#32 – What Power is For

The purpose of power – at its highest and most noble application – is to make other people powerful.

At a material level, solar power is a great example of how this works. The panels on our home convert the sun’s rays into energy that is brought back inside in the form of electricity. We use a lot, sometimes most of what is produced on a sunny day but not all of it.

What we don’t use gets sent back into the larger system to be utilized for other purposes. We use what we need and give back what we don’t. And what we give away makes other things powerful.

At the human level, many people believe that power is to be accumulated and reserved for their own consumption, making it inaccessible and unusable by anyone else. They have not done the work to figure out how much they actually need so they operate in fear that any loss of power is a complete loss of power.

The irony of this miscalculation is that it is the reverse that is true. When power is distributed to others, through an increase in responsibilities, the opportunity to develop and practice new skills, to have greater influence, the power of the individual who helped to make that happen grows even greater skill.

The generous distribution of power converts to loyalty, commitment and engagement. Give it away and watch it grow.

This is #32 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Ready for another?


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#23 – Get Closer

This is #23 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” This is another one I think is worth your time.


fullsizeoutput_20edAs valuable – as essential – as the big picture is, it is meaningless if it does not include an intimate awareness of what is happening at ground level.

A coastal hillside, monochromatic against an early spring sky, becomes a burst of purple flowers when seen at eye level.

Know where you are going. Understand your “why?” Yes, of course. And do not forget that only when each person – each blossom – is seen and valued as part of the whole will it make any difference at all that we are on the right path.


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#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You

This is #19 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might enjoy.


Because much of the time, even most of the time, they didn’t.

And we, confident in both our content and delivery, having put in the time to get it “just right,” convince ourselves that they most certainly did.

They did not.

And they are not stupid or disrespectful or uncaring. They are normal human beings: distracted and self-centered. (I am not cynical about the human condition, I promise you, I just trust the preponderance of the evidence.)

If your message is banal, it will be heard and understood the first time.

If your message has even the slightest intimation of a change it will not be understood. This is not because the change you are proposing is unwieldy or even complicated. It is because as soon as a person hears that any kind of change is being requested of them, millions of years of finely tuned neural mechanisms blast away from the starting gate to fight off the pattern interruption and preserve the status quo.

This is a pre-conscious response, which is why “not understanding” has nothing to do with stupidity, disrespect, etc.

It’s a survival instinct that is disproportionate to the threat because it’s terrible at distinguishing small threats from big ones. It just knows that the status quo equals staying alive and so it goes all in to preserve it.

What’s a thoughtful messenger of change to do against this ancient and reactionary tidal wave?

Be redundant.

As one leader I know used to say, “The first time you tell your team anything, assume that you’ve confused them. You have to tell them at least six more times.”

This is not a scientifically proven model, but simply a way to emphasize the leader’s responsibility to go back to the core message as often as necessary for enough of the team to get it and to get moving in that direction.

Redundancy, it seems to me, is among the least utilized tools at a leader’s disposal. There is so much assumptive arrogance that a “great” change message (even when it’s good news!) will be understood the first time that the leader is left shocked and resentful that he has only sown confusion and frustration in the ranks.

Redundancy is a labor of respect and consideration. It is a commitment to enroll and engage, to involve and to educate. It requires personal contact, team by team if necessary. If it devolves into just another weekly announcement (here we go again…) both the point and power of it have been missed.

If it’s important enough for you to spend the time getting it right, it’s important that it be fully understood. Redundancy is your secret weapon. Use it wisely and then use it again.


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#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.


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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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