Humans in Our Organizations

Key Point: Brandon Stanton, 31, has managed to get thousands of strangers in New York City to tell him their stories through non judgmental listening. I was fascinated watching his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Stanton is the creator of the hugely popular blog Humans of New York (HONY), which you’ve maybe heard of. The blog has 15 million plus DAILY followers!

According to the following ABC blog, this is Stanton’s approach:           

“Brandon Stanton, has simply walked up to people and asked them permission to photograph them. He also asks them their stories.

He’s used this approach to take photos of more than 10,000 strangers in the city and has also published a bestselling book, ‘Humans of New York.’

He says that the first question he asks them is ‘What is your greatest struggle right now?’

The replies are remarkably candid. People talk in detail about their struggles with money, health, relationships, gender and sexual identity.

Stanton says he believes that their honesty comes from being able to share with someone who doesn’t know their story and has no preconceived judgments.

‘You know, I think there’s something liberating about that,’ he said.

Stanton just returned from spending time in Europe and speaking first-hand with Syrian refugees. His first question to them was to ask them to recount the day they left Syria.

‘They would start speaking in Arabic, and they would stop, and then tears would start coming down their face,’ he said.”

In our organization we want people to be more intentional about personally connecting with each other and our customers. How can we effectively develop sustainable relationships if we know little about each other at best? Or at worst, don’t even care? If Stanton can get 10,000 strangers in NYC and Syrian refugees to share their stories then it seems to me that we can do that with people we work with. Like Stanton said in his interview with Roberts, “Most people don’t ever get asked these questions.” Why not? We are humans and we work together don’t we? We all have and more importantly ARE a meaningful story. We just need someone to non-judgmentally listen and care.

Character Moves: 

  1. Consider ways to get people to tell you their personal stories by asking and really listening to questions that matter. “What is your greatest struggle right now?” How else do we really get to know them? 
  2. Perhaps a team building activity is to have us complete a “humans of [insert your organization],” where we ask permission to take a picture and genuinely ask each of our teammates (humans), “What is your greatest struggle right now?” When have you been the lowest in your life?” (Interestingly, Stanton asked this last question to Good Morning America’s Roberts, who has publicly struggled with two bouts of life threatening cancer and parents dying. Yet her somewhat surprising response (even to her) was the recent death of her 18-year-old dog, an unconditionally, unwaveringly loving friend through all of her struggles. Interesting.
  3. Follow HONY. We may learn a lot.

Humans in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: Stanton recognizes a main reason his question works with strangers is because they don’t have to, say, ever see him again (let alone interact with him on a daily basis). Incorporating it into the office is a nice thought, but honestly revealing “biggest struggles” between co-workers could realistically land everyone on a one way trip to Awkward City. Hate to red flag it, but imagine the potential information that simply can’t be shaken off during the next meeting. In case your organization isn’t ready to be that open, here’s an alternate idea… I recently read a Forbes article that could provide a happy medium. The article examined qualities/practices in “irresistible” people, (all Character Triangle values are mentioned in some fashion, btw) but one that struck me is they “ditch the small talk.” Get it? Highly successful people tend to ask meaningful questions in conversation with co-workers that could tap into such things as someone’s “biggest struggle,” instead of zombie elevator chatter about traffic or weather or whatever. Yeah, we’re humans in an office, but sometimes work can be the best “escape” from those “biggest struggles.” Depending on your environment, you can probably predetermine if it’s best to keep it that way. Use common sense, but start getting to know people better and find out for sure. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Relationship Resilience and You!

Key Point: The ability to develop and sustain great relationships is a key and expected outcome from leaders. Why do some leaders really connect while others struggle to? One reason is that effective leaders have the ability to deftly apply the “different strokes for different folks” philosophy. These leaders really care for and know the people on their teams. (Of course, they apply this approach in their personal relationships too). And the people on their teams genuinely see themselves as much more than a means to an end. An excellent article in Forbes notes the following: “What derails relationships is making them entirely instrumental: Means to ends. That is why employees feel a lack of engagement in workplaces; it’s also what unhinges many marriages. We look to others to satisfy our needs and systematically ignore what makes them purr.” (For feline lovers the article uses a story about cats to reinforce the principle).  

What these effective leaders may or may not be conscious of is their application of solution-focused approach to psychology. As the Forbes article goes on to state: When applying a “solution-focused perspective, we learn about successful relationships by reverse-engineering our most successful moments of relating… We can make surprisingly rapid and meaningful changes simply by doing more of what is already working in our lives… Strong, resilient relationships are not merely ones that avoid petty arguments and poor communication. It’s the presence of positive elements, not merely the absence of negative ones that defines a great business or life partnership.” This may sound like semantic wordplay and psychobabble, however the mindset and approach to a relationship by being solution focused requires a substantially different mindset and approach. 

Character Moves:

  1. It’s not just about you! A great relationship, including between a team member and his or her boss, is about mutually finding ways to make other people’s happiness and satisfaction our priority. If we only are in the relationship to get what we want, it is much more likely to not be sustainable. 
  2. Think about relationships you’d like to improve upon and focus on replicating more positive elements versus spending most of your angst on elimination of negative ones. Identify when the relationship is humming and reverse-engineer the behaviors that contributed.
  3. Be a giver! Do not worry about whether the other matches your commitment to making the relationship work. When others better understand and trust that you’re more about making positive things expand versus primarily trying to eliminate what doesn’t work, relationship resilience usually prevails.

Relationship Resilience in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: A few years ago I was about to embark on a night out with some college friends, when one of my buddies in sales goes “we’ll leave when my boss gets here.” Immediately, I initially think, “what? You invited your boss?!? Who would invite their boss to a social evening out?” Well, my friend did, and it was a smart move. They’re able to compartmentalize their office life and social life, which in turn strengthens their relationship and team skills. (Doesn’t hurt that the boss knew his way around town, too). The happiest peers I know have outside of work relationships with their co-workers. Happy hours, barbecues, and birthday parties can have guest spots for your colleagues too. Who doesn’t like a good story on Monday?

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Leading with Springboard Stories

Key Point: The elders of many indigenous tribes would likely smile, perhaps even smirk, at the newfound attention regarding the vital nature of story telling as a necessary trait amongst leaders in modern organizations. Story telling is the essence of behavioral guidance in many cultures. In some they actually refer to the word story as a verb rather than a noun.

Steve Denning is one of the leading experts regarding story telling in organizations. His latest book is The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management. He is also the author of The Leader’s Guide to StorytellingThe Secret Language of Leadership, and a regular blog on Forbes. Denning outlines different types of story telling for different purposes and I would like to highlight what he calls “springboard stories” within the context of sparking action and leading people to a more desirable future state. This is what Denning says: 

“Sparking Action. 

 Leadership is, above all, about getting people to change. To achieve that goal, you need to communicate the sometimes complex nature of the changes required and inspire an often skeptical organization to enthusiastically carry them out. This is the place for what I call a ‘springboard story,’ one that enables listeners to visualize the transformation needed in their circumstances and then to act on that realization. Such a story is based on an actual event, preferably recent enough to seem relevant. It has a single protagonist with whom members of the target audience can identify. 

Leading People into the Future. 

An important part of a leader’s job is preparing others for what lies ahead, whether in the concrete terms of an actual scenario or the more conceptual terms of a vision. A story can help take listeners from where they are now to where they need to be, by making them comfortable with an image of the future. The problem, of course, lies in crafting a credible narrative about the future when the future is unknowable. Thus, if such stories are to serve their purpose, they should whet listeners’ imaginative appetite about the future without providing detail that will likely turn out to be inaccurate.”

I have just been part of an organization story telling process involving 4,000 plus team members over a short three-month period. This experience reinforced for me that story telling can help develop rich understanding about stated values and how they ideally get translated into daily work. The challenge is to highlight memorable springboard stories, that are powerful enough to spring people into sustainable intentional action. Not all stories do that. 

Character Moves: 

1. Become more than a leader/storyteller, learn to become a master springboard storyteller. It’s as necessary of a skill in leadership as becoming digitally literate, a superb coach, a relationship builder and results executor. Invest in this skill. 

Springboard stories in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: There’s no secret to the value of a great story, told with good delivery by a gifted storyteller. (My profession is completely based on the demand for stories). Some may think this is skill reserved for entertainment purposes, a dinner table or some other “recreational” period. But there’s a reason we remember a good joke, or an inspiring tale. It’s the “story” element that keeps it memorable, and gives us the ability to reference it later. We grow up learning through key worded text books, which is just fine. It works. But, in the real world, I’m likely walking away from a meeting involving a “springboard story” with more comprehension, motivation and purpose than if the same message was delivered in bullet points. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Are We Really That Necessary?

Key Point: Peter Bregman, highly regarded psychologist, author, and consultant, recently wrote the following in Forbes: “Many of us are unhealthily—and ultimately unhappily—tied to mattering. It’s leaving us overwhelmed and over-busy, responding to every request, ring and ping with the urgency of a fireman responding to a six-alarm fire. Are we really that necessary? Relevancy, as long as we maintain it, is rewarding on almost every level. But when we lose it? Withdrawal can be painful. As we get older, we need to master the exact opposite of what we’ve spent a lifetime pursuing. We need to master irrelevancy.” 

I write a lot about the importance of bringing value to others every day. It’s vital. However, if we define who we are and feel happiness exclusively by whether we matter to others or not, we will likely be setting ourselves up for a fall. It does feel good to be wanted by others and to really matter at work (and life). However, one day, for whatever reason, that will change. We will matter less at work and elsewhere. Then what? For those that thrive allowing whether they “matter” to be defined by others will, as Bregman states, “experience a lot of pain… Self doubt… Disappointment… Fear, and even depression.” 

It’s a challenging paradox because we need to matter more by mattering less. First and foremost we need to matter to ourselves. We need to accept that we are all “good enough,” while continuously advancing emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and physically. The purpose of self-advancement is about character development rather than being in perpetual self-judgment of being “good enough” to matter and be accepted. We need to accept being “good enough” and really matter to ourselves. In doing so, we can become better at mattering less to others. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Fully appreciate the value we bring to others, and be cautious about becoming addictive to “matter feedback” to confirm our necessity. One day we all become less relevant to someone. Like Bregman says, “How we adjust — both within our careers and after them — to not being that important may matter more than mattering.” Contentment may be most attainable when WE accept we really do matter, even when less relevant. 
  1. If you and I left work tomorrow because, let’s say, we won a big lottery, how long do you think it would take to replace us? I promise our former colleagues will say in a shockingly short time after our departure things like: “We miss ____, but (our replacement) brings a different approach that has its own unique value.” Let’s face it; we’re not as necessary as we like to think. It’s ok. Master irrelevancy. 

Not necessarily necessary in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: Not to get into big hot topic issues, but sometimes I laugh when people I know say they are “worried” about the government “reading our texts,” or “listening to our calls.” Not because I necessarily agree the government should or not, but let’s just assume they are. In my mind, that means some poor NSA agent has to mull through your latest late night texts with so-and-so you met, or try to decipher your sports arguments from that group text with 100 inside jokes and funny throwback pictures from 2007. While that’s entertaining to you, you’re just not “that” important… No one is flagging it up. And if you ARE being closely monitored, well, you’re probably up to something extremely bad. In this case, guess what? You don’t WANT to be that important. Feeling valued and wanted is critical, but not EVERY part of everyone’s day is or needs to be Instagram worthy.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
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Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

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Be Accountable

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