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  1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one's proficiency.

    "I need to practice my French"

  2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

    "we still practice some of these rituals today"--Oxford Languages

Practice Holding in Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
originally published on LinkedIn

After a week in Lisbon, I found myself thinking about holding.

The city is a city of a beautiful kind of holding. 

The calçada stones underfoot hold the pink light from the sky.

Buildings hold a presence from the past.

Young couples walking by hold hands in the especially romantic way that young people do.

This simple gesture of #connecting with someone else, holding hands, seems especially poignant after a year of pandemic and holding back, from so much.

This caused me to think about what we hold and especially how what we hold for each other matters. It occurred to me that holding does matter--what we hold dear makes a difference in our lives.  

Even and perhaps especially the #truths we hold dear matter.

In his essay about how to “Lead with #ConcreteLove Tim Leberecht highlights Former Wikimedia Foundation CEO Katherine Maher who “argues that in order to overcome polarization, we must all concede some of our truth. Instead of seeking one absolute truth, we must shift to a ‘minimum viable truth.’" “That of course is not a popular proposition, either with the scientific, fact-based community nor those who prefer to herald visceral truths over empirical ones.” Leberecht says, “But Maher is right," he continues... "Agreement, let alone human #collaboration, is not possible unless we each give up our truths." "If that is the case, though,” he asks, “how do [we] maintain core convictions that [our] ethics demand [we] keep?” 

So, as leaders, how might we hold one another in our hearts enough to find a place to meet, even while we also hold our #ethics dear? How can we remain our own person, but hold each other too?  What human #values might we hold that will better enable us to hold hands--to flourish #together?

But holding shows up in other ways that matter to our lives and leadership, too. 

We might consider…

What is holding us back?

Who and what do we hold in our hearts?

What do we hold onto? The past, a thing, a habit?

What position of #privilege or #responsibility do we hold?

What power do we hold?

What power do others hold over us? 

In the end, leaders might remember that #wisdom is about holding too. That often-repeated adage (perhaps attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald reminds us that “Wisdom is the ability to hold two opposing mindsets simultaneously.” And this is of course what leaders must often do. 

Consider how all we hold makes a difference. For us. For others.

And a simple action? A simple thing to do?

What door might we hold open for someone today? 

And who might we send a ‘#thankyou,’ to? Maybe someone who chose to hold a door open for us along the way too?


Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe


Practice Growth in Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
Originally published on LinkedIn

As you may know, a dendrochronologist is an expert in tree rings. 

A team that discovered a ‘rare intact wreck,’ off the coast of Sweden called upon this sort of expert to analyze water-soaked timbers they uncovered in the shipwreck. I found the story of the “Gribshunden,” to be fascinating.

What most interested me about the project was the dendrochronologist.  The tree ring guy.

By examining the tree rings on the wood uncovered in the craft, he was able to pinpoint the locations of the forests that the wood originated from.

As we know, trees add new rings of growth every year and the tree rings form a ‘fingerprint,’ of place.  (Isn’t that concept beautiful. . . by the way? That there can be a fingerprint of place?)

This is because the weather becomes a ‘unique reflection,’ of when and where the tree grew. 

As the narrator on the episode said:

“Each year, a tree adds another “ring” of new wood, as it grows, but some years are better than others. A drought year might produce a thinner ring; a long, wet summer might produce a thicker one.”

So they were able to get really specific about the origin of the wood... (1482) .... northwest France....after August....

That specific.

It made me wonder.  What if we could analyze humans like this?  What if we could look at our own #growth rings under the microscope?  I’m not talking height and weight here, I’m talking about our personal development -- our #learning and growth.  The opportunities that stretch us.

One way to do this might be to draw a tree ring map for yourself.  Imagine what it would look like.

Were there years with ‘thick rings,’ of growth for you? What factors made a difference? What was the ‘weather,’ like then? What was your equivalent of lots of rain?  What would you need to do to replicate that weather?

What about the thin circles?  Were there drought years?  Was there a fingerprint of the place? Humans aren’t rooted in one place and so this matters.

As a #leader, you might wonder about this differently.  You might rather imagine the forest you are leading and think about the hand you might have in the weather you’re creating.   

If a dendrochronologist were to analyze the wood from your forest-- in this case the human growth cycles--what would they find?

Thick circles (Cycles of Rain?) Thin circles (Cycles of Drought?)

Anyway, I loved the concept of the dendrochronologist.

Perhaps as we continually raise the bar on #development for ourselves and others, we might invite an imaginary dendrochronologist to the table to help us investigate our own cycles of growth and the #cultures of growth we are creating. Are they what we'd like them to be? If not, what do we need to do to make a difference about that?

Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe


Practice the Secret Language of Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
originally published on LinkedIn

Imagine reading The Flower Chronicles –the stories behind the reasons why people send flowers to each other.  

Flower giving communicates feelings “in the most elegant manner…feelings like love, joy, affection, appreciation, sympathy...or even apologies,” one shop says.

The stories must be pretty interesting.

And those who deliver flowers have a precious job – they deliver #human emotions.

Floriography is the language of flowers. It's not just the bouquet that speaks – it's what’s in the bouquet that also has something to say.

A red carnation symbolizes deep love, white, pure love and a yellow carnation – dejection. (So don’t accidentally send a yellow carnation, I guess.)

In the Victorian era this type of communication was particularly important.  In a time where etiquette prevented speaking – The Victorians used flowers to share messages.  Even the way a bouquet was held indicated something. (Let’s just say you’d hope it wasn’t held upside down.) 

“This created a society that utilized and applied symbolic meanings of objects to express what otherwise could not be spoken.”

#Language is “the shimmering thread,” that holds more than we may realize together.

L.M. Sacasas explained in an essay that we can experience “poverty, weakness and dependence on the good will of another,” when learning a new language, even.  

There is deep vulnerability in #communication

He reminds us that by not speaking, we say something (even when we don't have flowers.) The message of the other is in us, when we embrace the silence of deep interest, he says.  

This desire to hear is the silence of #humility, says Sacasas. 


There is also meaning in #silence--the patience that unfolds when we want to find the right words.  

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about language too. The beauty of the Potawatomi language that names more things than–just us– as beings. Just speaking the language reframes everything –the world itself becomes animate.

She tells a story of grandparents who share a joke in the almost lost language, and wipe away tears of laughter while the rest of the room sits in silence. 

“Where will the words go (the joke) when the language is gone?”


What’s the floriography of (our) work #culture?
When is silence golden?
What is the most important thing to remember?
How (do) we speak the (secret language) of our workplace? 
What’s in danger of being lost if it isn’t translated soon?
What’s red, white (and yellow) for us?
What’s the joke (that might be lost?)

Sacasas also reminds that sometimes our words fail us and prove to be inadequate.

Maybe this is when the flowers help. In grief, sometimes, maybe the best we can offer up is a bouquet of lilies.

And sometimes he says, our #presence is the best solution of all. It can be an act of grace to just show up, for someone (even without words.)

Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe


Practice Wonder in Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
originally published on LinkedIn

“Can we quantify the feeling of meeting someone special for the first time?”

Waldo Otis posed this question in a recent essay about the mathematical patterns we find in nature. Trigonometric calculations explain how birds use celestial objects like the sun to navigate their flight path, Otis reminds.

So flowers aren’t just beautiful. 

There is a secret formula that explains them. The same with the “seeds, the petals, the spirals in a pine cone twist”. . .all calculable 

So, can we quantify everything? It’s tempting to want to.

But, even though we can, we might want to also remember there are other ways to investigate things. Beyond quantifying.

There probably aren’t too many of us that think about the Fibonacci sequence when we pass by a daisy, a rose, a lily, or a buttercup. A sunrise? We’re probably mostly thinking about how we experience the moment.  

And what we feel.  The goosebumps that rise and butterflies in our stomach. The point is there is mystery and #possibility in how we experience our lives.

The great novelists get this.  Consider the final line in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” . . .says one character to another about what might have been.

The ending is great.  The characters will never know what might have been and we’ll never know either.  

The truth is that what might have been but will never be is one of the greatest mysteries of the #human heart.  

There is longing and energy and #wonder in this space. In other words, feeling.

There is power and unrealized potential in that.

Consider Soren Kierkegaard’s musing: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”

Even though we’re capable of figuring out flowers with the Fibonacci sequence, we shouldn’t let the measurement, the quantifying, get in the way.

We should remind ourselves, and often, that the quantification of things serves a purpose.  It helps us to benchmark.  It gives us a point of reference.   

But the real power is in the wonder, in the discovery, in the connections, and in the #questions.  In the #awe of life. This is where we solve the mysteries. Where our energy meets with the possible.

Maybe we need to look up from the metrics to ask ourselves again...

What story might unfold? What mystery is there? 

What about us haven’t we figured out yet?

Have we realized our potential? What is our potential, anyway?

In the end, this is how we'll achieve our greatest outcomes.  And it may also be how we get the most important thing done.... us. 

The Fibonacci Sequence might explain the flower. But it might never explain exactly how we experience it.

Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe


Practice Gratitude in Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
originally published on LinkedIn

Some think handwriting is otherworldly.
There is a quote attributed to Euclid, the Greek mathematician that says:  “Handwriting is a spiritual designing, even though it appears by means of a material instrument.”
It might not be all that.
But there does seem to be something really special about it. 
We've all probably kept a handwritten note or two along the way that said something kind to us.
And consider how J.K. Rowling describes it.  
“He read the letter again, but could not take in any more meaning than he had done the first time and was reduced to staring at the handwriting itself. She had made her g's the same way he did: he searched through the letter for every one of them, and each felt like a friendly little wave glimpsed from behind a veil. The letter was an incredible treasure, proof that Lily Potter had lived, really lived, that her warm hand had once moved across this parchment, tracing ink into these letters, these words, words about him, Harry, her son.” 
So whether it is spiritual or not, handwriting can offer up something truly beautiful as a gift to someone. A handwritten note can mean a lot. It is a piece of us, and our time offered up to someone else, crafted especially for them.
Some research even says that when we take our warm hands and an inky pen and write our thoughts down, it may be good for us. A Forbes article by contributor Nancy Olson, offers up 3 benefits: 1) Handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation; 2) It sharpens the brain and helps us to learn and 3) It forces us to slow down and enjoy the moment.
For those reasons, it might be worthwhile to pick up a pen today.  (Even if you’re just writing for yourself.)
But it might also be nice to write a note to someone else. 
Something handwritten by you.  Maybe a thank you. 
I bet the person(s) that you send a note to, will be utterly grateful that you do. ❤️

#gratitude #thankyou

Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe


Practice Paying Attention in Leadership
by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe
originally published on LinkedIn

Isn’t it interesting that we use the word ‘pay’ with how we allocate our attention?
To pay attention.
It's like we’re forking over some kind of currency with our gaze.
Once I started to think about it, the importance of paying attention showed up everywhere.
In How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell reminds: ”But if we allow that what we see forms the basis of how we can act, then the importance of directing our attention becomes all too clear.”
Mary Oliver, the poet, is a fan of paying attention too. Her advice?
“Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it”
Both statements compel us to act on what we see. Both statements remind us that what is right in front of us, matters.
But it's not only what we pay attention to that matters.
As leaders, it's also what we choose not to pay attention to.
As a part of the House of Beautiful Business #ConcreteLove event, I listened to Margaret Heffernan’s work on willful blindness. She reminds us that as #leaders, we’re responsible to #payattention. When we don’t know what we should or could know, it's a problem. "Willful blindness," she calls it.  That’s when we don’t pay attention to something that we need to. 
A question: What might I not have known that I could have? 
In The Power of #Ethics, Susan Liautaud references paying attention too: “We can demand and offer #transparency, we can withhold our consent when we are not properly informed (whatever the reason), & we can redouble our efforts to #listen effectively & #compassionately & help those around us do the same.”
In my experience, what we need to pay attention to, doesn’t always show up in obvious ways though.  What asks for our attention can be quiet, even silent.
My advice? Especially pay attention to the sounds of silence.
The song by the same name (Simon and Garfunkel) has brilliant insight (if you pay attention:)
“Ten thousand people...talking without speaking...hearing without listening...writing songs that voices never share...Silence like cancer grows. . .” Cancer that kills #cultures grows in silence. When people have thoughts, and feelings about things but are not invited into the conversation or their thoughts become words behind the scenes and not out in the open, this is poison for culture.
So, a #powerfulquestion for a leader to ask is: What isn't being said?  Invite what remains wordless into the room so that it can be named and worked through in healthy ways.
Also ask:
What and who might benefit from our attention?
Who and what is getting our attention?
What needs our attention now?
Whose attention matters to us?  Are we getting enough of it?
In the end...
“This is the first, the wildest and the #wisest thing I know, that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness, '' Mary Oliver says.

Perhaps our soul’s greatest desire is that we pay in the currency we all have within and simply take our time to pay each other with our attention.
#Payattention #Leadership

Photo (c) by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe

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