Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A True Example of Humanity

I have had the pleasure of getting my shoes shined by Pat, the shoeshine guy, for many years. It has been so long that I cannot remember when I first stopped by Pat’s Place looking to get my shoes shined before one of my client meetings. What I do know and frequently remember fondly is that I have received far greater value well beyond well-groomed shoes. I often say in our leadership workshops or coaching sessions that even in my business of developing leaders, executives and people relationships, I have yet to come across the perfect human being. My good friend Laura Whitworth once said “We will all forever be perfect works in progress”.  Therefore, I do not take it lightly when I say that Pat Dardano is one of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Pat came to Canada from Italy over 26 years ago and set up his shoeshine business speaking barely a word of English. He has told me how he would smile and nod to his customers as they talked to him and he didn’t understand what they were saying. It reminds me of a lesson for my world of leadership and executive coaching. Our job is to listen, not advise. This allows our clients to feel safe to talk their way through their challenges and opens up some of their own best thinking. This happens only when there is a true connection between the coach and the client. Pat exemplifies this connection. Today language is not a barrier and Pat still listens with true compassion and care. You can see his heart and soul pouring out through his soft eyes.
I travel frequently and spend about half my time in Calgary running my business and being with family and friends. When I am in town I regularly stroll by Pat’s Place to see Pat and get a shine. I have well-polished shoes and know that most of the time I see Pat I don’t really need a shoeshine. I just want to stop by and see Pat, catch up on his life since the last time I was in town and share stories of our families, our business and our mutual love for soccer. Pat will always ask how my family is doing, how the people in my business are getting along, asking about them by name, and how my travels have been.  It is easy to tell that he is not asking as part of a casual small talk performance, instead because Pat truly cares how you and the people important to you are doing. And, Pat has a very successful business because people come to have their shoes shined so they can visit with a man that exudes human connection and care.
Pat has recently been challenged with some serious health issues and while he was away visiting family in Italy, friends of Pat organized a benefit for him to celebrate Pat, the human being. Pat returned from Italy to shyly find out about this planned event. More than 350 people attended Pat’s benefit. It was a testament to the number of friends Pat has connected with over the years.
Good people care about good people. Pat has touched the lives of many over the years and it was time to honor this man. I have coached many leaders and executives over my 27 years in my people development business. My best guess is that Pat has coached many more from his two-chair office in the public space he occupies in downtown Calgary. Maybe some of our clients could benefit from a shoeshine coaching session with Pat – a natural example of human kindness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Real Life Shared Abundance Experience

I coined a value many years ago called Shared Abundance.  It is a term that I place as the value that best defines me and how I see my place in the world. I would love to see a world that truly sees each other and places significant value on caring about how they treat each and every human being they cross paths with.
I travel frequently to many parts of North America and occasionally other parts of the world as part of my work. I love to travel and whenever possible, I will spend extra days after my work visiting the area and trying to absorb the local culture and most importantly, the people. People are a very curious thing to me, which helps make me a very good professional coach as well as someone that constantly searches for meeting new people and hearing what their story may be. Imagine the challenge I have whenever I travel to other parts of the world, particularly large cities, and I wander the streets or sit in curbside cafes attempting to make eye contact with those that pass me by. Try this sometime, wherever you are, even your hometown city. Walk the streets and make eye contact with others passing by you. Count the number of people that actually look at you. Or even more interesting, count how many of those few that do make eye contact with you, what type of reaction do they have? I find that the percentage of those that we actually make eye-to-eye contact with is generally very small. And an even smaller percentage would hold that contact for more than an instant or possibly smile, nod or say hello. There are times I find this almost depressing and with shared abundance as a value, it becomes something of significant interest for me to take on to change.
I believe that we are all starving for more human connection. Because of safety and security concerns we insulate ourselves from the stranger on the street and pass them by with our head down or barely a glance in their direction. Then we go to the security of our homes and jump on the Internet dating sites or cry to our friends about how difficult it is to find that perfect someone or to make new friends.
Two weeks ago I attended as a newbie, an event in the desert of northern Nevada called Burning Man. This is an annual weeklong event set up on a dried up lake bed 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. In other words, in the middle of nowhere! From nothing but flat, white dust filled desert emerges a small city of over 50,000 people migrating from all corners of the globe to spend a week in a non-monetary commerce community. The key idea is that gifting to others becomes the currency that drives this instant city.  For one full week I had no idea where I had put my wallet. As well, cell phone coverage and Internet connections were very scarce.
At Burning Man you cross paths with every walk of life you can imagine. Young, old, male, female, artist, entertainer, homeless, CEO, etc, all of which come to experience interacting with others with a minimum of judgment or care for the others background or history. And there is the culture of just about anything is accepted as long as it does not harm another. Costumes are a significant part of the event and you see people in costumes generally reserved for the rare Halloween occasion back home. As well, some choose not to wear costumes or wear anything at all. Interestingly enough, soon after the heightened visual stimulation of crazy costumes or partial, as well as full nudity, becomes the norm in this community, we all settle into getting to know the people there and their motivation for attending this event in such a harsh desert environment. Here is where shared abundance shows itself in some of its most unique forms.
I attended this event knowing only my close trusted friend that had been talking about going for several years and we finally decided to take the plunge and go. After the close of the event, I left with many new friends with hopes of staying in contact as we all went back to our regular lives and activities. My greatest joy throughout the week was the constant connection to virtually everyone you crossed paths with.  Such the opposite of what I experience everyday. It was an automatic response to make eye contact and to give, as well as receive, a genuine greeting. We would stop in the street and hold a conversation with someone that we had never met before and in many cases a gift may be exchanged with no expectation of reciprocity.  After a full week of openness, connection, high visual stimulation and caring community I found myself back in the real world and walking my city streets with a hopeful expectation that I would receive the same community-like connection with everyone whose path I crossed. That has not been the case and yet I remain hopeful. I challenge all of us to consider the gift that eye contact, a nod of acknowledgment or even more boldly, a hello and smile has on those we come in contact with.