The Force Field

Change is coming.

Actually, it’s here right now, with plenty more on the way.

The people to your right and your left? You need them now more than ever, just as they need you.

You can attempt to face the impact of change on your own. You can curl into a fetal position to ride out the turbulence or you can start frantically doing everything that needs to be done, exhausting yourself (and everyone else) in the process.

Another option is to lock arms with your colleagues and have honest and purposeful conversations about the best way forward.

Connection is a force field under which we are reminded that we can mitigate the impact of change by choosing to absorb it together.


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Playing the Long Game

Why do I work with college students? Why do I teach, advise and mentor the next generation of community and organizational leaders?

Here’s a short list:

  • It’s fun.
  • It’s energizing.
  • We need them.
  • We need them.
  • We need them.

The immediacy of this moment will eventually shift. It seems impossible right now that those in power who abuse their power will someday not be there, but that day will come.

When it does, we need a group of qualified, engaged believers to take their places.

Qualified by their experience and their training; engaged by their commitment to bringing some humanity back to the human experience; believers in something larger than themselves.

Based on what I see in their eyes, in their hearts and most importantly, in their actions, we will be in good hands.

Those of us with the opportunity and the inclination to do so must help them. And then we must get out of their way.

They are getting ready. They are on their way. And when they arrive, we will all be the better for it.


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A Healthy Burn

For a healthy forest to remain healthy – for it to survive – it has to burn.

That’s not conjecture, it’s science.

A forest has to burn frequently enough to clear out the understory – the pine needles, dry grasses, and smaller trees – that when left unmanaged can turn a necessary cycle of periodic fire into an inferno from which few forests can ever fully recover.

Too much fuel equals massive devastation. When that fuel is reduced the mature trees – the ones we think of as “forest” – remain unharmed and even strengthen their resistance to fire.

Since people don’t care much for fire, these “healthy burns” rarely get a chance to run their natural course. We stamp them out as quickly as possible and unwittingly create conditions for much worse outcomes down the line.

The natural world, in its taciturn way, is always teaching us how to work with change in our own lives and in our organizations, too.

Sometimes the understory has to burn – old hurts let go of, good people moving on, dated practices falling away – so that we have the space, once again, to imagine just how high we would like to grow.


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Two Sides of the Same Coin

In conversation with a leader:

Question: In the context of this current change, what’s your biggest opportunity?

Answer: My opportunity right now is to seize the high ground. I will remain positive, connected and open to possibility.

Question: In the context of this current change, what’s your biggest challenge?

Answer: My challenge is to fight off every temptation to abandon that high ground; to surround myself with people who will help me to stay positive, connected and open to possibility.


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What About the Other 19?

Yesterday, I wrote about the Business Roundtable’s newly released Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, a declaration signed by 181 of its 200 member CEOs.

Nineteen corporations decided not to sign on to a statement that broadens the purpose of a corporation from “shareholder primacy” to a “fundamental commitment” to all of their stakeholders. In other words, it’s no longer sufficient or sustainable to be just about the money. Corporate interests must now include employees, suppliers, communities and the environment.

Those who did not sign include the Blackstone Group, GE and Alcoa.

While no one will be surprised if this new statement fails to result in systemic change, considering that it lacks any measure of accountability, it is a big symbolic step forward that has already met with significant resistance.

The Council of Institutional Investors said, “Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one. It is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of defining and addressing societal objectives with limited or no connection to long-term shareholder value.”

This reactive dualism is not surprising in the least. Rather, it is an instructive reminder of the prevailing limits of the corporate imagination and just how far we are from making the modern workplace more fully human.

In today’s New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin summed it up nicely, “For whatever progress may have been made Monday, it is hardly clear the debate is over. In fact, the fight for corporate identity is just beginning.”

Whether you are an owner, a leader, an employee, a supplier or a customer, I hope you see the possibility that exists for you to fight for that new corporate identity where you work and live. Raise your expectations, of yourself and your colleagues, and trust that an expansive application of accountability is the best strategy for long-term growth you can possibly employ.


 

The Purpose of Business

Today, the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 CEO’s, announced that 181 of its members signed off on a new statement of the purpose of a corporation. This is a massive shift from the one-note philosophy of “shareholder primacy” to an approach that is reflective of a modern workforce – a modern society – that deserves and demands “meaning and dignity.”

This affirmation of a more wholistic, human-centric approach to business will require accountability of the highest order. Please read the statement below and consider how you will bring it to life and sustain it within the walls of your own workplace.


 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

  • Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
  • Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Source: The Business Roundtable

The Old Story

Today I had to let go of an old story.

I took my daughter to the DMV to test for her learner’s permit and received not just good or helpful service from the staff there but an exceptional level of attentiveness and care.

You can imagine that this is not the story I told my daughter about what our experience would be like.

From the first encounter we had my story was proven false.

Yes, it’s still slow. Yes, it’s still a bureaucracy. And, our experience reminds me that even an entrenched organization like the DMV can acknowledge and act on the truth that they are in the business of helping human beings and then act accordingly.

I approached one of the helpful workers there and told her that she and her colleagues were destroying their old reputation, forcing me to rewrite my story.

She smiled and said, “Thank you for saying so. We’re really trying.”

They really are.


Go Do It

This week I have written about industriousness, initiative, reinvention and responsibility. I have written about the way that human beings come alive when they feel free to take meaningful, appropriate, even obvious actions in support of necessary change.

In reflection I understand that these various expressions are all shoots of the same vine; each an attempt to manifest my personal understanding and expression of the truth that meaningful action is a balm to anxiety. 

We can commiserate, complain, kvetch and confer all we want but until we act we will feel frustrated and useless, no different than a damp matchbook is to our hope for a comforting fire. Or, as David Whyte expresses it in his poem Out On the Ocean:

“…always this energy smolders inside
when it remains unlit
the body fills with dense smoke.” 

We’d do well, all of us who are hungry to take meaningful action for change, to revisit and reconsider the words of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,
because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

This is the time and place in which you live.

This is the time and place to act.

This is the time and place to express what you are here for.

Go and do.


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Hidden Treasure

According to girlscouts.org, “Going for the Girl Scout Silver Award—the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn—gives you the chance to show that you are a leader who is organized, determined, and dedicated to improving your community.”

According to my daughter’s research, self-esteem in girls takes a steep drop (30%) between the ages of 8 and 14.

Motivated to earn the Silver Award and dedicated to address the loss of self-esteem in adolescent girls, she reached out to the principal of her former grade school – now converted to a K-8 – and asked if she could design and paint a series of inspirational messages in one of the girl’s restrooms on campus.

Met with an enthusiastic “Yes,” Davis completed the work this summer in advance of the new school year.

She doesn’t know, cannot know, the impact these messages will have. Her principal doesn’t either. What they do know, because they are thoughtful and strong leaders, is that “knowing” is often and easily overrated.

Believing…believingand doing…doing…is where it’s at.


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You inspire us, Davis. Well done!

 

Is it still the best?

Everyone says it’s the best restaurant in town but when you finally go, you have an “ok” meal. Or, you have decent service but not the stellar dining experience everyone has described.

Is it still the best restaurant in town?

Everyone says it’s the best company to work for. They are reputed to pay well, to have a fun and energizing culture and to invest heavily in training and development. When you finally get a job there, you find that your manager isn’t quite the “culture leader” he claimed to be and is, in fact, solely focused on his own advancement. Or you find that he allows his team to underperform and give the unfinished work to the new employee.

Is it still the best company to work for?

In general, it may still be a great restaurant and it may still be a great company. But none of us lives in the “general” or the “objective.”

We live in the specific and the subjective and what matters there is what counts.


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