Should I travel or not? Reflections on risk, return and priorities

You haven’t been travelling for months, and now the world is (maybe) slowly opening up.  As you consider making long-delayed or long-planned trips, what’s the right choice?  Should you bunker down or get on the plane?  Forum can be a great place to talk through decisions that are multifaceted, involve conflicting emotions, and require you to coordinate with family members or business colleagues.

Invite each member to share one or two upcoming travel decisions (either personal or business) that they’ve made or need to make.  Possible questions to address:

  • Why do you feel you need to make this trip?  Why now?
  • What safety or other practical concerns do you have and how might you address them?
  • If your spouse/partner or other family members are involved, how do their approaches/philosophies differ?  How might you resolve any potential conflict.
  • How do you think about risk vs. return in making this particular travel decision? What weight do you give to different factors?
  • How do you think differently about business vs. personal travel?

Each member has 2-3 minutes (timed) to share their answers.

After all members have shared, open up to general conversation, including takeaways and possible accountability to report back to the forum. What new perspective, insight or question are you taking away from this conversation?  Do you expect to make the travel decision you shared in the next month?  Would you like the forum to check in to see what you decided at the next meeting?

Can we talk about race and racial inequality in our forum?

I used to think that sex and money were the final frontiers in forum. If we are willing to share deeply about these topics, perhaps our forums have reached a level of trust and vulnerability that leads to transformational value.

In the America we now inhabit, I wonder if race and racial attitudes might be even more sensitive and taboo.  Some questions you might consider at your next forum meeting:

  • How has your upbringing influenced the ways you think about people from other racial backgrounds?
  • How would you describe the current extent and nature of your relations with people of other racial backgrounds? How do you feel about that?
  • What recent or long past personal experiences are you reminded of as you read about protests across America? Why?
  • As a business leader, how have you supported (or undermined) efforts towards racial equality and racial justice?

You may wish to read this excellent guide to Daring Discussions before you begin the conversation.

Two recent articles that forum members might read in advance:

“Who Gets to Be Afraid in America?” in The Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist

“Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge,” in the Los Angeles Times by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the N.B.A.’s all-time leading scorer

Reacting, Adapting and Growing in the Time of COVID-19

Thank you to James Isaacs from whose exercise this blog post is adapted.

We are passing through one of the most disrupted periods in recorded business history.  There has never been anything like this.  Kudos to all who are still standing!

While there are glimmers of green shoots coming up around us, and the teasing possibility of “re-opening” from Shelter-in-Place, the cold hard reality is that these current recessionary conditions are going to persist for some time into the future.   Forum is the ideal place to talk through how we are reacting, adapting and growing in this time.

Each member prepares in advance to give a brief (5-7 minute) presentation using the following questions to stimulate their thinking.

Reacting – Since we last got together a month ago:

  • What was your best moment in reacting to something?
  • What was your worst moment?
  • What have you done that has worked best in reaction to something?
  • What have you done that has worked least well?
  • Was there some reaction that you would love to have a “do over” on?
  • What was a great decision you made?
  • Is there a decision that you are just not facing up to? Why are you avoiding the decision?

Adapting – Since we last got together a month ago:

  • What is something that you have changed in either how you operate your business, how your family is functioning, or how you act personally in relation to COVID-19 that shows healthy adaptation?

Growing  — Since we last got together a month ago:

  • How have you grown in the last month?
  • What is a strength or attribute you are showing that you didn’t before?
  • Starting with the axiom, “this might be the best work I ever do” under this stress, how have you shown some of your best work this last month?
  • What behavior, strength, attribute, tactic, strategy, attitude, motion, action, movement, etc. do you think you need to get through the next stage of this?

A few notes:

  • You do not have to respond to all questions. Respond to those that speak to you.
  • Feel free to use other approaches to express your thoughts and feelings.
  • Try to touch on your personal, family and business life.
  • Go for the 5%, your deepest feelings and issues which are most difficult to share outside of forum.

Allocate 2-3 minutes after each member’s presentation for others to resonate, notice, share experience, pose a thought-provoking question, or connect the dots between multiple members’ experiences.

Masked and unmasked updates

These days we all need to wear some kind of mask when we leave our homes and can’t socially distance from others. Forum, meeting on a virtual platform, is one place where we can take off both our physical and our “psychological” masks, be vulnerable and discuss what really matters.

Consider doing this combined icebreaker/update activity at your next virtual forum meeting:

  • MASKED: Please bring and show your favorite or usual mask, and tell its story (up to 1 minute each, go around the “table”)
  • UNMASKED: Take off the “mask” you are wearing in front of your colleagues, family, and/or self. How are you REALLY feeling at this time? What is the Most Important Thing you want to tell the rest of us? Can you be vulnerable with your fellow forum members, and can you ask for what you need? Up to 3 or 4 minutes each (depending on length of meeting and number of members).
  • NOTICING (Optional, 10 minutes): Members have one minute each to quickly notice what was said or unsaid, tone and body language, anything you resonated with by deeply listening. No dialogue, questions, judgment, or advice giving. Members will not have time and are not expected to comment on every other member’s update.

Note: It’s best to tell members in advance about this exercise so they can have their physical mask handy, and can reflect on the suggested update questions.

Credit: Thank you to Melissa Weiksnar for sharing this exercise.

Who do I choose to be during the COVID-19 crisis?

We have all experienced a range of emotions as the pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives.

Manju Melwani, a YPO forum facilitator, suggests possible actions and attitudes which may be either in the zone of fear, of learning, or of growth.

In forum we might ask ourselves:

  • In the last few weeks, when have I been in each of these zones? Why? How does that make me feel?
  • Not as a victim, but as an active agent, how have I chosen to learn and grow?
  • Looking forward, who do I want to be when this crisis is over?

For the unprecedented times in which we now live: Forum update questions

As you prepare your forum update in times of pandemic, you may choose to answer one or more of these questions:

  • What part of your life or family needs the most care right now?
  • What leadership challenge in your business has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis?
  • What personal or professional relationship has been stressed by the coronavirus crisis?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • How has/will the crisis affect your company or family’s burn rate (income vs. expenses)? What approaches are you considering to deal with the situation?
  • Do you feel you are over-reacting or under-reacting to the evolving situation?
  • What risks do you see to your business/industry as a result of changes to the global business environment?
  • How is the coronavirus global situation causing you to re-evaluate your priorities, if at all?
  • What can you stop doing right now that will help you focus on this current challenge?
  • What key transition is coming up in your life that you are most scared or uncertain about due to the crisis?

With every question you can also reflect: How does the situation or challenge make you feel? How can the forum help?

Reviewing the Past Decade, and Visioning for the Next Decade

The core of a regular forum meeting is monthly updates.  How am I feeling about what’s happened since we last met?  What do I dread and anticipate that’s coming up? When you want to zoom out to a much longer time horizon, consider doing this exercise.

Questions to reflect on in advance of the forum meeting:

Review of the Past Decade:

  • What difficulties/hardships did you face? What did you learn?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently if you had the chance again?
  • How did you change? What did you gain? What are you willing to let go of?

Vision for the Next Decade:

  • Where am I in two years?
  • Who is around me? How am I feeling (differently than today)? What am I creating?
  • Two years from now, how will I think about where I want to be in eight more years?

In the forum meeting, there are two options on how to share depending on the available time:

Longer version (two rounds)

  1. Each person takes 5 minutes (timed) to reflect on the past decade. Then open up to general discussion for 10-20 minutes. What coming up for me as I hear others? How am I feeling as I hear the ways that others have answered the questions?

Repeat in the same fashion, looking forward to the next decade.

Shorter version (one round)

  1. Each person takes 5 minutes (timed) to reflect on both the past and next decade. Then allow an additional 15-30 minutes to reflect further: What coming up for me as I hear others? How am I feeling as I hear the ways that others have answered the questions?

Source: Kerim Baran, member of an HBS Alumni Forum in San Francisco with original credit to Ciela Wynter, an executive/CEO coach and founder of Joan of Sparc, an innovative platform for empowerment and transformation through self-inquiry.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming as a forum exercise: Becoming me. Becoming more. Becoming us.

Michelle Obama writes powerfully in her autobiography, Becoming, about her own life, but her words speak directly to me:

“It’s not about being perfect,” Michelle says, “it’s not about where you get yourself in the end. At fifty-four, I am still in progress, and I hope that I always will be.”

Michelle continues, “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim.  I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach towards a continually better self.”

“The journey doesn’t end,” she goes on.  “I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children.  I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person.  I have become by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard.”

“It’s all a process,” Michelle concludes, “steps along a path.  Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor.  Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

And Michelle goes further in the three major sections of the book which are called:

  • Becoming me,
  • Becoming us, and
  • Becoming more

Throughout the arc of her life story, Michelle recognizes, over and over again, that the becoming is never done.  And though she didn’t intend it this way, I read her autobiography as a lesson directed at me.

I am not finished becoming the best version of me when I connect to my wife in marriage, and I’m not done evolving my marriage and other relationships, even as I also devote myself to larger community and professional goals.

  • Becoming me is about my practices of mindfulness, gratitude and purpose, turning inward, so I can then turn outward.
  • Becoming us is about my connection with my wife, and also about all of the other relationships I want to cultivate and nurture. How can I relate authentically and humanely on a one-on-one basis, including making amends when I have wronged others?
  • And becoming more is about my communal and professional commitments. I relate this to giving back, paying it forward, leaving my small part of the world at least a little better than where I first found it.

Every day represents a new opportunity to become a better “me”, a better partner, and a better contributor to the larger world.

Reflecting on Michelle Obama’s words in forum, we might explore:

  • Michelle observes that the continual act of becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. In the coming year, what do each of us need more of, patience or rigor, or something else?
  • What does “becoming me”, “becoming us”, or “becoming more” mean for each of us?
  • How can we, in our forum, support each other in becoming more of who we want to be?

With the support of our forum, may each of us be able to say a year from now: I’m not done becoming, but I’ve made some progress.

Exploring strengths and weaknesses

The following questions can be used separately or together to frame a great conversation on how forum members see their strengths and weaknesses, and how that might affect their professional trajectories and career paths.

  • Which of your strengths might others say you overuse or rely on too much?
  • Describe how one of your strengths is also a weakness.
  • What might change in your job or business that might make your current strengths less useful?
  • What is the next professional transition you face?  If there a strength you need to give up to successfully make that transition?  What new strength do you need to develop? What weakness might emerge or become more important?
  • Describe a weakness or flaw of yours that hasn’t hurt you yet, but might in the future.

Acknowledgement: These questions are suggested by USC Professor Morgan McCall in his leadership exercise “Hedge Your Bets.”

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: