The following is a conversation between Jerry Colonna, Author of Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: Executive Coach Jerry Colonna believes leaders need to engage in radical self-inquiry, which builds the maturity required for leaders to lift up others and not just themselves. His book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up has served as a guide and inspiration for many to cut through their own delusions so they can figure out who they really are and what they want. And he is with us now.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Jerry!
Jerry: Thanks for having me, Denver. It’s a pleasure to be on the show with you.
Denver: Like a book, Jerry, your life has been a series of many distinct and interesting chapters, which, I guess, taken together, served as kind of a foundation for writing Reboot. Share with listeners a couple of those chapters.
Jerry: It’s an interesting opening question. I guess one way to respond to that is to look at the arc of human development. And so there we are in our teenage years, lost and confused and railing at the world. And then in my 20s, I think I, like many folks, began to define myself, as I like to say, either in opposition to or in accordance with the people who raised me and the structured environment in which I found myself.
In my case, it was in opposition to. I was going to do it differently. I was going to be different. And in my 20s, I became a journalist, and somewhat to my own surprise because that wasn’t the plan. The plan was I was going to be a poet and an English teacher. And then, by my late 20s, I was doing well within the organization, but I was also anxious to get on with my career. And I became a venture capitalist, which really surprised me because that wasn’t something that was in the plan, and I started participating very actively in the early, first companies that established the internet as we know it today.
And then by my late 30s, the “house of cards” that I had created for myself in my 20s and my 30s began to fall apart. And facing a kind of combination of midlife questioning, and really confronting some personal demons that I had avoided for most of my previous 20 years, I stepped away from that business. And then eventually, in my 40s and now in my 50s, I kind of rebooted myself, reinvented myself as, I guess, what I ended up today, which is an executive coach trying to help other people in that similar kind of journey.
So, is that the kind of chapter recitation you were looking for?
In order to complete the process of becoming the full-fledged, actualized human adult that we were born to be, it requires many of us to pause, as I did in my late 30s and early 40s, and to say, “What the heck am I doing? Why am I doing these things?”
Denver: That was almost pitch-perfect because it is better than just saying, “Given me your background,” you know what I mean? “And where you’ve come from…” So you took us through that with a very, very nice thread.
I had mentioned to you earlier before we got on the air that this book was given to me by a friend at a coffee shop outside of Madison Square Garden. She hands me the book, and it says Reboot, and the first question I asked her is, “Reboot what?”
So, let me ask you: What are we rebooting?
Jerry: Ourselves. The subtitle of the book is Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. And in order to complete the process of becoming the full-fledged, actualized human adult that we were born to be, it requires many of us to pause, as I did in my late 30s and early 40s, and to say, “What the heck am I doing? Why am I doing these things?”
And to personalize it a little bit more, it wasn’t just a midlife crisis for me at 38-years-old. What it was was the realization, as I’m wont to say, that the inner me and the outer me were dissonant and out of sync with one another. And that if I continued that process, I was signing up for a lifetime of continued anxiety and depression. And that needed to be rebooted, if you will, so that I could get into alignment, so that I can be the person that I really am 100% of the time inside and out.
Denver: And you make the point that our survival strategies are developed so often in our childhood and that we bring them into the workplace more than occasionally. And in your case, Jerry, you grew up in a home where under no circumstances were you ever to upset your mother. Talk about that and then how that followed you into your work life and being an adult.
Jerry: True. And just for context’s sake, I refer to the adaptations — we’ll use a fancy psychological term — the adaptations to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as subroutines, layers of software that get laid down early on; they’re belief systems.
And you’re right. One of the belief systems I developed was “Don’t upset your mother.” Now, for context, my mother, later in life, was diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder — fancy structure for what was essentially a very complicated relationship with reality that she had. And the result was that my father who had his own battles with mental illness… his depression manifested in alcoholism, would send a message constantly throughout the family, “Whatever you do, don’t upset your mother.” And so the result was a kind of walking-on-eggshells hypervigilance. That was the subroutine.
The way it manifested negatively was that I would constantly, and I can still do it to this day because the subroutine still runs, constantly presume that something is a threat, or constantly question, “Wait. You just looked at me funny. What are you really saying here?” There’s a trigger-happiness to the way I can respond to things.
Denver: Got you.
Jerry: The positive attribute of that was that very early on, even as a reporter in my 20s, I trained myself to pay very close attention to people’s body language, intonation, the breaths that they take. So when people talk to me, they say, “This is uncanny. How are you reading what’s in my heart?” I was like, “Well, because as a boy, it kept me safe.”
Denver: Interesting. I guess reading that body language is now being tested on Zoom because that’s something we’re always having a hard time really picking up the nuances, that you may have a little bit of an advantage because you have that skill set.
Jerry: I think that that’s right. I think that one of the things that human beings do is read each other’s psychic, energetic presence. And this is something that I often have to teach leaders with whom I work. When you step into a room, and your capacity to read how people are doing is tuned down — because I think we all have it, but sometimes we tune it down — when it’s tuned down, the chances are greater for you to blunder your way into the engagement and actually do damage even when you don’t intend to.
Denver: Another part of the book that I found quite interesting and along these lines, and maybe it was interesting because I’d never thought about it, is how our relationship with money was formed and the impact that that has on us still. Speak about that if you would.
Jerry: So, when I set about to do the book, I wanted to go with the hardest things first. And when we’re talking about organizational leadership, so many of our organizations are either the source of income for ourselves and/or require us to have an engagement with money and finances in some capacity or another. And one of the most important subroutines to understand, one of the most important inner beliefs to understand, is our relationship to money.
So it goes like this, for example. In my case, I grew up with unpredictable experiences around money. There was food insecurity. There was poverty. And so, one of the belief systems I developed was that if I could create a sense of safety around money, then my anxiety could be lowered.
So how did that show up? Well, that showed up in the fact that for most of my adult career, I am responsible for the income I generate, which means that if I fail, it’s on me. And so, that has shaped almost every single business career decision I have ever made.
Denver: So interesting.
Jerry: I have encountered clients, for example, I remember talking to one, a client early on, who said that they were having trouble developing and meeting a budget. And so, we started to unpack this. And I said, “Well, tell me about your parents’ relationship to money.” And they were sort of startled. And then, as they sort of unpacked it, both of them were teachers, and both believed that money was evil, and that those who had money had probably gotten it in ill-gotten ways, or it’s ill-gotten lucre.
I said, “OK. So, now, here you are 20 years later, and anytime you come close to the third rail of developing a budget, you start to become the living embodiment of the thing that your parents disowned. And so, you have to reconnect and reformulate a new subroutine. Oh, wait. Money is not evil. Money is not good.”
Denver: Right. It’s neutral.
Jerry: “Money is currency. That’s all it is. It’s currency, and it’s a means of an exchange of value.” So, seeing it that way, it becomes a tool. It becomes a means to achieving the purpose that I set forth, not something to be afraid of.
When those of us hold power, either by dint of the meat bag that we occupy, or by the role that we have in society, when we allow those unconscious forces to stay in the unconscious, we are much more likely to do damage in the organizations, in our communities, in our society…
Denver: So these subroutines, whether it be: “Don’t upset your mother!” and the manifestations of that, or money, are most people aware of these subroutines, or have they become so habitual, they’re like background noise that they’re not even conscious of?
Jerry: Well, most people aren’t aware of them. That’s why I’m very fond of the Carl Jung quote, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
Denver: That’s a great quote.
Jerry: And the best part of that quote for me is “and you will call it fate.”
When I bring this out in a talk or something like that, I will say to somebody, “You want to know why you date the same person over and over again, even though their bodies change? You want to know why you end up working for the same person again and again? It’s because of the stuff that you have to resolve. It’s the essence, if you will, of the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day.
Denver: Yes, it is.
Jerry: “What am I here to learn from this experience?” Oh, that message. That’s a tougher message.
So there are a lot of unconscious forces at play that shape us and direct us. I think that the thing to remember is that when those of us, either by virtue of — I identified as a white, cisgender male.– When those of us hold power, either by dint of the meat bag that we occupy or by the role that we have in society, when we allow those unconscious forces to stay in the unconscious, we are much more likely to do damage in the organizations, in our communities, in our society because it’s like we’re like this big, looming giant stepping around in the forest, hurting people.
And what we really want to do is raise our awareness about that, so not only can we get out of this notion that everything is fated, but we’re also more responsible, more adult-like in our organizations.
Self- actualization and self-identification are part of the process of becoming fully-fledged adults.
Denver: Let me pick up on what you just said about our role in society. Because have you found, Jerry, that people that you coach or that you know have a difficult time in knowing who they are, independent of their work and identity, independent of what society says who they are?
Jerry: Of course. I think that’s part of the journey for all of us into adulthood is to… you made the distinction, Denver, between knowing who they are, independent of their work. I would argue.. independent of their life, love relationship, independent of their relationship and their family of origin and structure, independent of their relationship to their children perhaps.
Self- actualization and self-identification are part of the process of becoming fully-fledged adults. “I exist here. This is who I am.” And then I can come back into relationship with all those other people with a full knowledge, or a fuller knowledge about who I am.
Very early on, a subroutine gets learned, which is the way to what I call the “trifecta of being” — love, safety, and belonging — is to achieve externally. And it begins with a pat on the head for getting an A. Well-intentioned, perfectly fine, but very, very early on, we outsource our sense of self-worth to the world at large.
Denver: Now, I’ve seen with a lot of people who start up nonprofit organizations and entrepreneurs, they have so much of their self-worth absolutely aligned with the success of that enterprise, that they don’t know who they are separate from it. And it’s just an interesting thing which you do have to carve out, something distinct from the value that you offer, separate from what you’re doing all day.
Jerry: Right. Let’s talk about that for a moment, because that is a phenomena that I see across the board and across industries — for-profit, nonprofit, small companies, large companies.
And I tell a story in the book that I first read in David Whyte’s prose works, David Whyte, the poet. It sort of goes like this. There was an ancient potter who had spent his entire life trying to perfect the most exquisite glaze imaginable. And at the end of his life, deciding that his meaningful life was over, he walks into the kiln and disappears into the fire. The next morning, the potter’s assistants open up the kiln, take out the pots, and they’re covered with the most exquisite glaze imaginable. And that’s the end of the story.
And it’s a really, really powerful story. It’s a paradox because what it says is that in order to create the work of art, the craft, the thing that we attach our sense of purpose to, we may give of ourselves to the point where we merged with the pot. But it’s a tragic story as well because what happens to the potter’s family who had no choice in the matter? What happens to the potters themselves? And all the other aspects of the potter. The potter who might play the violin. The potter who might go for walks in the forest. All that disappears in the pursuit of the glaze.
So why does this happen? Well, most of the people I suspect who are leaders, who are either listeners or guests or those who are connected to this podcast, were high achievers. So what’s that about? Very early on, a subroutine gets learned, which is the way to what I call the “trifecta of being” — love, safety, and belonging — is to achieve externally. And it begins with a pat on the head for getting an A. Well-intentioned, perfectly fine, but very, very early on, we outsource our sense of self-worth to the world at large.
Denver: All extrinsic, not intrinsic.
Jerry: All extrinsic. Affirmation, affirmation, affirmation. Then, we marry that, and this is very true for a lot of nonprofits, with this externalized view of purpose. What is my purpose? I can only have value if I’m giving to somebody else. Now, you have this deadly combination because then you have the normal rollercoaster of any nonprofit. Funding is up. Yay! Funding is down. Oh my God!
Denver: We’re doomed! Yes.
Jerry: Up, down, up, down. We’re doomed! And the result is this psychic, nauseating ride that undermines a sense of well-being, a sense of resilience, let alone a sense of connectedness to self.
And so, before we even went on and started recording, you talked about some of the listeners having trouble with self-care. Well, if I do not feel worthy because my organization is up, down, up, down, up, down, then how can I expend any energy in taking care of the self that is unworthy? And so, what’s required there is a complete rewriting of the subroutine. A complete reboot.
Denver: And when you’re getting that extrinsic reinforcement, if it goes away, you really feel in a hole because it isn’t coming from here. And that’s why I think so many high achievers suffer, if I can call it this, from imposter syndrome because it’s totally outside of them and not inside of them in terms of what their self-worth is.
Jerry: That’s right. But what’s important to remember because we always have to be careful when we start to unpack these things because the psyche is designed to protect itself. The ego is designed to protect itself. And so, the first impulse is if I’m listening to what you just said, my first impulse as a high achiever might be to say, “Oh, look at how broken I am,” and there we go again.
So when we start to unpack this, it’s really important to be gentle with oneself and to understand that that outsourcing to extrinsic sources of self-worth was a survival strategy. And just like you wouldn’t be angry at a five-year-old that you meet in the street for doing that, don’t be harsh with yourself for having done that. It was a brilliant strategy that got you into adulthood.
Denver: Right. And we’re evolving. And as opposed to: “I did bad, I did wrong– I’m growing and that got me from here to there. And now, that I’m here, I need to do something else if I want to go ahead.”
So that brings us back to what I mentioned in the opening, which is radical self-inquiry. I don’t think a lot of listeners maybe know what that is. So tell us what it is.
Jerry: That’s a term I coined to describe a process. And the process is with the way in which the masks that we typically wear, are stripped away with compassion and skill, so that we’re seeing more clearly who we are and what we do.
There’s a question that I often use that helps explain that. And that is: How have I been complicit — complicit, not responsible — in creating the conditions I say I don’t want? Complicit means driving the get-away car, not sticking up the bank teller. You’re an accomplice. You didn’t create this pattern of behavior. It was a response to an adverse childhood condition. But I say I don’t want to feel busy and depleted all the time, but boy, howdy, does it further my sense of extrinsic self-worth to always be needed!
Denver: Look at my calendar. I don’t have an opening to be found for months on end. I’m important!
Jerry: I am so important! Because white space in my calendar might mean that I not only am less important, but I might end up having time in my day to think about questions that I don’t really want to think about.
Denver: Trying to avoid!
Jerry: Like, “Am I happy in this job? I’m too busy to answer that question.”
Denver: Absolutely. I wish I had a moment.
I thought it was interesting what you just said a moment ago about a mask, too, because I’ve observed, Jerry, that people almost accept that we’re all wearing masks. And that manifests itself when you’re getting together with a bunch of people, let’s say business colleagues and clients and things of that sort, and an old high school buddy will come in. And they’ll say, “Don’t let Denver fool you. Don’t let Jerry fool you. I know the real Denver, the real Jerry, because I went to high school with them.” And everybody kind of chuckles. But implicit in that is we all know we’re playing a game that’s not real.
Jerry: Right. Well, and then you ask — you made a link before to imposter syndrome. One of the whispered voices from the imposter syndrome is “You’re lying. You’re wearing a mask. Don’t let them figure out.” Not only that you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember, too, I also made reference to the inner and the outer being dissonant.
One of the ways it shows up is the mask. Now, we put on masks, again, notice here, to stay safe, because if we were really truly honest as children, the world might not be able to handle us. For example, we bemoan the lack of humanity in our organizations. I would even use maybe an extreme word to define it as violence. One of my teachers and one of my closest friends, Parker Palmer, likes to say that: “Violence is what we do when we don’t know what to do with suffering.”
As children, we’re sent a very, very clear message: Your suffering is not bearable. “Shh. Don’t cry. Shh. We’ll make it better.” And because we don’t teach children what to do with suffering, we send an implicit, if not explicit message, which is: Mask the suffering. Because we can’t make the suffering go away, and so we teach people to wear a mask all day long.
Now, this masked person meets this masked person, and instead of having an empathetic connection, they have what my partner, Ali, calls a none-versation.
Denver: None-versation. I like that.
Jerry: No real words are being said.
Part of the path, part of the call to adulthood is learning how to deal with suffering. And we cannot deal with other’s suffering until we first understand how to deal with our own suffering.
Denver: How are you? Fine. How are you?
Jerry: How are you? I’m fine. How are you? It reminds me of TS Elliot has a wonderful poem called The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. One of the opening lines of which, he envisions a dinner party in New York where people come and go talking of Michelangelo, not really having meaningful connection. And part of the path, part of the call to adulthood is learning how to deal with suffering. And we cannot deal with other’s suffering until we first understand how to deal with our own suffering.
I like to point out that the word compassion, when you break it down etymologically, means “to be with calm, passion, feelings.” Compassion means to be able to be with the feelings of another person, and that begins with being able to be compassionate to ourselves.
Denver: Another voice is what you refer to as the crow we have on our shoulder, the inner critic. Tell us what role that plays and why it is so difficult for people to quiet that voice, even if they should be quieting that voice.
Jerry: And there’s a correlation between the crow and the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome, I think, is a manifestation of the crow. And the crow is just a metaphor I developed and learned in college from a poet teacher of mine who would speak about the crow who would sit on your shoulder, criticizing everything that you do constantly, all day long, specifically the words that you used while writing. And the impulse, when we first start to discover that we have a crow sitting on our shoulder, is to either hit it or try and make it go away; make this stop.
And I think that the insight that I had that has been most helpful for myself and others is to realize that the purpose of the crow is to protect you from shame. And that when we see that crow in that light, we get to do something really spectacular. We get to say, “Thank you.” We get to say, “You have treated me so well. You have cared for me. But here’s the insight. I’m an adult now. I don’t need you to protect me anymore. No one is going to shame me like they did when I was a child.” And so, as I often say, “Blow it a kiss and let it go fly away.”
Denver: And accept that it’s been a part of you. I think that is the other side of this, too, is that sometimes people have those inner voices that they try to say, “This can’t be me.” But often, when you say “it is part of me,” and as you said so well there before, it has served a purpose or it does serve a purpose. It’s that self-acceptance that really allows you to be authentic, where sometimes we cannot accept things about ourselves because we don’t want to be that way. So we pretend they’re not there, but they’re going to be there, and you can’t suffocate them entirely.
Jerry: Understanding the relationship with the disembodied and disowned parts of ourselves, my ability to understand that came about partially through psychoanalysis that I did, but partially also through the work I do, from the practice I have as a Buddhist.
In sharing this between us now, one of the things I was thinking about was how often people come to me. I’ve had a meditation practice now for 17 or 18 years, and how often people come into meditation thinking that the point of meditation is to make all the thoughts go away. And that a bad meditation session or a good meditation session is one in which the mind is not thinking.
Denver: Being still.
Jerry: And nothing will make you feel worse about yourself than the impossibility of that task.
And oftentimes, when I’m sitting on a cushion, I will hear the crow because I’m quiet. “See that white space on the calendar?” And welcoming the voice of the crow, understanding that the crow is showing up because you might be feeling afraid of being ashamed, humiliated, seen as a failure, a disappointment to those who love you. Understanding and accepting that, again not believing the truth of the words, but believing the truth of the feelings allows the crow to then fly away, which is what we really want after all. We want peace of mind.
Denver: Jerry, when you’ve seen people who’ve done this inner work, if I can call it that, and then come together with others, because again, this radical self-inquiry… sometimes people think you go into a cave and stay there, but you don’t know whether it was going to be working until you get out of the cave and try to operate with some other people. But when you do see them get out of that cave and operate, what’s the difference that you’ve observed compared to, let’s say, the normal way that most leaders go about their day-to-day business?
Jerry: OK. I promise I’ll answer your question, but now you’re going to have to answer a question of mine.
Denver: All right.
Jerry: All right.
Denver: Turning the tables on that. I don’t like when that happens, but I guess it’s only fair.
Jerry: Who was the friend who met you at Andrews Coffee Shop?
Jerry: Why did Eunice give you the book?
Denver: She knows I’m very much into executive coaching and corporate culture and behavior. And she gave it to me because she knows it is a passionate area of interest of mine.
Jerry: And when you read the book, what struck you the most?
Denver: I think it was the integration of many disparate things that I had thought about before and seeing the connection between those things. That there was… I guess it would be, if I could put it in a phrase, pattern recognition… in terms of things that you read and do this, but there’s kind of this mosaic or this weaving.
And there’s an appreciation of… we talk about how interdependent we are in this society… and COVID has brought it out, but you find how your life is so interdependent as well. That all those different chapters that we’ve talked about are connected in ways that are probably under the surface, but they feed into one another. And it’s the understanding of that that makes you more present in the moment today because you’ve done that work to understand those patterns.
Jerry: What patterns in your own life might you have uncovered in the process of reading the book or thinking about or had reinforced, your awareness of them have been reinforced?
Denver: I’d have to really think about that a little bit more. But I guess if there’s a pattern, it would be more thoughtful about things that have served me well, and taking a moment to reflect on my response. I wouldn’t say it’s a trigger response, but it’s pretty close to an automatic response and asking: Is that still serving me well because it has always served me well? So that would probably… and that goes into maybe the way I eat, or the way I discipline myself, or any of those types of things.
But there was that moment where you say… and I recognize that recognition wasn’t enough. Then after the recognition, the work begins– to think of how other behaviors need to be put in place that might serve me better, and then you begin to recognize it before you take that action.
So, what happens, it’s more hindsight at first, where you react in a certain way, and then you say, “Why did I act in that way?” And you’ll look back. But now, you get more conscious that before you take that action, you start to think about, “This is how I always act in these situations. Is that the best way?” And that’s when I think you begin to see more behavior change, but that’s a process.
Jerry: That’s so brilliant. Thank you for all of that. I really appreciate your allowing me to do that. And I just want to acknowledge that that helps me land so that I’m not a sage on the stage, but there’s actually deep connection that’s occurring here.
And so, what I’m taking from that is in reading my book, the pattern that you just identified, the meta pattern pattern that you identified, it didn’t occur to you, but it was reinforced that this was a true experience. And that what you were…if one was looking at one’s what feels like an autonomic response, stimulus and response, stimulus and response. As the old quote says, “What you’re doing is living in the gap between stimulus and response so that you can then consciously choose what your response is going to be.” And you’re seeing the connection between all of those things.
So now, I want to go back to your question, which the way I heard your question is: sometimes people might fear entering the cave because they fear that they may get stuck and never leave the cave, which reminds me to paraphrase the teaching from Joseph Campbell. “The treasure you seek is in the back of the cave.” The fear that you identified… that if I go open up the closet door, if I unpack the shoeboxes of memories, I’m going to get trapped forever, and I have work to do.
I’ll tell you an experience that I had just the other day that speaks a little bit to this. A client, as they often do, asked me to speak to the whole company. So we did an all-hands company, about 60 employees. And we had what I call a listening session where I had no agenda; I’m just listening and responding to questions. And one person raises their hand, on Zoom, and shares, and then another person, and then a third person. And I realized that what they’re all experiencing are various forms of grief because it’s now March 1 that we’re recording this, and it’s been a year. And it’s been a hell of a year.
And one woman who is a recent graduate school graduate felt that she lost an entire year of her life. Another had moved to a new city and felt like he had moved with the excitement of meeting new people and new friends, only to live in a lockdown world. And then as we talked about grief, we started talking about loved ones lost. And within a few minutes, people were in tears feeling what they needed to feel, and we were there… being with suffering.
Now, I cite this because the fear in those moments, especially with the managers, is, “Oh my God, but we have work to do.” And as I pointed out, all of that grief is running in the background anyway, and it’s interrupting the productive self. So you might as well give it some air time.
Let me just finish this point. You did not get trapped in the cave. They did not get trapped in the cave. They went into the cave; they extracted the treasure, and then they left the cave.
Denver: And took it out into the world.
Jerry: That’s the pattern to remember.
Denver: Yes. That’s great. And it is interesting about grief because at my age, I certainly grew up even more, and you as well, in a world where there were three parts of us. There was the rational part, the emotional part, and the spiritual part. And they were all reasonably integrated until we got to the threshold of the corporation, the front door. And there was a clear sign to keep that emotional and spiritual out of these halls, and only bring the rational self into this business because we’re hard-headed business people. And I just wonder if that is… it’s been changing, but whether this pandemic is going to accelerate that change where grief can be expressed.
I had the editor of the Harvard Business Review on recently, and I asked him… they’ve done all this work. I said, “Have you had one article that’s just taken off and crushed all the others in going viral?” He says, “Yes,” he said, “the one that we least expected. It was on grief.” He said it got 100 times more shares than any other article that we have.
Jerry: I’m going to read that article.
Denver: And it kind of like, it just tapped into what you just said and what is going on: that sometimes we still don’t even discuss as much as we should.
Jerry: So you asked a question that was sort of more definitive. Will things change, or have things changed? And the answer is: I hope so. I hope that… you made reference to this before, the interdependence has become so clear with the pandemic. I hope that we don’t go back to the way things were.
Several years ago, I was on Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, and the question she asked me is: Is it really possible to bring our whole self to work? And the answer I gave I still believe: We do anyway! The problem is we’re pretending. So, you’re right. What’s the collective delusion that the other two-thirds of ourselves that you identified are somehow not in the room? That is just nonsense. They are in the room anyway, just like the grieving feelings of the client company were in the room anyway.
The question is: What do those who hold power do with that fact? Because when those who hold power deny the existence of two-thirds of our humanity, are we really surprised that we suffer? Are we really surprised that we struggle to come up with innovative and creative ideas when two-thirds of our soul is left at the door? For God’s sake, what is the point of us all being together in organizations if not to be the place of fruition for each of us as individuals? Is it to put more dollars in the GDP? Stop!
Denver: Right. Silly measurement already, I think. Speaking of individuals, let me ask you, Jerry, what’s been the impact of the pandemic on you?
Jerry: I think one of the most important things has been a beautiful reiteration of that interdependence that you spoke about before. And I know that masks and mask-wearing are unbelievably, unfathomably controversial. I look at it and I say, “What a beautiful symbol of interdependence.” See, when I wear a mask, I’m protecting you, and when you wear a mask, you’re protecting me.
Denver: Common good.
Jerry: And this is true whether I’m talking to somebody in Singapore or I’m talking to somebody next door because that’s the way viruses work. And so, for those of us who have been at the realm in which all of these worlds overlap, to have daily reminders of how not alone we are, how similar we are, how universal is our experience, and how dependent we are upon each other? — Yay!
Jerry: I wished that we could have arrived at this other than with suffering, but that is how we got here. And I think the question is: As the pandemic seems to be beginning to be ending, what are we going to do with this?
Denver: A million-dollar question. Absolutely.
Jerry: A million-dollar question.
Denver: You don’t know, and we can all say what we’re going to do. One thing I’ve had people do who have pledged to that. I’ve encouraged leaders to write a memo or an e-mail to themselves and to their board of directors and put it on automatic send-a-year-from- now, and have it go out. So all the things that you pledged to do, you will actually see whether you did them or not, because I know and you know when the busyness starts, these things sometimes can fall by the wayside. And I trust that they won’t.
Finally, Jerry, with the tremendous and positive impact this book has had on so many people, myself included, you got another book in you? Are you thinking about doing another one?
Jerry: Let’s see. So this is the file folder marked: Chapter one.
Denver: All right!
Jerry: I do have, I did just sign a contract. The manuscript’s due June of 2022. And–
Denver: Any previews or should we just wait?
Jerry: I think you’ll have to wait because I’m a big fan of the metaphor of: “Don’t take the lid off the rice pot. Otherwise, you end up with a gooey mess.” But I’m excited.
I will say this, that I’m trying to build upon some of the insights that I gained in the year, the year-and-a-half that I was on tour after the last book was released. And so many people, I was so surprised by the number of people from so many different walks of life who came up to me and said, “Your story is my story.”
Denver: You could write a book just listening to those stories and cataloging them, probably just insights kept on building and building.
Reboot is the name of the book, but it’s also the name of the company you founded and are CEO of. You have a great website, and new stuff is going up on it all the time. Tell us about it and what visitors will find there.
Jerry: Reboot as a company is really dedicated to this notion that I like to quip, “Better humans make better leaders.” So we’re really focused on that process of better humans.
And something fun that we’re doing right now that’s up is we’re doing a workshop on listening skills, which is a blast because it’s one of the most important leadership tools we have. And we tend to be trained to problem-solve, not actually listen. And so, this is about listening.
Denver: I’m just ready to jump in because you’re talking about something, and I have the answer. Hurry up. So hurry up. I want to give you the answer. You know what I mean? Let me talk. That is no way to run the world.
Well, thanks, Jerry. I want to thank you so much for being here today. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.
Jerry: It was great to have you on, Denver, too. And I’m happy I didn’t make you cry. I came close.
Denver: Next time.
Jerry: You got it.
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