This is the first post on John Wooden’s 7-Step Creed for Life. My commitment to you is each month for 7-months I will share a story or two on how in my life, or in the lives of those I respect and care for, live out part of Coach Wooden’s creed.
In my work as a coach and a co-leader/facilitator on leadership development and coach training programs, one of the tools we often bring to programs is the improv tool of “Yes, and…” The premise of this tool is that leaders need to create from whatever is thrown at them. And, it maintains momentum in a conversation/brainstorming session/discussion and has participants be more inclusive of each other. People create and riff off other’s ideas, which helps to maintain a high level of engagement and idea generation. In fact, a colleague of mine tells the story that Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the successful animated films director who guided Kung Fu Panda 2 to great accolades, an Academy Award nomination and financial success, hired key members of her team in part on their ability to truly be in a “yes, and….” state of mind when working with others. Who knew that “yes, and….” helps to deliver the bottom line!
Anyway, in reflecting and listening to stories of people being true to themselves, which so often have “yes, and’s,” I discovered the power of NO, AND. Here’s one of those stories…
A good friend and inspirational leader I know launched an inspiring organization two years ago called Ignite the Next International. ITNI’s passion is serving professional women who are looking for what’s next in their careers, personal lives or simply for themselves. ITNI founder, Robbin Jorgensen, has worked courageously and intentionally to create a solid performing and rapidly growing business. Her goal in part is to connect and create partnerships with like-minded leaders, entrepreneurs and organizations around the world. Recently, she had a chance to meet the founder of a global women’s networking organization which runs events in over 150 countries around the world, connecting 1000’s of women to causes, ideas, investment opportunities and each other. As fate would have it, Robbin went from just hoping to spend 5 minutes meeting the founder and attending one of her events, to being asked to be a speaker and panelist at the event as a presenter had fallen ill. She created real presence and impact, so much so, that the founder of the global networking organization asked her if she wanted to join the rapidly growing business and partner with her to take it to greater heights. So much of what Robbin aspired to create – connecting women from all over the world, being truly international (active on every continent), bringing inspiring leaders to speak to the participants – was already in place and now at her finger tips.
And as Robbin was being asked, she knew in the moment and at a gut level – visceral, and even spiritual, that this was not a “Yes, and…” moment but a “No, and…” moment. While everything seemed so possible and available, she knew that in order to stay true to herself, her quest, and her work, that the answer was “No.” This was a head and heart knowing. Yes, our “brain” is in both places. And, she also knew that there existed incredible partnership potential, and that the founder of this organization could be a great ally in a shared cause. So they discussed other options, including Robbin speaking and inviting her network to future events. At present, Robbin is planning on speaking and bringing the cause of INTI to several of these global networking forums in 3 new countries later this year. She has created from her “No, AND.”
Through this story, I learned and heard a powerful lesson about Being True to Yourself, as John Wooden urged all those he knew to do. When we’re clear on something – our work, a commitment to someone, an organization, a personal goal – it becomes resident in us. There is a level of resonance that we feel when we’re in line with our commitment or passion that we don’t feel too often elsewhere. It stirs up resilience and new energy. So when a choice is presented to us that may take us away from that commitment, we actually “feel” the impact of that potential choice, as Robbin did. She knew, and was clear on the No. And yet all too often we may find that we sell out on ourselves in order to meet another’s needs. We’re true to something else in that moment. Maybe its being comfortable, avoiding conflict, or avoiding a big leap into something that thrills and scares us at the same time. As one client put it recently, we’d rather “leap as lemmings then as ourselves.” Instead of the “No, and…” we know it is, we give some version of a “Yes, but…” which is a way to not say No and not fully commit. I’d offer we’re then not being true to anyone.
Now let me be clear. This doesn’t mean that you don’t make room for others needs – that is an important part of being in relationship, at work, at home, or elsewhere. And, when it comes to the REALLY big stuff in our life, I would offer we need to pay attention to those gut-level “No, ands….” and learn how to articulate these words in service of our work, our purpose, and the life we know we want to create. This takes clarity, trust and conviction.
When we’re true to ourselves, not in an ego way, but in a service/purpose way, we show up fully, ready to make a contribution and be creative. And as Robbin found when she stepped into her “No, and” with clarity and yet still open, the world and powerful new partners found a way to create with that too.
As Po from Kung-Fu Panda 2 would say, “I’m not freaking out. I’m freaking in!” (Apparently having 5-year old twins can shape leadership). When you’re freaking in, who and what are you being true to? And from there, what’s the “No, and…” you’re ready (and perhaps waiting) to step into?