Leadership lessons from the cello tutor

We’ve been finding it a challenge to get our 9-year old to practice his cello, with procrastination on his part & yelling on ours for him to practice being the norm.  At his last 1:1 lesson, he finally admitted to his tutor that he wasn’t enjoying playing the cello because he’s hated practising the newer exercises she’s assigned him. 
I should have picked this signal of dislike from his procrastination so I was felt quite angry with myself when I heard this aloud. 
H has been a splendid teacher (I wrote about how she used an analogy she used a few weeks ago), & she did something magical again. Rather than berate him for not having done what she’d assigned him, she simply asked him what he liked. He said he liked the cello, and wanted to play pieces of music, rather than just do exercises. She took out a different book, and played a beautiful piece for him. She then got him to play it along with her, occasionally playing duet. 
You could see the change in his demeanour instantly. His posture went from slouching to sitting up straight, his eyes twinkled as he smiled at me.  She said so to him, & he was beaming from ear to ear.
She assigned him passages from the book to work on during the week, and showed him where the techniques he has to practice too come into play (pun intended).  
Practice this week has been a breeze, twice as long as usual, with little procrastination & no yelling. 
A little change in approach. A disproportionately larger change in behavior.

Angels as creative forces

We are not alone in the universe. We are surrounded by mighty creative forces. When you are needed by others, when you have something valuable to contribute, these beneficial forces will support you, give you greater health, greater energy levels, longer life and deeper creativity. Life may strike at you, and challenges can hurtle themselves against you, but you will feel equal to them. Deeper forces from within will support you, hold you up, and act as a shield. – Eknath Eswaran

Change is imperceptible in the moment

While the quote is dated, and solar energy accounts for a sizeable portion of the energy market now, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was dismissed as a fad. Like many other things we see around us, ideas are dismissed because they shake the status quo for the establishment. Time (& heat?) changes everything, even though it may be imperceptible in the moment.

Noodling on a pen

This pen is about 25 years old. 
It has been one of my best teachers.

Fountain pens were the only writing instruments allowed at school, & so my parents got me a couple of cheap ones. I was fascinated with italic calligraphy back then, & had no access to broad nibs. The only nibs available then were fine nibs. Fountain pens have a way of falling out of the hands of a 12 year old when the cap is unscrewed, often landing nib first on the ground. If the (sometimes deliberate) damage to the nib was bad, I’d use a pair of pliers to break them, and scratch them on a mirror, trying rather unsuccessfully to make them smooth & make it into a broad nib for italic writing.

When my dearest aunt got me this Shaeffer italic calligraphy pen as a gift, I felt like the richest person on the planet. Until then, I had only seen one of the kids in my class brandish his calligraphy pen, one he would not allow anyone to touch, let alone write with.  So when I became the proud owner of this pen, the first words I wrote with it were “Thank you”. For the next decade & a half, I wrote with this pen nearly every day. Whether it was during my exams, for birthday & Christmas cards, love notes or just random scribbles, it was my constant companion.

No pen writes the same. Writing cursive with an italic calligraphy pen is a fun exercise. I learned how to hold it at the proper angle to the paper to make the smoothest mark. There is no single grip that lets you write every stroke well so I learned how to adapt at speed.

Calligraphy, among other things, is about consistency. Training the hand & the eye to work in tandem at speed requires millions of repetitious exercises. As a teenager (& even as an adult), I hated repetition because it’s boring. It’s only when I realised that while I was doing inconsistent marks on the page that it dawned on me to go back to the basic lines & ovals that make up every letter of the cursive alphabet. And do them millions of times over the years. 

This pen leaks. Runs out of ink. Needs to be cleaned. The barrel has cracked. It’s easy to discard it & get a new one, especially now that I can afford it.

But I won’t.
Because it is a reminder of many things.
That you can change someone’s life with a simple meaningful gift, like my aunt did for me.
That like pens, people too are different. Each one requires to be handled differently if they have to make their best mark in this life. This is even more true when I’m a leader, whether at work or out of it.
That persistence, purposeful practice is the only way to mastery. And while you may appear to be very good at what you do,  there’s still room to improve. Lots of room.
That everything grows old, cracks & leaks, & runs out of ink (or steam). Especially your body.

Noodling with, & on pens, is fun 🙂

Learning active listening .. on public transport

Public transport is a great observatory for human behaviour. 
I notice that most people, myself included, prefer to drown out the noise with earphones of some sort: squeaking wheels, rumbling engines, boring announcements don’t make for a good soundtrack for our commuting lives. We’d rather prefer our favourite music or a podcast or a movie to the cacophony that surrounds us. 
Occasionally though you get yanked out of the commuter reverie by someone talking. Often because the voice is at a higher frequency than the captivating sounds in our ears. You turn the volume down, & eavesdrop on this conversation that, at first, sounds like an argument. But no. It’s the local fishing enthusiast, explaining to the tourist-y looking types, about the best spots to go fishing. They’re doing a day trip into the city but want to check out the outdoors tomorrow. No, you don’t need a boat. Walk down that leafy lane, & you’ll see a little path – only if you look carefully. Here, look at what I caught there  yesterday. (Loud guard announcement drowns out the rest of the conversation). 
Every now & then, I forget my earphones or to charge the laptop or to carry a book. On those commutes, I learn something about the community I live in.  I also get to practice my listening skills. 
Not because I want to know the juicy details of that story the two women who can’t (won’t?) keep their voices down, but because I have no choice than to keep my mouth shut.
If I approached the same listening-to-speaking ratio in other areas of my life, I wonder what I’d discover?