Category Archives: Play

Humus Perfume

At 21, I was given a gift. Calling to make plane reservation for my then-fiancé and me, I gave the ticket agent our names.

She began laughing and replied, “That’s so funny. Do you two travel together often?”

Punch line – my maiden name is Barber.

So, twenty-five years later, thanks to Northwest Airlines, I am Deidre B. Combs. The agent taught me that I clearly couldn’t hyphenate my name…that would not only be silly, but distracting. But, she also helped me realize that keeping my maiden name in my married mix would be a great symbolic gesture.

Not only, as one of four girls, was there no one to carry on my primary family name, but also, how can you take yourself too seriously when you have a last name like “Barber Combs”? The “B.” reminds me that our children could easily garner nicknames like “Scissors” and “Perm” and that I am a victim of the same game of Life that everyone else is playing. Honestly, just think about the likelihood of falling in love with someone whose name does that to yours? Like the Northwest agent, my name makes me giggle.

I adore the intricate connection between humor and humility. They come from the same root word of humus, or “earth.” Both humor and humility ground us; connect us to the planet and to each other. I find humor and sincere humility magnetizing. I like myself most when I am employing these two well; thus I wanted to keep that “B.” close at hand.

Watch in the attached TED video how really funny and humble connect.

Our son Cameron is a master in the sport of  humble humor — he’ll appropriately deny it. To prove my point, Exhibit A is a recent blog post from his travels in Brazil entitled “Bonbon Disaster.” Click here to read!

Observing my leadership students employing humility this week, I noticed that humor is usually always close by. For example, one young man on the MSU track team remarked how he is trying to make sense of why he gets scholarships for throwing hammers and weights in the air. “I can’t believe they give me money for that,” he explained with a wry smile. He had us all giggling as he thoughtfully considered the relevance of this pursuit and his future athletic goals. His humble assessment and humorous descriptions of his daily practices had us all captivated. By the end we were trying to convince him that his focus on excellence and discipline was leadership in action. He had us all cheering him on, although that didn’t appear to remotely be his intent.

Humility exposes our vulnerability, mostly to ourselves. We might think that we somehow need to have it all together, but our community usually sees through that façade. They know that we are flawed. We all were born, we are all clumsily trying to figure out how this world works, and we are all going to die. That you can’t overcome. Our community seems more interested in when we realize this truth.

Personally, I’m not as interested in following a leader who is perfect, but one who despite imperfections wants to give. Isn’t it strange, when our “ugly” bumps and bruises are exposed that others often find us at our most beautiful?

As in soccer, as in life

As I was tracking the World Cup statistics from FIFA.com, I found myself recalling a local soccer match I had watched with my mother a few weeks ago. Based in California, my OD consultant mum was in town for the weekend and accompanied our family to Billings for a state tournament.

We both shook our heads as we witnessed the teenaged girls on the field struggling. A month before we had seen this same team play with success and hold strong against their opponents.  “Well,” I remarked, “we’ve both now got a great leadership case study to share.”

This was a set of strong players who played in the fall on a rarely-defeated high school team. Some are fantastically aggressive defensive players, others can run like the wind, and still others have beautiful ball handling skills. Yet, hearing the coach yelling at the girls from the sidelines, I figured she had not gotten the memo on why managing from your team’s strengths is a winning strategy.

As we caught snippets of the coach’s assessment of what the girls were not doing right, I was reminded of a manager from the beginning of my career with IBM. A favorite story whispered around our department recounted when our manager, we’ll call him Bill, began giving one of our senior software developers, Terry, some actions to complete. As Terry listened and mentally noted the “to do’s,” Bill couldn’t stand it. “Pick up the pen, here’s a piece of paper. Now, write this down,” he stammered.  That Terry was African American and probably 10 years Bill’s senior made this slight even more inappropriate. Bill was the same manager who asked me if I was going to have children because that might affect if I could continue to be “on the fast track.”  Perhaps he missed the interpersonal skills, sharing confidential information and EEO sessions during manager’s training, but we were all quickly looking for ways to escape his leadership.

Tell me long enough I am a bad employee/soccer player/partner and I’ll probably begin to believe you. In contrast, focus on what I am good at and notice how I square my shoulders, show up and perform well.

Strengths-based leadership is the concept of focusing on what team members do well, while giving each the opportunity to improve our skills in other areas. As one high tech sales executive illustrated for me, “A new sales rep will land in my office and say, ‘I can’t write,’ and I have learned to say, ‘Let’s not worry about that now, because I know that you are great on the phone. Focus on selling on the phone, and if you’d like to learn to write better we’ll work on that later.’ By acknowledging everyone’s strengths, I have a top-selling sales team.”

Gallup survey of more than one million work teams, which also conducted more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders, tracked why participants followed the most important leader in their life. The research uncovered that, ” the most effective leaders are always investing in strengths. In the workplace, when an organization’s leadership fails to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of an employee being engaged are a dismal 1 in 11 (9%). But when an organization’s leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%). When leaders focus on and invest in their employees’ strengths, the odds of each person being engaged goes up eightfold.”

A friend asked me to come into her 5th/6th grade classroom last week to tell a story. When I arrived, one of the 12 year olds looked me right in the eyes and said, “You are the best storyteller.” Another added, “I love when you tell stories.” When my friend hugged me and told the class that I was giving them a wonderful gift by dropping by and that they were so lucky to have me, I thought, “what a contrast to the soccer weekend.” Instead of doubting myself as those teenaged athletes did, I sat up straight and delivered a tale from China as best I’ve ever told it in the past 10 years. I bought their assessment of me, just as we are all prone to do.

Kevin Connolly — Playing Well at the X Games

Have to let you all know that our friend Kevin Connolly just took 3rd place in mono ski at the X Games! To get a sense of what that means, click here for a short ESPN clip of the final run…This is not skiing for the faint of heart.DoubleTake -- A Memoir

I have to sing Kevin’s praises since he’s been playing well — by both making his mark and having a great time — this year. His recent book, Double Take: A Memoir published by Harper’s Studio was released last fall and he’s taken to the air waves to promote it. Here’s a fun clip of an interview with Today Show’s Meredith Veiria:

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I can tell you that Kevin isn’t much for being considered “inspirational,” but he consistently reminds me to reach for the stars while maintaining a great sense of humor. We are cheering his win here in Bozeman and look forward to seeing where Kevin will next set his sights. Congratulations!

Steve Jobs — Three Tenets of Playing Well

The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. — Bertrand Russell

225px-Steve_JobsWhen I recently found a YouTube version of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, I was not surprised to see the 1.5 million “hits” to date. This became one of my personal favorites when its transcript appeared in my inbox soon after its presentation. Just in case, it hasn’t landed in your email — I include it below:

I was reminded watching this speech of a quote by Bertrand Russell, a 20th century British philosopher and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. At the beginning of his autobiography, written in his 80’s, he states:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy…With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine…Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Job and Russell remind us that love, curiosity and recognition of our mortality are great allies in playing well. When these are ignited within me, I find that I usually play at my best. First, loving what I am doing and who I am serving opens my heart. Curiosity gets my head into the game. Then remembering death and suffering are part of the human being program, centers me into my body and circumstances.

How can we engage these three passions, as Russell calls them, each day? We can pose Steve Job’s question of “If this was your last day on earth would you spend your day as it is planned?” I like to check if what I am doing both brings me joy and has substance. What daily practices assure that you are playing well as Jobs and Russell describe?

The Power of Stories

My friend Sunny calls it, “the Friday morning weep-fest.” After last week I’d have to agree. Driving downtown, I too had tears rolling down my cheeks listening to National Public Radio’s latest selection from the Storycorps Project.

Storycorps is an oral history project begun in 2003 where tens of thousands of everyday people have interviewed family and friends in a mobile recording booth. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD that the participants take home, and archived for generations to come at the Library of Congress.  Here’s Storycorps founder, Dave Isay, sharing from the project:

Chief Justice John Marshall once said that “to listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”  I am impressed with not only the result of these interviews, but also the process. How often do I give my loved ones 40 minutes of uninterrupted, focused story telling time?

So you might wonder, what had me tearing up in the car? story corps

I listened to Debbie Watterson and her son Mitchel talk about having a deaf family member. Click on the link to see caught me.

This piece seems like an apt follow up to last week’s post on encouragement — I hope you enjoy it.