The Business of Life

Sisyphus photo by Jeffrey Hummel: Fine Art America

Welcome to 2022. I’m hoping it came in safely for you and yours.

Many of us may be challenged and like Sisyphus, feel ever-destined to shove at that heavy rock and yet are making little or no progress toward our business and personal goals.

It’s important to remember that the business of people — the business of our humanity — must always come first.

You’ll notice it’s been quiet here.

I’ve had a LOT of ‘people business’ since the end of last year. I worked very hard, managed pretty well to keep the juggled running chainsaws safely in the air. But, and there always is one … I suffered for it. My health, my spirit, my being were all challenged.

In many ways, it wasn’t worth it.

I was able to do more for people through giving but did less with people.

I worked through my federal and state taxes yesterday and owe more than I ever have in my life.

I cried.

The rock felt quite big and for many moments, it was rolling back down and over me.

Leaders have these experiences with business and also have them with their personal lives. It’s vital that we recognize our humanity in those moments, that we seek support when we need it — whether in the corporate or personal environment.

I’m grateful to have that support from professional spaces as well as personally.

I encourage you to take a moment, think about where you are (emotionally, spiritually, physically) and take inventory to determine if you need to stop juggling the chainsaws.

The thing is, we really don’t have to juggle them.

I stepped away from a toxic work situation to get my sanity back and after a few moments of self-reflection, I was able to again focus on the good I did over that time. I considered the lives touched — even the ungrateful ones.

As a person of faith, I remembered that not everyone who gains a measure of success from our toil beside them will say ‘thank you.’

And yet, we press on to the next client, the next job, the next family member, the next neighbor, the next student …

Rest assured, your labors are not in vain.

But in the midst, put down the chainsaws. Stop juggling them. Care for yourself and your loved ones.

The business will take care of itself for a minute.


If you find yourself struggling to balance your attention to the people in your span of care (yourself, your family, your colleagues, your clients), be sure you are focused on the people and not just the process.

Need support deciphering how to balance your focus? I’d be glad to work with you.

What is Your (Be)Cause?

Next posts will guide us back to the main road of the Recon Leader superpowers, but before that, let’s follow one more rabbit trail that relates to prioritizing people.

The question is:

What’s your (be)cause?

If you are a business owner, C-suite leader, or just feel very in-tune with the mission, vision, and values of the organization you lead, you likely can rattle off your list of causes.

As a philanthropist, social activist, or even from a personal space, it is probably easy to also list your causes.

But as an R-Leader, you know that a cause is more than your cause.

Recon Leaders are focused. Like the R-Leadership bird, the Shoebill, R-Leaders are steadfast in what they want. They will work at it and worry with it, wrestle it and wrangle it, until the goal is attained.

Here’s an interesting fact about Shoebill parents: they may have more than one chick at a time but will observe which one is strongest. That strongest chick is the one they feed and support.

Before you gasp in horror, think about the projects that cross your desk. Which ones do you give life to, dream into existence, talk about to anyone who will listen, or seek support for?

The strongest project in your view, wins. It’s the one that gets nurtured. The other projects have to fend for themselves or die trying.

Just like a Shoebill baby, your projects must show their strength to survive.

How then does all that relate to your (be)cause?

In fact, what is the (be) in (be)cause, you might be wondering?

While a cause is great — necessary in fact — a (be)cause is so much larger.

A (be)cause is one that exhibits a key component, a major element of DNA, that makes it visible to you as one to champion.

Brazenly evolutionary.

The Shoebill chick that gains the attention of its parents is feisty. It’s larger, louder, stronger. It shoves its way to the edge of the nest to be fed before its sibling can get there, going so far as to step all over the other chick. When the adults aren’t around, the larger baby might bite the smaller one. Brutal, but true. There’s something in the baby that, through its evolution, has given it an advantage.

Recon Leaders always have a (be)cause, a something that is brazenly evolving into something new and exciting.

It might be the way they run meetings, or maybe it’s a product they want to bring to market that others believe it because of that leader’s enthusiasm. Maybe it’s their gentle but firm, lead-from-behind methodology, their way of working with their teams.

I remember the first time I heard of a certain airline that had been advertising like crazy: the motto was that this airline offered inexpensive flights to just about anywhere. I checked out their processes, which were different — there were no assigned seats. Even if a passenger paid for upgraded seating, that meant they got to board first. There was no ‘first class’ or ‘business class seating’ either. My first thought was that I was witnessing the development of an airborne bus service.

Seriously — the idea reminded me of what it was like to ride long-distance on a bus: buy a ticket and stand in line, hoping you might be able to dash on and grab something far enough from the bathroom and not end up with the person who always gets car sick when riding and has to tell everyone about it.

A family emergency occurred and I ended up buying a ticket for a cross-country trip on this particular airline as it was the only one that could get me where I needed to go in time. My images of a bus ride continued, until I got on the plane. It was spacious, comfortable. The flight attendants were … attentive.

But the best thing of all was that they were entertaining. They smiled and laughed in a way that didn’t feel contrived. The pilot told jokes over the intercom. I think the whole bunch of us who had been crammed in the flying tube for six hours together were all pretty stress-free and happy when we walked into the terminal. And not a I am so glad to be off that thing sort of joy, but a wow was that a good flight feeling.

The leader of that company had a (be)cause that customers can feel. It’s a (be)cause that gets at the heart of why people hate to fly: there’s nothing pleasant about being mashed into the least comfortable seat you can imagine, with access for 400 people to about two bathrooms no bigger than a portable toilet (the other two bathrooms are for the 20 people in first class, after all), as the people in the curtained off section in front of you eat from custom china plates. Or something.

The (be)cause focused on people first: the customers and the team who serves them. In October 2021, one of the top leaders at the airline said that a general key to success was not taking oneself too seriously. Another mentioned was being humble. A third was recognizing that things aren’t always perfect.

One of the founders of the company started it on the premise that people come first.

People were the baby who got fed first, and from that decision came a company whose ratings have remained near the top of the heap.

People-focused is the best (be)cause of all, and it’s one that R-Leaders live by, every day.

Need help identifying your or your organization’s (be)cause? Feel free to connect.

Prioritizing People Over Process

The journey through the R-Leader superpowers will resume soon, but it’s time to park at one of the main focus points of this work. It is the bedrock on which all other elements of Reconnoiter Leadership rests:

Prioritizing people.

Notice the home page and the ‘motto’: prioritizing people over process to make progress.

You might be asking, ‘How does that work? Sure, people are important, but our company has processes. When we follow the processes, we make progress!’

But do you?

The short answer is of course, ‘yes’. Processes are vital to a well-functioning organization.

However, an organization that doesn’t put people first ultimately disappears. It dies a painful death of leakage and atrophy.

Leakage and atrophy may take various forms but typically have the same outcome. People feel slighted, unimportant, like what they do and how they do it really don’t matter. There are several writers, philosophers, and coaches who make reference to this concept: people who feel like they don’t matter recognize that they might be seen only as a ‘human doing’ and not a ‘human being’.

People who get tired of not being seen for their human-ness will take one of several paths:

  • Grudgingly remain: they continue to work, but what they do is … lackluster. They stop contributing in meetings. They spend more time surfing social media than finishing the spreadsheets. They collect their check at the end of the pay period, skip out the door and into their weekend, and shuffle back in at the start of the next (think: Pink Floyd … ‘another brick in the wall’).
  • Zealously engaged: opposite the grudging colleague is the one who believes in the organization and what it does. Maybe they have a real heart for the constituent. Whatever the situation, they want to change the environment, so they immerse and invest in their job duties. They come in early or stay late, volunteer for projects, offer ideas at every meeting.

The end result though is leakage and atrophy. People who don’t feel seen within an institution are usually easy to spot: they are the ones who slip supplies or other company property out the door in their briefcases at the end of the day. That is an extreme and tangible form of leakage, but it shows up in other ways. The grudging colleague spends their time on social media, sending text messages, or playing WoW at every opportunity; they are late to work often, with or without reason; they are the first to take time off for vacation; they don’t volunteer to cover another colleague who is out; they don’t contribute during meetings.

In some situations, the grudging colleague shares that they are using their talents elsewhere. When asked what they did over the weekend, their face lights up as they describe an event they held for their (fill in the blank: faith community, social club, fraternity or sorority) and everyone listening can hear the joy as the person describes their leadership role, which never evidences during the workday — skills gained inside are only used outside.

Inside … outside … sounds like descriptions of prison in a way, doesn’t it? For some team members who don’t feel like they are being treated as people, work is like their open-door prison.

The zealous colleague’s leakage might be similar or it might not be so obvious. They might just come in on time instead of being the first one in every day. They might stop volunteering ideas as often. They end the fiscal year with less and less vacation time to carry over because they are taking it more and more through the year.

Use of skills and energy in this way is a form of intangible leakage.

Atrophy is the next step and can be summed up in three words: the resignation letter.

Both types of colleagues described here point to a possible atrophy situation. The grudging colleague might be recruited during one of their weekend events, where someone sees them as a person with value and acknowledges it, thus drawing them away from their current role.

The zealous colleague will give until it hurts. Sometimes literally: they use themselves up, only to fall into painful emotional or physical states (depression, anxiety, to name two) because their efforts are not recognized. They aren’t offered an opportunity to present a new idea. They don’t get the promotion. They grow weary and leave, sometimes for a new position and sometimes not — they take a pause, just to catch a breath and hopefully find their joy again.

By prioritizing people over process, Recon Leaders put their energy into recognizing human value. They understand that by giving respect and attention to the team, they open the door to increased member engagement and buy-in.

An R-Leader who takes time to know their colleagues as people first is able to take a pause, hear them, and identifies ways to support their ideas. The R-Leader is able to see the big picture because they are focused on the process — on the organizational plan — and recognizes when a team member’s idea fits somewhere in it.

Recognizing the people means seeing the people: asking about their family, the pets, how they are and how they’re feeling. It’s remembering that one person has a child in their life who is a soccer phenom while another one raises exotic parakeets. And asking about them from time to time.

Prioritizing people over process leads to progress. While the progress may not seem to happen as quickly as when process is prioritized, the R-Leader recognizes the illusion.

Think of it in terms of finances.

A new product hits the market at a high price point. People line up for it, can’t wait to get their hands on it. The product is a success, flies off the shelves, and the company makes money. The success of the product and the organization is all over the news. Champagne and caviar all round.

But then the next quarter hits and sales are down, so the scramble begins for the next big thing. And on and on and on.

However, there are oodles of products that don’t make the headlines but bring steady progress to the organizations that make them. I think of companies that make … I don’t know … spoon molds. You know, the thing that the metal or whatever is poured into to make the spoon. While the shape or design might change every few decades (invention of the spork, anyone?), the general mold is what it was a zillion years ago probably. The price point to buy a spoon mold likely hasn’t changed, generally speaking.

There’s no research behind that last paragraph, but follow the logic: think of something more intangible, like the services provided by organizations like the ones who bring hot food to seniors in their homes. As far as I know, they continue to make progress. But they don’t focus on the newest and shiniest containers with logos and bells and whistles to make their product work. They grow through a focus on people. The individuals who drive and give the meals out feel good about what they do. They are often featured on the company website and in newsletters. The people they serve say nice things. The leaders encourage the teams, even then things look bleak like they did during the heaviest times of the recent (current) pandemic.

A Recon Leader recognizes that sometime growth is holding steady rather than increase. Why do you think there is a car company out there with a ‘motto’ of ‘like a rock’? Sure, the image is of something tough and long-lasting. Catch that last bit: long-lasting.

A long-lasting team is one that holds steady and ultimately their work results in progress.

Prioritizing people over process takes time. It is a genuine act of caring. It is where the tortoise excels and the hare is left in the mental and emotional dust. It is something the R-Leader does from the heart because they have reconnoitered the landscape and can envision the future, recognizing that success doesn’t typically happen overnight. And the success that does is often fleeting because the horse it rode in on was as fast as a super-car with one tank of gas.

R-Leaders realize that prioritizing people can’t be faked but it can be learned.

If you’d like to learn more about how to prioritize the people in your organization over (or more accurately, alongside) the processes so you can make better progress, reach out. Let’s connect.

Superpower #2: Engaging Creativity and Advancing New Ideas

Pop quiz:

First question: What challenges do nearly all leadership segments have in common, regardless of industry? Take a moment to think about that …

Now, don’t think automatically of the ‘innovators’ — the Google’s, the Apple’s, the SpaceX’s.

  • Think of the shop in your downtown that you walk by during lunch break.
  • Think of the home repair big-box store.
  • Think of your hospital, doctor, veterinarian, dentist, ophthalmologist, or other health provider.
  • Think of the gym up the street.
  • Think of the real estate office that opened in the new strip mall near your favorite Starbucks.

Also, think of the businesses that maybe didn’t make it, like Sam Goody …

So, what comes to mind?

I’ll give you some hints:

  • Piped Muzak: if you hang around in the store long enough, you’ll hear the same loop. Several times. And when the holidays come, yeah, that.
  • The possibility of a struggling trainee: they are either at the register or on the floor and you can feel their tension at not having the answer you need.
  • The possibility of the disinterested worker: they too are either at the register or on the floor and you can feel their lack of tension for your needs.
  • The possibility of an overworked manager: they might be anywhere in the store, trying to check in on the senior staff from time to time while supporting the struggling trainees, disinterested workers, and any customers who aren’t getting their needs met.
  • Customers: some might be lost, in a daze, because there are many merchandise options. Others might be disgruntled — due to something in the store or just in life. Others might be on a mission, seeking only that which they desire and a swift exit. Or, the place might be swarming with people, shopping for Black Friday deals, sell-out specials, or it’s just the lunch hour rush.

Second question: what’s the solution?

I’ll give you a hint.

Look at the title of this post.

Yes — it’s really that simple.

No matter what the industry, success is dependent on creativity and new ideas.

I used to work in retail and even then, as a teenager, I noticed how customers reacted when we rearranged the store or put up a new display in a new place. I didn’t realize until much later that something as ‘minor’ as changing the floor plan or putting up new end-caps (the displays of certain products at the ends of the aisles that sometimes don’t relate to what’s in the aisle) really grabbed customers’ attention. When we’d close early or stay late to literally move aisles and content, the reactions when we reopened were amazing. The products were the same, the staff were the same, but a change in position made a world of difference. I was fortunate to work with a manager who didn’t stifle our creativity … so long as we followed what the Corporate Office wanted!

When did you last engage your creativity? What was the last time one of your team members pitched a new idea at your weekly meeting?

When was the last time you pitched a new idea to the team? Or to your leader?

If it’s been a while, you should get to it. How might you leverage this second Recon Leader superpower?

The first step involves making a list by answering this question:

If money and time were no object, what initiative would I bring forward (to the team, to my leader, to the Corporate Office)?

This is the magic wand question. It gets your creative juices flowing. Think of as many items as you possibly can and write them down, no matter how expensive or impossible they might feel at first.

There’s a saying in the writing universe: in every fiction there is a nugget of reality.

Recon Leaders begin to activate their creative super power by exploring the realm of ‘what could be’.

The second step requires you to go back to the start of your list to:

  • Examine each initiative: put a mark by or highlight the ones that have a nugget of reality in them. The nugget might be something that the team has wanted to do in the past but never got around to putting in place, or maybe it’s something that just wasn’t worked into the annual budget before.
  • Create two ‘buckets’ for the initiatives you just marked or highlighted: the first is the ‘in the next X (weeks/months/years)’ bucket and the second is the ‘not yet’ bucket. Remember: with creativity, nothing is completely off the table for a Recon Leader!

Now, put the list away for a while. Maybe a week or two. Then, pull it out again and look at your buckets. Carefully analyze each initiative, regardless of the bucket it’s in and refine it by exploring these questions:

  • What resources (people, time, money) will it take to bring this initiative to life?
  • What stakeholders need to buy in for it to happen?
  • If I had to pitch it to (the team, other leaders, the CEO, the Board), what would I say in five minutes (what’s the elevator speech about this initiative – what is it, what is the problem it solves for the constituents and for the company, and what needs to be brought in or taken away for it to work)?

Use a list, a mind map, or other tools at your disposal to start your lists. Think about who you can present the initiative, along with your elevator pitch, in a safe and non-judgmental space for feedback.

Coming soon will be some thoughts on the importance of feedback to the R-Leader.

Not sure about your own R-Leader creative superpower? Learn more by signing up to take the R-Leader Creativity Survey (R-LCS), which is currently in development! Fill out the Contact Form and indicate your interest in taking an R-Leader assessment. That will put you on the list to be one of the first to be notified that the R-LCS is ready.

Superpower #1: Being a Respectful Provocateur

The ‘R’ in Reconnoiter stands for ‘respectful provocation’, which all R-Leaders have as one of their superpowers.

But what does it mean to be a respectful provocateur?

A typical definition of the word provocateur offers a potentially negative connotation: one who is an agitator or who disrupts.

However, for the R-Leader, agitating and disrupting are not negative.

The thing in the middle of the washing machine is called an ‘agitator’: it’s job is to toss the clothing about, to loosen it, to open up the folds so more water can get in. Without agitation, not all the bits get cleaned.

A light switch ‘disrupts’ an electrical signal: without it, the lamp never goes off and the power bill is always enormous.

As an R-Leader, you likely already use this superpower.

Author Timothy Keller offers the term ‘respectful provocation’ in Generous Justice. He suggested that respectful provocation is a way to encourage others to discuss and share beliefs and values with the understanding that such discussions cannot be neutral. For most people, their beliefs and values are often not negotiable, until something shakes them up a bit.

Such provocation goes beyond conversations about beliefs (faith-based, political, or otherwise).

Think about workplace norms. Every organization has The Big Three: a mission, vision, and (there it is!) values. The Big Three are not negotiable. Team members agree upon hire to support them or in some way indicate they can abide by and respect them at minimum.

Just like social conversations about beliefs and values, workplace norms must be discussed at some point, whether it’s during on-boarding, at individual annual reviews, or when something happens that calls those norms into question.

Regardless of personal or professional discussions, talking about norms is not always easy. Confronting them when something happens is where the R-Leader’s superpower of respectful provocation comes in.

Recon-Leaders observe the environment and are able to engage others in courageous conversations, often leading to change and growth for everyone involved.

Respectful provocation brings elements of Reggio Emilia-inspired education into the adult arena. The four pillars of the Reggio Emilia Approach apply:

  • Team members must have some say over what they experience.
  • When people use all their senses to understand the world around them, they are better able to think and process.
  • Colleagues must interact with others and be encouraged to explore.
  • Team members should be encouraged to express themselves and be given the freedom to do so.

One way that R-Leaders engage this superpower is by helping their team members ‘think outside the box’, but that’s just one way: the opportunities are endless.

If learning how to develop your respectful provocation superpower is something you’d like to do, reach out.

R-Leadership: Advancing the Leadership Conversation

R-Leadership is shorthand for Reconnoiter (Recon) Leadership, which is not a model or theory upon which behaviors are based. Reconnoiter Leadership is a leader-lifestyle. R-Leaders (or Recon-Leaders) exude what could be called inherent superpowers — they incorporate the following attributes in every engagement with other people:

  • R espectful provocation to develop future leaders within the team
  • E ngages creativity to advance new ideas
  • C onsistent commitment to growth of self and others
  • O pen communication with all people
  • N ormalizes workplace joy and fun
  • N otices the niche-builders who drive innovation
  • O bserves and reports across all organizational levels
  • I ntuits needs for organizational advantage
  • T ranslates practice to process for shared knowledge and understanding
  • E nergizes teams through corporate social justice
  • R egularly reviews and renews useful practices

R-Leadership practices help leaders focus on the most important organizational asset: People.

R-Leadership practices provide emerging and seasoned leaders with forward-focused skills to engage others in ways that honor individuals and encourage growth and innovation within and across teams to advance company metrics.

Look for more on each R-Leadership superpower in other What’s New posts …