate differences rather than work to extinguish them.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox:  what is soft is strong. ~Lao Tzu

To end the “-isms” that divide us, we have to resist being the rock that sees anger, judgment, and harshness as the answer.

When we decide to be the water, we can:

  • Bridge the distance between races, sexes, and generations in a world primed to respond with bias and ill will.
  • Celebrate the power and possibility that comes from differences in thought, opinion, and perspective.
  • Engage in courageous-yet-respectful conversations in which we use our head to manage and our heart to lead.

If I had enough “Charleston approach” pixie dust and the help to spread it, we could end the polarization that gets us nowhere. Ready to be the water, join in, and scatter some “Charleston approach” pixie dust in your corner of the world?


Image source before quote added:  Pixabay



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