The Consolation of Completion (Redux)

Some further thoughts on yesterday’s post, The Consolation of Completion:

Many of our workplaces create an ethos of task completion and goal achievement at any cost. This habituation to the measurable allows us to feel good about ourselves at the end of the day but it fails to take into account the fact that most of what is happening in any given workplace on any given day is abstract, dynamic and immeasurable.

That is to say, human beings at work – or in any setting – are not easily quantified by the checking of boxes.

Leaders need not be paralyzed by this reality, though many are. Nor should they ignore the necessity of task completion and turn themselves into full-time coaches and counselors. That is neither a realistic nor a sustainable approach.

A thoughtful awareness – an acknowledgement, a making room for – of the messiness of the human condition at work, not to solve or fix it, but simply to be someone with the capacity to accept its presence, leads to another ethos entirely.

This is an ethos of integration, one in which the efficiency of doing and the messiness of being coexist because both are recognized as vital to the elevation of the human experience at work.


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The Poetry of Management

As I set out to plan my Management 302 curriculum for the fall 2019 semester, I felt an urgency to treat the class as if it could as easily be taught in a humanities curriculum as in a business school.

Management 302 is a required course for all non-management majors. That is to say, it is the one opportunity in the undergraduate business curriculum for future accounting, finance, marketing and supply-chain professionals to engage exclusively with the subject of the human experience at work.

We look at individual motivation, personality and values. We explore team and relationship dynamics. We encounter leadership, emotional intelligence, culture and change. All of this in an effort to wake students up to the truth that the professional experience is only fractionally about one’s professional competency and much more broadly about one’s capacity for self-awareness, communication and adaptability.

You can imagine, then, why I always feel a sense of urgency in preparing for this class. Given a scant 2 hours a week over just 3 months to make the point, I have to be highly strategic in creating an experience that will outlive the classroom long into each student’s career.

Key to the effort this time around was my choice to operationalize my passion for poetry and use it to lead off each class session. I researched and selected a poem that was relevant to that week’s subject matter, recited it first thing and then asked the students to openly reflect on its application to our material.

I did not anticipate the usefulness of this approach, not only in helping us access the course material but in helping us to access a group-wide reservoir of empathy and insight. As poetry has the capacity to do, it changed the tone and depth of our conversations, it lifted my energy and purpose as an instructor and it still allowed us to maintain the necessary structure around what was still a discussion rooted in the needs of effective business operations.

Below is the poem I chose to kick-off the semester. Introducing the class overall and our initial subject of organizational effectiveness, my intent was to immediately jar my students from the comforts of the provable into the abstraction that is the primary reality of any human life.



The World I Live In
{Mary Oliver}

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs;
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway.
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.


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The Agenda

The organizational agenda is to plan, execute, measure, quantify and produce.

The human agenda is to love and be loved, to be seen, heard and understood.

Organizations are populated, organized and led by humans.

How can this be?

We hide our deepest longing because it is abstract and seemingly, frighteningly unattainable.

We acquiesce to, and even abet an alternative agenda for the perceived sanctity of an equivocal certainty.

We work at cross purposes because integration seems beyond our reach.

If we reach out a little further, we just might grasp it. The trick is in believing it is there to be grasped.


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A Clarity of Purpose

My thinking and, more importantly, my feeling about organizational leadership and change has evolved in powerful and unexpected ways since I began working in the field in 2001 and writing about it on a regular basis in 2007.

I have always attempted, if sometimes haltingly and ineffectively, to bring a humanistic and personal perspective to my writing and doing so is something I credit for deepening my personal awareness and broadening my global perspective.

As James Joyce said, “In the particular lies the universal.”

The past couple of years, and especially in 2019, something began to shift in how I express myself.

There is more poetry now, much more poetry. There are more images, especially of the natural world. There is a vivid realization that prose alone is an insufficient medium for expressing the massive complexity of these topics.

Today, I find that my heart is full of a clarity of purpose to continue this trend into the new year.

More learning from poetry, more learning from nature, and more trusting my intuitive impulse to reveal and express the personal and universal truths found within them.


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Bend, Oregon – January 1, 2020

You Have to Let Go

There is no version of going forward, of growing toward the next best version of your work, your relationships or your self that does not require letting go.

Getting “there” requires letting go of your hard-earned beliefs about “here.”

Those beliefs once served you well, now they only stand in your way.

Let them go. Let them go. Let them go.

Stand in the space between what you’ve been and finally trust, beyond your brilliant cognitive sense-making self, that this becoming place is exactly where you belong.


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Leading From the True Self

The purpose of the true self is to keep us honest about playing as big as we can, fully living into our particular gifts. It knows that when we do so we are healthier, happier, and more energetically and generously connected to both self and others. That’s why the true self scares us so much. It keeps calling us to new edges and new possibilities, the ones that seem well beyond our reach because we are so committed to perceiving them through the lens of the false self.

And that false self, that construct we’ve busily and expertly put together through a lifetime of adaptation to everything but our own sense of purpose, it not only limits our well-being but it drags down everyone around us as well…those who stick around, anyway.

This is why it’s impossible for someone who has not identified and who does not regularly work on living into his or her true self, to be a transformational leader, a leader of real change.

People who rely on positional authority for their leadership “credibility” are leading from the false self, always trying to quiet the voice in the head that accurately names their fraudulence and their fear.

“True self” leaders are known by their humility and their freedom. No longer bound by their old constraints they remain aware of how easy it is to slip them back on again. They are vigilant and watchful, cultivating relationships of mutual commitment to the truth because they know they can’t do it alone.

“True self” leaders always start with this question: “How do I need to change before asking others to change?”


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This is it

Every day – and I mean every day – I spend some time thinking about and feeling the emotions related to the following:

  1. Some event or person in my past that hurt me or that I perceive as having hurt me.
  2. Concern/anxiety about the future. Will there be enough? Will I be able to provide? Will I have the courage to do what I most want? Et cetera, ad nauseam.
  3. What I am doing right now that excites and energizes me, the contribution I am making, the purpose I am living into, the possibility I am fulfilling, the lives I am changing, starting with my own.

A good day is one in which numbers one and two are kept to a minimum and number three ascends with vigor. A bad day is when I let the past and/or the future determine the quality of the present. And, more importantly, my presence.

Replaying the difficulties of the past – especially by casting oneself as a victim of circumstance – as if doing so will yield a different outcome, only robs you of the opportunity to create something new in the present.

Anxiously anticipating the future – especially through some story about insufficiency or inadequacy – when all you can control is your own behavior, your own choices, is energy lost to fear of the unknown.

There is nothing you can do to change the past. There is nothing you can do to predict the future.

What you can do is decide in this moment, at this place and with these people, that you will become as clear as possible about these things:

  1. Who you are.
  2. Where you are going.
  3. The next step you will take.
  4. And, how much you are willing to love and serve the person in front of you right now.

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Welcome

To welcome something is to say “yes” to it. It is to encourage its existence and to join with it in a positive spirit of participation.

I choose this word as a companion to accompany me during these final celebratory and transitional weeks of this year. I think of it as a guidepost to which I can turn when preparing final grades, or decorating the house, or assisting in the wide variety of chores that will present themselves in the coming days.

I welcome the opportunity to read my student’s papers so that I can thoughtfully evaluate their work.

I welcome the opportunity to help prepare the meals that will serve as a centerpiece for our family’s celebrations.

I welcome the request to unpack the decorations and to work together to make our home an outward reflection of our inward beliefs.

I welcome the opportunity to offer to help when that offer is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to respond with ‘yes’ when the request I have received is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to create moments of connection in the busyness; periods of reflection in the push to get it all done.

I welcome the chance to live into the simple, meaningful lessons of this season of giving; to receive what comes in the spirit of friendship; to start with “yes.”


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Redwood Homily

I wrote this piece a few days before Thanksgiving last year during a visit to Humboldt Redwood State Park. It’s an extraordinary place…humbling, grounding and pure.


Modern pilgrims wander through an ancient cathedral.

They bear witness to the crescendo of a timeless symphony that began with a single note of fertile earth.

Modern faith fails to note that these pillars haven’t always splintered the sun.

It must learn this one thing: that every living thing is called to find its tallest point, and then to reach further still.

It’s what we are made for.


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Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018