The Power of One Small Action

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.
— African Proverb

[To my dear friends of Cohort 17 of SeattleCoach - it is to each of you and our courageous sensei Patty Burgin, that I dedicate this post. Congratulations on this phase of our Working Identity - and thank you for your enduring presence and wisdom.]

How often have you thought or felt that what you say or do is inconsequential? Or how often have you believed a nagging issue that looms persistently in your horizon might sound trivial to others and is not worthy of attention?

Over the past few months, I've had the distinct honor of being one of nine people, each of whom has pushed our growing edge, not only as coaches, but within every role that each of us plays in life, be it parent, spouse/significant other, child, grandparent, executive, employee, community leader, or entrepreneur. The intent of our journey has been to imagine and develop all that is possible within ourselves to help others just like us - everyday people who have big dreams, small dreams, challenges, and fears - everyday people who play multiple roles within their complex everyday lives. Through my journey with my coaching cohort, I’ve laughed and cried in joy, sadness, and anger; and come to more fully appreciate two life theories:

  1. What each of us does - what I do - what you do - MATTERS - A LOT  
  2. The small stuff we tend to overlook often has broader significance

Part 1: How you show up through what you think, say, and do matters

You don’t have to be the president of a nation to have great impact. Our sense of community starts with the power of one - YOU - particularly to those living and working closest to you.

As a leadership and organizational coach, part of my job is to listen, sense, and be curious in order to help my coachees stay open to their own possibilities. Another part of my job is to observe and learn from how others do this effectively. I have been in awe of the ripple of impacts that each individual I’ve worked with, as coach or as coaching client, can create. I’ve seen a client start to shift the culture of her group by trying on new ways of interacting with others. I’ve experienced leaps in new thinking as the result of a single question posed supportively by a peer coach. I’ve observed the level of learning that can happen when a group is led with care and self-manages with mutual respect. This is impact, perhaps not as a big bang, but one step, one person, and one community at a time.

It only takes a quick experiment interacting with people in an elevator to discover that how we choose to carry ourselves in our day-to-day world matters a great deal. How does it feel to be acknowledged as opposed to be ignored or to be scowled at when you get onto an elevator? As one person, through one action or one word, I can make you smile. Laugh...Cry....Ponder...Be wonderfully amazed...Be horribly flabbergasted. You can then choose to pass this sentiment onto the person you interact with next. What will you share? Will you share at all? How do you choose to show up today, and how do you think it will impact those around you?

Part 2: The small stuff counts for more than we think

The sooner you recognize that the “small” things on your mind are the snowflakes that snowball into something greater, the less susceptible you will be to an avalanche.  

In business, we are taught to aspire to big, hairy and audacious goals, which often results in a focus that is one-directional. And even as a “strategist” who believes in approaching goals from the top-down and bottom-up, it has taken me some time to recognize my own tendency to undervalue the small stuff in my own life. In my role as coaching client, I have been prone to only wanting to discuss topics of systemic importance and major change. The challenges of the every day, such as feeling stuck, fuzzy of thought, or just tired seemed too “silly” and insignificant to bring to my coach.

However, I now better appreciate that, like an actor preparing to create depth of character, I can make larger strides towards my goals and personal growth when I’m well attuned to the emotions that are evoked within me as I play out each small act of daily life. Coach training teaches you to accept your life where you are (at least it did for me). While I don’t believe I lead a boring life, I just don’t seem to have a plethora of dramatic, soap-opera style events in my life to bring forth major topics to work on with my coach each week. And so I am being forced to work on issues that make my daily world tick. AMAZINGLY, working on these small patterns is making my big hairy audacious goals more within reach.

I like to think of it as the Princess and the Pea effect. We try to cover up small issues with layers and layers of defenses and ego, and in the end they create more pain than we were willing to recognize and address, ultimately inhibiting us from accomplishing what is in our true potential. If you were to dig deep to recognize one small thing that has been bothering you, what would that be and what would you like to do about it?

Life is fast-paced and we often move through it quickly, bypassing the small acts and emotions that make our lives rich instead of being fully in the present to recognize the significance of the moment. If you find resonance in this and seek a sounding board, I'd love to hear from you.  I welcome comments below - and you are always welcome to reach out to me (or one of my wise cohorts within the SeattleCoach Network)!


Life, Liberty and the Never-Ending Pursuit of Authenticity

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.
— Henry Ford

We live in an amazing country. After spending several days in our nation’s capital, visiting historic sites throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and then celebrating the 4th of July watching fireworks in Seattle, I am reminded of the many brave actions both leaders and everyday citizens took throughout the course of our nation’s history to earn us the liberties we have today.

4th of July

The true stories of the lives of our founding fathers and mothers, and other national leaders that followed are so rich - filled with both acts of heroism and mind boggling dichotomies. Their stories highlight the nuances of life and decision-making, revealing shades of gray that bear scant resemblance to the oversimplified stories painted in good and evil or black and white that dominate our news media today. Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…” was also a slave owner. Stonewall Jackson, a revered general in the Confederate army, risked imprisonment for violating the Virginia Code of 1819 in establishing and teaching for a bible school for African Americans. Woodrow Wilson led the United States into WWI after a presidential campaign based upon the platform of peace - and passed the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution for women's suffrage after years of denying it.  

These polarities give prominence to the fact that our own impact can be enhanced by small acts of courage, especially when we accept that, as humans, we will make mistakes but can also choose to be open to new evidence, to try to understand and forgive, and to re-shift our course. As Herminia Ibarra, an expert in leadership and professor at INSEAD more bluntly stated, "We have many selves, many roles, and many possibilities and some people’s different selves are more loosely tied together than others…”

As a result, we all have had and will have mixed records of fullness and folly. Our fears of failing, of being imperfect, of seeming inconsistent, etc. may prevent us from trying new things that we are developing conviction around that will make positive impacts. What would have happened if our founding fathers and mothers and those who followed succumbed to these fears and didn't have the courage to step out in front? 

In celebration of our independence, I’d like to encourage all of us to take the opportunity to think about how you will show up with courage this week - even if it seems contrary to your prior actions. What new path might you take? What new challenge will you confront?  

Would love to hear your thoughts and stories! Share them as a comment below!