It was an inspiring day. There were presenations about why culture matters, suggestions on how to message culture across an organization, and even opportunities to bring forward the culture-related-challenges of our own organizations for feedback and insight from the attendees. And the attendees! A great combination of experienced business execs, relationship focused human resource managers, and a few organizational consultants made for impassioned and informed dialogue.
While there were several topics that warranted digging deeper, it wasn’t any of the presentations that have left me with a “aha” feeling. No, what has me doing that throughout the evening after the event is an exchange I witnessed as the conference was winding down. The day had been filled with moments of real leaders sharing experiences that had moved they or their organizations from middle of the road to break out. It was hard to sit in the audience and not ponder ways in which oneself or ones organization might be improved upon. At the end of the day a woman approached a table where I had been speaking briefly with two men who had participated in the program as speakers. She was radiant, presenting a mixture of pride and excitement along with some hesitation. After excusing herself she shared that she had been deeply inspired by the talks and that she was spending more and more time thinking about a dream she had been working to create for sometime. She started to share details of her idea, the ways in which this vision intersected several passions she had long held, thoughts she had to expand and extend the idea from a small launch to a comprehensive system of products and experiences. She had clearly already spent a great deal of time working towards making the idea a reality but she had not pursued it as a singular passion. She was sharing this with two people who had significant contacts and experience in some of the ventures she described.
The entire conference had been focused on social capital within organizations and ways we might leverage even single areas of commonality to deepen and intensify relationships. Here was a living opportunity to test what had been presented all day. When one of the speakers asked the woman if she wanted the opportunity to lead a new division within his company, spend her time fully devoted to the idea she was sharing, develop it and have equity stake in the results, what do you think happened? What would you do if someone offered you a chance to devote yourself full time to a dream you had nurtured for years? What if you had recently started a new “job”? Would that sway you in one direction or another?
The two speakers watched as the woman stepped back, continued her passionate description of her idea, and exchanged business cards. She had not actually introduced herself but was promising to send an email. Even though she was being invited on the spot to sit with a supportive VC she let the opportunity slip away. She completely missed the magic of the moment. And the two speakers, who had spent their days encouraging organizations to follow their passions and instincts and to create spaces for their employees to do the same, saw the vision slip away as well. Maybe she will follow up, maybe send a congratulatory email and thank them for their time. She might be the person that comes to mind for them in a month or so when an opportunity to combine social philanthropy intersects with her product idea. But chances are they won’t, because what will stay fresh in their minds is the way in which she missed the open door. Its hard to believe that someone who has spent years on a dream would miss the fairy godmother when she came knocking.
What lessons can I pull from her experience that might make a difference if a knock should happen in my life?
1)Say who you are and what you are about-She had the attention of her audience just by being genuine and sincere but she never said her own name so follow up would be hard to do!
2) Listen, listen, listen- Passion is infectious but if you are trying to connect with someone else around an idea you might want to actually hear what they have to say. It really might be encouraging rather than dismissive and you can’t assume you know what others think (she did a lot of this “I know, its crazy, but it is sooo much more than what I am saying”- Uh, no, actually they seem really receptive and interested, maybe you can let them speak now!).
3) Be present- Several times she was offered the chance to grab a quite corner and share her ideas, talk through ways she could make them real right now, and set up additional times for further discussion. For whatever reason she did not do this. Maybe it was another appointment, a call she needed to make, fear that she wasn’t being taken seriously, or fear that her idea was not going to be her own. Whatever the reason, she missed out on the gift that her presence in the present might have revealed. A theme of the day had been “may I serve” and the not-so-subtle example of Jesus Christ’s ministry resonated throughout the sessions. His followers were not inspired by him because he commanded a full days agenda or because he ran from one meeting or obligation to another. No, they were inspired by him because he was fully present to them and their needs when they needed it. His example is to take the person in front of you and be there with them, totally and completely. The woman at the conference could not believe that either of the speakers would be willing to do that for her, and she wasn’t willing to risk that to be present to them.
I would never say great things won’t come for the woman I met, and I can’t say that she made a wrong choice. I can say that if you want to realize your passions it won’t happen in isolation and that cultivating social capital takes risk and follow through. Speaking, listening, and doing the next best thing in this moment go a lot further than trying to make the plan perfect in your own mind before taking any action.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014