Monday, December 30, 2013

Dance until it rains!

Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel.  ~Napoleon Hill

Vic Johnson, author of the book Dance Until It Rains, begins with the story of a tribe in Africa that confounded all of the anthropologists.  It seems that this tribe had for centuries enjoyed a 100% success rate with its rain dance.  In comparing this tribe to other tribes who did rain dances, but who didn't always experience success, the experts couldn't find anything that differentiated the one tribe.  They performed the same rituals, praying the same incantations to the same gods, in the same costumes.  Like all the tribes, they sometimes danced for days, even weeks on end.  Finally an astute observer noticed something very telling.  The successful tribe did one thing – and only one thing – different than the other tribes.  They ALWAYS danced UNTIL it rained!

Napoleon Hill who wrote Think and Grow Rich became friends with both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and said of both men that the ONLY thing that was different about them from everyone else was their persistence.
per-sist-ence:  firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition, continuing beyond the usual, expected, or normal time
I was inspired by the dance until it rains illustration to try a little experiment.  We probably all have areas of our lives where we are very persistent, but then we also have those areas where we are not so persistent but would like to be.  I know I do.  I took a sheet of paper and divided it into two columns.  In the left column I wrote the header "persistent" and below that listed several areas where I believe I am quite persistent.  Then under those areas listed all of the reasons I could think of as to why I'm persistent.  Then in the right column I wrote the header "not persistent" and below that listed just one area where I would really like to become more persistent.  Under that I listed all of the reasons I could think of as to why I'm not persistent. 

As I looked at the two contrasting lists, I noticed that if I reframed my thinking and changed some of my actual habits or practices, I discovered ways that I could potentially become persistent in this area.  I just need to modify or reframe the negatives in the right column to be addressed by the positives in the left column.  This means that I'll approach this challenge very differently in the future; but if I can become persistent I'm convinced I'll also realize a different outcome.  I just need to keep right on dancing until it rains now that I have my new list of strategies along with a more positive outlook.

This idea of persistence seemed timely, it being January 31 and many of us may be putting some resolutions, goals, dreams, or whatever you want to call them on paper (or screen) as we embark on 2014.

I agree with Vic Johnson and Napoleon Hill, when you look back on many of the great leaders, they did seem to have a dogged determination that made them unusually persistent.  Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

As we begin the New Year, let's all commit to dance until it rains and see what we can achieve in 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Visions of "more" danced in their heads.

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the office
Every person was counting their profits and losses.
The finances were posted on the intranet with care,
In hopes that bonuses soon would be there.

The bosses were nestled all snug in their high-priced threads,
While visions of more danced in their heads.

In the spirit of the holidays and year-end it reminded me of how much we focus on, or obsess over, more.  We expect our corporate vision statements to express how we want to achieve more, we write New Year’s resolutions that describe how we will do more, and as we balance our checking accounts we long for just 10% more so that we can really be happy.

It's interesting that while our culture tends to be fixated on how we can get more, more is not always everything we assume it's cracked up to be.

In Jim Collins' book, How the Mighty Fall, he determined (through extensive research) that stage 2 of how the mighty fall is the undisciplined pursuit of more.  More scale, more growth, more acclaim, more of whatever those in power see as "success." Collins says, "Discontinuous leaps into areas in which you have no burning passion is undisciplined.  Taking action inconsistent with your core values is undisciplined.  Investing heavily in new arenas where you cannot attain distinctive capability, better than your competitors, is undisciplined.  Addiction to scale is undisciplined.  To compromise your values or lose sight of your core purpose in pursuit of growth and expansion is undisciplined."

I recently did a little of my own research.  I knew there was a personal income threshold of diminishing returns regarding happiness.  In other words, at some point, making more money no longer provides a level of happiness equal to the additional income.  That number…$75,000 per household.  That's right, household income, not individual income.  How many people do you know whose households make more than $75,000 have a New Year's resolution to find a way to reduce their income so they can be at peak happiness?  It seems like we have a greater desire for more than we do for the outcome or result of having more.

In the last presidential election when I heard that very political question, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" for the first time I asked myself, "Do I need to be?"  I took this question to mean do I have more?  More income, more net worth, more benefits, more opportunities, etc.  What if I don't have more, what does that really mean or even matter?  I realize that for many who live below poverty or who are working poor that more really does matter.  But I'm guessing most of my readers fall into a category very similar to me; I really don't need more.

It is not my intent to end the year on a low note, in fact, it's the contrary.  As we make plans for a new year, for both ourselves and our organizations, what if we were to think beyond more?  What would our visions and goals for 2014 look like if they didn't start from the vantage point of more?

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the office
Every person was envisioning their hopes and their promise.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How can you receive instead of manage life?

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.  ~Parker J. Palmer

The question posed in the heading, "How can you receive instead of manage life?" was taken from my Advent reading this week from Richard Rohr's book, Preparing for Christmas.  This time of year we tend to think a lot about what we will be giving but it may be a time to more appropriately think about receiving

When I think about the idea of receiving life, I think of people who live more by their calling than by their ego.  An article I came across this week (thanks, Joe!) entitled, Five Ways to Distinguish Your Calling from Your Ego by Shelley Prevost, repeated this same theme contrasting managing by achieving more with paying attention to how your life is unfolding.
Because ego wants to manage anxiety by achieving more, it is especially concerned with the results of all this striving.  By focusing on the outcome, your ego gets validation that all this work is worth it. Without a satisfactory result, all the striving is pointless. 
A calling reveals itself through self-discovery.  Your calling comes from within and can only be revealed by paying attention to how your life is unfolding. Instead of managing the outcome, your calling can handle the stress of ambiguity.  It knows that the tension is revealing something that you couldn't otherwise learn.
While your ego does a necessary job of helping you function in the world, it is your calling that creates a more authentic, soulful way to be in the world. 
Thinking about receiving life, two people come to mind who continue to dominate the national news—Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis.  Both of these individuals, in my opinion, are examples of leaders who received life far more than they managed life.  If Nelson Mandela was managing life would he have spent 27 years in prison, forgive those who imprisoned him, and then proudly bear the rugby shirt that caused 65,000 white rugby supporters to shout his name?  As Parker Palmer stated, "I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity."  I believe that's exactly what Nelson Mandela did.

"Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff who won hearts and headlines with his humility and common touch was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013."  Time managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, said, "Pope Francis stood out 'as someone who has changed the tone and perception and focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way.'"  If the Pope truly "won the hearts and headlines with his humility and common touch" how could he be managing life?  He exemplifies Parker Palmer's statement, "not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life," a life that he has received.

As we approach the season of giving and receiving, how would our lives as leaders look differently if we shifted from managing life to receiving life?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mandela is hope.

He was more than just an individual soul; he was the exposition of the African spirit of generosity…He’s only a reference and a marker to the better possibilities of our humanity. ~Dean Michael Weeder of St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town

This week we remember one of the great leaders of our lifetime – Nelson Mandela. What we remember most is not some great invention created, or massive company built, or billions of dollars donated. We remember his character, his unwavering and powerful ability to forgive. And it’s his character that now draws world leaders from around the globe to South Africa to pay tribute to his leadership that extended to every corner of every nation.

Following is only a portion of the quotes published by MSN to honor Mandela’s 95th birthday.

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

"I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."

"I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul."

"When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat."

"Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me."

"As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

"There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

"We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Are you willing to say "yes" to your strengths?

What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time.  ~Tom Rath

I'm a big proponent of strengths-based leadership, appreciative inquiry, positive organizational scholarship, etc.  All things that focus on leveraging what you're good at, what works.  Last week I was faced with a personal dilemma about my own strengths.

I decided to go through a selection process to possibly become a specific type of facilitator.  The sponsoring organization had an extensive selection process, which I respected.  I did my best to be very honest with all of the interview questions and wanted to take on this role only if it was a good fit.  I've done enough of these sorts of selection processes to typically know what they are looking for so I can fake it if I want to get selected.  But I only wanted to do this if I knew I'd enjoy it, and as I know, we all enjoy what we're naturally good at far more than what we have to force ourselves to do.

I completed several assessments and it was time for the interviewer to share the results with me.  She began with, "we have a few concerns."  At this point I was bracing to hear what weaknesses would make this role challenging for me.  The interviewer continued, "While this is very helpful in life, it might make this role difficult.  You are extremely patient."  I was so taken aback I actually laughed.  I was prepared to hear something that I "wasn’t," something that sounded like a weakness.  Instead I heard something I found positive and was pleased to learn.

The interviewer said this didn't take me out of the running but that I would need to decide if I could find a way to be impatient for at least the next six months.  They had determined that impatience is a necessary "strength" for this role.  (I had to put strength in quotes because I'm still struggling to view impatience from that perspective.)  I considered this for a couple of days.  I'll admit I've got an ego, some pride, and a streak of stubbornness that made me want to simply prove them wrong.  Once I took my ego and pride out of the equation, I asked myself why I would want to fight against my strengths for six months or even six days.  I decided to say "yes" to my strengths, and "no" to this possible opportunity.

I share this example because I see leaders attempting tasks or challenges in a way that they think a leader should do it, instead of doing it in a way that leverages their strengths. They like the idea of successfully accomplishing the task or challenge, especially as the leader, so they ignore their strengths and try to simply power through.

Peter Drucker said, "Most people think they know what they are good at.  They are usually wrong…And yet, a person can perform only from strength."  And Tom Rath (author of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Wellbeing) said, "You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are."

Whenever we say "yes" to something that also means we’re saying "no" to something else.  Are you willing to say "yes" to your strengths? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Grateful for JFK.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  ~John F. Kennedy

It seems appropriate this week to pause and remember with gratitude one of our nation's leaders: John F. Kennedy.  One of the things I admire most about JFK was his imperfection.  He had flaws, and as time has passed we've all become more aware of those blemishes.  But that didn't mean his life couldn't still be used for good.  He left us with a legacy of vision and leadership, in spite of his imperfections.

Following are a few JFK quotes that demonstrate why this week, I am thankful for his leadership and his legacy.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men."

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."

"Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder."

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs.  Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

"Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."

"This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor."

"We shall be judged more by what we do at home than what we preach abroad."

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win ...It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency."

"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Monday, November 18, 2013

What’s your dispositional sin?

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  ~Ephesians 4:31

Dispositional sins.  As leaders, I don't think this requires a specific faith or religious affiliation. Dispositional sins are equally devastating for both the religious and non-religious alike.  There is no discrimination or preference when it comes to dispositional sins.  As A.W. Tozer pointed out in one of his books on leadership, "These sins are as many as the various facets of human nature.  Just so there may be no misunderstanding let us list a few of them: sensitiveness, irritability, churlishness, faultfinding, peevishness, temper, resentfulness, cruelty, uncharitable attitudes, and of course there are many more."  Now to modify Tozer's words just a bit…These kill the spirit of an organization and slow down any progress which the leader may be making in the organization or the community.

So as leaders, what do we do about these ugly dispositional flaws?

As Tozer stated, these are facets of human nature; maybe the first thing we could do about these dispositional sins is admit that we have them.  Yes, that's right, we ALL have them.  It's human nature. 

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, distinguishes between a multiplier and a diminisher.  Through extensive research, some of the "dispositional sins" that represent diminishers are: controlling, micromanaging, selfishness, not listening, and not delegating.  In a presentation Liz made at the Global Leadership Summit, she described how she frequently used a phrase: "How hard can that be?"  Maybe her optimism is a strength; but it was coming across to her staff as demoralizing, frustrating, and a reflection that she wasn't really listening to their concerns.  Then one day when she made that statement once again, a brave soul simply blurted out, "Would you please stop saying that!"  This was the first time she became aware that this habit had actually become a dispositional flaw.  She thanked the staff member, changed her behavior (even with her children) and saw a significant shift in how others responded to her requests.   She took the first and very important step in addressing her dispositional sin, she admitted she had one! 

Being a perfectionist, faultfinding is certainly one of my dispositional sins.  When faced with a situation, a person, a "thing," my human nature is to first focus on the faults, or what's not perfect.  However, one of my strengths, using StrengthsFinder language, is maximizer—how to get the most, the best out of people.  Taking something that's good and making it great.  That may describe the brighter side of being a perfectionist.  Using that strength, maybe I could practice focusing, first, on what's good and how I could help make it great.  Said another way, how can I use some of my strengths to reframe my dispositional flaws.  Not that I can suddenly turn my sins into saintly actions, but maybe I can work at mitigating those nasty, annoying dispositional flaws with some—okay LOTS—of intentional practice.

When it comes to defining leadership, I’m a behaviorist.  I believe that leadership is all about the behaviors we exhibit.  That means we have to take the good with the bad.  We have to leverage our strengths while recognizing and admitting we've got some dispositional sins that need some work as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.  ~Nelson Mandela
Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, talks about personal histories.  He says, "The word history means to learn by inquiry, and in turning toward our own histories with inquiring minds, with curiosities sufficient to the immensity of them, we can help ourselves heal.  We can even be shown a calling.  In turn, by following the calls we're shown, we can sometimes heal the past and can go back to it in order to remember ourselves, to pull ourselves together into a more solid form."

Levoy continues with, "The past shapes us, but by following the deep calling to heal ourselves and throw off old curses, we may be able to reshape our response to that past and perhaps even the way in which we remember it.  Sometimes we're called to move backward so that we can move forward with a greater sense of ourselves, and with greater confidence."

As humans we have histories and as leaders we have a history that has shaped our leadership.  I don't know about you, but there are parts of my history I'd like to highlight, hit the delete button, and send it off into cyberspace never to be seen or heard from again.  But histories don't work that way.  We have to take the best of times along with the worst of times.  Our histories cannot be rewritten, but they can be healed.   

A leader who immediately comes to mind as an example of someone who allowed their history to be healed is Nelson Mandela.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in an HBR blog earlier this year, "Nelson Mandela famously forgave his oppressors.  After the end of apartheid, which had fostered racial separation and kept blacks impoverished, Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected President.  Some in his political party clamored for revenge against members of the previous regime or perhaps even all privileged white people.  Instead, to avoid violence, stabilize and unite the nation, and attract investment in the economy, Mandela appointed a racially integrated cabinet, visited the widow of one of the top apartheid leaders, and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would clear the air and permit moving forward."

Borrowing again from Gregg Levoy's writing, "Psychologist Jean Houston says that one way toward holiness is by being punched full of holes by life.  She stresses that wounding is an age-old training ground for teachers and healers.  In order to discover what is trying to be born in you from your wound, what gift or call might be pressing for delivery, however, you need to stop reciting the small story about it—the particulars, the details—and tell the larger story.  'Tell the tale anew,' she says, 'This time with the wounding as the middle of the story.'"

Nelson Mandela undoubtedly chose to make his wounding the middle of his story.  He allowed his history to be healed and he was certainly shown a call.  As leaders, we should ask how our histories have shaped our leadership and if part of our history is in need of healing.  Through that healing, we might discover a call. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Go Johnny Go!

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.  ~Peter F. Drucker

As I've confessed before, I'm a faithful fan of the reality TV show, Shark Tank.  I enjoy the optimism and creativity of the entrepreneurs juxtaposed against the analysis and critique of the would-be investors.  Last week, I witnessed something on this show that's a rare occurrence, venture capitalists truly moved by the genuine compassion and sincerity of the one of the presenting entrepreneurs, Johnny Georges. 

Johnny is a fruit farmer from Florida (as was his father) and he invented a product that allows farmers to not only use significantly less water to irrigate their groves, but also helps to prevent damage from frost.  He has been selling direct to farmers and his margins are somewhat thin, especially by venture capitalist standards.  As the sharks began their questions and critique, a number asked why he wasn't charging more so he could improve his margin.  Johnny replied with a very sincere and compassionate response, "Because I'm selling to farmers."  He repeated this several times, with just as much genuine sincerity as the first time he made the statement.  It was quite clear that if you read between the lines he was really saying, "Because it is just the right thing to do."

At this point, Kevin O'Leary (aka: Mr. Wonderful) would have typically said something like, "If you're not willing to consider raising your price and increase your margins then you're dead to me."  But even Mr. O'Leary stayed silent—miraculous! One by one the sharks backed away from investing in Johnny's business.  Until it came to first-time shark, John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell.  He told Johnny that if he'd be willing to raise his price by just a dollar or two he'd invest the full amount he had requested.  Done deal, and barely a dry eye among the sharks!

I just discovered that there are a number of people who blog about Shark Tank and here's what one blogger had to say about Johnny.  "Johnny Georges, what can I say, this guy is about as genuine as any good hearted person you would ever be lucky enough to meet.  He is now a real super star, possessing unique genuine qualities hard to ignore.  By the looks of the dozens of comments that came pouring in after he was featured on the show, apparently there are thousands and thousands of other folks who feel the same way about Johnny Georges.  Sometimes running a successful business has nothing to do with the bottom line, but has everything to do with doing the right thing."  

I'm guessing that Johnny wouldn't categorize himself as a "leader," but I think there may be thousands of folks out there (myself included) who would follow Johnny to the end of the earth.  I couldn't agree more with the blogger, Johnny had unique genuine qualities hard to ignore.  He wasn't charismatic, or even overly articulate.  But genuineness simply oozed out of him.  I think it was so hard to ignore because unfortunately, we see it so rarely these days.  There wasn't a self-centered bone in this guy's body.

After the show I kept thinking, where have we gone so wrong that simple genuineness is now a rarity?  Something we see so infrequently that we're overcome with emotion when it does pass our way. 

This week how could we each join Johnny and let go of our self-centeredness, reach deep inside to our genuine selves and just simply do the right thing?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Transforming pain and suffering into leadership.

The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died.  Strength, power and courage was born.  ~Malala Yousafzai

Pain, suffering, disappointment, and life gone wrong; any of these sound familiar?  We will all encounter moments or seasons of pain and disappointment.  But we can choose how to respond to that pain and suffering.  It can lead to devastation, anger, and despair; or it can lead to transformation, hope, and courage.  Many great leaders have been born out of horrific pain and sacrifice.  One such individual has been in the news headlines frequently over the past month.

Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was brutally attacked on her way home from school – shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban.  ABC World News reported, "One year later, the shot heard round the world has given birth to a movement of change – a movement to educate girls, and the little girl from Swat Valley in Pakistan has become an international symbol of courage and hope."

The fact that Malala survived her attack is miraculous.  But I think what has really transfixed us, is Malala's response to the attack and her attackers.  While speaking to the UN she said, "They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.  And then, out of that silence, came thousands of voices."  In an interview with Jon Stewart, Malala stated, "I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban."  It was the transformation of pain that very quickly catapulted Malala into the global spotlight.

Philip Yancey writes about suffering in his recent book, The Question that Never Goes Away.  He quotes Victor Frankl who said, "Despair is suffering without meaning."  Later in the book Yancey says that "we get not a remedy for suffering but a use for it, a pattern of meaning."  He quotes Terry Waite, who said after being released from four years' captivity as a hostage in Lebanon, "I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people.  I think that's the best way to approach suffering."

I realize that most of us have not suffered the extreme circumstances of Malala, Victor Frankl, or Terry Waite.  But we've all dealt with our own pain and suffering.  What's the use for our suffering?  What's the pattern of meaning?  I believe that the leaders we truly desire to follow are those people who find a pattern of meaning amidst their pain and suffering.  They give us hope, they personify courage; we believe that if we can grab a hold of even a fraction of their strength everything will be okay. posted an article entitled, The Value of Suffering.  Author John Hope Bryant states, “The real value in suffering is that you find the invaluable, unmistakable, purposeful, and maybe even the passionate you in the midst of all those business meetings, credit card receipts, and business cards.  And in so doing, you figure out that the best way to get ahead in this world is to lead by love and not fear.  You help those around you to navigate stormy waters instead of avoiding them, because loss creates leaders."

What's the pattern of meaning for your suffering?  Has your loss created a leader in you?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is your sewage flowing in the right direction?

What got you here won’t get you there.  ~Marshall Goldsmith

"What got you here won't get you there."  This is a quote I use frequently when working with organizations on strategic planning.  It seems so easy to assume that if something worked in the past it will work in the future so why change anything.  I hear that a lot, especially from nonprofits that have been around for decades.  If we've been here for 100+ years, surely we'll be here for 100+ more years, just because.

I had an experience last week that proved to me, in a very personal way, that what got you here clearly won't get you there.  I have a small lake cottage in West Michigan.  For several years now I've periodically had plumbing problems.  I've had plumbers out more times than I'd care to count and the problem continued to persist.  So, as it began to act up, once again, I decided enough was enough and it was time to get a plumber who'd really diagnose the situation and help me get beyond putting band aids on the problem and be willing to do some surgery if that's what needed to be done. 

And diagnose he did!  He climbed on the roof to check out the venting system, crawled in my well, and put a camera through the line to the septic tank. He determined that the line needed to be replaced.  The lake cottage was built somewhere around 1950, or so.  This line, which is 60 feet long, was made of clay tiles.  That means each clay section of pipe was about two feet long and the sections were connected with concrete.  Yikes!  Yes, it clearly worked 60 or 70 years ago, but it's no longer functioning and what got me here clearly wasn't going to get me there.  So the backhoe was delivered, the digging ensued and I now have a brand new PVC line from the cottage to the septic tank, with a few bells and whistles added which I won't attempt to describe.  But I learned that I can truly get excited about sewage that now flows in the proper direction!

You may think that this personal experience is a little extreme as an example of "what got us here won’t get us there."  I've worked with enough leaders who want to believe that what worked for their organization the last several decades will continue to work in the coming years, to know that sometimes an extreme example is exactly what's required.  Sewage that didn't flow in the proper direction certainly got my attention, and I'm hoping it got your attention as well.

As leaders, sometimes we become nostalgic, or comfortable, or content, maybe a little lackadaisical, or even blind to what's really happening all around our organizations.  We might think that tweaking a few operational issues will get keep us on course.  A few band aids will surely make our organization sustainable.  But what's really needed is some major surgery, because what got you here just simply isn't going to get you there.     

In January 2012, Chicagoans were shocked that a 123-year-old institution, Hull House, providing crucial human services disappeared.  Hull House's co-founder, Jane Addams, who became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, was thought of as the Mother of the early American settlement house movement.  The reason that Hull House disappeared is straightforward: it was overly reliant on government funding in a time of public-sector cutbacks for social services, and particularly for child welfare.  What got them here wasn't got to get them there.  They missed an early diagnosis and weren't prepared to do the necessary surgery. 

As leaders, are we willing to ask, will what got us here get us there?  If not, maybe it's time for more than a few band aids.  Maybe it's time for some major surgery to get the sewage flowing in the right direction, and create real sustainability.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What's your metric for success?

Definition of success?  I could lose everything and truly be okay with it.  ~Tony Hsieh, billionaire and CEO of Zappos

This idea of a metric for success was suggested by someone this past week on Facebook regarding our current political dilemma (thank you, Rob).  I have to admit, I do wonder what our various senators and congressmen are using as their metric for success given the decision making we've observed.  Is their metric for success re-election?  Pleasing a very specific and small group of constituents?  To be on the winning side?  Self-promotion?  Doing what's best for the most people?  Who knows?  But it certainly did cause me to ponder the question: What's my highest metric for success?  And, how much is my ego driving my metric?

I'll openly admit that I have been a casualty of our culture when it comes to measuring my success.  I let external expectations of success influence many of my decisions.  For years, in my little company of Greystone Global, I had numerous staff, multiple locations, etc.  These are all symbols or metrics of success in the consulting world.  The real truth is, when I first started in the consulting business more than 17 years ago, I wanted to be an independent consultant.  That never changed.  However, I allowed my ego to get the best of me and I did all of the things that others told me I was supposed to do to be a "success."  I had multiple staff, multiple locations, traveled across the country to clients from coast to coast.  But those metrics of success weren't bringing me fulfillment.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I was busy, but busy (along with the staff, locations, etc.) wasn't the metric for success that really mattered to me.  I wanted to be able to look back on a year of consulting and coaching and point to specific scenarios where organizations were healthier, dollars were being spent more effectively, people were achieving personal goals, and teams were thriving.  In order for that to happen it could mean (or even require) that I wasn't overly busy and it really didn't demand the locations, staff, travel, etc.  So, as staff either retired or wanted to make other changes I chose not to replace them.  I pursued client relationships that didn't require extensive travel, and I function from one small but efficient office space. 

My highest metric for success?  Did I develop a relationship and do work with each of my clients that could in some way push the world a little closer to wholeness?  I honestly believe that I have a better shot at achieving this metric for success by ignoring what culture dictates as my metrics of success.  But, that requires a lot of fortitude to put my ego aside; because while I may have changed my metric for success, our culture has not.  So I still get asked the same "success" questions like: Are you busy?  How many staff do you have?  Are you traveling a lot?  It's not unheard of, but on a rare occasion I get asked something like: What have you been able to help some of your clients achieve in the past year?

My intent was not to ramble on about my own metric for success, but to challenge each of us to be really honest with ourselves.  How do we measure our own success?  If you're not sure, then look at the decisions you are making – not your aspirations – what you are actually doing.  What we actually do or decide, is the real indicator of our metric for success, not what we'd like to do. 

Is your metric of success honestly bringing you fulfillment?  If not, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate.  But please, don't take 15 years to make it right, like I did.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Great leaders fall upward?

Instead of being ego driven, you will begin to be soul drawn.  ~Richard Rhor

In Richard Rohr's book, Falling Upward, he states that our lives are divided into two halves.  In addition to many other descriptors, one of the major differences is that in the first half of life we are ego driven and in the second half we are soul drawn.  There is no magic age or number of years that signify the crossing over from one half to the other.  In fact, as Rohr states, sadly, some people stay in the first half and never see the soul drawn half of life.  Even in my own experience, I can identify individuals who are well into their 80s and are still very much ego driven.  I can also think of young adults just turning 30 who I would clearly put in the soul drawn half of life.

Here's the difference according to Rohr.  When we are ego driven "we have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people.  When we are soul drawn we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us.  We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves.  Our actions are less compulsive.  We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences."

This reminded me of several other similar examples.  Renowned researcher and author, Jim Collins, most well-known for his book Good to Great shares the difference between a good leader and a great leader.  The difference (based on empirical research) is that great leaders combine personal humility and professional will.  That sounds a lot like "do what we are called to do" (professional will) and then "try to let go of the consequences" (personal humility).

I was recently coaching a physician and he viewed life as a continuum from advancement to fulfillment.  In your early years (especially as a physician) you spend a great deal of effort focused on advancing your career.  But as he identified, many times there comes a tipping point when more advancement doesn't necessarily bring fulfillment.  There may come a time when we make a conscious decision to allow advancement to play a less significant role in our life and we begin to focus more on fulfillment.  He believes that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive – sometimes advancement can also bring fulfillment – but that's not the case the majority of the time.  I think this is yet another way to describe moving from being ego driven to being soul drawn.  How and when we make the transition is different for everyone.

Rohr describes this journey as crossing a chasm, which may be why some people never make it to the other side.  He also says that this process usually involves some type of suffering, sacrifice, or maneuvering through life's complexities.  Using Jim Collin's example of personal humility, we really can’t wake up one day and proclaim that we are going to be humble, effective immediately.  While we can't dismiss our ego and embrace our soul overnight; we can certainly remain mindful.  When we encounter those moments of "complexity" we can find meaning, learn from them, and move one step closer to letting go of our ego and being drawn by our soul.

Rohr says that "One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down.  Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up."  Great leaders really do fall upward.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Culture whiplash!

Culture does not change because we desire to change it.  Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.  ~Frances Hesselbein

Recently I met with a new client, a board of directors, for the first time.  I joined the last 15 minutes of their meeting so when I entered the room they were all seated around the conference table.  I walked in the door, and what I felt next I would describe as culture whiplash (an abrupt jerk, jolt or snap).  They were all white men between the ages of around 40 and 65.  There was one woman in the room, a staff member, not a board member.  I haven't seen that degree of homogeneous board composition in a number of years.  I was quite literally taken aback.

I live in downtown Chicago.  One of my personal pastimes is trying to identify various languages being spoken as I walk down the street. Diversity is a way of life.  So a lack of diversity in a culture, if I'm not expecting it, really gets my attention.

I was distracted as I sat down to meet with this board and I tried to refocus my thoughts on the task at hand, but it was a challenge.  The distraction was not coming from the fact that I didn't fit into their homogeneous make-up, it was coming from the fact that what I expected was in stark contrast from what I experienced.

Does your organizational culture give someone whiplash the first time they walk through your doors?  Research tells us that as individuals, we have seven seconds to make a first impression.  I'm wondering if we only have seven seconds for our organization's culture to also make a first impression.

I think that what our organization's culture is communicating can sneak up on us.  When we're immersed in an organization over a period of years we don't always sense what's really changed, or not changed, over time.  Fortunately, in my board of director's scenario, after interviewing a number of the board members I learned that they did recognize their homogeneity needed to change.  Although I'm not sure they realized how much of an impact it could really have on someone who was walking into it for the first time.

In the Fast Company article, "Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch," Shawn Parr asks, "Do you run into your culture every day?  Does it inspire you, or smack you in the face and get in your way, slowing and wearing you down?  Is it overpowering or does it inspire you to overcome challenges?  It's important to understand what is driving your culture."

What do people expect when they encounter your organization's culture?  Because I work almost exclusively mission-driven organizations, I find that the culture expectations are quite high for people (employees, clients, vendors, etc.) coming into the organization for the first time.  How are you managing those expectations? 

If those expectations aren't being managed then maybe you are unknowingly giving people a form of culture whiplash when they walk in your door.  The culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.  What do people expect of those realities and what do they experience?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Can you hear me now?! Can you?!

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.  ~Karl A. Menninger

This is certainly not my first time to focus on the topic of listening.  This past week brought an opportunity for me to be reminded once again just how difficult, and important, it is to listen, really listen.

I was facilitating a leadership development class and the topic was the leadership behavior of active listening.  These participants had just spent the past four weeks developing their listening skills.  Part of the assignment was to keep a listening log so they could track their improvement.  For many, keeping a log allowed them to realize how poorly they were listening and how difficult it was to truly listen.

One of the comments these students of leadership repeated was how they felt like listening took a lot of time.  While feeling pressed with all of their own responsibilities and deadlines, they found it difficult to have the patience to just listen.

It feels like we have become a culture that doesn't really value listening.  Stephen Levine said, "The saddest part about being human is not paying attention.  Presence is the gift of life."  Wow, the gift of life, yet we don't seem to have time to squeeze it into our task-filled days.  Expressing a very similar view, Bryant H. McGill said, "One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."  

This all seems very paradoxical to me.  We want workplaces where people feel valued, respected, have the opportunity to develop and grow, yet, we're very bad at listening.  We don't take the time to listen so we don't develop the skill. 

The late Scott Peck, psychiatrist and best-selling author said, "We cannot let another person into our hearts or minds unless we empty ourselves.  We can truly listen to him or truly hear her only out of emptiness." We are so filled with our own "stuff" that it's hard for us to listen.  We fill our minds with our deadlines, our responsibilities, our to-do lists, our next task.  We find it hard to unearth within us the patience and, I dare say, compassion to listen to someone else.  Are we willing to empty ourselves to allow someone else to be heard? 

The final sentence of this week's quote, "when we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand" describes a wonderfully vivid image of the outcome of listening.  In nearly every organization I work with, employee development is a priority.  But rarely do I see listening skills being emphasized.  Listening is a low-cost, high-return form of professional development ("it creates us, makes us unfold and expand"), yet we say we just don't have the time to do it.  Do we really not have the time or do we not have the will to empty ourselves so we can really listen.

Woodrow Wilson once said, "The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people."  Are our ears ringing with the voices of the people?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reality, fantasy, or strategy?

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.  ~Jack Welch

Reality.  This has been a topic on my mind a lot this past week.  My recent interactions with several clients have been a profound reminder of the challenge to define reality.  The discussion of reality could quickly fall into an endless chasm of varied philosophical thought.  That’s not where I’m going. 

Part of my work includes asking leaders within organizations detailed questions about their view, perspective, opinion, belief, etc. about their organization.  Then I try to piece together everyone's view and experience into one cohesive picture of reality.  In some circumstances this is easier said than done because the views of reality can be extremely diverse.

Recently, I've had leaders within the same organization describe their current state as everything from solid/sustainable to a crisis.  Another organization's leaders rated their level of effectiveness on a new project on a 10-point scale from 3 to 10.  I recall a board meeting several years ago where I was the board chair sitting right next to the organization's leader.  The following morning she called and said, "I think we had consensus on a number of items."  I said, "I don’t think we reached consensus on anything."  Two people sat right next to each other in a meeting, then walked out the door with two very different views of reality.

Max De Pree, who I've quoted before, said (in 1987), "The first job of a leader is to define reality."  I've been wondering lately if it's evolved to more than just defining reality.  Because we live in a state of change that is moving at a faster pace than any point in history, reality is not a static state, but a dynamic state with constant twists and turns, false starts, and experimentation.  Is a leader's job more than defining reality?  Is it also about keeping the organization connected to reality, harnessing reality, and leveraging it for all it's worth?  By harnessing reality I'm not suggesting that leaders don't create change or shape the future.  I am suggesting that decisions are being made within the context of an accurate view of reality, not false assumptions or hollow aspirations.

How do you do that?  In real estate the long-time maxim has been "location, location, location."  In our current state of unbridled change, I'd suggest the maxim for leadership is "listen, listen, listen, communicate, communicate, communicate."  Leaders must listen more intentionally now than ever before because everything is changing.  No one single person's view of reality (including their own) is going to be accurate.  The only way to see reality that has constant moving parts is to see it through many different eyes.  That means listen, listen, listen.  Paul Watzlawick said, "The belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions."

Once you've listened, then harness reality by communicating, communicating, communicating.  I think plans are great!  I make a living by helping organizations create plans and they're an important part of organizational communication.  However, I think we're all a bit naive if we believe that those plans won't be fraught with false starts, re-dos, and adjustments.  That's what it means to be harnessed to reality.  When employees feel the whiplash of a sudden shift in direction, they need to know that the change is not a result of chaos or indecision, but of a discipline to stay connected to reality.

Reality:  We define it by listening (a lot!).  We harness and leverage it by communicating (a lot!).  We stay connected to it by being disciplined (a lot!).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tell me more!

"Can you tell me more?"  Ask it often.  It is to conversations what fresh-baked bread with soft creamery butter is to a meal.  ~Andrew Sobel & Jerold Panas

Tell me more, tell me more…For those of us who can remember back to 1978, that's when John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in the musical film Grease.  If you remember the film then you can probably hum the tune of Summer Nights with the lyrics, "tell me more, tell me more."

Tell me more…three very simple and powerful words that are used way too rarely.  Those in leadership will frequently say that they believe they need to listen more.  I agree!  However, listening does not include providing a solution, a fix, or a defense.   All of those things require talking and talking is not listening.  The point of listening is for someone to feel heard.  How can we feel heard if our statements are met with a defense or a fix that seems utterly obvious to the person offering it?

One of the hardest things for leaders, especially CEOs, is to just listen, nothing else, just listen.  When an employee is venting about their dislike of a policy or their disenchantment with how leadership is living out the organization's values, imagine if that CEO said something like, "You sound really frustrated, could you tell me more?"  As opposed to providing a mini three-point sermon as to how that employee's perspective is totally and absolutely incorrect.

BONO has referenced an illustration used frequently to demonstrate the power of really listening.  "It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person."  I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Disraeli used that simple but powerful question, "Can you tell me more?"  

In order to ask that question, it may mean we have to harness our own angst and desire to "correct" or "fix" and let the other person continue.  Or, it may mean we need to let the need to share our own similar success stay in our head and not pass over our lips.

"Tell me more" builds relationships and strengthens trust.  "Tell me more" communicates that you care.  "Tell me more" makes people feel heard!

Andrew, one of the authors of today's quote tells a story of agreeing to a lunch meeting with his business banker.  Something he'd been putting off.  They went to lunch.  Throughout their meal, she (his banker) talked about the progression of her career at the bank, her vacation, and showed him pictures of her grandchildren.  Suddenly, she realizes how much time has gone by and announces that she has to leave.  Andrew is left nearly speechless.  She didn't ask him a single question.  She knows nothing about his experience at the bank, his future plans, to say the least about who he is personally.  Even one question followed by "tell me more" could have created a completely different experience for Andrew, and ultimately for his bank!

Ralph G. Nichols, author of Are You Listening and pioneer in the study of listening skills said, "The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.  The best way to understand people is to listen to them."  

Why not ask someone today, "Could you tell me more?"

Monday, September 2, 2013

Are you busy?

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!  I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen.  ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau's Cabin on Walden Pond
Are you busy?  

That’s a question I get asked frequently.  It's part of the culture of owning a small business and/or being self-employed.  And I do the same; I ask my business friends "Are you busy?"  For some reason when I was asked that question recently, it struck me differently somehow.  I suddenly thought to myself, is that really how we've come to judge our success?  Is being busy good and not being busy bad?

With just a couple of minutes of research I discovered that I'm certainly not the first person to ask that question.  Below are a few quotes I pulled from an article in the NY Times entitled, "Too Busy to Notice that You're too Busy."
While those who are overworked and overwhelmed complain ceaselessly, it is often with an undertone of boastfulness; the hidden message is that I'm so busy because I'm so important. 
It's a status symbol. 
We avoid dealing with life's really big issues — death, global warming, AIDS, terrorism — by running from task to task. 
It is a kind of high. 
Paradoxically, Dr. Hallowell writes in "CrazyBusy," it is in part the desire for control that has led people to lose it.  "You can feel like a tin can surrounded by a circle of a hundred powerful magnets," he writes. "Many people are excessively busy because they allow themselves to respond to every magnet: tracking too much data, processing too much information, answering to too many people, taking on too many tasks — all in the sense that this is the way they must live in order to keep up and stay in control. But it's the magnets that have the control."
So when and where did I succumb to the idea that "busy" is something to be idolized?  To be put on a pedestal?  To define success?  Like many things in life, I think it happened slowly and gradually over time and it wasn't until I had been asked the question for maybe the 100th time that I finally started to wonder if I too was associating busy with success or importance.

As leaders, should we be identifying ourselves with "busy?"  Are we imposing that same expectation onto others without even realizing it?  And, is busy really good anyway?

When I look back on my life I don’t think I want to look back and see that I was "busy" and somehow equate that with a legacy I want to leave behind.  To change that, I could start by taking "busy" off of the pedestal of importance and no longer ask people "Are you busy?"  Maybe I could change that obligatory business networking question to something like, "What have you learned lately?" or "What's the greatest difference you've made or impact you've been able to have this year?" or "What have you been working on that's brought you personal fulfillment?"  The list could go on, but beginning to associate my conversation openers with something I value more than busyness seems like a good start.