It’s been percolating, and as I sit here diving into my final quarter, I wanted to at least put down some words to paper. So, without further ado, here we go…
Draft One. I would love your feedback!
The Values of Daniel Student, Inc.
I seek not to find better answers, but to find better questions. I love asking why, particularly of people. Our curiosity peeks as toddlers, who ask why so much it can honestly get pretty annoying. But looking at the world with such wonder creates opportunities for growth and, I believe, is the source of creativity and innovation. That’s why we must try to bring it back even as we are growing farther from our most curious moment, when we are not taking the way the world works for granted.
Being curious also allows you to be expansive. I joke that I can “see both sides” or the value of “seeing both sides.” Curiosity enables you to see all people as humans, and your desire to understand them draws you into making connections between different worlds and different perspectives, out of which births something perhaps new to you and new to the world. This is creativity, to me.
A great way to embrace curiosity, from my background in the dramatic arts, is to say “yes, and…” This improv tool teaches us that taking someone else’s idea and rather than denying it, building off of it, can take you to unexpected and imaginative places.
2. Helping Others
I find this one difficult to write about because this value by definition is supposed to be selfless. I am culturally Jewish, and one of the things that I value most about that religion is the idea that you are supposed to give to charity anonymously. It is the act of giving without expectation of any praise or reward that brings you closer to God. Or something like that.
That said, if you seek greater value and meaning in your own life, you can end up in an endless spiritual circle, or even worse, a downward spiral. Helping others can lend clarity to your existence, (or as much as you are going to get anyway) and, perhaps more concretely, asks that you see the best in people and their actions, which is, simply, just a nicer way to live in this world. In a more pragmatic sense, helping others accomplish their goals can enable voices and actions which might not have happened otherwise, making for a greater possibility for you, and others, to find the path forward.
For years and years, I would tell people to stop wanting the “then”, and start finding satisfaction in the “now.” I absolutely never practiced what I preached. I, like most of the performers around me, wanted to make a full time living in theater and film. If we got that, we then wanted to be a lead role. Then to be nominated for a local award. Then a national award. Then win an award. Then win a lifetime achievement award. It never stops, looking outward for other’s approval.
I now subscribe to the movement that wants to measure nations’ wealth by Gross Domestic Happiness. I recently ended a vacation by saying “back to real life” and my girlfriend responded, “this IS real life.” To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, “wherever you go, there you are.” It is no surprise that Benjamin Hoff wrote the “Tao of Pooh.” Eastern religion tells us to embrace nothingness, and in none of it having any particular value, you can find that it all has value. Or something like that.
Embracing joy puts you in the right now. It is a choice to be happy. Even when you are not. I like to tilt my head back and fully laugh. You can have an external joy or a hidden, internal joy. I would never tell you how to experience joy. But, as a leader, I would ask you to find it.
Well, needless to say, I have embraced the whole idea of the importance of a “beginner’s mind” towards being a leader, as it is in the title of this blog and its accompanying podcast. I am a lifelong learner, and the things I am interested in learning about our infinitely expansive. I believe everything can be learned and the investigation of something, even if unsatisfying or challenging, is never time wasted. I learned to ride a bike in my 30’s – it was embarrassing and hard when you actually know your limits and pain points. I now am an avid bike rider.
It is in the act of learning where we perfect the skill we are being taught, but subtly, it is also where we perfect the skill of being open to possibilities. I think this applies to leadership because it enables you to imagine the future, and to provide an example of always being open to growth.
Linked to curiosity, a great lesson in learning I received was from my kindergarten creature. He would capture a bug from our garden, and bring it into the classroom and just sit with it, studying it. His interest was a silent invitation for others to come with their curiosity and learn. This is the power of leaders who love to learn.
Listening is certainly the last but not least of this list. It is, perhaps, the most powerful tool we have as human beings. It creates empathy for others, allowing you to imagine life in their shoes, which means you can be more expansive and creative towards your own life. It also makes others feel heard, engendering their trust in you as a person and empowering them to feel more confident in themselves and their voice. It is a gift to both parties, and the ultimate collaborative tool. It is also the tool that enables most of the other values I have, particularly learning, curiosity, and helping others, to happen. But it also, for me personally, brings joy.
Listening focuses you and slows you down. Listening allows thinking. I am a big fan of silence. I practice taking in something someone is saying, and then processing what I think about it and how I can best serve that person with my response. In a fast-paced world and one in which social cues require removal of the awkward pause, this is easier said than done. But this is what a great theater director does (and that’s who I learned it from), and it is what a great leader can do as well. I like a nearly uncomfortable silence, that can create a space where truly trying to understand is allowed.