The hardest leadership lesson: learning to STFU
Today is my birthday and I hope that I'm a little bit wiser than I was at this time last year. As the world gets crazier, angrier and more polarized, I'm learning the value of quiet.
I met a friend for drinks yesterday and we were talking about her new gig as a new Executive Director. I was reflecting back on my career as an ED and while I had a ton of energy and very few distractions to keep me from a very big job, I didn't have the benefit of experience and wisdom. Back then, I didn't know what I didn't know and I would have benefitted from slowing down and, yes, learning how to STFU more (that's short for "shut the F up" for those not fluent in SMS).
Right now, I'm in the process of a new venture and a necessary step is to interview people and validate the idea. I didn't realize how hard it was to truly listen to people, to deeply listen without thinking about the next thing to say, without waiting for a pause in conversation to jump in like verbal double-dutch, to quiet your monkey mind to be in the moment.
For me, listening deeply is actually sort of a paradox. On the one hand, you're listening with the intent to hear and to have an almost Zen-like blank mind. On the other, you're processing what your speaker is saying and getting curious and wanting to ask good follow up questions. How can you both have no-thought and rabid curiosity at the same time?
In this world of too much noise, violence and anger, can listening be a form of radical empathy and peace? Can listening and connecting with others be an act of nonviolent resistance in the face of the brutality of our world today?
What would our world look like if our so-called leaders learned the art and practice of STFU and listening deeply with no agenda other than to understand? What would my own career have looked like with the same practice? And yet, what is so hard about it is that deep down I believe that my success has been predicated on my ability to talk, to communicate, to broadcast my POV loudly and with great conviction. When our societal metrics of success are about TALKING instead of listening, then we create a world where everyone is talking but nobody is listening.
I read an interesting piece this morning, which has gotten me to think about challenging conventional wisdom about marketing, blogging and so forth. Don't worry about frequency, don't worry about broadcasting. Instead, worry first and foremost about adding value to people's lives and the rest will follow (I hope). I think this notion of "growth hacking" belongs to the same school as fast fashion, fast food and mindless consumption. Instead, let's slow down and curate instead of consume. Let's engage in dialogue, not in Twitter rants. Let's create value and start movements that people want to be a part of, not build walls around ourselves and make arbitrary decisions about who's in and who's out.
Let's make this easy: everybody is in. Everybody can be on the team. Everybody is deserving of love, compassion and understanding. Even the people whose politics and personal beliefs I find repugnant and deeply offensive are, actually, on the team. But that is not to say that we are pushovers: you can fight passionately for what you believe is right, you can fight inequity and racism and homophobia and hate and you can extend grace and empathy. It's real hard though, but it were easy then it would be too easy.
So here's to another trip around the sun and my constant internal battle to STFU and to be a better leader.