Courage to Dance

Remember the little ditty “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t”?

I’ll bet Dancing Man felt like a nut, for a short time, anyway.

Looks kind of like the Harlem Shake, right?

Why do you think Dancing Man makes us uncomfortable? I think it is because ultimately, we fear being judged and then alone, wiggling our naked belly (or bared soul) for all to see.

In a few days, I will join the other Eisenhower Fellows (both USA and International) in Philadelphia for a kick-off orientation. The session facilitator sent us some pre-read (or, in this case pre-“watch”) material and the Dancing Man video and commentary came to my inbox among the excellent articles recommended. The common theme? Directive leadership: outdated and ineffective. Instead, success comes from collaborative, community energy generated when people trust each other.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are you embarrassed by Shirtless Dancing Man? I was, a little bit. I thought, “C’mon man! Nobody wants to see that! Sit down and put your shirt on!

But then, Fully Clothed Follower showed up. And I thought, “Hey, good for that guy!

Then I watched, intrigued, as a flood of followers came into the frame, dancing and whooping with joyful recklessness.

Then, I felt a tiny flash of fright. (Are we going to dance at EF orientation!? Yikes!)

I’ve noticed in some business environments, empathy and compassion for others is out of vogue, while self-promotion and arrogance is appreciated as powerful—so much so that those who exhibit servant leadership can be derided as weak, feeble or out-of-touch. I’ve even been directly advised to be “more aggressive and talk loudly, or these guys will decimate you!” Are we so riddled with self-doubt that we must prove our hegemony constantly (especially to ourselves, lest we lose control)?

wheat-growing-

Leaders who “go it alone” end up depleted, angry and bitter. Energized, effective leaders sow the seeds of freedom and encouragement, to reap a harvest of creativity and continuous progress. Energized leaders know that two brains are better than one—especially when those two brains come from entirely different perspectives.

“Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.”

~Jack Welch

When the ground shifts from terra firma to quicksand; when selfish politics and jockeying for power robs my spirit, leaving me gasping, I try to engage actively in the service of others, embrace and enjoy differences, enable and nurture creative freedom and revel in the new growth I see. Pretty soon, I’m re-energized, growing and back on track—and so is my team.

My son had a high-school teacher, an Episcopal priest, who strode around the classroom, waving his arms passionately, black cassock flying, as he lectured students. (Yes, it was a public high school and he was an incredible role model of unabashed moral behavior). He boldly told his students that the gifts they’d been given in life weren’t theirs to hoard, protect or flaunt. Gifts weren’t given for personal advancement. Gifts only thrived when you gave them away.

A gift of acceptance. A gift of collaboration.

A gift of confidence. A gift of community. A gift of success.

It all starts with the courage to dance.

MNP and USA Fellowship class of 2013

Eisenhower Fellowship Class of 2013, including both MNP and USA Fellows

 

Shiver of Coalescence

My first two years of college were spent at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. Established by Swedish Lutheran immigrants in 1881, Swedish history and traditions still influence life and culture at Bethany. My mother graduated from Bethany. Both of us studied music there.

Bethany boasts a gallery containing an extensive collection of the work of former professor Birger Sandzén. I mention Bethany and Sandzén, because both influenced my discovery of, and appreciation for, art in forms other than music. As an 18-year-old freshman writing student who was also a musician, I would spend time at the Sandzén Gallery, wondering how I had missed the beauty of painting and sculpture up to that point. It was one of many times in my life where several pieces of information in my mind came together with the passion in my heart to crystalize into something that somehow was right within me. The meeting of heart and mind, the shiver of coalescence. And it felt amazing.

Waterlilies

During that time, I fell in love with the work of Claude Monet. If you stand very close to a Monet painting, with your nose inches from the canvas, two things happen. First, the guards at the museum get nervous and start moving closer to you. Second, you get lost in a chaos of brushstrokes and color. Nothing makes rational sense—you cannot pick out familiar forms. You revel in the depth and delicacy of paint and color. Take a few steps back (the guards breathe audible sighs of relief) and your mind begins to establish rational boundaries out of beautiful chaos. A few more steps back and you form the painting to your previous experience—making more sense to you and gaining familiar form. You lose some of the emotion found in pure chaotic color, but your mind finds clarity. This is the moment of coalescence. I find this experience so rewarding (dare I say addicting?), that throughout my life, I’ve come to seek, to need, those moments. Like the moment between the savory aroma of grilled steak entering your nose and the slice of perfectly prepared steak resting on your tongue, I slaver mentally in anticipation of those coalescent moments. I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to the shivers—the “eurekas”, the “wows” and “oh my Gods.”

As I prepare for my Eisenhower Fellowship studies in Japan and Taiwan, I find myself filled with the excitement that comes from anticipation of coalescence. I’ve been reading, preparing myself. While I am going primarily to study product differentiation and branding in beef, I also will work to better understand the role food plays in both cultures, including how food experiences shape relationships and social structures. Forgive me for that, I am a sociologist by nature and by training. The forces that shape our interactions and our rules of engagement fascinate me.

In mid-March, I had the good fortune to be invited to a brain-trust meeting, with several other folks who lead companies and organizations in the beef industry. As I read more about Japan and Taiwan, and think about what U.S. consumers demand from beef and beef products, I can feel that familiar shiver of coalescence around the edges of my brain.

For example, many people in Tokyo purchase fresh food every day. Cold storage in the home (indeed, space in the home) is limited. But it seems to me that the Japanese people enjoy, and respect, small perfections. They would rather buy a little of something that leaves them satisfied, than a lot of something that does not. I’d like to explore this further while there, because I believe this, among other things, has implications for the U.S. consumer market. Small portion sizes, “special” food attributes, health and nutrition, beef as an ingredient—these things meld with the U.S. consumer’s burgeoning need for added value in food. To me, Japan has a lot to offer U.S. marketers with respect to food experiences to satisfy our consumers here at home. While I go to both Japan and Taiwan to better understand how we may offer them US beef, the shiver of coalescence tells me that I will come home with lessons in how to satisfy our own consumer as well. As a Japanese proverb says, “You can know 10 things by learning one.

As in so many times in my life, today, as I prepare for one big adventure, I remind myself that personal growth comes from an open heart and a prepared mind. Through these, I hope to have many, many coalescing experiences in the coming weeks. And in this space, share my journey with you. Stay tuned.