#23 – Get Closer

This is #23 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” This is another one I think is worth your time.


fullsizeoutput_20edAs valuable – as essential – as the big picture is, it is meaningless if it does not include an intimate awareness of what is happening at ground level.

A coastal hillside, monochromatic against an early spring sky, becomes a burst of purple flowers when seen at eye level.

Know where you are going. Understand your “why?” Yes, of course. And do not forget that only when each person – each blossom – is seen and valued as part of the whole will it make any difference at all that we are on the right path.


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#22 – Time Alone

This is #22 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might like.


How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

― Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems


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#21 – Simplify

This is #21 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You might like #10, also.


Here’s a sentence I read recently: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth unnaturally simply consumes capital unnecessarily.”

It’s a terrible sentence. It’s terrible because it’s complicated and excessive. It’s terrible because it is loaded with adverbs, and the overuse of adverbs is a crutch for bad writing.

I know that I’m on thin ice critiquing someone else’s writing since I make all kinds of mistakes in my own and that I edit only just enough.

I take the risk to make the point that it’s not just about the writing. It’s about the ways we construct facades of competence and self-importance rather than promote connection and learning through simplicity.

Here’s that sentence again, minus the adverbs: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth consumes excessive capital. 

What do you think? Has your opinion of the writer diminished? Are you disappointed by their lack of expertise? Or do you understand the sentence now without having to read it three times?

A good question to increase the impact of our writing and speaking: have I constructed this to prove something or to be of service?

Complexity without cause blocks understanding. Let’s get out of our own way and trust what Dr. Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”


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#20 – It’s ok to be “Good Enough”

This is #20 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one I keep going back to.


The following passage is from an article by Jennifer Kunst in which she provides a compelling interpretation of Donald Winnicott’s theory of the “good enough mother.” As you read it I invite you to do so in a way that allows it to speak to the identity with which you most associate. As needed, replace “mother” with father, boss, leader, teacher, etc.

“What I like about Winnicott’s picture of the good enough mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being. She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother. She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him. She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment. Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.”

I cannot read this without being flooded with empathy for all of us who struggle with the pressure to be certain, to be right, to be perfect. We would be better off – far better off – if we were able to collectively let go of the myths that keep us small in favor of a more accurate accounting of the common humanity that serves to enlarge and enliven us.

According to Winnicott’s theory, “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953).

The “good enough mother” creates enough distance from her child, thoughtfully and over time, to allow the child to find its own way. By doing so she creates the conditions for differentiation and independence and problem solving skills and resilience. She creates the conditions in which a child can learn how to be among those who thrive in the face of uncertainty, making meaningful contributions to society squarely in the face of the unknown.

It must be for this reason that James Michener once wrote: “I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population….Those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.”

As mother, father, boss, leader or teacher you have acted on your aspiration to be “among the creators” and you are striving to have lasting impact in the face of challenges and changes too numerous to mention. Your contribution to those you serve, then, will best be measured by the ability you cultivate in them to stand in the midst of uncertainty on their own two feet. Propping them up or protecting them from failure only serves to ensure that they will one day join the large percentage Michener describes instead of being a vital force in the “constructive work of the world.”

“Good enough” is much more than good enough. It is how we equip those we love and those we serve to be a force for good in the world.


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#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You

This is #19 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might enjoy.


Because much of the time, even most of the time, they didn’t.

And we, confident in both our content and delivery, having put in the time to get it “just right,” convince ourselves that they most certainly did.

They did not.

And they are not stupid or disrespectful or uncaring. They are normal human beings: distracted and self-centered. (I am not cynical about the human condition, I promise you, I just trust the preponderance of the evidence.)

If your message is banal, it will be heard and understood the first time.

If your message has even the slightest intimation of a change it will not be understood. This is not because the change you are proposing is unwieldy or even complicated. It is because as soon as a person hears that any kind of change is being requested of them, millions of years of finely tuned neural mechanisms blast away from the starting gate to fight off the pattern interruption and preserve the status quo.

This is a pre-conscious response, which is why “not understanding” has nothing to do with stupidity, disrespect, etc.

It’s a survival instinct that is disproportionate to the threat because it’s terrible at distinguishing small threats from big ones. It just knows that the status quo equals staying alive and so it goes all in to preserve it.

What’s a thoughtful messenger of change to do against this ancient and reactionary tidal wave?

Be redundant.

As one leader I know used to say, “The first time you tell your team anything, assume that you’ve confused them. You have to tell them at least six more times.”

This is not a scientifically proven model, but simply a way to emphasize the leader’s responsibility to go back to the core message as often as necessary for enough of the team to get it and to get moving in that direction.

Redundancy, it seems to me, is among the least utilized tools at a leader’s disposal. There is so much assumptive arrogance that a “great” change message (even when it’s good news!) will be understood the first time that the leader is left shocked and resentful that he has only sown confusion and frustration in the ranks.

Redundancy is a labor of respect and consideration. It is a commitment to enroll and engage, to involve and to educate. It requires personal contact, team by team if necessary. If it devolves into just another weekly announcement (here we go again…) both the point and power of it have been missed.

If it’s important enough for you to spend the time getting it right, it’s important that it be fully understood. Redundancy is your secret weapon. Use it wisely and then use it again.


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#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

This is #18 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


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.


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#17 – Root for other people’s success

This is #17 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


Have you felt the twinge, maybe even the jolt of resentment, jealousy, frustration, or anger when someone else, usually a close friend or family member, breaks through to a new level of success?

Have you slunk into the rut of envy, wondering why they got so “lucky” and you’re just as unlucky as ever? Have you ever asked yourself, “After all the work I’ve done, and all of the ways I’ve been there for them, who are they to get this exciting, career defining, life-altering opportunity??”

Some version of that, perhaps?

I know I have. And it tastes like poison dripping down the back of my throat.

The antidote to this toxin, I finally learned, is a two-part cocktail: (1) Cheer them on, root for them, offer support, vigorously and consistently. And not just them but anyone you encounter who catches a break, gets a new chance, or makes a big move. Be their biggest fan. (2) Get to work on what you care about. Put in the hours and the sacrifice to create the momentum that often, though not always, generates it’s own “luck.”

This is what my “lucky” friends have in common: they care about other’s success and they put in the work. The two feed off of one another, creating a virtuous cycle of positive energy and opportunity.

It’s too easy to be the victim, the unlucky one. That’s a hiding place and a crowded one at that. Far better to step into the light of day, a source of energy for others and a source of inspiration for yourself.


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#16 – You’ve Got it Better Than You Think

This is #16 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


I can’t remember when it was and I can’t remember who said it but the idea they expressed has served me well every time I’ve allowed my (mostly) “1st world problems” to get me down.

It goes like this: imagine you are standing in a circle large enough to contain everyone you know. And imagine that everyone standing in that circle is able to toss into the middle of it, for everyone to see, every problem they have.

Take a moment to imagine that.

And then imagine yourself surveying all of it, really seeing it and accepting it for what it is and what it must mean to the person who threw it in there.

Seeing it, the crushing reality of it all, allows us a moment to shake ourselves awake and then, as quickly as we can, grab our own problems back from the pile.

My thought is, let’s skip the circle and the pile and the grabbing back of our own stuff and just go with more empathy.

We’ll have really done something when we can do that.


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#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#15 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.


Love After Love
{Derek Walcott}

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 


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#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

This is #14 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Sounds good, right?

It’s almost obvious, a little bit patronizing even.

And, yet.

It can be very hard to do.

How long do you sit on your feelings, questioning them, rationalizing them, negating them? How often do you rehearse difficult conversations in your mind, playing them out over and over, sounding more and more eloquent, clear and convincing, only to have it all fall apart in real time?

The problem with the word “truth” is that it may only be your truth. This is why it makes a lot of sense to heed Brené Brown’s advice and start any truth-telling conversation with this line: “The story I’m telling myself is…”

This has the powerful effect of keeping you on the hook for sharing what you are there to share and letting you off the hook for having to be right. Because your truth is not “right,” of course. It’s likely part of a larger truth, one that was co-created by you and someone else you probably care a lot about, but not a truth that can stand on its own.

But speed matters most of all, because the longer you stew on your truth, the bigger your self-righteousness becomes and the faster your resentment grows. Or is that just me?

It’s hard to speak up, to be vulnerable, to share our hurts, to risk being misunderstood and possibly mistaken. The sooner we do so, the sooner we find out what’s real and that’s when we earn the right, once again, to a free mind and an open heart.


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