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?

The right way to add new members to your forum

Adding members to your forum can be a source of renewal and new energy, but the process needs to be managed thoughtfully to maximize the probability of successful new member integration.  Consider following these steps:

  • In a forum meeting, get clarity on these questions: How many members do we want to add and when do we want them to join? Are we looking to enhance peer quality or diversity of perspectives or both? Are there any other demographic considerations (e.g., gender, industry, career stage, scope of responsibility)?
  • Appoint a forum member to serve as “point person,” managing the process of communication with potential candidates, and with Alumni Forum Services and your local club in sourcing candidates.
  • Decide how your forum will engage with candidates: over the phone, in coffees with selected members, and/or by inviting them to a partial or full meeting. Everyone needs to be clear on the process and time frame.  Ideally, at least a couple forum members will meet the candidate(s) before they attend a full forum meeting. Topics of discussion can include:
    • Member and candidate demographics/backgrounds
    • Forum experience to date and expectations/aspirations for the future
    • Reviewing the forum’s constitution or norms
    • Coordinating calendars: Determining when the candidate will attend their first meeting
  • Before the candidate attends a full meeting, arrange for them to have an orientation call with Alumni Forum Services to review forum principles and processes.
  • Select an integration exercise to use at the first meeting that the new member will be attending. Some ideas are available here.
  • To support the integration process, assign a “forum buddy” to every new member who will check in regularly in the first few months after joining. Also encourage other members to meet the newest members for coffee or a meal to get everyone connected as quickly as possible.

Forum leadership: The role of the moderator

The voluntary moderator is key to the success and health of your forum. Some ideas to consider as you organize your own forum’s leadership plans:

  • The standard model is to have a moderator and asst. moderator, often with the assistant also being the moderator-elect. As an alternative, two people can serve as co-moderators and share/divide the responsibilities.
  • Ideally, the moderator’s term is one year, but sometimes that’s not possible. If so, terms should be no less than three months to ensure continuity in the forum’s meetings.
  • Over the life of the forum, each member should have a chance to rotate into the moderator role, but not everyone will have the time, temperament, and skills to serve. That’s okay. There are other opportunities to serve the forum.
  • Whatever approach you take to the role, the moderator should delegate, delegate, delegate! He or she is not responsible alone for the success of the forum.  Many tasks can be “outsourced” to others: sending meeting notices, keeping the parking lot, ordering food, coordinating retreat content and logistics.
  • The most important roles of the moderator are to lead by example, serve as a role model, and ensure that forum remains a safe space for members to share their toughest challenges and highest aspirations. That’s also the role of a leader in any organization, so serving as moderator is great practice for the rest of your life.

How does your brain process emotions: Lessons from the Disney/Pixar movie “Inside Out”

The recently released movie “Inside Out” may wow you with its animations and special effects, but it is not a children’s movie.  We peer inside the brain of a young girl and see five emotions – joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear – fighting to control what will be imprinted into her core memory, and with which emotional “color.” Encourage everyone in your forum to watch the movie before your next meeting, and then pose some of these questions suggested by Abigail Burd:

  1. When we meet Riley, most of the time Joy is in charge of her thoughts and personality. Which emotion(s) do you feel most often?
  2. Riley and her family go through a lot of changes when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Have you ever gone through a big transition like this?
  3. How are the glowing balls, or “core memories” made? What are yours?
  4. What do the core memories have to do with Riley’s personality?
  5. When Sadness touches one of the happy core memories, she colors it blue. What do you think is going on then? Is it possible that our current moods can color our past memories? Or how we define our personality?
  6. When Riley’s mother tells her that she is helping her parents by being their “happy girl,” Riley feels pressure to only show them her joy. What do you think of this?
  7. Do you think that our society values certain emotions over others? Which ones?
  8. At the end of the movie, Joy learns that other emotions, especially Sadness, are also important. Why?
  9. Do you think it is easier for males or females, or for younger or older people, to express different emotions? Which ones? Why?