Celebrating the Harvest: A Shift in Focus

Celebrating the harvest

Unquestionably, the year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most bizarre years on record, at least in my lifetime. Between COVID-19, murder hornets, heightened racial tensions, polarized politics and more, this has certainly been a challenging year in many ways. As the year begins to draw toward a close, our friends and colleagues in agriculture are reaping the harvest once again. For their essential service in providing over 400 commodities in California alone for human consumption, especially this year, we are grateful. We are grateful for the freshest, safest, locally grown produce in the world. Thank you!

Several years ago, I wrote about what harvest means to me, growing up in California’s Central Valley. In my small town of Lodi, California, harvest was a time of measuring performance, and in some ways, a time of reckoning: Had we sown the crops and tended the soil properly? Had weather conditions been favorable? Had we sufficient water for irrigation? In organizational terms, we might reframe the questions to ask: Had we been strategic in our planning and execution? How had the market and other external factors contributed? How did we manage our resources – human, natural, material – to deliver on the promises we made?

In times of crisis, many of these factors are out of our control. It is human nature to desire control over that which is in our power to control. For this reason, we have seen increased depression, suicide and emotional duress over the recent six months of restricted or limited social contact. While it may be tempting to focus on all the negativity, and secretly desire to fast-forward into January 2021, let’s take the opportunity to highlight a few of the blessings that have emerged from this complex and challenging time. In my coaching conversations with clients, I have seen a significant shift in focus, as measured by goal setting in coaching engagements, in these 5 Key Focus Areas:

Focus on Wellness. Whether it’s a mindfulness practice, an exercise routine, a coastal walk with a Blue Health Coach, or other mental health breaks, many people have not only expressed an increased interest in focusing on some aspect of self-care, but also integrated new kind of new routine to support this focus. Although this may be balanced by the increase in consumption of alcohol and comfort foods, these indulgences may play a role, as well. After all, sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack. Long story short, leadership begins with self-care. One of the first lessons we teach Rescue Divers is, “You cannot rescue someone else by putting yourself in harm’s way.” The same is true for leaders. Leaders who are drowning in their own sea of uncertainty or inexperience are not in a position to help, direct or lead others. In fact, the very first module of our new Inspired Leadership offering begins with “Leading Self.” May we remember to continue caring for our own well-being in service to others, even when life returns to “normal.”

Focus on Family. With many parents working from home, and children engaged in a hybrid approach to online learning and home-schooling, more clients are reporting a return to family dinners, family walks, and other activities that are often squeezed out of our fast-paced lives. However you define “family”, more people are choosing to foster more meaningful interpersonal relationships, not only with loved ones, but also with long lost friends and family. The ways families have been engaging in celebration, whether it’s weddings, memorials, graduations, birthdays, are so creative! We are already beginning to hear the term, “COVID Baby” used to describe new additions to families during this time. It will be interesting to see how this return to family relationships impacts social and community issues in the months to come.

Focus on Community. In the absence of large scale public gatherings and events, people are finding creative ways to connect socially, while remaining physically distanced. A greater sense of community and compassion for our neighbors has emerged, such as deliveries of cookies on doorsteps, grocery and errand runs for the elderly, intentional efforts to support local businesses and restaurants. One of my favorite examples of this is local photographer, Lara George, who creatively began her “Front Steps Project,” as a means of reaching out, connecting with people, offering her services and simply bringing joy to surrounding communities. She posts on social media when she will be driving through a neighborhood, so families can come outside on their front porch, just as they are, and be photographed by her from the street for physical distancing. Be sure to check out Lara’s project, and show her some love.

Focus on Purpose. At least half of the coaching conversations since March 2020 have involved some discussion about re-evaluating one’s career or life path. While some are exploring retirement, others are considering a completely different type of work or field of discipline. Arguably, in some cases, this may be related to that normal stage of adult development we call “midlife.” In nearly all cases, the client is seeking something more satisfying, fulfilling or meaningful. Now, I thrive on these conversations, having experienced a bit of my own career re-evaluation not too long ago. More importantly, my clients are seeking a deeper sense of purpose, and choosing to leave a legacy for future generations on purpose.

Focus on Perspective. Related to purpose, many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to press pause, take a deep breath, and consider their situations from a different perspective. They are wanting to see the “bigger picture,” and make sense of how it all fits together. We have seen more interest in Blue Health Coaching™ than ever before, as people discover their desire to have a deeper connection with their own lives and with the planet, specifically our marine ecosystems. If you are curious about Blue Health Coaching,™ try one of our “Toe in the Water” sessions to have an experience, learn about the science of blue health benefits, and meet some cool people in the process.

As we prepare simultaneously for an unknown future and a return to some sense of normalcy, I am optimistic that we may preserve some of these positive lessons gleaned from this season of uncertainty. Take heart and know that this too shall pass, and hopefully, we will have learned and grown through the challenges into wiser and more compassionate human beings, more patient leaders and more purposefully leave a legacy for future generations. What are you harvesting?

Leaving a Legacy

Adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2019.

Growing Leaders

Effective leadership development begins with understanding who we are as human beings, how we behave in relationship to others and how we operate in the world. This insight informs the choices we make in creating compelling vision, influencing decisions of others and recruiting followers to join us in the journey. Sometimes leaders make new discoveries in this process, revealing unrealized potential or overexerted strengths. While our strengths can be a vast wealth of resource from which we draw, they can also be taken to extreme, which may show up as risk factors, resulting in negative consequences in our relationships.

One example that comes to mind is the visionary executive, who was usually the first one to recognize shifts in the market, identify business challenges faced by clients and anticipate necessary innovations that would advance his company. He was known for being visionary, creative and innovative. However, the risk factor appeared when he would make what his team described as “cognitive leaps of faith” in introducing his recommended solutions without connecting the proverbial dots for others in the room. He simply expected others to see the solution as plainly as he did and criticize the competence and capability of others when they did not draw the same conclusions. This leadership approach cost him the opportunity to continue progressing in his career. Ultimately, he had achieved his plateau much sooner than he expected.

By contrast, a mid-level marketing director had a reputation for being results-oriented with a “get the job done” mentality. She described herself as a “pleaser,” which to her meant she would always take on additional responsibility and find a way to get it across the finish line, so as to please her superiors. Her executive team saw and rewarded her potential for being able to execute efficiently and effectively. The downside of this strength was realized when her team of direct reports may not have shared her ambitious drive and need for recognition. In fact, she drove her team excessively, by overcommitting them and accepting more responsibility than her team’s workload could reasonably support. In effect, she burned them out. As a result, a complaint was filed with human resources and she was put on a mandatory leave. Fortunately for her, this was a reality check.

She began working with a coach to understand her leadership style and to make intentional corrective choices to rebuild relationships, have the crucial conversations when necessary and asked her team for their input on reasonable timelines and deliverables to ensure their health, wellbeing and success. In the end, she returned to work, re-established her credibility and built a new leadership brand for herself as a highly collaborative and execution-oriented leader who cared not only about the work product, but also her people.

Both of these examples illustrate the importance of understanding our strengths and recognizing the consequences when those same strengths are taken too far or over-applied. In both cases, it was how the leader responded to feedback from key stakeholders that determined the outcome. The first leader ignored the feedback, deflected the responsibility and chose not to adjust his behavior. This resulted in the end of his tenure with that company. The second leader accepted the feedback as a wake-up call, reflected and evaluated how she wanted to proceed and then took corrective action. Ultimately, she has been recognized and promoted for her newly discovered leadership capability.

Making a Difference

Leadership is a choice—a series of choices, really. Every day we are faced with choices, trade-offs and decisions, all of which have consequences—good and bad. Further, the work of leadership is often considered to be dual-focused. Leaders must be ever mindful of two realities: the current state of daily affairs and the future vision for the organization. Whether we lead small teams or large corporations or nonprofit organizations, we must keep both realities in balance.

Keeping one eye on the current state, we rely on our teams to keep us apprised of the day-to-day details of what is happening inside our organizations, our markets and our communities. We may have analysts and advisors and we may become embroiled in the operational heavy lifting necessary to keep the organization moving forward. However, it is not unusual for leaders to become overly involved in the daily details. Leaders who spend too much energy on the day-to-day details may lose sight of the long view: where the organization is going. They may miss opportunities to partner or innovate or collaborate for a broader benefit. In short, they may lose focus on the mission.

On the other hand, it is essential for leaders to step back from the details and take another perspective. This allows the necessary time for reflecting on progress, anticipating course corrections, planning deliberately and proactively leading with purpose and intention in the desired direction. Although spending excessive time and energy in this space is necessary, when overextended, it may delay leaders from making critical real-time decisions to keep the organization productive and in some cases, solvent. This dual-focused work of leaders must remain in balance, so that the time and energy expended never strays too far in either direction, as dire consequences may result. The sum total of these everyday choices, in the end, determine the difference we make.

Leaving a Legacy

At a recent networking event, I had the opportunity to share my personal mantra, which is: Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy. This means we learn new skills, ideas and ways of working and being so that we may become more effective leaders who make a positive impact. Our everyday choices, expressed in our words and actions, including how we spend our time, talents and treasures, leave an indelible imprint on the people and the environment around us. These choices and actions leave an impact, whether positive or not. This impact is our legacy. In “A Leader’s Legacy,” authors Kouzes and Posner (2006) write:
“To realize that we make a difference is both a joyous opportunity and a potential burden. Because we most influence those who are the closest to us, we’re given a great gift. We’re presented with the chance to change a life. We’re granted the option of investing in the growth of others. We’re offered the opportunity to make the world a better place.”

Leadership truly is about recognizing the current state of our world, and making intentional choices to leave it a better place than we found it. These events are an opportunity to reconnect with the community, as well as to shape the future. Together, let’s leave a legacy, make a positive difference and be a catalyst for a vibrant community and world.