Tag Archives: language

Monday Morning Moment – Leveraging Our Limitations – in Real Time

Photo Credit: Grace Covenant

This expression “leveraging our limitations” is brand-new to me. Fresh as today, in fact.  Best-selling author Jeff Goins talked about it in this week’s e-newsletter (worth your subscribing for his wisdom as a writer but also in tackling any challenge).

Before I jump into Goins’ take on leaning into our limitations, Let me describe the situation today where my limitations all but glowed.

Last Fall, (to give context), I took a course through the non-profit  Embrace Richmond. Wendy McCaig, executive director of Embrace, taught the course entitled Mission Shift: Assets-Based Community Development (ABCDs). Photo Credit: Wendy McCaig

“ABCD builds on the gifts, talents and passions of neighborhood residents and strengthens communities from the inside out.” – Embrace Richmond

Photo Credit: Wendy McCaig

Through a Communities in School (CIS) program in a local county, I was able to become a mentor for a high school student trained on how to interview and gather information from various members of a community. Their answers would add to a body of work on both what residents love about their neighborhood and what they wish they could change. This listening project will hopefully culminate in a “dream team” of neighbor influencers, potentially including this student…all who could participate in engineering a plan for change if needed.

Student-Led Listening: Strengthening Our Schools in Partnership With CIS Chesterfield – Wendy McCaig

It was a joy for me to enter into the experience of adult neighbors and their like-culture student interviewer. Even the time we needed out of their day seemed a thing gladly given. We all want to be heard…and for these several minutes, the student and I were listening with full attention.

I was both wholly in the experience and also observing the experience. The women interviewed were so gracious. Children in tow sometimes. Their responses were so insightful and authentic. Even speaking with strangers. It was surprising and lovely. These women clearly were influencers in their own right…in the small sphere of their world.

The one man we interviewed was the most surprising. He had just gotten home from work and his wife was leaving at the same time (I didn’t understand if it was to her job or for something personal). He still invited us in for the interview. Still holding his lunch bag, and his supper prepared for him and getting cold on the table, he answered our young interviewer’s questions. This man was so elegant and articulate. I could see him, in a different life situation, capable of being a town mayor or other community leader. Without English as a first language and an immigrant in this country, his opportunities to lead have been diminished. I hope through this project, he (they) can have a voice at the table.

This, for me, was hopefully the first of many such afternoons, accompanying a high school student engaging her community in a very different and deeper way.

For me it was extraordinary.

Finding this eletter from Jeff Goins on arriving home, its timing couldn’t have been more perfect…and what he had to say about leveraging our limitations…enthralling.

Part of his message today:

“How often do we think something cannot be done until someone else does it?

Sometimes, the trick isn’t to work harder. It’s to recognize the opportunity in the obstacle.

These days, I think of limitations as leverage. My greatest breakthroughs come not when I ignore my challenges or even try to overcome them, but when I learn to use them. Turns out, this is a pretty good strategy for doing work that’s worth noticing: Don’t be better, be different.

How many limitations am I not leaning into?

How many obstacles am I trying to overcome when really I just need to own them?

When we lean in to our limitations, we create work that is for someone, not everyone...When those few see it, they instantly know it is for them. –  Jeff Goins 

You see, for some time now, I’ve wanted to figure out how to confront the staggering problems of poverty and race relations in our city. How could someone like me help in a healthy and sustainable way? One person with so many limitations.

  • Being an outsider.
  • Having little influence myself.
  • Not knowing the language (Spanish or Mixteko – the two languages in the neighborhood of our listening project).
  • Nor the culture.
  • Nor having the experience of an immigrant.
  • Only a beginner’s understanding of ABCD.

Jeff Goins’ piece pushed me to read more and Angela Lee Duckworth‘s quote on grit popped up.

Photo Credit: Angela Lee Duckworth, Thriving Intentionally

Leaning into our limitations…leveraging our limitations can make us more authentic and approachable. More determined to not let our limitations to define us or hinder us.

Did I want to quit several times this afternoon? Absolutely. Did our amazing high schooler? Totally. Today we didn’t quit…hopefully we won’t. We construct our comfort zones to protect our limitations… to not have to face them. It’s not conscious necessarily, but it just is.

So here’s to leveraging our limitations. Ready to lean in…another day.

Leveraging Your Limitations – Steve Brown

Leveraging Your Limitations – Thriving Intentionally – Erin

Collaborative Conversations – Quotes to Stir Your Thinking on Leadership and Language in Workplace Decision-making

Blog - Collaborative ConversationsPhoto Credit: AJCarlisle.files.wordpress.com

Change is normal, and resisting change is normal as well. You may be part of an organization or company where sweeping changes are being implemented, even this week. Or maybe you are not on the inside loop of these decisions, so you are not privy to the change coming. Whether you are part of that process or not, consider how you might have a role in making change work, in your sphere of influence, among your colleagues.

You may already have read and profited from the book Crucial Conversations. Now consider collaborative conversations. Collaboration, simply defined, is “working together towards shared goals”. Collaborative conversations bring a collective intelligence to bear on the problem to be solved, vision to be defined, or direction to be changed.Blog - Collaborative ConversationsPhoto Credit: ThoughtFarmer.com

David Perkins, a Harvard professor, wrote about collaborative conversations in the workplace, using the metaphor of King Arthur’s round table. He described the beneficial nature of bringing several principal players (or stakeholders) to the table and treating each one with an equal or autonomous voice.

“A round table makes it a little easier to pool mental effort. A round table makes a group a little more intelligent…For a group to display intelligence in a sustained way, the members have to value their exchanges and stick together to keep making them. This depends on positive symbolic conduct [side messages sent by our words and behavior]…and collaboration… It’s not ideas, but people with ideas that make things happen.” – David Perkins

“One of the simplest ways to immunize a culture against broken trust, corruption, and animosity is to build a common vision.” – David Perkins

Perkins’ book King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations is a tremendous resource in developing this kind of decision-making work environment. An Executive Book Summary* can help you get started.

I personally thrive in such a setting and intuitively understand the value-adding nature of collaborative conversations. In researching this workplace topic, and choosing the links below, I came across a fascinating paper** by Heather Davis, a professor of RMIT University Australia.

Davis presented her paper at the 14th International Conference on Thinking (2009, Malaysia). She discussed how workplace leaders often choose “languages of war” in making and communicating decisions and creating change. Her paper is heady stuff but if you read her thoughts below you will want to read the whole paper. It gives huge support to the role of collaborative conversations.

“In [leadership’s] ‘language of zealous allegiance’, there are expectations of allegiance [in the workplace] that lay a path for uncritical acceptance and passivity. This manifests in an expectation that followers be conscripted wholly to the cause. There is little room for questioning. [Davis quotes Hage]: “Conscription means one important thing: there is no questioning of orders, one only executes them; ‘either you’re with us or you’re against us’. “ (Hage, 2004, p. 3).””

“Rhetoric plays out in the workplace too and can be tested by how well leaders:

  • hear and acknowledge the ‘other’ point of view,
  • see the ‘other’ as people rather than pawns or simply abstractions,
  • manage the distance, materially and metaphorically, between themselves and the people and sites affected by their decisions.”

“In the corporate world there are many examples of executives living and working in gated communities or otherwise removed by dint of corporate hierarchy or geography from the people and conditions affected by their decisions. Often, these leaders are also surrounded by people who can only agree, leading to little opportunity for double loop learning or deeply reasoned decision making processes. Whether our leaders live in gated communities is their business, but if they think, work and take refuge within a ‘gated’ mindset then we all need to be concerned. These conditions lead to hubris and have been the undoing of many leaders and corporations.”

“[Leadership’s] language of regrettable necessity translates directly to the “There Is No Alternative”. [This strategy] is used to always move the focus of discussion away from any big picture ‘why’ questions. This is done by shifting the focus to discussions only about the budget pie or, more particularly, the piece of the budget pie that is contestable. People find themselves fighting for a slice of the budget pie and energies focus only on the ‘pie’ and getting the biggest piece of it. This shifts the focus from larger issues such as whether the budget is set correctly, what has been included and what has been excluded. Thinking about alternatives is never an option.”

The role of the organisation is ‘to know its purpose and not be diverted from it’ (Drucker, 1993). This is a timely reminder here – easier said than done in times of flux, complexity and discontinuous change.”

“Language is the visible tip of the cultural iceberg that largely remains hidden.”

“Perkins (2007) used two metaphors in his presentation and so far I have only privileged the five languages of war metaphor in this discussion. The other metaphor used was the “five languages of peace”. The main difference between Perkins’ languages of war and peace are that the war metaphor is founded on exclusivity and a preference for limiting discourse to its [leadership’s] own narrowly defined boundaries. Perkins’s peace metaphor is founded on inclusivity and opening up the space for conversations and conflicting views [i.e., collaborative conversations].”

“Oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the workplace. Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required. Perkins’ language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that [leadership] prefers.”

Provocative reading from this Australian educator. Bottom line: Those of us in leadership carry a great burden of responsibility. We at times must make difficult and sometimes painful decisions. Adding voices to that decision-making can generate even more challenging processes to negotiate. Still, we will make more sustainable decisions for “better futures” if we bring those most affected (or most experienced or insightful) to the table. Whenever possible. That’s the gain of collaborative conversations – working together toward shared vision and shared ownership.

Stay engaged in your workplace. You can make a difference.

*King Arthur’s Round TableHow Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations by David Perkins – an Executive Book Summary

Leadership Lessons from King Arthur – a Review of Harvard Professor David Perkins’ book King Arthur’s Round Table

How to Lead When Change is the New Normal

The Art of Collaboration (Collaborative Behaviors) – by Steve Dale (includes a SlideShare)

Collaboration: What Does It Really Mean?

**Troubling Invisible Barriers to Better Futures: Surfacing the “Five Languages of War” in the Workplace – a scholarly paper by Heather Davis, presented at the 14th International Conference on Thinking

The Five Literacies of Global Leadership – What Authentic Leaders Know and You Need to Find Out – by David Hames – Business Book Summary

What Is a Coaching Conversation? from Opening the Door to Coaching Conversations by Linda Gross Cheliotes and Marceta Fleming Reilly 

The Perils of Indifference – a Speech by Elie Wiesel

Cutting Through the Hype – What “Collaboration” Really Means – ThoughtFarmer.com

Making the Workforce Work! The Collaborative Workforce Initiative

A Family Lexicon – Words That Grow Up With Us

IMG_0028 (8)

A lexicon is defined as “the words used in a language or by a person or group of people.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

As a family grows up together, they develop their own language. Sure, it’s usually with words everyone knows but with a context that’s intimate, a context that says we belong. Family can have its prickly stages, but the language of family is deeply embedded. Even as the children grow up and have their own families, the collective memory of these words, just like with favorite songs, take us back to another time. A time that these words had love, place, and situation wrapped snugly around them.IMG_0040 (3)In the days our children were little (before our third came home to us), this lexicon began to develop. You can even tell the ages of our children by some of our acquired favorite sayings.

Below are some of our Mills Family Lexicon. I wrote them down over the last several weeks, as they popped into our times together. Some the children have outgrown, and we look forward to adding new ones with the next generation of kiddos.

“Breffix, Comptible, Pannicakes, Whatchoosay?” Words we still use even though we’re all grown up…sort of.

“Turn on the Pancake Music” – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Saturday morning pancakes were always accompanied by Vivaldi. I’m thinking the kids still all have a strong urge for pancakes when Vivaldi plays.

Bobwhite whistle – We lived in big cities when the kids were growing up (Cairo, Egypt, the biggest). Lots of airports. I wanted to be able to get their attention without words. This worked then….and did for years later. It might have lost its magic now (or with earbuds, who knows), but for years……they stopped whatever they were doing and looked up.

Do not feel sad. Many things cannot fly. Rocks. Trees. Sticks. Spike.” – from the film Land Before Time

“Hold on tight, Knuckles!” – a line off the Sonic videogame; first coined in our family, when cousin Jonathan and our guys were tubing on the river behind Uncle Mark’s boat.

“Charlie Brown” – enough said, about our melancholy guys

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” – from the film Sandlot

“Too hot! Too hot!” – from the film 101 Dalmations

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” – from Charlie Brown Christmas

“I. Am. O.K.” – [Thou Shalt Laugh; Taylor Mason]

“Every lit-tle thing’s gonna be alright.” – chorus of song by Delirious

“This is a sick world we’re living in! Sick people!” – from the film Jingle All the Way

“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” – Dad, from the film Rush Hour

“You wubbin’ me the wong way.” – Elmer Fudd, Geico commercial

“Are you dead, Man?” – from the film Cool Runnings

“No, only mostly dead.” – from Princess Bride

“People are idiots!” – from Everybody Loves Raymond‘s dad Frank

“Let’s go shoot buffalo!” – said his buddy Zach Anders at Nathan’s 4th birthday partyBlog - Daniel & Nathan

“Meskeen” – Arabic word meaning “pitiful” or “to be pitied” – resorted to when one of us is throwing a pity party. Other language words also used without thinking. “Malesh” is also an Arabic word meaning “It’s O.K.” or “Never mind” or “No worries”, Daniel’s French interjections sometimes come out of nowhere- including “Quoi?” (“What?”) and “Mafoix” (although I don’t know what it means).

“Either deal with it or die to it.” – again Dad’s short admonition when we keep ruminating over a conflicted situation or relationship

“Do not grow weary in well-doing; you will reap a harvest, if you don’t give up.” – Galatians 6:9 – there are the many Bible verses that were there for counsel and encouragement; this is one.IMG_0003 (12)

“Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. You either.” – sing-song back and forth at “lights out” while kids were growing up

I know…too stinkin’ adorable, that one – “the Walton’s”, not ours.

What are some of your family’s lexicon words/sayings? Please share them in the comments below.

What Is Your Family’s Lexicon?

WikiQuotes – Sonic the Hedgehog

90 Quotes That Will Change the Way You Think

YouTube Video – The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture With Lyrics

This is What It Would Sound Like if You Talked to Your Parents Like They Talk to You

YouTube Video – 10 Things All Moms Say

The “littles” with Memaw & PapaIMG_0020 (8)

…and a bit later with MomMom & PopPop2007 - Jul - Vacation in Delaware