Where would you “seat” yourself today?

The New Yorker recently published a cartoon that shows a host at a restaurant about to seat a couple.  He asks them: “Do you want me to seat you in the ‘Had sex this morning’ section or the ‘Had a fight this morning’ section?”

All-in-one, the cartoon is funny, sensitive, and revealing.  And as a icebreaker question, it may have nothing to do with sex.  Share the cartoon at the beginning of your forum meeting and ask everyone to respond:

Where would you “seat” yourself today?  Are you in a good frame of mind, or are you cranky, sad or angry?  Or are you somewhere in between, some mix of thoughts and emotions?

Forum sparks: Watch a TED talk!

Watching an inspiring, provocative TED talk can be the beginning of a great forum conversation. Choose a talk in advance, watch together, and then use these prompts to start your conversation:

  • I feel…, and I’m reminded of a time when I…
  • I’m wondering if…
  • I might apply the speaker’s ideas in this way…
  • I would like to watch this talk again with… [spouse/boss/team/others] because…

Choose your own favorite talk, or consider using one of the following:

Holding each other accountable in forum

In forum we withhold judgment, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hold each other accountable.  In fact, one of the most powerful uses of forum is for me to hold myself accountable to a certain goal, commitment or deadline; with the other members of the forum serving as my witnesses.

If your forum wants to focus more on personal accountability, consider these possibilities:

  • Any member can voluntarily ask to be held accountable to report back to the forum at a specific future date on their progress/action related to a specific goal.
  • The forum can designate one member to serve as the accountability/commitment “secretary” who will ask about any pending items, either at the beginning of the meeting or during updates.
  • This SMART goals template can be used by any member to ensure that any goals they set are S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-framed.

Possible conflicts: Can I be in forum with this person?

Your forum is considering adding a new member, and one current member is concerned about a potential candidate, saying some variation of:

  • We have close mutual friends.
  • Our spouses are close friends.
  • The CFO of my company is a good friend of this person.
  • This potential forum mate had a close, longstanding relationship with one of my co-founders and their spouse.
  • We were in the same MBA class, executive education program, or section at business school.

In situations like this, it’s important to be fully transparent about any potential conflicts of interest.  The key question: Can I be open and honest about all aspects of my life with this possible new member?

Additional clarifying questions:  What is the exact nature of the relationship?  How close is it in practice?  Is there regular contact/communication? (Sometimes people say they are “close” but rarely see each other.)

Keep in mind that in YPO, members and their spouses are usually each in a forum, are friendly with many other members and spouses, and see each other regularly at monthly chapter meetings.  There are many close relations, but forum confidentiality is still fully respected.  Everyone keeps in mind the clear boundaries between what is said in forum and what is shared in other settings to avoid violating forum confidentiality.

In summary, there is no simple answer – neither an automatic rejection, nor a blind acceptance of the new member.  The nuances of each case must be carefully considered.

It’s the hard days who determine who you are

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of FaceBook, and author of the bestselling book Lean In, was invited to speak at the University of California commencement in 2016.  She chose to talk not of what she has learned in life, but of what she has learned in death.

She related the tragic story of how, a year before her husband Dave, age 47, had died suddenly of a previously unknown cardiac issue. She shared the challenge of deep adversity, and “of what you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you.”  Sheryl went on to say:

A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Sheryl concluded: “We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?”

I reflect to myself: How have I responded when Option A was no longer available to me:

  • When a professional colleague of mine died too young of cancer and the opportunity to collaborate with him was lost?
  • When I expected to receive a job offer that never came?
  • When a treasured business partnership came to an end?

I am inspired by Sheryl who said:

Dave’s death changed me in profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.

As a forum, consider reading Sheryl’s book on this topic, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, or this shorter version published in the Boston Globe.

Then discuss as a forum:

  • What have been some of life’s toughest challenges for me?
  • How did I deal with them?  What role, if any, did gratitude play?
  • Almost all of us will face deep adversity at some point in our lives.  How can forum be a sounding board and resource now and in the future?

Would you steal your forum mate’s computer or car?

Of course not. We all learn from an early age to respect the property of others so taking without permission is simply unacceptable.  But far too often and without thinking, we steal something even more precious from our forum mates – their time.  When you arrive 10 minutes late for a forum meeting and six other members must wait to begin, you have stolen collectively an hour of their time.

Tardiness is a chronic problem among busy executives, but time is money, and there is no better example of that than your forum mates wasting time around a table, their combined compensation ticking away at thousands of dollars per hour. And chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can gum up the gears of a forum’s ethic, build resentment and anger, and make forum members less willing to share and be vulnerable because of that tardiness-induced stress.

Here’s one simple way to be on time:

  • Block plenty of time on your personal calendar to arrive early, even assuming traffic delays or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • If you are early, simply wait outside in the lobby or in your car, checking email, making phone calls, or reading the article you’ve been saving but never get to.

Your fellow forum members will appreciate the courtesy and respect you are showing for them, and this will build everyone’s commitment to not steal our forum mates’ most valuable possession, their time.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?