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.


person holding outlined map

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

 

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.


you got this lighted signage

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

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.


pattern abstract close up view colourful

Photo by David McEachan on Pexels.com

 

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.


closeup photo of sprout

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

 

Just As They Are

There is a compelling irony in the truth that when we accept people as they are we  create the conditions for them to pursue meaningful change.

Acceptance is not weakness or acquiescence, but a baseline offering of dignity and respect from which another can freely, loosely, and playfully experiment with their own version of becoming.

If our acceptance can help unlock that discovery, and we choose to withhold it, that says far more about us than it does about those being held to standards they are not yet equipped to meet.

In the powerful dynamics of human influence we are either catalysts for one another or we are roadblocks. There is nothing in between.


low angle view of man standing at night

Photo by Lennart Wittstock 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

To Believe

“Fully alive people discover meaning in their lives.”

– John Powell, S.J.


Today, I continue to explore John Powell’s “five essential steps into the fullness of life.”

Part 4: To Believe

If you’ve ever worked for a leader who exuded authentic belief in a cause, you were likely swept up in that belief as well. And in being swept up in that belief you likely felt, as I have felt, an energy, a sense of possibility, a dedication to positivity that carried your efforts forward even through the most difficult passages of the work.

You might describe yourself, feeling this way, as being fully alive.

Human beings long to be associated with causes larger than ourselves. We don’t always achieve this longing, however, because to be that fully dedicated to something comes with a long list of inherent risks. That doesn’t negate the desire, however, and if we’re lucky enough to find that kind of meaning, and associate with others who do as well, it can give our lives a definition and dimensionality that can otherwise not be found.

Growing up in the 1980s and having a latent passion for inspiring and energizing others, I was drawn to the dynamism and charisma of Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t mature enough in my thinking to understand him as a policy maker so my admiration was for the impact of his presence. What I observed in Reagan was somebody who was able to use the weight of his experience and training as an actor and pitchman to extraordinary effect. He made me feel a profound sense of possibility for our nation – the “shining city on a hill” – through the way he shaped his language.

As I began to see in myself an aptitude for performance, on stage and in student activities, I realized that I was inspired by Reagan as a model and encouraged to keep thinking about how to expand the quality of what I had to offer. I had come across my first inkling of meaning, what I would later attach to as the belief system that would drive my adult life: how leaders show up, literally what they say and how they say it, can absolutely change lives.

This realization caught fire in my imagination but only for a short time as it dawned on me that I had no idea how it could serve as the fertile soil of my future endeavors. I grew detached from it over time until I was challenged to confront my perfectionism in the form of some early career speaking opportunities. I see today that part of my discomfort with unlocking my natural, best self, came from believing that I could never match the “Reagan standard” and if not, why bother?

When my career twists and turns eventually led me to an employee and leadership training company – no accident, of course – I had more and more chances to articulate my passion for powerful leadership and the kinds of organizations it could create, the kind of energetic impact it could unlock. Teaching and training for that company, I rediscovered myself as an effective “performer,” that is someone who is able to command a room with both integrity and intention.

This unfolding built both my confidence and my point of view. It led to deeper and stronger feelings about the role and nature of leadership, as well as a deeper and stronger desire to impact those who choose to lead. As my clarity evolved, so did my energy. And as my energy evolved, so did my sense of possibility and these attributes – just like the leader I described at the beginning of this piece – became attractive to others. This attractiveness led to a new job that was a huge stretch for me, the experience of which set the table for me to eventually start my own firm.

The lessons learned in that endeavor, make it possible for me to now be in a position to help start another venture, all in line with my belief in cultivating the kind of leadership that makes our workplaces more fully human.

This is what I believe in and this is what I am here to do.


Tomorrow: Part 5, To belong

person standing and holding lamp inside cave

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

You Are the Sun

“Businesses must view people not as resources but as sources. A resource is like a lump of coal; you use it and it’s gone. A source is like the sun – virtually inexhaustible and continually generating energy, light and warmth. There is no more powerful source of creative energy in the world than a turned-on, empowered human being.”

– from Conscious Capitalism


You are a source of creativity, passion and purpose.

Everything you need you already have within you. And, the world will let you down if you expect it to consistently honor and recognize this for you. So, you must find both the resolve and the means to become the author of your own power, by what you read, by the quality of people with whom you interact and by the way you spend your time; by focusing on what makes you larger, more fulfilled, more complete and more passionate.

This is the undiscovered country of our existence, as I see it: to take 100% of the responsibility for surfacing and sustaining our most “turned on, empowered” selves. That is the version so brimming with positive energy and compassion that every room, every conversation, every endeavor is better because you’re involved.

This week, starting now, let’s give ourselves the gift of being a source instead of a resource. And let us trust that the more ownership we take for discovering and revealing the sun within ourselves, the more we will help others do the same.


brown and green grass field during sunset

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

The Price of Leadership

Of all of the searing images in the news this week, the one I hope I never, ever forget is that of a passionate and prepared 16-year-old Swedish girl addressing the United Nations about the climate crisis.

But it’s not just that she was there or what she said or how she said it. What makes her efforts this week so extraordinary is the proof of her impact, part of which is in the brutal and cruel manner a stunning number of adult professional people attempted to destroy her after the fact.

So impassioned was she; so effective, so clear and so right, that she managed to hit the big red button of insecurity and weakness jutting from the chest of every pundit who can’t even dream of caring about something as much as she has proven that she does.

They let her have it and she didn’t bat an eyelash. She saw them coming, expertly trolling the trolls, because she is wise beyond her years. She took it in stride – these grotesque and chilling remarks – and stuck to the business at hand.

She gave us a stirring example of leadership this week, an image that should sustain and encourage us in our own efforts.

She also reminded us just how expensive it can be to live on the very edge, the most exposed frontier of change.


greta-thunberg-1