Friday, July 29, 2005

The 4- (5, 12, 25, etc.) Step Method Approach to Life

I've been thinking a lot lately about all the books out there that give you a "tried and true" or a "guaranteed to give you results" or a "follow this and you're sure to succeed" promise that will change your life. I'm thinking about why the surefire answer approach just doesn't sit well with me.

Maybe it goes back to my need to find THE answer to all the challenges I wasn't even able to articulate in my own life. I've always been a seeker, an eager learner and an overachiever, so I was a sucker for anything that would promise me results - especially those I could obtain outside myself.

The very reason I've titled my blog "You Already Know This Stuff," I think, is why I'm unsettled by having someone else tell me what I should do or guarantee me results based on their formula for success.

I get that there are certainly great ideas that others have learned from their own experience and that they want to share with others. I'm the same way. I'd love nothing more than to be able to share all the things I continue to learn about my own life so that others might be able to subvert those experiences themselves and get to more important work more quickly.

But for some reason I have a problem with some guru promising others THE way to success. Maybe I'm overly sensitive since reading Peter Block's The Answer to How is Yes, which really altered the way I ask questions to support people in connecting with what they already know.

I'm all about connecting with our inner KNOWING. Maybe it starts with defining that inner KNOWING - the collection of all the wisdom we've accumulated over the years and either discounted because it didn't fit with who we are or accepted because it did. I wonder if we get to a point in our lives that we've accumulated enough inner wisdom - a critical mass, maybe - that makes it easier to trust both WHAT we know and THAT we know.

I can't promise that someone's life will be altered by reading this or any blog, or any self-help book out there. But I do know that there comes a point in everyone's life - Lance Secretan in the book "Inspire" says that sometimes it happens on people's deathbeds, but it does happen - when they connect with their destiny, when the switch flips and they realize that they can have a life they love.

I don't want to wait until my deathbed, and I'm learning every day - every minute. Yes, as the Beatles tell us, "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see/It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me" (from Strawberry Fields Forever).

Don't let fear of the unknown keep you from living with eyes open, learning to understand all you see. It's a much more enlightening place to live as you figure out your own, personalized approach to life!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

All Wrapped Up: A Lesson For ME!

Wow, it's amazing how readily those pesky life lessons can appear - and how prevalent they are when we have something to learn!

The funny thing about lessons is that they are so personalized! Served up on a silver platter, tied up with a beautiful bow, and complete with a gift card with my name on them!

Did you ever wonder why the exact same situation can totally tick one person off while another person in the same environment doesn't even notice? That's the fancy gift-wrapped lesson with the personalized card on it. I'm learning that the situations that bug me the most are the ones with the most important, and often the most pressing, lessons for me to learn.

I'm finding some situations are appearing in more than one package for me recently. They might not look exactly the same on the outside (one's got a gold bow and one's got a red bow, for example), but the lesson inside is exactly the same. Until I figure out why these gifts are still being presented to me, I'll be destined to keep unwrapping the packages - hoping to find new gifts inside, but finding the exact same thing in the box. It's not enough for me to say to myself "I've already got one of these" ... I've got to really ACCEPT the gift for what it is - a lesson for my entire life. When I get that I have a choice to really accept the gift as a GIFT, not a reprimand, an "I told you so" or a form of punishment - I can get beyond this gift and beyond the situation that presented me with the gift, and on to other opportunities to learn and apply.

It's not enough to just understand this insight ... I now need to actually DO something with it. The true test will be whether I'm presented with this gift yet again. I'm banking on getting something brand new next time!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

We're Ready for Bigger Small Talk

I'm convinced that, in general, we humans are getting to the point where talking about the weather, sports, politics and recipes is not as fulfilling as it used to be. Sure, we have to start somewhere in our conversations and the aforementioned topics are great places to start. But I get the feeling that most people are dying to connect on a deeper level which will lead us to all kinds of unpredictable relationship opportunities.

I'm reminded of a former boss who once told me that business has nothing to do with relationships. It is that type of thinker I used to think really dominated the world of work, but I'm beginning to change my mind.

I spent 2 days last week working with top-level executives about leadership - more specifically, about how we as leaders are ultimately responsible for the results we get from our work teams - and even with our friends and families.

Although there are still those people in leadership roles who believe the best results can be obtained by force and fear, and will show you the results they get by use of that leadership style (at least in the short term), I'm very encouraged by the leaders who do want to go beyond their traditional leadership practices.

Fear may well be a motivator and can get quick results, but rarely will that tactic work with human beings over the long haul. When we treat human beings as objects to be used for our own gain, we rarely get much real satisfaction.

Maybe the problem is that few of us really want to know how our behavior impacts those around us. We all know the statistic from the Gallup poll that says that 80% of employees leave jobs because of their immediate supervisors, yet I'm guessing that old 80-20 rule applies here too: 80% of those supervisors who the employees are leaving probably don't look in the mirror to figure out why the employees are leaving.

Ben Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra, and co-author of the book "The Art of Possibility." He also conducts leadership seminars and has produced, with his wife Roz, two training videos which are outstanding. In one, "Leadership: An Art of Possibility," Ben shares that one of the ways to see the impact you as a leader have is to look for the shining eyes of the people around you. Shining eyes are evident when the spark of possibility is present. Ben says if he doesn't see shining eyes around him, the first question he asks himself is "What am I not being that their eyes aren't shining?"

If things aren't going exactly the way you would like them to go in your life - whether that's as a leader or as a parent or as a student or as an employee or really as any of the many roles we all play - consider Ben's question for yourself: "What am I not being that things aren't going the way I'd like?"

When you take that honest look at yourself with sincerity and authenticity, you might find huge opportunities to move beyond your own personal status quo and be well on your way to creating significant lasting transformations in your personal and professional relationships.

A great place to begin is by listening to the small talk around you. How might you contribute to raising the level of that small talk? Of course it can't end with the talk - we need to figure out together how to move beyond talk to action. But it's got to start somewhere.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Where Have All The Gordon MacKenzies Gone?

Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself: "I wish I would have written that!"? Well, this is my book like that.

I'm just re-reading "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by the late Gordon MacKenzie and I'm inspired all over again.

How is it that I'm just figuring out all of this "bring your whole self to work" stuff and so many people have gotten it so many years ago? Case in point: Gordon MacKenzie.

Back in the early 1950s, according to the back cover of this book, Gordon flunked out of the Univesrity of British Columbia and later stumbled into a job as a cartoonist and writer for the Vancouver Sun. While at Hallmark Cards, Gordon didn't find so much as he created his niche. His title there was Creative Paradox.

Gordon imparts so much wisdom in this fabulous book and it's a blast to read, too! Here are a couple of little snippets:

"Being infinite, the whole of reality is too much for the conscious human mind to grasp. The best any one of us can do is to take the biggest slice of Infinite Reality we can hold - intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally - and make that slice our personal sense of what is real. But no matter how broad it is, any human perception of reality can be no more than a tiny sliver of Infinite Reality.

"Civilization also has a limited perception of Infinite Reality. And with a haughty self-assurance, it imposes that perception on us until we think it is our own. The same is true of the companies we work for. They have their perceptions of reality and they impose them on us. As a result, we are wrapped in a cocoon of realities perceived by others who came before us. It is a cocoon that gives us a sense of emotional security through connection to a shared belief. But it is also a shroud that binds and cripples us as surely as the ancient social abuse of binding Chinese women's feet crippled them." (p. 45)

Through his original stories and drawings, Gordon shows us what happens to organizations when they stifle individual creativity. Policies, procedures, rules, regulations - all become hairs which join together to form a giant hairball which eventually develops its own gravity. People are sucked in by promises of security, benefits, salary but often lose their souls in the meantime. Others, daunted by the structure, leave the organization to find more suitable employment. Gordon shows us that in order to have the best results both for the organization and the individuals within the organization, we need to help those creative beings find a way to orbit the giant hairball so they are not so close they're are sucked in, but not so far away that they leave.

Gordon's take on corporate America and his style of storytelling coupled with his original sketches makes this a must-read for anyone who feels the call of creativity within their corporate environment.

Can we carry Gordon's torch and light up our workplaces without succumbing to the suffocation of the cocoon or the gravity of the hairball?

It takes courage and persistence, both of which Gordon exhibited and both of which I'll do my best to follow. Who's with me?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Headiness of Being the Leader

I've been thinking a lot lately about how difficult, exciting, stressful, exhilarating it must be to be the leader of a company, enterprise, or organization.

For some reason a Lord Acton quote has popped into my mind as I write this post:

"Power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely."

How does this relate to my original thought about leadership?

One has only to read the current issue of Fast Company magazine and check out the cover story called "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" to see some sort of correlation. Which comes first (if at all): the ego involved to start a company or the ego involved later as things get successful?

I realize that there has to be some semblance of confidence for anyone to lead anything. I'm reminded of my basketball playing days, both in high school and in college. It seems for every John Wooden-like coach there were at least an equal number of Bobby Knights. But recently, at least in the world of sports, I've been hearing more about the successes of the Coach K's, the Phil Jacksons, the Bill Belachicks and their effect on the teams ... no, the individuals who make up the teams ... than of the crushing results of the iron fist leaders.

Iron fist leaders who rule by fear and loathing probably can get results quickly, but I can't think of even one leader - at least in modern times - who produced lasting results with that type of leadership.

But what happens in our businesses when the rulers rule by fear - and the fear is so great that no one dares say or do anything? It doesn't seem to matter the size of the organization - even in very small companies the iron fist makes an impact on individuals, teams, families, and even communities, and often the external results (the football field named after the town mogul who donated the land presumably out of the goodness of his heart, but more likely to see his name in lights on Friday nights) somehow justify the means.

How long will we go on accepting this as if we can't do anything about it within organizations? Are our workers bound by the golden handcuffs at the price of their very hearts and souls? What will it take to get leadership to see that it doesn't have to be this way? That people really will do the right thing if given the chance?

Perhaps it's fear that runs the hearts of the leaders ... and the only way they can get beyond their own fear is to control what they think they can control, and that's the way the business is run - their way. As they look for the worst in the workers, that's often what they will find, and they can continue to be right about that.

It's funny, though. It takes exactly the same amount of energy to find the worst in people as it does to find the best. The difference is that the leader has to shift the perception, and often that's the most difficult part. Shifting the leader's perception to ask the question "How is that REALLY working for me?" and to really want to know the answer to that question is often more difficult than continuing down the path that no longer works.

Remember the story of the Emperor's New Clothes? Couple this with the lesson we've been taught as children: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" and you get more and more of the same.

Is there a way to share a dialogue - respectfully and with noble intention - with the emperor about his nakedness in a way that doesn't get the messenger's head chopped off? The challenge will be to get the emperor to realize that there's opportunity for him/her in having that dialogue, regardless of the outcome.

Anyone up for that challenge?