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?