The passing of Robin Williams has evoked many feelings and sentiments and I find myself trying to understand why? I never knew him as a person, didn't follow him as a comic, but I do remember that when he entered my world as Mork, he made me laugh - a lot. And now, for many reasons, I am experiencing a deep sense of loss.
Like so many others, I've found myself searching for answers and wondering how a man with such extraordinary wit, brilliance, success and love, could leave this world as he did. Yes I know that I’m not the first to ask that question, but my desire to attempt to answer it for myself, is important.
Over the past week, we've all come to hear about the deep and dark places his mind took him to. Places where he was left feeling alone, afraid, anxious and fearful. We’ve also learned that he suffered deeply from depression and was in the initial stages of Parkinson’s – a debilitating disease that impacts the nervous system and the mind, ultimately leaving the person incoherent and deprived of their essence.
But why we ask, would he end his life? Aren't there other celebrities like Michael J. Fox, who turned their diagnosis into a triumph – increasing awareness, moving forward and inspiring research into this disease? Why couldn't he have done the same thing?
Perhaps the answers lie in the fact that Robin's essence was his genius, wit and unquenchable desire to make people laugh. That was his raison d’etre. His reason to be. So maybe there is a possibility that the thought of no longer being able to be himself, was essentially life threatening to him. And before the disease would take him, he would claim his life so that "who he was" could and would, remain in tact.
And now, everyone who knew him personally and those of us who didn't, have been forced into a state of reflection, grieving the loss of the joy, laughter and inspiration he gave us - remembering him just as he was.
And remember him, we will. His passing has made me realize that one life can truly make a difference. His death has raised awareness of the power of depression and that no one is exempt. According to the America Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on the evening of Robin's death – they received the highest number of calls – in it's 27 year history. The upside to the downside of this tragic loss is that many lives were likely saved, awareness increased.
Depression is a dark, dark place that its victims do not choose to venture to. It is almost always triggered in adolescence by the culmination of experiences, people and relationships that have left an indelible wound. Having being surrounded by this dark devil in my own family, I know for certain that people do not choose to go there. They encounter a feeling of hopelessness, fear and despair that consumes their life. And we must understand that words like, "get over it", "you have so much to live for" or "be grateful", though well intended, may diminish their spirit even more. As such, we must do our very best to be more sensitive and understanding and to take off the lens of judgement for "we judge because we’ve either been there or we haven’t been there yet."1
Yes, sadly this great comic and human being, has met a tragic ending. His mask removed, we are deeply saddened by what we now know and see. He made us laugh until we cried and now, wondering how anyone can fill that void. They can't and won't because he was truly one of a kind. We will mourn the loss of his genius, humour and humanity, but perhaps the loss of something even greater - the light of someone who gave us joy and brightened our lives. A man who saw the silliness in everyday happenings and made us laugh at ourselves. And now, in his passing, forcing us to think, look within and see the humour and the irony, in our own lives.
If we are to keep his legacy alive, let us all have more compassion and understanding for one another. Let’s do our best to take life seriously, but not ourselves. Let us all strive to be kinder, more understanding, gentle, loving, forgiving and true to ourselves. And most importantly, let's strive to laugh more and often.
Doing so, may just save another life – not the least of which, our own.
May his beloved family and friends take comfort in knowing that he made a difference in so many people's lives and left a legacy of love and laughter that we can all be inspired to emulate.
May his soul rest in peace.
1. Footnote: Frank Raso 2013
The Call of the Loons - Communicating from the Heart
I've just returned from three glorious days at our family's small island cottage. The weather was perfect and each day greeted me with vibrant sunrises, blue skies and magical sunsets. As a heavy rain poured down late one evening, I could almost hear the trees laugh as they were refreshed, once more. With every visit, I am compelled to savor the richness and magnificence of nature and I remain both humbled and inspired.
I am so grateful to my grandmother and my parents, for gifting us with their love and the joy this place brings to us all. Here, there is no electricity, cell phone or internet access - everything runs on propane, simplicity and serendipity. The only important calls you receive are the ones most Northern Canadian cottagers yearn to hear - the ethereal, magical and haunting call of the loon.
As I hear their calls, I am inspired to be still, to listen carefully and to take each one in. They seem to connect with the very depth of my soul and once heard, they are never forgotten. Why is that, I thought? Intrigued to learn more, upon my return I did some research and learned that there are four distinct calls which vary both in length and depth. The most common one heard - is a tremelo - a wavering call that is to indicate alarm or to announce it's presence at the lake. The next is a yodel which is the male loon’s territorial claim. The wail is the haunting call that loons give back and forth to figure out each other’s location. And finally, hoots which are soft, short calls given to keep in contact with their mates and between parents and their chicks. (Source:1)
Fascinating stuff, I thought! Upon reflection, I know now why I hear them so clearly: this kind of communication is deeply lacking amongst human beings today. Each of their calls allow them to connect with each other in a deep and meaningful way. They know what they want to say in each situation and they do so, clearly, distinctively and concisely. And perhaps, most importantly, they communicate from the heart with care, concern and love for one another.
So perhaps we would be wise to take a page from their book and apply some of the lessons I've learned from the loons:
1. Be clear and concise in your communication with others
2. Speak from the heart - it strengthens all connections
3. Listen clearly to what the other person is saying - you will improve the outcome
4. Be aware of your volume, speed and tone - you will build rapport and be heard
5. Listen more than you speak - there is no communication without it
6. Give a hoot from time time - we need to stay in touch with one another
7. Hearing the sound of someone's voice strengthens relationships - make the call
8. Master your vocal image - your voice is part of your brand and your signature
9. Unlike loons, humans feel the impact of words spoken - choose them wisely
10.Communicate with compassion and respect - it's part of human nature!
And lastly, be authentic and true to who you are. Otherwise, sooner or later, others will call you on it!
Source: 1: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_loon/sounds
Is Accountability the Key to Success?
"Accountability is about taking responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions and in turn, igniting our potential."
~ Imagemakers International
Over the past 18 years, the one question we've been often been asked is: "How do I get my people to be more accountable?" To answer that question, we would have to begin by asking their leaders how they actually define accountability. Having done so, the definition varies considerably from one person and one organization, to the next.
So what does accountability really mean and is it the key to success?
From our perspective, accountability is about taking responsibility for one's thoughts, feelings, actions and outcomes. It's about discovering who you are, building trust and cultivating respect and in turn, taking yourself and your life to a whole new level.
Here are a few more insights, that may help you achieve those goals:
1. Recognize what being unaccountable vs accountable looks and sounds like
People must appreciate that being accountable is not about fault or blame. Those who makes excuses or blame the past and/or other people for who they are and what they can and can not do, often see themselves as victims of circumstance. If you're someone who finds themselves asking questions like, "why do these things always happen to me?" or "who's to blame for this" or making a statement like, "it's not my fault that...", you may be living an unaccountable life . And if you are, you are holding yourself back from reaching your full potential.
By contrast, when you do take responsibility for your life and your actions and become accountable, you take yourself to a much higher level. When adversity happens, begin instead to ask questions like, "what can I learn from this", "what can I do differently next time" or "what internal resources do I have to overcome this?" When you do, you become a victor rather than a victim and this is key to reaching your full potential, building self-respect and earning the respect of others.
2. Do your part to inspire a learning culture.
The old school of leadership presented accountability from a fear-based perspective. ie. admitting a mistake meant "you're in trouble, you're wrong or worse case, you're next." How can anyone be inspired to learn from their mistakes when shame, embarrassment and a diminished human spirit is the outcome? Genuine leaders inspire a learning culture by approaching accountability from a much more human perspective. They help their people understand that making a mistake is not the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. The result: the individual's dignity is left intact, role models are created and innovation and creativity are unleashed. It only takes one person to set this example and when nurtured, it will begin to transform both the individual and the entire organization.
3. Bring out the best in others and reap the rewards.
One of our seminar participants recently told us that he'd had ten executive assistants in as many years. What does that say about him? Well, it's not what you think. When a mistake was made, he encouraged them to acknowledge it and said, "Let's fix it, learn and move on." As a result of his actions, he brought out the best in others and helped his people shine and guess what? Each of them did move on - they were all promoted and in very short order.
4. Demonstrate personal accountability so that others can follow your lead.
"Show me, don't tell me", was always one of my father's favourite expressions. Genuine leaders are wise to follow this advice and must lead by example. To be effective, they must ask themselves three important questions:
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©2014 Kimberley Richardson - Imagemakers International. All rights reserved.
Leadership Presence: Do you Qualify?
We’ve all met someone with presence. When they speak people listen. When they walk into a room, heads turn. When talking to others, they have the unique ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease. People like them, employees want to work for them and employers want to hire and keep them. So can anyone develop it? We believe they can, however, there are two pre-requisites: the first is a sense of self and the second is a little wardrobe space.
Here are a few more tips that may also help:
1. Let your values speak. Who you are speaks through your character and is demonstrated through your actions. There is a big difference between knowing your values and living them. Know thyself and act and live, with integrity.
2. Develop a winning strategy. Be other focused and seek out ways that you can help others achieve their goals. Great leaders care about others and strive to help them succeed and win. Celebrate your team’s victories – especially the little ones and then give them credit for yours.
3. Be humble. Seek feedback and ask questions that demonstrate your humility. ie. Where can I improve as a leader? What do I need to do to help you improve your results? What frustrates you most about me? Now for some, the last question may elicit a long answer, however, great leaders remain a work-in-progress and laugh at themselves as they progress.
4. Be an active listener. The best leaders listen way more than they speak. Poor listening skills is the number one complaint people have about their bosses. So lean forward, turn off your phone, eliminate distractions, acknowledge others through positive facial expressions and be present. Ask more questions and wait for the answers. You’ll improve your results and your relationships.
5. Project your self-worth. How you present yourself speak volumes about who you are and how you see yourself. It’s also a statement about your level of self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth. Be well-groomed – from head to toe, smile, maintain good eye contact, develop a strong handshake, stand tall and walk with your shoulders back. You will energize yourself and those around you and command respect.
6. Become a great speaker and storyteller. To truly stand out, ensure your speeches and presentations have a strong opening, middle and end. To open strongly, find quotes that summarize the heart of your message – your audience will be enraptured and compelled to listen. Don’t be afraid to use funny and personal anecdotes to illustrate your points. It’s the easiest way to establish rapport, build a sense of community and importantly, show your audience that you are a real human being!
7. Strengthen your vocal image. How you say something is four times more important than what you say. Speak with clarity and strive for short sentences. Adjust the volume, speed and tone of your voice - you will move into sympathetic resonance with your audience and build instant rapport. And remember, to engage people’s minds, you must first touch their hearts. Choose words that inspire, excite and motivate others to not only listen, but to act on your words.
8. Remember people’s names. Everyone loves to hear the sound of their own name and it also makes others feel important and shows that you care. If you want to raise the anti – strive to remember their spouses’/partners’/children’s names – it will go a long way to building and strengthening relationships.
9. Be accountable for your losses. Life is not always about winning. By acknowledging and taking responsibility for your losses or mistakes, you will demonstrate your vulnerability and gain the respect of your colleagues. Create an environment both at home and at work, where admitting a mistake is not seen as the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow.
10. Strive for balance. Balance is not something you simply fit in when you have some down time. It’s what fuels you and the organization and it’s what gives meaning and purpose to your life. Make time to integrate your values into your life – you will feel great about who you are and inspire others to follow your lead.
In closing, remember that the whole person is a sum of all the parts. When you lead from within, you will carry yourself with dignity. When you do the right thing, you will walk with your head held high. When you take a genuine interest in others, others will take a genuine interest in you. When you live your life in alignment with your values, you will exude confidence. And finally, when you feel good about who you are, you will shine from within and in turn, illuminate those around you. And then people will call you a leader and someone, with presence.
As you approach the holiday season you will find yourself in a variety of business and social settings. Each setting will give you the chance to meet both new and familiar faces and the opportunity to truly connect with others. Now connecting with those we know is easy, but what about with those we don't? And importantly, how do we make genuine connections with strangers?
Well, let's set the scene and find out:
You've been invited to a function. As you enter the room, you look around and are overwhelmed by a sea of unfamiliar faces. Your goal is to establish new relationships, but there’s only one problem – the thought of ‘connecting with strangers terrifies you! Well you can relax, because you're not alone. According to the Shyness Research Institute of America, 88% of professionals feel uncomfortable in business and social situations. The study goes on to show that nothing is more frightening to people than chatting with a stranger. So, apart from heading to the buffet table or hiding behind the tallest plant, how can you gain confidence in these situations? Quite simply - by being yourself and making people feel comfortable and at ease.
Here are 10 quick tips that will help you do that:
1. Be the first person to say hello. When introducing yourself to someone, smile first and always shake hands. Make an effort to remember people’s names and always remember to shake hands long enough to notice the colour of their eyes. You will leave a lasting impression and make a genuine connection.
2. Watch your body language: If you stand with open body language, others will likely see you as approachable. If you look uncomfortable and ill at ease, you will make others feel the same way. Act confident and comfortable, by standing tall, shoulders back and smile. People will mirror your body language and will want to engage you in conversation.
3. Become an active listener. Great conversationalists are always great listeners. Be other-focused and talk to others about themselves. Make genuine eye contact and refrain from glancing around the room. Engage others in conversation by asking, who, what, where, when, why, and tell me questions. You will not only cultivate respect, people will find you fascinating!
4. Search for common ground. Get others talking by leading with a common ground statement that pertains to the location or the event. For example, “They seem to have a great turnout this year, how many years have you been coming to this event? If it’s a social function, ask them how they know the host. General topics of interest always include: family, food,vacation, sports. By finding common ground you give people the opportunity to connect with you on a non-business level and it also gives you the chance to explore shared values. And remember, it's our shared values that allow us to forge new and strong relationships, quickly.
5. Come prepared. Prior to attending a function, think about three things to talk about as well as several generic questions, that will get others talking. Be aware of current events and avoid talking about anything that is too political, too personal and unprofessional. If you know the host, think about his or her interests or a charity that you are both involved in. This will serve as a springboard to further conversation.
6. Contribute something interesting. Great conversation builders begin with, “What do you think of?” “What is your take on?” or “Have you heard?” Always avoid gossip, controversial subjects and refrain from long-winded stories or giving too much detail in conversation.
7. Approach the right people. When working a room, it’s important to be sensitive to the conversations that others may be engaged in. As a general rule of thumb, always approach people in groups of three or someone who is standing on their own. Before entering a conversation that is in progress, observe and listen. You will want to avoid interrupting the dynamics with an inappropriate or ill-timed remark.
8. Make proper introductions. As a general rule of thumb, if you are introducing someone to someone else, always say the most important person's name first. ie. If you are introducing your President to someone you would say, John (President's name), I would like to introduce you to Mary English. Mary this is our President, John Smith. If your client is present, however, always remember that your client is the most important person in which case you would say his/her name first and follow with the introduction just as in the above example.
If there is someone you really want to meet, seek the help of someone who knows them and have them introduce you. If you meet someone you have met before and you are not sure the person will remember your name, introduce yourself first by saying " Hi John, Susan Smith. It's good to see you again." Take your time during introductions and maintain eye contact.
9. Handle business cards with respect. When receiving someone’s business card, accept it as you would a gift. Take a moment to read their card and make a positive comment like, “This is a great card or "Oh, you’re from England.” After you do, place their card in your breast pocket, purse or wallet to show that you value and appreciate it.
10. Exit gracefully. Get comfortable with some exit lines that will allow you to gracefully end a conversation. Begin by saying, “I really enjoyed meeting you and I hope we have a chance to speak again.” and/or “I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch today, so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to grab a bite." or I really enjoyed our conversation and I hope to see you again." May I have your card before I go and I'll be sure to follow up with you?” Shake hands, smile and move on.
To get ahead today, keep in mind that management is looking for leaders who possess excellent people skills and who can adapt to a variety of business and social situations. Knowing how to engage others in conversation will build self-confidence and ensure that your guests and clients feel comfortable and at ease. The ability to genuinely connect with others will strengthen your image and importantly, make people like you, remember you and ideally, want do business with you.
So as the holiday season approaches, remember, if you are genuine your conversations will help you build respect, rapport and relationships. By applying these ten key steps, you will lead with a difference, set yourself apart from the competition and importantly, leave a lasting and memorable impression.
So, here’s to making this holiday season the best one yet and to making genuine connections!
Kimberley is an inspirational speaker, seminar leader and executive coach. She inspires people to become genuine leaders and in turn, the kind of person others are inspired to emulate.