Life’s Big Questions
In addition to purpose, well-being, and financial freedom; one of the more important pillars of living a meaningful life - both personally and professionally - is having genuine relationships. Intimate, loving, and enduring relationships with family and close friends are among the greatest sources of joy in life, still there’s nothing easy about nurturing them.
No one will argue that relationships always require a give and take, and as I and many have learned the hard way, they always start and end with you. I’m often reminded of the great Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh who uses the analogy of ‘two gardens’ to describe the mental fortitude it takes to foster relationships - “You have two gardens...” he reminds us “...your own garden and that of your beloved. First, you have to take care of our own garden and master the art of gardening. In each one of us, there are flowers and there is also garbage. The garbage is the anger, fear, discrimination, and jealousy within us. If you water the garbage, you will strengthen the negative seeds. If you water the flowers of compassion, understanding, and love, you will strengthen the positive seeds. What you grow is up to you.”
This week, I was treated to one of the more thoughtful conversations I’ve had with an individual who has not only mastered the art of gardening but one who is now making it his life’s work to inspire others to share in his joy. Scott Kriens is the Chairman and former CEO of Juniper Networks, and what you’re about to find out is why impactful leadership, at any level, always starts and ends with managing relationships. If you’re serious about evolving as a leader, I urge you to bookmark this conversation and get involved with the Kriens’ 1440 Multiversity - If for no other reason than to evolve as an individual.
Here’s just a glimpse of what I learned:
Life’s big question - What really matters? Simple question, but often a complicated journey. Unquestionably, the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
What really matters? Authentic, rich and trusting relationships in one’s life.
The belief that I’ve come to live by is that authentic relationships are a learnable life skill - one that we can all get better at with a real intention, and the right practice.
Relationships have always been a part of survival, but the difference in how I look at them today is being intentional. The first 45 years of my life were spent accidentally or coincidentally coming across relationships, today it’s a life goal.
How do you recognize an authentic relationship? You’ll know it instantly, maybe not consciously. We are programmed to look instinctively at an interaction and ask a very fundamental question - is this safe & do I trust this setting?
My definition of authenticity - when someone is telling me something they believe, then I would label that as authentic as opposed to telling me something that they want me to believe - in that case, they’re not putting themselves out there.
The relationships that have disappointed me in the past and the times when I’ve disappointed myself in a relationship with others have been when I have been in disregard of others or when someone has disregarded me.
Why relationships are difficult? To some degree, it's a fight with fear. We live in a balancing act between safety and comfort & fear and uncertainty - and fear and doubt are the powerful drivers that cause us to act in disregard for fear of our own safety. For someone to be in a trusting relationship, you have to acknowledge fear & lean into it.
In any relationship, someone has to be first to offer. The more important the relationship, the more difficult it is to lean into it. The safer thing to do is to keep to one’s self. It requires courage.
The mission of 1440 is Compassionate Communities Leading Generative Lives:
- Compassion isn’t something you develop, it’s innate in all of us.
- Communities that curate and cultivate compassion will create more energy than they consume.
- And, everything that happens in that community will be Generative energy that will create a lot more good than harm in the world.
On Leadership - Trust, which is a direct byproduct of authentic relationships, has economic value. Discovery, iteration and failure in any organization require a deep level of trust that signals no hidden agendas and that align everyone to a shared mission and purpose. The end result is faster iterative speed and better sustained performance.
On changing behavior with culture - Leadership has to be done in person and in immersive learning experiences. Building a culture where everyone is open to sharing life stories, learning about one another, practicing skills of dialogue, building trust and empathy needs time - and of course, trust.
Building a company that matters starts with understanding that nobody cares what you know until they know that you care. And, no one will care what you want or think until they know who you are. If, as a leader, you’re willing to be courageous and vulnerable - then people are likely to lean into a safe place and listen deeply and contribute powerfully to your vision.
A formula for leadership = Self-awareness + Authenticity + Trust + Inspiration
Despite not having mentors in my life; I remember one particular individual who had an impact on me because everything that he ever told me was important and everything that he had to say mattered.
Showing up authentically in life starts with a commitment to do deeper work on yourself. Meditation and journaling tend to shift your intention inward, which will elevate your sense of self.
If you’re struggling in a relationship, don’t take anybody else’s advice, do what feels right in your own heart. Start by spending some rich, deep time with yourself and listen carefully to what you sense and observe. And, as you work up the courage to share it with the other person - let go of the outcome.
A formula that I’ve found helpful is “If it’s simple and hard” --- if something is simple to understand, then you’re probably on to something. Then, if something is really important, it will likely be hard to do - Pursue the difficult.
- Scott Kriens
- 1440 Foundation
- 1440 Multiversity -
- Scott Kriens CCARE at Stanford University
- Thich Nhat Hanh