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What if we’ve been missing the point?

Happy (almost) Independence Day! This is the day that we mark the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in our remarkable country, the start of a new experiment embarked upon by 13 colonies. What is the most famous line from the Declaration of Independence? That we as humans have “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Life. Liberty. Pursuit of Happiness. These ideas stir my heart. They are critical to creating a life that matters. The first two are certainly bedrocks for independence. But, what if, in celebrating independence, we’ve had it wrong for 200+ years? Before you decry me as unpatriotic, let’s explore together.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature…entitle them.

If our country’s founding leaders had wanted independence from England to be the point, they could have simply said, “We’re forming our own country! Peace out!” Instead they articulated their premise for a new governing paradigm inspired by the Laws of Nature, which models healthy interdependence. I call this Leading Naturally: leading in harmony with our true nature.

Life: The right to breath. The right to exist. The idea that your life is yours to live and you are not a cog in the machinations of another person, or country, is a powerful “new world” idea.

Liberty: Freedom from containment by another. Perhaps the point was less about England and more about a deep desire to create a new model for leading, working, and creating together. The old world structure of power-over (hierarchy, colonization, kings) simply didn’t work anymore.

The pursuit of happiness: Merriam-Webster defines happiness as a state of well-being, vitality, and contentment. This pursuit is about discovering our strengths and experimenting with value finding. It’s about using our energy and free will in pursuit of meaning and contribution which are intertwined with happiness. Yet, independence alone comes up short in the pursuit of happiness. In our lives as in nature, vitality, aka happiness, is always rooted in interdependence.  

We are designed for interdependence.

Vitality is only possible with engagement—engaging with “other.” From Martin Seligman to Brene Brown, research shows that happiness requires connection. First we must be whole, independent—free as our most genuine selfand create authentic connections from that place of strength. This concept is exemplified in and often missed gem from the wise Steven Covey: “Interdependence is a choice only healthy independent people can make.”

We need each other to flourish. This is more and more true the deeper into our lives we go. The more focused on doing the beautiful things that our hearts desire, the more we need each other. The bigger the vision we have, the greater the need for interdependence!

Interdependence Energizes “Happiness”

I see the evidence of this everywhere in my life. I’ll highlight two such moments in the last few weeks.

One was on a camping trip, as I was clumping along on a sun-soaked cliff wearing a smile as big as the Pacific. As the golden hills of the Point Reyes National Park beckoned us to play, a California Condor screeched just over my pup Sequoia’s head, igniting my sense of adventure.  A second was co-delivering a workshop on the importance of human energy in business transformation. I had the gift of sharing my passion for new ways of leading only blocks from Wall Street’s famed Bull in NYC.

Two vastly different moments, to say nothing of the difference of the “costumes.” (Is anything ever as wrinkled as when you are camping? Does everyone feel as good as I do in fancy shoes?) But both are expressions of my personal experience of fulfillment and happiness.

And both are firmly rooted in interdependence.

That camping trip would not have been possible without my husband, Mikey, and his desire and ability to jam 48 hours of adventure into a six-hour backpack. And in NYC, without an incredible team the presentation would have fallen flat. These kind of moments flow through my days because of a lifetime of intentionally knitting together bonds of interdependence. Without creating space for and celebrating each person giving the gift of themselves and their work, full joy is rare. When we have each other, when we give of ourselves, we can “have it all.”

It’s important to note that not everyone’s “all” looks the same. It’s individual and that’s why it works.

When Mikey plans an intentional adventure, he is using his true gifts. He receives energy back on that offering. When my co-worker Alexis is unleashed to craft beautiful materials, she makes a conversation exponentially more stimulating and clear. When Patricia takes research deep dives, her wisdom sings with my passion to create breakthrough moments with clients.

It’s not a “I’ll sacrifice my joy for yours” world, it’s a “do what I love and it serves others” world. These are examples of what interdependence makes possible. We are free to be ourselves and that creates ripples of shared well-being (happiness) through our interdependence.  

Celebrating Interdependence

This week, among the barbeques and red-white-and-blue decorations, I’m going to shine fireworks of gratitude on the people, places, and beings with whom I’m blessed to share interdependence.   

I invite you to join me in this new form of honoring our great country. What interdependencies support your greatness? How might you celebrate those relationships as a nod of gratitude to the courageous men and women who founded a nation on these principles?

1,364 Comments | MaryCay Durrant |
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Harmony and Discord: Coughing It Up to Deepen Harmony

This is the second in a three-part series on Harmony. You may find it helpful to start with the first.

If there is courage in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
When there is order in the nation, there will peace in the world. ~ Confucius

In the first Harmony blog, I ended with the idea of staying with discomfort. When things get dis-harmonious, or the melody is hard to trace, one of the first practices I’ve found productive is learning to “sit with it.”  

Just like Confucius says, this takes courage. For me it the only way I find my heart. If i want to discern my  true voice–not the one my culture has taught me is the right song to sing–it requires I move slowly. As slowly as a snail on a hot day, sometimes as haltingly as an eight-year-old practicing scales. Staying, listening carefully, and tuning in is key.  

But staying isn’t the only practice I’ve learned. When the music gets dissonant, I have learned this great gift from nature, the “cough it up.”

What is coughing it up? It’s when you listen and speak from your heart. And, boy, does it take courage. The practice of coughing it up not only develops clarity of character but, connecting back to our friend Confucius, it truly creates deep harmony in home, work and play.

Think about that fur ball that a cat needs to get rid of, something that is nagging and unhealthy to hold onto. The “staying with it” practice helps me notice the furball in need of bringing up. That’s the snail rolling over a hot piece of gravel. Coughing it up is the next step which creates space for a new conversation, a new melody.

If it’s so healthy for us why don’t we all do it? For me the desire to be liked, blend in, please authority or be politically correct can keep me from speaking up, even if it would be more genuine, and better for my health.

It’s important to note that there are all kinds of coughing it up. Certainly, there are the “challenging messages” like letting a coworker know that you feel “pinched or pinned in.” Equally stretching for me are the cough-ups that require heart-vulnerability: “I love you” comes to mind. Or genuinely requesting a boundary be honored or expressing admiration. All of these messages, when brought to the fore, create new conversations and melody.

As I reflected on this (very busy) last week, I noticed that the periods of deepest harmony came after coughing it up. At a client’s office, the CEO to the COO. Me to a colleague. A client to her spouse. Only once we lay all cards on the table and are true to ourselves can we move forward. As far as I can tell when we  create the space to be true to our own melodies, we will build resonance for shared harmony.

Coughing it up can be like exhaling: the majority of the exhale is CO2, a gas that is poisonous to our system, but critical to the environment around us. The trees are thirsty for the very thing that is noxious to us! Let it out. The opposite of coughing it up is stuffing it down, and there’s more than enough science about metabolizing stress to acknowledge that stuffing is dangerous. Remember, if you stuff it, you get sick.

At the opposite end of the spectrum: coughing it up and throwing up are two different things. Coughing it up happens in your own space with the desire to gain perspective and create something new with greater workability. It’s a furball. Throwing up leaves little room or desire for inspection. Throwing up can appear in the guise of defensiveness, efficiency, or staying safe, or even screaming, which sadly I have been known to do. This simply leads to a bigger mess, whereas coughing up leads to innovation.

Making it Real: The Power of Discord

The first reason to cough something up is that these things do not belong inside. When a cat has a hairball, he coughs it up. When an owl has a pellet, she coughs it up. Little patches of fur left on the inside can become big problems when left unaddressed. The second reason is that coughing it up can shift you from knowing one small truth to knowing many more in a wider scope. I was recently reminded of this at a c-suite meeting for a company that I help lead.  Here’s how it occurred for me:

The head of sales and marketing (CMO) is a big man with a huge personality. Socially we have a blast together. He’s passionate about his work, intense and funny and energetic. At a recent meeting, we got into a bit of a tussle. The new client revenue year over year, was miniscule, a number that I oversee. The CMO presented it in a purely math-based way, true but those numbers didn’t capture the whole picture of client growth and movement, and I said so. I proclaimed, “we need the story to bring the true picture to light.” It was an intense moment, that passed quickly.

Afterward, this interaction was a burr in my boot. I felt shame for getting heated. I felt disappointment and low-grade anger at what felt like not being heard. These were old hurts surfacing, letting me know they were ready to be addressed. This was not my first rodeo so I was able to pause and recognize my old pattern (suffer and then withdraw). Instead I reached out to the people who had been at the meeting. In individual settings, I shared my shame as well as my anger positioned within a desire to create something better for the future.  

As uncomfortable as these few days were they deepened the harmony on our team. The very person I tussled with gave me a gift of understanding myself in a deeper way. What? Yes!  He helped me understand that my great enthusiasm and passion for projects require that I connect to my projects emotionally, often through story. And he affirmed a desire to help me do that in the future. This was no generic “win-win” moment. It was heart-to-heart, human-to-human harmony. I was also reminded by the way my peers engaged with me that I am an influential member of a team. My voice is heard. Lastly, debate is a good thing and nothing to feel shame over.

Wouldn’t it be sad if I hadn’t coughed up? What if I had kept that little burr in my boot and let it develop into a blister, a sore, a lesion? And not just that, but keeping my eyes on my own understanding allows me only a short-sighted vision of what the world is and how it works. Coughing up is one of the easiest, most tried-and-true tricks to understanding the your unique design and that of the person in front of you, leading us both to bringing value to the world.

Problems and Patterns

An important dimension to the idea of coughing it up is that it can be a way of giving space to problems, but it can also be a way of illuminating patterns. If it’s a problem, the space you give it will remain: a rest in the music so the harmony can grow. If it’s a pattern, the need to cough up will resurface, more substantively, until the deeper pattern is seen, honored, and integrated.

In the example I gave above, there is a pattern that is emerging. I seem to have a skewed perspective about when my voice is heard and honored or not. This is a messy topic, woven with my personal life experiences and a bigger cultural mess. Continuing to be curious about the threads in this hairball has the potential to help me grow while also creating greater harmony in the communities, organizations, and nation we share.

This process is part of creating character and true beauty. Harmony isn’t something to finish and put away. It’s living and breathing: it needs attention to stay alive.

A Tool for Coughing it Up and Identifying Patterns

Coughing it up is a good practice for staying healthy.  Given that I have two regular practices that help me exercise this muscle. One I rely on ever more heavily are my Perspective Partners. A Perspective Partner is someone that you have explicitly set up in your life to help you question, reflect on and understand your thoughts.

We all need encouragement, unconditional love, and advocacy: however, that is not the only or even primary Perspective Partner’s role. By questioning our thoughts, this trusted person helps sort old beliefs that no longer serve from real issues that need to be addressed with others. My Perspective Partners have permission to prod my assumptions and beliefs, which helps me tease out more meaning and harmony in my life and relationships. I have a few different people that I trust in this arena.

The second tool complement’s Perspective Partners in providing a framework for questioning our thinking. I’m a huge fan of Byron Katie’s “The Work,” available free on her website, as one of the most powerful processes for sorting out what really matters and helping us see the “whole picture.” Going through her reflection process is rarely comfortable and yet it’s always rich.  

I’d love to hear what you think.

Where has coughing it up enriched your life?

Which relationship in your life might be a source of transparency, a potential Perspective Partner?

What helps you be kind and courageous in the practice of bringing personal truth forward in the creation of shared truth?

16 Comments | MaryCay Durrant |
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Harmony: a place to live or a place to live from?

Thoughts on Harmony: Part 1 of 3

This past summer Mikey and I were driving up Highway 1 on an intentional adventure. Halfway between Cayucas and Cambria, my eye caught a sign: Harmony, Population 18.

Only eighteen people living in Harmony? What! That attention-grabbing sign reflects one of the most common tensions I see: each of us wants harmony, within ourselves and in our work, homes, and world.  And yet, we often experience only fleeting glimpses of the peace we desire. How can we invite and cultivate harmony?

When Mikey felt my enthusiasm at finding Harmony, at least it’s physical address, he pulled into a farmer’s rutted driveway and navigated a tricky “RV with car-attached turnaround” to capture the above picture. His dedication sparked my realization that I have at least 163 things I could say about this topic. As I began to frantically scribble notes, I realized I was trying to jam an entire composition into a few bars of melody. In the end, I settled on a three-part series of ruminations on harmony. I welcome your voice to deepen the exploration.

Harmony and Balance

Balance gets a lot of airtime. Everyone is seeking work/life balance or fretting about some imbalance in their lives. In my estimation, balance certainly has its place, yet harmony takes us so much further towards the true peace and fulfillment we seek.

This can be seen even in what Mr. Webster notes in the dictionary definitions:

Balance:  1.  an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady  2.  a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

Harmony:   1.  the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord 2.  progressions having a pleasing effect. agreement or concord.

Balance is singular where harmony is richly layered, flowing and full of movement.  Harmony acknowledges and honors the unique expression in service to a beautiful composition.

Balance also runs the risk of advocating for sameness in an effort to simplify the complex notion of “fair” into a scalable solution. The same discipline for different children, the same lunch for different bellies, the same amount of time on different work projects. That kind of sameness not only limits the greatness of each individual to a  common mediocre it also breeds contortion and the unhealthy forms of competition.

I’m not bashing balance. It has its places. Trust me, I could use more of it when I do yoga! And there are many places were sameness and scale matter. I’m simply proposing that in much of our lives and work, harmony may be a more rewarding aspiration. Take for instance, Daniel Pink’s long-standing research affirming that human fulfillment and engagement is achieved through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These important qualities are more easily achieved in a “framework for bringing together unique, disparate parts to work towards a mutual good.”

Elevating the Possibilities of Harmony in Business  

An elementary-school understanding of harmony begins with everyone singing the same notes, at the same time, in the same manner. These fundamentals can be the beginning steps toward the full potential of harmony. But that’s just the basics.

Think of how a business operating on industrial-age machine-based modes works: all cogs operating in the same manner, at the same pace to produce a consistent melody of products. However, a more effective model for today’s workplace is the harmony that occurs in the natural world where each element owns its part, for which it is uniquely designed, for the vibrant growth of a living, evolving ecosystem. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day, to be valued for who we are and to thrive?

Let’s link it back to music for a moment. In sophisticated musical harmony (like the modern workplace), not all players are doing the same thing. Each musician plays their own part which builds up the whole expression. Without each other, we’d be playing some pretty simple pieces. The ability to layer tones and phrases, instruments and themes is one of the great beauties of orchestral, jazz or rock music. This is community–commUNITY–at its best. Community is where everyone is playing their part, allowing others to do theirs, and benefiting from the swelling, collective goodness that results.

But does true harmony in our relationships always flow with ease, even if all the “right people” are there? Sometimes we are surprised when our tune isn’t the only one, or when someone plays a different instrument. Sometimes it feels awkward. Other times it’s downright maddening.

Is It Possible That Discord Is a Building Block to Ever-Richer Harmony?

Short answer: yes. Harmony is only an option once we risk the vulnerability of authenticity and “using our voice.” If we could hear innovation, it would sound like discord. Market disruption and new ideas create waves. Not all discord is innovation, but all innovation begins as discord.

Discord is an important thing to introduce in music: without dissonance, the piece’s progression is inhibited. It takes courage to create dis-harmony. (For example, being a woman who is more assertive as compared to cultural norms.) Upon hearing those new, unfamiliar notes, the system wants to restore the known, comfortable path. Unfortunately, protecting sameness stifles growth.

If this topic tickles your fancy, or rubs your fur, see post #2 in this series: Harmony & Discord.

Harmony Is Not for Wimps. It Requires Courage.

If you are starting to get excited about the potential of harmony on a personal, interpersonal, and organizational level, then let me be honest. Yes, it can sound beautiful and powerful when we hear harmony at a concert or take our breath away when we see it in nature. Just remember that this work is not for the faint of heart. Literally. Harmony requires courage, which comes from the heart.

It’s also not created overnight or in a few moments between social media posts or texts. The evidence of this can be seen in musical harmony: it takes immense practice, or in nature’s harmony, evolution to grow and mature over time.

I hope these realities do not deter you from the magic of harmony. Its gifts are beyond measure (pun intended).

As always, I like to close with a practice. Given this is the first in a trilogy, we have a chance to practices harmony together. Given that, “I will start at the very beginning, a very fine place to start… (*melody plays in background*):

When there is discord, we may instinctually pull away or plug our ears. Try instead to stay. Just give yourself time in the discomfort. If you can’t be still, you’ll have a harder time picking up the harmony. As Lao Tzu said, “to the Mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”

33 Comments | MaryCay Durrant |
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Grit, Gratitude & Gretchen

When I was a kid it often felt like my sister Gretchen cramped my style, always copying me and getting in my space.  Today it’s a different story. She’s a heart-friend who enriches my life in every conversation, as the following story relates. Continue reading

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Joy 1st; Product 2nd: The Secrets of a Greek Gelato Maker

Recently I was in Santorini and got a great “taste” of the power of Leading Naturally, by trusting our heart’s desires. On this particular evening, I was feeling extra stuffed–full of good food. Being a values-aligned partner on an adventure means empowering Mikey to do his part (planning, arranging outings, etc.) while I do mine (not taking over, or micromanaging, etc.). As you may guess, this is not always my first nature: sometimes I want to be in charge, especially when the plan is desert and I’m already stuffed to the gills. But I’m slowly learning that honoring his ownership of a plan and receiving well is a big part of celebrating his joy of providing great adventures. More on “our part” and “not our part” later.

So, me honoring his ownership of this vacation journey led to us discovering the Greek Gelato Guys.

Joy 1st

This is our hero, Greek gelato maker Nick. Clearly, he is doing his part. When we walked into his shop, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this sign: it reads “joy first.”

I have an MC-ism “Joy First, Product Second.” I love watching the ripple that emanates out from work done in pursuit of the things that ignite our spirit.  The ripple can reach across the globe. It’s not only good for our well being, it’s good for relationships, teams and the business bottom line. This shop was the #1 rated Restaurant on Santorini for good reason!

Our job is to find “our part,” “our joy.” When we follow our heart we get to watch beauty unfold. Creativity, innovation, contribution and value flow.  When desire leads the way, we are receptive to growth and challenge: the growing pains seem worth it because we are transforming into something we desire while creating something we admire. Joy-ful, joy-making.

Joy First, Product Second ties directly into our world view.  Albert Einstein framed it this way: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” The answer to this question (and you have answered it even if you’ve never consciously thought of it) will determine your reaction to bad drivers on your commute, a co-worker’s white lie, the tone of a buyout.

Depending on your perspective, there is evidence for benevolence in every moment of life. Everything can be viewed as supporting us: quite literally the ground supports us, as does gravity which stabilizes us; our alarm clocks helps us start our day; the boss who’s yelling encourages us figure out an exit strategy. The benevolent universe is always giving us feedback to help us find our joy or grow into expressing it more masterfully.

If we decide that the universe is benevolent, then of course our heart’s desire is linked inextricably to our highest purpose.

“Joy First, Product Second” is a mentality that leads to living our purpose and service not in terms of martyrdom but in the joy of sharing that which we love with the world around us. The deeper we get into work that we love, the more it reveals it’s secrets to us, the more it gives us to give others. It’s beautiful, self-renewing energy and work almost like riding a current. Not only does this return energy to us but it brings our colleagues and customers into that energy. To use another food metaphor, it’s like a stone soup where ideas can grow bigger and stronger and passions thrive. This, in turn, creates “real value” in your business.

To be sure, joy first doesn’t translate to “easy all the time!” Or even “what you’ve always been good at.” Sometimes joy is following the scent of something promising, something enticing and challenging out of a rut you’ve been in. Often our culture encourages us to stick with things we’re good at (but you’re so great at accounting or or project management).  Sometimes our heart’s desire pulls us out of the comfort of our zone of competency so we can tap into a zone of genius.

To quote an expert joy follower, our gelato hero, Nick, “When you choose joy, you feel good; when you feel good, you do good; when you do good, it reminds others what joy feels like! And it just might inspire them to do the same in their own way.”

This gelato maker has a cousin and business partner who shares his name–they are named after a favored grandfather. The cousin Nick, does not get joy from experimenting with flavors and hand beating cream. He follows his joy when he immerses himself in running the business–keeping the ledger book, tending relationships with vendors, and negotiating leases. This kind of relationship, where each follows their own joy, leads to thriving businesses and happy hearts.  And yes, we all have to do things in life that are not our highest joy. This is simply suggesting that we seek to tip the scales to more joy and less martyrdom.

Sometimes, it seems like a misguided luxury to put joy ahead of the bottom line. The survival brain kicks in, saying “gotta make this deal now” or “do this job, just do it, even though you hate it” because you need the money, you are supporting your family, you need your business to grow. All of these needs are important! It’s good to think about the bottom line. But following joy will meet those needs quicker, more efficaciously.  I see this time and time again in my own life and my client’s lives and businesses.  And yet, it’s a trap I still fall into and a lesson I need to keep reminding myself.

For some of us, It bucks the survival brain’s pattern to follow joy ripples in our work.  We are rewiring cultural memes of over-work that have become default superhighways in our brains.  This wiring  can drive our almost unconscious behavior to look at email the last thing before bed and the first thing in the morning (as an example_.. Creating new neural pathways is not always ease but with practice in “following our nose to joy” we can accelerate the access to thriving. Here are some practices for Joy First, Product Second:

1)    SLOW DOWN. Declare enough! This helps us become aware of “intherited” patterns that are literally joy-killers.  Plus slowing down as we practice new habits helps lay new neural pathways more quickly.  This sounds like saying, “I have done enough email. I’m going to find 20 minutes today to follow my joy and see what I learn.”

2)    Develop a community of support. Cultivate relationships with the people who stretch you into the joy side of yourself. This may be friends a coach or a life-adventure guide (like Mikey in my case). The Gelato Cousins had a business-owning uncle who mentored them, for example.

3)    If even knowing what your heart’s desire is sound overwhelming, don’t fret. Tap into your values: they are stepping stones to joy, leading you to greater freedom. Think on this: doing your heart’s desire will have long-term dividends. Living out your values has an appreciative effect as more energy and joy and love will return to you.

13 Comments | MaryCay Durrant |
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Leading to Leverage: Getting the Best of People & Technology

One of those intriguing I’ve-never-met-but-hope-to-have-dinner-with people is E. O. Wilson. He’s a renowned biologist and naturalist whose expertise is in the micro—ants, specifically—and whose theories apply to the macro—human nature, the world around, and even how to run a healthy business ecosystem. Let me share with you one of my favorite Wilson quotes:

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. It is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”

Woah. Let’s set aside for a moment the threat to our world and explore this as it applies to the work place. Because at Leading Naturally, we believe there is confluence between the principles that govern the natural universe and those that guide our professional prosperity. Coming into harmony with our own nature and natural principles is good for our souls and good for business.

Now, back to that quote… Bear with me, as this will get a little dark before hope breaks through.

dreamstime_xl_25057443First, what are those Paleolithic emotions? Our impulses that served us well while hunting, gathering, and defending ourselves. They sometimes do not translate well into the workplace, do they? Fight or flight kicks in when we are missing a deadline or not getting credit or there’s another non-life threatening issue at work. This leads us to panic, or to pull away, or to lash out. That’s the reptilian brain, the oldest (evolutionarily speaking) part of our brains. The good old brain stem.

MRI’s show that a person’s brain will light up with the same fear responses when the boss says, “I have some feedback to give you,” as when a large bear is gaining on us! The very thing that kept us alive for millennia is now keeping us from growing into personal and professional prosperity and happiness.

The good news is, through conscious practice and a sense of play, we can build new neural pathways. All that is required is to slow down (think highway vs. side streets) and bring a gentle, playful kindness to our work and interactions.

So with a glimmer of hope in the area of our Paleolithic emotions, we move onto the next aspect of E.O Wilson’s assessment: medieval institutions. What he is talking about here are the structures and processes by which entities make decisions and organize power as well as the older technologies which are firmly lodged in place. This could include the way governments are run (by nature, cumbersome and slow), power brokering, and manufacturing systems that deplete our communities and environments more than they contribute to them.

In business, these medieval institutions are strict, top-down structures. These out-dated models emphasize results over relationships, which leads to treating people like machines.  Sadly the daily pressure to produce results kills the human spirit in small, subtle ways.

One side of technology is darker: weapons of mass destruction, more ways to extract more nonrenewable resources from the earth, even digital bullying and identity theft. But! That technology is also the internet, connective/smart devices, predictive technology, and the democratization of information.

Read the quote above again. Now, there is hope. And it is in aligning our actions and beliefs with the natural order.

Think of technology as a wonderful opportunity. For the first time since the industrial revolution, machines are finally up to snuff—machines can be machines, and allow humans to be humans. Before, technology needed a serious babysitter—someone on the manufacturing line putting the same handle on the refrigerators, over and over again. Now that human who was doing a robot’s job is free to do things that make him or her the most human: evaluate complex situations, provide care, encouragement and accountability for co-workers, and more.

Looping back to Paleolithic emotions, we do not want to deny them or stuff them down. That’s against biology and virtually impossible. Plus, we would lose the insight they bring. We need to create work spaces that allow us to integrate our brains. The reptilian brain is moderated by the more sophisticated neomammalian brain—your cortex, which moderates morality and regulates emotions, among a myriad of other functions. When we are working in a space that isn’t punitive, we can remain integrated. An integrated brain can be more productive when staring down a deadline, for example, rather than flying off the hook at the mail lady. This is where the practice of bringing playful kindness comes to the forefront.

In this way, we can honor our Paleolithic emotions and use this “god-like technology” to achieve our shared values. When we use machines as machines and let people be people, we can make all jobs matter and all people thrive. That integration leads to an interdependence where each person contributes real value.

I invite you to explore you own emotions. Are they are serving you or not?  Can you honor them as the messengers they are?  What would that look like today?

Are the structures, processes and technologies you use bringing life or death to the vitality of your business and the people you work with?

How might you be gentle with yourself and slow down (even for a few hours) to give your Paleolithic survival brain space to breathe and catch-up with your human spirit?




12 Comments | Courtney True |
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Roots & Wings: Leading to Cultivate Growth

One of the sayings in my childhood home was that we collected memories, not belongings. Keeping our material possessions light was probably one of my mom’s strategies for navigating six rambunctious kids.

Given the nomadic nature of our family, we tend to be pretty light on possessions.  Despite many moves over the decades, one gift my mom still keeps on display in her family room is a mother’s day plaque I gave her when I was 12.  It says, “Thank you, Mom, for giving us roots and wings.” She said the reason she keeps it is because she felt so seen when she read it because that’s exactly what she and my dad were after: Roots and wings.

We were not a typical family. My parents had their own ideas about parenting. They definitely didn’t do what the Joneses did, nor anyone else I know of, for that matter. My sister Cynthia’s best friend used to say we were like the hippies of North Dakota except that we didn’t smoke pot.

Roots and wings really were the fundamental guideposts my parents used as they raised us. Roots were our shared values while wings were gradually bigger spaces to fail. Sound strange?

In a recent conversation, my mom confirmed that it was difficult to parent that way. With six kids, rules would have been much faster to explain than “roots,” which often involved lengthy debates from her spirited children. And “wings” often felt unsafe to my big-hearted mom. She could see that our youthful forays of freedom were often destined to be a nosedive or two before we could learn to soar. That space to fail was painful to allow, especially when a simple “rule” may have prevented the injury. The results: resilience and courage. Let’s explore that a bit.

The primary roots they instilled in us were the values of faith, family, community, and honesty – the power of our words. My parents were also big on personal responsibility, which meant always doing your best while simultaneously honoring each individual and their gifts.

This sometimes meant different measures for each of us, as long as we were working hard to do our best.  Imagine six kids lamenting “that’s not FAIR” (in a long, drawn out howl that may feel a bit like jockeying for budget resources in a business meeting). For example, I had to get mostly As while other siblings were encouraged to get Bs. On the flip side, given my limited musical capability, simply showing up to sing a one-note song in a variety show program was sufficient for me while my sister, Cynthia, carted a French horn, which weighed as much as she did, to and from school for years on end.

What I loved and still love about values is that they aren’t one-size-fits-all rules. Values require a deeper level of curiosity, inquiry and exploration rather than a behavior template.  A root says, “If we share this value, we can always work out the expression. Your form may look different than mine, but each will honor who we are and what we collectively stand for.”
roots and wings 2Wings meant a safe place to test out ideas, fail, adjust accordingly, and keep growing. This meant allowing natural consequences. When I was 15, my sister, Gretchen, and I —the eldest pair—had our own teenage domain at the far end of the house. We painted our rooms in our favorite 70’s colors. Mine had a bright orange shag rug with a yellow rainbow bedspread and white circular donut-shaped phone (if you’re under 40 you may have to google this one). That Fall, I lied to my parents, saying there would be chaperone at a hockey game I was going to attend. There wasn’t. When they found out, instead of meting out an unrelated punishment, such as a weekend ground, we had a long conversation about trust; what it means, the consequences of lost trust, and the path to rebuilding this precious gift. The end result: we agreed on a plan for rebuilding trust. I didn’t get grounded, but I had to move closer to my parents to show them I could make good decisions and tell the truth. To do this, I lost my room and the freedom it represented. For six months, I had to swap with my younger sister, Deborah, and move into a room right across the hall from my parents. Six months of agony!

Despite some tough lessons along the way, when I talk about my family, my voice brightens. My childhood home, while demented and dysfunctional in its own quirky ways, is a frequent source of inspiration for me in my work with teams and leaders.

Given this, many people are surprised to learn that my parents split up after we kids were grown. Divorce means a failure to family values, doesn’t it? Not always.  My siblings and I knew that. While my parents were great co-parents and one heck of an executive team, they were not good life partners. Despite divorce and subsequent remarriages, they each remain committed to the value of family.

For example, we make a point to vacation together. That means my divorced parents, their new spouses, us six kids, our partners, the gaggle of grandchildren and an occasional family dog all trek to the woods to celebrate family. We toast marshmallows around a campfire, play Crazy-8 games until the wee hours of the night and share stories of adventures new and old.

My mom’s husband, John, is as frequent a spectator at grandkid’s sporting events as my own Dad. Together they cheer the roots and wings of the next generation, their vastly different expressions contributing new richness to the fabric of our family.


Together looks different now. My parents, and their new spouses (who get a lot of credit for choosing into our clan) chose to grow outside of societies definition of divorce to honor their shared value, and deep love, of family.

A value has the holder choose growth in an area of high esteem. What we value is worth stretching and becoming more on behalf of.

These roots and wings gave us the grounding to know who we truly are and the space to grow into who we might become.


I invite you into your own inquiry. What are the shared values you can gather around at your workplace? Name two or three expressions of that value you see. (E.g. The Dollyhopper Mop Manufacturing Co. values a feeling of camaraderie at the office: for Jane, that looks like building consensus at a meeting and for Austin that looks like always making sure the coffee is fresh.)

What are some places where it feels “difficult” to reconcile values with the real world (like our families’ divorce), and what can you do to create a richer expression of what is truly shared?

Where can you allow someone you love to spread some wings? What makes you most nervous about allowing a coworker, friend or partner the space to explore, fail, build resilience and become more of who they truly are?




11 Comments | Courtney True |
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