life story inspiration

Starbucks coffeeStarbucks is my coffee of choice. I always order the same thing – a “grande” house blend, bold, with no room for cream. Every now and then, I accompany my coffee with a healthy oatmeal or a not-so-healthy cinnamon scone. I enjoy the community atmosphere, the comfortable seating for reading or study, and becoming a “regular” when I frequent the same Starbucks for any length of time. I especially like feeling “known” when the barista begins to pour my personal choice before I even reach the counter.

Given my affection for the coffee, I was excited to read about the Starbucks story in a book about authentic leadership¹. A man named Howard Schultz created the Starbucks atmosphere we know today. Schultz wanted to offer a coffee-house with the community feel he had experienced in the espresso bars he visited in Milan, Italy.

“The reservoir of all my life experiences
shaped me as a person and a leader.”
                                              ~Howard Schultz

In addition to community, Schultz integrated other life values into the Starbucks culture. Schultz was born in 1957, and he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, living in the Bayview Housing Projects. As the son of a blue-collar delivery truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, finances were always tight, especially after his dad injured his ankle and lost his job and their health insurance. There was no workman’s compensation in those days, and an injured driver was useless and dispensable.

Those years of struggle etched deeply in Schultz’s memory and compelled Schultz’s vision to lead a company that valued and respected the staff and offered higher pay, stock options, and health care benefits even to part-time employees.

Schultz’s story built his character. From his mother, Schultz heard many times that he could do anything he wanted. When Schultz saw his father’s lack of success and accompanying bitterness, Schultz developed a fear failure and self defeat, and became driven to achieve and succeed.

“You must have the courage
to follow an unconventional path.”
                                        ~Howard Schultz

Over the years, Schultz intentionally “re-framed” his opinion of his father and chose to emulate his father’s integrity, work ethic and commitment to family. Schultz learned to appreciate his story of family hardship as the source of his values and his motivations, and to this day Schultz remembers his humble beginnings and intentionally integrates his story into his leadership and his company.

I am learning to “re-frame” many of my life experiences too; letting go of hurts and bitterness and choosing to emphasize and apply the positive character traits that I gained as a result of struggle and hard times.

Whenever I drink my coffee now, I try to remember how my life story can inspire my leadership.

What experiences from your life story inspire you?

___________

¹More details of this story (and others) are found in the excellent book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George.

olympic attitude

olympic rings

Adrenaline pumping courage, sweat and tears discipline, and breath-taking athletic accomplishments. Beauty, strength, smiles, and the fruitful culmination of many years of hard work. I love the Olympics! Watching the athletes – almost 🙂 – motivates me to get off the couch and do some push-ups or run a few miles!

There are also the tumbles, falls, heartaches, injuries, and tears. Last night I watched a bit of the Olympics. In the women’s snowboard slopestyle final, Sarka Pancochova, from the Czech Republic, took a horrendous spill on her third jump landing. She caught her snowboard edge, lost her balance, and fell backward. Her head hit the snow hard; her neck whipped back; her body was a limp rag doll tumbling down the slope. When she finally slid to a stop, she laid still, not moving. VIDEO: Watch her fall

Sarka’s helmet broke and cracked open in the back – an intentional protection design. 

Incredibly, after just a few minutes, medics reviewed her, and she stood to her feet and finished the course under her on power.

I did a little ski racing when I was young. I remember a terrible finish line wipe-out when my dad also encouraged me to quickly go back up the hill and race again – not allowing the fear and memories to control me or limit my future skiing attempts. I enjoyed skiing for many more years.

I am reading a book now called True North by Bill George. He encourages authentic leadership and claims that leaders do not emerge simply from characteristics, traits, skills, or styles, but rather from life stories. As we test ourselves through real-world experiences and then re-frame those life stories to understand who we are, leaders unleash their passions and discover the purpose of their leadership¹

Real life stories involve great triumphs… and terrible tragedies. All of those experiences are woven together to make us who we are, if we learn from them and use them to empower our leadership. I have fallen many times in the past, but those are not the defining moments of my life. The real victory comes from getting back on my feet, learning from the experience, and moving forward toward my life purpose.

Sarka did not win the snowboard event, but she definitely has a winner’s attitude. I am sure she will reach amazing accomplishments in her life. Her attitude is a great reminder and example for me.

What is your attitude after a fall? What helps you to get on your feet again? How have your experiences led you to discover your purpose in life?

___________________________

¹ George, B., 2007,True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Kindle Locations 201-203

life is a story

maskEvery life is a story… Comedy. Drama. Action. Horror. Newscast.

My favorite part of our meetings this year is when each person took a few minutes to tell (a very brief version of) their life journey. Many made us laugh. Others made us cry. Some left us with our mouths open in disbelief. Each story was unique.

Some used pictures. Others told stories. Some communicated with confidence and creative presentations. Others simply read from their notes. Some were so nervous that their voice cracked and their knees literally trembled as they spoke… but they did it, and it was powerful.

I could relate to some of the stories; others were very, very different from my reality. Either way, I felt more connected to each one as I came to know them just a little bit better. Through our vulnerability, we were building community.

Pain permeated many of the stories; loneliness, illness, rejection, death. Some told of shame or fear, lost dreams or broken hearts. For a few the pain was fresh and raw; a story being told for the first time. For others, the sting is gone now, and they are living a new life. I often heard a thread of grace, redemption, and hope.

Although I have always been a “people person” and have enjoyed meeting many different types of people, I feel like this year I have come to appreciate each person’s unique story more than ever. I have especially treasured those people who are open and real with me, allowing me to see their brokenness and their imperfections… and those who have invited me to share their new adventures and their joys.

It is sometimes more comfortable and natural for us to compare, or hide, and isolate ourselves from others, but I recognize each life is valuable and lived to be told. In a safe place, with a commitment to growth, our lives are a priceless gift when shared with others. As our lives intersect, they are like the threads in a beautiful tapestry… not to be hidden, but to bring warmth and beauty and richness to our world.

Do you share your (real) life with others? Are you a safe place for others to share their story?