Ray’s feet hurt like hell, and he didn’t know why.
“My right foot has gotten scraped so much, it’s starting to bleed,” he told me with a painful grimace on his face. I looked down at his running shoes. I didn’t see any blood stains. Before I could ask Ray a question, his girlfriend stepped forward and said, “I feel so bad to see how much pain Ray is in. Can you help him?”
The managers I coach don’t often talk about their feet. If the topic comes up, I’m the one to initiate, and it’s not to make their feet feel better, but to point out that they’re not flat on the ground. “If you want better executive presence,” I say. “You have to be grounded and centered. How can you do that if you’re feet aren’t on the ground?”
Ray, however, wasn’t a coaching client. He was a customer at Nordstrom. And, instead of his coach, I was a temporary summer employee in the men’s shoe department. What happened next in this incident from many years ago is a good illustration of how important it is to understand why you are having a problem before you try to fix it.
The first thing you do at Nordstrom after greeting the customer and finding out what they’re looking for is measure their feet. Ray had very small feet—at least lengthwise. He measured out at size 8.
I looked down at his shoes. They looked much bigger than size 8. “Ray, what size shoes are you wearing?”
Seven years ago, on a hill overlooking Portland, I taught fifteen medical students how to apologize. It wasn’t part of their curriculum. It wasn’t why I was invited to speak.
But life is about seizing opportunities. In this case, the opportunity was to transform the grief of losing a child into a teachable moment. Not by lecturing. Not even by telling a story. But by cajoling future doctors to say out loud the words I wished I had heard six months before.
What followed was a test case for the notion that you are what you say—and that what you say matters—a lot.
The invitation came from an OB/GYN known in the community for being compassionate with patients, particularly those with difficult pregnancies. He wasn’t our physician, but he heard about us through the grapevine. And we knew him by reputation.
This post is a first. I’ve decided to tear down the walls between my identity as an executive coach and my commitment to self-experimentation in lifestyle design, health, and well being. Over the past two years, I’ve written 155 posts about these adventures exclusively for a couple handfuls of close family and friends. Starting today, I will be sharing new insights and provocations in these areas with my clients, professional colleagues, and broader readership.
Here is why: I’m learning truckloads from my own life about some of the very things I get paid to help others learn. How do you maintain physical and emotional energy throughout the day? How do you manage commitments to yourself and others? What are innovative ways of scheduling your time? How can you squeeze important reflection and preparation into a busy life of action? And, perhaps most importantly, what is it like to be outrageously ambitious about the impact you will have on the world and astoundingly humble about your own path of learning?
Unlike bloggers who focus on entrepreneurship and the path out of corporate life, I will continue to write primarily for managers in large organizations, executives in smaller organizations, and the consultants and coaches who serve them. I’m not interested in teaching anyone how to be like me. In fact, I only have enough energy to help one person be fully me, and that’s a lifetime occupation. I do hope that my own explorations will be useful and relevant to you.