Boring, Predictable Humans

One of the most glaring mistakes of modern corporate leadership is the use of metrics to motivate performance.

“Our vision for the coming year? To make a gajillion dollars!!”

No.

Do everyone a favor. Tell a story instead.

Of course, we all want the gajillion dollars (and for it to be equitably and appropriately shared) and all of the opportunity it creates, but that will never replace the boring, predictable and completely fundamental human need to be a part of something larger than ourselves; to be part of a story that is worth the telling.

Leaders, be boring. Learn to tell a story.


photo of a boy reading book

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

This week’s poem is the song Most of All by Brandi CarlileI hadn’t heard of her until a friend showed me her epic performance of The Joke at this year’s Grammy Awards. I finally bought her most recent album – one that she describes as being about “radical forgiveness…an ugly but ultimately rewarding act” – encouraged that it would contain other gems. It does, this one among them. Enjoy her beautiful writing, and take some time to listen, also. I think you’ll find it to be a powerful meditation on love, presence and, again, forgiveness.


Most of All
{Brandi Carlile}
I haven’t seen my father in some time
But his face is always staring back at me
His heavy hands hang at the ends of my arms
And my colors change like the sea
But I don’t worry much about time lost
I’m not gunning for the dreams I couldn’t find
‘Cause he taught me how to walk the best that I can
On the road I’ve left behind
But most of all
He taught me to forgive
How to keep a cool head
How to love the one you’re with
And when I’m far into the distance
And the pushing comes to shove
To remember what comes back
When you give away your love
Give away your love
When you give your love away
Give away your love
I haven’t heard my mother’s voice in a while
But her words are always falling out my mouth
My mind and spirit are at odds sometimes
And they fight like the north and the south
But I still care enough to bear the weight
Of the heaviness to which my heart is tethered
She taught me how to be strong and say goodbye
And that love is forever
But most of all
She taught me how to fight
How to move across the line
Between the wrong and the right
And when I’m turned out in the darkness
And the pushing comes to shove
To remember what comes back
When you give away your love
Give away your love
When you give your love away
Give away your love
Give your love away
Oh, give your love away
And remember what comes back to you
Give your love away
Oh, give your love away
And remember what comes back to you
I haven’t seen my father in some time
But his face is always staring back at me
His heavy hands swing at the ends of my arms
And my colors change like the sea

61st Annual GRAMMY Awards - Inside

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter

 

Lazy Vines, Lousy Wine

It is the hardness of the struggle to adapt to change that brings out the best in us, not the predictably generous comforts of the known. Change and struggle lead to incredible things for those who are willing to dig deep and figure it out.

As I pondered this idea for a while today, looking for a “hook” to help make the point, I came  across the following passage from an online British wine journal:

“More modern methods of growing grapes…take advantage of the fact that making the vines struggle generally results in better quality grapes. It’s a bit like people. Place someone in a near-perfect environment, giving them every comfort and all that they could ever want to satisfy their physical needs, and it could have rather disastrous consequences for their personality and physique. If you take a grapevine and make its physical requirements for water and nutrients easily accessible, then (somewhat counterintuitively) it will give you poor grapes.

This is because the grapevine has a choice. Given a favourable environment and it will choose to take the vegetative route: that is, it will put its energies into making leaves and shoots. Effectively, it is saying, ‘This is a fine spot, I’m going to make myself at home here’. It won’t be too bothered about making grapes. But make things difficult for the vine, by restricting water supply, making nutrients scarce, pruning it hard and crowding it with close neighbours…it will sense that this is not the ideal place to be a grapevine. Instead of devoting itself to growing big and sprawling, it will focus its effort on reproducing itself sexually, which for a vine means making grapes.”

When you find yourself asking for comfort, for the chance to simply “vegetate,” remember that you asking to absent yourself from learning, growth and the chance to make your very best contribution.


Selection from Wine Anorak

green trees

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Change or Progress?

It is said that people resist change but embrace progress.

To ask someone to change is to ask them to disregard their status quo in favor of an unknown future. However ineffective or limiting that status quo may be, because it is known it is comfortable.

To ask someone to progress is to suggest that there is a natural evolution to all living things and that it is only normal to aspire to a next level of impact. Progress assumes and celebrates the achievements of the past and sees what’s next as an opportunity to build on that success. Progress affirms what has been while embracing the inevitability of what’s to come.

The language and attitude of progress in no way guarantees the success of what’s next but it positions the process in a way that human beings, with our deeply conflicting need for both certainty and uncertainty, can more easily adopt.


person s left hand holding green leaf plant

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

“You see, I want a lot”
{Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours}

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.


time lapse photography of boy in black shorts jumping on body of water

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As You Like It

I attended college just about 100 miles north of my hometown, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Arriving on campus in 1988, I met my wife Theresa during those undergraduate years and we return to the area with our family a couple of times a year to visit our friends, also met and married through LMU, who live just down the street from campus.

This weekend, we are here to celebrate his birthday, in part by visiting campus last night to picnic and enjoy an outdoor presentation of Shakespeare’s, As You Like It. The production was musical, light and refreshing, as summer should be. And yet, within it, Shakespeare pointedly inserts the character of Jacques, known through history as one of the Bard’s most famous melancholy characters.

The play rollicks along as we good friends, having first met at 19, celebrated weddings in our 20s, children and budding careers in our 30s, veterans now of the maturing realities of our 40s, sip wine into the long June evening. Into that scene of our own authorship, supported as it is by the very place that first brought us together, strides Jacques to remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re going:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

{William Shakespeare – As You Like It}

Without putting too fine a point on it, I suggest this: whatever and whomever “Los Angeles” or “Loyola Marymount” or “our dear friends” is for you, go back there as you are now to celebrate who and what you were, who and what you are and who and what you are becoming.

Jacque’s “melancholy” is not sad, it is instructive. The time to play this part is now. So play it.


LMU SHC

The Label Doesn’t Stick

If you’ve attended many conferences or trainings you’re familiar with the ritual: you arrive at the registration desk, a kind person takes your name, checks it against a list and then hands you a blank nametag and a Sharpie.

You write your name on the nametag, remove the backing and stick it to your shirt.

Has it ever, even once, stayed put? Not for me. And, without fail, I fold it onto itself and toss it in the nearest trashcan.

I was reminded today that I do a much better job of making labels stick, especially the ones I give myself, than the “name tag corporations” who supply those useless stickers.

For a long time I “wasn’t good at math.” It’s true that I did poorly at math in high school. But I did poorly at math because I found it difficult, and I lacked the work ethic and the humility to ask for help. As a defensive tactic I decided that math was not relevant to my future which made it easier to adopt the “not good at it” label. The fact is that I am good with numbers and surely, with the right attitude and maturity, would have been a fine math student.

That label no longer sticks.

For a long time I was sure I “didn’t have anything to say.” More than anything in the world I wanted to make my professional mark by sharing – through writing and speaking – my ideas about learning and leadership and the very complex relationship human beings have with their workplaces. But perfectionism had its way with me and if I couldn’t do it like David Whyte or Parker Palmer or Manfred Kets de Vries or Margaret Wheatley, then why bother?

Never mind that I had been speaking and writing about those things since I was 17 years old with an energy and enthusiasm that was my very own. I had the goods, at least my version of the goods, but lacked the wherewithal to put them on display. And so the label of “having nothing to say” was an easy hiding place.

I gave my first professional talk at a conference when I was 37 years old after which I had only one thought, “What the hell was I so worried about?” I loved it and I just kept going. Not long after that I started this blog as a way to both practice my new commitment to expression and steer clear of that old label.

Because that old label no longer stuck.

As easily as those conference nametags fall off, our old labels adhere to us so well that we mistake them for a permanent part of our daily attire.

Socks? Underwear? Self-diminishing label of insufficiency? Check, check and check!

The good news is that an old label is indeed removable. The bad news – the really tough part – is that an old label is indeed removable. Once you take it off, you feel naked for a while, which, when you think about it, is the ideal condition for trying on something new.


name tag

Soft Focus

When you hold a “soft focus” you trust what is in front of you to be as it is while leaving plenty of space for it to be otherwise.

My work affords me the opportunity to be a mentor and coach to business professionals across the wonderfully wide spectrum of “just starting out” to “seasoned executive.”

One of the privileges of this work is that I am invited “behind the curtain” of my client’s experience into their spaces of vulnerability and unknowing. This is holy ground. And to inhabit this holy ground in a way that honors both where they are and what they aspire to become, requires a soft focus.

As strong as the impulse can be to make assumptions about them based on their years of experience, role, education, family status and the like, I must hold what is presented to me as “true” while leaving room for anything else to emerge as also true.

In my practice of “knowing and not knowing” I recognize that I have also made it a priority to encourage my clients to develop their own capacity in this regard. As a practical matter, this often includes the “homework” assignment to seek out other professional mentors – perhaps a more senior leader within their company whom they admire – as a means to stretch the limits of their perspective.

Again and again, what happens in these encounters is that my clients go in with a hard focus, holding an assumption that because of this person’s status they have it “all figured out.”

Again and again, they return from these conversations with evidence that the person they see as “so accomplished” and “so impressive” is exactly that while also being someone who makes mistakes, has doubts and endures the struggle of insufficiency. This realization is a powerful one as it normalizes the other person as a human being, first of all. It can also be unsettling because it “proves” something to my client’s that they may not want to have proven to them at all: that you can achieve or become what you want to achieve or become even with or perhaps because of your vulnerability.

It’s easy to say, “be gentle with everyone you meet because they are fighting a great battle,” but to live that awareness every day requires rigorous practice, just like anything else we aspire to do well.

The implications for us go well beyond the confines of our professional lives, of course. Imagine holding a soft focus for your best friend, your partner, your children, and your neighbor. Imagine holding a soft focus for the person in front of you at the grocery store, the ticket window, and the on ramp. How might that shift your perspective? How might that open you up?

There is a space between what is and what else there is. To remain curious and aware about what is happening in that space is to offer a gift to everyone you meet.


{Thank you, Alia}

yellow bokeh photo

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Tell Me Your Story

I was here, and you were here,
and together we made a world.
{David Whyte}


If you tell me your story, I will tell you mine.

From that small, open place we will take steps that help us to know one another. Through our disclosure we will build trust, and from that trust we will experience the reinforcement of connection.

I will only learn about myself, which means that I will only learn how to walk in this world, through my relationship with you.

When I resist I do so because I don’t want to be reminded of what I don’t yet know. When I resist I am bound by the seduction of the status quo, refusing to yield to the certainty of change.

When I engage I do so because you help me to remember that my initial discomfort holds the seeds of my future wisdom.

Tell me your story, and I will tell you mine.