#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.


collection of construction safety helmet

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

#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.


silhouette of mountains

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

#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.


photo of trash lot on shore

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

#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. 


old photos in the wooden box

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

#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.


light trails on highway at night

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#8 – Take a break

This is #8 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes,
including you.”

– Anne Lamott


If you are reading this on Sunday afternoon, I hope it’s from an easy chair or the sofa. I hope you’ve just returned from a hike, or even a walk around the neighborhood with your pup. Or maybe you just popped in from the garden for a glass of water (a cold beer?!) and took a quick peek at your phone.

I hope you are taking some time today to reconnect to activities you love and to recharge by taking some time to read for pleasure, to call a friend, to watch a great movie. You need that time. We all do.

If you struggle to slow down, you’re not alone. Dividing up a two-day weekend between activities, commitments and relaxation can be tough. The truth is that we are pretty lousy at giving ourselves permission to step away from the grind of our responsibilities.  A quick search reveals that in 2018, the US workforce allowed 768 million vacation days to go unused. Approximately 70% of employees did not use all of the time they had coming to them.

That’s both a waste and a shame especially when it’s a safe bet that you aren’t going to be sitting around in 10 years telling stories about how great it was to do more work when you could have used that time to do anything but.

For our sanity, for our health, for our families, and just for fun, we have to do better. You can start this weekend. There’s just enough time.


woman lying on blanket under man on her legs holding hands during golden hour

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

The Reviews That Matter

I was scrolling through the customer reviews of a movie a friend recommended and I got a terrible case of whiplash.

“5 Stars,” “2 Stars,” “5 Stars,” “1 Star,” and on it went.

Just at the edge of falling down the list much further than I had ever intended, I remembered something crucial: my friend recommended it to me.

So I watched it and it was great. And I am not surprised because my friend is great, and she likes interesting and informative things that I nearly always enjoy.

Random user reviews are meaningless. So are referrals, and proposals and anything else that places a significant demand on your time and attention by someone about whom you know absolutely nothing.

Fall instead down the rabbit hole of great relationships and learn to trust them. They will send you all you need.


black spiral stair

Photo by Robin Schreiner on Pexels.com

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

Feeling Words

I was reminded the other day of just how easily my default responses flow from my highly developed rational self (left brain) rather than from my more vulnerable, less practiced emotional self (right brain).

I seek concrete explanations and action steps – my need to know how and why and to know it right now! – because they are easier to process than the abstractions of feeling that are implicit in every interaction.

As a result, my emotional vocabulary is far less developed than my logical one.

Fine, good, alright and No, I’m just tired are safe, easy substitutes for what’s really going on with us most of the time. They are shortcuts that rob us of a deeper understanding that is required for any relationship to be sustained and to grow.

Fresh off of this insight I decided to see what I could find online about “feeling words” and found this very helpful resource.

I’m going to print a few copies and keep them close by so that I am better equipped to both offer and inquire about a more thoughtful understanding of the feelings present at any given time.

I’m guessing that’s going to make my conversations a little bit scary and weird for awhile. I’m also guessing that, with practice, it will make them better, more meaningful and more fulfilling.

feelings-wheel-explained

Photo credit: The Chalkboard / Loom

Under Cover of Darkness

I have an enduring memory from childhood that both frightens and comforts me.

At about 5 years old, I woke one morning to discover that I could not see. Disoriented and afraid, I stumbled to the hall and felt my way to my parents’ room where I cried out in fear of my blindness.

My mother calmed me down by applying a warm washcloth to my eyes. I had gone to bed congested and through the night the discharge of that congestion covered my eyes and sealed them shut.

Slowly, the warm cloth broke through the barrier and I was able to blink my way back to sight.

From peaceful sleep to the terror of my unexpected blindness to the relief at its swift dissipation I traveled a long road of revelation in a very short time.

It was not for my 5-year-old self to make sense of that revelation, of course, but it remains the life work of the person who types these words. To be blinded by the discharge of unseen forces working under cover of darkness is to awake to the terrifying reality of no control.

I am not afraid of the dark, but I am sometimes afraid that when waking into blindness I may not be able to summon the mother within myself, the part of me that knows where to find the washcloth, to soak it in warm water and to hold it to my eyes with persistence and care.

When trapped in darkness, will I acquiesce to fear, or will I bring myself back into conversation with the light?


grayscale photo of person sleeping

Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com