Leap and a Net Will Appear

If you feel “ready,” you’ve waited too long.

That’s my takeaway from volume one of Shelby Foote’s three-part narrative of the Civil War.

It’s oversimplified, to be sure, but the biggest difference I can see between the Union forces in Virginia, commanded by McClellan, Halleck, Pope et al, and the Confederate forces under Lee in the first 18 months of the war is that the Union refused to act until the conditions were “just right” and the Confederates acted when opportunity presented itself.

If you subscribe to the sentiment, “fortune favors the bold” you can understand why this approach kept the Confederacy in the driver’s seat in those early months of the war.

It’s quite discouraging to read about the number of opportunities the Union squandered that would have brought the conflict to an early and victorious end. Even knowing how things turned out I find myself in the thrall of Lincoln’s despair, shaking my head that the war ever ends up moving in the right direction, much less victoriously for the north.

What then of our own resistance to act until the time is just right? How many times have you said some version of, “As soon as THIS happens…” or “If I just had more of THIS or THAT I would be willing to get started?”

And what hangs in the balance for you? What idea or purpose or effort will be delayed or even sacrificed to the dustbin of history if you should continue to forestall the action you want to take, not in spite of but right alongside the reasons not to make a single move?

There will always, always be an excuse to wait. (“Stonewall” Jackson regularly led his troops into battle in the rain, while his Union counterparts regularly refused to do so!) Disaster, catastrophe and total ruin notwithstanding – all terrific inventions of our fertile imaginations on most occasions – you are better to act with enough  information, enough opportunity, and enough support.

If you feel “ready,” you’ve already waited too long.


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Invitational

Earlier in life, when I made an invitation, I worried about what would happen if the response was, “no.” A fixed mindset, a bruised ego prepared to nurse the wounds of rejection.

Today when I offer an invitation, I “worry” what will happen if the response is, “yes.” A growth mindset, an ego that is energized by the challenge of creating something worth that very precious “yes.”

I’m not sure yet, but I think this is wisdom.


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Change

Change

change
change
C
hange(!)
CHANGE
CHANGE?
change!!!
egnahc
ChAnGe
cHaNgE
change
changE
!!!CHanGE???

It takes as many forms as we can imagine but what is consistent about them all is that they don’t stop coming.

It’s never “if,” it’s only “when.” This means that any effort to be ready, to be well-equipped to stand tall when others are blown sideways, will pay off handsomely.

You have either reached the fourth stage of enlightenment, have become a Jedi Master or you are like the rest of us, with plenty of opportunity to learn how to work with the reality of change.


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Frustrated Idealism

“There are teachers, social workers and clergy who work incredibly hard until they are 80 years old and never suffer ‘burnout’ because they have an accurate view of human nature, of our potential and limitations. They don’t over-romanticize people, so they don’t feel the great psychological stress when people let them down.”

{Peter Senge quoting Bill O’Brien in The Fifth Discipline}


It is said that if you scratch the surface of most cynics you will find a frustrated idealist.

I am re-reading The Fifth Discipline right now both for an independent study project I am supervising and as a refresher in preparation for a new project kicking off this fall. When I read the quote above I find myself both encouraged and humbled. That is to say, my “frustrated idealism” has come a long way and still has a long way to go.

I so appreciate O’Brien’s and Senge’s matter-of-fact commentary about this. “Yes, people will inspire you beyond your imagination,” they seem to say, “and they will also leave you banging your head against the wall and tempted to give up.”

The great gift – and this can only come to us through a deep dive into our own development – is to find the space where we maintain a positive, even soaring commitment to what is humanly possible while also steadying ourselves for the reality that elevating to those heights regularly results in some tough and painful landings.

We best support others and we best support ourselves by remembering Wilferd Peterson’s admonition to:

“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…”


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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.


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Quiet Power

When the power went off unexpectedly today, the washer and dryer stopped, the dishwasher cut short its cycle and the lights clicked off. The TV and its attachments were disabled, and there would be no charging of phones or computers for over four hours. Dinner plans were made, “Plan A” if the oven was functional, “Plan B” if not. And under no circumstances was the refrigerator or freezer to be opened.

It was a brief, not unpleasant, but wholly conspicuous reminder of our dependency on effective sources of power. When power is present and available to us, it is an invisible force that allows us to go about the day secure in our focus on matters of creativity and connection rather than on contingency plans for keeping food cold.

Human power, when capably and humbly applied is a source of reassurance and possibility. As you have no doubt experienced, when it is applied with arrogant insecurity, everything that worked seamlessly before comes to an abrupt and disruptive halt.


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Freedom to Create, Freedom to Lead

Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new creative leaders of the next period of history.
{Richard Rohr}


The disciplines of creativity and leadership require freedom from the limitations that stem from our undeveloped, unexamined selves.

You cannot be creative if you are continuously second-guessing yourself, consumed by concern about other’s opinions or stifled by perfectionism. It just doesn’t work that way. And the same goes for leadership.

To do either effectively demands agility, flexibility, exploration and the ego strength that only comes from robust self-awareness.

Creative leadership, then, exists when the leader engages the team in an open and ongoing conversation about what is working, what is not, where we are going and what we can do to get there.

Creative leadership, then, requires a dedicated effort to normalize change as the best friend of our future effectiveness.

When we celebrate our freedom, the independence gained from breaking old constraints, we are also called to celebrate the opportunity to be stewards of a new creation.


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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

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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.


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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}

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