the listening leader

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“We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn.  
We must learn before we can prepare.  We must prepare before we can serve.  

We must serve before we can lead.”    – William Arthur Ward

We need our time to be silent– to connect to the deep current of our lives so that we can begin to really listen.  Listen to ourselves and to others.

Theory U describes four different levels of listening~

Surface Level     Downloading — My ideas, my thoughts
Open Mind– Hearing data that is dis-confirming from our thoughts.
Open Heart– Empathetic listening
Open Will/Open Spirit– Real presence

I want to share a story told by Paula Underwood that explains one perspective on dropping below the surface to listen more deeply.

If You Really Pay Attention…

When I was a little bitty kiddy, about five, my Dad began a process … anytime somebody came and said something to us, my dad would say, “You remember what he said, honey girl?”  I would tell my father what the person said until I got so good at it that I could repeat verbatim even long presentations of what the person had said.

And he did this all the time.

Finally, one day there was this old gentleman, Richard Thompson. I still remember his name, he lived across the street.  And every time my Dad started to mow the lawn, there came Mr. Thompson. And so I would stand out there.

Dad says, “You might come and listen to this man, honey girl.  He’s pretty interesting.”  And so I listened to him, and then my dad would say, “What did you hear him say?” And I would tell him.

Well, eventually I was repeating all the stories he liked to share with my dad verbatim.  I knew them all by heart.

And my Dad says, “You’re getting pretty good at that.  But did you hear his heart?”  And I thought, what?  So I went around for days with my ear to people’s chest trying to hear their hearts.

Finally my Dad created another learning situation for me by asking my mother to read an article from the newspaper.  He says “Well, I guess if you want to understand that article, you have to read between the lines.”

I thought, “Oh, read between the lines. Hear between the words.”

So the next time I listened to Mr. Thompson’s stories, I tried to listen between the words.  My Dad said, “I know you know his story, but did you hear his heart?” And I said, “Yes.  He is very lonely and comes and shares his memories with you again and again because he’s asking you to keep him company in his memories.”

It just came out of me.  In other words, my heart echoed his heart.

And when you can listen at that level, then you can hear not only the people. If you really pay attention, you can hear what the Universe is saying.

–Paula Underwood, clan mother of the Turtle clan, Iroquois nation

Practice of the Week:

1.  First, assess what kind of listener you are. 

Is it different in each relationship?
What is the quality of your listening with respect to your partner, your children, your parents, your team, your boss, your colleagues?
Are you:
Fully committed?
Distracted– with attention fading in and out?
Anxious– listening and interrupting so you don’t forget what you want to say?
Inattentive– looking everywhere but at the speaker?
Impatient-” Hurry up; I’ve got somewhere to go”?

2.  Practice paying full attention to one person in one conversation.

Stay fully present with them, as if this were the only and most important conversation of your life, as if everything that happened in that conversation really mattered to you.
How did that feel different from your usual behavior?  How did that person react?  What was the outcome?
How would you be able to change your relationship to that individual by listening like this again?

3.  Think about who models listening from presence for you?
We weren’t all lucky enough to have a Dad that taught us this skill like Paula did…but who is a presence champion for you?  Who seems to really be paying attention in your life?

I invite you to look for that champion this week.  Name them– speak to them if you can– ask them about Presence or Listening or Speaking from this place of awareness.

Ask them how they cultivated this skill.  Ask them what difference it has made in their lives.

Happy Listening!

your story

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I would like to share my friend Chris Trout’s thoughts on “Your Story”

Your story about the past shapes who you think you are.

Do you tell yourself stories of your failures or your successes? Your moments of strength or weakness? And what meaning do you attach to each?  What have you concluded about you?

Your story about the present shapes how you feel today.
Do you tell the story of a world that supports you or defeats you?  Of beauty or darkness?  Of conspiracy or cooperation?

Your story about the future fuels your energy.
Are youexcited to be moving toward a dream or desire?  Does it pull you forward?  Or have you even created a future story — much less a compelling one?

And here’s thecrazy thing:

People who have faced incredible sickness, loss or trauma can and do create stories that are full of life and hope — past, present and future. And people who have experienced seemingly endless love and countless blessings can and do create stories of one barrier after another — Ditto: past, present and future.

Each day, you get to choose a new story, connect new dots, come to new conclusions. You can debate to the end of time the influence of nurture and nature but, in the end, you choose the story you tell. And here’s the thing:

The story you tell is the story you live. Choose wisely.
  ~ Chris Trout

So what is your story?

planting seeds

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Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. 

–Robert Louis Stevenson

Huffington Post’s Good News Channel recently reported the following story:

The Man Who Planted A Forest

More than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began planting seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in India’s Assam region, theAsian Age reports.  It was 1979 and floods had washed a great number of snakes onto the sandbar. When Payeng — then only 16 — found them, they had all died.  “The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms,” Payeng told the Times Of India.  “It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me,” he told the newspaper.

Now that once-barren sandbar is a sprawling 1,360 acre forest, home to several thousands of varieties of trees and an astounding diversity of wildlife — including birds, deer, apes, rhino, elephants and even tigers.  The forest, aptly called the “Molai woods” after its creator’s nickname, was single-handedly planted and cultivated by one man — Payeng, who is now 47.  According to the Asian Age, Payeng has dedicated his life to the upkeep and growth of the forest. Accepting a life of isolation, he started living alone on the sandbar as a teenager — spending his days tending the burgeoning plants.

Today, Payeng still lives in the forest. He shares a small hut with his wife and three children and makes a living selling cow and buffalo milk. According to the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Gunin Saikia, it is perhaps the world’s biggest forest in the middle of a river.  “We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar,” Saikia told the Times Of India, adding that officials in the region only learned of Payeng’s forest in 2008.  Finally, Payeng may get the help — and recognition — he deserves.  “[Locals] wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in,” Saikia said.


Payeng had a vision for this barren sandbar– a vision of a thriving forest and diverse wildlife. This sandbar was his home, his place, his community.  “Molai Woods” is his ‘good work’.

Each of us as individuals and most surely we as a community of people are the ones who can tend, dream and grow the places we know and love– our homes & communities. What is your vision for your community?  your neighborhood?  your home?  Consider planting a seed today!

5 lives


One of the core exercises in The Center for Good Work’s Career & Life Design Sketchbook is called 5 Lives.

If you had 5 lives to live– not just one, but 5 lives to get it all in – what would you do in each of those lives?  If you could make them any way you wanted to make them…no reality…no practicality…, no skills or talents necessary… how would you design those five lives?  (pause here.)








I have had clients say,“I’d be a poet in a castle and when I felt like it I’d come down from my tower and stroll through the markets, purchasing melons.”  I’ve heard, “I’d be a LPGA golfer walking around those beautiful golf courses all day and I’d have great legs…but I don’t like the individual competition in the LPGA.”   I reminded her that she could make it anyway she wanted…not reality based here in 5 lives land and she replied, “oh, yes… I’d make it teams!”  I’ve heard of lives on hobby farms with lots of kids, lives as artists, musicians, cancer researchers, bookstore owners…you name it.

You see the voice of restrictions, of can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t… of limits, realities and the critic are pretty darn loud.   This exercise is a stretch for some who may have lost the art of the awake dream.  The critic has taken control of their lives and dimmed the voice of their call– of their purpose, passion and path.  I love to awaken the dreamer.  To listen for the voice of purpose and passion and illuminate it back to others.  In coaching sessions one of my favorite experience is the process I take people through with their 5 lives.  It’s sacred.  I hear so much potential and possibility when client’s share these lives and more importantly, clients get connected to their own deeper wisdom as we process this exercise.

So dream a little today.  Consider taking a stroll and thinking about how you would create the ideal life if you had no restrictions and no limits.  What if you had 5 lives to get it all in?  It actually makes it clearer to design the one wild and precious life you do have!