Do you have juice? If you are a leader, then that would be a good thing to have. I don’t mean fruit juice, of course. I mean the joie de vivre, the joy of living, that adds energy and excitement to any situation. With all the travail in the news lately, including both natural disasters and political upheavals, it’s easy to lose our juice and forget our joy. Yet that is the first responsibility of leaders. It is our job to show up with juice and to share it with others. How do we do that? By noticing the good stuff in life. In every situation, great leaders always find things to celebrate. Such mindfulness refills the glass for leadership. Want to pour some of that juice for yourself? Read on!
Longtime readers of LifeTrek Provisions know that I am a big fan of Dewitt Jones, a former photographer for National Geographic magazine who ventured out on his own to become a sought-after motivational speaker over the past decade. Jones draws many useful analogies between photography and life, not the least of which has to do with the power of focus.
What happens when we go to take a picture? We focus the lens of the camera on something. And what do we focus on? We focus on something worth remembering. It may be something fun or happy, beautiful or inspiring, wonderful or majestic. It may even be something painful or difficult, like giving birth, running a marathon, or protesting tyranny, yet we nonetheless point the lens in that direction because we view the frame as momentous or significant.
That’s the way photography works. No matter how ordinary the scene, we look for ways to make it extraordinary. “Smile!” is not just a throwaway phrase to get a good picture. It is a reminder that we have a choice as to what we look like and what we see.
Dewitt Jones encourages us to look good, and he doesn’t just mean in terms of our appearance. He means that we should look deeply at life in order to focus the lens of our attention on the most remarkable aspects of any scene and any situation. That can take time. When Jones shows up for a photo shoot he doesn’t just start taking pictures. He studies the situation. It may take hours, or a whole day, before he gets of the composition and the elements he wants to highlight in his pictures.
I saw that at work last year when our backyard was going through a dramatic makeover. The landscape architect didn’t just throw some plants together. He came out with a stool and a pad and sat at various locations for an hour or two to get a sense of what was already in place, how the sun was hitting various sections of the yard, and what combinations might go well together.
Observation and imagination, combined with competence, generated a variety of possibilities and sketches. We talked about our options and ended up with a delightful result that I’ve been enjoying ever since. My mornings may not always include a camera, but I have trained myself to look for something delightful with each and every walk around the yard. Ironically, although it’s always the same yard, it never gets old. There is always something new to see in nature.
That’s a gift I’ve learned not only from nature and photography, but also from many people over the years. My mentors have always had a knack for seeing and communicating possibility; they have focused on what can be done in order to enroll people in what will be done. They have, in other words, been leaders with juice.
I got the notion of leadership juice from Dewitt Jones in his video, “Focus Your Vision.” Here is how Jones tells the story:
One summer, I was teaching a photographic seminar in British Columbia and I’d just sent all my students out in the woods to photograph. I’m getting my own gear ready, a big tripod, huge camera bag and I look up on the steps of the lodge where we’re staying and there’s this very intense kid. He looks down at me, he says, “Do you have a camera?” I was festooned with cameras. I said, “Yeah.”
And then I realized why he asked. Because he raised up his camera and he said, “I have a camera.” And it was a magic camera. It was yellow, it had a blue lens, it had a red eyepiece, it had a turquoise rewind knob with a little straw coming out of it. And he said, “My name’s Adam. Can I take pictures with you?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah. Come on.”
So we went down in the woods and I set up my tripod, got my first shot. And then this kid was so cute, he squeezes in front of the tripod, pressed his little shoulders against it, raised his camera, makes a shutter sound and says to me, “Did you get it?” “Yeah.” “Great!”
I thought, “Well, that’s cute, but I’m going to lose this kid after about five minutes.” Not this boy. Stayed right with me. Every time I’d set up my shot, there he’d be, squeezed in front of that tripod, raised his toy camera. I’d never seen such perseverance, such determination, such focus.
And he stayed with me for a long time. Until I was setting up the last shot of the day and the light was beautiful and I had all my equipment piled on that tripod and Adam’s just sitting next to me, watching. I got all of my gear, the very best that money can buy to translate my vision onto film, and man, I’m working it.
And Adam’s watching and finally he raised his little face toward me and he said, “Does your camera have juice in it?” I said, “No.” He said, “Mine does!” Gave me this wonderful smile as he took a swig of juice from his camera.
That interaction didn’t just give Jones a wonderful smile, it gave him one of those life-lesson moments. It’s not enough to have great equipment and technique. It’s not enough to have great training, experience, and wisdom. Unless we also have juice in our cameras • the energy, passion, perspective, and joy that lights up our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with • we will not be great leaders and our visions will not come to pass.
So how do we fill our cameras and our lives with juice? For me, it has to do with those morning excursions, although it’s not the excursions themselves that make the differences. It has more to do with the attitude and approach that I bring to those excursions. I have turned those treks into treasure hunts, and that makes all the difference.
As a very curious person, it’s easy for me to do that. Every day presents new opportunities for exploration and discovery. That keeps my juices flowing. But one doesn’t have to be exceptionally curious in order to engage in the practice. Everyone has at least a little curiosity in them and everyone can strengthen their curiosity muscles, with practice.
Appreciative inquiry calls that the poetic principle. We can look at every situation, regardless of how mundane or even tragic it may be, as having within it the seeds of learning, inspiration, and poetic imagination. Viewing situations in that way represents a choice. It’s up to us as to where we want to point our lens and focus our vision. We can choose to see the poetry in life, or not.
Life is better when we choose to see the poetry. Noticing and celebrating what’s right with the world, rather than wallowing in what’s wrong with it, is the message of Dewitt Jones, the foundational principle of appreciative inquiry, and the best kind of mindfulness. Such appreciative noticing is what gives leaders juice. And when leaders have juice we become vessels for quenching the thirst of others.
That’s what it’s like to be filled with the joy of living, or what the French call the joie de vivre. Apart from that uplifting energy, all efforts at leadership will fall short of the mark. Leadership is not about pushing people to get things done; it is about inspiring people to want to get things done. That happens when our passion and joy spill over to become everyone’s passion and joy. The work may be hard but the spirit provides the juice.
As leaders, it’s our job to find that spirit. Whether we find it in a morning nature walk, a conversation with a colleague, a passionate sense of purpose, or a child’s plastic camera filled with grape juice, it’s up to us to find it. One way or another, we must connect with and cultivate our joy. In the worst of times, that joy can be hard to find • but it can always be found.
In all situations and circumstances, the way we show up makes all the difference in the world. If we show up with low energy or a negative attitude, then that’s the way things will be for us and our people. If we show up with high energy and a positive attitude then that’s the way things will be. It all depends on what we choose to see.
Coaching Inquiries: What kind of attitude do you bring to the work of leadership? Do you inspire people and lift them up or do you discourage people and tear them down? How would others answer that question about you? What has been your best experience with serving as a catalyst for positive energy? How did you muster that spirit? What would it take to muster that spirit on a daily basis? How could you make it so, right now?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Just wanted to say I have been following you for possibly 10 years. About 5 years ago I switched email addresses. Through the switch, your Provisions were one of the only email newsletters I continued to follow. During that time social media has grown crazily around us yet, like clockwork, I receive your newsletters every Sunday via email.
They’re great reads and I thought I would let you know the hard work is greatly appreciated. I have only been blogging for 2 years but now through your newsletters I have learned that persistence pays off. It’s hard work to write every week but I have learned that once you grab a reader they could follow you for a long time as I have. Thanks.
I was searching “Life Skills” and quality of life and came across your website. Your Understanding Needs and Feelings chart is excellent. I would like your permission to use it in my classroom. I teach micro ‘helping’ skills to frontline workers in the mental health field. We are covering reflection of feeling and meaning at this time. Your chart would be very helpful.
I’m half way through Evocative Coaching. Having evaluated new teachers, I think this concept should be in all educator’s contracts. Not every poor performing teacher is necessarily a bad teacher. No one goes into a profession to be a poor performer.
This concept would help a lot of educators. I think every new Board member, Administrator and teacher should read this prior to implementing. School districts have guidance counselors for students, intervention specialists for special needs, why not coaches for teachers (and not the athletic kind).
Unfortunately, unless a school district has the funds, it would probably be something that is cut from a school budget. I know people don’t like government mandating things, but I think education is one area that needs uniformity (funding, curriculum, length of school days/school year, teacher pay, teacher performance, etc.) throughout the country. It’s the only way we’ll catch up to India, China, and others. Wishful thinking!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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