Dogs sniff each other's butts. That’s their “get to know you dance.” A dance that often subjects their owners to a few awkward moments. Just prior, they were simply strangers out for a nice stroll with their dogs. Suddenly, they find themselves thrust into idle chit-chat and forced to maintain eye contact to avoid the socially uncomfortable behavior that is taking place a mere 4-feet below their locked gaze.
It’s the holiday party season, and our human get to know you dances aren’t all that much better. Albeit, they’re slightly more sophisticated. One of my favorites is the “What do you do?” dance. Place any two professionals into a social situation, mix in a few moments of palpable silence and that dance will start. “So Elliot, what do you do for a living?”
When I was in the corporate world the answer was easy and rote. “I am (insert title) with (insert company).” When I started my own practice, the answer got a little tougher. For a while, I’d respond with the close cousins to what I do. “I’m a consultant.”, or, “I’m an executive coach.” Neither of which are accurate or even helpful.
Now, I answer it directly and honestly. “I’m a Thinking Partner.” To which, the majority respond, “Oh, cool.”, code for I don’t get it and I don’t care which is totally fine. A few will ask, “What does a Thinking Partner do?” To which I reply, “I work collaboratively with organizations, leaders and their teams to help them grow.” In most cases, that’s where the conversation turns to two of our other favorite get to know you dances, sports, and the weather. But, in the rare case, the last statement is met with the question of “how”, that’s when the fun really begins. Because I have the coolest job in the world, and it’s a story I love to tell.
What’s my answer as to how I work collaboratively with organizations, leaders and their teams to help them grow? Well, I do it by being a mirror, an empty cup, a honey bee, and storyteller. It’s all perfectly clear now, right? Let me explain.
Leaders and organizations don’t always get told or shown what they need to see and hear. I wander around their halls, ask questions and listen. Then, I act as a mirror by reflecting back what I’ve learned, warts and all. This allows organizations and leaders to see how they truly manifest. This reflection includes the blind spots, and it’s often those that are preventing meaningful and sustainable growth.
An Empty Cup
There is an old Zen Buddhist story about a professor who visits a Zen Master for tea to learn about the practice. The Zen Master pours the tea into the professor’s cup and does not stop when the cup is full. The professor exclaims, “Stop, my cup is full, no more will go in.” With a wry smile, the Zen Master replies, “In a cup so full, it is not possible to pour in more.”
I bring an empty cup. I come with Beginner’s Mind, free from any preconceived notions. I come with a natural curiosity and a long list of questions. The needed expertise and knowledge almost always exist in a business. They just need to be met with fresh eyes and an open mind.
A Honey Bee
Organizations don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and leaders don’t always have to create new solutions. I often serve as a honey bee cross-pollinating best practices, tactics, and strategies. I’m not talking about proprietary information or intellectual property. Rather, I’m suggesting that what I’ve learned from one client, as to how to connect and communicate more effectively, may be adaptable and applicable to another and vice-versa.
Our brains process over 11 million bits of information per second. Yet, we are aware of only about 40,000. Stories are the way we make sense of our experiences. We tell ourselves stories about our situation and of those with whom we come in contact. We also spend a lot of our time and effort attempting to tell our story to others. Since the dawn of time, stories are the way in which we’ve shared our beliefs and experiences. At its core, leadership, motivation, sales, marketing and customer loyalty are all about storytelling. I work to help make sure that the right stories are believed, heard and told.
We tend to perform our little get to know you dances and walk away learning very little about one another. My hope at the parties this year, is to stop the awkward dance and engage in a real conversation. So, if you ask me what I do my answer is sure to sound a little different. I’ll tell you that I am a Thinking Partner who brings a mirror, an empty cup, a honey bee, and a storyteller with me to every client. How about you? I’d love to hear your story.