feeling is first…

During a discussion with my wife about an issue at work, she dropped one of the touchstones we share. All she said was, “Feeling is first,” from a poem by E.E. Cummings.

But why am I talking about a poem in a space about leadership and customer experience?

Because you will never be a better _________ than you are a person. You can fill in that blank with any role you play. You will never be a better leader, boss, spouse, parent, coach, or teacher than you are a person. You have to invest in yourself, and in your whole person, to be the best you can be at any other role.

And I do mean a whole person. Granted, you get to define what a whole person means to you personally. But it’s pretty easy to agree that a whole person is more than just their corporate role and more than just their trade. I have met plenty of individuals who are well-steeped in the business books of their field. But their knowledge is almost entirely comprised of other people’s ideas in a limited domain. They are robbed of the cross-interactions of ideas and the synergy of different perspectives.

...although he had never sought power, he had always had it... it was a power born of excellence, not manipulation. 

-Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

I read and watch a lot of science fiction. To me, good sci-fi brings us face to face with a “what if”. That “what if” has helped me to be open to new ideas. While it’s hard to draw a line from a sci-fi book to a specific business initiative, it’s easy to draw the line to the perspectives I hold that shape the way I lead. I learned the power of excellence from Ender’s Game. I learned that unpredictable outcomes are a result of complex processes from Asimov’s Robot series. I don’t just know these concepts from a textbook–I feel them.

So, to be a better ______, invest in yourself. Be a better person by resisting the need to tie your specific pursuits to a business pay off. Accept that you are worth the investment in yourself. No one can prescribe what that investment in yourself looks like for you, but I can give you a few of the things that helped me.

  • Art – I am fortunate enough to live in a city with a great art museum. I make it a point to get immersed there several times a year. To be honest, much of the art I view is beyond me, but I never walk out of a gallery quite the same as I walked in. For a quick dip, check out: Google Arts and Culture
  • Literature – It’s important to read for business, but it’s important to read for you too. I alternate between the business book I’m currently reading and something to feed my person. Audiobooks are a great alternative if sitting still and reading doesn’t work for you.
  • Activity – Do something you enjoy that is active. But I’m serious, enjoy it. Many of our greatest thinkers have been advocates of long walks. Skating keeps me sane. Find your active passion.
  • Media – Watching YouTube videos gets a bad rap. While you can certainly waste time there, some of the best and most intriguing material is on Youtube. If you are not watching Crash Course, well, you should be.
  • Sleep – If you aren’t getting adequate sleep, and you can only do one thing from this list, sleep is the priority.

Strive to be the best person you can be and to continue to improve yourself. The rest will fall into place.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/emdoyle/4885068759/in/photolist-8rFfKr-8uAvyu-pkzUfr-8EzG3X-6wXtpo-9pX56q-azD89r-naEHF1-9mwEnZ-8uAr4G-8uxGjv-5pE9vx-7hhZ2K-8uAv5s-adP8Ju-pkAQi7-aCtGnh-5pDPcK-a5N4oS-8uAvob-pkBtiX-5uJAiQ-nMcqWM-8uArTo-9HHssZ-f6Kxc7-8EzFcz-8Cpt72-2Wibov-8uAtGY-2WfWZR-J7rTVd-8uxGon-7c7yB5-8zaUS2-kKtc6C-8uxsc2-6mXjt1-5pCJxR-9ihYfi-6wTqwc-8uAt5q-WuZ2bU-djcCNb-8uAQfj-9mzL9b-9mAkoq-9vsgpp-fMFZU1-8muG6g

Yeah, You Can Train That.

I laced up my new skates. It wasn’t the first time I had ever been on them. I had shuffled and wobbled around my local skating rink a few times, and I had been on roller blades for about two years. But this was different. These were quad skates. And this was the gritty sports track of a derby floor.

I stood up gingerly, pushed off, and encountered the first major challenge of my derby life. Taped neatly to the floor was the rope that defined the derby arena, and I needed to skate over it. Gently, carefully, I judged my speed. I shuffle-stepped up to the rope, lifted one foot, and promptly fell on my butt.

Fast forward less than a year later. It’s a warm, humid day in Boston, and I’ve taken my skates with me on a business trip, because that’s how I roll. I left from my hotel and skated to Harvard Square on unknown roads. Urban skating had become one of my favorite things to do. I loved the challenge, the thrill, the uneven ground. I loved the risk of falling, though I rarely ever did.

How did I go from Bambi on Ice to Mad Max? There is no secret here. I got training. I practiced. I screwed up. I got coached. I practiced. I lost my motivation. Coaches found ways of motivating me. I was propelled by desire. I practiced.

And then, not all at once but eventually, I put my skates on outside and just flew.

We have an amazing capacity to learn anything. I’ve learned to skate, ride a bike, juggle, and do algebra. I have a working understanding of a car engine and can tell you more than a little bit about Newtonian Mechanics. None of that came preloaded.

And you have your own portfolio. Things you learned, odd bits of trivia. That weird dance move only you can do. Your passable Spanish that you learned back in high school.

Why am I going on about something obvious? Because people keep telling me, “You can’t train that.” Yes, you can. You can train everything, or at least so much that the exclusions don’t matter. Anything you know, you learned. Sure, you might have a predisposition to like or be good at something, but you still have to learn it.

people keep telling me, “You can’t train that.” Yes, you can. You can train everything

Leadership is a skill until it becomes an art. Customer service is a skill. The skills can be taught to and learned by anyone. You don’t get to write anyone off. In a world where employees act as free agents and have the power to move from job to job, you simply cannot afford the luxury of waiting for just the right ones. You’ll pay for it in time, you’ll pay for it in salary, you’ll pay for it in opportunity.

Another way of thinking about it as a leader: our people are the agency by which we get work done. It’s a poor craftsman who blames their tools for defects in the results.

Of course, have good hiring practices. Look for the best-qualified candidates. Use unbiased and inclusive processes to increase your hiring pool. But be objective about the level of skill and skill sets you can acquire in your market for your budget, and prepare to train what you need but can’t get on Day One.

Leadership isn’t merely finding great people and setting your ship on autopilot, it’s continually investing in your opportunities to get bigger payoffs. Your biggest opportunities are always your people.

That rope boundary on the derby track? It’s not an obstacle for me anymore.

Train and coach your people, and the insurmountable obstacles of Day One will become afterthoughts.