Gift of Permission

I once told my mother, “You’ve lived a life of sacrifice. It’s time you lived for yourself.” She tells me this was a gift: a gift of permission.

As leaders, we often feel pressured to do things for others. It’s our way of being good, caring leaders.
We may also feel that unless we fulfill others’ expectations, we’re not good or good enough.

But what if these pressures and expectations are self-imposed?

Self-imposed notions of “good” or “caring” may be unappreciated—even resented—by others. Thus, “live for yourself” is an invitation, not to be selfish, but to be relieved of the pressure to satisfy false or unrealistic expectations. It is to make room in our relationship for realizing empathy.

As We Mature

We tend to think that people our parents’ age are already mature.

I once coached a CEO in her late 60s.
She’d bring up what her deceased mother did to her decades ago.
She so wanted, but struggled, to empathize with her.

During our sessions, what helped her empathize was to surface new subtleties and nuances in her mother’s situation.
Things that gave her mother’s behaviors new meaning.

As psychologist Lewis Lipsitt says “we mature when what we once assumed to know takes on more subtlety and nuance, thus changing in meaning.

She was maturing.

Maturation is not about aging.
It’s about making new meaning from our past so as to move forward with fresh eyes.
Sometimes this softens our pain.
Sometimes it lets us weep.

As we mature.

Micro-Innovation by Erica, a Flight Attendant at American Airlines

I’d like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Erica Bird (maybe Erika Byrd: pictured below), a flight attendant on this morning’s American Airlines flight AA3611.

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From the get go she was very considerate.
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I have a backpack that turned out to be ever so slightly big for the overhead cabin. Putting it under my seat meant I would be squeezed. I wondered if I should go back to gate check it. The first thing she asked was whether I had a connecting flight. She showed consideration for my time constraints! (It can take a while to retrieve gate checked bags) Most would have just told me to go ahead and gate check it. I would have been fine with that, but the fact that she showed consideration was meaningful to me.

She then asked me to hold on to my bag for a bit. I soon realized that she was considering the possibility that I may be able to stow it under the seat next to me in case nobody showed up. I did eventually luck out because nobody sat next to me! The co-creation that happened between her and I was very valuable to me. What a beautiful example of a micro-innovation!
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What blew me away the most was when she later came by with her cart to give out snacks and beverages. She said “Hello Mr. Lim.” I was taken aback for a second. I’ve never had a flight attendant greet me by my name on a coach flight (par for the course when I fly business, yes.) It turns out she learns every passenger’s last name beforehand! I don’t know if I just haven’t flown American in a long time or if Erica is unique. Regardless, I appreciated her efforts so much.
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In my mind, it’s these small things one does to show respect and consideration for another human being in a business context that sets apart one employee or a brand from another. I do not wish to take them for granted.
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I hope Erica gets the recognition she deserves.
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Thank you, Erica!

UPDATE: Thank you American Airlines!

For What Do We Want to be Appreciated?

Each day,
write down one thing
your co-founder (or spouse) did—
that day or long ago—
you genuinely appreciated.
if it’s embarrassing to admit.)

On Christmas day,

  1. Agree to not negate
    or trivialize anything spoken.
  2. Share the list.
  3. Let them ask
    “How significant is this one
    and why?”

Human beings
have a need
to feel appreciated
for what they
want to feel appreciated
in the way they
want to be appreciated.

And yet,
too many times,
we appreciate them
for what we
appreciate about them
in the way we
like to show appreciation.

This can leave
our co-founders,
employees, or spouse
feeling unfulfilled,
or betrayed
in their relationship
with us.

So end by asking,
“What one thing
do you wish I’d appreciate
about what you do
and how
do you want me
to show it?”

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An Alternative to Problem Solving

Most of us were trained
to problem solve.

Many also assume—
that problem solving
is the best form of help
we can offer.

Such training and assumption
can serve us well
and poorly.

Because sometimes—
despite our best intentions—
problem solving
makes things worse.

If you’ve been accused
of being selfish,
lacking empathy,
or not caring,
despite your best efforts
to help your spouse
by solving their problem
you know what I mean.

When problem solving
makes things worse,
may we return
to our intention to help,
so as to learn
new choices.

that are actually helpful.
that improve things.
other than
problem solving.