Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • “That said,” I continue, “I suspect that it’s time to no longer make decisions based on your father’s fear. To no longer avoid his disapproval or to seek his approval. That feels like a good place to start this inquiry.” Or we can keep trying to put them aside, to ignore them, to shove the baggage of our lives into storage, unsorted, heavy, taking up more room with each year. Tracing forward from these remembrances of things past gives us the chance to re-experience and reframe these beliefs. Doing so liberates us from the confounding forces we label as fate, destiny, or—even more frequently—the other person’s “fault.” We will never sort through them all, of course, but what we don’t sort through impedes our happiness. It tricks us into using the rest of our lives—and the people we love, the professions we choose, the organizations we lead—to try to close the gaping wounds from childhood.

  • Listening, I’ve come to understand, is bearing witness to lives unfolding, to lives being discovered. Deep listening, listening compassionately, means guiding, gently nudging, or sometimes shoving people down the path of radical self-inquiry so they can make their way to their own truest selves. Then, and only then, can they lead with the dignity and grace of being human. The goal, then, is to help you listen to the stories of your heart so that, in the end, you can know the why of your leadership journey and become the adult, the full human you were meant to be. Then the simple but hard task becomes clear: Lead from the place of your truest self. Do so not merely for yourself but for those who love and entrust their careers to you.

  • The process of radical self-inquiry into one’s own leadership journey is supported by standing still and taking the time to ask oneself open, honest questions around the rules we carry.  
  • How did my relationship to money first get formed? How did that relationship shape the work I’ve chosen and my definitions of success and failure? How does it shape my view of the quality of others’ work and contributions? What was the belief system around money and work that I grew up with? How does that impact my view of my own worthiness?   
  • “Listening,” I remember, “opens that which pain has closed.”

  • I watch his eyes—I always watch my clients’ eyes. Our eyes moist with memories, we talk of the time six years before. Years before, I’d given him the metaphor I often use with clients: “Take your seat.” “Sit like royalty in your leadership seat,” I say. “Sit as if you’ve the right to be there.” “What would Obama do?” became both a rallying cry and an inside joke. What standards of dignity do you hold yourself to, regardless of how things unfold? What do the people who have counted on you to lead them need from you at this moment? Strong back and open heart. This is warrior stance, I tell him. The strong back of fiscal discipline. The strong back of clarity and vision, of drive and direction. The strong back of delegating responsibility and holding people accountable. The strong back of knowing right from wrong. But it’s also the open heart. It’s giving a shit about people, purpose, meaning. It’s working toward something greater than merely boosting your ego, greater than just soothing your worries and chasing your demons away. It’s leading from within, drawing on the core of your being, on all that has shaped you.

  • How can I lead with the dignity, courage, and grace that are my birthright? How can I use even the loss of status and the challenge to my self-esteem inherent in leadership to grow into the adult I want to be in the world? At the end of my tenure in my current position, what would I like to feel about myself?

  • Looking back, I see all those subway rides, all that motion, as an attempt to gather lemon drops. My twisted logic went like this: I didn’t have any lemon drops, and therefore felt exhausted and depleted and constantly battled migraines, because I wasn’t doing enough. The answer, therefore, was simple: Do more, faster.

  • Over time, hyperawareness became part of my character, part of me. It became, as I’ve often joked, a superpower. Even today, when I work with coaching clients, I track every bob of the Adam’s apple, every pause in the story (where it occurs, what words preceded and followed it, where their eyes move when they pause), to brace for the coming storm or, even more, to discern what they might need, right then, in that moment. If I give them what they need, says my little boy, they will be saved, and if I’ve saved them, then I’ll be safe.  
  • That hyperawareness, married to the quick-change nature of my presentation of self, gave me the ability to meet everyone’s expectations of who I should be.  
  • In what ways do I deplete myself and run myself into the ground? Where am I running from and where to? Why have I allowed myself to be so exhausted?

  • Who is the person I’ve been all my life? What can that person teach me about becoming the leader I want to be? What was the story my family told about being real, being vulnerable, being true? What do I believe about vulnerability and how might that serve me?

  • Who is the person I’ve been all my life? What can that person teach me about becoming the leader I want to be? What was the story my family told about being real, being vulnerable, being true? What do I believe about vulnerability and how might that serve me? Chapter 5 The Immense Sky of the Irrational Other We sat at the kitchen table, a lit Winston burned in the Bakelite ashtray. My dad, in his usual seat at the head of the table, and I, to his right, picking at a tear in the vinyl tablecloth. My mom, in an apron, paced around the kitchen, walking in and through the swirling cigarette smoke. “I met Art Garfunkel in the bowling alley on Snyder Avenue.” My mom talked but it wasn’t clear whom she was speaking to. I looked up from my bowl of Cap’n Crunch, the spoon dripping milk, and braced myself. “Shit,” I said to myself, “she’s starting up again, Where the hell is this gonna go?” I tried to catch my father’s eyes, but he stared at his opened copy of the Daily News, his Parker pen in hand fixing the paper’s typos. “Your father was bowling with his league and I was waiting for him to finish up. I had bowled a 154 about an hour earlier so I was pretty happy. The 154 was my new league high . . .” My body tensed; I watched Dad’s reactions. Nothing but the scratch-scratch of his pen on the paper. “Anyway, I was sitting there, waiting for your father, when this tall, skinny kid with a big mop of hair sits on the stool next to me. He was about your brother’s age, eighteen or nineteen, and he was too skinny. All the kids were skinny then because they were all on drugs. You know that drugs do that, don’t you?” She looked at me for permission to continue. I nodded. “Okay, so I’m waiting for your father and this skinny kid with a blond mop of hair walks in to the alley and takes the stool at the snack bar right next to me. ‘Just a burger, please,’ says the kid. ‘A burger and a glass of water.’ So, I asked him, ‘Don’t you want no fries or nothing?’ “Well, he turned and looked at me like I was some kind of a ghost or something. ‘No,’ he says. Real slow and spooky-like. ‘Are you all right?’ I say to him. Well, at that he perked up and we got to talking. He told me his name. Garfunkel, he says, Art Garfunkel. It was a pretty funny name, so I never forgot it. Later, when I heard it all over the place I knew him.” I nodded. “Anyway. . . . That’s why he wrote that song, because of me. You know, ‘Mrs. Robinson.’

  • A co-founder may look at my extreme vigilance, for example, and see only a replication of my father’s obsessive focus on correcting others’ mistakes, their typos. Without my own radical self-inquiry and, further, my willingness to explore that tendency in the safety of an adult relationship, they’re left without the understanding that that passive-aggressive “correcting” is rooted in the effort to stay safe. Moreover, without my own exploration of the roots of that, I stand little chance of changing behavior others find irrational and frustrating. In my attempt to feel safe and that I belong, I may inadvertently drive away the very people who could best help me feel loved, safe, and that I belong.

  • The poet Rilke warned that to love another is “perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks.” He also said that implicit in being in a relationship with the Other is “the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” But doing so demands realizing and accepting that even between the closest people, infinite distances exist. Within those distances, beneath that immense sky, lies the possibility of our deepest, most radical self-inquiry: “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” The key to understanding is seeing clearly your own reaction. When you react with anger, fear, greed (or even with laughter, as in the case of my client and his wish to be bad), it gives you a chance to see yourself more clearly. Radical self-inquiry is the path to seeing habits and patterns. Questions that drive us toward that insight are endlessly helpful: “What parts of me are being projected onto the other person?” “How do I reclaim those parts of me?” “What do my reactions say about me?” “Why do I do what I do?” “Why do they do what they do?” “What need for love, safety, or belonging might they be trying to meet with their irrational behavior?”

  • I suggested she use a tactic I learned from training in nonviolent communications: OFNR. O, for observation of undeniable fact. F, for feeling and assumptions about motivation and other interpretations of facts. N, for needs—individual as well as collective needs. R, for request . . . a request for an alternate way of behaving.

  • “Start with the facts,” I told her. He left the office earlier than expected and he did so without telling anyone. “Then,” I explained further, “share how his doing so made you feel—in this case, disrespected. “Then share with him the collective need . . . that everyone in the company has a need to feel respected. Then,” I told her, “make a request. If he needs to leave early, ask that he let you know in advance.”

  • Why do I struggle with the folks in my life? Why are relationships so difficult? What am I not saying to my co-founder, my colleagues, my family members, my life partner that needs to be said? What’s being said to me that I’m not hearing?

  • What if being lost is part of the path? What if we are supposed to tack across the surface of the lake, sailing into the wind instead of wishing it was only at our backs? What if feeling lost, directionless, and uncertain of the progress is an indicator of growth? What if it means you’re exactly where you need to be, on the pathless path?

  • “What if we lived our lives forgetting the destination we’re aiming for,” I asked. “What if we woke each day and just wondered what will happen today?”

  • As we continued walking, I was reminded of Joseph Campbell’s thought that the pursuit of purpose and meaning is really a pursuit of aliveness, of rapture. Andrew leaned in, his eyes flashed.

  • “Do you remember those old manuals IBM used to put out with their software?” I’m sitting by a fire at a retreat center with my longtime friend, the wonderful author Seth Godin, and he’s giving me advice on how to keep going when you want to give up. “When you’re stuck, you should just do what they did . . . stick a blank page in the stuck point and type: ‘This Page Left Intentionally Blank.’”

  • Aliveness comes from living a life of personal integrity in which our outer actions match our inner values, beliefs, wishes, and dreams. I am living my purpose, living with aliveness, when I write, regardless of whether my words are published. This then defines our life’s work not as a path to be discovered (and certainly not by following someone else’s map) but as a way of being, where each day is a chance to live into the command to live with the inner and outer in alignment. Acknowledging the days, weeks, months, and years when we have not lived that way, giving ourselves the do-over, the freshness of beginner’s mind, to rise again and try again.

  • Work—our careers, our professions, our jobs—is neither the blissful expression of deep purpose nor the dreadful obligation that stands in the way of being ourselves. Work is an opportunity for a daily realignment of the inner and outer, a daily do-over of life expressed with integrity.  
  • What’s my purpose? Why do I feel lost while I struggle to move forward? How do I grow, transform, and build a life of meaning?

  • How has who I am shaped the ways I lead others and myself? Which of my unconscious patterns might be showing up in my organization? How have those patterns benefited my organization? How might they be holding it back?

  • How has my heart been broken? What have I learned about myself as a result of that heart being broken? In what ways do I embody resiliency? What does a life of peace and equanimity feel like? How will I know my work is done?

Stay up to date with my latest posts/tweets here: @manas_saloi