Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What can we learn from Larry King?

I recently saw an interview with Larry King on a TV show. Usually that kind of thing does not interest me but for some reason I started paying attention to the dialogue between Larry and the woman who was interviewing him. I thought to myself, it must be kind of scary interviewing Larry King! King is described as the "Muhammad Ali of the broadcast interview"

Larry King's career has spanned over 50 years. He has conducted some 40,000 interviews with politicians, athletes, entertainers and other news makers. King's style is direct and non-confrontational. He is known for his general lack of pre-interview preparation.

I don't understand. Why would he not prepare? People tune in to Larry King expecting to hear superb journalism and captivating storytelling. Why would Larry not spend time researching the life and foibles of his guests before they appear on his show? He would know what to say to trip them up, to put them on the spot. Would that not make for even better television, you know like the Gerry Springer show?

King said that the trick to being a good interviewer is to get out of your own way. He reminds himself that he is no one special. His job, as he sees it, is to give his guest a platform to speak, to be heard, to show his or her humanity. Larry said "I believe that the "I" is irrelevant to the interview. I try to remove myself completely from the equation. It is all about the guest."

The questions Larry asks of his guests are very simple. They are questions that come from his intense curiosity. "If I were just a man on the street what would I like to ask Obama? I would like to know how he likes his job. What is the hardest thing for him? What has changed as a result of becoming president in his personal life? Was that change expected or a surprise?"

Larry went on to say that he feels no need to be confrontational and that in fact, it is because of his reputation as a frank and direct interviewer that he has attracted some guests that typically shun that kind of visibility. "If I was out to "get" my guest, to catch them in a lie or to force them to reveal something that would be detrimental to their career they would not trust me. The interview would be stifled and somewhat artificial." The key to Larry King's success then is to focus on the other person. Simple and profound at the same time...

So why am I going on and on about Larry King? Well the whole point of this blog is not about Larry King as such but King's story serves as a springboard to explore the concept of being a megaphone for the voice of others.

What if we all pretended to be Larry King in our interactions in the workplace?

What if we all decided to be truly curious and interested in the people we meet?
What if through our respectful listening we could help the people we interact with to broadcast loudly and proudly who they are?
What if the boss realized that he can learn as much from his employees or the janitorial staff than he can learn from a peer or a superior? What if the boss started listening to people in that way? What if the employees listened to the boss with that new found respect?
What if in the end, it's not about finding a way to look good by making the other look bad but rather to lead the way so we can both look good together?

Food for thought:
What would you like to announce to the world if Larry King was interviewing you?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Does it have to be uphill?

As I was stretching in the little park across from my house after my morning run I watched a little boy of about 6 years struggling to ride his two-wheel bike. He would put one foot on the pedal, try to get enough balance to put the other foot on the other pedal, would push forward turning the wheel once or twice and then fall off. He did that several times. I finally said: "You know, there is a bit of an uphill this way, maybe if you walked your bike to the top of the hill, turned it around and tried to pedal down the hill it would be easier." He nodded and proceeded to walk his bike up the small hill. I watched him get on again and this time he stayed on and pedaled all the way to his home (a few hundred feet away) with a smile of triumph on his face. His dad called out: " Stop! The breaks are on the handles." When you learn to go you also need to learn how to stop...

I thought this little snapshot was a good metaphor for life. Sometimes we struggle to push forward and it is an uphill battle. Some of us persist and get back on that bike again and again determined to make it up the hill while others give up. But more importantly, while we are investing all this time and effort to ride up the hill we get so focused on that immediate goal that we may not see another way, an easier way.

Somewhere deep in my psyche I have internalized the lessons my parents have taught me: "Worthy things don't come easy."; "Success is a reflection of the hard work and effort you have invested"; "If it is not worth the effort, it is not worth having." They all say a variation of the same thing: "You have to work hard for what you get."

I have lived all my life following this motto and somewhere along the way I forgot how to play and to relax and to just be ... This morning I had a Eureka moment watching that little boy learning how to bicycle. It does not have to be hard. Sometimes, all it takes to move forward is to stop, reflect and change the way you think about things.

  • What am I not seeing while I have my nose stuck to the grindstone?

  • What is the real reason I am doing this?

  • Who am I doing this for? Is it my goal or is it the goal of someone else?

  • Who am I trying to please?

  • Is this the only way?

  • Is there an easier way?

  • How can I change my mindset so that I can actually have fun working towards this goal?

In the spirit of spring being a season of renewal I think it is an opportune time to re-evaluate the values and principles we live by.

What are the conscious or unconscious maxims you live by? Do they serve you? Or is it time for an overhaul...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring cleaning of your drawers of unfulfilled dreams

There is this ritual I do every Spring and Fall: the bi-annual change over of clothes from winter woollies to summer cottons and vice versa. It is a BIG job. A job that I hate. I spend weeks stressing about it before I finally grit my teeth and just do it.

I don't know why I make such a big fuss about this job. Like many things in life, the mental picture I have of the job while I listen to the nasty little voice in my head that "awfulizes" everything is much worse than it actually is.

Have you ever noticed that often the worse part of something is actually just getting started? The author would say that the worse part of writing is staring at the white page. The marathon runner would say that the worse part of running his Sunday morning 20 km training run is actually getting out the door in his running gear and start moving.

Lao Tzu said "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." How many of us have journeys buried in our soul that we have never started? Maybe they are big journeys like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or smaller journeys like finally taking that ballroom dance class?

What stops us? Any of these reasons sound familiar?:
I'm too old
I'm too young
I don't have the money
I don't have time
It is just a silly dream...

Have you ever read about those folks who boldly decide one day to leave their high paying job in the corporate world to sail around the world and thought wistfully, "Oh how I wish I could do that!" Well I did.

A few years ago I read a book entitled "Live What You Love - notes from an unusual life" by Bob and Melinda Blanchard. The authors'son was born premature with a serious heart defect. It was touch and go for a few weeks. The medical staff kept preparing the Blanchards for their son's death but he proved them all wrong. He survived. He grew up. This crisis was the starting point of the authors' journey.
"And that was it. We weren't about to take a single moment of this life for granted. We knew what love could do, and we were going to live smack in the middle of it." (p. 31)
So they left their traditional jobs, turned their lives upside down and inside out to pursue their dreams. Among other things they opened up a popular restaurant on the tiny island of Antigua in the Caribbean. Their book, Live what you love, is a story about the highs and lows of willing dreams into existence.

My challenge to you this week is to ponder these questions:

What am I passionate about?
How would my heart have me live my life?
What are my reasons not to act on my dreams?
What is one small thing I could do that would take me one step closer to realizing my most cherished dream within the next three months?

Reference: Live What you Love - notes from an unusual life by Bob and Melinda Blanchard ISBN# 1-4027-2842-5

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When dreams come true

I finally got a chance to take a look at the clip on YouTube where Susan Boyle wows the crowd (and judges) on the show Britain's got talent

I could not help but smile and cheer her on as she sang and won people over with her beautiful voice. It was fascinating to watch the transformation: Susan Boyle's transformation from an unassuming plain middle aged woman into a star performer and the crowd's transformation from a cynical audience to entranced fans.

Who is this woman? What is her story? Boyle is the youngest of 9 children. She suffered oxygen deprivation during birth, thereby resulting in learning disabilities. Her classmates teased her because of this and also because of her appearance. She is single, never been married and presently unemployed. Singing has always been part of her life.

How did someone like Susan who suffered so many hardships find a way to nurture a grand dream like becoming a singing sensation? How did she find the optimism and the resolve to keep believing in her dream? Some of us who come from much more privileged backgrounds do not dare to imagine a rainbow-like future. Somewhere along the line we decided that dreaming big dreams would only lead to disappointments. So we stopped dreaming... We just go through life on auto-pilot grateful for what happens but not striving for that bright star that used to light up the skies of our childhood wishes.

I saw Hillary Swank (star of films such as Million Dollar Baby and Freedom Writers) speak at a conference last year. As a child, she lived in a trailer park with her mom. In high school she got involved in the drama club and acted in school plays. Acting made her heart pound and her soul soar. She decided to dedicate herself to acting even though she had a promising future in sports. She faced many adversities to realize her dream. She said something that struck me: "There is no such thing as luck. Luck is when preparation meets with opportunity."

In the case of Susan Boyle, preparation did meet opportunity. Susan was prepared. She had been singing since she was a child. But the opportunity only came because she believed in her dream and pursued it confidently. The fact that she chose to sing the song "I dreamed a dream" from Les Misérables is such a striking synchronicity...

When I was an awkward teenager suffering from a lack of friendships and loneliness, my mother gave me a poster for my room that hung there for many many years. On the poster there was a drawing of a turtle and the caption read "A turtle only moves ahead by sticking out its head." I took this to mean that if you don't dare to come out of your shell and become vulnerable to what is out there you will never tap into the magic of the universe and move forward in the direction of your dream.