The rhythm of living

We are standing at her front door. I am saying goodbye to my friend who is waiting for back surgery.

She is leaning on the door pillar, trying to stand erect. The cool, winter breeze moves around her.

Our conversation was about cosmic 2x4s – you know, the experiences life throws at us when we are not paying attention to what is good for us.

The first cosmic 2x4 was the suicidal pain from a pinched nerve in my neck. The surgery to fix it did not slow me down one iota. I was not ready to learn what life was trying to teach me.

I was hit by a second cosmic 2x4 a few years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This one forced me to slow down and learn life’s lesson.

This friend was with me through the cancer experience and saw the changes I finally made.

We chat about the routine of life and the rhythm of living.

Years ago, as part of a leadership degree, my friend wrote a paper about routine and rhythm.

The analogy that came to her was the Parthenon. The pillars are the routine, but the life, the rhythm, is the flow between the spaces.

This idea got me thinking about leadership.

As leaders, we provide the routine, the structure, the pillars, and when we share our compelling vision clearly, our teams can provide the rhythm in the spaces between these pillars.

If all we do is set the structure, setting our pillars close to one another, there is no room for our people to move, grow, and develop.

The poet Kahlil Gibran said it like this:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”

We need spaces. And specific, clear roles and responsibilities.

In my business, I had three managers plus me. Everyone had a clearly defined role – each acted as a pillar. The team we had built around the four of us was free to flow following the structure. They all had the right work to do, the work that suited them, and they got to choose their partners, their teammates.

Each department had a big picture – that was the pillar.

They knew what they stood for and what part of the business they were holding up. They had clear, collaborative goals. The details of how they would fulfil that big picture were with their people, their tactics, their goals. These details filled the space between the pillars.

Each department manager had knowledge and skills that were the pillars of their role. They coached that knowledge and skills to their team who created the rhythm of excellence.

For people to believe they have a future within an organization, we need to develop them, give them new learning opportunities, new responsibilities.

We need to stretch them so they either push us out of our roles or feel the absolute compulsion to be someone bigger somewhere else.

I had the trust, absolute implicit trust, that each of my managers would do the best they could in every circumstance. That trust created the space where ideas could flow, creating an ever-evolving rhythm of new ideas, new opportunities.

People behave differently when they know they are trusted. They take ownership of their work and they know it matters.

Imagine the Parthenon, your organization, in the future — the pillars, the people, the vision you built standing strong. The gentle breeze of the lives, the careers, the products and services that have blown in and out have created full, rich lives for all you have touched.

Stand erect, like my friend with the broken back. Know what you stand for and stand for it. Only then, can the flow of life breeze through the pillars of your vision.


The Indecision storm

My head snaps like a flag in the wind as indecisions storm in my mind.

  • “Should I do this? Or not?”
  • “Is this the right thing to say or is that?”
  • “What should I do with my life/have for dinner?”

Indecision can sit heavy, like a coming thunderstorm, on our hearts and minds.

As I contemplated Indecision this past week, I got to thinking that it does not exist – Indecision is fear in heavy cloud cover.

There is an interesting coaching question I use, and have had used on me. When posed with a difficult question from the coach such as:

“Why do you think….?”

I replied, "I don't know."

Silence. And then, "If you did know, what would the answer be?"

And I always knew.

  • I did not want to know it.
  • I did not want to say it out loud.
  • I did not want to speak my truth.

I did not want to have words I was hiding from exposed to the bright light of day for all to see. More important, I did not want the words I was hiding from to be illuminated by the bright light of day for me to see.

It was easier to hide them under the cloak of Indecision.

Sometimes, we hold having too many choices responsible for our indecision. “So many men, so little time” as the song goes. "So many job applicants, which one should I hire?" “So many marketing options, which one should I choose?”

  • Indecision has allowed me to avoid having difficult conversations with a poorly performing employee.
  • Indecision has allowed me to keep someone in a role they weren’t suited for.
  • Indecision has allowed me to postpone the inevitable.

One of my agents was not performing. We had trained him, offered him support and mentoring. From the outside looking in, it appeared he was behaving like a rebel without a cause.

No more wasting my time or my trainer’s time. The rest of the team needed to see that I was holding him to the same standard I expected from them.

I didn’t have Indecision – I had fear, fear that I would lose an income generator. I imagined him abruptly pushing away from the table as the defensiveness rose, “I’ve done everything you said to do,” while knowing that was a lie.

I lifted the cloak of Indecision. I stared fear in the eye and said what I needed to say.

“You have 30 days to get on track. Or you can no longer work here.”

I count silently after delivering big messages like this. It keeps me from rescuing, from filling the vacuum of silence that follows those moments of truth.

The room was still, like the quiet before a big storm.

He leaned in from across the table, his intense blue eyes tear-glinted with determination. Or was it fear?

“Tell me what I have to do,” he said. “Again. And I’ll do it.”

And he did.

As leaders, we bear witness to indecisiveness both in our personal role and our role as mentors of our people.

If we can recognize indecision as fear and have strategies to minimize it, we can help our people grow.

Indecision may show up as the fear of making the wrong decision. Our job is to coach people to clearly define the problem so they can create potential solutions. We must let them choose and if they choose incorrectly, support them in clarifying:

  • What they did right;
  • What they should do differently next time;
  • What they learned from the experience.

Let making mistakes be a process of learning, not an opportunity for blame and fear.

People can be afraid of failure and even more afraid of success. I used to tell my people they were going to learn and grow exponentially when we worked together. And because of this growth, there was going to be fallout – including outgrowing beliefs, behaviours, and even people.

A Holiday Inn slogan from years ago sums it up: “The best surprise is no surprise.” Knowing what failure and success can look like removes some of the fear, the cloak of Indecision.

All of us, particularly in our role as leaders, can be concerned about what other people think. We don’t want to hurt someone, but yet, we need to have difficult conversations.

Often, before I have a difficult conversation, I have a chat with myself.

I remind myself that although this difficult message needed to be delivered, it can be delivered with respect and compassion. I take a moment to shift from blame and frustration to a gentler disposition.

As the storm of Indecision raged in my mind the past few days, I paused. In my mind, I can control the weather. As I looked at it, the circumstance, I asked myself what I feared, what was holding me back from making a decision.

I saw the fear. And as I looked, it dissipated. The truth was in plain sight. It was time for me to act on the truth and quit hiding from the storms.

Vision trumps self-doubt

The clatter of the dice rolling across the Monopoly board fills me with exhilaration.

I loved playing Monopoly – rolling the dice for opportunity, collecting groups of two or three coloured cards, strategizing, negotiating with my siblings, collecting “huge sums” of rent, owning the board.

And to make it even more profound, when I was 10, I saw my first real estate sign while in the big city. My initials, MLS, were on that sign. I inhaled the beginnings of a dream.

When I was 24, I thought it would be interesting if my first sales job was selling commercial real estate.

I took a slow, thoughtful drive through an industrial park. I liked the thought of leasing and selling warehouses. I don’t know why; the small town I grew up in didn’t even have warehouses.

I compiled a list of businesses I thought I should call, and decided to make 20 calls a day.

That seemed like a plan.

What I hadn’t counted on was the paralysis that struck me, from my guts to my dialling fingers. My fingers were as rigid as the pen I would struggle to write with if I ever talked to a real person, a potential client.

If I never talked to people, how would I ever sell or lease a warehouse? I didn’t see any other way.

I cut myself some slack. My first call, every day, was to a friend – someone who would go for lunch with me. That way, if I lived till lunch, if I survived making the other 19 calls, I had something to look forward to.

Every morning, I sat at my desk, took deep breaths, and talked to myself: – “I can do this. I can; I'm just not sure I want to.”

I imagined the consequence of not making the calls truly dire.

I looked at my right hand. “Make the call, make progress.”

I looked at my left hand. “Don’t make the call, starve to death.”

OK. OK. I made the call.

And I called every morning for three months. My afternoons filled up with appointments. Appointments became clients. Clients who wanted to lease or buy warehouses.

I have never forgotten the fear, the terror of starting something new. New and big, at least to my 24-year-old eyes.

Fast forward to the discomfort and the questions that come with being a leader wanting to build a tribe.

  • What if my ideas don’t work?
  • How much can I challenge the norm and not fall off the cliff?
  • What if my peers criticize me and my ideas? Are they right? Am I just a dreamer?
  • But what if I settle? What if I do nothing?

That last thought feels like a frozen Twizzler licorice worming its way through my body.

According to Seth Godin in his book, Tribes, a lack of faith holds us back, “…Faith that you can do it. Faith that it is worth doing. Faith that failure won’t destroy you.”

The faith we need to be leaders, to move as leaders, comes from developing a future we want to see, a future we want to share with our tribe. The faith will free us to do difficult things.

When running into obstacles, that faith will give us the strength to overcome them — to stride by them or push them aside.

We see the vision of our future hovering just above our horizon. We are living it and sharing it with our people.

  • Is it the vision of the future that keeps the faith that we can do it?
  • Or is it the faith that inspires the vision of the future?
  • Or the ebb and flow between these two states of mind?

As I reflected on the faith, the vision required to go “where no (wo)man has gone before,” I wondered how I did it.

This is what I recall:

I took lots of deep breaths. I would breathe into the belief that I could (and would) do whatever it took.

I was careful with my self-talk. If something was particularly difficult, I would tell myself I only needed to do it for another half-hour, till noon, for the next 90 days. I would allow myself to pretend the difficult tasks were of a short duration.

I used this same technique when running. I don’t need to run 10k – I only need to run to the next power pole. And the next. And the next.

When something stopped me cold, I would imagine I was Robert Frost about to choose a “road less travelled” and I would envision an even more exciting journey – and all the options this new direction provided. “This or something better.”

I made a date with myself every Friday afternoon at 2. I created a spreadsheet with all the variables that would make me advance my cause, move closer to my vision for the future.

I didn’t allow any hiding places. And the places where I did not do so well — they went to the top of the list for the next week.

Being accountable to myself was far more powerful than being accountable to anyone else.

As I have matured, I have discovered the power of working toward a bigger purpose. Involving others in a bigger dream creates synergy and momentum. My dream helps them achieve their dreams.

“You know how they always say that things will work out for the best in the end? Well, if they are not working out for you right now, it means you are not at the end yet.”

The hours spent playing Monopoly as a kid were lessons that served me in my journey as a leader.

When I could not get Boardwalk or Park Place, I would own all the Railroads and do just fine. The vision stayed the same – only the journey changed. And that was perfect.


From marionette to master

The world presents a different perspective when you are face down in a snow bank.

The lesson? Well, take a lesson when you want to learn something new.

I did. Last week, I took a cross-country ski lesson and got the perspective of an untethered marionette as my arms and legs were flailing in all directions.

It was cold. The skis were long and skinny. No balance for this puppet. The 30-year-old bamboo ski poles from my garage were not an asset.

But the sky was a brilliant blue. The snow was crisp. My body was deliciously warm from all the effort. My face, chilled by the cool air, shone with a smile as bright as the winter sun.

Back and forth in the track. “Run, run, run, get up some speed and then lift your leg behind you.” The instructor is encouraging.

“Squish the bug,” the instructor tells me, an image he gives his younger students to create the vision of pushing off.

The thrill of trying something new is dampened by the realization that I am a rookie. I prefer skill. But if I only do things I am good at, my life will stay pretty much the same.

I have that human desire to continue to evolve. I also have the human desire not to look foolish.

“It’s the start that stops most people.” So said Don Shula, a legendary coach in the National Football League.

When we are starting something new, we experience three primary emotions:

  • Cynicism
  • Fear
  • Acceptance.

This description of emotions tied into some other reading I was doing about the 10 Rep Rule. We do:

  • 10 reps for feel
  • 100 reps for momentum
  • 1,000 reps for mastery

This rule suggests if you try something new, commit to doing it 10 times over 30 days. After 10 repetitions, you will have a good idea if you like the activity.

Know that before 10, it is easy to quit – a cynical attitude with no results, no rhythm, “conscious incompetence.”

After 10 experiences, it is easier to compare how you feel pre- and post-effort. At this point, it is fair to decide if the experience is worth the effort.

Years ago, I committed to running.

Before I would go to sleep at night, I would tell myself what I would say in the morning to propel myself out of bed.

The alarm would ring. I would rollover. Then a voice in my head would say:

“It’s OK, Myrna, you can stay in bed. You don’t need to run.”

Two deep breaths.

“But if you don’t run, everything stays the same.” Sigh. My feet would hit the floor.

If there is value in the experience, commit to doing it 100 times. After 100 times, you will have momentum.

After 100 runs, I could see and feel the progress. I could not go away for a weekend without my running gear. I made all kinds of accommodations to stick to my commitment because it felt good.

The sore legs merged into muscle. The burning chest became a regular breath. Skin covered with glistening white salt crystals from evaporated perspiration would wash clean and feel smooth and pure.

I knew I was a faster, better runner than all those people sitting on their couches watching TV. Not faster and better than most runners, but faster and better than I had been the first 10 runs.

I was enjoying the journey. The fear of being a “bad” runner was a distant memory.

With the comfort of the rhythm of 100 more attempts, mastery will evolve on the path to 1,000 repetitions.

The 1,000 repetitions make you who you now are – you now can accept the new you. You are different from the person who struggled to complete the first 10 efforts.

As leaders, we need the patience and perspective that gives our people the grace to move from 10 clumsy attempts to 100 pretty proficient efforts to 1,000 competent activities.

Be the gifted leader ready to catch the untethered marionette:

  • Encourage through the clumsy
  • Coach through to proficient
  • Mentor to be an unstoppable master.
  • It will give them and you a new perspective.

More Reflective Leadership articles

About the Author

As the former owner of Century 21 Assurance in Kelowna, Myrna uses her experience to build value in organizations.

Myrna’s passion as a leader is recognizing the strengths of her people and encouraging them to grow, even if it meant leaving her organization.

Her purpose is to reflect the greatness of others – in work, in play, in life.

Myrna has discovered that when organizations and individuals work with their strengths, amazing outcomes unfold.

Myrna is certified in behaviour and motivation analysis, emotional intelligence, as well as being a growth curve strategist and a certified value builder advisor.

The host of the soon-to-be-launched MLS Leadership Show, Myrna’s podcast will feature leaders in the real estate industry.

A wannabe athlete, Myrna has completed several half-marathons, deadlifted 215 pounds and has now put her mind to becoming proficient in muay Thai kickboxing. Contact Myrna at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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