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People Are Good

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

—Romans 5:12

I’ve found a new favorite book.

It’s titled Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman. You may have to search for it, because it threatens too many conventional assumptions from our educational, political, economic, and spiritual upbringings. The book’s thesis is simple: People, it turns out, are pretty much always GOOD.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s opening pages:

This is a book about a radical idea. An idea that has long been known to make rulers nervous. An idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media, and erased from the annals of world history.

At the same time, it’s an idea that’s legitimized by virtually every branch of science. One that’s corroborated by evolution and confirmed by everyday life. An idea so intrinsic to human nature that it goes unnoticed and gets overlooked.

So, what is this radical idea?

That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.

Human perception of society is an interesting topic. Is there a difference between society as we perceive it and society as it really is? Bregman argues that yes, there is.

In the book’s opening pages the author describes two scenarios involving the emergency landing of a commercial airplane. In the first instance the passengers look out for each other, helping those who need it most, despite the danger and risk, before exiting the plane themselves. In the second scenario, chaos reigns as everyone fends for themselves. Survival becomes personal, and competitive.

When asked which world we live in, research indicates that most people believe modern society is best represented by the second scenario, which is governed by self-serving chaos. But Bregman goes on to demonstrate through multiple historic examples that we actually live in a world best represented by the first scenario:

There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive, and quick to panic. It’s what Dutch biologist Frans de Waal calls “veneer theory”: the notion that civilization is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation. In actuality, the opposite is true. It’s when crisis hits—when the bombs fall, or the floodwaters rise—that we humans become our best selves.

Take, for example, Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans in August of 2005. In the days that followed, Bregman writes, 80 percent of the city was flooded. Later that week, multiple national media outlets led with headlines of shootings and violence. Society turned on itself, it was reported. “What angers me the most is that disasters like this often bring out the worst in people,” said the governor of Louisiana.

As it turns out, none of these morbid reports and expectations proved to be true. In fact, just the opposite occurred. Across the city people banded together to support and serve each other, even when their own safety and best interests were at risk. “Katrina didn’t see New Orleans overrun with self-interest and anarchy,” Bregman writes. “Rather, the city was inundated with courage and charity.”

In the months that followed, the chief of police was forced to admit that during the storm’s aftermath, he couldn’t point to a single official case of violent crime.

***

So, what about Bregman’s theory in the context of business management? The traditional command-and-control model reinforces the need for constant and close supervision. People must be actively monitored, measured, and watched to achieve peak performance. Left to their own volition, workers would surely slack off and slow down. Quality would be compromised. Productivity would fall.

What is the assumption behind this perspective? It’s the very set of false premises Bregman describes. The case for supervision is that people cannot be trusted, on their own, to do what’s right.

Well, that is not what I’ve seen at Hancock Lumber. For a decade we have been pursuing a work culture that disperses power, shares leadership, and reduces the layers of management oversight. In place of supervision, we’ve encouraged people to trust their own voice, use their best judgment, make their own decisions, and be their authentic selves. The results have been consistently positive. The more we’ve trusted our people at work, the better they’ve performed—the exact opposite of conventional wisdom. Time and again, when leadership was shared and the work was self-directed, at the source, the company benefited. The less we supervised, the more we excelled.

Imagine two companies from the same region in an identical industry. At one corporation the prevailing belief is that people are good. In the other company the belief is that humanity is held together by the thinnest of threads and that we are but one misstep away from savagery and chaos. How would each company structure itself based on its view of humanity?

What you expect dictates what you see and how you respond. The expectation drives the outcome. Our entire global model of hierarchy and control assumes that modern humans have descended from a self-serving, survival-of-the-fittest world. But the truth is, those assumptions are wrong.

Take an extreme example, like Nazi Germany. Why did Germans soldiers, in the final months of the war, fight so hard for such a horrid cause?

Once again, Bregman’s book provides the answer. Across hundreds of interviews with former Third Reich soldiers, the answer was clear: German soldiers kept fighting to save the lives of their buddies in the trenches beside them. They weren’t fighting for Hitler. Instead, they carried on for their neighbor, their bunkmate, the fellow human at their side.

Another poignant example from World War II supports Bregman’s claim, as well. It comes from one of the most well-known victims of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Anne Frank, who wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”

As Anne Frank believed, humans are most always good! This simple truth calls for rethinking centuries of established protocol about social, political, educational, religious, and corporate best practices regarding leadership, control, and oversight. If humans are good, they can be trusted, empowered, and self-guided. If humans are good, they can most often lead themselves.

Watching the evening news may leave you feeling more attuned to reality, but the truth is that it skews your view of the world. The news tends to generalize people into groups like politicians, elites, racists, and refugees. Worse, the news zooms in on the bad apples. The same is true of social media. It’s by tapping into our negativity bias that these digital platforms make their money, turning higher profits the worse people behave.

—Rutger Bregman

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. 

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 

The book’s thesis is simple: People, it turns out, are pretty much always GOOD.




Everyone Is King

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.”

—Lucille Ball

 

In January of 1988 I drove from Bowdoin College to Bridgton Academy to interview for a teaching and coaching job.

Upon arrival I found myself sitting on the less powerful side of a large oak desk. Bob Walker, the headmaster, sat opposite me. He greeted me warmly, then paused to light his pipe. Time took a backseat as Mr. Walker puffed the tobacco to life. A cloud of smoke gently rose and separated us before drifting away. Once he was satisfied, he turned his attention my way.

The interview went as I had anticipated, until the final question. I was prepared to teach American history, having studied it. I felt qualified to coach the basketball team, having played it. But his final query caught me off guard.

“Kevin, we also have a Russian and Soviet history teaching position that needs to be filled. Can you teach that as well?”

I paused, but only momentarily.

“Yes, sir, I can.”

It didn’t seem to bother Mr. Walker that I had never studied Russian history.

“Well, then, I guess you’re hired,” he replied.

***

As it turned out, my first year of teaching would be Mr. Walker’s last. He retired that spring, ending a distinguished career.

In the 1989 school yearbook, the affable, tweed-jacketed, pipe-smoking headmaster wrote the following message to the student body:

I ask you to take heart in the living of your life, to continue the human tradition of courage and unconquerable spirit. Toward attaining and maintaining these attributes I offer the following suggestions:

#1. Be a friend to your fellow man.

#2. Be willing to try new things. Seek them out.

#3. Be a person of quality. Choose excellence in whatever you do.

#4. Develop a good self-image. Give yourself credit for your worth.

Below his short yet powerful message, Headmaster Walker added an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson:

We never know how high we are

Till we are called to rise;

And then, if we are true to plan,

Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite

Would be a daily thing,

Did not ourselves the Cubits warp

For fear to be King—

Mr. Walker then closed with a final challenge:

As you leave Bridgton Academy, I ask you never to fear to be king.

Several weeks ago, I found myself thumbing through that very yearbook. As a twenty-three-year-old first-year teacher, Mr. Walker’s message had not caught my attention. Yet now, over thirty years later, his guidance resonated and gave me pause.

Develop a good self-image. Give yourself credit for your worth.

Wow, I whispered to myself. How powerful! Could there be a more poignant piece of advice? Mr. Walker’s humble guidance cut to the heart of the human challenge of acknowledging the sacredness that dwells within us all. The Sioux refer to every child as being Wakan Yeja (sacred and holy).

I ask you never to fear to be king.

Hierarchy has dominated human society since the birth of agriculture. Implied in that hierarchy is the superiority of those at the top of the religious, political, racial, or economic ladder. Through this superiority, their stories suggest, comes the right to rule and direct others.

The consequences of this false hierarchy are highly visible in many places today, including the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. For generations, the people who lived there were systematically indoctrinated into feeling they were inferior. They were taught to never expect to be king.

My good friend Catherine Grey Day perhaps said it best one evening when she shared the following: “It’s just about being worn down, generation after generation. The cavalry, the missionaries, the government, the boarding schools—you wake up one day and it has all been internalized. When you have been oppressed over generations, it finally takes hold. The oppression takes hold within you, and we act out the oppression on ourselves. That is how deeply it has been ingrained.”

The goal of a new, shared leadership model is to help everyone to claim their rightful place as king. There may always be high priests, professors, chief executives, and presidents, but the way they use their influence must change.

It’s time to redefine what it means to be king. This title belongs to us all at birth. As the Sioux say, every child is sacred and holy. Every child is king. But for this reality to manifest, we must help others recognize where the right to be king resides. Claiming this title is an inside job. In the end, you must bestow the honor upon yourself.

“Give yourself credit for your worth,” Mr. Walker reminded us. “Never fear to be king.”

 

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

—Coco Chanel

 

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. 

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Strength for Your Purpose

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end
as at the beginning.

He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

―Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

 

I recently did a podcast with Dr. Phil Finemore. The title of his weekly series is Strength for Your Purpose, and we quickly found a shared affinity for encouraging others to embrace their authentic voice. I found Phil’s personal mission—to “help busy Maine professionals achieve the mental, emotional, and physical strength they need to fulfill their true purpose in life”—both timely and compelling. I have long been an advocate for “putting work back in its place.” Our jobs should be important, but not all-consuming. Work should be energy-giving, not draining. Work should enhance the lives of the people who do it.

Of course, historically, this has not always been so. I remember early in my career putting excessive energy into my work and exhausting everyone around me, myself included.

Millions of Americans can relate to this. Work has often been draining for the people who do it, and the very ethos of a job well done has encouraged discomfort in the workplace. Somewhere on the road to “bigger, better, more,” corporate executives convince themselves that competing at an elite level requires anxiety and stress, pushing and prodding, yelling and intimidating. Excellence requires tension.

It turns out that none of this is true, or even helpful. In fact, the key to organizational excellence lies in creating the opposite kind of culture, focusing on removing the tension and helping everyone to relax and be themselves. That’s the path to twenty-first-century business excellence.

Our first mission at Hancock Lumber is to enable everyone at work to feel trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe. Said differently, the goal is to eliminate the stress. This work culture did not come easy; it took a decade to develop. Managers and supervisors have long been trained to associate stress as a prerequisite to business success, which can make it hard to fathom an alternate possibility. How can we be market leaders without pushing ourselves to the brink? How can we be globally competitive with respect to cost or productivity without extracting every ounce of energy from the team?

I recently sat with a group of Hancock Lumber employees and my question to the group was a simple one:

How does your work experience at Hancock Lumber impact your non-work life?

Here are just a few of the responses:

  • Personally, I’m just generally happier with work—which makes everything that much better.
  • It’s a great feeling to wake up on the weekend and have energy for your day, and your family.
  • I’m not a reactionary person anymore. I’ve been described at home now as patient and calm. This is all because of the people I’m around at work every day. Everyone at work is there for each other, and that just carries over.
  • I’m not going home all stressed out.
  • There is much less decompression time required after work than there used to be with my former company.
  • It’s just the energy. My old company was a pit of despair; everyone was just so unhappy. Here I have energy to go home and do stuff and stay active.

Achieving peacefulness at work is not hard. It simply takes a new set of priorities and a fresh perspective. Do the employees exist to serve the company, or does the company exist to serve the people who work there? I believe the latter should be the case. When a company first adds value to the lives of their employees, the company will soar on the wings of the thriving humans at work.

I recently told one of our top executives that my goal in our work relationship was to never make him do anything he didn’t want to do. Immediately I realized how different that statement was from the traditional approach. In my younger days my entire focus was on how to get people to do things they really didn’t want to do. It goes without saying that this created average results at best.

When people know they will not be bullied or coerced at work, they feel safe. When people feel safe, they act authentically. When people act authentically, they thrive. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone at Hancock Lumber raise their voice or even interrupt someone.

World-class business performance can be calm.

World-class business performance can be energy-giving.

Work should enhance the lives of the people who do it!

For more on transforming corporate culture, click the here to watch my podcast with Dr. Finemore.

__________

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




The Art of the Comeback

“To have a comeback you have to have a setback.”

—Mr. T

Falmouth High School—January 1983. I jump for a rebound. The next thing I know, I’m lying on the court, clutching my right shoulder in extreme pain. I would learn an hour later at the hospital that I’d dislocated my shoulder.

Shoulders are pretty important for basketball. As it turned out, I would miss the final month of my junior-year season before rejoining the team for a deep play-off run.

Deering High School—November 1983. It’s the last quarter of the final preseason game of my senior year. My team (Lake Region) secures a rebound and we’re off on a fast break. I am ahead of the pack and my brother lofts a strong and accurate pass my way. I jump to catch it on the run. The next thing I know, I’m lying on the court, clutching my right knee in extreme pain.

I would learn three days later that I had a complete tear of my ACL. Knees are pretty important for basketball. Surgery was next. I would miss my entire senior season.

Bowdoin College—February 1987. Morrell Gymnasium is full as it always is for Colby vs. Bowdoin. The game is tied at 88 as the final seconds tick off the clock. Our point guard Chris has the ball out beyond the top of the key. I’m in the right corner behind the 3-point line. All the other Bowdoin players are on the left-hand side of the court. This is an isolation play. Either we score at the buzzer, or the game goes into overtime.

Chris penetrates the gap in front of me. My defender leaves for a split second to help. At that moment Chris passes me the ball. As soon as I’ve caught it I’m airborne, releasing my jump shot. Everything goes into slow motion and then the ball backspins its way through the hoop. It is my 30th point of the game, and Bowdoin wins, 91–88. Players and fans rush the court.

It is the pinnacle of my basketball comeback from not one but two devastating injuries.

Between the moment of crashing to the floor at Deering High School with a torn ACL and sinking that shot in the final game of my junior-year season at Bowdoin came thousands of hours of rehab, recovery, and practice. Never during those three years was the result certain. Although the process was filled with setbacks, highs, lows, and lots of work, it never occurred to me to stop playing. That option never entered my mind. I was determined to be a multiyear college starter at Bowdoin, and with lots of help along the way, I pulled it off.

I have other comeback stories as well. Quite a few of them dot my life.

You have them too. Each one of them has explored and altered the universe. The meaning of the past and the trajectory of the future change every time a comeback occurs.

Setbacks are prerequisites for comebacks. There is no light without the dark. This is how human life on Earth is wired. The human experience is a never-ending dance between setbacks and comebacks, and it’s how we embrace them that determines our course.

I do not know a single human life that has been nonstop smooth sailing. Some may look that way, but that’s only because you are not seeing the full story. Every human life is a series of comebacks. If you think you’ve failed to prevail after misfortune, this only confirms that your comeback story is not over yet. There is no time limit. If you are alive, the comeback is still in play. It’s never too late to make a move, and, conversely, it is never too late to have another challenge come your way.

Comebacks are an example of our oneness with the universe. The future is always being written, created, and designed by us. We are the future, and we are the past.

Comebacks do not just change the future; they can also change the past.

My knee injury was devastating in that moment. For a short time, I was despondent. I saw no good in it at all. Today, I look at that twelve-inch incision scar on my right leg and smile. That torn ACL was one of the very best things that ever happened to me. I grew and gained so much more from it than I lost. In this way, I changed the past. My knee injury went from being a curse to a blessing because of how I chose to respond to it. My approach to the future gave a different meaning and value to something from the past.

The setback is the opportunity.

There is no comeback without the setback.

The value of what’s seemingly in the past is still to be determined—by you.

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future. www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




Look at Me, Daddy!

“No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.”

—John Wheeler, physicist

Alison and I have been married for thirty-two years. During that time, we have had four dogs, all yellow Labs. Bowdoin, Tampa, Tucker, and Scout are their names. Only the last of which is still with us today.

Most dogs love people, but yellow Labs really love people. Wherever you are is where they want to be. Whatever you are doing is what they want to do.

Our current lab, Scout, has a favorite treat. We call it a “bully stick”. It’s a long, slender piece of rawhide that he ritualistically upon receipt carries proudly around the house before hunkering down and consuming it, a dramatic process that takes about twenty minutes.

In keeping with the subject of oneness (the awareness that separateness is an illusion), what fascinates me about Scout and his bully stick is that he experiences it differently when he knows he’s being watched versus when he thinks no one is watching.

When he first receives the treat, it’s clear to him that he is being observed. The ceremonial handover comes with praise, so he appreciates the attention as well. In those early moments, when all eyes are upon him, Scout has never stood taller, pranced more crisply, or exuded more confidence and pride. His tail is wagging, and he makes this odd groaning sound of pleasure. It’s not just the bully stick that excites him. It’s the act of us giving him the bully stick and then watching him with it that puts him on such a high.

Invariably, however, we move on to other things before Scout finishes his treat. We  engage in other activities—talking, cooking, reading, or even leaving the room. At that moment, when our direct attention evaporates, Scout’s demeanor changes. He still has the bully stick, and he will eat it, but the prideful prancing puppy morphs back into a creature of normal size and enthusiasm. The bully stick itself transforms from a veritable piece of gold bullion to something that’s better than nothing to gnaw on and consume.

The bully stick alone does not set Scout off. It’s us watching him with the bully stick that gives the moment its heightened meaning.

Observing the world around us changes the world around us. This is one of the most fundamental, yet complex, realities for humans to understand. To know this is to learn to see the world anew.

***

Look at me, Daddy!

Watch this, Daddy!

Hey, Daddy, want to watch me dress this doll? Dribble this ball? See how fast I can run?

These are some of my favorite, unforgettable phrases from our daughters’ childhood.

Children love to be watched by their parents, grandparents, family, and friends. The act of being watched gives the ordinary extraordinary meaning.

It was the same for me as an athlete. On the basketball court, when I sank a shot in practice it was just another shot. But if my coach happened to see it and say Nice shot, Kevin, then that same shot suddenly became more meaningful and important.

***

American physicist John Wheeler came to describe our world as a “participatory universe.” Whenever we engage the universe (which is always), the universe is impacted; it changes.

Additionally, how we are feeling when we engage a piece of the universe dictates how that segment of the universe will appear and even respond.

As the writer Gregg Braden says, “Experimental evidence is leading to a conclusion that we’re creating the universe as we go and adding to what already exists! In other words, we appear to be the very energy that’s forming the cosmos, as well as the beings who experience what we’re creating. That’s because we are consciousness, and consciousness appears to be the same ‘stuff’ from which the universe is made.”
Observing is creating. The emotions we bring to what we observe influence what is created.  This is the essence of a “participatory universe”.

The truth is that the feelings, emotions, and expectations one has while observing impacts—you might even say, creates—what we see. I’ve stood in a certain place and seen my surroundings as amazing and, at a different time, seen the exact same surroundings as dull and ordinary. In each case, I created the mood that defined the scene. In this way, each of us is a piece of the hand of God. The world around us morphs to fit that which we feel. In a world in which everything is related and interconnected the feelings and intentions of the viewer impact that which is being viewed.

 

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




Five Flashbacks

Flashback #1: Our daughter Abby is five years old, and blindfolded. In the middle of the screened-in porch hangs a piñata. It’s a colorful donkey twirling gently in the breeze. In her hands Abby holds a yellow Wiffle bat commandeered from the garage.

Abby swings and misses, yet all the other children cheer, confident in her eventual success.

Abby swings again, striking nothing but air. This happens multiple times but there is no loss of confidence. Despite the fact that she can see only darkness, she is sure her target is there. She has faith in the existence of something she cannot see.

(The unrelated end of this story is that she did ultimately strike the piñata, successfully breaking it open, to the delight of all. What her mother and I hadn’t realized, however, was that the piñata was empty. You had to manually fill it with candy from the opening near the tail. We missed that part. We often don’t act upon that which we cannot see.)

***

Flashback #2: A few months later I am walking by our youngest daughter Sydney’s bedroom. She is two and a half years old. Her door is closed, but I can hear her inside, talking a mile a minute. Curious, I crack open the door and pop my head into her room.

“Hey, Syd, what are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m talking to Papa,” she replies, without looking up from her spot on the floor, where her toys are spread in front of her.

I slowly close the door.

Papa (her grandfather) had died just a few weeks before.

***

Flashback #3: It’s a generation earlier, and this time, I am the child.

I’m in our basement, alone, with a small basketball. Near the far wall, on a table by the bulkhead door, is an old wooden bucket for making ice cream.

My sneakers are tied tight as I make a reverse dribble around one of the posts holding up the house above before crossing over and launching a shot.

Swish!

The ball rattles its way to the bottom of the ice-cream bucket.

Moments later I steal the ball even though there is no one else in the basement.

In my mind and heart, I’m playing a college basketball game on national television and I am the star. In that moment, it could not be more real.

***

Flashback #4: It’s March of 1996, and Mark Hopkins has been hired to work at the sales counter of the Hancock Lumber store in Yarmouth, Maine.

Mark has the goal of building a leadership career at the company, so he excels in this role, with a larger goal in mind. Soon, his dedication is noticed, and eventually he is promoted. Mark continues to employ the same approach with his next role, and the next, and the next.

Twenty years later, Mark becomes the chief operating officer of the entire company.

He has created his own reality.

***

Flashback #5: In 2010 I acquire a rare neurological voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. Suddenly, the simple act of speaking has become a difficult chore. This limitation initially sets me reeling. How am I going to be effective as a CEO without being able to talk all the time? Will I even be able to keep my job? Surely my value to the company will lessen . . .

Within two years I am convinced that the disorder is a blessing, gift, and invitation from my spirit guides to live and lead differently. Dispersing power within organizations and strengthening the voices of others soon becomes my personal work mission.

The company begins to soar, rewriting its entire record book repeatedly on the wings of employees who feel trusted, respected, valued, and heard.

I, too, have created a new reality.

***

“A growing body of research suggests that we [humans] are more than cosmic latecomers simply passing through a universe that was completed long ago. Experimental evidence is leading to a conclusion that we’re creating the universe as we go and adding to what already exists. In other words, we appear to be the very energy that’s forming the cosmos, as well as the beings who experience what we’re creating. That’s because we are consciousness, and consciousness appears to be the same ‘stuff’ from which the universe is made.”

—Gregg Braden, The Divine Matrix

In the early decades of the twenty-first century, science is leading the way in recognizing that there is an energy field we can’t fully see, uniting and connecting us all. What is more, we humans are at least in part empowering and directing that field with our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.

It’s now starting to look like that which we cannot see is what’s real.

 

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Oneness Demands Freedom

“If one person in your family commits a crime, the entire family must be purged.”

“When you have food in your stomach you can think about the meaning of life, but when you are starving, all you can think about is hunger.”

“I never saw a map of the world. As an Asian I didn’t even know I was Asian. I didn’t know who Jesus was.”

“My father went to prison because he collected and sold metal from trash. Trading in any form is illegal—so that you can’t be self-reliant.”

“It is not like leaving any other country. It’s more like leaving another universe.”

These are quotes from North Koreans who escaped North Korea.

Imagine having to “escape” your homeland. Lots of people do.

How is it that such an inhumane and repressive regime (Kim Jong-un’s North Korea) is allowed to exist? How is it that 7.7 billion humans not living in North Korea tolerate 25 million of their brethren being subjugated to such abuse, oppression, hunger, violence, and disregard? Why is that allowed?

North Korea is a place so foreign to many of our experiences that we struggle to fully fathom its existence and severity. It’s a place where large segments of the population are purposefully kept at starvation levels so that the physical, mental, and emotional energy required for consciousness and free choice are surrendered to the necessities of daily survival. It’s a place where humanitarian aid is intentionally rejected because keeping the populace weak is essential to the regime’s survival. It’s a place of brutal prisons and public executions that can come for anyone at any time. Fact or fiction is irrelevant when it comes to your guilt or punishment. If the wrong people blame you, you’re guilty. It’s a place where the leader alone is exalted as holy. It’s a place surrounded by barbed wire. And as always is the case with repressive regimes, it’s a government created in the name of the people.

How is such an overtly evil institution still in existence in the twenty-first century? How does humanity allow it to endure?

The answer is that a critical mass of humanity still does not see and act upon the oneness that binds us all. Instead, we continue to first honor the historic patterns of regionalism, bound by the narrow interests of our own borders. This manifests in the limited power of global organizations. Countries are still the dominant governing structure, even though our problems and opportunities are increasingly all-inclusive in scope. When your planet faces global challenges but is primarily governed by regional interests, you get global ineffectiveness.

Borders are an example of how humans create their own realities. The border between North and South Korea did not exist until 1945, when the country was divided upon the Japanese surrender ending World War II. The Soviet Union occupied the North and the United States, the South.

Today millions of otherwise amazing Koreans suffer barely tolerable conditions only because they were born north of a line that is only real if other humans allow it to be so. If people were being treated the same way in Kansas or the British countryside, it would not stand. North Korea may seem far, far away to many, but viewed from Mars we all look alike and comprise one barely visible tribe on a tiny spiraling planet.

In the fall of last year JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was in Hong Kong celebrating his company’s 100th anniversary. It also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. At a business gathering Mr. Dimon made the following simple statement: “And I’ll make a bet we last longer [than the Chinese Communist Party]. But I can’t say that in China,” he continued. “They’re probably listening anyway.”

The very next day Mr. Dimon apologized for his remarks, and the JPMorgan communications team went to work making amends.

Why?

Money.

Like most global firms, China is a big market for JPMorgan. The Chinese Communist Party punishes firms that speak negatively about them and rewards those that don’t.

The Chinese people are amazing. Chinese culture enriches the world. The same is true for the Korean people, but in both cases—and in different ways—their ruling political elite intentionally restrict freedom for the people they rule. I am not comparing the two governments other than to say that they each have their own strategies for limiting freedom of movement, expression, and voice.

In Korea’s extreme case, we tolerate it. In China’s typically more-nuanced case, we fund it. As long as the power of money prevails over freedom, freedom will be outweighed.

Humans are conscious beings, and as such, we create our own realities. Therefore, North Koreans live in terror, facing extreme poverty, hunger, and unfathomable repression.

Humanity is not free so long as we allow invisible, arbitrary lines to decide which subgroups get to be free. And as long as such lines exist, they can always be redrawn to include you.

Pink Floyd’s First New Recording in Nearly 30 Years Was Inspired by a Lone Ukrainian Musician
“Hey, Hey, Rise Up” features Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Ukrainian band Boombox on vocals and the song will raise money for a Ukrainian charity. Click the player box above to listen to the song, and hear more about the story behind this inspiration in this recent article published in Rolling Stone Magazine.

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Practice Accentuates Oneness

“If you want to be a champion you’ve got to feel like one, you’ve got to look like one, you’ve got to act like one.”

—Red Auerbach

John Kohtala was the best jump shooter I ever met. If he could get his right elbow above your left defensive hand, he was going to shoot, and it was, most likely, going to go in.

He was also, for me, the essence of what basketball was all about in the 1980s. Everybody who played basketball in Maine in those days knew, or knew of, John Kohtala. He grew up on a modest family blueberry farm in Vienna, southeast of Farmington. He went to Mt. Blue High School, where he led the state in scoring his senior year, and then played at Maine Central Institute prep school, University of Maine at Farmington, and University of Maine at Machias.

I remember watching him play at the Portland Expo in a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics regional championship game. The arena, which then included traditional wooden bleachers, was sold out. I was standing in a corner near the baseline the entire game, knowing exactly what he was going to do each time he touched the ball. I predicted his shots before anyone on the other team knew what was coming.

Swish.

Swish.

Swish.

How did I know what he was going to do before anyone else, except perhaps his brother Ed?

Because by then I had played with and against him more than five hundred times. In addition, I had shot jump shots with him (just the two of us) perhaps an additional five hundred times.

Where did one thousand basketball experiences with a single player occur?

Mostly at Hoop Basketball Camp on Pleasant Lake in Casco, where John and I worked together for eight summers during college, and then as coaches beyond that. I would often lovingly tease John that no one worked at Hoop Camp longer than he did because no one took longer to get through college than he did. (Not because he wasn’t super smart—he was—he just took his time and enjoyed it!)

Anyway, John was not only the best jump shooter I ever saw, but he was also the hardest-working preparer I ever saw. I practiced a lot, but I never saw anyone practice more, or harder, than John.

In those days you practiced by yourself. Today, in the age of the Amateur Athletic Union and travel leagues, that’s a foreign concept, but back then you practiced by yourself or with perhaps one partner. It was just you, a hoop, and a ball. No one watching. No one coaching. No one correcting. No one cheering. Just you, alone, practicing. And no one did it more consistently than John.

***

I could go on and on about John, but here’s the point in the context of seeing the oneness that surrounds, connects, unites, and differentiates us all: The very concept of practice is human evidence of oneness.

How do you become world-class at shooting a jump shot, playing a violin, flying a fighter jet, guiding elk hunts, performing ballet, engaging in forestry, or tossing a Frisbee?

You practice. And then you practice some more.

What is practice?

I had done it my whole life without ever thinking about its implications with respect to the fundamental connectivity that governs the universe. Practice is synchronizing your body with other elements of the universe by virtue of your repeated interaction with those elements.

A jump shot requires intimate understanding of a leather-wrapped, air-filled ball. Your fingertips are the only points of contact. But each ball, despite the quest for consistency, has a little more or a little less air than the next—or it is newer, cleaner, or dustier than others.

Additionally, you must intuitively come to know your space on the court and how far that places you from the hoop. Each hoop is designed to be ten feet above the playing surface, but some are ever so slightly higher or lower. How tightly the rim is secured to the backboard determines how much “give” or bounce that rim will provide. I played college ball at Bowdoin, and the east-facing rim was always less forgiving than the west-facing rim. How did I know that? Thousands and thousands of shots at both rims.

Practice brings the one who does it into alignment with elements of nature beyond your own body. You synchronize with them over time through repetition and focus. You become one with the ball, the court, and the hoop.

This is how the world works. We constantly connect and intertwine ourselves with other elements, both animate and inanimate. And, through practice (focused repetition), we create our own futures.

John Kohtala, coming from a rural blueberry farm, created a future in which he was the best jump shooter in the State of Maine.

How did he create that future?

First came a mental (conscious) choice to dedicate himself. Then came practice.

Practice accentuates oneness.

***

John has since crossed over to what the Sioux refer to as the “world that lives beside this one,” but thanks to the oneness of our universe, I’m with him regularly. I see his smile, hear his voice, feel his love, and cherish his values.

John back in the day with Amy.

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Oneness Isn’t Sameness

“It takes a lot of different flowers to make a bouquet.”

—Ancient Islamic proverb

I can still picture the world from my dad’s shoulders.

I’m two and a half years old and he has an ankle in each hand. My head is above his and I feel as if I’m on top of the world as we move in unison down the dirt road, surrounded by pines.

After a time, my dad breaks the silence and begins his favorite poem:

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost is a poem I have already memorized as a result of my dad’s frequent recitations when we walk together in this way.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

I join in and then fall back into silence before asking if we can recite the poem again.

Which, of course, we do.

***

My dad and I grew up in the same village, went to the same college, began careers in the same profession (education), felt called back into the same family business, and ultimately would progress to occupy the same role, as president and then CEO of Hancock Lumber Company (barely twenty years apart).

There are a lot of common trajectories here. Yet no one who knew us both would say that we are the same person.

Related, yes.

Similar (in some ways), yes.

But the same person, no.

***

We all grow up in a tribe, and the moment and place of our birth pull on us to think and act a certain way. Yet we’re all here, living a life on Earth, with the goals of individuation and self-actualization. We’re each trying to find and make peace with our own true voice.

Since Hancock Lumber’s inception in the 1840s, our company has sawn hundreds of millions of eastern white pine logs into boards. Across that span of time no two logs have ever been the same.

The same is true for people. No two are ever the same. Similar, yes. The same, never.

It is estimated that approximately 110 billion people have lived since the dawn of human time—only about 6 percent of which are alive today. That’s a fascinating contemplation in and of itself.

Across that continuum, no single human life has ever been experienced identically, and this is where the power of our collective human experience lies. Honoring each of us exactly as we are marks the ultimate evolutionary progression of society. The sacred energy of creation manifests in countless iterations. The universe, it turns out, is simultaneously an exercise in sameness and diversity. Could this be how the universe explores itself, learns, and grows?

Now think about the history of human institutions. They’ve almost always sided with conformity. They recite the same anthem. Worship the same god. Perform the same tasks in the prescribed manner. Lots of effort goes into conformity. And while a degree of common understanding and rulemaking is necessary in order for a society to function optimally, what we really need to be teaching, encouraging, and honoring is uniqueness in the form of authentic self-expression and self-actualization. Every person is different by design, but many of our human organizations have historically pursued a counter-objective.

***

Kevin walking on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

As it turned out, my dad and I worked together at Hancock Lumber only briefly, as he passed in 1997. I’ve occasionally wondered how that experience would have played out for us if it had lasted longer. Even after his passing, I spent a good bit of time following in his footsteps.

It was not until I acquired my voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia) and began traveling to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that I truly found my voice and started my own leadership journey—something I’m sure my dad has appreciated from what the Sioux call “the world that lives beside this one.”

It turned out that I had to veer off the family path in order to stay on it. It was only when I individuated that I began to accelerate, creating something new and adding the value that only I could bring to the world around me.

Ultimately, to celebrate our oneness we need to honor our differentiation.

All of this reminds me of my favorite Robert Frost poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




Corporate Oneness

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

—Joseph Campbell

 

It would be impossible to acknowledge the oneness that defines our universe and then go back to work as a supervisor, executive, or team leader and manage “employees” the old-fashioned way—barking out instructions with a heavy hand.

Workers historically have been commodities. Like inventory, machinery, and equipment, a work hour was something to be deployed, measured, and maximized for the good of the corporation. Workers existed to serve the company and did so at the will of those in charge. With a modern understanding of oneness in mind (the awareness that everything that exists is connected and interrelated), it’s helpful to take a fresh look at the place of work and the culture within it.

When you look at a business, what do you see?

All I see is people. I don’t see employees; I see human beings who have jobs. There’s a big difference here. As a CEO, all subsequent priorities and actions revolve around this first, essential realization.

In the world we live in, what you see determines what you get. If I were to see employees in a commoditized and dehumanized sense, then I would correspondingly see their work hours as company assets to be directed and controlled. Alternatively, if I were to see amazing human beings who voluntarily are devoting a portion of their time and talent to our company, then I would see them as guests and be thankful for their presence.

Oneness suggests that if one human is talented, all humans are talented. If one human has a valuable voice, then all humans have a valuable voice. If one human can lead, then all humans can lead. With this mind-set, managing the place of work gets much easier because you recognize that less central management is what’s required. When you see the oneness that binds the universe, you instantly see people in a different light. As one of my dear friends from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Verola Spider, is fond of saying, We are all related.

It is through this modern yet ancient wisdom that the business model flips and reinvents itself. The company begins to transform into an organization designed to serve the people who work there. The new purpose of the company is to make the place of work meaningful for the people who do it in more than just economic ways. The workplace becomes the venue where adults can grow, experiment, learn, laugh, love, test themselves, and self-actualize. As the humans at work thrive, the customer experience blossoms, and corporate performance takes off. Corporate success becomes the outcome of a higher calling.

Here, as always, the intent behind the mission matters. We are not prioritizing people at work so that the company will improve its performance. We are prioritizing the people at work because they are amazing human beings.

Corporate performance accelerates by worrying less about corporate performance.

***

What about corporate productivity, efficiency, best practices, and discipline?

My answer, founded upon a decade of empirical experience, is simple: When human engagement flourishes, all corporate metrics improve. Why do they improve? Because participation becomes voluntary—an act of free choice. When a company honors the people who work there, those people lift the company in return.

According to our safety coordinator, Gregg Speed, People are much more apt to support that which they help to create.

Voluntary self-engagement will outperform mandatory instruction-following, every time. If people feel valued at work and work becomes a place of meaning for those who do it, the reciprocal commitment to the needs of the company will grow in return.

Who carries the burden when work is inaccurate and inefficient?

Sure, the company pays the price, but ultimately, it’s the people doing the work who are victimized by the chaos. Everyone wants the work to be smooth and effective. You don’t need to force this on people.

When humans become the first focus at work, their experience becomes meaningful on a soul’s level. When their experience becomes meaningful, companies strengthen and grow on the wings of soaring humans. In this way, a company unexpectedly becomes great by putting itself second.

Check out this quick video featuring Taylor Davis, one of the amazing people who happens to work at Hancock Lumber.

***

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Two Thousand Years of Propaganda

The burial ground at the Wounded Knee Massacre site on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor

Go ahead and cheat a friend

Do it in the name of heaven

You can justify it in the end.

—One Tin Soldier

Why has acknowledging our universal connectivity and oneness been downplayed for so long?

The answer has two parts. First, only recently has scientific understanding advanced far enough to provide a glimpse at the underlying connectivity that binds everything in the universe through quantum physics and the study of matter in its smallest parts. Second, and today’s focus, is the fact that the existence of oneness challenges virtually all the propaganda deployed for centuries by emperors, executives, pious leaders, and politicians—call them the empire builders who consolidate power by emphasizing division and separateness.

Since the days of the Roman Empire, political, economic, religious, racial, and regional clusters of humans have banded together behind leaders who spin a narrative that says their group is special (and that other groups are dangerous). That imaginary “special” status is then used to justify taking dominion over others.

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.

To see oneness is to recognize that everything that exists in the universe (both known and unknown) is related and interconnected—including yourself. The Sioux tribes of the northern plains call this understanding Mitakuye Oyasin,which translates as “All things are one thing.” Separateness as we experience it does not actually exist. It’s an illusion.

The presence of an ultimate creator source of the universe has long been identified by virtually all religious and spiritual disciplines as sacred and powerful. Too often, however, that “source” has also been described as separate, detached, and superior. But if it turns out that the source of this energy is present in all things, well, that means all things are also equally sacred and powerful. This would include all humans—regardless of sex, race, religion, or place of origin. If one human is sacred, then all humans are sacred. Conversely, if one human isn’t sacred, then none are. It’s all or nothing because everything is connected.

But that’s not the story you’ve most likely been told. It’s not the tale you’ve been spun. This natural truth of oneness is why it takes so much propaganda, rule-making, weapons, and fences for any small group to lead by virtue of their claim to a special status. That claim, it turns out, runs against the very fabric of the universe, to which we all belong.

“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls.”

—Frederick Douglass

Oneness shines light on the infamy of slavery.

Oneness exploits all rationale for genocide.

Oneness then pivots and defeats the cries for revenge.

Oneness melts any justification for centralized control and bureaucratic rule by a few over the many.

Oneness calls for dispersed power, shared leadership, and respect for all voices.

***

What change is required for the awareness of our shared connectivity to emerge as our primary organizing principle?

The answer is shared leadership and respect for all voices.

For the age of oneness to fully blossom, existing “leaders” must lower their own profiles and voluntarily distribute power. Everyone is sacred, powerful, and capable of leading.

In return, those who may feel destined to be followers must change as well. When the truth is revealed—that everyone is powerful—no one can sit on the sidelines and abdicate control.

Oneness demands engagement from everyone.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgment day

On the bloody morning after

One tin soldier rides away.

—One Tin Soldier

 

__________

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




You Get What You Feel

“The earth and myself are of one mind.”

—Chief Joseph

“Hey, Dad, what’s wrong?” one of our daughters asks.

Whenever I’m asked that question, I’m a tad disappointed (in myself), and yet fascinated by the intuition of the person who has spotted what I was trying to conceal.

We’re together as a family, so I’m happy! Yet parallel to that reality on this occasion, something else has a piece of my mind. As a result, I’m a bit distracted, not fully present. I don’t want anyone to know this, so I try to conceal the mood. Yet I still get caught and called out, almost every time, without fail. Ha!

They know me too well, I say to myself. It’s like they can feel my energy.

As it turns out, we can actually feel the energy of others, and if you contemplate this reality, you know it’s true.

How is that possible? Aren’t we each completely separate organisms with no physical or energetic connection to any other person, plant, or animal except ourselves?

Feeling the emotional and spiritual state of another happens by virtue of our oneness, our connectivity.

***

In recent decades modern physicists, particularly those working at the subatomic level, have uncovered the edge of a dramatic truth that was known thousands of years ago by most ancient indigenous societies. The universe (everything) is a single unified field of energy (“universe” = “unified”). In the space between the objects—say, between you and the nearest wall—you can see that there’s a force—a web or matrix, if you will—and it links us to all that has and shall exist.

This single field of energy contains all the learning, loss, laughter, tears, and emotions of all humanity across all human time. Therefore, every individual experience adds to the collective understanding of the whole. It’s what the Sioux tribes of the northern plains have referred to for generations as Mitakuye Oyasin, which translates as “All things are one thing.” Separateness, as we have come to perceive it, is an illusion. Recognizing this is the awareness that changes everything.

Emotional energy is not only detectable, but contagious and transferable.

I coached basketball for many years and made this understanding a priority in my approach. If I was nervous, I knew the team would reflect that emotion. If I lacked confidence, so would they. Conversely, if I was enthusiastic and having fun, they would follow suit. Our energy as a team was interconnected. In fact, I’ve never been on a team that didn’t share a common energy bond during any given moment in a game or practice.

I’ve seen this in business as well. Our company operates out of sixteen locations, and every one of them takes on the personality of the management team on-site.

All the energy of the universe is interconnected, including your own.

But here’s the most unexpected and transformational part of this story: When it comes to emotions, you get what you feel. Although we may perceive that we feel (or experience) what we get, it’s actually the other way around. Your mood, perception, and expectations become your reality. Earth is a place where humans project their emotions onto a canvas that then becomes your view of the world.

I saw this as an athlete as well. I made my living as a college basketball player shooting three-point jump shots. My junior year I shot 50 percent from behind that line (still a school record), yet I doubt there was a single game that year in which I made 50 percent. It was more like some nights I shot 70 percent and other nights, 30 percent—most of which was triggered by my own internal perception of my shot on that evening. In other words, I selected my confidence level and then it became real. In this way I created what I experienced. I created what became my reality.

Have you ever had a sudden mood shift—in the snap of a finger, something sets you off? In that instant your entire view changes, darkens.

The same is true in reverse. Someone or something triggers a great burst of joy, happiness, or optimism, and boom—the entire world lightens.

But what’s different? The only variable is the emotion you select.

Ours is a world designed to give us what we feel. The energy of the universe that connects us all is a mirror through which we experience that which we select. It’s a paradigm-altering awakening to realize that when it comes to emotions, you project on the outside what you choose on the inside.

So, remember—the world you’re seeing right now is the one you’ve chosen to see.

“Through the reality makers of imagination, expectations, judgment, passion, and prayer, we galvanize each possibility into existence.”

—Gregg Braden, The Divine Matrix

 

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com




Planet Earth Needs a Flag

It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among them men get lost.”

—Black Elk

In my last post I wrote about what the sandpiper knows, the tiny bird that moves predictably with the unpredictable. No two waves are ever the same, yet the sandpiper scampers up and down them all with the intuition of a billion sunrises.

Well, here’s the end of that story . . .

The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon push and pull the ocean, combining with the winds of the planet to create waves both big and small. Those waves find a shore. On that shore there is a sandpiper whose movements are ultimately determined by those waves. So one could say, among other causations, that the sun and the moon each move the sandpiper.

On that same day, on that same beach, where those same waves met the shore, I inadvertently walked too close to that same sandpiper. And guess what? I, too, made him move.

This little tale of Kevin, the sun, and the moon moving the same sandpiper on the same day is the essence of seeing the oneness that surrounds, includes, and defines us all. This understanding begins with the recognition that I am attached, connected, and related to all the world. Like the sun, you also have the power to move sandpipers.

***

On that same beach, during that same day, I saw flags—American flags. Yet had I been on a similar beach 400 miles south, I would have seen Cuban flags. Had I then continued south another 200 miles, the flags would have been Jamaican, or 1,000 miles west, Mexican.

Regional flags are important, but they only tell half of the human story. Each of us is different, yet all of us are the same. We need flags that honor diversity, local tradition, and heritage, but we also need flags that advance unity and our shared–single planet society.

I have long maintained that division is the biggest business in the world. On a global scale nationalism is so institutionalized (by design, from birth) that we rarely give all those flags a second thought. Around the world there are 200 national flags (the exact number is always in flux, and it depends on who’s counting). For example, China doesn’t recognize Taiwan, but the people of Taiwan sure do.

Why so many flags?

It’s because when our species started out on foot, planet Earth was an unfathomably big place. When Columbus set sail in August of 1492, Europeans didn’t know that the Americas existed. As late as the 1860s, when Black Elk was a child, he had never seen a white person.

As knowledge, communication, and travel technology continue to advance, the distance between us shrinks. Yet today, even as our connectivity grows exponentially, we still rely on the old flags of distance and division to guide us.

Only 4 percent of humans are American. How does “America First” sound to the other 96 percent? Similarly, 82 percent of all people are not Chinese. How does the Chinese Communist Party’s mission of hegemony sound to the rest of the world?

So, when do we start flying a flag for all of us? Where’s our windblown symbol of oneness?

It turns out it’s here—just waiting to be used.

The International Flag of Planet Earth Organization (www.flagofplanetearth.com) exists for the simple yet transformative purpose of offering a single planetary flag that represents everyone.

“Symbols can create a powerful shift of perspective,” reads the organization’s website. “This flag is a symbol for Earth and an important reminder that we share this planet—with all of its challenges and possibilities.”

Symbols of regional heritage are healthy and important. I am proud of both the Maine state flag and the American flag. But if all the flags on Earth are regional and none are global, we’re going to continue to struggle with issues that require all of humanity to align and cooperate.

In Boston Commons recently a series of glowing signs were placed in the grass beside the walkway that runs east toward Faneuil Hall, not far from the ice-skating rink.

The innocuous markers posed a series of questions, such as Who owns the atmosphere? Each question was boundary-less and transcended national borders.

Many of our biggest challenges and opportunities are global. They require the attention of all humans. So, the question now becomes, how do we get organized to act planetarily? Viewed from space, all humans carry the same flag.

 

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. 

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




What the Sandpiper Knows

“We Indians think of the Earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle, man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers, the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find, they are all relatives.”

—Jenny Leading Cloud

__________

He moved in perfect unison with the rhythm of the surf without looking up.

As the mighty ocean’s final layer of foam peaked, paused, and receded, the sandpiper pivoted and followed it back to its lowest point. Feeding all the while, the agile creature changed course again precisely before the next wave’s uphill surge. Over and over, this intimate dance repeated itself. No conscious thought or strategic planning was required. No weather forecasts or surf reports were needed. That little bird intuitively knew when to turn, advance, and retreat.

I’ve seen similar examples of complete synchronicity between seemingly disparate entities on numerous occasions, from animals large and small, during my frequent visits to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains. The horses, for example, know first and best when a severe storm is coming. They gather and huddle with their hindquarters facing the pending wind before any humans nearby detect that danger is in the air.

How does the sandpiper dance with the surf without looking up?

How do horses recognize what we can’t yet see, hear, or feel?

The answer is simple, in both cases: Their survival depends upon being attuned to the natural world that engulfs them.

Humans possess the same capabilities, but as we have systematically urbanized, mechanized, computerized, and televised across time, we’ve slowly given up this wisdom. Most of humanity has walked away from our connectivity to nature and, in so doing, we’ve abdicated the understandings that embracing our connectivity afford. Any indigenous community that lived and died with the wind and the tide for generations knew what the sandpipers and the horses know. Everything that exists in the universe is related and interconnected. Separateness, as we’ve come to experience it, is an illusion. Furthermore, seeing separateness where none exists has consequences. And we are paying them.

The Sioux call it Mitakuye Oyasin, which translates as “All things are one thing,” or “We are all brothers.” This understanding of oneness and connectivity was not limited to humans but rather included creatures and elements big and small. The wind, the rain, the buffalo, the eagle, the human—all of it is related.

Here’s the progression of awareness that Mitakuye Oyasin represents:

  • Everything that exists is interconnected and part of the whole. There is no separation.
  • This universal connectivity includes humans.
  • Damage to any part of that web of connectivity is damage to oneself and the whole. Conversely, kindness to any part of the web is kindness to oneself and the whole.

These principles redefine the fundamentals of winning and losing. In a universe where everything is connected, winning isn’t winning unless everyone is winning. Corporations don’t win if employees, customers, or the community lose. Democrats don’t win if Republicans lose in policymaking (and vice versa). If Christians win but Muslims lose (or vice versa), then both have lost.

This is the new self-awareness that comes with seeing oneness. Everything can be reduced to its tiniest particles of matter. In that infant form a cactus, a rock, and a human all consist of the same elementary stardust.

Why is this important? Because the majority of our societal ills are derived from seeing separation where none exists. Until we learn to see differently, we are destined to experience more of the same.

Science is only recently uncovering what ancient spiritual communities knew long ago: We are not perceiving what we experience; we are experiencing what we perceive. The world is divided only because we have learned to see it as such.

__________

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

Note: For a great, short book on seeing oneness, consider reading The Divine Matrix by Gregg Braden.

 

 




Mitakuye Oyasin

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

—John Muir

The most transformative concept I’ve learned from my time at Pine Ridge is “Mitakuye Oyasin.”

Each person translates this phrase in their own way, but the essence is always the same: We are all related.

All things are one thing.

We are all brothers.

Separateness is an illusion.

All my relations.

These are all different translations people at Pine Ridge have used to define this term.

I’m fascinated by the wisdom indigenous communities have acquired about the fundamental order of the universe by virtue of their living intimately with nature for generation upon generation. Our universe has a set of governing rules—you might call them patterns—and the Sioux understand them. The essence of those understandings is represented through Mitakuye Oyasin.

Here’s what some of my friends at Pine Ridge have to say about Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye Oyasin is the recognition of oneness. All forms of life and existence are related and interconnected. A human, a buffalo, a bird, a fish, a tree, a rock, a mountain, a river, a shooting star, a distant planet—they are all related. Everything is comprised of the same stardust. The separation we perceive is an illusion. There is one life force, and it’s present in all things.

If you play this knowledge out, the implications are paradigm-altering.

Virtually every culture considers creation sacred and holy. At the center of that creation is a source—the source. Many call it God. Many religions portray this “God source” as separate, removed, detached, and above.

Mitakuye Oyasin suggests something very different.

Mitakuye Oyasin suggests that the God source is present in all things across all time. In fact, Mitakuye Oyasin suggests that there is actually only one “thing” with many appendages and manifestations. This suggests that humans are not inventions of the God source, but rather an extension of it. This suggests that we are part of the God source, and this recognition changes everything.

***

If the sacred creation energy of the universe is present in all things, then all things must be connected somehow. This means that what we perceive to be separate is actually united.

What makes this even more fascinating is that modern science is arriving at the same conclusion that indigenous communities reached long ago. The study of advanced quantum physics has revealed the existence of a “universal field of energy that connects everything in creation.” Experiment after experiment at the quantum level is revealing connectivity and unity between all humans.

The essential understanding is that there is one energy field, and it represents all existence. That field then morphs into countless iterations of itself, and you are one of them. You are the universe looking at itself. You are the universe exploring, expanding, experiencing, and learning. Since that energy is all connected, the experiences of any one appendage become the experiences of the whole. When everything is connected, what happens to one happens to all.

Kindness to one becomes kindness to all.

Evil to one becomes evil to all.

In a world without separation, anyone’s experience becomes a piece of your experience.

But it gets even better—deeper.

Modern scientific learning at the quantum level is also suggesting that our universe is actually “participatory.” At the subatomic level particles act differently when they are observed. The act of being watched impacts the behavior of that which is being watched.

Ponder that for a moment.

Extrapolated to humans, the understanding is as follows: Your feelings create your reality. When you see beauty it’s because you are feeling beauty. Observing is creating, and observing is influenced by the feelings we bring to that which we observe. In this way, humans are participating in the creation of their universe.

Whoa . . . I know that’s a lot to digest, and this is why I plan to take an entire year to explore the topic. For today, let’s just bring it all back to an actionable indigenous understanding: Mitakuye Oyasin.

We are all related.

We are all connected.

Separateness is an illusion.

Keep that in mind for the next person you meet . . . and keep it in mind for yourself.

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




Everyone Has a Valuable Story

“Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable. You are you. I am I.”

—Osho

If we don’t share our stories they die with us, Verola Spider said to me one afternoon as we sat together on the porch at the Singing Horse Trading Post on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Her statement reinforces a cherished belief I hold: Everyone has an important story to tell. Every person is unique by design. Each of us has a never-to-be-repeated voice worthy of being respected and heard. Leadership is about strengthening the voices of others.

Have a listen to the voice of one of my dearest friends from Pine Ridge, Verola Spider.

This is the first of twenty-four short essays I plan to write in 2022 for my website thebusinessofsharedleadership.com. I didn’t enter lightly into this commitment of writing for another year. Make it a conscious choice, I said to myself. Be sure you have something burning and churning in your heart that compels you. Otherwise, don’t write.

This year I began by thinking about my role as a CEO and the responsibility that goes with that privilege. America has about 200,000 CEOs scattered among 330 million citizens. Those executives oversee entities that include hundreds of millions of employees and trillions upon trillions of dollars in assets. They also have a significant influence on the culture, tone, and priorities of their organizations. CEOs, intentionally or otherwise, make an imprint on the economic and social fabric of society, and with that must come a responsibility to advance what my alma mater Bowdoin College calls “the common good.”

The top mission of all companies in the twenty-first century should be to advance humanity. Since humanity is advanced one human at a time, the place of work is a perfect venue for that to unfold.

***

I never consciously set out to be a CEO. I never expected, growing up, to someday lead a company. But here I am, now twenty-five years into that role.

I started in my father’s footsteps managing and leading traditionally in a command-and-control structure. This worked pretty well; good, not great. It would take me a while to realize that my own authentic voice had not yet fully formed. Uncovering one’s true voice ultimately requires honoring, then transcending the past.

My authentic voice was forged and then released by two events.

First, in 2010, I acquired a rare neurological voice disorder. Suddenly, the previously reflexive act of speaking was difficult. As CEO my voice had been my primary work tool; suddenly, I could no longer depend on it. Previously, for me, leading had been about talking. Now, it was about listening.

Next, in 2012, I began traveling from my home in Maine to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a place I have now been more than two dozen times. There I met an entire community that did not feel fully heard.

From those unexpected events I came to realize that there are lots of ways for people to lose a piece of their voice in this world. Even more importantly, I came to see how it happens. Across history, leaders of human organizations have often done more to limit, intimidate, and direct the voices of others than to liberate them. Leaders often focus on controlling the voices of others for their own self-serving benefits. This is when I began to see that the restrictions in my own voice might actually be a gift that I could use to flip that script.

Why couldn’t everyone lead? Why couldn’t everyone be fully heard—accepted as they are? What if everyone at Hancock Lumber, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, or across planet Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, and heard? What might change?

Everything would change, I concluded.

This original epiphany is why I keep writing. It’s this subject that inspires me, and I’m captivated by the role CEOs can play in advancing it.

Every human on Earth has a voice—an identity—that is unique by design. There will never be another you. Leaders—in this case, CEOs—need to use their good fortune to strengthen, not weaken, the authentic voices of others by making it safe for everyone to be themselves.

This is why I write. I write to give others a stronger voice.

 

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com

 




#48 | HOUSTON, WE’VE HAD A PROBLEM

“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

—Jack Swigert

 

It was April 13, 1970, and the crew of Apollo 13 was in trouble.

“This is Houston. Say again, please.”

An explosion in one of the oxygen tanks had crippled the spacecraft in mid-flight.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B bus undervolt.”

What was supposed to be the third mission to land on the moon was suddenly a secondary priority to survival and the ability to return to Earth.

“Roger. Main B undervolt.”

The crew of Mission Commander James Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise immediately needed to change focus, and the first step in that process was to recognize and correctly identify the situation they were now facing.

“Okay. Right now, Houston, the voltage is . . . is looking good. And we had a pretty large bang associated with the caution and warning there. And as I recall, Main B was the one that had an amp spike on it once before.”

An existential threat had emerged and it needed to be clearly recognized and communicated to all involved. Acknowledging their new reality was paramount to their survival.

* * *

The quest for shared leadership, dispersed power, and respect for all voices is, like Apollo 13, a mission under grave risk. Recognition of that risk and its root causes is essential to determining the future of humanity’s shared journey through space and time.

Will we diagnose our condition and correct course? Or, will we hurdle off into the darkness on a wounded ship which has lost (or abdicated) respect for the magic of the human spirit and decentralized decision making that empowers all?

The answers to these questions are not yet knowable, but a diagnosis of the problem begins with recognizing the allure of leadership overreach. Across human time, those with the most political, economic, religious, gender, and racial power have often overreached and exerted too much influence and control over the lives of others.  This overreaching manifests as centralized leadership in governments, corporate headquarters, church hierarchies, and schools. Here, rules are imposed. Stories are woven. Power and influence are collected. And it’s all done in the name of helping and protecting you.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

—Vladimir Lenin

* * *

In nature, power is dispersed. These five words came to me one evening at sunset in the Arizona desert near the Navajo reservation.

As darkness returned to claim the red rock peaks, I posed a series of leadership questions to the Universe.

Where is the capital of this desert?

Where is its corporate governing center?

Which one of these cacti is in charge of all the others?

In each case, the answer was clear.

The leadership power of nature lives in all its creatures, great and small. Humans, who are part of nature, ultimately aspire to organize in this same way. The Aquarian Age that is upon is about re-dispersing power as nature intended.

But the long-standing template of traditional leadership and followership does not yield easily. Those in the center want to keep the power, the money, and the decision-making control, and the followers are often all too willing to oblige. Under duress we return to what we know.

So what’s needed to reestablish the primacy of the individual human spirit over the empire itself?

Step one is recognition of the problem. As the Apollo 13 crew understood, acknowledgment of what’s wrong is a prerequisite for change.

We need our institutions and we need leaders within them, but we must come to see the role of the center differently. We want to do the least amount necessary in the center—not the most. Actualizing this inversion of roles is the challenge of our age. Primacy of the human spirit is the objective. The empire comes second as it only exists to serve and honor its individual members.

The most valued leaders of the twenty-first century will strengthen others, not themselves and they will shrink the bureaucratic center, not expand it.

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-eighth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#47 | FORTY-SEVEN WEEKS

“You are only ever one decision away from a totally different life.”

—Mark Batterson

 

Forty-seven weeks ago I published the first post of this yearlong series on the power and potential of heightened self-awareness resulting in respect for all voices, beginning with one’s own.

Next week I will publish the last post of this year-spanning, idea-sharing journey.

What I wrote forty-seven weeks ago will endure, but it’s likely that it no longer represents exactly what I think and feel. You see, in these forty-seven weeks, I have already changed.

* * *

The acts of writing, conversing, and idea sharing are generative. When you process a perspective and articulate it to yourself and others, that perspective naturally evolves. Ideas sharpen, clarify, and even morph into something new and unexpected through your willingness to self-examine and share them.

I am not who I was forty-seven weeks ago. Related, yes; identical, no.

Everything that exists is in motion.

Everything that exists evolves.

Nothing stays as it was.

Everything is on a journey of becoming.

In response to the essays I’ve shared, people have written to me and espoused different views. On numerous occasions those perspectives changed my own. My line of sight was adjusted.

This is the whole point of exchanging ideas. I engage in dialogue not to convert others but rather to expand and broaden the set of possibilities that I can hold space for. Writing changes the writer as well as the reader.

In 2015 I published my first book, NOT FOR SALE: FINDING CENTER IN THE LAND OF CRAZY HORSE. That book chronicles my first six trips to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation between 2012 and 2014. By the time I finished the manuscript there were parts of it that I wanted to rework because they no longer represented the full scope of what I thought, felt, or knew. But then a friend reminded me that it was important to leave it as is, because it memorialized a certain period in my life.

“The book captures you at a moment in time, not you across all time,” she told me.

In the end we are each like a comet streaking across the sky: We create and leave a trail. Your life across a stretch of time is a collection of experiences from which you are meant to grow and evolve. Nothing stays the same and this is why we can never give up on ourselves or others. It’s why we can never assume we know how someone will act or manifest in the future. It’s why we never fully lose, or win.  Each of us is a journey in motion. We are evolution. When you learn to honor this fluidity, an entire new set of possibilities emerges.

Once we internalize these understandings, we heighten our ability to see and guide our own lives.  The recognition of constant change increases respect for the present moment. Your current experience is but a pinpoint on your cosmic journey. Your sense of wonder expands when you realize you are just passing through.  So learn to see the fluidity of it all. You are in motion, and so is everything around you.

Respect what was.

Absorb what is.

Expand what can be.

Ben Zander, the former conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, calls this the art of possibility. It’s all about envisioning a broader set of potential outcomes—first for yourself, and then for those around you.

You are in motion, and motion creates change.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

 

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-seventh post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#46 | THE APOLOGY

“If an apology is followed by an excuse or a reason, it means one is going to commit the same mistake again they just apologized for.”

—Amit Kalantri

The morning light summons silence and awe as I enter Wind Cave National Park. As I drive, I marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds me. In time my mind wanders back to something I heard from the executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation yesterday, back on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He said that to his knowledge, the US government has never officially apologized for breaking the Treaty of 1868, or for the cultural and economic oppression that followed.

Suddenly an idea comes to me and I pull the car over hastily into a small gravel turnout. Historically, Lakota society was communal; no one spoke for everyone. All voices were important. Government was informal then, and the power went to the people. It is from this spirit that my ideas flow.

“Why can’t I write an apology?” I ask myself.

I turn off the car, grab my journal, take out my pen, and eagerly begin to write. From there the words just flow . . .

THE APOLOGY

To the Lakota people and all the First Nation tribes of the northern plains:

My name is Kevin Hancock, and I would like to apologize.

I have learned the history of your people and I am aware of the devastating impact America’s Western expansion had upon you.

I apologize that we put our needs above yours.

I apologize that we broke our treaties.

I apologize that we took your land under the guise of our own industriousness, and as if we had God’s blessing.

I apologize that we saw your race and culture as inferior and treated you as such.

I have also learned about the neglect and federal mismanagement of your reservations in the twentieth century, and for this, too, I would like to apologize.

I apologize that we restricted your constitutional rights to free speech and religion.

I apologize that we restricted your rights to gather and to bear arms.

I apologize that we sold off your property without your consent or just compensation.

I apologize that we sent your children off to unforgiving boarding schools to be remade.

I have seen modern-day life at Pine Ridge, and I would like to apologize for the conditions a century of oppression and mistreatment helped create.

I wish we could go back and rewrite history. I wish we could start over and do it differently. I wish we could have seen that there was room for everyone. I wish we had not overreached.

I hope you will accept this apology and that we can now join together in the Lakota tradition that says all people are one people. An apology from one person may seem small. It changes nothing in many ways. At the same time, this is how I feel, and I do not believe I am alone. I believe there are hundreds of millions of people across America who are also sorry.

I hope this apology contributes to the process of healing, forgiving yet remembering, and moving on.

Having met your people, I believe in your future.

Sincerely,

Kevin Hancock

(This passage is an excerpt from Kevin’s first book, NOT FOR SALE: FINDING CENTER IN THE LAND OF CRAZY HORSE.)

* * *

I quietly put my pen away in the silver binder rings of my journal and get out of the car. The crisp Black Hills air engulfs me as I walk reflectively in a slow circle.

People who have been marginalized need understanding and respect in order to heal. Perhaps an apology from the people can be even more powerful than an institutional apology from a bureaucratic government.

I stop circling and take a deep breath. The air flows in through my nose and descends into my body. The power of that air spreads through me. I close my eyes and extend my arms in prayer to the Great Spirit.

“I apologize,” I say out loud. “I apologize.”

* * *

Apologies aren’t meant to change the past. They are meant to change the future.

Please join me by clicking this link and adding your name to this apology. Please feel free to share the link, inviting others you know (and some you don’t) to do the same.

http://www.seventhpower.org/the-apology/

“The United States agrees that commencing on the east bank of the Missouri river where the 46th parallel crosses, thence down said east bank to a point where the northern line of the State of Nebraska strikes the river, thence west along said river to the 104th degree longitude, thence north to a point where the 46th parallel intercepts the same, then due east along said parallel to the place of the beginning shall be set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named.”

—The Second Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868

Pine Ridge today, while magical and inspiring in many ways, is statistically the poorest place in America. This is not a coincidence. It’s the direct result of those with the most power overreaching and never fully acknowledging or apologizing for that misconduct. Apologies aren’t meant to change the past. They are meant to change the future.

 

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-sixth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#45 | BABY STEPS

This blog post is a reprint from an article Kevin recently wrote for The Maine Monitor, published October 24, 2021
______

There’s a lot to learn from babies, one step at a time

The CEO of Hancock Lumber notes that infants learn to walk with minimal training or coaching. Leaders can structure their organizations with this in mind.

BY | OCTOBER 24, 2021

Humans arrive on Earth already knowing how to learn. Exceptional organizations of the 21st century will come to honor this, get out of the way, and allow self-organized growth to flourish in a natural rhythm that dances to the hum of the universe itself, says Kevin Hancock. Submitted photo.

“We are not the helpless subjects of evolution. We are evolution.”  — Erich Jantsch

A baby goes from crawling to walking in a matter of months with almost no coaching. It’s a system of trial and error, tipping and falling, progress and regression, experimentation, and self-correction. Babies teach themselves to walk by watching the world around them and advancing through self-motivation, loosely structured group interaction and practice. This is the optimal learning system for humans but unfortunately, human organizations rarely use it.

Think how a baby learns to walk. Now picture how we teach students. Then visualize how organizations typically supervise adults at work. Finally, contemplate how governments rule from remote capitals.

Then think again about how a baby learns to walk. Can you see a disconnect between how humans are naturally wired to learn and grow?

Our systems for teaching, managing and governing are all top-down and standardized exercises in following and conformity. A baby aspiring to walk has more freedom to acquire that complex skill on its own than a 16-year-old has in English class, a mature adult has at work or a responsible citizen has during a pandemic. Control and standardization from the center: That’s how we’ve come to teach, train, direct and un-inspire.

Now, think one more time about how a baby learns to walk. Next, consider how we might reimagine our learning and governance systems.

 

Discovery in rural India

Over a decade ago in remote villages across India, Sugata Mitra conducted a series of exceptional social experiments designed to better understand how children learn. In dirt-covered town squares where kids congregated, he inserted a computer screen and control panel with Internet access into a randomly selected wall. No instructions were left behind. No adults stood by to invite children to gather and then teach them what to do.

Here’s what happened next . . .

Within hours, a child would find the device and begin experimenting. This child, like all others who participated, had never used a computer or been on the Internet. To add to the complexity, the computer language was English, which none of the children in the region had studied or spoken.

In less than 10 minutes, that first user was successfully browsing the web. By the end of the first day, dozens of children had congregated, taken a turn and learned to use the device. Within weeks, the group knew hundreds of English words and achieved advanced Internet navigation skills to play games, watch shows and gather information. When later tested on proficiency, the children typically passed. Everyone earned the same high grades. Rarely were there discrepancies in learning.

“Big parts of primary education can actually happen on their own,” Sugata said. “Learning does not have to be imposed from a top-down system. In nature, all systems are self-organized. Learning is ideally a self-organizing system.”

Sugata then described from his research the four optimal conditions for learning:

  • Fault tolerant
  • Minimally invasive
  • Fluid, allowing free-flowing connectivity with others
  • Self-organizing

Humans know how to learn

In 2021, Hancock Lumber was recognized as one of the “Best Places to Work in Maine” for the eighth straight year. Across 16 sites and 600 employees, our engagement score was a 90 compared to the national average of 34, according to Gallup polls.

What training systems were involved to earn such a score? None.

Which outside consulting groups were engaged? None.

What off-site leadership programs were managers and supervisors sent to? None.

Then how did it happen?

First, a clear vision was established. Then a small amount of modeling was provided. From there it was all self-organized. We became one of the “Best Places to Work” the same way a baby learns to walk.

Humans arrive on Earth already knowing how to learn.

Exceptional organizations of the 21st Century will come to honor this, get out of the way, and allow self-organized growth to flourish in a natural rhythm that dances to the hum of the universe itself. Every human is capable of learning, leading and evolving given the freedom, safety and flexibility to do so. But for this to occur, leaders of established organizations must show restraint and refrain from making all the rules, inserting excessive structure, and suffocating the insatiable capacity of humans to learn and grow.

Leadership: Dispersed in nature

I was alone one night in the Arizona desert east of Flagstaff when the epiphany arrived. It came in the form of five short words:  “In nature, power is dispersed.” I froze in place, contemplating the significance of this knowledge before asking aloud a series of rhetorical questions to the desert itself.

“Where is the capital of this desert landscape? Where is its headquarters? Where are all the managers and supervisors? Which one of these cacti is in charge of all the others?”

The answer to each question was abundantly clear. The leadership power of nature is dispersed. It inhabits all its pieces, big and small, living and non-living.

Humans who are a part of nature, not above it, ultimately aspire to organize in this same way. But for that to happen, our approach to leadership must change.

Think about how a baby learns to walk, and the roles parents do and do not play in that complex learning process. That’s the kind of leadership we need more of.

“Let children wander aimlessly around ideas.”  — Sugata Mitra

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-fifth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 

 




#44 | PATH FINDERS

“All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”

—Avicii, “Wake Me Up”

How do you find and stay on your path?

This is the question often pondered by self-actualizers for which I have acquired five personal tenets:

  1. You finding your path may have very little in common with me finding mine. Each path is unique unto itself and must ultimately be discovered alone. You can only give so much advice to another about path finding.
  2. Wherever you are right now is, by definition, part of your journey and it’s on your path. Discomfort is part of it, so don’t discount the pain. It’s inviting you to go somewhere.  You are never off your path.   
  3. Seeking is the biggest part of finding. Embrace the search process; there is no finish line.  The path always keeps going.   
  4. I calculate that it’s about one and a half feet from my forehead to my heart. That eighteen-inch journey is the physical distance that must be covered to become a path finder. Only your heart, not your head, knows your path.
  5. When you do land on your path, you’ll know it. It’s the place where the weight of the world releases and time loses its meaning.

* * *

So how do you listen to your heart?

One simple strategy is to begin by observing your mind, which is easier than you might think. All that is required is the recognition that the voice in your head is not you, and as such, you can detach yourself from it.

Be playful along the way. Path finding need not always be mystifying. To that end, one approach I enjoy is the process of elimination. To play this game, you just pick something you’re sure you do not want to do, manifest, or become, and then you simply rule it out.

Here’s one I recently ruled out: caving. I am not going to be someone who goes caving.

Yes, caving. You know—the adventure sport where people tie themselves to ropes and explore uncharted corners of underground caverns. That’s caving, and I have zero interest in doing it, so I’ve ruled it out of my path.

Here’s why:

  • I don’t really like rocks. I don’t like hiking on them or climbing around them. I prefer dirt, grass, and sand under my feet.
  • At the age of fifty-five, I don’t like crawling anymore. My knees, back, and hands all hurt when I crawl.
  • I’m claustrophobic. I don’t like being in small, tight spaces.
  • I’m afraid of small animals. Mice, snakes, and bats scare me. When our youngest daughter Sydney was a small child, a bat got into her room. When my wife Alison asked me what I was going to do about it, I replied that we were going to sell the house and move.
  • I don’t like being tied and roped to anyone or anything. I like freedom of movement.
  • I don’t really like the dark. I sleep with a little light on.

There. I just narrowed down my path. It’s not going to include caving.

Yet there are other unexpected and seemingly impulsive adventures that I have jumped right into without any clear context as to why.

In August of 2012 I picked up a copy of National Geographic magazine and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the cover story. IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE: THE REBIRTH OF A SIOUX NATION read the headline, above a picture of a teenage boy riding a horse bareback across a rolling plain.

“I’m going to go there,” I said to Alison as soon as I finished the article. Ninety days later, I was on the Rez.

I’ve now been there over twenty times. What I experienced there changed my life. It came from the heart. That’s path—something you’ll follow without knowing the full answers as to why.

Remote western Indian Reservations, yes.

Caves, no.

Guideposts for my path.

In summary, here’s the moral of this story: If your path takes you into a cave, I won’t be there.

Happy trails to you!

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-fourth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#43 | JENNY AND ME

“Everyone is beautiful.”

— Ariana Grande

Jenny Edwards cleans and cares for the Hancock Lumber home office in Casco at night, after finishing her day job.

I work an odd collection of hours, which brings me into the office at night once or twice a week.

This is how Jenny and I met and then became friends a long time ago.

* * *

I’m six feet tall. Jenny is about five feet tall.

I’ve got a ways to go in my work career. Jenny is nearing the end of hers.

I’m the senior titled officer in the building. Jenny cleans the building.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity in my life, which I’ve tried to make good on. Jenny’s not had all the same opportunities, but she is a leader through and through.

There are a few things that make us different, but there’s a lot more that makes us the same.

* * *

Any evening when I pull into the office parking lot and see Jenny’s car there, I know what’s coming next. Somewhere near the stairway to the second floor, Jenny and I will invariably find each other. We smile, share a hug, and swap stories. Jenny always has a new story, and hers are better told than mine.

For me our periodic visits are about respect. I admire Jenny. She works all day and then comes to clean our home office at night. Lately she’s had some trouble with her eyesight and she lost one of her beloved dogs to old age, but she always finds the will to persevere.

Jenny does the kind of work that gets done when no one is watching, and she takes amazing pride in doing it right. No one claps when she finishes the bathrooms. No one cheers when she mops the floor. If you only worked during the day, you might never see her. You go home in the evening and the next day your office is clean. But it doesn’t just happen. Jenny comes and cleans it.

Often when I stop in she’ll tell me about a new cleaning supply she found that works better on this part of the office or the other. She’s always thinking about how to improve the maintenance and appearance of the building she cares for.

Jenny also sees the big picture and regularly imparts her wisdom. She thinks about our entire company, all sixteen sites and 600 people across Maine and New Hampshire. She’s proud of Hancock Lumber, and that gives me goose bumps when I stop to think about it. Jenny regularly encourages me through the handwritten Post-it notes she affixes to my desk.

Your father would be proud of you, read a recent one.

These values you’re promoting really make a difference, read another. People feel appreciated and respected here. I’ve worked places before where you don’t feel appreciated or empowered and it’s no fun. Keep it up!

I love hearing about your trips to Pine Ridge and the people there, read yet another. They’ve had it harder than we do, but they are just like us in the end.

The notes are uplifting, and I save each one for a few days before moving on. I take Jenny’s words to heart. I’ve made changes for the better at our company, thanks to her.

But there’s nothing like hearing a story from Jenny in person.

“So right before I was supposed to leave for work this morning, a chipmunk got in the house,” Jenny said as we stood under the old American flag on the second floor near my office. Her hands were moving and her eyes were wide. I felt as if I was right there in her home, watching it all unfold.

“Oh, jeez, what a show that was,” she continued. “The cat got chasing the chipmunk and the dog got chasing the cat. There were animals whirling and whizzing around everywhere. I had to go to work so I just left ’em all in there. We’ll straighten it out tonight once I get back and see who’s still alive.” She laughs.

That’s another trait I love about Jenny: She can look life right in the eye and stare it down or laugh it away, depending on which is called for. Jenny makes America better every day just by getting up, working hard, and being out in the world. She’s a participant, not a spectator. She competes. She stays in the game, even when it’s hard.

Jenny is proud, yet humble. I love seeing both traits equally alive in the same person. She’s proud of her company. She’s proud of me. She likely has no idea how much that means to me. In return, I’m proud of Jenny. I think she’s amazing. When the two of us are together, it’s not the CEO and the cleaning lady exchanging pleasantries; it’s two friends hanging out together, laughing and sharing stories, different, yet the same.

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

—William McRaven

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-third post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#42 | WHO’S DRIVING THE GOD TRUCK?

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

—Buddha

I was driving through Rapid City, South Dakota, when I saw him.

Cresting the rolling hill in front of me appeared an all-white Ford pickup truck with a giant cross towering over the cab. Streamers were attached and they danced in the wind as the vehicle came toward me in the opposite lane with a large banner that read “In God We Trust.”

“Yes,” I whispered to myself. “In GOD we trust. But that ultimately means in ME I must trust.”

We can call the creator “God,” which is the sacred name for the source of all that is. That source, it can be said, is divine.

Whatever created us is within us.  In this way, we each are divine.

In this way, God’s power is dispersed.  Each of us carries a spark of the divine, and this is why everyone and everything is sacred. I can find manifestations of God both beyond and within me. This is the spiritual interpretation of our place in the Universe.

Approached scientifically, I still arrive at the same end point. My parents created me and their DNA comprises me. My grandparents created them and so their presence is also within me. I can trace this science back to a theoretical point of origin. The first man and woman have a trace of their existence within me. We all go back to the source, and this holds true for all of Earth’s creatures.

On my most recent visit to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota I came upon the remains of a buffalo. The once-powerful animal was now a collection of milky white bones. His carcass had been consumed by other creatures, which sustained their lives. He was now within them. The rest was decaying back into the very grass that fed the buffalo. The creature was returning to its source.

Both the scientific research and the spiritual revelations point to the same conclusion: There is one source and we emanate from it before returning to it.

This truth is written everywhere for us to see.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, said the Lord.”

—Revelation 1:8

* * *

“Human beings and all living things are a coalescence of energy in a field of energy connected to every other thing in the world. This pulsating energy field is the central engine of our being and our consciousness.”

—Lynne McTaggart, The Field

* * *

“Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.”

—The First Law of Thermodynamics

* * *

“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own SELF in all beings, and all beings in his own SELF.”

—Buddha

* * *

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the Universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

—Black Elk

* * *

Science and spirituality are dual paths to a single truth. Everything that exists is connected. The source of that connectivity is within us all. So, yes, in God we trust and, therefore, in me I must trust, for I come from the source. I am a spark of the divine.

To hear that source within me I simply turn inward and listen to my heart, where the source resides. Unfortunately, “leaders” (religious, political, educational, business, and otherwise) have been mucking up our individual awakenings for centuries by convincing us that “power” lives somewhere out there, beyond us.

It’s time for both leaders and followers to transcend that self-serving narrative. God doesn’t collect power, she disperses it. The truth is, we are each driving a little God truck around Planet Earth. So, for heaven’s sake, take the wheel.

“What if God was one of us?”

—Joan Osborne

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-second post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#41 | IT’S WRITTEN IN THE SONGS

“Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that has been given to you from what we call the Muses—or, in biblical language, ‘God.’ This is not fancy, it is fact. Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious mind of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone.”

—Joseph Campbell

Each time I travel to the northern plains it’s for the purpose of spiritual and creative regeneration. After seeing all my friends on “the Rez” (Pine Ridge), I typically take off for a few days alone into “the land of Crazy Horse.” It’s a vast and remote territory stretching from the North Platte River in Nebraska to the Yellowstone in Montana. It includes landscapes filled with trees and those devoid of them. When there, I drive for days, hike for hours, and sleep not much at all.

As I drive I listen to music. Often the windows are down, regardless of the temperature, and the volume is turned up. On each trip, without fail, the collective musical soundtrack of the journey will bring forth a message or theme that feels as if it was written for me alone. On my most recent trip the following lyrics resonated deeply:

Something in the wind has learned my name, and it’s telling me that things are not the same.

—Karen Carpenter, “Top of the World”

The windswept grasslands of the northern plains have spoken to me in this same way and opened my eyes to the connectivity of all living things. When the wind swirls the grass, rattles the leaves, moves the clouds, and brushes my face, I no longer feel detached.

* * *

So if you think your life is complete confusion, because you never win the game, just remember that it’s a grand illusion, and deep inside we’re all the same.

—Styx, “The Grand Illusion”

The human constructs we use to measure ourselves in a commercialized, merchandized, and Internet-wired world can leave us all feeling like we’ve come up short—like someone else is winning. But that external noise is just a “grand illusion.”

* * *

So sing, sing at the top of your voice. Oh, love without fear in your heart. Can you feel, feel like you still have a choice? If we all light up we can scare away the dark.

—Passenger, “Scare Away the Dark”

This passage (to me) is all about coming into your own voice. It’s a call to self-actualize. To self-actualize is to light up. To light up is to scare away the dark.

* * *

No, his mind is not for rent to any god or government. Always hopeful, yet discontent. He knows changes aren’t permanent, but change is.

—Rush, “Tom Sawyer”

I first heard this song at the age of twenty while working for the summer in Yellowstone National Park. I’ve loved its call for a free mind and heart ever since. May your mind forever be NOT FOR SALE!

* * *

And we’re not broken, just bent. And we can learn to love again.

—Alanis Morissette, “Guardian”

None of us are broken. All of us are bent. Love is the cure, and it begins with love of self. We change the world within us, then beside us, then beyond us.

* * *

The songs that speak to you are real manifestations of your spirit, path, and purpose. They capture your attention for a reason. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t shake them off. Let them resonate.

The photographs and paintings that stop you in your tracks are also clues. The quotes you save and the poems you jot down are affirmations. Art is never abstract when it comes for you. It’s the Universe calling, disguised as human expression.

How do I hear and answer my callings? All who search ponder this question.

You answer your personal callings by resisting the temptation in those precious moments when the wind or the music speaks to you, to “shake it off” and go back to that which is tangible and logical.

That’s not to say your earthly responsibilities don’t matter; they do. But spirit—well, that’s the most important, because it’s come to guide your earthly work. When it stirs, you must let yourself be overtaken.

Trust me, you are being called. We are all being called. Somewhere out there is a song just for you, so go and hear the music . . .

 

You don’t become an artist unless you’ve got something missing somewhere.

—Bono

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the forty-first post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#40 | THE WATERMELON BUS

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

—Pablo Picasso

 

We were driving through rural, agricultural Florida just north of Lake Okeechobee when I saw it.

“What is that?” I said, removing my sunglasses for a second look.

Several vehicles ahead, on a four-way section of downtown road, was an old yellow school bus with the entire top cut off and the seats removed. Inside, filling the cavernous space, were watermelons . . . thousands of watermelons.

“Look! They’re off to watermelon school,” I said to my wife Alison. “It must be a private school. They’re all dressed alike.”

A couple of miles down the road I spotted another watermelon bus equally topless and fully loaded as a makeshift agricultural transport.

“Brilliant,” I said.  “I want one.”

Alison was driving (as usual when we road-trip), so I pulled out my phone, went on eBay, and typed in school bus. Sure enough, I could buy one with the tap of a finger. There was a 2005 Thomas Freightliner for $1,625, and a 2007 Blue Bird 84-passenger with 226,104 miles, for $699.99.

As it turns out, there are lots of used school buses available. They’re cheap, and you can own one in minutes.  Cutting the top off and growing enough watermelons to fill it however is a different matter.

* * *

As we reached I-95 near Vero Beach, I still had watermelon buses on my mind. How utilitarian, creative, resourceful, and quintessentially American-free-enterprise they were. Some original, creative soul has taken something of no further value to its original owner (a retired school bus) and then reimagined its potential for a completely different industry.

If someone had asked me yesterday what could be done with a used school bus, I certainly wouldn’t have come up with transporting watermelons as an option.

This is dispersed power in action. No two people see the world exactly the same way—and that’s a huge advantage in terms of the potential for local-level creativity and leadership.

From 1988 to 1991, right after graduating from college, I taught Russian and Soviet history at a prep school in Maine.  Flashing back to that place and era, I imagined all the old Soviet school buses being sent to a central scrap heap for processing and disposal. No creative reimagining in that system! No watermelon buses, to be sure.

Today, in America, old buses end up on eBay where buyers and sellers make their own choices about current value and future use. Only in this kind of dispersed power system can you find such creativity, and as I browse once again I’m still super tempted to buy one.

What would I turn it into?

It all makes me think: What’s your watermelon bus? Where in your life have you taken something of little or no value to others and reimagined and repurposed it as something valuable just for you?

My voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia) is a watermelon bus. On the surface it’s nothing more than a literal pain in the neck, which for a long time made the simple act of speaking a difficult chore. But then I reinvented and reimagined SD into something different, something valuable. My voice condition was a symbolic invitation to disperse power, share leadership, and strengthen the voices of others. It was an opportunity to decentralize power and advocate for a corporate values system in which everyone felt trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe. I turned an incurable neurological disorder into a watermelon bus.

All of that was invented in my head and that alone made it real – gave it life.

You’ve done this, too; I’m sure of it!

Reflect for a moment on the literal and symbolic watermelon buses you’ve created in your life—the places and situations where you’ve found value when others saw none.

That’s self-awareness. That’s dispersed power. It’s what the Sioux call the Seventh Power, which is the innate ability of the individual human spirit to manifest the divine light that lives within us all.

Be thankful and proud of the watermelon buses you’ve created and give all those around you the space and trust to do the same.

 

“This is a hard truth for some to accept; that a lack of resources may not be their true constraint, just a lack of resourcefulness.”

—David Burkus

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the fortieth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#39 | FOUL BALL

“The most dangerous moment comes with victory.”

—Napoleon Bonaparte

Thursday, April 13, 1978

I’m twelve years old, in my bed on a school night. The only light in the room is coming from the illuminated station finder on my alarm clock radio. It’s Ned Martin’s last year calling the Red Sox, play by play, and I listen every night.

On this night the Sox defeat the Texas Rangers, 5–4. Led by the middle of the lineup, Fisk, Remy, and Rice each collect two hits, while Butch Hobson, batting cleanup, adds three. Dennis Eckersley nearly goes the distance for the win before yielding to Dick Drago, who secures the final out.

Growing up in rural Maine, I am all in on the Red Sox. This is how I fall asleep every summer night that I can remember as a child.

Sunday, July 15, 1990

The Red Sox are getting pounded by the Kansas City Royals on a hot summer day in Boston. It’s late in the game and the crowd has cleared out, but Dave Hancock and his two boys never leave early.

With rows of empty blue wooden seats below, we move down from the left-field grandstand all the way to the second and third row. I’m sitting in front, my brother Matt and my dad are behind me. From this vantage point we are staring pretty much straight down the third-base line as one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century strides to the plate.

Bo Jackson takes a strike and then a ball. The count is 1-1. On the next pitch he drives an absolute rocket down the same base line we’re observing. There’s no time to think, only to react. I stand, momentarily blocking my brother’s view. Then I duck.

The ball catches Matt squarely in the chest (I think he still has a dent there some thirty years later). As my brother slouches, gasping for air, the ball falls to the concrete below him and then rolls down one row before coming to rest at my feet.

I pick the ball up and turn toward the field, both hands raised in triumph. The television cameras find me. The few remaining fans cheer.

At the age of twenty-four, I’ve just secured my first Fenway Park foul ball.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Our daughters are twelve and ten. Gloves in hand, we ascend the stairwell to our seats atop the legendary Green Monster. The game itself is still an hour away. We are here for batting practice. We are here to catch home-run balls.

The Chicago White Sox are in town and Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee are taking turns in the batter’s box. They each get three pitches and they each hammer one of them our way. The first rattles off the metal and concrete above before Abby gathers it up. Moments later Sydney does the same. Red and blue hats cover two blonde ponytails. Two girls have their first big league ball. The number of years it took to get a ball had just been cut from twenty-four to twelve in a generation.

Hours later, the Red Sox win, 6–5.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Tampa Bay is in town for four games and they’ve won the first two by a combined score of 14–3. The Sox need a victory.

The stands are packed as Dustin Pedroia fouls one our way. The crowd rises, reaches, and all but one fail. As the activity dissipates, one middle-aged man stands victorious, celebrating a clean catch.

Unexpectedly, the crowd begins to boo. The booing multiplies, gathering tribal steam. The man who made the catch is confused, but I’m not—I’ve seen this before. It’s the new foul ball expectation at Fenway Park.

“Give the ball to a kid!” someone yells.

“Don’t be selfish,” yells another.

None of these people know each other.

Nearby several youngsters, none capable of earning a foul ball on their own for years, look on hopefully with cream-puff eyes.

The man with the ball hesitates before relenting. He picks a small child nearby and hands over his ball.

Everyone cheers, except me. I don’t like it.

It took me twenty-four years (and a dent in my brother’s sternum) to get a baseball at Fenway Park. As a child at games I had come close many times only to have someone bigger, taller, and faster beat me to it. An official major league game ball was something to be earned and fought for, awaited and anticipated.

Although perhaps a bit of a leap, it all reminded me of the recent college admissions scandal—parents paying to get children into schools they hadn’t earned the right to attend.

There’s also a second component to this newly ritualized foul ball exchange that bothers me, and that’s all the assumptions the crowd is making about the guy who did catch the ball.

What if he had never caught one before? What if he had a sick nephew in the hospital at home who loved the Red Sox? How could the crowd judge the choice of a person they didn’t know? How do you boo a guy for catching and keeping a foul ball?

When I was a kid, foul balls were fought over at Fenway. Now they are given. Does this generational shift say anything or nothing about America today?

Ha! I don’t know. I just don’t like it. On that fateful day in 1978 it never occurred to me to give the ball to my brother. Nor did it occur to my brother to ask for it. He had his chance. It hit him right in the chest.

I liked Fenway better when foul balls were dreamed over and scrambled for. Sometimes you made a great catch. Sometimes you caught a lucky bounce. But either way, everyone in the stands understood—you had to get your own foul ball.

“The rewards for those who persevere far exceed the pain that must precede the victory.”

—Ted Engstrom

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-ninth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#38 | PROTECTORS OF THE REALM

“Liberty means responsibility.
That’s why most men dread it.”

—George Bernard Shaw

 

It was six a.m. when I left Route 44 and passed through the veritable ghost town of Scenic, South Dakota, onto Bombing Range Road. I was on my way to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to have breakfast with my friend Rosie at the Singing Horse Trading Post before spending the day visiting friends.

The road was empty as I barreled through the Badlands before slowing at BIA 27, the northern access point to the reservation.  Before me stood a modest wooden guard shack hastily erected.   Beside it, a portable stop sign squarely blocked my lane.  This was a COVID checkpoint established by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in defiance of South Dakota’s thirty-third governor Kristi Noem’s order not to do so.

I put my car in park and surveyed the scene.  There was no visible sign of life.  The shack was dark and the dusty old sedan on the opposite side of the road looked cold and empty.

Unsure what to do, I exited my car and moved slowly towards what reminded me of a Maine ice fishing shack.  As I neared, two young men emerged.  Both were native and appeared to be in their twenties.  My ability to enter rested solely in their hands.

“Hello, how’s it going?” I said. “I’m here just for the day. I’ve got appointments at Singing Horse, the OST Partnership for Housing, and the nonprofit Re-member. I’ve had both of my vaccine shots.”

“Okay, bro,” the first man replied.  “That’s cool.  You’re good to go.”

“Great, thank you,” I said.  “Have a good day.”

“You take it easy today, man,” said the second.

“Will do,” I said. “Same to you both. Thanks again.”

“Yeah, bro,” the first said.

With that I was in.

* * *

“It’s all about teaching and restoring self-esteem,” Rosie said.

By now I was sitting at the old wooden table in the store at the Singing Horse Trading post north of Manderson with a muffin in one hand and a pen in the other.

“The COVID checkpoints are actually more important than they appear,” Rosie continued. “Most people don’t realize this but the biggest benefit is not medical or health related.”

“I’m intrigued Rosie,” I replied. “What’s the value of those checkpoints beyond mitigating the spread of the virus?”

“For generations in this community, it was white people telling Indians where they could and could not go,” Rosie said.  “White people telling native peoples what they could and could not do, how they could or could not dress, what language to speak, what God to worship, and so forth.  In that process the men of this community were systematically deprived of the opportunity to lead, protect, and provide for their families and community. But now, these checkpoints symbolize something very different and you experienced it this morning.  The young men at those gates are in charge of keeping the community safe and secure. They decide who enters and who turns around. That’s responsibility, empowerment, and control put in their hands.  That’s trust being vested in them.  That’s new here and its’ exactly what’s needed for this community to progress.

“Ah,” I say, nodding my head as I jot down notes in my journal.

“Sure, they may go overboard on occasion,” Rosie says with a laugh and a smile.  “There are a few stories of visitors being turned around and sent away when it’s not really necessary—but so what? They’re building self-esteem as protectors at the gate, and that’s more important.”

Rosie pauses. The room is quiet as the medicine wheels overhead slowly turn.

“I have customers call and ask if they can come down to visit the store, and I say, ‘You can try but whether you get in or not is up to them, not me.’ ”

* * *

Rosie was right, I thought to myself as I drove west on a seemingly endless dirt road toward the Black Hills later that afternoon. This morning two young men from Pine Ridge held the governance power over me.  It was up to them to decide if I entered or retreated.  They had the control.  I was at their mercy.  For generations it had been the other way around.  Reflecting on the scene, it all made me happy, and I smiled.

How do we restore responsibility and rebuild a sense of control in communities that have been systematically deprived of it?

This question is central to creating a culture of shared leadership and dispersed power both nationally and globally. Ultimately, it’s all about spreading the responsibility back away from the center. It’s about the church hierarchy, the school board, the central government, and corporate headquarters doing less, not more.  Restraint at the top of organizations is required in order for leadership to be shared and power dispersed.

The Pine Ridge community was built on forced relocation, forced religious conversion, forced cultural assimilation, and rationing. Everything was determined and provided by someone else from away. This lack of control for the people who lived there was race based and it deprived the individuals living under the system from self-actualizing their own innate power as human beings.  It’s not a coincidence that Pine Ridge today is the poorest place in America. Take everybody’s personal power away, and this is what happens.

Responsibility—or the opportunity to lead—belongs in the hands of all individuals. But those who control organizations from the center often undervalue this fundamental truth, choosing instead to centralize decision making – thereby reducing the opportunities for others to lead. That’s why one of the greatest leadership challenges of our time is convincing those with the most power at the corporate or political center not to use it.

So yes, Rosie is right: Guarding the gate is a good place to start.

 

“Power can be taken, but not given.
The process of taking is empowerment in itself.”

—Gloria Steinem

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-eighth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#37 | MISSION CLARITY

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.”

—Buddha

Earlier this year I shared the following short message with everyone at Hancock Lumber:

Hello! I was doing some work with another company in another industry yesterday. The subject of their “mission statement” was on the agenda. The company has great values and a compelling mission, but their path to describing it was quite technical. As a result, it didn’t resonate on an emotional level.

I then experienced a moment of anxiety, hoping that I’m able to be fully human as a CEO in my communication of our shared mission.

So here I am.

For me, the first mission of our company is to help everyone feel trusted, respected, safe, valued, and heard – exactly as you are.  No change is necessary for you to be amazing.

Manufacturing lumber is important to our company, but it’s not the mission.

Logistics are also important, but they are not the core mission either.

Sharing leadership broadly, dispersing power to everyone, and respecting all voices—that’s the mission. Work should be meaningful for the people who do it.

A few moments after sending that e-mail, I began receiving messages back. Here was the first one to arrive in my in-box:

I think our mission and purpose is very clear and easy to understand for everyone. Many organizations’ missions become a long list of often difficult-to-understand statements that have little, if any, meaning to most employees. A GREAT mission is one which if you ask any randomly selected person within the organization to recite, they would be able to—ours fits that definition.

* * *

The mission an enterprise prioritizes matters, because most organizations achieve what they focus on. If a company wants to create a different set of outcomes, they may only need to examine what they are consistently prioritizing.

Additionally, I don’t believe in a singular corporate mission. A world-class company is highly dynamic and will create benefits that advance society on multiple levels. At Hancock Lumber, for example, we expect to be highly valuable to not just employees but also to customers, suppliers, stockholders, and the communities we serve.  We aspire to positively impact our industry, our state, and the nation—even humanity as a whole. That’s a whole lot of mission.

So the real question becomes, where is the critical first focal point that, when ignited, will fuel and drive value creation for the whole? This is the foundational mission, the one that paves the way for all the others. It’s the point on the fly-wheel where the energy must be applied.  For us that’s the employee experience.  All other experiences, we believe, are derived from that one.

A great mission must be personally and immediately actionable, accessible to everyone. No complex training is required. Magic missions are intuitive. The moment you meet one, you know what to do—and what not to do. When you have a mission worthy of pursuing, everybody wins, and the victory reverberates far beyond the boundaries of the company.

* * *

Here are some traditional corporate mission statements:

  • Our mission is to maximize shareholder value.
  • Our mission is to achieve peak production efficiency.
  • Our mission is to grow and become the number-one supplier in our market.
  • Our mission is to sacrifice whatever is required in service to our customers.

The problem with each of these objectives is that the benefits of achieving them can feel as though they are bypassing the people doing the work.  Workers should work first for their own joy, growth, advancement, challenge, fun, and financial benefit.  That’s a great set of goals and it’s not just ok, but actually desirable to pursue them.  Work should fill your own cup and when it does your performance will create great value for others.

Advancement of self should be front and center in any foundational mission. Shareholder value, corporate productivity, revenue growth, and customer care are all important but as the outcomes of a higher calling.

Humanity is always ultimately advanced on a local level, where humans reside. The place of work should be first and foremost for the humans that work there.  When the employees soar everyone is advanced.

Most companies get exactly what they ask for.

What’s yours asking for?

“I spend a tremendous amount of time carefully choosing the roles I wish to play so that I can run from the role I was born to play.”

—Craig Lounsbrough

 

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-seventh post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#36 | TENT CITY

“The problem with homelessness is not houselessness.”

—Matt Haig

 

Eugene, Oregon, is a city like no other. Nestled on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains, it’s surrounded by a valley of agricultural bounty. Sheep graze at the edge of the airport runway. The rivers flow and the flowers grow across a Disneyesque kingdom-like landscape that produces some of the best wines on Earth. This veritable Garden of Eden is encircled by majestic, towering Douglas firs that cover the rolling hills to the east and west.

Culturally, the city is equally fascinating. It feels as if the old and new American West were dropped simultaneously into a particle supercollider and then accelerated at high speed into a blended explosion of what was and what shall be.

Eugene is home to foresters and farmers, poets and philosophers, loggers and lumbermen, students, activists, and scientists. The famous University of Oregon campus flows into a city that looks and feels like no other. And dotting the intersections and highway underpasses of it all are tents, hundreds (if not thousands) of tents. Those tents are homes to those without homes, refuge to the refuge-less. And on my first visit to this region, their presence simultaneously concerned and intrigued me.

It was lumber that brought me to Eugene. I was joining the board of directors of a sawmilling- and timberland-owning company nearby. On my first drive into town I passed one tent colony and then another. The following day, I found a few more. It soon became clear that a transient community had established a presence here, and I couldn’t stop questioning its meaning and messages.

Have the tent dwellers failed—or been failed by—society? Are those gathered within the tent colonies of free spirits of sound mind, collectively rejecting society as it’s currently constructed? Is this a population that’s sick and addicted, healthy and intentional, or both? What is the DNA of this transient community and why has Eugene attracted more of them per capita than any other city in America?

Pondering all of this brought me back to my favorite question that I believe lives at the root of all social disharmony:

What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard?

If everyone on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard—what might change?

I believe everything might change.

But the question is how is such a lofty yet exceptionally accessible goal best achieved?

I’ve thought a lot about social problems such as this one, and I’ve concluded that the most powerful solutions are administered locally. National governments are reduced to national responses, typically to a circumstance that has already spiraled out of control. But humanity moves one human at a time, and no two humans share identical stories or solutions. This is why we must come to realize that we are living in the age of localism. In the twenty-first century, the people right in front of you are the ones you are called on to impact.

I have dealt with similar thought patterns during my time at Pine Ridge.  The depth of helping everyone is overwhelming.  But the possibility of helping someone, human to human is always actionable.

In the Aquarian Age that is upon us we need a return to local level leadership.  Power is dispersed.  The ability to create change dwells within us all.  Waiting for bureaucracy to administer bureaucratic solutions is a fool’s errand.  Neighbor to neighbor, soul to soul.  Humanity moves one human at a time.  What if we all simply committed to help the people we encounter today feel trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard?  Now that is actionable and often free. That’s a mission both you and I can advance today.

In a matter of days I was leaving Eugene, Oregon. I wasn’t going to be the one to take on homelessness in this funky Western town. But I did recognize these tent cities. They are manifestations of what happens when humans lose their voice, their sense of safety, and their respect for self within the larger society that surrounds them.

What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe?

What might change?

I believe everything might change. And that is something I will work on. I hope you will join me. We’ll work on it together, with the people right in front of us.

“I never met a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.”

—James Garfield

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-sixth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#35 | THE POWER OF PRAYER

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

—Soren Kierkegaard

Catherine, speaking only in Lakota, conversed with the buffalo scattered across the high grasslands of what is today Wind Cave National Park in present-day South Dakota.

The wind blew as it always does here, as the low dark clouds dragged themselves by. Whippoorwills sang and then answered their own calls. As each buffalo passed by, Catherine waved. These were not just unrelated and detached animals she was watching. The buffalo and the Lakota people have long been brothers and sisters. This was family, and as such, this was a reunion.

Despite this being traditional Lakota land, Catherine had never been to Wind Cave National Park, and it had been a long time since she’d been in the presence of buffalo. For Catherine, each buffalo was a related spirit, and she acknowledged them as such. Toward the end of our visit, she raised her hands in prayer. Eyes closed, she prayed . . . and she prayed. Given that her words were in Lakota, I understood nothing, yet I understood everything.

* * *

Catherine always prays. I’ve never spent a day with her, shared a meal with her, or exchanged a text message with her that did not involve prayer. Prayer is, for Catherine, central to how one navigates this world and embraces the next.

Catherine Grey Day was born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Coming of age, she experienced firsthand the harshness of reservation life in the 1950s, as well as the tribal protests against the historic oppression of her people in the 1960s and ’70s. She attended boarding school where she was sent to be “remade” in the white person’s image.

As an adult Catherine escaped abuse, fleeing alone in the middle of the night from her home. She buried one son in his early twenties, and then a few years later, did the same for the other. She later opened clinics and safe houses for other native women escaping domestic abuse. She had homes, and was homeless. Catherine is simultaneously a realist and an optimist. In the same conversation she will laugh and she will cry. And all the while, she prays.

“I have many spirit guides,” Catherine once told me. “There are those I know and those I don’t recognize, but I talk and pray with them all. Some people think I’m crazy because I talk to them, but I don’t care. They’re with me all the time.

“Each morning, alone during coffee, I pray,” Catherine continues. “I pray for lots of people, so it takes a long time. Prayer is real. It’s heard by the spirit world and it travels as energy to those I am praying for. I pray for you, Kevin. I pray for your family and employees in Maine. I pray for everyone I know and care about. I even pray for those who have hurt me.”

* * *

 

I am a spiritualist who is also attracted to science. This dual interest has led me to realize that scientists and spiritualists are actually on the trail of the same universal truths.

One of my favorite books on this subject is The Field, by Lynne McTaggart. Her thesis is that all the energy of the Universe is actually connected by an invisible web of electromagnetic threads. There is no separation or detachment. What happens to one reverberates across all.

“During the past few years science and medicine have been converging with common sense, confirming a widespread belief that everything―especially the mind and the body―is far more connected than traditional physics ever allowed.  Our body extends electromagnetically beyond ourselves and it is within this field that we can find a remarkable new way of looking at health, sickness, memory, will, creativity, intuition, the soul, consciousness, and spirituality.”

-Lynn McTaggert

With this fresh scientific insight, let us revisit the indigenous commitment to prayer that Catherine espouses. Catherine has long understood that prayer is real. That it travels. That it is heard. That spirit responds. Prayer is connected. Its energy moves.

This spiritual understanding of prayer suddenly has a scientific underpinning. If all energy is connected, then that includes thought energy. In this context ideas would reverberate. Prayer, which is nothing more than deep, intentional thought, would therefore move with purpose across space and time.

The Lakota have long known that everything is connected. Mitakuye Oyasin, they say, which translates as “All things are one thing,” or “We are all brothers.” It is with this understanding that Catherine speaks to the buffalo and prays for their well-being.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Catherine, and I’m pretty sure she knows something about prayer that the rest of us could build upon. In fact, if my experiences at Pine Ridge have taught me anything, it’s that the old wisdom is the pathway toward new wisdom. So pray on Catherine, pray on.

 

“In the silence of the heart, God speaks.”

—Mother Teresa

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-fifth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#34 | EIGHT BILLION ENTREPRENEURS

“All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in the human DNA.”

—Reid Hoffman

Entrepreneur is one of the least-understood words in business, and possibly the entire English language.

We tend to equate it with an elite and short list of icons. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton, to name a few.

I see the word differently.

To me, life on Earth forces entrepreneurship upon us all. There are eight billion people alive today, and all of them will be called upon to be entrepreneurs.

* * *

“An entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk to create something new.”

—Dan Sullivan

By that criterion, we are all entrepreneurs.

Life itself—the mere act of being born, coming of age, and then growing old—demands entrepreneurship.

My yearlong essay series is dedicated to the importance and potential of self-actualization. We are all born into a tribe. We each belong at birth to a specific family that lives within a defined culture at a set moment in time. That setting or backdrop pulls on us to speak a certain language, adopt a certain God, and acquire a certain worldview.

But within the social context of our birth tribe we are also here to individuate and learn to see the larger human and universal community to which we also belong. We are each in pursuit of our own true voice. That journey, which comes for us all, invariably requires entrepreneurship.

Most of the small and big acts of our lives are entrepreneurial. In school, when you write an essay, you are creating something new. In chorus, when you lend your voice to a performance, the music changes. On the athletic field the team you join is instantly altered by your presence. Everything around you changes when you engage with it, and engaging with the world around you involves risk.

This is true in the world of work as well. Our company, Hancock Lumber, has six hundred employees, and every one of them is an entrepreneur.

* * *

Conventional thinking around multigenerational businesses is another example of misunderstanding entrepreneurship. For example, I am the sixth generation of my family to serve as CEO of our company. By a limited definition of entrepreneurship, only my great-grandfather’s grandfather was the entrepreneur, since he started the company. But the truth is, every subsequent generation must be entrepreneurial or perish.

During the Great Depression my great-grandfather built lakeside cottages to keep people employed and to keep the business alive. My own father built a brand-new sawmill, was the first to expand our retail business to multiple sites, and created a unique ownership structure to recruit and retail top leadership talent.

As for me, well—my favorite approach is to describe that which we have survived. In my thirty years with the company I was told more than once that each of the following events would mean the decline or demise of our business:

  • The transitioning from a fifth to a sixth generation of family management.
  • The emergence of Walmart, Home Depot, and other big-box stores.
  • The dawning age of globalization and the importing of manufactured goods from a worldwide marketplace.
  • The age of Amazon, e-commerce, and online sales.
  • The near-complete collapse of the national mortgage and housing markets in 2007.
  • The partial loss of my voice to a rare neurological speaking disorder.

And yet across the thirty years that have been defined by these events, our company has grown tenfold.

What created and enabled not just our survival, but our growth and expansion? The answer is entrepreneurship.

By whom? The answer is by everyone connected to our company—employees, managers, owners, customers, and suppliers. And should the company one day fade away, then we’ll all have to be entrepreneurs all over again—moving on and creating something new. In the absence of that, I will one day retire. This will require entrepreneurship, as well, for me to reinvent myself once again, and for the company to do the same.

The death of one thing is the entrepreneurial beginning of another. The Universe itself is entrepreneurial, and humans are manifestations of that universal energy.

Every day on Earth is an entrepreneurial day.

Every life on Earth is an entrepreneurial life.

You are an entrepreneur.

 

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

—Winston Churchill

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-fourth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




#33 | BECOMING EMPLOYEE-CENTRIC

“Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer.
I think you build one with your employees first.”

—Angela Ahrendts

The first mission of a modern company should be to advance and enhance the lives of the people who work there. All other corporate value creation is derived from this central priority.

Companies that do this become “employee-centric.” They reach every goal and responsibility of a great corporation through the mastery of this first mission. Only on the wings of thriving employees can twenty-first-century companies soar.

I learned this by accident as the CEO of one of the oldest family businesses in America (Hancock Lumber, founded in 1848).

In 2010 I acquired a rare voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia) that made speaking difficult. Suddenly I was forced to let others, eventually everyone, become our collective corporate voice. Over time, the more focus we put on strengthening the voices of our employees, the better we performed. This was the birth of our employee-centric mission. Help employees feel trusted, respected, valued, and heard—and everything else just happens. It’s magical, simple, and now tested. In the 10 years that followed we outperformed the previous 160.

So, what did we learn?
What are the rules of creating an employee-centric company,
and what changes occur when you become one?

First, the rules:

  1. The mission changes. The new mission is irresistible. Make the work experience highly meaningful for the people who do it. The old mission would have been about something like sales growth or shareholder value. Those are still important, but they are now wonderful outcomes of a higher calling.
  2. The top corporate metric changes. A new mission requires a new metric. Since enhancing the employee experiences is the new mission, measuring that experience as defined by the employees themselves becomes the new first-priority metric. We accomplish this through third-party engagement surveys. The national average for employee engagement is 34 percent. Ours is 88 percent.
  3. The purpose of listening changes. Listening, not talking, becomes the new management priority (thank you, voice disorder!). But for this to be effective, managers must adopt a new reason for doing the listening. Listening is for understanding, not judgment.
  4. A safe culture for people to say what they actually think is established. In a company driven by listening, it is essential to make it safe for people to speak with their authentic voice. In this approach, an employee perspective is not “right” or “wrong”; it’s simply valued and honored as it stands.
  5. Ego is transcended. It is here that business ceases to be a modern-day Roman Colosseum where “work warriors” prove their supremacy through conquest. Instead, the company becomes a place where adults gather to learn, share, create, experiment, find meaning, add value to the lives of others, and grow. In this model managers become facilitators, not gladiators.
  6. Sustain these rules for thirty-six months from the top of your organization all the way to the front line and back again, and you will become an employee-centric company.

When you become employee-centric, here’s what will be different:

  1. Everyone will be sharing the responsibilities of leadership.
  2. Ideas will be overflowing and acted upon in countless dynamic ways across your organization.
  3. Discipline and commitment to accuracy, best practices, and core operating systems will increase exponentially. People support what they help to create.
  4. The heavy lifting of running a company will become lighter for everyone.
  5. Most importantly, meaning—real, deep, authentic, human meaning—will have been injected into the very core of your corporate existence. What it means to be a business will have been reimagined. Advancing humanity is what your company does now.
  6. Corporate performance takes off as the outcome of a new, and higher, calling.
  7. In the process, winning is redefined. Winning isn’t winning unless everyone is advancing.

* * *

This all sounds irresistible and universally beneficial. So what would possibly prevent a corporate leadership team from pursuing this mission?

The answer is the same thing that has tripped up humans and their leaders for eons: ego, overreaching, the inertia of the status quo, and a lack of deep appreciation for the full potential of the individual human spirit.

Humanity advances one human at a time.  As a result, companies can learn to thrive by simply putting their focus on the human beings right in front of them—their employees.

 

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines
of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

—Martin Luther King

 

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-third post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#32 | NOMADS

“I am a wild, wandering nomad, I belong everywhere and nowhere all at the same time, and in that gap between worlds, I am free.”

—Ritta Klint

I’m fascinated by the nomadic past of the Sioux tribes on the northern plains.

Before the reservation era, the Sioux moved freely across a vast territory stretching from the Missouri River to the Bighorn Mountains. They followed both the seasons and the buffalo, carrying with them everything they owned. The region at the time was boundary-less, void of fences, railroad tracks, or roads. Endless seas of grass surround Paha Sapa (the Black Hills), and each tribe moved through them on foot and horse. Travois were dragged, first by dogs and later horses, leaving a track that could be seen and followed for miles. Thus was the life of a nomadic community.

Over the course of twenty visits to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding plains, I have often envied (and certainly romanticized) that existence. And in my own modern way I have adopted it when I go there. In a world defined by schedules, appointments, and possessions, I’ve come to love my short interludes as a nomad.

Me. Somewhere in the ancestral homeland of Crazy Horse. Date unknown.

Each time I visit Pine Ridge I conclude with several days of wandering across a region I have come to call “The Land of Crazy Horse.” The territory I’ve explored stretches from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Billings, Montana, and from Rapid City, South Dakota, to the Bighorn Mountains.

I travel alone and I travel light. I have no agenda (which is an agenda in and of itself), and I prefer not knowing where I will stay when nightfall arrives.

When I’m tired, I sleep. When I wake up, I go. When I’m hungry, I eat. When a trailhead speaks to me, I follow it.

I crank the radio on certain songs. I roll down the windows in snowstorms. I pee on the side of the road.

My possessions are minimal. Blue jeans or hiking pants, wool sweaters and camo Under Armour, a ball cap and a knit hat, gloves, and boots are my uniform. Inside my backpack: bottled water, a small camera, a well-worn journal, an iPhone, my wallet, a rain jacket, and, hopefully, my car keys. That’s it.

On a seldom-used trail, deep in the backcountry of Wind Cave National Park or among the abandoned relics of a fort few remember, I walk both into and with the wind. The grass sways, the dust swirls, the sky evolves, and the buffalo appear, then vanish. When the need to sit overtakes me, I plop down. When ideas manifest, I write. When energy surges, I walk, or even run. There is no pattern, yet it’s all patterned. For that moment, that day, that week . . . I’m a nomad.

* * *

What is it about the nomadic life that pulls me in?

Simplicity.

Spontaneity.

Silence.

Immersion.

Clarity.

Mystery.

Thoughts.

The absence of thoughts.

Freedom.

Fragility.

Immortality.

Connectivity.

Humility.

Immensity.

It’s all there in a single day of nomadic life. The call of the wild. The lure of an empty road. For a moment I am title-less, nameless, and role-less. It’s energizing and grounding.

When I get home, I see better. I hear better. I think more clearly. I’m calmer. I then aspire to hold those energies as long as I can back in the world of sedentary work and repetitive patterns.

I do love my traditional life and roles as a husband, father, CEO, neighbor, and community member.  I’m grateful for them all.

But I must admit, I do relish touching periodically the foundational base of all human ancestry. I love, for just a few days each year, being a nomad.

“We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone.”

—Crazy Horse

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

______

This is the thirty-second post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#31 | THE HUMAN RACE

“A lion sleeps in the heart of every man.”
—Old Turkish Proverb

The Human Race. Naples, Florida.

At the corner of a serene collection of shops and restaurants in the Park Shore neighborhood of Naples, Florida, stand two twenty-four-foot curved stainless-steel columns. At first glance this giant piece of minimalist art reveals little specific meaning. But upon closer inspection one can see the leg of not one, but two metallic humans. One is surging forward while the other lags behind. According to its creator, the work of art symbolizes the inherent competition between individuals, “whether in business or in other aspects of life.” The name of the sculpture is The Human Race.

If you don’t believe in the human soul and its transcendent existence beyond the confines of a single lifetime, perhaps you could just play along.

I’ll begin by suggesting that souls consciously enter human bodies at or before birth with intention, with a mission. It’s a voluntary assignment and, as such, it has a purpose.

My friend, psychologist and evolutionary astrologist Deborah Dooley, lives near Stanford University in California. She is one of the most intuitive thinkers I know when it comes to seeing the human experience in the context of its mostly concealed spiritual purpose. She calls Earth the planet of fear and death, and in that story the human soul’s mission goes something like this . . .

Life eats life, the twentieth-century American mythologist Joseph Campbell was fond of saying. It is for an obvious reason far easier to name examples of mythologies of war than mythologies of peace; for not only has conflict between groups been normal to human experience, but there is also the cruel fact to be recognized that killing is the precondition of all living whatsoever: life lives on life, eats life, and would otherwise not exist.

Think, for example, of a male African lion in the prime of his vitality. That lion has a pride of females, lesser males, and cubs. That lion also has a territory, which he patrols, marks, and protects. That lion will fight any other aspiring adult male to retain or overtake control of a pride. That lion will even kill the young offspring of a vanquished rival so as to send the female back into a reproductive cycle that will bear his blood. All the while that lion and his pride will rise or fall on their ability to kill in order to eat, and therefore, survive. That lion shall reign only so long has he can be victorious in all of those roles.

This is the cycle of life on Earth, into which spirit incarnates. It must be a far cry from the resting place from which the soul came—that place the Sioux call “the world of spirit that lives beside this one.”

So why would souls incarnate, perhaps again and again—as many cultures believe—to voluntarily come to this planet of carnage, competition, and death? The answer is to see if those souls, embodied in human form, can ultimately transform this planetary conundrum over time, with love.

That’s our shared spiritual mission on Earth, and the wisest among us have prophesied it all.

“In earth, as it is in heaven.”
—King James Bible

“The heavens and the earth were joined together as one unit.”
—The Koran

Work out your own salvation.”
—Buddha

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies of the world would also change.”
—Gandhi

If this was the collective mission of all souls, it would surely change the nature of human competition, for we would see ourselves on a shared journey. Competition, as captured in The Human Race sculpture, would still be essential for progress, but it would now serve a higher purpose.

Humanity must become more productive, innovative, adaptive, and creative in order to manifest abundance for all. But as we strive toward these goals, we must also bring more love and care for humanity into that competitive arena, so that the economic work of advancing humanity is also spiritually rewarding and uplifting.

Imagine humanity at its best—its very best.

Then imagine humanity at its worst.

The gap between the two possibilities is enormous, and it’s where we now lie.

Few great feats have ever been accomplished or sustained without a clear and compelling mission.

My church has a mission. The college I attended has a mission. Hancock Lumber has a mission. So, too, does America.

But what about humanity?

What is humanity’s irresistible mission, and who is prioritizing it?

Let us see if a world based on “life eating life” can transform itself into a world led by love.

Ultimately, what I like most about adopting this mission is that it might actually work, simply by pretending that it is so. Transforming Planet Earth from a place of fear to one of love is the real Human Race.

 

“It is my belief that the only power that can resist the power of fear is the power of love.”
—Alan Paton

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.




#30 | THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS

“The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution born anew in the brain structure of every individual.”

—Carl Jung

Speaking mostly in Lakota, Medicine Man begins to talk, then chant, then pray, then sing. Others, circled in darkness, echo in response. The heat within the hut quickly intensifies and the sweat comes easily.

This ceremony could be taking place one hundred—or four hundred—years ago. My body is covered in sweat, which mixes with the dirt on my hands, arms, legs, and chest. This is a sacred ritual of the Sioux known for generations as “the making of relatives,” and I am fully immersed.

Later that evening as steam dissipates from our bodies into the cool night air of northern Nebraska, my newly anointed brother, Lester Lone Hill, is sitting beside me on a log.

“That medicine man is a ‘trickster,’ ” Lester explains. “He brings humor and the element of surprise into his ceremonies. He likes to keep everything light and entertaining.”

* * *

A week later, back home in Maine, I am reading about indigenous rituals when I come across the “trickster” persona. It turns out he is present in the mythology, folklore, and spirituality of many tribes across the globe. From North America, to Africa, to Australia, the trickster is an honored ceremonial figure. How could the same thematic character manifest globally among disparate cultures separated by oceans and epochs?

Carl Jung, the nineteenth-century Swiss analytical psychologist, understood why.

The answer lies in what he described as the collective unconscious of the human race which represents the cumulative learning of all humans across all human time. It’s the shared experience of humanity, and it’s passed from generation to generation through stories. It also manifests as instincts and intuition in newborns and children. Think of it this way: If you believe that an individual human soul survives a body’s death, then it stands to reason that the collective experiential energy of all human souls survives as well.

Mythology, Jung said, is the expression of this collective unconscious. It’s how we give earthly context to that which we intuitively know in the inner depths of being, where soul resides. That’s why it’s common for the stories and symbols of different cultures to share similar characteristics. The presence of good and evil is one example that appears universally in all mythologies.

The hero archetype also lives in the stories of every human culture. The hero generally starts out as an ordinary person, living an ordinary life. A challenge then arises which disrupts much of what the hero holds dear, forcing him or her to confront their circumstances in a saga that ultimately transforms them into someone different than they were before. The external story, which may feature strange beasts, threatening gods, and foreign lands, is actually an archetypal adventure symbolic of the inner journey of transcending our unconscious fears.

As Jung once said, Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

What’s the relevance of this to an essay series devoted to self-awareness, shared leadership, and dispersed power? The answer is that each personal life odyssey is both an individual and a collective experience. What happens to one happens to all. Progress by one is progress for all. As each individual moves his or her karmic energy forward, it becomes a drop of learning in the larger pool of all human experiences.

This is why awareness of our shared humanity is essential. Your experiences, however trivial they may feel, ultimately impact the entire trajectory of humanity through our shared collective unconscious. And this is why we must create the change we wish to see by working first on ourselves.

All human journeys matter and this is where love comes in. We must aspire to bring unconditional love (acceptance of people as they are) into our daily lives. Each seemingly ordinary shift at work and each “chance” encounter with a stranger is never really just that. It’s more. It’s always more. Every moment yields another journal entry into the collective unconscious of humanity, which ultimately determines both our personal and shared trajectory across space and time.

In the end we rise, plateau, or fall together.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

—Carl Jung

__________
This is the thirtieth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers.
My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them.
On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.
To receive future posts from Kevin, simply click on the link below. This will trigger an e-mail where you can confirm and subscribe. Thank you!



#29 | THE PROBLEM WITH IT ALL . . .

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

 

The potential blessing of this essay series is that I am writing from experience.

The potential problem with this essay series is that I am writing from experience.

* * *

When I decided to write this yearlong series about shared leadership, dispersed power, and respect for all voices, I simultaneously felt excitement and trepidation. This essay is devoted to the trepidation.

Close to the last thing this world needs is another CEO or anointed leader saying “Look at me.” I was so worried about this one point that I almost didn’t write this essay series at all. In fact, at one point I called it off and had to be talked back into sharing by my friends Kourtney and Erin from our communications team.

Then there was the challenge of the website upon which to post and host my writing. Prior to commencing this series the site was small and personal. As such, the site name was www.kevindhancock.com, but that too threw me off.

“It’s the message that’s important, not the messenger,” I said to Kourtney and Erin.

So we went back to the drawing board and changed the name of the site to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com. That felt better.

But we still had the same basic problem to overcome. I was writing in large part about my own ideas, which came from my own experiences, which often played out at our company. How do I share without implying that my experiences are uniquely valuable? How do I provide sound guidance to others while still honoring my own fallibility and weaknesses?

“I’ll just have to write about it,” I ultimately said to Kourtney and Erin.

And here I go . . .

The point of sharing my personal story is not that you should follow it. In my story I struggle to guide a two-century-old lumber company through the collapse of the housing market (2007–2010) only to lose some of my voice to a rare neurological speech disorder (spasmodic dysphonia), which then sent me journeying more than twenty times to a remote Indian reservation in South Dakota (Pine Ridge), where I met an entire community that did not feel heard. This experience helped me to realize that there are lots of ways to lose one’s voice in this world, and that leaders have often done more to restrict the voices of others than to liberate them. This, in turn, led me to rededicate my CEO role to strengthening the voices of others.

I am not recommending you do any of that.

Follow me is not the point of this essay series. In fact, to follow me would be to miss the point.

The point of this essay series is to Follow you.

My life got a lot better once I embraced my path and learned to follow. I could only have found that path by looking within myself. My opportunity appeared in the form of pain and setback.

Here’s the other important point: I likely look better from afar than I do up close! I’m actually a very ordinary person and CEO. I make lots of mistakes, both big and small. I drink too much soda. I eat too much fast food. I don’t give our dogs enough consistent love. I get impatient at times. I get self-absorbed at times. I fall out of living in the moment. I don’t always make the bed if I’m the last one out of it. At work I’m not always a great listener. I sometimes forget to have the patience for process. Sometimes I come in late. Sometimes I leave early. I can’t always do what I write about.

Our company, Hancock Lumber, is exceedingly human as well. We have excessive turnover in some parts of our company. Occasionally people get injured at work. Sometimes we make decisions without including everyone. Employees regularly have good reasons to be disappointed in part of their work experience. Customers, too, at times.

It’s important to me that you know all this.

It’s important to me that I confess.

Only in the spirit of humility can this essay series work.

Within that context we can share with benefit. Once we transcend ego we can learn from each other. In fact, to grow collectively, we must. Each individual life story flows into a shared human experience. What happens to one happens ultimately to us all. Your journey, not mine, must be your preoccupation. Out there before you is a path that only you will walk and a story only you will tell. In this realization, the concept of hero is redefined. Every one of us has embarked on a hero’s journey disguised as something ordinary.

 

“Great leaders don’t need to act tough.”

—Simon Sinek

_____

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.




#28 | SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP

“Strange what being slowed down could do to a person.”

—Nicholas Sparks

 

Here’s a picture of me actually demonstrating what I learned on the basketball court about the importance of slowing down to speed up!

Even though the gymnasium was filled with whistles, shouting, and squeaking sneakers, I can still hear the coach’s wisdom nearly forty years later.

I was at SWISH basketball camp at the University of Southern Maine, a junior in high school preparing for my senior year, and college competition beyond. We were working on dribble moves—penetration with the basketball into gaps designed to draw excess defenders and create open teammates.

“Slow down to speed up,” the coach had just instructed me.

I had hurried through a hesitation crossover dribble, thinking that faster was better.

“The hesitation is of no value unless you give it the gift of time,” the coach continued. “You’ve got to give the defender time to pause in response to your own pause. You’ve got to slow down to speed up.”

* * *

Decades later, I value those same words as both a CEO and a human.

From 1997 to 2010 I was the fast-moving CEO of Hancock Lumber Company. At that time I had a booming, infallible young voice and near-boundless energy. I would routinely work from six a.m. to six p.m., racing from location to location, using first my Dictaphone and later my cell phone between stops at stores, mills, and construction sites. If there was meeting to be had, I would attend it. It there was a problem to solve, I would solve it. If there was a sale to close, I would close it.

That defined my life as an average-performing CEO of an average-performing company.

The boss gets first dibs on all the work, I’ve become fond of saying.

Then, in 2010, I had a front-row seat to a double train wreck. First, the housing and mortgage markets collapsed and average-performing companies suddenly became vulnerable. Second, in response to the stress of the first event, I acquired a rare voice disorder that made speaking extremely difficult. Without warning, or training in how to do so, I had no choice but to slow down.

It took me about five years of therapy before I could even use the phone again. Running every meeting was now impossible. I began asking questions in response to questions, to put the conversation back in the hands of the other person and protect my broken voice. Listening, delegating, sharing the stage, and doing less, not more, became my new forced modus operandi.

Only then, ironically, did I begin to learn a little something about leadership.

* * *

Today I’m a CEO who advocates slowing down organizations and the people within them.

Here’s one specific example of how I’ve pursued that path.

Over the span of several years at Hancock Lumber we were able to reduce the average hourly work week in our stores from 48 hours per week to 41. At the same time we increased annual compensation. People were making more money and acquiring the gift of time. Seven hours a week may not sound like a lot until you multiply it by the length of a career (say, thirty years). That’s 10,920 hours.

To accomplish this, we had to take on the worst possible pay structure for the twenty-first century: overtime. Overtime pay incentivizes one outcome: working longer. In the modern age of accuracy, productivity, and lean practices, what companies should reward is employees making the work take less time, not more. This can be achieved through higher hourly pay rates for everyone complemented by bonus and incentive systems that encourage themes such as accuracy, safety, and the elimination of re-work.

As human productivity at work expands, we can use some of that freed capacity to make more lumber and deliver more building materials. But, we can also use some of that newfound time to just plain work less.

Today I talk regularly about putting the work back in its place. Work should be important, not all-consuming.

My next goal is to pursue the potential of the four-day work week. For our drivers and manufacturing teams, for example, that would be four 10-hour days. If we had four delivery trucks at a store and we wanted those trucks to be on the road 50 hours a week, we would have five drivers each working four days.

Great companies will keep finding ways to help employees earn more money, but they will also increasingly give their team members something perhaps even more important: the gift of time. Work should not be hurried, hectic, or chaotic. Nor should it be all-consuming. Great companies, like great point guards, will learn to Slow down to speed up.

 

“Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.”

—Oriah Mountain Dreamer

 

______

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

 




#27 | THE DIVERSE POTENTIAL OF SHARED LEADERSHIP

“Do not wait for the green light. You are the green light.”

—Dr. Jacinta Mpalyenkana

Shortly after participating in the Leadership Learning Exchange for Equity sponsored by the Maine Community Foundation, I received a poignant question from one of my favorite global citizens within our company:

What are we doing to bring more underrepresented groups into our company?

I had barely finished reading the query when I quickly began typing a response. I was halfway through a hasty diatribe listing the “actions” I had taken, or would soon take, when I caught myself on the brink of breaking all of my most cherished rules of shared leadership and dispersed power.

I was one of nearly six hundred people working at our company across sixteen sites. That company was woven into the fabric of many communities and supported by thousands of customers and supply partners. Yet here I was preparing to talk about what I alone would do. Ha!

Thankfully I caught myself in time and regrouped. What I could do was important, especially as CEO, but it paled in comparison to what we could do together on the subject of expanding sexual, racial, and ethnic diversity within our company, specifically, and, more broadly, the lumber industry as a whole.

So I dragged that first e-mail over to the recycle bin, let it go, and started again. Here is a segment of the new message I composed and sent.

Thank you for bringing this question forth. First, I always maintain that our core accomplishment is to have a highly successful company that is sustaining more jobs, better jobs, and higher pay. I like making the overall economic pie bigger. We pay close attention to average and median wage earnings within our company, and we want them to grow FASTER than the national average and FASTER than inflation. For close to a decade now we have been able to do that. That’s the economic part.

Then there is the social part, and specifically the goal of broadening the diversity of who contributes to and benefits from our company’s success. In keeping with my personal value system of shared leadership, I think the ultimate solution is for all individuals who work at Hancock Lumber to expand their own personal networks in diverse ways AND then recommend, connect, and refer people from those enlarged communities to career opportunities within our company and industry. If every individual in our company were to engage with the subject of diversity on a personal level, that alone would move the needle you speak of. As the people within our company change (myself included, of course), our company will become something different.

Before sending that message I talked with our HR team and asked what percentage of our new hires came from internal referrals. The answer was about 50 percent. This data seemed to mathematically support shared leadership. If everyone in our company expanded the diversity of their personal network, this would invariably translate into more diversity within our company.

The traditional, centralized model of hierarchical leadership would put the responsibility for crafting a “corporate diversity initiative” in the hands of a tiny, select group of individuals. That approach in itself is antithetical to broad inclusion. Conversely, everyone in the company could take up the cause and become a personal agent of change. At Hancock Lumber we have found time and again that when everyone owns the responsibilities of leadership, the outcomes are far more effective, dynamic, and sustainable.

The problem with waiting for the CEO to proclaim his or her diversity plan is that the creative potential of all the other amazing people in our company gets put on hold. In that model everyone else is relegated to the structured roles of spectator, evaluator, and “to-do list follower.”

Dispersed power is the key to expanding diversity within a company (or any community). Every person at Hancock Lumber has the capacity to broaden their network, reach out across traditionally divided lines, and make new friends in new places, starting today. If all 600 of us at Hancock Lumber each made 1 new friend from a previously unvisited community every ninety days, that would produce 2,400 new and diverse relationships in a year. A portion of those relationships would surely flow right into our company. All of those relationships would, more importantly, advance humanity.

There is no question that C-level leaders must prioritize diversity, but that’s best accomplished by inviting everyone within the organization to lead the new-friend-making and old-barrier-breaking work. Diversity, like everything else, expands one human at a time.

“Attempting to constantly control everyone and everything around you is not only exhausting . . . it is also futile. The only real power you can achieve in this life is being in control of yourself.”

—Anthon St. Maarten

 

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

__________

This is the twenty-seventh in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To receive future posts from Kevin, simply click here. This will trigger an e-mail where you can confirm and subscribe. Thank you!



#26 | “TRUST IS THE COIN OF THE REALM”

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

—Ernest Hemingway

On December 13, 2020, former secretary of state George Shultz turned one hundred years old. On that day he published an essay musing over what he had learned across a century of living, and a career that included serving three US presidents. He concluded that in all of his varied experiences—businessman, diplomat, economist, professor, husband, father, athlete, and war veteran—one lesson surfaced above all others.

Put simply, Shultz wrote, trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room—whatever room that was—the family room, the schoolroom, the coaches’ room, or the military room—good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is in the details.

* * *

I’ve pondered this well-earned piece of wisdom multiple times since reading Mr. Shultz’s reflections. When I reexamine my own life, his conclusion has held true in every circumstance. Trust, it seems, is the secret sauce in the recipe for high-performing leaders and teams.

So how do you build trust? And, equally as important, how is trust eroded?

I often write about my time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and my learnings there. Pine Ridge is a place where distrust in government runs deep. That distrust was earned by repeated acts of betrayal, broken promises, and a lack of follow-through on the part of American political leaders and their operational bureaucrats.

At Pine Ridge there is also an additional layer of historic distrust toward people who are white. This too was earned. For nearly a century white people from away came to reservation communities like this one with the intention of “remaking” Indians in their own image.

In both cases trust was broken by the group with the most influence, control, and power. Once broken, trust can take lifetimes—even generations—to restore.

Today, however, there are many people at Pine Ridge who trust me, and I trust them in return. How was that trust established in the wake of such a dubious trail?

The answer? Direct, personal, and sustained connectivity. I ate, slept, and hung out there over and over and over again. In return, people invested their time in me. Eventually, trust was established.

“I can see you have a good heart,” my now dear friend Catherine Grey Day said to me after our fourth visit together. Today she calls me “Misum,” or “little brother.”

Distance breeds unfamiliarity, and that can manifest as distrust. If I do not know you personally, I will likely default to the historical experiences of my community.

Perhaps the most intriguing yet debilitating aspect of trust and distrust is that you can almost always prove you are right.  There is almost always an available reason to be distrustful.

* * *

In the past ten years Hancock Lumber has been fortunate to experience sustained success. We’ve established new performance records and then reset them multiple times.

Beyond good fortune, what would I attribute this to?

Trust.

For seven years in a row we have been one of the Best Places to Work in Maine. In each of those years we broke our own records for sales, productivity, and profitability.

So which came first? Did the high performance create a best place to work, or did becoming a best place to work enable the high performance?

For those of us who have been there, the answer is clear: It was focusing first on the employee experience that subsequently created the corporate performance surge.  Trust within the organization among the people who worked there came first.   

In high-performing companies, employees do not expect everything to be perfect. Everyone knows there will always be new challenges to overcome and problems to work through. But they trust that through it all the company will prioritize them. They trust that the company will not put its own needs before theirs. In return, the employees lift up the company and teach it to soar.

So yes, upon reflection, George Shultz’s wisdom has proved to be true in my life. At both Pine Ridge and Hancock Lumber, trust has in fact been the coin of the realm, and a currency first forged from within.

We must learn to trust our authentic selves before we can be deemed trustworthy by others.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

—Maya Angelou

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

* * *

I have this picture of Sitting Bull in my home office. He, like many other Indian chiefs of his time, faced a series of impossible choices as America rushed to meet its Manifest Destiny. Putting the needs of certain groups below your own always destroys trust.

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

—Sitting Bull

__________

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To receive future posts from Kevin, simply click here. This will trigger an e-mail where you can confirm and subscribe. Thank you!



#25 | UNSUBSCRIBE

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”

—Dalai Lama

Several months ago I was sitting with the vice chair of our board of directors, Jim Buchanan, at the Hancock Lumber home office in Casco. Across the street logging trucks were arriving, the sawmill was churning, and the smell of sawdust was in the air.

“What have you been up to lately, Jim?” I queried.

“I’ve been freeing up brain capacity,” he replied.

Curious about that statement, I pressed the question.

“Tell me more. What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“Well, you know, I’m just letting go of low-level or outdated information in order to make space for new and higher thoughts to come into my life,” Jim said.

“Brilliant,” I replied.

* * *

That thought-provoking exchange with Jim reminds me of one of my favorite work exercises. Each day, without fail, I take the time to scroll through my in-box of e-mails and UNSUBSCRIBE.

In a world in which we are all incessantly streamed an overflow of information, unsubscribing is an act of healthy defiance and assertive self-control. It’s also a manifestation of Jim’s sage advice to protect the intake valve to one’s precious emotional, spiritual, and mental capacity.

We are all encouraged to be intentional about the food, beverages, and toxins we consume. We don’t want to clog our arteries or fill our lungs with detrimental substances. The same holds true for our mental and spiritual capacity. Just because I went to Walgreens yesterday does not mean I want an e-mail from them today.

I find it therapeutic to open my e-mail in-box and watch the new candidates for deletion emerge. I wait for an instant, feeling empowered (lighter, even), before selecting a message and scrolling directly to the bottom in search of the word today’s digital marketers most try to hide: Unsubscribe. I even take time to select the reason code: “I never signed up for these e-mails.” The message originator then thanks me as their inquiry swirls off into the blackness of Internet purgatory. It’s a liberating moment. Fifteen seconds invested eliminates one small but repetitive mental distraction for life.

No, I don’t need to learn about your “5 amazing strategies for doubling sales in 90 days.”

No, I don’t need “a third pair of socks for free.”

In our digital, consumeristic, 24/7 media age, each of us is being fed an indigestible volume of information, most of which is irrelevant to our personal mission, values, and priorities. Sorting out that clutter is the closet-cleaning challenge of our time.

Self-awareness requires being intentional about what we take in so as to stay focused on our unique priorities and personal mission.

What information do you need to know, and what information is a distraction? What are your strategies for maintaining control of your finite emotional, spiritual, and mental capacity?

Rest assured, in the absence of being intentional, you will be taken for a grand ride.

* * *

Another favored move of mine to free up brain capacity is to watch and read less news. It’s been said that if you read the news once a week you would know as much as someone who does so every day.

Never has this been truer than during the era of COVID-19. Think about it. The virus formally arrived in America in March of 2020. By April you knew everything you were ever going to need to know about that infectious agent. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. When you can’t distance, wear a mask. If you feel sick, stay home. A vaccine is coming.

That’s all you needed to know about the world’s most famous pathogen.

But if you are CNN, well, you need to talk about COVID-19 every day, all day, and through the night, for over a year. And the worse the data becomes, the more likely the virus is to grab the headlines.

All of this reinforces one fundamental conviction: The world right in front of you is more manageable than the world as seen through a screen.

When I turn on the television news, within minutes it feels like it’s all over—like we can’t possibly survive another day. Yet when I open the front door and enter that day in person—so far—every day, I have survived.

Unsubscribing is a powerful act. So is watching and reading less news. Reducing your daily intake of external noise and drama allows you to gain and maintain control of your personal airspace. We are what we watch. We are what we listen to. We are what we read. We are what we unsubscribe.

“No one can bring you peace but yourself.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the twenty-fifth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.



#24 | HALFTIME

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
—Martin Luther King

This is essay #24, the halfway mark of my 2021 writing project. Two dozen essays have been shared and two dozen are yet to be created. Thank you for engaging and participating.

As a lifetime basketball player and coach, halftime in a game is an important moment to evaluate what’s transpired and set clear intentions for the work ahead. Taking stock in where we’ve been and where we’re going is always a valuable exercise.

When I begin a writing project I don’t fully know where it will take me or how it will end. While this approach has its pitfalls, it also has otherwise incalculable benefits. Writing, for me, is about surrendering to the unknown and releasing one’s instinct to seek control. It’s about learning to follow. It’s about letting the sacred light of the Universe flow through you in its most authentic and creative form. Your fingers on the keyboard become a conduit for the trajectory of the collective consciousness of humanity. Writing is about letting the divine speak through you.

But every writer still must strive to organize their thoughts in the best possible way. Even when the words are flowing freely, there’s lots of work to be done. While a river broadly defines a boater’s path, all kayakers still bring a paddle.

So, in order to maintain our course, let’s check in on the mission of this journey before proceeding to the second half.

Six months ago, in essay #1, I wrote the following:
The organizational structure of human society was long ago designed to compel us to look EXTERNALLY for direction, solutions, leadership, and control. This has been an intentional exercise and has produced an empire-centric view of our world. Employees exist to serve their company, followers, their church, and citizens, their state. These institutions have done some good through their centralization of power but they have also done some bad. Regardless, in virtually all cases, the common denominator is that the individual is advertently made small before the capital, the kingdom, and the crown. True power, we’ve been taught, lives “out there,” beyond our reach.

I’m interested in flipping that script. The goal is not to eliminate human institutions but rather to refocus them on dispersing power, not collecting it. The real power source of humanity lives dispersed and WITHIN us all. Each of us is a spark of divine light, a never-to-be-repeated gift. Institutions should exist to celebrate and accelerate self-actualization at an individual level. A great company (or country), therefore, should serve, honor, and ignite the talents of the people who work there.

The twenty-first century has the potential to mark the ascension of decentralized power, but for that to happen, the traditional model of leadership and followership must be reinvented.

That was week #1’s mission. In the twenty-two essays that followed, what if anything about that cause has evolved or changed?

Ultimately that’s up to each reader to decide. My sense is that this original intention is holding strong. In summary I’m aspiring to advance the following tenets of personal growth and organizational excellence:

The Seven Truths of Personal Growth and Organizational Excellence

  1. The sacred power and mystery of the Universe must be found first within you. “You are the truth you seek to know.” —Joseph Campbell
  2. For eons, those with the most social influence (church, state, and corporations) have attempted to convince individuals (including you) that authority and power live somewhere “out there,” beyond your grasp.
  3. But today a new age is dawning. The twenty-first century (the Aquarian Age) is all about dispersed power. It’s about awakening at the individual and local community levels. It’s about the recognition that every human voice is a sacred power source of light unto itself.
  4. In this new age change must first be created from within. You light up the world by honoring and serving yourself.
  5. This new paradigm shift transforms the traditional roles of leadership and followership. Today the followers must learn to lead and the leaders must learn to follow.
  6. Individuals don’t exist to serve human organizations. Human organizations exist to serve their individual members. When this shift occurs, organizational excellence becomes the outcome of a higher calling. That higher calling is improving the world one human at a time by helping the person in front of you feel trusted, respected, valued, and heard, exactly as they are.
  7. The old world order required and demanded conformity of thought. The new age that is upon us thrives by honoring diversity of thought. Voices are unique by design.

So far, the message has held course. But I would also add that, beneath it all, a singular new understanding has emerged. It has become clear to me that there is one universal power source that enables the high-end of humanity to manifest.

That singular power source is LOVE.

Love is the gift that every human, in every moment, regardless of race, religion, geography, or circumstance, can choose.

Love is a choice.

Love, or its absence, sets the stage for all that follows.

Jesus knew this. Gandhi knew this. Buddha knew this. Martin Luther King knew this. All the great prophets led with love.

But here’s the secret. Love cannot emanate from you until it’s held within you. This is why changing the world is an inside job. We must ignite the flame within before we can strengthen the fire of another.

Thus ends halftime.

I love you!

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.”
—Pablo Neruda

____________________

This is the twenty-fourth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.



#23 | SOFTENING OUR EDGES

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”
—John Green

I have trepidations about taking on this topic but even more about letting it go, so I’m diving in.

Does civility in human dialogue and interaction matter? If it does matter, what causes it to disintegrate? How might it be elevated?

In this essay I’m focused not on policy but rather the tenor of the dialogue surrounding it.

* * *

On Thursday, March 11, 2021, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill from the Oval Office.

Days earlier on the Senate floor, US Senator Angus King had voted for the bill.

Earlier in the debate, however, the senator had voted against an amendment to attach a minimum-wage bill to the overall relief package. Shortly thereafter, Senator King (a highly respected friend of mine) explained his decision on Instagram:

I along with 7 other members of the Democratic caucus voted no, which disappointed and angered many. I am for the minimum wage increase part of the bill but was worried that the elimination of the tipped wage credit would actually hurt the very people we were trying to help. For a full explanation of how I made this tough decision, go to King.senate.gov. I’m hopeful we can get this done the next time around.

Here are some of the responses that appeared on the senator’s social media site following his decision:

“You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
“You f-ing suck.”
“You are out of touch.”
“Fraud”
“Traitor”
“F U dude”
“You are an embarrassment—resign.”
“Asshole”
“Burn in hell, you heathen.”

* * *

I’m not going to judge these comments but rather look at my own past. I’ve used some of those words before and even directed them at others. When and why did I use this language, and how did it go for me when I took that path? I mean, really, at the core of my being, how did it go?

I spoke that way to another when . . .

I felt cornered or scared.
I felt extreme anger or frustration.
I felt disrespected and consistently unheard.
Something someone else did (or didn’t do) set me off.
I got overrun by my ego.
My basic fight-or-flight (or freeze) response took over.

How did it go?
I don’t remember it ever changing anything for the better.
I don’t remember ever feeling proud of my actions in hindsight.
No further listening or progress was typically possible, as trust had been destroyed.

* * *

There are root causes of hostile and demeaning dialogue. To create a change in our social discourse, we must work at that ground level. The seeds of incivility live in the trenches of not feeling trusted, respected, included, valued, safe, and heard.

The first rule of change creation is that it starts with me. It’s an inside job. I must become something different.

For example, although Senator King himself is a poised and highly respectful statesman, the totality of the political dialogue in Washington manifests as hostile and demeaning toward those with differing views. If anger seems more prevalent at our nation’s capital these days, capitol leadership should reexamine what they are collectively modeling. Tone is heavily influenced by those at the top, and I have seen this in my own work as a CEO.

Early in my career I used the power of my voice and title to influence outcomes. In hindsight, my ideas weren’t always winning on their merits but rather on their booming tone from the pulpit I occupied. The result was that people eventually went quiet, or they escalated their own verbiage in response. Either way, the outcome was poor decision-making, a lack of deep trust, and no authentic buy-in. My loud voice didn’t take me very far.

But then in 2010, prophetically, I acquired a rare neurological voice disorder and my speaking was frequently reduced to a whisper. This was actually a gift in disguise.

I’ve since gotten a good piece of my voice back, but I’ve made a personal commitment not to use it the way I once did. Instead, I have made it a priority to take incivility out of our company by going after the root causes, of which I was one. It is through this decade-long effort that I know with certainty that collaborative and candid idea sharing can carry the day, and win in ways that aggression can’t.

I have not raised my voice at work in many, many years. Nor have I seen anyone else do so. I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s exceptionally rare. What has allowed this culture of calm voices to blossom within our company?

It was simple. First, we prioritized the creation of safe forums for everyone to be regularly heard. In the process we changed the purpose of listening. Listening was to be for understanding, not judgment. We let go of the idea that a thought authentically shared by another needs to be labeled as right or wrong. We stopped making assumptions about the motives of others. We started seeking and applauding diversity of view points.

“Thank you for sharing” has become a common response.

When you stop trying to get everyone to agree, think alike, or convert to a “company line,” dialogue becomes stress-free. Every perspective can be honored without diminishing your own. Every human voice is unique by design. Not everyone sees what you see—and that’s a blessing, not a curse.

Civility, like many other aspects of life, is ultimately a product of the old adage, If it is to be, it starts with me.

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

“Transcending the urge to judge, fix, solve, or transform others is what actually creates the conditions for communities or companies to progress. When people feel heard, not judged, they relax. When people relax, they think. When people think, they grow.”
—Kevin Hancock,
THE SEVENTH POWER:
One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership

____________________
This is the twenty-third in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.



#21 | HOLD THAT DOOR

“Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration.”
—Margaret Chase Smith

It can feel overwhelming to take on the subject of advancing social harmony in a delicate and divided world.

So I went looking for a simple place to start . . .

* * *

The Circle K convenience store sits at the intersection of Route 26 and the North Raymond Road in Gray, Maine. The bustling facility straddles the most popular commuter routes north of Portland. On the weekends this same road can be just as crowded while serving as a prime thoroughfare to the mountains in winter, the lakes in summer, and the speedway on race nights. That little store is churning most of the time.

I frequent the Circle K, as it’s the first gas station between my house and the city of Portland. It’s a stop I make several times a week, and it’s here, a few years back, that a simple personal experiment was born.

At the Circle K I always hold the door for the next person to arrive or depart.

While holding a door for someone is meaningful, the gesture in and of itself is not enough to maximize its potential. Eye contact and a head nod tip the split-second exchange into an act of courtesy and shared humanity.

I’ve now held that glass-and-metal door dozens and dozens of times, and the outcome is virtually always the same.

“Thank you,” says the stranger coming my way, already standing a bit taller by virtue of being acknowledged and respected.

“Have a good day,” I reply.

“Same,” says the stranger at the door.

I’ve trained myself to pay close attention to the otherwise imperceptible changes that often follow. The mood, energy, stride, and demeanor of the person frequently shifts in that moment. A self-occupied, detached, or hurried edge is broken and replaced by a spark of connectivity. If you weren’t watching with care it would be easy to miss, but it’s there. Humanity softened.

Awareness, in and of itself, is a powerful act.

* * *

I’ve made over twenty trips from Maine to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the past ten years. The people of that community are amazing. It’s a place of great cultural, historic, and social significance where much can be learned. It’s also statistically the poorest place in America, where the hard edge of our colonialism still leaves tracks.

People often ask me what I do when I go there. For years I would struggle to provide an adequate answer because my presence always felt so small. Eventually I just started telling the truth (always a good move in the end).

“I don’t really do anything there,” I now say. “I just travel around the reservation and hang out with the people I know there.”

It took a while for me to realize that this is enough. Connectivity and intentional presence are meaningful in and of themselves. I see you. I know you’re here. I think you’re important. I value your existence. I’m interested in you.

This is my friend Catherine Grey Day. I see her every time I go to Pine Ridge. When we are together I just sit and listen to her amazing thoughts, stories, triumphs, and challenges. That’s it. That’s all I do.

Pine Ridge was originally constructed as a remote and marginalized community in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The founding purpose was to isolate the Oglala Sioux and other tribes from white society until they could be “remade” and reintroduced. The people of Pine Ridge today have transcended those genocidal origins and made the reservation their own, but that’s how it all started.

Acknowledging the presence and sacredness of another is a small gesture that, repeated consistently, can change the world. Courtesy is one of those behaviors that is easy to adopt and, unfortunately, easy to forgo. Courtesy is one conscious choice of the self-awareness.

What if everyone on earth felt trusted, respected, valued, and heard? What might change?

I think everything might change. Enabling such a transformation is within our collective reach. Seven billion humans practicing simple acts of kindness would make for a good start.

So the next time you’re pulling in or out of a convenience store, yield to the driver in front of you, pause for the passersby, and above all else when you enter the building, hold that door.

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
—Dalai Lama

___________

This is the twenty-first in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.



#20 | CHINA’S HALL PASS

“A global citizen is someone who identifies first and foremost not as a member of a state, tribe or nation, but instead as a member of the human race.”

—Hugh Evans

On October 4, 2017, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

“Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

In the era of America’s awakening with regard to racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious equality, these two short sentences seem highly consistent with our modern national values.

That’s why (as a lifetime basketball player, coach, and fan) I was initially puzzled to see the National Basketball Association (NBA) and many of its most famous players distance themselves from freedom for Hong Kong and turn on Morey. This confused me, because the NBA, of all American professional sports leagues, had (to its credit) become an early leader in supporting their players and coaches in using their voices for social change creation with respect to issues like police violence and racial profiling. Yet here we watched Chinese police gassing, beating, and arresting protesters in Hong Kong for wanting nothing more than to maintain their traditional freedoms, and the NBA walked directly away from them.

Why would the NBA and many players suddenly abandon the side of freedom?

I was confused.

Then it became clear.

This was all about money.

It’s good for business in America to champion freedom and equal rights for all. But that’s not how it works in China. In communist China, where the “Party” controls everything it wants to control, it’s very bad for business to take a stand against the government.

China is the NBA’s biggest foreign market, worth billions of dollars annually to the League, its most famous players, and brands like Nike.

After Morey’s tweet the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its relationship with the Houston Rockets and immediately stopped streaming Rockets games. The Chinese consulate in Houston issued a statement saying it was “deeply shocked” by the “erroneous comments.”

Shortly thereafter the NBA issued its own statement in Mandarin:

“We are extremely disappointed in the inappropriate views of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. He undoubtedly has deeply hurt the feelings of Chinese basketball fans.”

At the time of Morey’s tweet, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were actually in China on a two-game exhibition tour. James, a staunch advocate of professional athletes using their platform to express political opinions and drive social change, uncharacteristically made the following statement in response:

“I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand. . . . We all see what that [the tweet] did for our league.”

* * *

So what’s going on here?

Well, let’s take a simple look at the economic fact trail regarding the NBA, LeBron James, Nike, and China.

James has a lifetime contract with Nike valued at over $1 billion.

Nike earned over $6 billion in revenue from China in the year 2019 alone.

LeBron James’s sneakers and clothing lines are among Nike’s most profitable.

After Morey’s tweet Nike stopped offering Houston Rockets gear in its Chinese stores.

The Chinese Communist Party exerts any level of control it chooses to exert over television content, international sporting agreements, and general access to Chinese markets.

The Chinese Communist Party is determined to gain tight political and social control over the people of Hong Kong.

The NBA, James, and Nike side with the Chinese Communist Party.

Why?

Money.

* * *

One year later, in the fall of 2018, Nike released a series of commercials featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who began kneeling during the National Anthem and soon found himself out of a job.

To be clear, I am 100 percent supportive of the Kaepernick campaign. What I am not supportive of is the inconsistency of major economic brands (both individuals and corporations) championing social protest in America where it’s good for business while simultaneously standing silent on those same rights and ideals in places like China, where it’s bad for business.

Here’s what Nike founder Phil Knight had to say about the Kaepernick campaign:

“You can’t be afraid of offending people. You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked.”

* * *

Here’s my call out to the Fortune 500, corporate America, and professional star athletes: Let’s stand for freedom everywhere—not just where it’s economically beneficial for you and your brand.

And here’s my call to America consumers: Let’s insist that the stars and corporate brands that we support with our time and money become GLOBAL citizens championing freedom for everyone, everywhere.

Either you’re in on freedom everywhere or you’re in on freedom nowhere.

I love the Kaepernick campaign of awareness. I just want to see the Nike Hong Kong freedom fighters’ campaign right beside it.

* * *

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

—Martin Luther King, from a Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963

Note: There is an abundance of reporting available on the NBA and Hong Kong. Here are a few of the sources I relied on for this essay:

  • National Public Radio / All Things Considered / October 7, 2019 / “Houston Rockets Face Backlash after Manager Tweets Support for Hong Kong Protesters.”
  • Washington Post / October 15, 2019 / “LeBron James Draws Scrutiny for Comments Critical of Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong Tweet by Ben Golliver.”
  • New York Times / March 23, 2021 / “Hong Kong Protests, One Year Later,” by Austin Ramzy and Mike Ives.
  • Vox / October 7, 2019 / “The Raging Controversy over the NBA, China, and the Hong Kong Protests, Explained,” by Matthew Yglesias.

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the twentieth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#19 | INDIGENOUS WISDOM

“It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those shadows men get lost.”

—Black Elk

I have dedicated the essays that I write this year to Black Elk, but I have not yet told you why.

The answer is that I see deep truth in indigenous wisdom and Black Elk is one of my favorite indigenous teachers.

Born in 1863, Black Elk lived until 1950.  As a small child he had never seen a white person yet his entire community’s fate would soon be transformed by them.  Black Elk, a cousin to Crazy Horse, was present at the Battle of Little Big Horn as well as the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.  He was born nomadic and free, following the buffalo and moving with the seasons.  He would die in a small square cabin at the apex of the reservation era. . I have visited that cabin in the tall summer grass on numerous occasions with Black Elk Speaks in hand, marveling at the eternal relevance of his messages.

At the foundation of Black Elk’s stories and Lakota spirituality is the concept of MITAKUYE OYASIN, which translated means “all things are one thing” or “we are all related”.  The Lakota understand, through their intimate connection to the natural world, that all that exists is connected by an invisible web of threads.

For me, Black Elk is a prophet when it comes to seeing the sacred that dwells within us all.  Late in his life Black Elk sat with his friend John Neihardt and told the stories of his people which Neihardt recorded and then wrote down.

Here is a cursory look at Black Elk’s life, learnings,
and spirituality in his own words.

“I am a Lakota of the Oglala band. My father’s name was Black Elk, and his father before him bore the name, and the father of his father, so that I am the fourth to bear it.”

We all come from a tribe. The time and place of our birth pulls on us all. We must learn to honor that heritage yet also see our shared humanity.

* * *

“I had never seen a Wasichu [white person] then [as a child], and did not know what one looked like; but everyone was saying that the Wasichus were coming and that they were going to take our country and rub us all out [kill us].”

Those with the most power often overreach. Ego emboldens us to go too far and take too much.

* * *

“Now and then the voices would come back when I was out alone, like someone calling me, but what they wanted me to do I did not know.”

This is Black Elk’s authentic voice awakening and interacting with the Great Spirit. Such awakenings always come from within.

* * *

“Your Grandfathers all over the world are having a council, and they have called you here to teach you.”

Thus began Black Elk’s great vision through which he saw his path as peacemaker and healer.

* * *

“I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”

This is the culmination of his vision, in which seeing “in a sacred manner” allowed him to pierce the veil of tribalism and recognize our shared humanity.

* * *

“Black Elk said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills. ‘But anywhere is the center of the world,’ he added.”

—John Neihardt

Anywhere is the center of the world. This one sentence capsulizes the sacredness of the human spirit. Wherever you are at this moment is the center.

You are the center.

* * *

“Nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the ways the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.”

True power comes from living in alignment with the nature’s vibration and flow.

* * *

In 2014 I carried a small piece of wood siding that had fallen to the ground beside Black Elk’s cabin and placed it in a tree on the same peak he had flown to in his sacred vision. Before placing it there I tore it in half. The outside of the wood was tired, gray, and worn, but the inside was bright, fresh, and representative of new life. As I nestled one half deep in the balsam tree filled with colorful Lakota flags, I said the following prayer:

“This piece of wood from your home is now broken open and fresh again with new life. This represents a new beginning for all the people of the sacred hoop of the world.”

While seeing in a sacred manner, Black Elk saw all the people of the world as one tribe.

We all possess the same capacity to see what Black Elk saw. The Lakota call this ability the Seventh Power, and it dwells within us all…

* * *

“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”

―Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

This is the tree where I placed half of the old piece of wood siding and said a prayer in Black Elk’s honor. It’s also the place Black Elk was flown to as a boy during his sacred vision in which he saw the single hoop of the world and all its people living within that hoop as one family.
To see, hear, and feel a bit more about my visits to Pine Ridge, the northern plains, and the ancestral homelands of Crazy Horse, click here to watch this short video (6 minutes).

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the nineteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#18 | SAWING THROUGH COVID

“For it is dangerous to attach one’s self to the crowd in front, and so long as each one of us is more willing to trust another than to judge for himself, we never show any judgement in the matter of living, but always a blind trust, and a mistake that has been passed on from hand to hand finally involves us and works our destruction.”

—Seneca

* * *

On March 12, 2020, a US Navy reservist, returning from duty in Italy, became the first COVID-19 case in Maine. Three days later the governor declared a civil state of emergency. Businesses closed. Society froze.

Meanwhile, our company, Hancock Lumber, had hundreds of employees deployed across fourteen locations all asking the same question.

What does this mean for us?

* * *

It turns out that the people of Hancock Lumber would have a far different COVID-19 work experience than most Americans.

As a deemed “essential” industry, we never closed, and, due to the nature of our enterprise, we never worked remotely.

“We still haven’t figured out how to make lumber from our couch in sweatpants,” I frequently told inquirers in the months that followed.

Ours is an industry where you have to be there in person, or else, you’re closed—and you can’t take turns showing up. A sawmill backs up quickly if any single work station goes idle. The Hancock Lumber team of humans faced a pretty simple choice: We all work, or none of us works.

In overwhelming numbers, our people chose to keep going. At the core of this decision was an unspoken understanding that blue-collar employees across America intuitively recognize: My company needs to run in order for me to get paid. I need to show up not just for myself, but for my fellow workers and their families. There was no thought in that moment that anyone other than us was coming to the rescue.

So what was that like, working—every day, on location, next to each other—during COVID?

Well, it wasn’t simple, but it also wasn’t complicated. At that time there was no “guidance” from state or federal capitals, nor did we look for any. No one knew our business like we did. As is customary in our leadership model of dispersed power, we would keep the rules to a minimum. Trust in the judgment of individual humans would be our power source.

Working through COVID demands one great commitment: Everyone must lead. Viruses travel one human at a time.

So we went to work with four essential guideposts: Spread out; keep it clean; stay home if you’re sick, anxious, or caring for another; and trust everyone to implement these values in their respective corners of our company. We gave everyone extra sick days. Additionally we gave everyone quarantine days, should they be needed.

Over the next twelve months, we would collectively:

  • make 18,000 construction site deliveries
  • produce 90,000,000 board feet of lumber
  • design, build, and deliver 76,000 trusses
  • make over 20 miles of wall panels
  • execute 250,000 in-store customer experiences

Together we logged (no pun intended) 1,200,000 on-site work hours from March 2020 through February 2021.

And what were the COVID-19 results?

Our employees—565 people, sharing responsibility collaboratively at Hancock Lumber—acquired 30 known cases of the virus. Of those 30 cases, 29 were confirmed as “contracted at home” (meaning, in their personal life, away from work). A single case of COVID was confirmed as “contracted at work.” Our group was 29 times more likely to acquire COVID at home than at work.

* * *

Ultimately our state government would issue detailed rules for work during COVID. While well-intended, the problem with this approach is always the same. Out goes innovation, accountability, and continuous improvement made possible by the collective creativity that only surfaces when everyone leads.

I have a friend who runs a small hair salon. One day (with a sense of impending dread) I read the six pages of COVID regulations she had been issued. The mandatory guidance covered everything from appointment scheduling, store signage, and training requirements to capes, smocks, neck strips, soap use, and disinfectant spray—from gloves, drapes, linens, eye coverings, and laundry to tools, porous surfaces, Barbicide, and food stations. It also covered magazines, service menus, cash registers, cloth chairs, leather chairs, trash bins, credit cards, telephones, and parking lots. All of this represented a missed opportunity to empower and share leadership.

When crisis strikes, trust becomes more important, not less. Empowerment becomes more essential, not less reliable.

In dire times trust is paramount, and it only manifests through the willingness of established leaders to show restraint—not to write the entire script on what to do and how to do it.

* * *

One day during the early phase of the pandemic, a team leader at our Casco mill shared a video of an iconic moment of disaster defiance from the movie Forrest Gump.

In this scene Lieutenant Dan climbs atop the highest mast of their shrimp boat to stand before the hurricane’s wrath.

“You call this a storm?” Lieutenant Dan proclaims as the vessel is pounded by wind and rain. “I’m right here. Come and get me! You’ll never sink this boat.”

COVID decimated certain industries; we were simply fortunate enough not to be among them. But beyond luck, what got us through? It was trust. Trust that shared leadership held more potential in a storm than a set of rules from above.

 

“He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.”

—Lao Tzu

* * *

(Note: Here is a link to the scene where Lieutenant Dan and Forrest, alone and without hierarchical supervision, defy and defeat the storm. That’s the Seventh Power, and it lives within us all.)

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the eighteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#17 | AMERICA ALWAYS GETS WHAT IT PAYS FOR

“The devil doesn’t come in a red cape and pointy horns.
He comes as everything you ever wished for.”

—Tucker Max

On Thursday, March 11, 2020, I left the Wild Dunes Island Resort and headed for the Charleston International Airport. I had just given a talk to the New South Construction Supply management team about the benefits of leadership strategies that disperse power and strengthen the voices of others. A short time later I found myself walking through an all but deserted terminal as CNN reported on the arrival of COVID-19.

Who would have guessed in that moment that demand for lumber and building materials across North America would soon be surging, or that shelves in grocery stores would sit empty for lack of supply, or that a global boom in manufacturing was about to ensue?

By the summer of 2020 retailers, distributors, and manufacturers were racing to keep pace with demand for consumer goods. Freight deliveries via truck, train, and ship fell dramatically behind. Inventories plummeted, lead times expanded, and prices increased. This all happened during state-imposed stay-at-home orders of unprecedented duration and magnitude.

Looking back on it all with more than a year’s perspective, it was quite predictable. America, once again, had gotten what it paid for.

* * *

In the decades that followed World War II, the Toyota Motor Corporation would become one of the first businesses to implement and advance the concepts of Lean manufacturing. The essence of this system was the elimination of “waste.” Waste was defined as anything more than the exact amount of equipment, employee labor, parts, and inventory needed to maintain consistent production flow pulled by demand. Companies that learned to operate this way saved cash, increased their return on asset performance, and grew profits. Investors rewarded them. Today virtually all businesses are a by-product in varying degrees of that Toyota-born economic system.

The quest for peak efficiency then rippled through the nonprofit sector, where just enough teachers, school buses, and nurses also carried the day.

This system of Lean thinking has numerous benefits and one big problem: It can’t adjust to a dramatic, unforeseen surge in demand. Why? Because for decades companies around the globe have been rewarded by both investors and consumers for eliminating their excess capacity.

And which country has led this charge with the most powerful investor community and most sought-after consumer market?

Yes, that’s right—America.

For example, the less inventory Walmart carries, the lower their cost of doing business becomes. The lower their cost of doing business becomes, the lower their selling prices can be. The lower their selling prices, the more customers they attract. The more customers they attract, the more profitable they get. The more profitable they get, the more investors are willing to pay for their stock. The wheel of “Lean” just keeps on churning.

* * *

But here’s the secret of the story that’s easily missed. It was consumers—not corporations—that enabled this system.

Corporations are rewarded for listening and responding to public demand and penalized for ignoring it. Successful companies only ever mirror their society as a whole. Walmart, by way of just one example, gave America exactly what it wanted.

According to Businessinsider.com, the average Chinese worker made $9,470 per year in 2019 in adjusted US dollars. That compared to $62,850 in the United States. Do you need to know anything more than that as to why so many products (or components of products) that you choose to buy come from China?

Chinese suppliers make 70 to 80 percent of the products Walmart sells. That means the rest of the world (including America) has the opportunity to provide 20 to 30 percent of what Walmart sells.

In 2011 I toured a series of wood products manufacturers in China. This company makes picture frames primarily for American and European markets. In this particular factory the workers were all women (the managers, all men). There was no heat in this building, no lights on the ceiling, no work stations, and no power tools. You get one thing from this plant: low-cost picture frames. Americans create this by rewarding it economically with order, after order, after order.

Again, here’s the point: Walmart didn’t do that. You did. I did. We did.

As a country we love berating corporations for giving us what we demand.

The United States is the largest consumer market in the world, and corporations globally have set themselves up to give that market exactly what it wants.

America always gets what it pays for.

What does all of this have to do with heightened self-awareness?

Everything.

As a country, we need to strive for more economic self-awareness as demonstrated by what we do and do not buy.

Think about the irony of rightfully championing a living wage in America while simultaneously demanding that Walmart dedicate 70 to 80 percent of its shelf space to products made on Third World wages.

So, the next time there’s no toilet paper, remember that you and I are the reason why.

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

—Anna Lappe

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the seventeenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#16 | THE FUTURE TRAVELS THROUGH THE PAST

“No future without forgiveness.”

—Bishop Desmond Tutu

It’s not just those in positions of leadership or privilege who must become more self-aware.

In the last two essays I have discussed how it’s important for me as a white, Christian, male CEO to reconcile my inherent privilege in Western society. This is done not to engender feelings of shame or remorse. No one is responsible for the date, time, and place of their birth. Everyone must love all facets of themselves in order to show up full of love for others.

Heightened awareness is the only goal. Awareness, in and of itself, is a powerful act.

Ultimately it’s incumbent upon all humans to strive for expanded self-awareness. For example, individuals and communities that have been historically marginalized, oppressed, and exploited must also find and sustain the will to heighten their self-awareness. We all must revisit our stories in order to transcend them.

I have a dear friend from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by the name of Catherine Grey Day. She is a Dakota elder who has experienced firsthand the callousness that Native Americans and tribal communities have often faced. Catherine eloquently summed up the importance of self-reflecting upon her racial inequity experiences as we sat at the kitchen table one evening at the Singing Horse Trading Post:

“It’s just about being worn down, generation after generation. The cavalry, the missionaries, the government, the boarding schools—you wake up one day and it has all been internalized. When you have been oppressed over generations and generations, the oppression finally takes hold within you. And once it takes hold, it is perpetuated from within. We act out the oppression on ourselves. That is how deeply it has been ingrained.”

I had never contemplated “internalized oppression” until Catherine defined it for me so authentically that night. To truly understand the nature of her soliloquy requires some context. There was no malice in Catherine’s statement. There was no hate, no shame, no guilt—no quest for revenge. She was perfectly calm. All of her energy was centered and grounded within herself. Catherine was demonstrating awareness of her past experiences not to reinforce that she was bound by them, but rather to liberate herself and transcend them at a soul’s level, within her very spirit.

*          *          *

There is another potentially unexpected component of the Lakota story that requires heightened self-awareness, as it threatens the historic narrative that most Sioux tribal communities prefer to remember. As Americans historically and intuitively understand, the tribes of the northern plains were systematically extracted from their native grasslands and sequestered on unforgiving and barren reservations in the last decades of the nineteenth century. These proud indigenous communities were ultimately overrun by America’s “Manifest Destiny”—specifically, the quest for gold.

Yet the Sioux themselves had long been conquerors, crossing the Missouri River with guns and horses to explore and expand their own empire on the plains, generations before the reservation era began.

Consider the following excerpts from the book Lakota America by Pekka Hamalainen:

“In the course of the 1830s and 1840s Lakota fought and defeated scores of people and absorbed uncounted numbers of captives.”

“Lakotas fused trading, raiding, coercion, and diplomacy into a protean economy of violence that allowed them to simultaneously exploit and embrace others. Sustained expansion was turning them into an imperial power that commanded extensive hinterlands.  Numerous Indigenous groups found their fates intractably linked to the Lakotas, some of them becoming victims or vassals, others blending into the Lakota fabric as allies.”

You see, the Lakota, too, were warriors and conquerors. They too had been military and political strategists who expanded their empire, built trade alliances, and controlled the economic resources of a vast territory. They also defeated, exploited, and assimilated weaker tribes.

The ultimate unsettling irony is that the Sioux lost the Black Hills the same way they had acquired them.

None of this excuses America’s transgressions. Genocide occurred and America justified it through stories backed by force. It’s a horrible tale that has yet to be reconciled. Nonetheless, modern Lakota communities still need to strive for heightened self-awareness. The capacity for conquering does not just live externally in others. It lives within us all.

Human communities carefully select their narratives. Our shining moments and best features are aggrandized while other less-noble chapters of our full story are delicately placed to the side. We see this in the American story where indigenous genocide, black slavery, and racial injustice have been, until recently, historically downplayed. But you can also find this propensity to carefully cultivate one’s narratives in places like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

All of this being said, my heart is with Pine Ridge and filled with love for the amazing people who live there.

The need to critically self-reflect and achieve heightened self-awareness resides within us all, along with the courage required to make it happen. The process of looking inward is universally essential, regardless of circumstance.

We all become the stories we tell.

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: They promised to take our land, and they took it.”

—Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux

This is a picture of my dear friend Catherine Grey Day sitting on the porch at the Singing Horse Trading Post while looking at the manuscript that would become my second book (The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey in the Business of Shared Leadership). Below is an excerpt from a statement she shared with me that day:

“Misun [little brother], it was you who opened your ears and heard Wakan Tanka [The Great Spirit] speaking to you through other voices—sending you to a beautiful place and beautiful people [Pine Ridge]. Although we have suffered injustices, we find ways to live and survive. Wakan Tanka sends powerful spirit helpers. Keep listening to positive voices. We also learn from the negative. It is up to us to find the balance. God is good! I love you bunches, Misun! It was Wakan Tanka who placed you in my path.”

—Catherine Grey Day

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the sixteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#15 | WHITE SPACE

“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.”

—Franklin Thomas

Everyone I was looking at was white.

Being from a small town in Western Maine, this wasn’t new to me. But this gathering was different. Everyone here had been carefully selected in part for their varied leadership roles across our state and, in part, because they are white.

It was the opening session of the Maine Community Foundation’s 2021 Leadership Learning Exchange for Racial Equity. Before me sat twenty-four people sorted neatly into squares, compliments of the remote-conferencing capabilities of Zoom.

“This program has four goals,” one of the co-facilitators said in a calm and loving voice. “Let’s take a look at each of them:

  1. To reflect on whiteness and our identity as white people.
  2. To deepen our understanding of racism and its dynamics.
  3. To increase our capacity as leaders to advance racial equity.
  4. To increase white resiliency to engage the topic of race.”

The co-facilitator then paused with intentionality.

At age fifty-four, this was the first time I truly comprehended that being white was a race.

Although I’d frequently thought about race in America those thoughts were traditionally externally applied with good wishes for people of a darker color.

But white? White was, well, just white.

Being asked to reflect on my whiteness was momentarily numbing, but soon thereafter, I found it to be liberating. Within an hour of confronting my racial identity I suddenly felt empowered. I was no longer a spectator in someone else’s story. I was—and in fact, always had been—a direct participant.  I could help strengthen racial equity in America by first confronting my own whiteness.

Over the course of the next two months our group would meet five times.  During each class we would break out into discussion groups where two to five people would talk about how being white affords them privilege in America.

White Americans talking to other white Americans about the white race’s defining role in American racism. This was new for me, and transformational.

Suddenly, I could see.

It was, after all, white Americans who had created the racially unequal systems that have historically defined our country.

Blacks did not create American slavery; white people did.

Blacks did not create the Jim Crow South; white people did.

Blacks did not create segregation; white people did.

Native Americans did not create Indian reservations; white people did.

While I found this sobering and saddening, I also found it unexpectedly energizing. If whites held the power to create these racial systems filled with oppression, terror, prejudice, and negative bias, then white people also held the power to play a leading role in dismantling it all.

With each topic we explored it became clear that racial inequality is not just a history lesson; it’s alive today and at work in both seen and unseen ways.

And what did I take with me from my participation in this Leadership Learning Exchange for Racial Equity?

First, I took sadness.

I felt remorse.

Second, I took understanding.  Racism was not a person but rather an action or, at time, an inaction.  Racism was not always about intent.  What mattered was outcomes.

Next, I saw the conundrum of our democratic ideals buckling under the weight of our actions. Words and deeds are not the same.

Yet, in the end, I took resilience.  I could contribute to making the future different from the past. Despite its transgressions, America in 2021 felt like the best place on Earth to recalibrate.  America is a place where we can call ourselves out. America is a place where we can regroup and be better. And I could participate.

Racial inequality in America began as a white construct, and I am white. If whites could play a starring role in the original construction and perpetuation of racial inequality, they could correspondingly lead the way in reversing it.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

—Robert Kennedy

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the fifteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#14 | RESURRECTING MARY

“Jesus’s inner circle of disciples includes both men and women on an equal footing. There is no distinction made between a male group of disciples and a female group of camp followers.”
—Cynthia Bourgeault

In AD 313 the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and with a single edict elevated a banned set of spiritual teachings to official state religion. One man atop a great empire legalized Christianity with the wave of a hand.

Twelve years later the newly empowered church hierarchy convened at Nicaea to consolidate the differing stories under the Christian umbrella that had been passed down by countless, diverse clans across the empire and beyond since the time of Jesus. If Christianity were to expand, it needed a consistent narrative defining its faith and history. It needed a single story.

By AD 367 the twenty-seven “canonically authorized apostolic writings” that would eventually become the official New Testament were selected and approved. All the participants in that process were male and would be for a long, long time to come.

Those men, and their male-dominated societies, would, over time, systematically marginalize one of Jesus’s most trusted, loved, and respected apostles.

Why?

Because her name was Mary . . .

* * *

The first class I ever attended at Bowdoin College was Religion 101 taught by the esteemed William Goeghegan.

Moments into the experience I was asked a question I had never before contemplated.

“Mr. Hancock, what is your religion and why have you chosen it?”

I had no answer beyond saying I was a Christian.

As I left historic Massachusetts Hall and entered the Quad I remained consumed by the question.

Three buildings down from the old white house I grew up in stood the Casco Village Church. It was the only church in town and it was where everyone I knew went on Sundays. My Dad went there as a child as did his parents before him. That congregation was affiliated with the United Church of Christ, which made me a Protestant. That’s the entire story behind why I was Christian.

As a child in that white, wooden Church with steeple, the Bible was referenced each week and I neither questioned nor consider who edited, compiled, and sanctioned it. To me it was the direct word of God. There was no recognition at the time that it was carefully assembled by a small group of white men who, like all humans, had an agenda.

Awareness, in and of itself, is a powerful act.

* * *

Unlike the celebrated male apostles, Mary was the only one to witness Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. In fact, Jesus chose to appear to Mary alone after his tomb was found empty.

“So Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me.”
—John 20:14–18

I learned of Mary’s unique role as the “apostle to the apostles” only recently and initially I was surprised. Why would such a central figure in Jesus’s life and teachings play such a minor role in the Bible itself?

Could it be no more complicated than a woman as Jesus’s closest confident didn’t fit the stories that helped justify the male dominated order of the Roman Catholic Church?

What if, as the Christian researcher and spiritualist Cynthia Bourgeault concludes, the stories that ultimately became the Bible missed or underrepresented essential components of Jesus’s life and teachings? For example, as Bourgeault writes,

  1. “Jesus’s inner circle of disciples includes both men and women on an equal footing.”
  2. Mary Magdalene was not just “first among apostles in a chronological sense (because she was the first on the scene at the resurrection), but in a more fundamental way, because she gets the message. Of all the disciples, she is the only one who fully understands what Jesus is teaching and can reproduce it in her own life.”
  3. And finally, that Mary was “clearly in a relationship with Jesus that is in some way special: a ‘beloved disciple.’ ”

What if the most sacred religious scriptures of the Western world had featured these components, telling a story of sexual equality and the necessity of embracing the sacred feminine in order for a world full of LOVE to blossom? What if Mary was the one who best understood and manifested Jesus’s message? What if man and woman as co-equals had emerged as a dominant theme of Jesus’s teachings? How might the Western world have evolved differently if led by that story?

And what if, despite these potential truths, she was later sidelined.

I have no way of knowing with certainty, but I do have a hard time picturing a supreme God source that would intentionally anoint only men as apostles.

* * *

The Bible, like all sacred texts, is a collection of stories written, and rewritten, by humans. Those humans, by virtue of their direct engagement, became creators themselves.

And what does all of this have to do with the “Business of Shared Leadership”?

A lot, as it turns out.

Those with the most power often overreach and one common manifestation of that overreaching is exercising the power of the pulpit and throne to select and refine the stories that will define the society they rule.

For me, Jesus’s teachings are about “power dispersal.” Everyone is sacred and holy. A divine light dwells within us all. Love is the unifying bond, and it does not choose favorites. Men, women, people of color, and people of different faiths . . . they are all God’s children, and as such, are all worthy of an equal footing and the same respect and love. It takes an equal dose of male and female energy for humanity to be whole. This makes Mary’s presence in Jesus’s story a leading role.

To re-examine, not recite, my Christianity is to revisit one portion of the circle of identity that defines me thereby expanding my view of a world filled with stories that differ from my own.

 

“What happened to the Divine Feminine? Why has SHE apparently disappeared from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? In the Gnostic Gospels, we learn that Mary Magdalene was probably the closest disciple of the Christos, the one whom the Master taught the most arcane esoteric wisdom. She was and is the representation of all wisdom.”
– Laurence Galian

Research for some of the ideas explored in this essay came from the following sources:
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault (Shambhala, 2010)
Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan Hoeller (Quest Books, 2002)
* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the fourteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#13 | OH . . . THE STORIES WE’VE TOLD

“La Storia di questi avvenimenti fu scritta dai vincitori.”
(“The history of these events was written by the winners.”)
–Italian proverb

Are you aware that your view of the world is based on a carefully cultivated set of stories that you have been repeatedly told since childhood?

You’ve likely been fed these stories for so long in both overt and covert ways that you’ve accepted them as largely unalterable truths.

For example, I remember how silence consumed me the day I realized that America had committed countless acts of genocide against indigenous peoples. It was my second trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and I had just left a visit with several community leaders through which the full, ugly story had been revealed. Later, beside my dusty rental vehicle I searched the term “genocide” on my phone. The treatment of the plains tribes met every criteria. I was dumbfounded at my own historical ignorance.

I majored in American history in college and then taught that same history as a career for several years thereafter. Not once across that entire educational journey did I see, hear, or read anything about genocide as a central element of the America experience. Yet now, suddenly, that truth was as real as the moon and the sun.

I paced in circles, unable to break my orbit and re-enter my car.

 


“We all adhere to a belief system; otherwise, we don’t have a strategy for dealing with a complex world,” my Colombian-born friend and advertising executive Jose Miguel Sokoloff once told me over an English breakfast in London.

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions of the human experience. It’s through stories that we come to know our heritage, our ancestors, and ourselves. Stories sort and select our enemies and our friends. They define our families, faiths, and countries. Most everything you know came to you through stories. It’s the price contextualizing the world demands.

But what happens when we become so deeply immersed in our own narratives that we can’t contemplate the possibility that what we perceive as absolute truth is actually, in part, merely a story? And how do we react when we come into contact with others from different cultures, faiths, and times whose lives have been built on a different set of tales?

When our stories become central to our sense of identity it can be very difficult to transcend them and consider a new set of possibilities. There are few skills more essential to continuous personal renewal and heightened social consciousness than the ability to critically reexamine our personal beliefs and tribal narratives.

And how would you say we are doing in that regard?

Our loftiest social narratives are written by the winners—by those who hold the most power at the time of their creation. Throughout history it has often been dangerous, even life-threatening, to question these stories once the ruling hierarchy has sanctified them.

That’s why Jesus was crucified. Ironically, it’s also why in 1555, Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and John Hooper were condemned as heretics and burned at the stake in Jesus’s name.

That’s why Vladimir Putin’s top political opponent Alexei Navalny was poisoned while exiled in Germany, and then sentenced to two and a half years of hard labor upon his return. There can only be one political story in Putin’s Russia.

This is also why freedom fighters in Hong Kong are being systematically oppressed, tried, and jailed. When Chairman Xi speaks before the National Congress, everyone must stand and applaud.

Why would a small group of leaders within an ethnic group, religious faith, or nation-state go to such great lengths to create a single sanctioned narrative?

The answer is simple: to control the story. Despite all the tanks, missiles, and technology in Russia, China, and America, the power of each rests in the maintenance of a dominant historical narrative. Everything we know rests on the veracity of a story.

Our ability to see past our own stories is ultimately what will define us.

So where to begin?

As always, we must begin at home – within ourselves.

In future essays I will be taking a look at my own white, male, Christian, American, CEO stories that have combined to shape my limited view of a diverse and complex world.

And what shall I take from this potentially discomforting inquiry?

What I expect to find is that my stories are incomplete and that there are far more dimensions and truths than I have previously made room for. After all, what is “truth,” and who gets to define it?

Unpacking our own narratives is essential for change to occur. Unless I can loosen my grip on my own stories, I can’t possibly make room for any of yours.

“History is mostly story.”
—Ken Burns

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the thirteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#12 | SUNSETTING MY IPHONE

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night I bet they would live a lot differently.”

—Bill Watterson

It was cold by Southwest Florida standards.

As a result, nobody was around.

Cool, cushioning sand encased my bare feet as I meandered without intention or destination. The wind blew diagonally from the north and the surf responded. I watched the waves. No two were alike, yet all were the same.

I veered toward the tall grasses that swayed as they marked the outer limits of the sand’s domain. I was waiting without a watch or a worry as all who have known the draw of the ocean have done before me.

In this case, I was here to witness the sun fade into the Gulf of Mexico as it had done more than twenty thousand times since the day I was born.

As I left the tall grass and descended toward the water’s edge, I startled a small black-and-white ocean bird. It’s the kind you always seem to come across where the land meets the sea, a bird you recognize by sight but not by species or name. This one, I feared, was not long for this world. She was alone in a place where her kind typically congregates in a flowing mass.

As I passed she tried again and again to shake her wings and will them into action, but flight was impossible. The seashore is an unforgiving place for a tiny, wounded bird that cannot fly.

I unexpectedly reciprocated her shiver and let out a sigh. The outcome seemed certain. The words of American mythologist Joseph Campbell came to mind: Life eats life.

I checked the sun and moved on, plucking an occasional shell from the beach and contemplating its uniqueness before letting it fall back to the sand and surf.

Now the sun seemed to accelerate as the inevitable collision of sky and earth drew near.

Before me sat the remnant of a Game of Thrones–like castle formed from the sand. Most of it was gone, but two towers at the far corner clung together.

I sat before the ruins where the sun could be seen between the two remaining pillars. A formation of pelicans drifted by. The sun fell further and there I sat, alone yet at peace with all the world. My breathing became rhythmic and for a moment I was seeing in what Black Elk called “a sacred manner.”

And then, almost instinctively, I decided I should take a picture and post it to Instagram, so all my followers could see what I see.

How artsy this is . . . the sun falling into the sea between two sand-castle towers. Everyone should see this. Not only should they see it, they should see it now. In real time. In full color.

So I groped for my phone, finally extracting it from my back pocket. The momentum of my immersion into the landscape was broken.

I took a picture, then another, and then another. None satisfied me. Suddenly time was not on my side. Moments earlier, time had had no side.

Each picture was not quite right. In many, a red blot from the light of the sun would reflect and appear in a place where it shouldn’t be, as if intentionally defaming the authenticity of each shot.

The sun continued to fall.

I tried again.

And again.

My timeless moment had become a chore. I had returned without thought to that which I had come here to avoid—tasks, timelines, and the need to please the outside world.

*          *          *

I did eventually post a picture and it came out okay. It got fifty-eight likes, and that was fine.

But my personal solo sunset experience was not enhanced. I had, in fact, detracted from my own encounter.

In the end everything was still, of course, all good. I was thankful for the visit to the beach and I biked away in peace, but as I pedaled a part of me wished I had stayed more focused on the experience of personally witnessing the sun dropping for its one and only time between those two towers of sand that would not survive the evening’s tide.

*          *          *

I once had a powerful vision-quest experience alone on a large rock, warmed by the sun as I looked up at Devils Tower in the Black Hills. After closing my eyes for some time a white buffalo appeared before me. I learned later that the white buffalo is perhaps the most sacred sight a person of Lakota blood could see.

One day I told a friend on the Pine Ridge Reservation about my vision.

“Wow,” he replied simply.

“I don’t know how I’ll share that experience with others,” I said, breaking the silence.

“Kevin, that vision wasn’t meant for anybody else,” he said softly. “It was just for you.”

There are moments for phones and picture sharing, but there are also a few sacred moments meant for you alone. The strength gained from a sunset viewed alone is in fact shared with all the world through the generative act of serving yourself. When we honor ourselves, we strengthen from within. When we strengthen from within, we expand our capacity to serve the world.

“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”

—Black Elk

____________________

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the twelfth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#11 | A SELF-ABSORBED AMERICA

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

—John Muir

Last week I wrote about the importance of CEOs broadening their roles and seeing the highest calling of free enterprise as the advancement of humanity.

This week I want to call out all of America for becoming self-absorbed.

“Just watch the nightly news,” my friend Pankaj Srivastava said to me as we met via Zoom during the height of COVID-19.

“We’ve become completely self-absorbed as a country,” Pankaj continued. “All you see on the television news is what’s happening right here in America. We’ve lost track of the huge swath of humanity outside our borders and how much more difficult life can be elsewhere. We’re spoiled and we’re self-centered. We can’t see our place in the larger context of humanity anymore.”

In the days following our visit I watched the news and reflected upon what Pankaj had said. He was right. In a thirty-minute nightly news program there might be a minute or two devoted to something beyond our national borders.

Pankaj by nature is an internationalist. Born in India, he emigrated to America, and we first met when I traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, to do some research for my second book on the company he was working for at the time, ZEO Alliance. Pankaj has worked and lived in over two dozen countries, and as a result, sees America in a broader context than someone who has only ever lived here.

“We’ve lost track of how the rest of the world works,” Pankaj said. “The despots, the totalitarians, the corruption, the starvation, the wars, and the poverty that exist in so many places have become distant to us. We’re only thinking about ourselves.”

This bronze statue, titled Bitter Memory of Childhood, stands in the center of the walkway at the Holodomor Victims Memorial in Kiev, Ukraine. Holodomor translates to “Forced Starvation.” Between 1932 and 1933, on orders from the Supreme Soviet Politburo, large regions of the Ukrainian countryside were blockaded and intentionally deprived of all food sources. Millions of innocent people died. I went there in 2018 to interview two of the last remaining survivors. I saw the trip as a direct extension of my role as a lumber company CEO committed to strengthening the voices of others, especially those who have traditionally not felt fully heard, like the amazing people of Ukraine.

Approximately 7.84 billion people share Planet Earth, and 96 percent of them do not live in America. The generally fortunate 4 percent that live here combine to produce, create, invent, consume, and enjoy 16 percent of the total planet’s economic output, while consuming 20 percent of the world’s oil. That’s our economic might.

Improving economic conditions for all Americans should always be a priority, but it’s important to see that work in a global context. In 2020 the median income level in the United States is $63,240. In China, it’s $10,410. Median income in Vietnam is $2,540, Pakistan, $1,530, and Congo, $520 (www.worlddata.info/average-income.php).  Additionally, 700 million people globally live in “extreme” poverty, surviving on $1.90 per day or less. Around the world, 25,000 people die daily from hunger or hunger-related causes. Billions of people worldwide live in autocratic, corrupt, or semi-lawless societies.

And what would all these people, living in more tenuous circumstances than our own, ask from us collectively as American’s?

I think the answer, at its most human level, would be for us to truly see them, and correspondingly, to see ourselves in a broader context.

Each year, people by the thousands walk from El Salvador to the US border carrying everything they own with the hope of just getting into our country and escaping the extreme poverty, gang violence, and corruption that permeates their homeland.

“I feel lucky to be in this country,” Pankaj said. “It’s the greatest country on Earth.”

This reminded me of yet another conversation I had recently. I was in a taxi in Boston, and the driver was a young African immigrant. A conversation sparked between us as he drove, prompting me to ask him my favorite question.

“What brings you here?” I queried.

“Here you can be free,” he replied in reference to America. “There’s no corruption here. Where I come from there is no democracy, no rule of law. There is only corruption. There are no jobs and no opportunity in my native land. Here there is opportunity.”

Corruption.

This word comes up time and again in my global travels. I was shocked, for example, at how openly pervasive corruption was in Ukraine as a result of decades of Soviet communist rule.

“Corruption is very bad in Ukraine,” my driver Yuri told me as we’d headed from the airport toward downtown Kiev. “Even driving is corrupt here. That’s why there are so many very bad drivers. People pay illegally to get license. Economy not good here—too much corruption for free systems to fully function, but people still live—people still smile.”

The median income in Ukraine is $3,370, yet Yuri is excited about the future.

“We are very great optimists, Ukrainian people,” he told me.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Those words stand the test of time and reverberate with deep relevance today. They might also be morphed into an invitation for America globally.

Ask not America only what you can do for yourself; ask also what you can do for the world.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

—Abraham Lincoln

____________________

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the eleventh in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#10 | THE CEO ROLE

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”

—Joseph Heller

I often have to write for a while before it becomes clear to me what I am writing about.

This is contrary to what I was taught in middle-school English class. “You must know the end of the essay in order to write the beginning,” my teachers told me.

But life isn’t always that tidy. Sometimes you’ve just got to pick up the pen and start writing in order for the spirit within you to manifest and flow forth.

*          *          *

This is the tenth essay of my weekly series, and it occurs to me that enticing CEOs to broaden their mission, expand their roles, and see their companies in a fresh light is one of the core aspirations of my writing this year.

Mike Hall, one of many great leaders at Hancock Lumber, where I work, is fond of telling me that my most valuable role is actually “Chief Evangelist,” not “Chief Executive.”

An evangelist is someone who seeks to convert. An evangelist understands the power and potential of an idea.

In that sense, Mike is right. My passion is learning to see the world of work, commerce, and free enterprise through fresh eyes—for what my alma mater, Bowdoin College, calls “the common good.”

I recently participated in a statewide leadership program on racial equity here in Maine.

“Why are you here?” one of the facilitators asked each of us at the opening session.

“I’m here because the purpose of any company should be to advance humanity,” I replied when my turn came. “Whatever confronts and challenges humanity must also manifest as priorities in our businesses.”

I hadn’t premeditated that answer. It just came out.

There are approximately 195,000 CEOs in America. Together they influence the values and cultural expectations for 155 million US workers and a $25 trillion economy. Imagine the potential social impact of those CEOs all embracing the belief that their highest calling is to advance humanity by serving the people right in front of them, the employees who give all companies life.

Old-school business thinking once urged CEOs to stick to their knitting and focus on the narrow core of their corporate mission. In our case that would be making lumber and facilitating logistics. Make no mistake: In order for our company to have a platform for doing good, we must be world-class at making lumber, and be fanatics about OTIF (“On time and in full delivery”). But that doesn’t mean lumber and delivery trucks represent our highest purpose. Our highest purpose is to create meaningful and empowering work experiences for those who choose to dedicate a piece of their lives to our company, as employees. The first priority of our company is the people who work there.

Where in society are adults going to grow and self-actualize? It has to be their place of work, because that’s where most adults congregate.

From a business standpoint, the twenty-first century is about flipping the script on the core purpose of capitalism. When the mission reorients and elevates, the potential for good expands. Humanity doesn’t need less capitalism; it needs more. But the kind it needs must be reimagined. Employees don’t exist to serve companies; companies exist to serve employees. When this shift occurs, employee loyalty, creativity, commitment, and capacity are unleashed. Business performance accelerates on the wings of service to others.

This doesn’t mean the end of accountability, best practices, core systems, or organizational focus. In fact, when companies serve their employees, all of these elements are strengthened. As our safety director Gregg Speed is fond of saying, “People support what they help to create.”

The Hancock Lumber sawmill team in Casco receiving a team safety award. A core mission of our company is to be a place where every member of the team feels trusted, respected, valued, and heard.

The purpose of safety within a company is a great example of this required shift in thinking. A company does not pursue safety to save money or avoid OSHA. A company pursues safety because its core mission is to be meaningful and valuable to the people who work there. Helping everyone stay healthy and safe is fundamental to any company’s raison d’être.

Change is created first within us, then beside us, and finally beyond us. When CEOs change what they see as their highest purpose, organizational transformation follows.

CEOs have the opportunity to release a veritable wave of human capacity, machinery, and capital toward the common good. Business is no different than life. When you commit to serving others, you are repaid with more than you give.

My personal mission as the CEO of Hancock Lumber is to create a corporate culture where everyone feels trusted, respected, valued, and heard. Creating that culture will improve business performance, but those results are the outcome of a higher calling. That higher calling is sharing leadership broadly and respecting all voices in a manner that helps every human within the organization to self-actualize and tap into the sacred power that dwells within us all. Advancing humanity, one human at a time, is the new business of business.

Setting that course is the CEO’s role.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.”

—Martin Luther King

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the tenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#9 | HENRY, MAMIE, EDDIE, AND BUTCH

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“Your choices and efforts, be they small or grand, define who you are.”

—Richelle Goodrich

Henry and Mamie Wilson migrated north from South Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1921.

“I believe he was about the first black man they ever hired at US Steel,” his son Tim would tell me nearly one hundred years later as we sat together at the Yordprom Coffee Co. on the uphill side of Congress Street in Portland, Maine. “He was the janitor there for forty-three years.

“My mom was just as sharp as my dad,” Tim continues. “Her name was Mamie Mobley Wilson. She was the cleaning lady at Suburban General Hospital. Everybody loved her too.”

Now well into his seventies, Tim is wearing a black sweat suit and a Tuskegee Airmen cap, leaning back comfortably in his chair.

As I listen to Tim reflect on his parents’ influence on his life, I contemplate whether Henry and Mamie could have imagined the social contributions that their son would go on to make. Today Tim Wilson is one of the most respected racial equity leaders in the State of Maine, and the legendary (now retired) director of the internationally recognized Seeds of Peace Camp dedicated to eliminating Arab–Israeli conflict, one teenager at a time.

Can we ever really know what impact we will have on the world simply by doing the little things right, one day at a time?

Two young black janitors from the Jim Crow South were positively impacting the world long after their own deaths through the values and skills they instilled in their son.

Henry and Mamie Wilson’s son, Tim (center, in white) at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine.

*          *          *

Henry, Mamie, and Tim’s personal story reminds me of two seemingly disconnected tales that my friend Angus King recently shared with me.

Tale #1

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually ruled Chicago. Capone owed much of his position and freewheeling lifestyle to his exceptional lawyer, known locally as “Easy Eddie.”

To show his appreciation, Capone paid Easy Eddie very well. Eddie and his family lived on an estate so large that it filled a city block. Eddie enjoyed the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocities that went on around him.

But Eddie had a soft spot for his son, whom he loved dearly. And despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie tried to teach his son right from wrong.

Even with all his wealth and influence there were two things Eddie couldn’t give his son: a good name, and a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. He wanted to rectify his wrongs.

He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about his boss, Al Capone, in hopes of cleaning up his tarnished name and offering his son some integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Chicago mob.

Within a year, Eddie’s life would end in a blaze of gunfire.

Tale #2

World War II produced many heroes, and one such man was Butch O’Hare.

Butch was a fighter pilot in the South Pacific assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington.  

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. En route Butch realized his fuel levels were unexpectedly low and his flight leader ordered him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, Butch dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

On his return he spotted a previously undetected squadron of Japanese aircraft speeding toward the American fleet.

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, Butch dove into the Japanese formation. His wing-mounted .50 calibers blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane after another. He continued the solo assault until all of his ammunition was spent. Undaunted, he pressed the confrontation until the Japanese planes veered off in another direction. Butch and his tattered fighter then limped back to the carrier, having destroyed five enemy aircraft. The date was February 20, 1942.

For his actions Butch became the US Navy’s first ace of World War II, and the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor. Later that year, at the age of twenty-nine, he was killed in aerial combat. Today Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named in his honor.

So what do these two seemingly disparate stories have in common?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.

*          *          *

We don’t know the full impact we will have on this world. What you do today counts, no matter how marginalized or small you might feel. A stone cast into the water ripples long after we’ve moved on from watching it expand. Humanity is anchored and defined by those who never considered themselves famous or extraordinary.

“Ordinary people do great things every day.”

—Jim Valvano

 

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the ninth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#8 | THE GOOSE AND THE APPLE

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”

—Wayne Dyer

The Charles River Esplanade is a meandering urban green space separating Boston’s Back Bay neighborhoods from the Charles River. Filled with hardwood trees, playing fields, and exercise paths, the Esplanade traverses more than three miles, from the Museum of Science to Boston University. On any given day this scenic byway is filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, bench sitters, and geese—lots of geese.

I was walking on the Esplanade one January morning when I witnessed a short sequence starring the geese that caused me to pause and reflect.

I was crossing an arched stone bridge. Beneath me ran a shallow stream partially covered by patches of thin ice. In a pool of open water twelve geese were casually drifting about when one of them spotted a half-eaten apple on an ice sheet nearby. As that goose moved with intention toward the apple the others began to take notice. Soon a race was on. Wings and feathers were set in motion as a cacophony of honking spontaneously erupted.

The original goose was first to the apple, but he knew time was of the essence. He slid across the ice, neck extended, trying to gather the entire prize in his mouth. But the apple would not cooperate. It slid and bounced its way back into the water where multiple geese fought for control. Moments earlier this flock had been peacefully gathered together for safety in a display of tribal unity. The presence of a single apple had been enough to make them turn on each other.

I reflected upon the implications of what I had witnessed for humanity. The instinctive wiring of life on Earth is grounded in a scarcity mind-set—the fear that there are not enough apples for everyone. Long before white men ventured onto the American plains, Indians fought, killed, and tortured other Indians for control of critical natural resources and hunting grounds. To be sure, like the geese, Indian tribes also came together and cooperated with each other as well. That’s really the point: Humanity, like all life on Earth, has always maintained a delicate balance between competition and cooperation.

How do our primal instincts advance or hinder social harmony and human collaboration in the twenty-first century? Might those instincts at times prevent us from seeing clearly, even keeping us fixated on the wrong problems?

The World Health Organization estimates there is 1.5 times enough food presently available to feed everyone on the planet. This would suggest that distribution, not scarcity, is the problem. Digging deeper in search of root causes, humanity has radically uneven economic productivity. The average household income in the United States is approximately $66,000, compared to $13,000 in Venezuela, $7,500 in Cuba, $3,400 in Ukraine, and $530 in the Congo. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not optimal.

Why is this so? And what’s the solution?

One remediating strategy would be to take most of the money from places like the United States and send it to places like Cuba. That’s the scarcity mind-set model, and it wouldn’t work. Within a generation the income would be unevenly distributed again back in places like America. There is no net global benefit to lowering income in America. By the same reasoning, there is no net benefit to lowering income levels in Colorado ($77,000) in order to grow them in Mississippi ($46,000). (As an interesting aside, the highest average income levels in America are in the District of Columbia, $92,000.)

An abundance mind-set would recognize that there are massive opportunities for productivity growth around the world. Getting there would require leaping two hurdles. First, we would need to initially over-invest in communities that have historically been exploited. Second, we would need to expand the conditions of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law to all the peoples of the world. Freedom for all is the solution, and that includes economic freedom. Corruption prevails wherever democracy and free markets are restricted. In America, for example, the historic problem has been the exclusion of some from the full rights of our democracy. We don’t need less freedom for some; we need full access to freedom for everyone.

My favorite current example of annual income disparity is that of Hong Kong and China. The annual household income in Hong Kong is $50,800, compared to $10,410 in China. So what is the Chinese Communist government’s strategic response to this discrepancy? It’s to make Hong Kong more like China. How do you think that’s going to work out?

Primal man, like the geese on the pond, fought over the scarcity of apples.

Modern man has the potential to grow more than enough apples for everyone.

A mind-set of abundance, not scarcity, is the path toward more apples for all. We need more freedom and democracy, fully accessible and evenly applied. Rising up does not require a corresponding volume of pulling down.

“The idea that political freedom can be preserved in the absence of economic freedom, and vice versa, is an illusion. Political freedom is the corollary of economic freedom.”

—Ludwig von Mises

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

Sources:

https://foodfirst.org/publication/we-already-grow-enough-food-for-10-billion-people-and-still-cant-end-hunger/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Food%20and,world’s%202050%20projected%20population%20peak.

https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php

https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/median-annual-income/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

____________________

This is the eighth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#7 | THE FUTURE-BASED SELF

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

 

“What you think, you become.

What you feel, you attract.

What you imagine, you create.”

—Buddha

Despite an incalculable myriad of differences in backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities, every living human shares one common truth: We must all move into the future from the spot we presently occupy.

Wherever you are at this moment is your launching point for the future, and nothing can change that. We take our next step from the piece of ground we now stand upon.

“Everyone has three selves: a past-based self, a future-based self, and a present-based self. The past-based self is the person an individual thinks he or she used to be. This self-concept is influenced by powerful memories. The future-based self is the person the individual imagines he or she is going to be. This is influenced by powerful goals (or the absence thereof). The present-based self is a combination of the other two selves, with either the past self-concept or the future self-concept dominating.”

—Dan Sullivan

An essential component of self-awareness is recognizing whether or not our thoughts are led by the future or the past.

I have learned this lesson the hard way many times, most recently through my voice condition. In 2010 I acquired spasmodic dysphonia (SD), a rare neurological voice disorder that makes speaking difficult. At its worst it feels like a seat belt has been tightened around my throat when I talk. The condition is particularly restrictive in group settings, on the telephone, and anywhere there is background noise.

In 2018, after living with SD for nearly a decade, I began seeing a hypnotherapist by the name of Maggie Clement. Once a month I would travel into Portland and meet with her in a small first-floor brownstone office near Maine Medical Center. The first half of each session was an open discussion where Maggie would ask me questions and listen as I described my emotions and experiences with respect to SD.

“How often do you think about your voice?” Maggie asked me one day. “And when you think about it, are your thoughts positive or negative?”

These two questions would come to mark the turning point in my ability to navigate and transcend my affliction.

I left her office that afternoon and drove home in a reflective silence.

The following day I began counting every time I thought about my voice. Additionally, I noted whether the thought was positive or negative.

I realized that I thought about my voice more than one hundred times a day, and each time, it was negative. I was constantly thinking about the difficulties I had encountered in the past and then projecting an expectation for continued difficulty in the future.

For example, if I was going to a restaurant that evening I would momentarily think of it dozens of times that day, with the expectation that the chatter and clatter would overwhelm me.

It turned out I was unaware of both the frequency and fragility of my thoughts. I did not know, until Maggie called me out, that I was constantly worrying about how my voice would perform in the future based on my experiences from the past.

After months and months of training Maggie helped me to break this self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, thanks to my heightened self-awareness, I recognize a negative thought about my voice as soon as it arrives.

“Ha, I’ve caught you!” I now say to myself when such moments manifest. “Now, go away. You are nothing but a self-contrived negative thought about the future based on past experiences.”

Today I deliberately put positive thoughts in my mind with respect to my voice. I envision it performing. I imagine myself healing.

The difference in my vocal performance has been dramatic. I still have a shaky voice at times, but it no longer dominates my thinking or expectations. As a result, I’ve improved a condition that the medical community defines as incurable.

This was one of many lessons I learned regarding the limiting powers of a past-based mind. Thankfully Maggie taught me that this was my mind we were talking about, and as such, I had the ability to fill it intentionally with future-based optimism.

“The future-based person achieves freedom from the past.”

—Dan Sullivan

(Note: Dan Sullivan is the creator and author of the book and audio series HOW THE BEST GET BETTER: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS.)

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the seventh in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#6 | CIRCLES AND SQUARES

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls, birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

—Black Elk

The remains of old Fort Fetterman sit high above the North Platte River at a point just north of Douglas, Wyoming. It’s a cold fall day as I pull my dust-covered rental truck into the inconspicuous gravel parking lot. No other vehicles are in sight. The fort is closed, which is my favorite time to visit.

The abandoned forts, trails, and battle sites commemorating the nineteenth century on the northern plains are best visited alone. It is in silence that these windswept artifacts tell their stories about the winning—and the losing—of the American West.

I pull my wool hat down over my ears as I ascend the ridge before me that conceals the remains of the fort. My Lakota medicine wheel necklace bounces gently on my sweater as I walk. Tumbleweeds dance and dart in front of me. The wind and my footsteps are the only sounds. I am facing north toward the Bighorn Mountains, toward the Little Bighorn River, and toward the Montana goldfields that created the necessity for this fort and the Bozeman Trail that passed through it.

Parade grounds sit at the center of all the Western forts I have visited. As I follow their sharp edges with my eyes, I can’t help but think how closely related a square is to a circle. All that is required is to bend the corners.

The abandoned flagpole and supporting metal guide wires whistle in the wind. My feet crunch with each step on the narrow gravel path. Without thinking, I begin walking more aggressively and deliberately so that I can hear that sound, the sound of marching. I move in rhythm, accentuating each step down the faint outline of the old parade grounds. I am in no hurry. I have nowhere to go.

Circles and squares define the northern plains. Nature makes the circles, and men—a product of nature themselves—then turn them into squares.

The hills roll.

The rivers bend.

The grass swirls.

The seasons come and go.

Day turns to night.

Life emerges and then fades.

It’s all a circle.

Yet the plains today are equally dominated by squares.

From the air you see property divided, square after square.

Houses are square and fence posts travel in straight lines.

To the Sioux and other plains tribes the circle is sacred, for that is how life travels.

There is much to be gained from seeing the circles that surround and define us all. While no two human journeys are ever the same, our lives do share a pattern that nature’s rhythm commands.

Consciousness itself is a circle. We are born full of innocence. The time and place of our birth then begins to pull on us and makes its mark. Eventually we come of age and the opportunity to awaken presents itself. Our degree of consciousness then defines our experience until we return to our place of origin and rejoin the innocence, which is also the place of knowing.

Consciousness is the state of being awake and aware. Birth is the invitation to acquire it. But to gain consciousness we must know where to look. In a world full of chaos and distractions we must learn to look within ourselves, where consciousness resides.

Consciousness once created can never be destroyed. We carry it back with us and gift it to the collective human memory and the shared learning of the Universe. Even consciousness—or the lack thereof—travels in a circle.

“We Indians think of the Earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle, man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers; the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find, they are all relatives.”

—Jenny Leading Cloud

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the sixth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#5 | ORIGINS

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

Bureaucracy and social harmony are inversely proportionate to each other.”

Leon Trotsky

What are the origins of bureaucracy?

How did “power” historically become centralized in command-and-control hierarchies?

How did certain groups come to exert a defining influence over others?

The answer, at its most fundamental level, is through stories backed by force and force justified through stories.

Slavery was a story backed by force. The subjugation of indigenous peoples across the Americas was also a story backed by force. The September 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center is another story backed by force. A traditionally male-dominated society was, and is, a story backed by force. In all cases a narrative defining the superiority of one group and the inferiority of another is required in order to “justify” the inhumane actions required to establish and maintain dominance.

Both the Roman emperors and the European monarchs of the early and Middle Ages reigned on the basis of a story known as the “divine right of kings.” This tale, which became accepted as doctrine and was reinforced by the Church, stated that kings ruled with the backing of heavenly powers.

“The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon Earth,
for the kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon Earth and sit upon God’s throne,
but even by God himself they are called Gods.”

—James I of England (1610)

Across the Western world this divine right was conveyed upon kings by another co-conspiring hierarchy, the Church.

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.
For there is no power but of God: the powers that are ordained of God.
Whoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

—Romans 13

All of this presumes a God who takes sides and is vengeful against those who do not follow “his” word.

In the quest to be fully conscious it’s interesting to note that the dominant conclusion of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is of a hierarchical God who reigns from above, sends commandments below, and judges all. While this may be the case, it’s not the only interpretation. It does, however, conveniently set a precedent for human organizations to follow.

Indoctrination is defined as “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” The key word here is “uncritically.” These beliefs must become so deeply rooted over time that they exist largely unquestioned.

European Americans of the nineteenth century convinced themselves that native peoples were less-worthy humans and therefore exploitable. Southern plantation owners built their society upon the same narrative about people who were black. Slavery and reservations were actually considered “good” and “necessary” for the people subjected to them.

These are dramatic examples of hierarchies established by stories and force, but the model also manifests in more-subtle ways. The place of work, for example, has traditionally been organized around a similar pattern, a ladder of importance and control. The owner and the interests of the business are paramount. The employees, meanwhile, are subservient to the company and expected to follow the instructions that flow down from above.

It can be numbing to consciously confront the origins of our dominant leadership models. It gives me pause to even type these words. I am a white male CEO of a family business. My position in this world came in part through inheritance, as was true of my dad, his dad, and beyond, for six generations. Traveling centuries back in time, a piece of my opportunity emanated from the divine right of kings. Reconciling this and deciding what to do about it has become a priority for me.

In the end, I can’t change when and where I was born—I do have a company and I am leading it—but I can try to change how that company engages with others and expand the mission it exists to serve.

This is what brings me to champion the concepts of shared leadership, redistributed power, respect for all voices, and the creation of employee-centric companies that prioritize the people who work there.

Across human history, power has been centralized. But, like anything that travels in a circle, it can be given back. The fundamental building block of personal power is self-worth—the internal knowing that you are sacred. Today’s “kings” must honor this truth by re-dispersing their power.

The first step in creating a new and more-collaborative model for leadership is the uncomfortable task of acknowledging the old one.

“Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible.”

Javier Salcedo

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the fifth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#4 | SURRENDER

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Walt said to Jimmy from the driver’s seat of the truck.

“Yes,” Jimmy replied from the passenger side. “They stock those filters at AutoZone down in Elko and sell them for eight bucks apiece.”

“I did not know that,” Walt said, clearly amazed.

From the backseat I checked the clock on the dashboard. It read 3:50 a.m. I adjusted my camouflage Gore-Tex gloves, pulled my wool cap down tighter over my ears, and settled fully into my seat as the dust swirled behind us into the blackness of a Nevada night. I drifted off to sleep to the rumbling of six tires careening over the road as Walt and Jimmy conversed with exceptional enthusiasm over stories great and small.

For the next five days this would become our morning ritual, Walt and Jimmy’s banter a transcendent reminder of the joy of being present.

*        *        *

Elk hunting for me is simultaneously energizing and draining, joyous and mundane, heartwarming and discomforting.

There’s no way we’re going to get an elk on this hunt, I thought.

I was huddled by a small fire on a rock-strewn mountaintop staring out across a vast expanse of treeless wilderness from which I could see both Idaho and Utah. I shivered, even though I was wearing everything that I had brought with me in my meager defense against the snow, wind, and cold.

“Welcome to Nevada ice fishing,” Jimmy said with a smile.

*        *        *

Elk hunting in a remote corner of the American West commands surrender, and this perhaps explains part of my addiction to the sport. As a CEO I am used to identifying a goal and making a plan. Action steps are listed and crossed off when completed. Timelines are established. Meetings are set to monitor progress and make adjustments if needed. The whole process is about increasing certainty and establishing control.

A guided elk hunting trip requires the exact opposite. It begins with surrender. To have any chance of success you must transcend the urge to structure and define your day.

Upon arrival you learn to cede virtually all control except your willingness to hustle and keep hunting even when the odds seem insurmountable. Until the experience is over someone else (your guide and outfitter) will decide where you sleep, when you awaken, when and what you eat, where you go, when you drive and when you walk, when and where you sit and wait, and when you attack.

If you want to maximize your odds of success you arrive ready to trust a small team of people that you have never met, and may never meet again. It’s an extreme test of one of life’s most difficult rules:

Learning to surrender is a prerequisite for finding your highest success and authentic path.

I have come to describe this state of being as learning to follow. Our future bumps into us all the time, but often we are too fixated on a predetermined march through a fully planned day—or life—to embrace the unexpected and follow along.

If an angel had told me in 2010 how the next decade of my life would unfold, I would not have believed the storyline.

The economy would crash not once, but twice. I would lose a piece of my voice to a rare neurological disorder and then set out from Maine for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I would make over twenty visits and acquire two Lakota names. All of this would ignite my understanding that truth lies within us all, which would move me to rewrite my personal rules for organizational leadership through the honoring of every human voice. This, in turn, would plant the seeds for the three books that I would write, all while our company would set records on the wings of employee empowerment and dispersed power. The more I let go, the better we did.

I didn’t see any of this coming.

I couldn’t have scripted it.

I wouldn’t have been able to manifest any of this had I been determined to stay on a preset path and maintain tight control.

Surrender was required. Knowing was unknowing.

Like climbing into the backseat of Walt’s truck in total darkness, any hope for a successful hunt rests in complete surrender.

*        *        *

I did shoot a very big elk on our last afternoon of that trip, using a rifle that jammed after a single shot on a remote ridge known to the locals as “China Jim.” I never would have ended up in that spot at that moment if I hadn’t surrendered to Walt and Jimmy’s accrued experience, a lifetime of knowing elk.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

—Joseph Campbell

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the fourth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#3 | STAYING ON MISSION IN A CHAOTIC WORLD

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, three exceptional yet unforeseen events altered humanity’s course.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda militants hijacked four airplanes. Within hours the twin towers of the World Trade Center would fall and a global war would commence. In 2008, subprime borrowers began defaulting on their home mortgages, initiating a financial crisis that nearly collapsed the entire global banking system. In late 2019, a small group of shoppers at a wet market in Wuhan, China, became infected with a virus of unknown origins. Within a hundred days, nearly every nation on Earth was partially paralyzed by gathering restrictions and lockdowns.

In times of such epic social disruptions, how do we stay focused on our personal mission and voice? How do we support the whole while advancing our sense of self?

Maintaining one’s personal energy in a sea of social chaos may be the essential skill of our time.

Every voice is unique by design. The long arc of humanity is ultimately the sum of its individual parts. What society needs most from us is for our never-to-be-repeated voices to be unfurled and broadly shared. We change the world one human at a time.

I was sensitized to the importance of authentic voice and personal mission by yet another combination of unexpected events. In 2010, I began to have trouble speaking. I was the CEO of one of America’s oldest family businesses, and our lumber company was reeling from the stress of the economic crisis when my voice failed me. Months later I was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called “spasmodic dysphonia” (SD). Suddenly, I had to develop a new strategy for leading that did not include lots of talking.

Two years later, I began traveling from Maine to the remote Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (a place I have now visited over twenty times). There I encountered an entire community that did not feel fully heard.

These two events combined to produce a series of personal learnings. First, I understood what it was like to not feel fully heard. Second, I realized there are lots of ways for people to lose their voice in this world. Third, I began to wonder if the very purpose of a human life on Earth is to self-actualize.

Unfortunately, across the centuries many leaders have done more to restrict the voices of others than to liberate them.

That’s when my personal calling became clear. The partial loss of my own voice was an invitation to disperse power, share leadership, and strengthen the voices of others. I have stayed focused on this mission ever since, despite the distractions of the larger world.

Influencing the world is an inside job. You have a mission and that mission matters. Only you can pursue it. Humanity needs you to be you and carry on. With this approach the world morphs into a different place. It slows down, gains clarity, and localizes.

The history-altering events described at the beginning of this essay share a single root cause: Humanity is moving too fast to acquire more. Our pace—you might call it our “race”—is unsustainable. In the Western world’s zeal to conquer and colonize we find the underpinnings of radical Islamic instability and terror. The subprime mortgage market collapse was also the result of impatience and excess on all sides. Speed was equally responsible for accelerating the global pandemic. How many customers can be crammed into an airplane, a stadium, a bar? Bigger, better, more. We all drank the Kool-Aid and now here we are.

Once we recognize the cause of our chaos, we can hone in on the cure. The world as seen on TV manifests as overwhelming. Only by returning to what lies within us and beside us can we clear the skies. Staying on your mission is the remedy to the turmoil that plagues our modern world. So for the love of humanity, follow your voice. Walk your path. Speak your truth.

If excessive pace with vague purpose is the problem, controlling your pace and clarifying your purpose is the cure.

(Note: A longer version of this essay was first published in 2020 as part of the international bestseller “Bright Spots: Motivation and Inspiration to Light Your Path in a Changing Worldby Cathy Davis. This book—a collection of essays written by forty authors from around the world, including Kevin, in response to the events of 2020—is available on Amazon, or wherever books are sold.)

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the third in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#2 | Awakening

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

Awakening to what?

Awakening to the sacred knowing that dwells within us all. Awakening to the power, path, and purpose that only the spirit within you can provide and the mysteries that only awakening can solve.

As the legendary American mythologist Joseph Campbell understood,

“We are the truth we seek to know.”

But awakening to this realization—that inward lies our voice, salvation, power, and destiny—is increasingly difficult in our materialistic modern world which is wired for 24/7 connectivity to external voices, all vying for our time, attention, ego, and control.

The times we are living in have pulled our vision to the external, to what others are doing—or not doing. When solutions and salvation rest beyond our reach we become spectators, sidelined from the game. When someone “over there” needs to change in order for our world to improve, we’ve ceded control and lost our inner power to make a difference.

For centuries empires have gone to great lengths to convince us that power, sacredness, and control live in a distant capital or kingdom upon a throne reserved for others. But these narratives are all about controlling us, sowing the seeds of followership, and distracting us from the kingdom within.

Each of us is a king, a queen.

Each of us is divine royalty.

Each of us holds within us a piece of the sacred power of the Universe.

The Sioux tribes of the northern plains have long understood that everything that exists is related and connected. All that we see is comprised of the same stardust, from the same creation source.

It thus stands to reason that if anything is sacred, everything is sacred.

If everything is sacred, we are sacred. You are sacred.

Organizations of the future should honor the sacredness of each individual. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The strength of the pack is the wolf.” Only when each individual on a team or within a community is thriving can the tribe be truly whole and strong.

Across the entirety of 2021 I intend to share a series of essays dedicated to releasing the sacred that dwells within us all. These writings will explore new (yet ancient) narratives about personal power, self-actualization, and shared leadership. We need to reset the templates for viewing ourselves and the organizations we belong to if we are to create meaningful change in both our personal paths and our shared global human course.

These transcendental paradigms will hopefully help bring us back to what each one of us can most influence, elevate, celebrate, and control—ourselves.

The twenty-first century is about awakening at the individual level and awakening we are. But awakening is an arduous journey, and it requires two commitments from all who pursue it:

First, I will create change by looking inward, not outward. I shall become what I seek in the world.

Second, I will live in a loving manner that empowers others to also look within and embrace the essence of who they authentically are.

If all of this seems too whimsical or philosophical, don’t fret. We’re going to keep it real. We’re going to keep it grounded. You can build a family, community, school, company, country, or planet around this stuff! Remember, at my core I’m just a lumber company guy from Maine. I have seen firsthand how dispersed power and respect for all voices can reinvent capitalism and produce collective good. The formula is simple: The whole excels by honoring the well-being of its individual parts.

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the second in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



2021: JOIN ME ON AN IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE

Hello! In the spring of this year I am publishing my next book! 48 WHISPERS from Pine Ridge and the Northern Plains is a hybrid of sorts. First, it’s a photography book featuring full-page photos that I have taken at Pine Ridge, the Black Hills, and across the plains. Second, it’s a personal and organizational development journal of hope containing 48 thoughts which I describe as “whispers.” Each whisper is exactly 248 words in length and honors an idea meant to spark personal growth, organizational excellence, and social harmony. The book will be available for pre-order soon and I will let you know when that time comes!

In the meantime, I’m inviting you to join me on an idea-sharing adventure! In support of my upcoming book (48WHISPERS) I intend to write a series of short essays honoring the sanctity and potential of the individual human spirit. There is a divine light that dwells within us all and my inspiration in my work and writing is to help bring that ‘spark’ to the forefront of our lives.

I would like to share these essays with you. To receive them click the “Together” icon!

One click will link you to my sign-up form and ensure that you receive this series of writings designed to advance self-actualization and promote respect for all voices.

The organizational structure of human society was long ago designed to compel us to look EXTERNALLY for direction, solutions, leadership, and control. This has been an intentional exercise and has produced an empire-centric view of our world. Employees exist to serve their company, followers, their church, and citizens, their state. These institutions have done some good through their centralization of power but they have also done some bad. Regardless, in virtually all cases, the common denominator is that the individual is advertently made small before the capital, the kingdom, and the crown. True power, we’ve been taught, lives “out there,” beyond our reach.

I’m interested in flipping that script. The goal is not to eliminate human institutions but rather to refocus them on dispersing power, not collecting it. The salvation we seek requires looking inward. The real power source of humanity lives dispersed and WITHIN us all. Each of us is a spark of divine light, a never-to-be-repeated gift. Institutions should exist to celebrate and accelerate self-actualization at an individual level. A great company, therefore, should serve, honor, and ignite the talents of the people who work there.

The twenty-first century has the potential to mark the ascension of decentralized power, but for that to happen, the traditional model of leadership and followership must be reinvented. My upcoming book and supporting online essays are dedicated to pursuing this goal.

Here’s an early look at the back cover of the book, which contains the titles of each whisper. This will give you a sense of the ideas 48 WHISPERS contemplates and explores:

48 WHISPERS – Back Cover

My first essay will be released soon so click the “Together” link and join me in the conversation. To invite others, just pass the link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become!

My outreach to you is dedicated to the advancement of a single question:

What if everyone on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, and heard?

What might change?

I think it could be everything.

Many blessings to you.

 

 

—Kevin Hancock

 

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.