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.


bird animal freedom fly

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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

green trees

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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.


person s left hand holding green leaf plant

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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}

yellow bokeh photo

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Not So Fast

A couple of million years ago our predecessors, Homo erectus, survived through hunting and gathering.

About 350,000 years ago, give or take, Homo sapiens split off from Homo erectus and continued the hunter/gatherer model of subsistence, while slowly but surely evolving from a migratory to a stationary model. This marked, between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, the beginning of the agricultural age, when we learned how to plant, cultivate and harvest our own crops instead of surviving on what was freely available.

About 500 years ago, in the age of discovery, Homo sapiens began a surge of technological acceleration that led to globalization, the industrial revolution and the current information age.

Think about that for another moment:

  • 2 million years of community building through the shared responsibility of walking around to find food.
  • 10,000 years of community building based on growing our own food.
  • 500 years of global “community building” through technological advance.

Out of the last 2 million years we’ve been “technologists” for a mere 500, with the most significant advances happening in only the last 100 years.

For 2 million years everything about our existence was oriented to a means of survival that was based on community and connection. In other words, a shared purpose.

It is a hard truth to accept that we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally better equipped for hunting, gathering and farming than we are for automation and information.

Put another way, we are equipped for connection in service of meaning. That “meaning” was once the not-so-simple act of providing food and shelter. Today, it has more to do with solving the complex problems that plague our schools and workplaces as well as the institutions of government, religion, healthcare (to name but a few), the effective stewardship of which has become more crucial than ever.

To think that technology, still in its infancy, can supersede our genetic inheritance of connection as a means to even begin to address these issues is comically delusional.

But here we are, favoring disembodied and disconnected “solutions” for problems that only our best spiritual, emotional, mental and physical selves can possibly address.

However you define “this,” it can only be done together.


 

 

Learning is Not Optional

Have you achieved what you’re capable of?

Are you well equipped for the speed of change and the demands of complexity?

Are you operating in a competitor-free environment?

Are local, regional, national and international issues irrelevant to your organization?

Is your team crystal clear about your vision and self-driven to attain it? Committed to your values and living them with integrity?

Do you and your colleagues have difficult conversations as soon and as often as needed? Do you do so with deep respect and empathy?

If so, don’t worry about learning.

If not…


 

Chance to Lead

The greatest punishment for being unwilling to rule is being
ruled by someone worse than oneself.
{Socrates}


If you have an opportunity to lead, take it.

You may succeed or you may fail, yes, but what you learn will ripen into lessons you will harvest for years to come.

If you have an opportunity to lead and you don’t take it, don’t complain about the person who does. They deserve your expectation of their success, just like you would want from them.


 

Always Bet On Yourself

You are not going to get picked.

No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “It’s your turn. Right this way, please.”

There is no committee of “deciders” who will stumble upon your work, some fragment of your idea and fall so in love with it that they grant you permission to begin.

You have your track record, your value system and people “whose eyes light up when they see you coming.”

That’s enough. That’s everything.

Stop waiting for permission. Bet on yourself.


HT to HA & MW

Thresholds

We are called to be larger than who we can imagine being in this moment.
{Sr. Joan Brown}


A threshold is a demarcation between the known and the unknown, an entry point to a new frontier.

It’s not an easy place at which to stand as it represents a break from our familiar or ordered understanding of things. One more step, and we are in the unfamiliar, a disordered version of our experience.

These threshold moments exist in each of our lives, some large and some small, some by our choosing and some purely by chance. Each one is an opportunity for development depending on our choice to step across that demarcation line or retreat from it.

And the reason it is so hard to take that next step, and why we so often retreat from that threshold, is that we feel utterly alone.

But we are not alone.

Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. We are more connected than we realize, more connected than we allow ourselves to admit. Perhaps that’s because we’ve bought into the myth of “going it alone,” and perhaps because being connected makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. To be seen by another for who and what we are, especially as we stand at the threshold of our own becoming? I admit that is a scary thought.

And (and this is such an important “and”) it is precisely that vulnerability that leads to our connection and that connection is what leads us to our greatest strength: the ability to rely upon one another to see us not just as we are but as we may yet be. To hold an imaginative sense of one another’s larger self at the moment when we alone are least able to hold it is a gift both precious and powerful.

To stand at a threshold, then, is to stand in a place of complete connection, summoning courage from one another to cross over and into the frontier of our largest possible self.

I don’t know if the world can be saved but if it can be, this is how we will do it.


 

 

Again and Again (Until)

In the particular is contained the universal.
{James Joyce}


When you achieve a significant developmental milestone, you own it forever.

Once you learn to walk, there’s no going back to crawling.

Learn how to ride a bike? You’ll always know how.

Great study habits? Always applicable to the next tough class.

How about hard conversations? Or setting boundaries? Or standing up for yourself? Or trying new things? Or managing anger? Or exercising patience? Or being vulnerable?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Once you learn it, you’ve got it. It’s the joyful, extraordinary truth of development.

Until you have it, however, you won’t have it. And you will keep crawling, just as before.

This moment, with this person (and it’s usually another person who challenges and sparks our most needed development) is your present, particular opportunity to make a universal change.