Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Who Are You and What Do You Want?

I'm reminded of the importance of those two questions while re-reading "The Radical Leap" by Steve Farber. Here's an excerpt from page 94 where he's talking about an answering maching message:

"'You may think this is an answering machine. It is not. This is a questioning machine. And there are two questions: Who are you? and What do you want? And lest you think those are trivial questions, consider that most people go through their entire lives without ever answering either one.' Beeeep."

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Farber in Minneapolis last summer - what a treat to be challenged and inspired by him in person! I love this book and its lessons in extreme leadership, including the OS!M (you'll have to read it to understand it) and especially the title of the book, which says that to practice extreme leadership, you have to take the Radical LEAP - Cultivate Love, Generate Energy, Inspire Audacity, Provide Proof.

Clink on the link on the right of this page to buy the book and let me know what you think! Who are you? and What do you want?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Thinking Tonight about Katrina's Effects

I sing with the Sweet Adeline organization, and our international competition is scheduled for the Superdome in New Orleans October 4-8. I'm amazed and awed by the destruction I'm watching on MSNBC today in the wake of Katrina. It kind of gives me a new perspective on what's really important. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the storm.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

S-s-l-l-o-o-o-w-w D-d-o-o-o-w-w-w-n-n-n

I was visiting another blogging friend Hanna today and was reminded how important it is to pause ... to breathe ... and to be mindful.

I'm reminded of a song by Jonny Lang, who is, - OK, shamelessly namedropping now but - my college basketball coach's nephew, who used to visit our basketball practices with his dad before he could even walk. My how time flies.

This is a great song that just happens to come on my car radio when I'm stopped at a red light whenever I need to remember this. Here are the lyrics:

"Red Light"

You sing a song
While sitting at a red light
You think of home
While sitting at a red light

Too slow to roll
Put your life on hold
An open path
With nowhere to go
You start to wonder
While sitting at a red light

You can run a red light
Give up at a red light
You break the mold
When running through the tolls
Speeding through your whole life

A chance to breathe
While sitting at a red light
You look around
reflecting on your life

A chance to think
Am I drinkning too much
Should I keep going
Lose the life that I love
A second glance
When coming to a red light

You can run a red light
Give up at a red light
You break the mold
When running through the tolls
Speeding through your whole life

When things look low
You've gotta keep stong
Feet to the grass
You've gotta walk it off
The bows been tied
Too tight to laugh
Feet to the ground
You've gotta walk it off

You can run a red light
You can run a red light

You sing a song while sittin' at a red light.

Negative feedback worth less?

I was visiting my blogging friends today and I noticed that on his blog,
Seth Godin mentions a negative feedback phenomenon and cites examples ...

"Wayne at Sellathon pointed me to an interesting phenomenon he's noticing. People online are starting to discount negative feedback. He points us to eBay Member Profile for totalcampus.com and also to book reviews on Amazon where positive reviews are marked "helpful" nearly twice as often as negative ones (at least in his research). In both cases, you've got people saying "stay away!" and still, others buy.

I think the reason is classic cognitive dissonance. For unrelated reasons, you've already decided to buy. Now, the negative feedback needs to be ignored in order to validate your earlier hunch that you wanted to buy."

I just wanted to check out this research for myself, so I went out to Amazon and looked at the reviews for a book I'm currently reading: "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. This book currently (today) has 65 reviews, most of them "positive" (at least 4 stars). The reviews for this book actually discount the theory presented on Seth's blog (check it out for yourself and you'll see what I mean).

However, in looking over the reviews, I did come across one which really grabbed my attention and I'd like to share a bit of it here. It's by Ananda Chakravarty and, just from her review, I see that she's someone I want to get to know. Here's the start of her review:

A review of a book is meant to be an opinion. Something that others can reference to find a comparison point and understand better whether they are appropriately interested in a text or manuscript - and subsequently how much value they may place on it within the context of their own lives.

I will provide these items to note: I read first through the negative critiques of Keith's book, I continued to scan quickly through the positive ones - to which I give limited weight. An important first step to understand whether the book is really valuable or not. I then proceeded to evaluate the book from an image/impression point of view. Lastly, I read and evaluated whether the book might have value in my life as a professional. Not in the life of others. Not in the life of similar people. In my life. Is it valuable to me. This is what I came up with:

I'm going to stop there. It might take you a while to find her review (I think it's on the 3rd page of the 65 reviews), and it's quite lengthy, but I think it's worth it. Her insightful piece of prose gave me an entirely new perspective on other peoples' ideas about things, and caused me to wonder why I can't trust my own opinion more often.

I think the title of this post (which I copied from Seth's) is probably mostly true - and I think I used to agree. But after reading Ananda's review, I'm going to trust myself more. Thanks, Ananda - and Seth.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We've Got to Let Go

I'm thinking today about how fear within our organizations holds us hostage to what we can feel, see, hear, taste and touch. Many people in our organizations are obsessed with what's "REAL," and can't seem to make sense of anything that goes outside of those boundaries.

I've been fortunate in the past to work with organizations in promoting innovation and creativity within their cultures through my work with SolutionPeople in Chicago. How refreshing to be around people who actually want to get beyond their five senses to create from the ground up. I've learned new processes and new techniques to support people in going from what they know to creating their own unlimited possibilities and it's amazing!

But in my experience those organizations and individuals are the exception in Corporate America. So often I see leaders who view organizational development as a fluffy perk - a distraction from the work at hand. When it comes to innovation and creativity, which at its best is undefinable because it produces new thoughts and ideas, the line is just too blurry between "the way we've always done it" and "the way we could do it" to allow more than a step out of the proverbial box.

"Yeah, we let Bob go to one of those touchy-feely workshops a while back and he really got some wacky ideas about doing things different around here. We're not going to let anyone go to any more of those kinds of things. Distracts us from the REAL work we need to get done."

Of course, it's the fear of having to do something differently - even if it might be better - that keeps us doing things the way we've always done them.

It's getting better, though. At least there are more leaders within organizations who are willing to have a conversation about the possibilities that exist outside of what they currently know. But getting them to actually DO something, now that's another story.

It is just too difficult to let go of what they know - whether or not it's working anymore.

It reminds me of those booths at trade shows and on game shows where there are dollar bills blowing around and you have to catch as many as you can in a certain amount of time. If you grab two handfuls, that's the physical limit for you - you can't get any more unless you loosen your grip on what you've got. I've seen people stuff those dollar bills in their shirts, pants, wherever they can as they grab for more before time runs out. But in order to grab for more, they had to let go of what they had.

Think of the dollar bills in this analogy as knowledge. We can't gain any new knowledge without letting go of some of the old. First we've got to be willing to ask ourselves the question "How is it working?" and then be honest about the answer.

What are you finding in your experience with leaders in Corporate America? Are you finding openings to have these conversations and then formulate a plan to turn new knowledge into action? I'd love to hear about the process and the results!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My Imaginary Board

Thanks, Phil, for pointing out that I didn't share my imaginary board here. (Make sure you check out Phil's blog - Make It Great!)

After a bit of consideration, I've decided that my board would include Ralph Waldo Emerson - a man DEFINITELY ahead of his time; Tom Peters - the contemporary Emerson; Oprah - a great example of putting theory into practice; Gordon Mackenzie - author of the fabulous book "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" and proof that you can stay within one organization for a good portion of your career if you have the courage to recreate your position as you evolve; and Margaret Wheatley - who really understands the need for true conversation and the power of seeing the world differently.

Who would you have on your board?

INsights and OUTlooks

Check out my friend Paul Williams' blog "Idea Sandbox" where he mentions his list of Imaginary Board of Directors. Think about going beyond creating your own personal board - which will be very helpful in "real" life - to dreaming what your imaginary board would have to say.

I guarantee you'll come up with new insights and outlooks !

Monday, August 22, 2005

Middle Management Martyr Syndrome

I’ve been thinking a lot about employee disengagement as it relates to toxic leadership within organizations and I’m curious about how the 2004 Gallup statistics (see later in this post for an excerpt) might be playing out one year later.

I’m more compelled than ever to get to work directly with employee efforts thanks to two episodes of toxic leadership I’ve witnessed first-hand in the past month with clients. I know what the statistics say, but it’s so much more amazing to see it live and in person. However, I don’t think the two episodes I witnessed reflect the Gallup statistics. What I witnessed was toxic leadership and employee engagement DESPITE (or maybe IN SPITE OF) the leadership.

What would keep employees engaged despite the best efforts of leadership to turn them into money grubbing, stock price watching, bottom line- (and leader behind-) protecting automatons? Maybe it’s a North Dakota thing, or maybe the leadership hadn’t poisoned the employees yet, but the toxicity I witnessed was alive and, unfortunately, well in these two cases.

In both cases the employees I'm working with have a passion for their fellow employees and co-workers. In each case my clients are not top-level executives, but second-tier managers who are beaten down by the top echelon, yet do their best to stay inspired because they care about the employees they directly impact.

What is this phenomenon called? Middle Manager Martyr Syndrome? Minnesota/North Dakota Nice Syndrome? I'm so grateful to see these types of selfless managers within the toxic environments; however, I'm not sure how long we can keep limping along, treating the symptoms (effects) instead of the root cause. Any ideas?

Here’s the Gallup information.

The Gallup Management Journal's http://gmj.gallup.com/ semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of employees who are actively disengaged at 17%. That’s about 22.5 million US workers. Gallup defines actively disengaged as employees who are not just unhappy in their work, but who are busy acting out their unhappiness by undermining what their engaged co-workers accomplish. Each one of these angry and alienated workers is causing their employers roughly $13k in yearly productivity losses on average. Think this is bad? It gets worse.

A majority of workers (54%) falls into the "not engaged" category. Not engaged workers are defined as “checked out,” putting in time but not energy or passion into their work. Look around you. Chances are every other person you see is on autopilot. Only 29% of workers are estimated by Gallup to be truly "engaged" – i.e., employees that “work with passion and who feel a profound connection to their company.”

These first two numbers add up to a whopping seventy-one percent of workers that are in cruise control and active sabotage mode.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What Oprah Knows for Sure

OK, I admit it, I'm a HUGE Oprah fan. I'm just reading the September issue of "O" this Sunday afternoon and am pleased to see in her column on page 288 "What I Know For Sure" that she's talking about making decisions and making commitments to our decisions.

Oprah quotes mountaineer W.H. Murray:

"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it./Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

I'm also a fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, in the mid-1800s, "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."

Goethe was born in 1749 and died in 1832, so these are not new ideas.

I'm working on a book with a friend of mine, tentatively called "The Beginner's Guide to Life." We're going to look at ancient wisdom and see whether it's still relevant. What we're finding is that, like the title of this blog, we already know this stuff. Emerson also said
"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

How are you becoming what you know you were meant to be? With whom in your life can you practice being authentic? Think about who would be on your own personal board of directors so you can surround yourself with both like-minded people as well as those who will challenge you to expand your horizons.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Leap and the Net (Or Someone's Arms) Will Appear

I just caught the tail end of a live Lasik procedure on the Today show this morning. I don't know all the details because I tuned in at the end, but apparently there is a new procedure that makes laser eye correction even easier. When I tuned in they were just having the patient sit up after the procedure and she was shocked and amazed to be able to see (as you would expect).

She said she had had glasses since she was 7 and this was the first time she could remember being able to see without glasses or contacts. As someone who has worn glasses since 3rd grade myself, I can relate to how that must feel.

However, the real beauty in the story came when the doctor revealed that this woman, before the surgery, had vision of 20/10,000 - which means that at 20 feet she can see what people with 20/20 vision can see at 10,000 feet. She is legally blind and had lived in fear that she may lose a contact while she was driving, or misplace her glasses and not be able to care for her children in an emergency.

The doctor explained that people with vision as poor as this woman's are the most frightened of having the surgery because they know what it is like to be blind and their fear of losing what little sight they do have often prevents them from having the surgery.

I absolutely loved the doctor's demeanor and delight as he talked about how blessed he felt to be able to give the gift of sight to people like this woman. She was thanking him profusely with tears running down her cheeks. His response: "You're the one who was brave enough to have the procedure done. You made the leap - I was just here to catch you."

How often do we stand on the brink, unwilling or unable to make the leap because we're not 100% certain the net will appear? Maybe we have it in our head that that net needs to look a certain way before we will jump. If we're worried about all the things that might happen if we leap and the net doesn't appear - or it won't be the right color - or it might not be strong enough - or a whole host of other "what ifs," we're giving up the opportunity for something even better.

In the case of this woman, the net appeared as a loving pair of arms.

What are you waiting for? Make the leap! Take a step toward what you really want in your life. You'll be amazed at what appears for you!

Sunday, August 14, 2005


I've just started a really great book "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi and it reinforces my belief about the power of connections. If you've read anything I've written here before, you know how important I believe relationships to be in all of human interaction.

I believe the core of this book is the answer to making our business lives more happy and fulfilled - oh, and by the way, more productive.

It seems often that in the quest to fulfill the needs of our shareholders (whoever they might be), we forget the elements necessary to create that productivity. And this usually involves the issues related to the more human characteristics of our existence.

This book connects characteristics like relationship-building with external success (read: bottom line financial success).

Why is that surprising? Yet there are still those leaders within our business world who don't understand the importance of those characteristics like relationships, effective communication skills, and - dare I say - LOVE. It comes down to the disparity between fear and long-term success within the business world.

As I'm writing this I'm watching Clean Sweep on TLC - the show where couples get rid of their clutter by having the show come in and help them start over. It's a great metaphor for that point at which we determine we want things to be different - whether in our home lives, our work lives, or any part of our lives.

In this episode Peter, the host, is identifying how the language the couple uses affects not only their clutter but their relationship. Both Janelle and Shane have gotten into the rut in their marriage of separating their clutter into "his" and "hers" and then they end up justifying their attachment to their individual stuff and end up blaming the other for keeping the stuff, which causes the other to feel more defensive and keeps the attachment to the stuff stronger than their commitment to a clutter-free life (or to each other). It's a classic example of collusion.

It's a great metaphor for business relationships, too. Where are we setting up our connections? In places they can come between working relationships by helping us justify our traditional behaviors and mindsets? If we're considering external connections (those outside our companies) without considering the effects on our internal connections (those within our companies), we may actually be building walls rather than tearing them down.

It's another example of how giving up our need to be right can give us more satisfaction with our connections with others than our self-justification will provide in our being alone.