I was in a strategic marketing class in Duke University’s Executive Education program, bursting with anticipation at the thought of the guest speaker about to step to the podium. I had recently watched him coach Duke to two straight national championships and attended the second one myself. He was already a national coaching icon, having elevated the Blue Devils to elite status. He wasn’t there to regale us with stories about the miracles his players consistently pulled off in high-pressure moments, although our class would have eaten it up.
Be True to Yourself
Leaders Need No Crown
The pandemic has tested everyone’s will and resolve. It has been a battle against the invisible, so much so that unless someone had experienced it or knew of someone who had fallen victim to it, some considered it imaginary. But it was indescribably real to so many who contracted the Covid virus. And the reality was experienced in spades by those who had to heal the afflicted.
Healthcare workers have been justifiably lauded as heroes during the past year-plus. They have shown incredible courage, determination and an ability to stare adversity in the face daily, and never back down. Some of them may have been inspired by the top medical or nursing officer at their hospital or clinic. But ultimately, they had to reach into their own hearts and souls to answer the bell. Even knowing the risks to themselves and their families, they still rose to help so many others they did not even know.
Music to My Ears
My fourth-grade music teacher required each of us to stand in front of the class and sing. Not as a group, so I could quietly let others who actually like to be heard carry the harmony. Solo. Impromptu. I don’t think it was intended to teach us music as much as it was to test our courage. I failed miserably on both counts.
Those who know me know that I’m an introvert and generally one of the quieter people in the room. But even as an introvert, I’m comfortable speaking in front of groups, making points and raising questions in meetings, making presentations and engaging with conviction as long as I am saying something meaningful rather than making small talk. In fourth grade, describing me as an introvert would have been a gross understatement. I was painfully shy and just getting me to TALK in a group was hard enough, but singing a spontaneous solo in front of my classmates? I froze. Mark me down for an “F” on the experiment.
Enter the Gray Area
It’s incredible how much clarity the Gray Area can provide. Too often, when we only see black and white, A or Z, progressive or conservative, rap or classical, football or soccer, us or them, on and on – we become insular, limited and finite. Those who wander into the Gray Area find ample space to think, believe, value and embrace opportunities, some never dreamed. Solutions to challenges that befuddle the muddied and gridlocked endpoints.
Some universally life altering. Like thinking the world is flat vs. orbiting Saturn. Or rubbing two sticks together vs. lighting up the world with the flick of a billion fingers. Or thinking age 35 is a life well-lived vs. beating polio, pneumonia and cancer on the way to celebrating the century mark.
About the Gray Area
The world is a better place when we work as a team, listening, understanding, thinking and then talking with each other about solutions to our challenges. Too often, we lose sight of that and become entrenched in what we already know or experienced, rather than consider what we haven't.
The Gray Area may highlight examples of solutions derived by saying "what about?" "why not?" or "think about." Sometimes, it will surface unconventional ideas for potential solutions.
Topics could include leadership, policy, sports, economics, music, culture and more.
It's a place for possibilities, not absolutes.
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I was born with critical thinking, trained to think objectively in journalism school at Mizzou, and to think about many perspectives at business school at Mizzou and Duke.