How Do I Find Hope?

Quoc Pham - Photo provided by Dave Bushy

by Dave Bushy

“Always Have Hope.”

This philosophy informs the simplest and most profound outlook humans can hold in their hearts.  It is a quote from one of the men I admired most in the world.

I often ask those around me how they feel about the times in which we live. Many point to the headlines and express various emotions, including a declining sense of confidence, a level of fear they have not had previously, or, sadly, a void in their own sense of hope. They struggle to find the armor of optimism that will allow them to gain perspective and realize that this world has always had enormous challenges and has inevitably overcome them.

Perhaps it is the endless nature of the news and social media cycle that weighs on everyone today. But many of the feelings we have originate within each of us, for it is we who do the work of convincing ourselves, allowing our perspectives to be overshadowed by emotions and the weight of “information” overload that currently exists in our society today.

But we have choice. And we can choose to lean into our own curiosity and regain critical thinking that will allow us to begin to see other possibilities in today’s world, helping us to understand that the totality of today’s issues, while daunting, are not insurmountable. We can once again allow hope to inform our journey in the process.

“The World Looked Away – Vietnam After the War,” details the life of Quoc Pham, a South Vietnamese Naval Officer who endured the horrors of a post-war Reeducation Camp for more than three years, as well as the tragedy of serving as a human mine detector and prisoner on the Cambodian border. Ultimately, Quoc’s journey took him to escape back to Saigon from the camps and then by boat, as he headed into a massive storm in the South China sea, captaining a 37-foot boat with 55 people aboard.

I had the privilege of hearing Quoc’s life and in writing his story. It was a singular honor that gave so many readers the perspective of courage in the face of despair and the gift of hope during the darkest times.

Most human beings never endure or even survive what Quoc Pham experienced. Indeed, many of his fellow prisoners did not escape death. There are no accurate numbers, but well over 100,000 former South Vietnamese military personnel are thought to have died in the camps, with some enduring up to 17 years of incarceration. And hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “Boat People” are thought to have died while escaping into the South China Sea. And there were those, although relatively healthy, who literally gave up in the camps and died. More than a few died by their own hands.

Then there were those like Quoc, whose unflagging hope could not be extinguished as he helped many of his fellow prisoners survive. He was supported by his wife and family, recovering from a life-threatening medical issue, malnutrition, and brutality by the camp guards. In the face of what others considered to be hopelessness, he let his light shine into the lives of others.

Quoc lived through what many others did not, armed with intelligence, capability and an enduring faith. He saved fellow prisoners in the camps and led 55 others to escape to a U.S. Navy ship. And he made it to the United States and established a life for himself and his family. His life was a series of struggles to be overcome.

As we traveled together on a research trip to Vietnam and on later on book tours, I learned more and more about my friend Quoc. One night we talked well into the night. I looked into his eyes and asked, “How did you survive when so many others did not?” His reply was straight from the heart: “Always have hope.”

My friend Quoc Pham did not survive his final battle, succumbing earlier this year to an illness he likely contracted in the camps. His legacy lives on, though, if we remind each other how he made it through the types of horrors we can never imagine.

We just need to remember what he told me that night. And, I would add, “Be a Quoc!”

This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry. 

Attend to Others – Give Them the Gift of Yourself

Listening

I learn from every client.  One lesson in particular that comes to mind came from a young leader with whom I recently worked.

My client was extremely curious about how others saw her.  She worked hard at becoming aware of her own well-developed sides and those she discerned might be less developed.  She was a veritable sponge for learning!

Her growth as a leader was amazing, as she honed skills at dealing with others who might have different styles and perspectives, recognizing her own resistance to change and then setting judgment aside, using the lens of learning and appreciation for others. She worked hard in listening and in taking the time to pause.  It was a remarkable journey to watch.

As significant as her progress was, though, it was surpassed by something deeper and more meaningful for her: The idea of connection with others.  It came in a realization to my client one day as she spoke about the coaching experience.  I asked her what meant the most to her.  She answered,

“I’m very busy as a leader and people seldom take the time to just ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s on your mind?’

The gift you gave to me each session was that you asked me those questions and so many more.  And then you just listened.  You allowed me to explore who I am and how I want to grow.”

As a coach, I nodded and smiled – I appreciated her kind comment.   And I asked just one more question:

“And what did you learn from that experience?”

My client’s profound response:  First, she paused and then she looked at me intently, and said, smiling,

“We all need someone to ask about us, and we all need someone to listen.  We need to give the gift of ourselves and attend to others.”

Such moments are so powerful for a client and her words can provide perspective for all of us.  So much of what we do as leaders is transactional, filled with strategy and the innumerable tasks we handle daily.  Sometimes we lose sight of the need to connect with others – and to remember that the relationship with our people is of paramount importance.  It precedes and indeed should supersede the tasks we handle.

Especially during these challenging times, each of us needs to have someone look at us, ask how we are, and then just give the gift of listening, with our ears, our eyes and our heart.  My client aptly called it “attending to others,” as the greatest gift we can give.

Think about leaders working at home today with no clear lines of demarcation between their abode and the workplace.  Many are trying to be playmates with their children and supervising their schoolwork. They are shopping and cooking and going non-stop.  The stresses are greater than they have been for any of us in recent memory.

We can’t necessarily solve such issues for our people.  And most people don’t really expect us to be able to do so.  We all need to just ask the simplest of questions:

“How are you today?  And what’s on your mind?”

And then just listen. With our eyes, our ears, and our hearts.

 

This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.

The Leader as a “Heat Sink”

In everything from soldering circuit boards to dissipating the thermal energy created by computer server farms, the technological world appreciates the value of a “heat sink.”  Without heat sinks, we would have far more component hiccups or even outright failures.

Heat sinks serve a vital purpose in dissipating energy and allowing a device to function.

But what happens when the leader becomes the metaphorical “heat sink,” taking in all or most of the heat and energy that is emanated from the crisis, the organization and the people with whom he or she is dealing?

Coaching women and men these past four months, I have found myself using this heat sink metaphor often  – inviting the leaders who deal with the current crisis to think about the human emotion and “heat” that has been built up on their teams and themselves.  Some of the calmest and most centered individuals I know today are now struggling as never before, with the weighty issues and unknowns facing their personal and professional world.  And the “heat” from that often finds its way into a ready conduit – the leader himself.  Some call it stress, others call it workload.  My clients readily appreciate the metaphor of “heat.”

Where does that energy go once it enters the psyche of the individual?  Under “normal” (a word we often yearn for now), it is readily dissipated after work with a person’s family, or at places like the gym or the tennis court.  It is also diminished because, regardless of workload, there is a certain sine wave to normal work life, with ebbs and flows that allow us to subsume the energy that is built up as a result of events in the workplace.

Today is different.  A 24-hour leadership cycle has emerged and the workplace has shifted to home, with most leaders having no clear delineation between their professional roles and their experience as parents, spouses, and caregivers.  The hours are longer, the stresses of communication more challenging and the issues our people face are often new to everyone – including the leader.  As a consequence, there is little frame of reference and a sort of normlessness can permeate our existence, bringing emotions and so much real “heat,” that we find ourselves reacting in ways we would have never imagined.

And sometimes the buildup within is so powerful that we begin to withdraw from others, including our closest colleagues, subordinates, friends and personal relationships, perhaps because we feel that there is nothing left for us to give.  And when we close down in that way, we can occasionally begin to write narratives about ourselves and others that might not reflect the realities we face.  We might even begin to “project” feelings, words, or what we think are the intentions of others, that are not accurate.  We thus limit or foreclose the ability of meeting others where they are.

As you read these words they may resonate with you.  If they do, take heart in the fact that you are not alone.  In all of my clients I see these times of crisis etched in their faces and hear it in their words.  My role is to help them “unpack” those experiences through questions that are meant to evoke awareness of what they are going through.

Awareness is the key for all of us.  If you can name it, you can begin to tame what is in your head and in your heart.  And by being aware that you have become a “heat sink,” you have made the first step in gaining perspective and understanding of what you are experiencing.

Reaching out to everyone in your life and exploring that awareness is your most powerful tool.  From there you can consider actions that will reduce the heat or help subsume it – and even see it for what it is and recognize that it might not even be heat that you need to take in.  When you reach out to others you can share your perspectives and, by doing so, realize that the realities we all face as individuals alone are really just a part of the larger reality in today’s world.

And, most importantly, you can help others realize that the heat they feel themselves is very real and universally felt.

This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com

The Two Best Bosses You’ll Ever Have – Continuing Lessons From My First Sergeant

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was sitting with another G.I., commenting about my commander in the military.  The animated discussion I was engaged in was with a non-commissioned officer – a “NCO” –  commiserating about actions my commander had taken and how I wish he could somehow be different.

The NCO, a U.S. Army E-8, listened intently and heard my complaints – and my venting – for long minutes.  When I finally stopped, he simply smiled and asked,

“So who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have in your career?”

Non-plussed by the question, I sat there in silence, not really knowing what to say.  By then I had spent enough time in the Army, though, to realize that a senior NCO draws on a lifetime of experience leading people.  For those open to learning, top sergeants are always ready to provide perspectives, often in the form of parables or aphorisms.

The First Sergeant let his question sink in and then restated the question more succinctly:

“Who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have?”

As he continued to smile, he provided an ample pause for thought and then slowly offered this answer:

“Think about this, it’s simple:

The guy who just left and the one who’s coming next.

We hardly ever see the current boss as the person who meets all of our needs.”

My first reaction was that the first sergeant was playing games with me.  I laughed and told him that it didn’t make sense.  He grinned and just stared back, challenging me to think about what I had just heard. He slowly sipped on the black coffee contained in his favorite mug, stained from years of use, patiently letting his message sink in.

The meaning of that first sergeant’s message came to me slowly that day.  And I’ve often thought about it in the years since.  Our perspective as human beings is so often shaped so much by the wish of what we really want or need that we don’t take the time to appreciate what we have.  And we spend so much time wanting our boss to change (or our co-worker, our friend or even our significant other) that we don’t realize that while we can’t change others, we can always change how we react to them.  We can become so hardened in our position that eventually we come to believe that the best solution is that the boss simply “should” change.

I know that many readers have examples of “yes, but” that includes their own “impossible bosses,” who make life miserable for others or just don’t know how to lead.  There are indeed situations that may well be untenable.  In such cases, there are limited options for a person, including suffering through it or, if possible, leaving the job.

And yet so often it is valuable to realize that the boss has his or her own capabilities, just as we do.  And his or her styles might well work for most people.  Understanding how our boss approaches the world is indeed the most important step we can take.  To do that, we must first “meet them where they are.”  That involves making human contact and connection with the coworker who happens to be your boss.  And that may well be the most difficult step, especially if we are fundamentally different in our approaches to the workplace and the communication inherent in it.

An important thing to remember is that we can feel resistance in ourselves when someone is different from us.  That resistance must be met with curiosity about what we are truly feeling.  By naming it – be it discomfort with communication styles or even values – we can help ourselves name that discomfort.  And understanding that the boss can feel resistance towards you is of equal importance.  Again, curiosity is our best approach to lean into the resistance we think we feel from the boss.

I have worked with clients who avoid their supervisor or manager because they feel their boss doesn’t understand them.  Initially, this might help us cope, but it can’t help us understand how we can change the way we react to them.  It’s best to lean into what we feel as resistance and use curiosity as our best tool in such situations.  Think carefully about how you word questions to anyone and especially your boss.  The open-ended “What communication style works best for you?” opens up possibilities, while something binary like, “You don’t like my emails do you?” can foreclose any connection or growth.  So too, the statement “I’d value time with you,” is an opening to a larger conversation that can be filled with development of the relationship.

There will always be bosses with whom you just “click.”  And there will be others where you have to work hard in establishing how you react to them.  My guess, based on that old first sergeant’s advice, is that one of those will be the best boss you ever had.  It’s your choice.

This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.

 

The Path to Reopening: Leadership in Times of Crisis

In the past two months, I have had the opportunity to witness teams facing the most challenging situations they have ever experienced. It is an honor to be working with such remarkable leaders during these times, be they involved with companies, governmental groups, or non-profit organizations.

Daily, I learn how they regularly meet the challenges of this crisis.  The teams and their leaders do it with ingenuity, caring, and a focus on problem-solving and learning.  While each story is unique, there is a remarkable consistency in how the best leaders and the strongest teams approach the situations they are now facing.

The path to reopening is a subject that is both fraught with emotion and shaded with a multitude of opinions.  The teams that meet the challenges seek to embrace and understand those aspects of the crisis and then bring to bear tools that serve them in any circumstance. Read More…

Leadership in Times of Crisis: Vulnerability as a Strength

Leaders emerge during times of crisis, formal titles or not.  They provide support, strength, and vision for those around them.  And they give something else of themselves: vulnerability.

Our presence as leaders is not only about projections or manifestations of strength.  It is about being open to the concept of vulnerability – which, paradoxically, in and of itself is a strength.

Is there anyone in the world today who does not feel vulnerable?

In speaking with leaders in recent days, I find that many are struggling with their personal situations (working at home with young children, for instance), as well as their own insecurities and fears.  They confess to me that they are reluctant to tell others what they are experiencing, although they realize the emotions they feel are universal.  These leaders sometimes conclude that telling others what they are experiencing might be a sign of weakness.

I ask my clients “What do you feel vulnerable about now?” and “How would it serve you and your team by talking about it?”  Also, “How can you best establish a connection with your people during this crisis?”  Finally, “What do you think your people concerned about?”

What emerges from their answers?   That opening up on a personal level is what people need.  And a leader who speaks of his or her own challenges opens up the possibilities for others to speak about theirs.  That solidifies the connection – that human contact – which is so important to each of us. Read More…

Faith and the Optimistic Stance

Faith is a word which elicits different thoughts and emotions for each of us.  For some, it is a sense of trusting others or implicitly knowing we are understood or respected.  For others, it can be the feeling that we will always be encouraged by our friends, colleagues and fellow travelers, especially in time of need.  And for many, like me, it is centered on a belief in a higher power.  Often, it is all of those things combined – and more.

Faith and optimism are intertwined.  One cannot truly believe that something positive will happen in the future without taking a metaphorical leap of faith that is centered in optimism.  Be it a soldier looking over in the foxhole at the man next to him or the coworker with whom you’ve worked for years – it takes faith and optimism to know that the other person will always have your back when the challenges – and battles – confront us.

My colleagues at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) have a wonderful perspective called the “Optimistic Stance.”  Their outlook says, “Gestalt takes a realistic view of the present and an optimistic view of the possible, preferring to work in the development of the potential within an individual or system rather than correcting them.”   In other words, they see each system, be they families, teams or much larger groups, as having inherent capabilities that can be appreciated and noticed.  Once they are pointed out, growth is unleashed, which serves every system. Read More…

The Calm in the Center of the Storm

calm in the center of the storm

As we face today’s challenges and uncertainties, we are all experiencing emotions and thoughts that we have seldom, if ever, confronted before.

Life indeed throws challenges our way.  And those challenges have varying degrees of uncertainty.  The end result is a sort of disorientation that, to most of us, can be downright scary.  It’s akin to being on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea, or an airplane experiencing severe turbulence.  Few of us have been in such situations and therefore cannot know either the duration or the outcomes that might occur.  Consequently, we can become lost in our own thoughts and emotions, filled with recurring worry about the future.

And we can feel alone.

These are the times that each of us needs to take a turn being the calm in the center of the storm.  And it is not just the leaders in organizations that can and should do it.  It is everyone. Read More…

A Platform for Learning: The Role of a Sponsor in Executive Coaching

platform for learning

“Yes, my boss fully supports the idea of my receiving executive coaching,” a prospective client answers. “And the company will pay for it – they see it as an investment!”

Those are great words to hear from a client as she or he begins the exciting journey of executive coaching. Such a message provides a sense of the support the client is receiving from the company and from the individual to whom they report – their boss.

As we set the stage for coaching engagements, the boss, who usually serves as the “sponsor” for the coaching, is a critical part of the process. Oftentimes, though, I sense that while the boss is a strong supporter of the idea, the role of sponsorship might be so new to him that he is not able to fulfill this critical role in a manner that will best facilitate the coaching for the client.

So what is the role of a sponsor in executive coaching? Essentially it is about building a platform for learning.

Read More…

Masterful Leaders – The Leader as Coach, Mentor and Teacher

Graphics Courtesy of Fuller Design

Among the many attributes a leader must possess, the most important is the ability to effortlessly transition from one leadership approach to another, in effect gliding between styles that best serve the developmental needs of those individuals they serve.  Truly masterful leaders know how and when to bring those approaches to bear.

A leader can be a mentor some of the time, a coach on other occasions, and a teacher when it is useful.  Think of the three attributes – Mentor, Coach and Teacher – as some of the most powerful tools in your leadership toolbox.

Each can serve the needs of others.  And notice that I intentionally don’t use the word “subordinate,” because we often are serving the needs of colleagues or team members and even bosses that have a desire to grow.  It’s an important distinction, especially considering that sometimes those we serve end up being in positions that might later have a higher “rank” in the chain of command.  In effect, we take turns leading others, but if the habits are there to help others on their developmental journeys, does it really matter what position she or he holds?  In that regard, I often use the famous Chaucer quote, “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach,” to remind myself and clients of that philosophy.

Read More…