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Posted March 24th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
No more than 10 years old, the boy runs out of the surf with his new boogie board tucked firmly under his arm.
With a beaming smile, he shouts, “Dad, did you see me?”
And, during my daily barefoot run on the beach, as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I realize how much I yearn to ask my dad, long-since-passed from this life, that very same thing.
It’s amazing how young we are when we develop that hunger for affirmation from outside ourselves; how critical it is to developing our self-esteem. Yet, it can be our undoing if we don’t learn to affirm ourselves and gain assurance and re-assurance from the inside out.
I can still remember my dad teaching us the importance of inner-affirmation at a very young age.
I can hear his loving words, “Son, open your hand and spread your fingers wide and count ‘em.
If, when you die, you can count your close friends on one hand, consider yourself fortunate.”
Surrounded by his lifelong friends at the services for his final good-bye, it brought home the reality of that lesson. And in my own life, I count my friends (many of whom have grown from clients to friends over the years) among my greatest blessings.
And so I used that counsel when I eulogized my dad’s passing in October 1997.
Knowing his in-person counsel, and love, would be gone forever.
That, and many words of wisdom, coaching and encouragement, prevailed over the years of our lives together as father and son.
Another ‘Dad-ism’ – Grinning when I’d done something well, scored a goal in soccer, celebrated closing night in a school play or figured out how to get my car engine running again, he would sit in his chair and say, “Stand up and put your arms and hands straight out in front of you.
Now, wrap your right hand around in front and reach back over your left shoulder and grab your ‘angel bone’ (as we called our shoulder blades back then). Now, do the same with your left arm, and squeeze as tightly as you can.
Someday, when I’m not around, and no one else is there to pat you on the back, and you’ve done something you’re pleased about, you’ll always be able to hug yourself and pat yourself on the back, and know that you always have it within you to appreciate who you are and what you’ve done.”
How did he know his ‘arm-chair’ philosophy (pun intended – my dad would have liked that!) would shape my life’s work, my career, my relationship with the people I coach, train and team-build?
Along with a team of professional colleagues, I just produced a movie about how folks today can deal with our changing world in light of changes happening on our planet. [More on this new movie in my next blog, or, for an early look, check it out on YouTube, titled, “Answering the Call.”]
We brought together community, business and government leaders, along with world-renowned scientists, to talk about the impacts and opportunities that come from a region, a nation and a world facing drought, extreme weather, changing seas and other realities of our changing climate.
Whether you ‘believe’ (a term I’m told is like ‘believing’ whether or not the earth revolves around the sun – a concept still disputed by 24% of folks surveyed annually who still ‘believe’ the sun revolves around the earth) in a changing climate doesn’t matter; what does is that our world is changing. What matters is what we do about it, and how we work together, for future generations.
What’s this got to do with my dad? And a 10-year old boy on the beach?
Well, we just released the movie. And I was proud to be a part of a group of people – liberal, conservative, practical, theoretical, and all very smart – who came together to work on this production.
As I breathed in during my daily beachfront run, and saw this boy with that big (and hopeful) smile on his face, anticipating his dad’s acknowledgement – the proverbial ‘pat-on-the-back’ – I thought about my dad, and wondered if he’d be proud of me, too.
What would he say?
Would he give me that hug and pat on the back?
And remind me I could reach out my arms and do that when he was gone?
And in that little boy’s face, a stranger whom I will never know, I saw my own.
So many years ago, looking for my loving father, and then again, today.
Saying, “Dad, did you see me?”
Posted February 28th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
An adorable Vietnamese ‘granny’ and I were comparing Cymbidiums.
We stood peering into the racks to see which we liked the most. And at various specimens that presented their blooms.
How to decide? Which to choose? No discussion. Just communicating non-verbally.
She must have seen my eyes drift to the one she was holding. I’ll never know.
“Okay, good-bye,” she says, as her opening comment.
I step away, surprised that she spoke, her having reached out with her arms with the most beautiful specimen in the store; the one she likes and has been holding the entire time.
“You take this one!” She sort of proclaims, almost commands it. And her proclamation touches my heart somewhere deep and unsettled.
She doesn’t see the tears well-up in my eyes.
Memories rush in.
As I turn my head, I’m transported back to 1969.
A country torn apart.
Innocent people dying.
And my friends, brothers… going off to fight. And die.
Protesting in the streets, “Stop this craziness!”
Walking out in the middle of Accounting 101, studying to be a stock broker.
Just having returned from Woodstock, a musical interlude, symbol of the peace movement and a brief moment in time in-between the fighting, protests and confusion.
No more war.
Leaving my scholarship and plans behind. Knowing, somehow, my path needed to be different. Changed forever.
Looking for life’s meaning.
Now, in my coaching and teambuilding, a major emphasis on ensuring, as we engage in dialogue today, we be mindful of our need to be ‘right,’ rather than doing the right thing. The importance of avoiding the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if one side is right, the other must be wrong).
Realizing how much of my work is affected by these memories.
And then, seeing her standing in front of me, again, back in 2015.
And in her weathered face… seeing family members lost. Forever.
And almost 50 years later we stand side-by-side.
Her new home; her adopted country.
One I take for granted.
And sharing love, and maybe even memories, and a kindness, on a moment of crossed paths.
And the tears won’t stop.
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted March 19th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
A good friend of mine recently arranged girls’ night out for her birthday and kid duty became a challenge, so I got the call. Watching a nine and ten year old. Seemed manageable. My night was supposed to include a quiet, relaxing premier of the latest IMAX release, Tornado Alley, with the Cinema Society of San Diego, run by my dear friend and fellow movie lover (in his case, expert!), Andy Friedenberg. I grabbed a couple of extra tix from another friend who couldn’t make the show, and it seemed like a snap. This would be easy, right?
I figured, what the heck. A couple of kids should get a kick out of the show. And maybe learn something, too. Plus, the theater is close to Bronx Pizza, one of the few good East Coast pizza joints in town, and, I was told, a favorite place of theirs. So, off we went.
What I realized soon into the event is that the one doing all the learning was me! Watching the world through the eyes of a nine and ten year old transported me back to that time in my own life. The relationship between me and my brother, also a year apart. The things we used to do that could keep us fascinated and engaged for hours. The little things that we appreciated. How simple life seemed. And maybe was.
As we got out of the car, one of the kids asked if I liked doing stuff like this, and why I was doing it with them. I replied that it was like there were three of us that were nine and ten, not just two. That this was as much a treat for me as it was for them. They transported me back to that earlier time as if it was yesterday. Good memories of a great little brother (who I picked on too much!) and a mom and dad that loved us and encouraged our learning, intrigue and curiosity with a world that was so full of wonder. The capacity for laughter over even the simplest of things. Boy, is it easy to forget, even worse, lose all that with the years of responsibility, change, loss, sadness and just the pressures of an adult world.
But they brought it all back in a heartbeat. As we crossed the parking lot, the younger one grabbed my hand. I’m not sure if it was to keep her safe. Or if she was making sure I was okay. In any case, it was like we were three little kids about to be treated to a great adventure. And that it was.
After the movie we played the scientific games at the Science Center. For a couple hours I was transported to another time, playing, laughing and becoming a ten year old all over again. Until we got kicked out of the place for being the last to leave!
So, what I learned, as has been written so well by George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
For those of you who have kids, and have the privilege of playing with them as a regular part of your life experiences, take a moment and thank your kids for that gift. For those who don’t have children or the opportunity to spend time around them, figure out a way to do so. Borrow a friend’s kids. Do volunteer work. Rent some. Whatever it takes. Just don’t let the chance slip away as an important part of your life. You won’t regret it.
And for a memorable, transporting night that brought laughter (and an invisible tear to my eye), a big thanks to my two little friends for letting me be part of your own joy and fascination. I hope you’ll let me do it again soon!
Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
For those of you looking for a strictly business-oriented post today, you’ll have to decide if you can find some kernels in this one. Perhaps some of the thoughts, issues and characteristics about my relationship in this post will touch you, push a button or turn on a light that’s been off for awhile. Taking the journey is up to you. Nonetheless, I invite you into a part of my life that has endured and influenced who I am and what I do every day.
Paul T. Kamide, my best friend for the last 40 years, passed away in October. I just returned from memorializing his life on a quick trip to the Boston area this weekend. Paul and I shared the kind of relationship that significantly influenced my life and my work; I believe he would have said the same. It was an unusual relationship for us both. We met in 1971 at Merrimack College, where he was the head of Campus Ministry. Paul was an ordained Augustinian priest and I was a rebellious college student; imagine the contrast: me, fresh off of hitchhiking up and down the coast, patched jeans, long hair, Woodstock ‘graduate’ concerned about a country at war, idealistic, in search of my own spirituality and the meaning of life; Paul, from a conservative upstate small NY town; preaching God’s word in a traditionally Catholic college; well-formed views about theology, spirituality and his life’s direction dedicated to God. In so many ways different, and yet underlying, we found a common bond, a thread that wove between us across four decades: a quest for true spiritual meaning in our lives, the love of family and good friends, the unwillingness to accept injustices and the mistreatment of others, a desire to give back more than we take from this journey and a thirst for doing what’s right and what we believed in even the face of criticism, doubt and sometimes fear.
Over the past decades I’ve stayed with or visited him in all the various places and parishes he’s been and lived. Though he wore a collar, to me he was a plainclothesman, just a man, a fellow traveler with all the same issues each of us count as part of our make-up. And that’s what made our relationship different, and special.
Early in our relationship, Paul’s mom died, and a few of us loaded in a car and made a trek across the snow-filled Berkshires to head up to some of the coldest country I’ve known in my life, Carthage, NY, on the Canadian border. That was a defining moment between Paul and me. Since that time, I’ve always made a point to value that time in others’ lives when they’ve lost a parent. Paul later shared with me how profoundly the loss of his mom, and the visit from those of us who were there to support him, affected him. I learned that none of us is immune from what that life transition means, and when it happens to our friends, it’s important to be there for them.
Paul was a risk-taker when it came to people. He was willing to trust his instincts when he saw good in someone, in spite of outward appearances and public perceptions. Bear in mind, this was an era of turmoil in our country. My long-haired, outspoken style was a challenge to the administration at this small, private, liberal arts college run by the Augustinian Order. Nonetheless, Paul gave me a job in Campus Ministry to help me pay my way through college. We designed programs that would connect the community surrounding the school to the students attending. We called it People, Plus… and it was a way of building a thread between students and local families. Today it’s among the roots of my work with others, helping to build connections and communication where it’s challenging and unexpected.
I only had enough money to pay my way through my first year of school, so Paul introduced me to the then-president, Reverend John Ahearn, who helped underwrite my college journey, based on his confidence in Paul’s judgment of and faith in people. I learned the importance of faith, confidence and the importance of acceptance of differences in others, no matter their views, values, cultural, societal or other differences. Those who were willing to take a chance on me taught me to be open to others as well, and that judgment only clouds our ability to love, to give and be generous of spirit and thought.
Paul left Merrimack to work at the Newman Center in Winter Park, Florida, and I decided to complete my studies early and join him there. We worked together for six months, and through countless hours of discussion, dialogue, interaction with numerous itinerant travelers and visitors, we both learned more about one another, people, the world, our faith and subjects and issues that stimulated and challenged who we were, what we believed and how we lived.
Forward to 1977, Paul was my best man in my wedding (an unusual duty for someone in his position). We continued to visit and stay in touch, always challenging and learning from one another, sharing history and memories as well as exploring and growing as life changed, new people and events occurred in our lives, and opportunities for both of us came, were pursued and achieved or not. My concept of friendship was chiseled out of this intellectual, spiritual, emotional relationship that endured the years, the distance and the life changes. It served as the centerpiece of my work today, where I encourage and train others as a facilitator, motivator, trainer and coach.
When others would hear us on the phone talking and catching up, nurturing and growing our relationship over a 3,000 mile chasm, they’d always comment about the gut-level laughter they heard as we teased, provoked, reflected and challenged one another. The ability to laugh and joke and not take oneself so seriously was the hallmark of this successful, adored, yet humble man. It’s a trait I admired and still emulate.
Paul died last month after struggling (stubbornly, as was his nature) with diabetes. It wasn’t like him to ask for help after spending a lifetime helping others. The cornerstone of his life was learning and teaching how to live a life based on the abundance theory. (Recall from prior posts how important I believe this is; Paul was an inspiration to me for that.) He always sought ways to give, rather than to receive, and to share his heart, his encouragement and his support with others, rather than seek his own glory or credit. The more he gave away, the more abundantly he lived with the love from others.
I’m not sure how many lives he touched given his life’s work, I only know he taught me well that we have to take every moment in our lives to appreciate and enjoy those around us, and to do what we can, when asked or not, to give support, encouragement and nurturing. We never know how we might affect that life in even the simplest of moments, with the slightest of effort.
During Paul’s memorial service, I talked about the importance of these kinds of relationships in our lives. As I reflect on the importance of these life-long relationships, I recall from an old movie the quote, “In life, we don’t get a second chance to make new ‘old friends’ so we better value and honor the ones we have.”
In the legal world, there’s a concept called, “privileged communications.” These are communications and relationships that are sacrosanct, untouchable by others and private to those who share that privilege. My relationship with Paul was like that, and the two of us enjoyed a safety and peace in knowing how unique and nurturing that was. As we shared our stories, challenges and perspectives on people, life, politics, religion and so forth, we knew our conversations were our own and beyond intervention by others. Extraordinary in this world. Joyfully, we recognized this, and we cherished it.
These are rare relationships. If you have them, you, too, are privileged. Don’t wait to remind yourself and those with whom you have them of how meaningful and priceless they are to you. You don’t know how long each of will be around to appreciate them.
In my typically youthful ideological way (of course we knew everything at that age!), I remember telling Paul at Merrimack, “Well, all these folks coming and going from school who promise to stay in touch will eventually lose track of one another. After all, time and distance change all relationships.” He never let me forget that. And each call or visit, when we’d end our time together, he’d always remind me that we might not speak again, because, after all, “Time and distance change all relationships!”
For forty years I heard his voice echo that teasing refrain. And now no more. Our relationship, as we once knew it, has forever changed.
In closing my reflections at the memorial service, I shared this poem by Sally Huss. I’ve had it for almost all the decades I’ve known Paul. It reminded me so of him, and the many others that have come and gone in my life.
“Around me I wear an invisible coat of many colors, fabrics and textures. It is made of friends and family here and no longer here, far and not so far. They are all part of my coat which keeps me warm wherever I go.”
Paul will always be a part of that coat. I’d like to think I was part of his while he was here. His inspiration will continue to be a part of my life, as I hope I was of his.
For those in your life with whom you have a special relationship, I encourage you to share your own story, how you value that relationship and how it affects who you are. Taking the time to do so promises an abundance in return. And Paul would have liked that.
Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and know forever how much you meant to me.
Posted July 11th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Now there’s a defining moment. If you were to write your own epitaph, what would it say? Not just the facts about when and where you were born and died, the work you did, etc. You know, the statistical stuff. Instead, what are the defining words others would say about you? If we interviewed your colleagues, your peers, supervisors, and boss or board of directors, as well as the often nameless faces you encounter every day at work where you get your coffee, buy your gas and do your shopping, what would they say? How about your family and friends?
If you had the chance to stand up at the end of your life in front of a crowd of admirers, as well as those with whom you’ve had some of your greatest challenges, what might you tell them, what would you want them to know about you that maybe you didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate while you were still around?
Okay, so here’s your growth challenge for the week. Come up with no more than three words that define you. Words that are real, not platitudes. Words that speak to the way you touch people’s lives every day… at work, at home, in your day-to-day interactions, both big and little. No more than three. And they have to be true, transparent and honest.
When you’re done, ask yourself if there’s any you’d change if you had to deliver that epitaph. Anything you’re not taking the time to do or be? If you find the three words that truly reflect what you value, what you’re doing and who you are, good for you. If not, you better get to work.
We never really know when some life-changing or life-ending event will be forced upon us. And then it’s too late.
Posted March 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
That quote is from Dr. Mimi Guarneri’s book, “The Heart Speaks.” If you haven’t read it, get it today. It came as a promotional on my new e-Reader and I thought, I’ll give it a try. Dr G, as she’s referred to by most of her patients, is a specialist in stents, however, more importantly, has uncovered and shares secrets that all of us can use in our lives every day.
She goes on to write, “Research now suggests that it [gratefulness] also allows people to deal better with stress, causing them to be more optimistic, which seems to boost immune function.” Now, how can you argue with those “side effects” from taking the time in your own life to take stock, identify something or someone to be thankful for, and get a little immunity protection along the way?
Oh, and on optimism, try this on for size: “In one study, patients who described themselves as highly optimistic had lower risks of all-cause death and lower rates of cardiovascular death than those with high levels of pessimism.” Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get that in capsule form as well as tablets? Take one capsule of optimism three times a day with each meal!
So, why do we focus so much on the negative in our lives? What keeps us from being optimistic and grateful? Her book provides numerous patient profiles as well as studies and statistics that will give you insights and answers. For anyone committed to healthy living (emotionally and physically!), you really should check it out. As in an earlier post I wrote, there’s really not a lot of effort in noticing the good in others, taking the time to be thankful for even the small things that come into our lives each day.
We just need that daily reminder (in capsule or tablet form!) that the alternative can be very costly to our physical health. So, share a smile with someone when you’re done reading this post today; pick up the phone and re-connect with an old friend or family member; thank a co-worker for something that usually goes unnoticed. It’s contagious, infectious and healthy.
Our attitudes really do shape our health and wellness. “The Heart Speaks” will stimulate your thinking and, hopefully, your behavior, so that each day makes a difference in your and someone else’s life. And if that makes your heart healthier, how can you lose?
Posted March 4th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
“We’re going to have to let you go.”
I remember my first experience in my early 20s when I supervised a small crew and had to face an employee to let him know his employment was going to end. As clear as it was that it was the right step, executing the decision was tough. It’s personal. To the person who hears those words. No matter what. So, a few key thoughts for your consideration and use.
1) Hire slow, fire fast! – The most important strategy is to make sure you have the right people in the first place. To borrow from Jim Collins in “Good to Great,” the most important decision a CEO/leader can make is to put the right people on the bus in the right seats, and to get the wrong people off the bus. Great companies with effective leaders, according to Collins, make these kinds of decisions early in their tenure and the benefits endure. No seat is expendable for other than fully committed, loyal, passionate people who are dedicated to the company’s mission and vision, and want to contribute to its success. Invest your time wisely finding them (that means days of interviews, not an hour!) and the pay-off will be exponential.
2) Compassionate, well-conducted exit interviews can actually be beneficial to both the organization and the departing individual. – I was called in once to assess a situation on behalf of a board executive committee who knew it had a problem with staff leadership and didn’t know how to proceed. After careful interviews with the entire staff, including the chief executive, selected board members and some external audiences, it was apparent there was a bad fit for the organization and its CEO, even though, on the surface, her qualifications, intelligence, enthusiasm and desire to succeed were remarkable. A decision was made that saved the organization (staff were beginning to leave, board members were disillusioned, etc.) and gave the departing CEO the opportunity to assess her own goals and identify opportunities that were a much better fit for ultimate success.
On a final note, if you’ve seen the movie, “Up in the Air,” one of this year’s Oscar nominees for George Clooney’s performance as the consummate “hatchet man,” you can understand the devastating impact the words, “We’re letting you go,” can have. (It’s hard to believe we popularize a TV show with the title, “You’re Fired!”) What most don’t know is that Jason Reitman, the film’s director, with whom we met during a Cinema Society of San Diego screening (a shout-out to Andy Friedenberg for running one of the great organizations!), explained that the interviews conducted at the opening and closing sequences were of real people (one notable exception) responding to their own employment termination. The filming of the movie started before the economic downturn, and yet becomes very timely given today’s challenges. According to Reitman, those same folks were given an opportunity to express themselves and what they would have liked to have said had they had a chance to do it again. You’ll see those scenes during the closing credits. It’s a real eye-opener and education for anyone who ever has to say those words.
Tough as is it sometimes, making the right decision (and taking the time) to hire the right people for the right positions in the first place, and then moving timely and compassionately when you have to move people off the bus, will serve your organization well. And guarantee enduring results.
Posted January 31st, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Just finished reading Daniel Menaker,’s “A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation,” and I’m not sure what to make of it. Recommended by a friend who’d read a review, I’m waiting for his assessment as well. There are a few good tidbits about how a conversation develops between people, the stages Survey, Discovery, Risks and Roles, which I found interesting and am now paying attention to when meeting new people, and observing my/our conversations. Menaker using an interesting technique of taping one of his own conversations with a friend/colleague (with their permission, of course!) and breaks it down into these component parts; that is somewhat fascinating. There’s some history on conversation that’s mildly interesting and he casts about quite a few stereotypes. Be interested to see what others think if they pick up the book.
In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of flying this month, so it gave me a chance to catch up on something even as a bit esoteric as this. Probably not for most except those most fascinated by the study of human interaction.
As usual, available on my favorite, half.com and amazon.com.
Posted January 21st, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Seth Godin: Marketing Genius – A colleague and friend of mine turned me on to Seth Godin’s site awhile back; I find something useful all the time. If you’re not receiving Seth Godin’s blog, you’re really missing out. Guaranteed to stretch your mind (the kind of experiences we believe keep us creative, exciting and intellectually-stimulated!), sign-up for a test drive and you’re bound to find something in Seth’s words of wisdom as he challenges your thinking.
More to come in future posts. Just a few to get you thinking and experimenting. If you have favorites of your own, pass them along and we’ll take a look and post here what we think our connected world might find useful and interesting.
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