Between Friends

A text exchange between friends \\ 10:45 AM \\ December 18, 2019

\\\

Friend: Checking in on you today – you keep crossing my mind. Wondering how your spirits are, and the sense of “darkness”?

\\\

Me: Lovely timing…

\\\

Friend: Crazy how that works

\\\

Me: The thing about advent is that its a journey from darkness to light…

the dark is uncomfortable at first, and then seductive…a comfy place to stay and brood…the promise of light feels a little too much at first, the light itself a little harsh

And then the memory that the dark is in service of the light and stepping towards it is not fatal but generative

Feeling more on that side of things these days

TMI 😂

\\\

Friend: No!! So good, and as usually happens with ‘lovely timing’, the words coming back my way were hand-picked for today. Thanks David!!

Here’s to stepping towards the light…

\\\

And a few hours later, “friend” sends the perfect poem to encourage me to keep stepping:

\\\

From (Rainer Maria) Rilke’s “Book of Hours”:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


i see light in the darkness text

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

You Have to Plug It In

Dec 13, 12:47pm – Oakland Airport: A man looks up between bites of his Mesquite Grilled Chicken salad and sees a “Short Story Dispenser.” Intrigued, he sets the salad on the seat next to him and approaches the machine, the sensation of his unwitting participation in a social experiment growing in his mind. He pushes the button for a “1-minute Story” and nothing happens. He pushes the 3 and 5-minute story buttons and nothing happens.

The man notices that the “Short Story Dispenser” is, in fact, unplugged. Increasingly confident of the social experiment, the man bends down and plugs it in. He hears a brief whirring sound and then…nothing. Oh, well, he thinks and returns to his seat for more salad.

Moments later, he glances up and sees that the machine is lit up now, each button outlined by a small circle of light.

Certain that he is being played, and unable to resist, the man returns to the kiosk, pushes the “1-minute Story” button again and to his delight, a story comes tumbling from the mouth of the machine.

As he finishes the story he sees another man at the machine, a braver man who has clearly pushed the “5-minute Story” button given the length of the scroll that emerges.
The first man is envious and also satisfied. And when another man approaches and receives a story, and then a small boy does the same (bravest of all because he prints two stories!!) his satisfaction deepens and becomes happiness.

He knows, and will always know, that he is the man who plugged in the story machine at the Oakland airport on a Friday in December.

(Alternative post title: “Things that happen when I am not holding my phone”)


IMG_7471

No Qualifiers

How about this?

How about you stop explaining what you are about to ask or say or state?

How about you just go ahead and say it?

I’m projecting that onto you because it’s a huge development opportunity for me.

And I’m already getting better.

Because I decided to. And because I have a good friend helping me.

Be direct. Be clear. And don’t go it alone.


blue sky blur clear sky color

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Build Capability Before You Need It

Since we know that nothing lasts forever, a healthy, necessary and realistic point of view for leaders to take is that whatever is working right now will not necessarily work next year. Rationally, we understand that. Emotionally, however, we are too frequently loathe to question ourselves when things are going well as if we might jinx our good fortune. Harry Potter taught an entire world of wizards that it was not only ok to “speak his name” (Voldemort, that is) but it was actually necessary to do so to have any chance of defeating him.

What follows are the direct and specific actions I believe leaders must take if they are to be successful in building capability for the future. I have divided the list into three categories: Developmental, Strategic and Cautionary.

DEVELOPMENTAL

1. Go to therapy. Don’t walk, run. Since many leaders are narcissists and all leaders have narcissistic qualities they are more fragile than they appear to be. (Both Michael Maccoby and Manfred Kets de Vries have written extensively and powerfully on the subject.) When they are wounded by criticism and questioning of their leadership they often don’t heal very quickly and may actually go to great lengths to even the score. As you know, it can get pretty ugly. And, since everything else I am about to advocate involves building infrastructure to question the system, leaders need to build a tough and thoughtful resilience to bear it well. They need to learn not to take every new idea for improvement as an indictment of their leadership but rather as a response to an invitation to keep getting better. For that to happen, those narcissistic wounds are better worked out in the therapist’s office than in the conference room. (If you’re wondering if someone’s a narcissist you can always just ask them.)

2. Send all key leaders to therapy. For all of the reasons stated above.

3. Or at least provide them with highly skilled coaching support. A great coaching relationship can and often does feel “therapeutic” (one senior leader I worked with referred to it as “couching”). The key is to have a safe, trustworthy partner to work through the holistic challenges of work, home and health. All necessary subjects for an effective executive to discuss and work on regularly.

4. Be more human than otherwise. That is to say, thoughtfully reveal your vulnerability, things you’re working on, the challenges you face. Items #1-3 will be very helpful in equipping you to do this. When you become accessible to your team as a human being you increase your power by strengthening your connections. Those connections become the lifeline for communication. And communication is at the heart of learning how to get better.

5. Treat people like adults. Respect them enough to be transparent about what’s going on. Be clear about what you need. Expect them to do the same for you. You’re not their mom or dad. You don’t have to protect them from the truth. You do need to give them a chance to rise to the occasion. If they can’t or don’t you’ll have the information you need to support them in their own development.

STRATEGIC

6. Make every leader accountable for a meaningful annual report of what needs to change in his or her function in the coming year. There is always something to improve. ALWAYS. Building in this kind of evaluative, reflective process expands our capacity for having hard discussions and normalizes the process of doing so. And this is to be done in open dialogue with the whole team, starting with the people who are actually doing the work each day. A simple question for them: if you could change one thing that would allow you to be more effective in fulfilling your job responsibility, what would it be? (Note: if you don’t get useful answers the first time around it’s probably because they don’t trust you enough to be honest. Earn that trust by keeping at it in a sincere and authentic way. If that’s hard for you, see item #1.)

7. Determine how you will change first. No meaningful change happens until the leader decides to change. Figure out what change in your behavior will help bring about the larger change initiative and get busy. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is not an invitation but an admonition.

8. Hold Pre and Post-mortem meetings for every project. In the pre meeting ask as many people as possible what they think could go wrong. Learn to anticipate the bumps and get your team ready to respond. The post-mortem is more of a no-brainer but usually overlooked because we’re already off to the next thing. Even a couple of simple questions – again, asked of all involved – will build openness and a greater capacity for learning: What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn about yourself and our team? 

9. Expect leaders to coach their teams and teach them how to do so. Here’s a fine job description for a key leader: spend time everyday understanding the business and how all the pieces fit together (educate your team about same); critically consider what’s working and what’s not in your function and engage your team in frequent dialogue about same; make plans for improvement by seeking as much perspective as possible; assign responsibilities to follow through on plans; provide coaching support and resources to ensure success; recognize and celebrate publicly and tangibly. This is a talking, engaging, coaching, critical thinking, relationship job. It is not a protect, defend, isolate, manipulate, scheme and otherwise preserve hierarchical hegemony job.

CAUTIONARY

10. Don’t pretend to do any of the above. Up to now, I’ve offered suggestions on what to “do.” Here’s my first and only “don’t do.” Any inauthentic attempt at any of the above will be sniffed out immediately and seen for the manipulative tactic that it is. You gotta mean it or don’t even bother. Good people will leave and you will be surrounded by scared people all too willing to tell you that you’re great and that what “we’re doing” is just right and will certainly last forever.

Until it doesn’t and you end up in therapy anyway.


clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

EQ > IQ

The higher you go, the more this is true, because the higher you go the less your job is about process and the more it is about people.

The recipe for increased EQ (your emotional quotient or emotional intelligence) is a simple one, challenging but simple.

It starts with self-awareness. Do you know yourself? Do you understand the source of your emotional actions and reactions? And not when you’re feeling good, but especially when you’re under stress? That’s when EQ really matters.

The second step, once you know your emotional tendencies, is to manage them, which means that with knowledge comes choice. I tend to think this is why a lot of people don’t work on EQ. It can be very difficult to deny an impulsive, reactionary emotional response and replace it with something more productive.

The third step is where the investment in your self really starts to pay off. Through the process of understanding your emotional tendencies you are increasing your capacity for empathy, first within yourself and then with those around you. Empathy is the not-so-secret weapon that separates your mature and compassionate colleagues from those who stay stuck in the trap of “me first.”

The final level of advancement with EQ is the ability to use that understanding of other’s emotions to benefit them and the larger team. This is where EQ becomes a potentially game-changing leadership competency. Leaders at this level have learned how to take the gusting winds of a person or team’s emotional reactions and calm them to a gentle breeze. They do this by noticing and then listening. They ask questions to learn more and they employ their awareness of both the individual and the group – as well as their knowledge of the current needs of the business – to ensure that what is being felt is both contextualized and normalized.

The truth is that most people just want to be heard, respectfully and thoughtfully reassured that someone is willing to sit with them while they experience the often-difficult feelings that emerge in organizational life. Once heard we are often able to solve our own problems because we no longer have the cloud of emotional upheaval obscuring our view of what’s possible.

Among all of the good reasons for our leaders to develop strong EQ skills, maybe the most important is the simplest one: it’s just a better way to be human.


woman wearing blue top beside table

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

A Real Expert

There is a stumbling block to getting started as a speaker that is rooted in the impostor syndrome. It sounds like this: “But I’m not a real expert so why would they want to hear from me?”

The question then is, what is a real expert?

I believe you can credibly present yourself as a real expert on a given topic if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You have lived the subject matter. You have started the initiative, tackled the problem, and attempted the solution.
  2. You have a story to tell about #1 that includes a compelling historical narrative (what happened, why it happened, your lessons learned) as well as all of the ways it has made you more curious about what might happen next (your new questions, your hopes and plans for the future).
  3. You care about helping people. You want to share something with others to make their life easier, to save them a little time and smooth their road just a little bit more.
  4. You have the ability to present yourself confidently, you can speak clearly, and you are willing to say, “I don’t know” when someone asks you a question the answer to which you do not know.

Finally, speaking is about storytelling. Stories are how we connect and how we learn. Images, quotes, everything that went wrong, how you got out of a jam, moments of truth, these are the things your listeners are hungry for.

real expert is someone who commits themselves to being the expert of their own experience and who trusts that there’s always an audience for someone who is willing to share it.


black microphone

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

I’m a Dog Walker

Wouldn’t it be great – and a little weird and maybe even fun – if you had to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” based on the most recent thing you’ve actually done?

If I just cleaned the house, then I’m a house cleaner.
If I just prepared for class, then I’m a professor.
If I just went on a date with my wife, then I’m a husband.
If I just had a great workout, then I’m an athlete.
If I just wrote a poem, then I’m a poet.
If I just made dinner, then I’m a chef (well, maybe “cook” is good enough for that one!).
If I took the dog for a walk then, yes, I’m a dog walker.

We are ritually, blindly obsessed with narrowing our self-disclosure about what we “do” down to what we get paid for and I think that’s a shame.

You are not what you get paid to do. What you get paid to do is, I assume, something you have deep expertise in and truly enjoy. But is that all that you do? Not even close.

You are, of course, the sum total of how you spend your time. All of your time.

Not only our conversations but our workplaces would be significantly enriched if this was both recognized and normalized. What happens when we get a larger and clearer picture of how another person spends their precious time is that they become more human to us. They take on the complex, dynamic qualities of a person that we easily recognize in ourselves but conveniently ignore in others.

We are not here on a fact-finding mission. We are here to connect, and in our connection support and sustain one another’s doing so that we can relish in one another’s being.


english cocker spaniel puppy sitting on ground beside grass

Photo by Johann on Pexels.com

 

The Language of Aliveness

Are you living and leading with as much aliveness as possible? You might consider noticing your language to find out. Your instinctive verbal responses to challenging, complex or even novel circumstances say a lot about how alive and intentional you feel as opposed to how flat and stuck you feel.

This is the difference between holding a thoughtfully investigative, open stance versus one that is dualistic, critical and defensive.

The language of aliveness includes words, questions and phrases like:

Yes.
Let’s go.
I’m curious.
It’s possible.
Wow, look at that!
Let’s find out.
What about this?
Tell me more.
I’m not sure.
I don’t know.
How fascinating!
Let’s understand this better.
How can I help?

This kind of language, however you express it, signals to those around you an eagerness and readiness for learning. Used with careful intention it can be a contagious if fragile bulwark against its easy and defensive opposite.


 

More fun, please

img_6938It seems to me that the designer of this particular user interface had better options than this.

Instead of “No one is invited” how about:

“Who will you be meeting next?” or “Who’s on your invite list?” or “What are you waiting for? Make that call!” or “I can’t read your mind…who’s next?” or “Connection is the seedbed of creativity. Who will you be planting with today?”

I know, these aren’t great and I should stick to my day job, but I do wonder if the designer – team of designers? – knew that they had better options. I wonder if a better option got vetoed because it was “too funny” or “too creative” or “not in line with our customer’s expectations” or “not the best representation of our aspirational corporate image.”

I wonder when business got so dang boring, so risk averse, so disconnected from the actual human beings who work for them and from those they serve?

It’s not really a big deal, this unimaginative interface, but it’s just no fun. And we need more fun, much more of it, even in the form of a silly message on a corporate phone.


 

The Story Continues

A week ago I had the privilege of introducing “Storytelling for Career Success” to a group of young professionals who were generous enough to say “yes” to an invitation to test drive my new workshop. By their energetic participation they taught me what worked, what needed help and, most importantly, that what I shared with them is both practical and valuable.

This past Saturday was Round 2 and again I was inspired by a group of open and dynamic participants, each one willing to step into the unknown and share their story. It was an outstanding day, one I am smarter and better equipped for having led.

What I know beyond a doubt is that when we connect through story we break into a new world of possibility. It’s a world where we become known for more than the 12 point font of a resume, where we live into David Whyte’s affirmation that, “we shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” (Working Together)

One participant put it this way: “The highlight for me was figuring out how to tell an emotional, vibrant story with structure and organization. I was amazed to find that past experiences I never thought applicable in an interview can be used in an amazing, powerful way.” 

Another said this: “Before this experience, I was pretty confident in my story. What I realized throughout the experience is that I haven’t been telling it in the most effective, powerful way. This experience took my story from a little, shaky tale, to an intense, powerful testimony. Not only do I feel more confident about going into an interview, I feel more confident in myself.”

With humility and gratitude – and a powerful sense of purpose – I am committed to author, and be authored by, the unfolding of this new story.


fullsizeoutput_25ea