Culture

Culture is not mission, vision, values. It is not architecture, design, product or snacks. It is also not the lighting, furniture, games, attire, or flextime.

Mistaking any of these things for culture is to confuse the map with the territory.

Culture is how you and your colleagues come together to solve problems under the pressure and stress of change.

If any of the items above help you to do that well, use them. If they don’t, let them go as fast as you can.


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Not the Same

Today did not go how I thought it would.

When I went to bed last night, I had a clear idea of how the day would unfold. It did not go that way.

When I woke up at 3am I tossed and turned about how today would go. It did not go that way.

On my walk this morning I knew just how the rest of the day would go. It did not go that way.

It never does.

Professional people understand this and accept it.

They understand that no plan, however well-imagined or articulated, survives contact with reality.

Plans are a useful, if temporary reservoir for our anxiety about the unknown. Reality is the landscape on which we learn and grow.


 

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A Drop in the Ocean

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa


Our workplaces are communities. Each day people come to them, bringing all of their experiences, feelings, joys and losses. They come to them because they must, of course. They come to them to fulfill responsibilities, obligations, to earn a living.

They also come, over and over again they come, to be a part of something larger than themselves. They come to belong to a community of people who work to bring about something worth making or doing or providing.

They come for the celebration of shared accomplishment and for the consolation needed when life turns to disappointment or tragedy. Our workplaces, where so much time and energy is spent; where people are in an eternal conversation about the competing demands of full and challenging lives, are the places where we are first to know, first to learn and first to experience so much of what life has to offer.

There is so much we can do for one another in our workplaces. There is so much we can provide with a simple “hello,” with a sincere “how are you?” and the thoughtful listening that must follow.

Today, let’s remember that the people in our daily lives are hurting too.

We need one another. We need one another more than any of us cares to admit. Our workplaces are a conduit for those needs, a channel through which they flow, seeking to be met on the other end with graciousness, patience and love.

Let’s do that. Let’s greet one another in the spirit of graciousness, patience and love.


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Simultaneously Whole

“Nothing in the cosmos operates independently. We are all holons, which are simultaneously whole in themselves, and at the same time part of a larger whole.”

– Ilia Delio, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014


I was just wondering how it might shift someone’s perspective about another person if his or her starting assumption is that that person is whole.

What would it do for a team if the leader’s starting assumption about that team is that it is made up of whole people who come together to form a larger whole?

What would it do for an organization, regardless of how large, if its value system centered on the inherent wholeness of each individual as central to the wholeness of the enterprise?

This is not whole as “complete” or “finished.” This is whole as in an independent entity that is connected to and integrated with every other independent entity.

I think there would be more respect and more reliance. I think there would be more generosity and more reciprocity.

I think it would both scare us and thrill us to learn how much is possible when we embrace the depth of our connection.


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Unique Human Needs: Growth

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Growth.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 5: Growth

When I first went to see a therapist my cover story was pretty thin. To her inevitable opening question – “So, what brings you here?” – I gave her my well-rehearsed reply, “As a professional coach I think it’s important to tend my own garden so I can be most helpful to other people.”

This was a valid intention, just not an honest one. “I’m doing it for them” has a noble ring to it, its thin veneer a convenient way to mask the truth that I was in a lot of pain. And being in pain, I was afraid to talk about it because I knew I would have to feel it more before I could feel it less.

That pain was a tangle of old and unresolved stuff, mainly about abandonment, that reared up in full toxic force in the first years of fatherhood. I experienced deep feelings of anger toward my young son, feelings that both frightened me and filled me with shame. I knew that I had to figure out where all of that negativity was coming from, my initiative newly motivated by the fear of a future estrangement.

Thankfully, at that time I was in the company of new colleagues who were relentlessly encouraging of my growth and who had the insight and experience to normalize the idea of therapy as a powerful tool for meaningful change.

In the list above, Tony Robbins describes Growth as an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. 

Through my work with a therapist I came to understand capacity as having room to consider the needs of others from their perspective rather than through the lens of my own. In other words, I had more empathy because I had more emotional space.

I came to understand capability as an enhancement of my ability to notice more about myself and others. I was sharpening my lens, getting better and better at anticipating and responding to my internal impulses while more quickly attuning to the externally expressed needs of others.

I came to appreciate understanding as an awareness of the complex dynamics that are always present in team and organizational settings. Seeing more allowed me to be more helpful and productive in all domains of my life.

My growth through therapy helped me to become a better team member, a better leader, a better coach and consultant and, most importantly, a better husband and father.

As it turns out, the garden metaphor was an apt one, especially from the perspective of preparing for the winter months. In that case, a hard pruning is required before any new growth can appear. It can feel brutal to employ the shears so aggressively but until it happens the old growth will remain as a barricade to the new growth that finally emerges.


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Unique Human Needs: Connection & Love

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on “Connection and Love.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 4: Connection & Love

To write about needing connection and love is a little bit like writing about needing food and water. What more is there to say about what is so inherent to our shared human experience? And yet, why is it that I am so often, so tempted to go it alone?

In the summer of 2015 I decided to work with this question in a direct and consistent way. I took a 100-day project challenge to explore my complicated feelings about connection, choosing to take a photograph each day that represented connection, posting it publicly with some brief comments about its meaning.

At the conclusion of my 100-day project, I wrote the following post to summarize the experience. I am proud of how I expressed my learning at that time and not at all surprised to learn that it is even more applicable today.

Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection
September 13, 2015

There is a powerful moment at the beginning of the movie “Contact” when young Ellie is calling out on her shortwave radio. She is trying to find someone, anyone, who might be listening on the same frequency. As her frustration grows her father implores her, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Finally, someone answers. A man from Pensacola. Ellie is so startled that she doesn’t know what to say.

The movie takes us from this intimate moment between a father and a daughter to a wormhole in deepest space. The story arcs from what is closest and dearest all the way out to an astonishing celestial frontier before curving back to the familiar ground of the here and now. It reminds us that as far as we might travel to find what we are looking for, the things – the people – we most want and need in our lives are usually very close at hand. Connection always requires small moves and in my experience those moves consistently lead right back to what we most need to learn.

This is my lesson after 100 days of seeking connection: I have been looking for something that was not lost. Connection is always one small move away. Its familiarity is the perfect hiding place.

Ellie is young when her father dies. What becomes her quest to discover life on other planets is really a search for a way back to her dad, a way back to what is familiar and comforting. Is it any surprise that when she does make contact with an “extraterrestrial” it takes the form of her dad, using the known to settle the confusion of the new?

An early, significant loss can make future attachment very hard. It’s just so easy to defend against the possibility of experiencing that old pain in a new way. In my experience it was easier to either smother another person to get them to reject me or to coolly keep my distance to avoid revealing my vulnerability. Of course, both responses left me disconnected and alone, reinforcing my belief that connection could only be attained through a perfect alignment of very specific variables. All or nothing is rarely a successful approach when it comes to matters of the heart.

I am just slightly wiser after these one hundred days. I am more awake to connection’s continuous presence and the deep satisfaction that comes with moving towards it each day. I am more aware of how small moves often feel insufficient in the moment, like breadcrumbs for a starving man. Through sheer redundancy of attention I also see that there’s no other way to do it. Ellie’s discovery of a message from outer space came from years of dedicated listening, one frequency at a time.

At the end of the film the alien who has taken the form of Ellie’s dad says to her:

“You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

My most recent 25 connection photos can be seen here.  Days 1-25 are here. And days 26-50 are here. Days 51-75 are here.


photo of night sky

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Unique Human Needs: Uncertainty

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Uncertainty.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 2: Uncertainty

How fitting that this list begins with a contradiction so perfectly descriptive of the human experience! We don’t want certainty, we need it. And we don’t want uncertainty, we need it!

We need the known and the unknown, the predictable and the unpredictable, the reassuring and the exhilarating. All of this is subjective to our own preferences, of course, but the degree of need does not change the fact that we long to live in the world in two distinct and complementary ways.

When I launched my business in 2013 my son was 13 years old. I explained to him one day after school that I had quit my job and would be going to work for myself. He rejected the notion, explaining that I was “supposed to have a job.” I was stung at first, assuming I’d get an enthusiastic response instead of a rebuke.

What I didn’t appreciate until later is that my fairly sudden change of circumstance hit him as a wave of uncertainty. In the already uncertain period of adolescence he was experiencing, my career change was a threat to the stability and safety to which he had grown accustomed. At a time of dramatic personal change, my professional change only added to his stress.

What I remember feeling in those tentative early days of my new endeavor, and what my son helped to punctuate through his reflexive reaction, was the feeling of being wrapped within a paradox of both certainty – confident that I had made the right decision – and uncertainty – but, how exactly is this going to work out?

The tension between these two qualities continues to remind me of the early days of parenthood, certain of my love for each of my children and certain of my commitment to their well-being, with the exciting and unnerving uncertainty of all of the forces beyond my control.

This dynamic is also lived out in organizational life every day. Team members need the reassurance of a clear company vision, predictable resource availability, thoughtful plans and capable teammates, while also needing challenging assignments and new learning opportunities to feel fully engaged.

As I reflect back on my career what I notice is that I appreciate the experiences of certainty I was able to enjoy – steady income, long-tenured and trustworthy teammates, healthy economic realities – but it’s the periods and moments of uncertainty that had the most to teach me.

When I was laid off from an early job with a start-up, Theresa and I didn’t have much in the bank and our son was just a year old. I was provided a seven-week severance payout and was employed again in six weeks. And not just employed but given a chance to join the company from which I can draw a direct line to every professional opportunity that came after.

What I learned is to never be ashamed of my circumstances and to ask for help as quickly and openly as I can. Doing so opened up a path to that new role in a way that never would have happened if I had failed to let my network know that I needed their help.

A few years later, my aspiration to become an accomplished speaker tucked neatly and quietly into my pocket, the CEO of my company declined a speaking engagement and encouraged me to take his place. I heartily agreed, though my false confidence was reduced to abject fear when I learned that my audience was to be a group of Navy admirals and Marine Corps generals.

After flying cross-country to a prestigious executive education school and getting settled in my room, I called home to tell my wife that under no circumstances could I pull this off. I was overwhelmed with anxiety, barely able to sleep; completely certain that my speaking career would both begin and end on the same day.

Spoiler alert: I survived. And as the uncertainty I felt about my capability to deliver in a high-stakes situation receded in the coming days, I pocketed another degree of confidence and a deeper commitment to preparation. That would never have happened if I had demurred.

These stories remind me that the experience of uncertainty is primarily painful in the anticipatory stage and dramatically uplifting after the fact. In both cases, the drama of the circumstances led to the experiential knowledge that I could achieve outcomes I did not dare imagine being possible.

Today, at a time in my life where the allure of certainty grows only stronger, I am working hard to counter its influence. I want to try new things, learn new skills, meet new people, all of which will force me to confront the uncertainty of not having done it before, not knowing how to do it and maybe even meeting people who don’t think and act like me! Oh, no!

The thing is, I know I’ll be the better for it, just like I’ve always been.


night building forest trees

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Fill in the Blanks

I am reminded again and again that the people who turn change into opportunity demonstrate three specific qualities:

1. They have a strong and positive self-concept.

“I feel best about myself when I                                .”

2. They have deep humility and regard for what others have to teach them.

“Someone I admire and why:                                .”

3. They consistently seek the learning that is only available outside their comfort zone.

“My last big risk and what I learned from it:                                 .”


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Ambivalent About Change

If I ask you how you feel about change, and you give me your most honest response, my guess is that you will lead with ambivalence.

It depends, you’ll say.

What does it depend on?

For starters, and maybe most importantly, it depends on whether or not the change is your idea.

Nothing could be easier than writing a list of changes that we believe other people, teams and organizations should make.

The tougher list is the one on which we catalog those changes that are in our own best interest even when we’d rather keep things just as they are.

Tougher still is the practice of seeking other’s ideas of how we can change for the better in spite of the resistance we feel when we are challenged to take in the possible truth of their perspective.


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