Leadership: Have you ever treated someone like an ATM?

I get my hair cut in one of those old-time barbershops. Where I go, you can’t make an appointment. You can go anytime you want. Sometimes you’ll find an “out for lunch” sign at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and you have to come back in a half an hour. Sometimes you’ll wait an hour. Sometimes you can get into the chair right away. But if you are waiting for a haircut, you are never really “waiting.” You are partaking in a little community experience. You get the gossip around town. You have some laughs. Make some friends. While the environment there is like the good old-fashioned barbershop, the barber is anything but. The “barber” is actually a beautiful woman from Cuba, who’s grateful to no end to have the opportunity to own a business and work in Canada. And if the line up for a haircut is long enough you’ll get to hear many of her wonderful stories. Going to get your hair cut is like going back in time, and an education. Not bad for twenty bucks. But it’s not just a haircut. It’s an experience.
But this week, I was in a hurry. I was “squeezing” my haircut in between appointments. And it was a very different experience. There was a young mother ahead of me with four young boys, each of them needing a haircut. Rather than coming back another time, I just sat and got irritated. The young mother was no longer a “person” with a family and a challenge of managing four youngsters in a barbershop. This mother became simply an “obstacle” to my objective for being there. The barber was no longer “Lazara” with a story. She was now “the barber” who was behind and needed to get on with these kids’ haircuts so I could get out of there and get to my next appointment. My irritation blinded me from the stories and for the beauty of the children or from the love from a mother or from anything positive from the experience.

I left the barbershop stressed and frustrated. And I left disconnected from the world around me. The people in the barbershop were no longer “people in a community.” They were simply “objects.” I hurried to my next meeting, only to find myself “waiting” again, irritated with the next customer service person who was keeping me from my appointment after her.

It was later in the day that I started to reflect on how many times, when we are in a hurry, when we are in our own little self-absorbed world, that we disconnect from the world around us, and turn the people around us into objects that are expected to serve us. Harried and rushed, we don’t experience the beauty that besieges us. When disconnected in this way, we miss the sunsets, the smiles, and the magnificence around us, and in the process, void ourselves of quality in our lives.

When we over-schedule or bring the wrong, people become objects. Instead of human beings they become mere tools to help us get what we want, a means to a “more important” end. The problem is that the end never gets here and we are never present in the present moment. When we stop learning people’s names and calling them by such, we objectify and de-humanize the world. The cashier at the supermarket becomes merely a “transaction machine, ” a means for getting the groceries, rather than a human being. The bank teller becomes merely an ATM that talks. And your employees become merely “direct reports” with a job to do and a result to produce. And in the process we become “consumers,” people who use others, instead of contributors, people who build others.

We are all intelligent and high-powered people. We have our smartphones and our apps and our productivity processes to accomplish our work with greater efficiency. But in our zeal to get things done we have forgotten the simple art of living. And in this absent-mindedness and use of others as objects we end up depleting the energy of our organizations, our relationships, our planet, and our lives.

The art of living can be grasped in the consciousness and mastery of two skills:  preparation and presence. Preparation is about knowing your priorities and scheduling space in your day. You obviously can’t be able to “hang out at the barber shop” every day. Maybe you have a life-style that you want to schedule your haircuts. Regardless of what you schedule, what’s important is to know what’s important to you and live in alignment with your values. Pay close attention to assess carefully how important connection is to you.

Presence is about your attitude. Presence is about “awakened doing.” Presence is not what you do but how you do it.  Presence is about your state of consciousness. Eckhart Tolle says there are three modalities of awakened doing:

  1. Acceptance – meaning letting go of the resistance you may have in a situation and flow with what is;
  2. Enjoyment – finding joy in what you are doing; or
  3. Enthusiasm – bringing passion to what you doing with an added element that you working for a higher purpose.

You will find, if you are not operating in one of these three modalities, you are causing some degree of suffering to yourself or others.

Here’s a list of ways you can get back to the art of living, of enjoying your life by practicing better preparation and presence, of connecting with the people around you, and, who knows, maybe you’ll even be more productive:

  • Everyday, take time to pause, to stop, to breathe, and to be present to the world around you.
  • Take a five-minute sabbatical every day – to think, reflect, and ask yourself what you can take out of your day to make some room for what matters.
  • Make a “don’t do list.” Make it a point to take something out of your day every day to make room for what really matters.
  • Each person you interact with – from the check-out person at the grocery store to the custodian who cleans your office, to the waitress who brings you your lunch – take time to find out their name, make eye contact with them, smile, and offer something positive to them. Treat everyone with the dignity that we all deserve.
  • Schedule a little space in between your appointments so you have some time to enjoy the experience of being at your appointments. Give yourself more time than you need.
    Be like the Greeks, and take a nap in the afternoon. Okay, if your boss doesn’t like that idea, then at least take a nap on Saturday.
  • Notice beauty whenever you can. In a person, in an act of kindness, in a flower, in the pride of a day’s hard work, in a hug at the airport. You’ll soon find that beauty is all around you if you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and pay attention.
  • Stop “waiting” and start enjoying the moments by being present. If you are “waiting” you are living in the future, and there’s no joy in the future – or the past for that matter. There is only joy in the present moment, in being here now. You can stop “waiting” simply by changing your mind.
  • Challenge yourself to take a little stress off of everyone you meet. Practice kindness wherever you go. Practice being patient and a little less demanding in your interactions with strangers and loved ones.
  • Remember to say “thank you” at every opportunity, and bring an attitude of gratitude into everything you do.
  • Resolve to begin today to relax, putter, and be lazy and unproductive a little more often. Take time to meditate and watch the sun go down behind the hill. Be good to yourself so you can be good to others. Remind yourself of the great philosopher, Winnie The Pooh, who always seemed to have “so much time, and so little to do.”