#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

This is #12 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


I took a new job last fall. I call it a “real” job because after the wonderful variety of  consulting work I’ve done for the last 7 years, as compelling and rewarding as that has been, it feels great to come to an office and be on a team again.

It feels great to be a part of something that is brand new, that I am jointly responsible for building from the ground up. It feels wonderful to put into practice, to attempt to prove in real time, the ideas, beliefs and commitments that I hold in my head and heart about what the modern workplace has the potential to be.

I feel the discomfort of adjusting to an open workspace, to the unexpected needs of colleagues, to the daily practice of sorting out when to push for more and when to back off, listen and learn.

I am relishing the opportunity to lead, to influence, to shape and to support. I am using all of my experience, skills and training in ways I did not know I would get to use them. I am attempting to model energy, belief, and a full-throated commitment to learning as our cultural secret weapon.

I am reinventing myself, once again. I am adapting, learning, growing.

I like it. I like it a lot.


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#10 – “Development” is a Verb

This is #10 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Development is an action.

Like any effective action it requires insight and planning (reflection) to precede it but, at its core, development is about forward movement and progress. This is not to convey an image of “leaps and bounds” but of an active progression of small steps, the accumulation of which lead to new insights and behaviors which you can name as “developmental progress.”

I do not believe in the distinction between “personal” and “professional” development. Development is always holistic. What occurs in one element of your life occurs in all of the others as well.

The good news about that is that the actions one takes in any area of life will ripple across those perceived boundary lines and have impact on a much larger scale.

Development requires a commitment to remain in conversation with the primary themes that are yours to know and own and to gain more and greater understanding about those themes throughout your life.

This is action with no discernible end point which is why, needless to say, it can be very difficult to keep moving forward. These moments or periods of regression make a lot of sense. Past reactions and behaviors are known and comfortable. Establishing new reactions and behaviors can be exhausting and when you’ve had enough, you backslide into the comfort of the old.

At the very least, a regression serves as a reminder that you have moved forward, if not yet to a sustainable level, enough to indicate that it is possible to do so! And this is where remembering that development is a verb is so important. Unless you have given it away, you always retain your agency to act in your own best interest. You always get to choose to take the next step.

Small actions are still actions. And the right small actions, over time, have the potential to lead to compelling change.


metal stairs underwater

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#6 – You Are Creative

This is #6 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”



There is no such thing as creative and non-creative people, only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.

— Brené Brown


Say to a room full of 1st graders, “Raise your hand if you are creative” and every hand goes up.

Say to a room of college students (in this case, business school students but I find it true for most adults), “Raise your hand if you are a creative” and about 10% will raise their hands.

What’s the difference? At a certain point in our development and our concurrent passage through traditional educational systems we are taught that creative expression is no longer valuable, that it is disconnected from skill and knowledge acquisition. This is not universally true, of course, and there have been rigorous efforts to change this model.

But we’re not there yet, not by a long shot.

This is a serious problem. First, because of the wholesale belief in a patently false narrative of personal devaluation. And second, because organizations consistently describe creativity as essential to their sustainability.

But back to you.

You may not paint or draw, read or write poetry or care much for museums. You may not play an instrument or design landscape features. None of these is large enough to contain your creativity.

You are creative because you are alive in the world, and by being so you engage the world, one decision, one challenge, one relationship, one opportunity at a time, every single day.

You can’t do that without creativity.

The 6-year-old inside of you knows this and is just waiting to introduce it to you once again. All you’ve got to do is invite them out to play.


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#3 – Know Your Values

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Our values guide our decision-making. Clear values make it possible for us to assess any significant question (Should I move there? Take that job? Work with/for those people? Build a stronger relationship with this person? Fight for this idea? Spend my money on this initiative, project or idea?) and make a decision that resonates as true and appropriate to who we are and what we stand for. It’s the feeling of clarity, especially with the big decisions, that allows us to get to sleep at night once we’ve made them.

Your values, whether you understand them explicitly or not, are always at work. One simple way to find this out is to do a monthly review of your calendar and your bank statements. Undoubtedly, you will see a pattern of time and money spent that reflects your value system.

For example, if you notice a lot of time spent at the gym and a regular investment in workout gear, chances are you value fitness or health or wellness, however you choose to name it.

If you love to exercise but notice that you only ever do it with your friends and family, chances are that in addition to valuing fitness you also value relationships or community or an active social life, again however you choose to name it.

So, let’s run a little further with this idea that you are a person who, above all else, values your health and your relationships. Along comes an opportunity to advance within your company. This new role brings an expanded and exciting set of responsibilities, along with the requirement that you travel four days a week, three weeks out of every month.

Knowing your values of health and relationships does not mean that you would refuse the new work opportunity outright but it would help you to evaluate it in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way. You might take it as a challenge to get creative with your exercise and eating habits on the road. You might also invest more energy in coming up with new connection opportunities with friends and family both while you’re on the road and off it.

You might also decide that the new opportunity will satisfy another one of your values, let’s call it achievement, and that for the next six months you are going to allow that value to supersede the others, while keeping an eye on what happens to your health and relationships. You might decide, of course, not to take the job because achievement has never been as important to you as health and relationships. 

Whatever you decide, the point is that you know how to think about this decision, both critically and emotionally. You can do so because you have taken the time to conduct a values inventory, to identify, define and rank your values in a way that makes them readily available as perhaps the most important tool in your life management toolbox.

It takes courage to name and live your values. Doing so means that in addition to saying “yes” to a handful of core beliefs, you must also say “no” to many others. This can feel isolating, especially when others choose values that are not the same as your own. But over time it is nothing less than energizing and powerful to live a life that is guided by what matters most to you.

To me, this is the path to mature and lasting happiness.


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I Don’t Know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The best leaders I know consistently and sincerely ask for their team’s ideas on how to address the endless supply of opportunities and challenges they face. This may sound obvious but the need to be the smartest person in the room drives many leaders to disconnection and isolation, the opposite of community.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my client’s inherent wisdom to emerge.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover. There are lots of days when it’s just too darn heavy. But I do have many encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control, and I am at my best when I let those examples help me to rise above myself.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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Who Am I Being?

“I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Rumi


Ben Zander, orchestra conductor and co-author of “The Art of Possibility,” had an epiphany about why his players weren’t producing the sound he wanted. Instead of berating them for a lack of preparation, professionalism or skill, he decided instead to look at himself.

“What are they doing wrong?” or “Why can’t they get it right?” became, “Who am I being that my players are not playing the way I would like them to?”

He began a practice of placing a blank sheet of paper on each player’s music stand, on which they were invited to give him any and all feedback they wanted to share. And because he was willing to change himself, to change the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra, they did exactly that.

Every time – every single time – I have applied this same approach to my own circumstances I have found myself not only happier but more effective, too. When I stop trying to change my clients and instead change my approach to our interactions; when I stop trying to change my children and instead change the quality of my listening; when I stop feeling frustrated with other’s negativity or cynicism or disconnection and instead become more positive, optimistic and connected, this is when good things start to happen.

And to those who suggest that this is an unfair division of labor, that changing oneself is an unsustainable approach unless others are willing to do the same, I can only say that leader always go first. As a result of doing so, one of two things tends to happen: others positively respond to the leader’s personal changes and begin to change themselves (like Mr. Zander’s musicians learning to give him feedback) or they reveal their intransigence, helping the leader better understand which relationships and opportunities to invest in and which to leave behind.


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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.


statue angel cemetery

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