I just heard about President Jimmy Carter’s fall. This weekend, I learned a friend’s mother sustained a serious injury from a fall. Over the summer, we lost a dear friend of our family after he fell and injured his spine.
Recently, I’ve started to think about how I could use biomimicry to develop products that protect older adults from falling injuries. The stats are more startling than I realized:
– Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the ER for a fall
– 1:4 Americans over the age of 65 falls each year—29M falls causing 7M injuries
– Scariest of all, every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall
People ask me why science is so important to me, why I would make this career change now to study biomimicry when I could just happily continue along as a fan and promoter of science, and not a practicing scientist. This is why: it can change people’s lives. Science is service, and if we aren’t being of service to one another then what are we doing with our time? There are many ways to serve – millions of them every moment of every day. The combination of science, product development, business, and writing about all of it just happens to be the one that lights me up.
I gave the keynote address today at our company meeting of our clients.
My message: care for your team members, clients, and partners as people first and employees second. Watch how your business transforms from being transaction-based to relationship-based.
Leadership as service and heart-centered is the most potent superpower I know in the world of business. And yes, that is 100% THE hill I will live, work, and die on.
(Hat tip to Bob Giampietro who first said those words to me 11 years ago. They changed my life and career, and I’ve never looked back.)
“Your job is not to judge. Your job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Your job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.” ~Joel Osteen
I never thought I’d be quoting Joel Osteen in a post, but this quote of his resonates with me. There’s a lot of talk flying around in the media, our political systems, and around kitchen tables about what people deserve. I’ll admit that “deserve” is a word that makes me wince. I don’t even like to say it because I can’t stand the feel of it or its connotation. It causes a lot of finger-pointing, blame, shame, and anger, and it’s not far removed from the idea of greed, another word that makes my stomach turn.
I’d like us to suspend with the idea of who deserves what altogether. We’re all born just trying to get by—breathing, eating, sleeping, and trying like hell to make sense of the great world that whirls around us. We all start this way, and then life happens, scattering our influences, values, and beliefs to the wind to be carried in a countless number of directions. And some of those directions break us down. We end up lost, hurting, and disillusioned. Some of us make it through to the other side of that heartache, and some don’t. Many need help, myself included.
I have been incredibly fortunate that most of the time when I needed support, I found it in my teachers, my friends, my writing, and my therapist. Sometimes, that help came from a stranger who didn’t owe me anything and who didn’t receive anything in return except my gratitude. Miraculously, I was also born with boatloads of grit, a hefty dose of determination, and a never-say-die attitude. For better or worse, I am stubborn as hell and my headstrong nature has been my savior. A lot of people aren’t as lucky. When they are most in need, there isn’t anyone to help. They are alone. And I know that feeling, too. It’s terrifying. It makes you desperate. It causes you to think and do things that would never cross your mind on an average day. Any one of us could become that person with just a simple turn of bad luck.
It’s on those days that we most need help, and for too many people, that help doesn’t arrive. So what if we did this? What if each of us, once a week, once a month, hell once a year, saw someone who really needed help. Someone fallen, broken, or hurting. And we offered support. What if we all took it on as a small side job to lend a hand without reason, without any kind of repayment, but just because a total stranger needed us. Don’t think about how the person ended up in their current situation. Don’t judge or make a call about what they deserve. Just make it your job in that one moment, to offer support in some way with whatever you have. How would the world change if each of us did that? How would we change as people if we began to see everyone not as “other” but as one of us, as someone we could have been if our luck had been just slightly different?
On this day of commemoration and service, I have a confession: as a white person, I have not done enough for my non-white neighbors. Yes I have volunteered, befriended, listened, learned, and dedicated large portions of my career to help people who look different from me. As I was reading and reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy in light of the recent comments by Congressman John Lewis, I realized I must do more.
I read the full Letter from a Birmingham Jail for the first time in many years and this quote had a powerful impact on me:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season”. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is a letter that is sadly aligned with the situation in which we now find ourselves on the doorstep of the inauguration and the Women’s March. We can not afford to be moderates. Our only hope for justice for all people is to stay informed, speak up, rise up, and join together. We cannot be silent. We cannot sit on the sidelines. Now is the time for action, for the positive peace that Dr. King referenced so beautifully in his letter 54 years ago. And it cannot just be the oppressed who rise; it must be all of us from all walks of life, all races, creeds, and genders that stand together not waiting for a more convenient season but making today and every day our season to do what’s right. The days of lukewarm acceptance are no longer an option.
A long time ago I embraced the idea of leadership as service. If leaders take care of their teams, their teams will take care of their customers, and their customers will take care of the company. If we’re going to lead an organization, a group, a product, or a yoga class, the last thing we should do is play the “look at me and look what I can do” card.
This is what so many leaders get wrong. They bury themselves in their work and forget the crux of their role—to support their team members, individually and as a group, and spend the vast majority of their time removing roadblocks so that their teams can do their best work. The roadblocks can be funding, revenue, processes, procedures, services, and the list goes on.
It takes a tremendous amount of two-way trust to lead—leaders have to trust their teams and vice versa. It’s about crossing the finish line together, not beating one another to the end, whatever the end is. Just as the Lean Startup revolutionized how we see entrepreneurship and management, I hope that this idea of leadership as service revolutionizes the way we see company culture. A leader needs to be the last in line, not the first. It’s so much easier to push than to pull.
“Nothing in nature blooms all year. Be patient with yourself.” ~Unknown
You won’t be at the top of your game every hour of every day for your entire life. It’s a balance. Sometimes you’re flying high and sometimes you’re hiding under the bed. Life is a wild ride, not a steady path. I spend a lot of time being very tough on myself. I know a lot of you do, too.
So as a reminder to us all, let’s remember there’s an ebb and flow to our days. Enjoy the highs and learn from the lows. Understand that it’s all a cycle, and eventually all we really need to do is take care of ourselves, take care of others, and do as much good as we can wherever we are with whatever we have.
Aside from celebrating the general spirit of Christmas, I’m not Christian. However, what I take from Pope Francis is one simple and powerful lesson: if all people everywhere took up the mantle of humility and service we would have a happier, healthier, safer, and more productive world. If we could spend some time every day putting aside self preoccupation for the sake of others, we’d all be better off.