Lessons from the Fanelli Pellegrinaggio: Part 2
As I prepared to write this second installment, the memories of the trip five months ago came flooding back. We attended the Stations of the Cross service on Good Friday with Pope Francis (and a few thousand other pilgrims) in front of the Roman Coliseum. After the service, as the crowd filtered out, we sat on a stone wall and had a conversation in Italian with a local mother and daughter. Actually, son Dominic had the conversation and I chimed in as I understood bits and pieces. I recall the mother's worried observation that "they are not enough jobs for the young people in Italy." The next day, upon our arrival at the Fanelli compound in the hills above the Comino Valley, we had a great lunch of fish and pasta prepared by my cousin Anna Maria and her good friend and neighbor Asunda. Asunda sat at the table of Anna Maria's small kitchen with Dominic and me, while Anna Maria alternately tended the stove and the wood fireplace. They brought out the old photos of the family and told us about our ancestors in the pictures. A couple of days later Dominic and I took a road trip down to the Amalfi coast. After a breathtaking and harrowing drive along the Mediterranean Sea, we stopped in a town, Scala, atop a mountain by the sea for lunch. We came across a 'pasteria' shop and savored an al fresco lunch of pasta and tiramisu, in front of a 1,000 year old cathedral, with a view of the sea off in the distance. I could go on with the details of these trip experiences and many others. How is it that we can instantly recall these details?
I believe it is because we immmersed ourselves into this trip. We did not bring our work and life worries along with us, nor were we pre-occupied with all the stuff we had to do when we returned. We truly engaged in every conversation, and were fully present in all the places we visited and so now our memories are vivid.
LESSON # 2: BE WHERE YOU ARE
This may sound absurdly simple, but it is really profound. It's no wonder that many spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of being in the present, of having 'mindfulness'. The first time I came across this concept as a foundational leadership skill was during a project that I had years ago with the management consulting firm Senn Delaney. I was the internal consultant in partnership with two Senn Delaney consultants who ran a two-day workshop with an executive team of a large corporation. To this day, I still have their "Be Here Now" plaque sitting on my desk. It's there to remind me that every day I have to make a new decision to be fully focused on the task at hand, and be fully present to the people in my life and work. When I do this well, my work is more creative, my understanding of another's perspective, story, or situation is deeper, and I am more productive. But it does require persistence and skill.
I have to actively listen: not try to judge, problem solve, or tell my story while the other person is talking. I need to recognize what is not being said, pick up on the non-verbal communications between us.
I have to minimize distractions about other ideas floating into my head, whether triggered by this conversation or not.
I do have to pay attention to feelings arising from the conversation, both the other persons and mine.
This ability is so important that the large management consulting firm Bain & Company has 'Centeredness' as the foundational competency for their new Inspirational Leadership framework. See their article on The Science of Centeredness, which presents the underlying neuroscience, as well as give you some practical exercises that promote centeredness.
It's also good to have fellow travelers who can help you practice centeredness. Dominic was a blessing to me in this regard. At that time, he was in his first year as a school principal in Harlem, NYC. He left the worries and pressures of work behind and totally immersed himself in this trip. If he could do it, with much more work pressure that I had, than I could too. So I challenge the readers of this post to find some like-minded colleagues and practice "Being Where You Are." You'll be more productive, have more rich relationships, and maybe even remember what you ate for dinner on your last vacation.