Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hamilton's secret leadership skill, by Gary Davis

Elbows off the table, don’t talk with food in your mouth, don’t spit on the floor. Level one, but then level 20 might be, don’t stand up to leave until everyone has eaten, don’t interrupt others, don’t say “every time” and “never,” don’t always defend yourself when you are given feedback.

As a parent, I try to teach my kids manners, as I was taught by my parents, and I always saw this through a moral lens, like “You ought to do this, because it is right.”

More and more now as a parent I see it differently, that manners are not just “it is right” but they make it easier for me to produce what I am out to produce. Kids mostly don’t produce anything on a vacation. My wife and I pack, I drive, we make sure they get three meals, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to go to the restroom.

Mostly their job is to do nothing. But if they employ their best manners, it makes our jobs easier: I don’t have to attend to their fighting with each other, with their whining about what they don’t like about what's already decided. If they use manners, they become one less thing to “deal with” in a world of all the things which which there are to Deal.

I think that is true in organizations. If you are the CEO, you want healthy debate, but not backstabbing and in-fighting. You want straight assessments among the team but not gossip. You want what supports the vision, and you want everyone rowing the same direction, but as human beings you know your people are going to have different ideas of what oars to use, what stroke to use and even which way to row.

Manners make all that dissension more tolerable. You don’t want to do away with it, to have compliance without dissent, but you want the dissent to be about the idea or the project, not about the people. Manners have a way of keeping people cordial and related, while all the while being free to discuss their dissenting view.

As Alexander Hamilton said after roasting Aaron Burr in a letter, I have the honor to be your obedient servant, A. Ham.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Get up and dance, by Carol Orndorff

I’m one of those “shower singers.” I sing along in the car to songs that I love and don’t want others to hear, for fear of scaring them off.  Singing creates something in my body that matches my thoughts and emotions – all of it coming together.

When I heard Elise Witt was performing at Oakhurst Baptist, I knew Liz and I had to go.  Elise has a reputation for creating singing communities. What makes her so special is the way she engages the audience to join in so that everyone comes together as one voice.

Liz and I stumbled into her a couple of years ago at a concert where she was co-performing with another musician. I can’t remember the other performer’s name, but I sure remember Elise.  Singing with Elise made Liz and me want to get up and dance.  

And so it was again.  We danced to her new song, My Salsa Garden. There was a young schoolgirl who led us, quite spontaneously.  Hopping off her father’s lap, she took her place in the aisle and started moving, totally unencumbered and beautiful. Everyone around her joined in.

I love the lyrics to one of her new songs, “A Singer.”

A singer is a Circus
A singer is an Athlete
A singer is a Master Chef
A singer is a Painter
A singer is a Small Town Beauty Salon
A singer is a Volcano
A singer is a Chameleon
A singer is a Super Hero
A singer gets out of the way to let the song come through
Let the Song come through.

I love the connection between what moves me and what we do. Elise Witt has the skill and sensibility for bringing people together - individuals with a range of voices (talents and opinions) to make something beautiful happen.  And then do it the next day with a different audience, making something else happen.

As transformational consultants, that’s what we do, too.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Miracles, by Nancy Chek

Today I got that the only thing preventing miracles from flooding into my life at every moment is my commitment to being right—right about how sales is hard, or publishing has obstacles, or how this, that or the other thing is impossible.
It takes my breath away to realize how much of a controlling interest I have in the corporation “This Can’t Happen.” I also own 51% of the company “That’s Nice for You,” which recently merged with the famous “Never Mind. I’m Fine.”
I also got the inextricable link between miracles and integrity, meaning no integrity = no miracles.  I had been trying to get in touch with this woman, Tonya, for two weeks. I sent emails, I phoned (“This party’s voice-message system has not been activated”) —nothing. Today at a break during a meeting, the assignment on the break was to have a miracle.
Called Tonya again—again, nothing. And I was committed to doing the assignment and having a miracle anyway, so I didn’t give up and just go have a cup of coffee.  As I was leaving a message for someone else, I walk into . . . Tonya. Squeals and hugs. Cleared up the phone number mystery, handled my business with her, all in 5 minutes.
It’s not that I think God or the Universe won’t allow me miracles if my integrity is out (“Cut off miracles for the slimy girl with red hair!”).

I think if my integrity is out, I’m simply not awake enough to see the miraculous. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A broken agreement creates upset, by Nancy Chek

On the court, a broken agreement creates upset. For an agreement that has few immediate or known consequences, I might pretend there’s no upset because my pulse doesn’t race uncontrollably and I have no urge to smack whoever broke the agreement. I might convince myself that, indeed, I am taking it remarkably well, and after all there were probably extenuating circumstances, and so on and so forth.  Oh dear no.
On the court, a broken agreement creates upset. Period. Even if I have no physical reactions (or murderous ones), there is a small tear in the fabric of the relationship.  I promised Nancy I’d call someone today, and I didn’t. I not only didn’t call, I didn’t even notice I didn’t call until she said something.
My immediate reaction was that of a child—embarrassed, angry at myself and angry at being caught.  Knee-jerk, bloodstream chemical-jerk.
How long have I been investigating this? Forty years, give or take? Shouldn’t I be able to manage my reactions more effectively by now? It occurs to me that I have avoided practice, i.e, making tons of mistakes and cleaning them up. Instead, I’ve been trying to make no mistakes or at least have them undiscovered, which is very constraining and probably leads to weight gain.  (Think of Lucy Arnaz on the production line at the chocolate factory, unable to keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt and stuffing chocolates in her mouth.)
A couple of weekends ago at our leadership program, the speaker said that the physics of being a human is to break agreements—and to keep on doing that. She said integrity is a participation issue, not a morality issue. By not cleaning up broken agreements, we give up any power that comes from participating with others.
I’m beginning to see that acknowledging a broken agreement and taking action to repair anything that was broken in the process is not about the past but about the future. Is our relationship repaired so we can go forward and make things happen together?
The speaker's last word was: If broken agreements are handled punitively, people will not acknowledge them, and acknowledging them is the only way to repair the break in the relationship.
Sometimes there is significant upset—big upset. And when I’m gravely upset, I do not feel sweet and loveable about it.
Implied agreements seem to carry the most capacity to generate upset when they’re broken. It seems obvious to me that if a friend and I agree to meet outside a movie we are going to see together, we wait until the other shows up. My friend Cathy once went into the movie theatre without me (before I got there); I was not my usual half-hour early. This time I was only 15 minutes early because she had always been late, and I was tired of standing outside in the cold waiting for her. (See the remnants of justification for being mad?) This was before every person on the planet had a cell phone.
That time, I stood outside for 45 minutes and finally went home. Now that I think of it, I have stood outside quite a few theatres waiting for Cathy, who has showed up with a minute to go or late when there were no tickets left. She always blamed the parking. (Did she think I had magic powers that I was able to arrive 30 minutes early in the same neighborhood with the same parking opportunities?)
It was never about missing a movie. It was about never receiving an apology, even when I asked, and concluding how little our friendship meant to her. Then there’s the matter of trust. That’s the future aspect.

My upset has turned into something akin to despair.  Clearly it’s an integrity issue for me not to keep communicating until I get it complete.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why isn't everyone interested? by Nancy Chek

Living my life this week inside the question of innovation—what does it take? What environment allows for it? What ways of being argue for it? What is it correlated with? My last question is: Why isn’t everyone interested in it?
There’s a medical group in which a dozen or so of the 300 doctors have committed to innovation that produces better and cheaper patient outcomes. All I can wonder is:  Those 288 not committed--What is life like for them that they do what they do without caring about doing it better?  It comes down to I find that hard to believe.
That doesn’t mean it’s not so. I think of an engineer at a software company who’s been doing his job for 25 years and does it to the best of his ability as a matter of pride and a paycheck. He clearly states that he has no desire to invent anything new or even learn new skills. He’s satisfied. The 288 may be satisfied in the same way. I say it’s not my way, but hold on a minute, cowgirl. There are whole realms in which I lack any interest whatsoever in innovation. Refrigerators and lawnmowers come to mind. Perhaps not everyone is always looking for ways things can be improved.
That doesn’t mean customer feedback can’t be useful, if companies have a mind to take it into account. The day after getting a sun-damaged place on my face biopsied, I received a query from the dermatologist at Kaiser asking if everything was okay and if I had any suggestions. I emailed back saying as a matter of fact I did have a suggestion: I recommended that he ask biopsy patients (if they came in alone) to sit a few minutes in the waiting room afterwards to settle down before going out on shaky legs and (as I did) planting themselves face down in the snow.
Most doctors have never had the procedures they perform on others performed on themselves, so they have no idea what occurs for patients. I had never had a biopsy either, so I didn’t know shaky was something I should watch out for. If there had been no snow, I would have needed to turn around and go right back into Kaiser to get my hand and head bandaged (costing time, money and aggravation).
Most surgeons have never had surgery. I took the opportunity to tell one particularly personable surgeon what it was like (after a previous surgery) to be wide awake and completely unable to move or open my eyes and hear “This one’s not going to make it.” He went white. I told him I knew they weren’t talking about me, but at the same time I wondered if the poor guy they were talking about was as awake and immobile as I was. I suggested they use a code word instead. “Rutabaga” maybe. Or French. Anything.
It’s all well and good to pay attention to what doesn’t work, and I notice that is where the mind goes. At the same time, I wonder how much more might be gained by paying attention to what works unaccountably. My favorite science quote is Isaac Asimov’s: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny . . . .”
My second favorite is Erwin Schrödinger‘s: “The task is . . . not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”
I am not finished contemplating innovation. Even after coming up with a better way to do things, that’s only part of the job. The hardest part is having other people—who have been doing things the “old way” for years—be interested in doing them better.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Stepping up for leadership, by Jane Smith

Most people think that a leader is the one with a particular title or someone who has at least been anointed by a person with a title.  That may not be true.

This is the biggest dilemma I have always faced in my work life, how to TAKE leadership from the one who HAS leadership because of their position or circumstance, and I hear it from others in the companies with which we work.

This week one of my clients brought up the leadership question. He wanted to talk about what he has been seeing about his team, and then himself. We have been talking about what his team needs to really be a team. And they aren’t a team so much as a group of individuals who get together with concerns of their own, that they need to have and the organization needs them to have.  

And the ones who lead do so only when the issue is in their area. They easily take leadership when they have the most knowledge, not because leadership is needed and wanted.

My client told me about his own leadership journey as he started at his company. At one time, one of his direct reports was his peer, as were others who are now people he leads.  He stepped up and took leadership when it was wanted and needed. And he doesn’t understand why they don’t step up.

One of the things we distinguished was that he stepped up in an absence of leadership. There is no current absence of leadership on his team because he is there. To create the condition called “absence of leadership,” he will need to step back and let it happen. His strong leadership is in the way.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Encouragement - it takes a dog, by Doug McVadon

Encouragement, that’s what I get from my dog every morning. Go ahead and get up, I can hardly wait, she says with her tongue. She has a way of licking my chin; cheek and ear that makes me feel devoured but not threatened. And then she usually slips in that deft little bite on the top of my ear, too gentle to properly be called a bite, more of a love nip that she slips in while I am busy doing my combination laugh-cringe-try-to-get-away move. It is an oral assault she mounts against my face, and finally I have to grab her head and push it gently away. Go ahead and get up, it’ll be great, her eager eyes say.

The root of encouragement is courage. The courage to face the day. Why do I need that? And from a canine! Not even of my species and she somehow counteracts this dreadful weight of knowledge that wakes me up and makes me discouraged. It takes my courage away just to wake up into a world where cartoonists get assassinated for their political views and I know I am going to die with dreams still unfulfilled. And so Lacey, in her wonderful oblivion, knows not the existential dilemma, but seems to know it is a sunny day, and not as cold as it has been, and that I will feed her soon and she is happy.

A little encouragement goes a long way. My daughter’s friend Christopher wanted to be on the swim team. He is a little bit round of stature; openly gay, did not swim competitively as a youngster, and is what you might call the sensitive kind. But the coach said, sure! And now he is on the swim team, goes to practice, and is accepted on the team. He didn’t need a fast time, just some encouragement from a coach who gets that being on the high school team is more than a matter of winning.

A recent McKinsey report says one of the main reasons most leadership development efforts fail is that “Reflection is Decoupled from Real Work.”  That is, the off-site course where you have a breakthrough and many insights doesn’t translate back on the job.

They then say:

“The answer sounds straightforward: tie leadership development to real on-the-job projects that have a business impact and improve learning. But it’s not easy to create opportunities that simultaneously address high-priority needs—say, accelerating a new-product launch, turning around a sales region, negotiating an external partnership, or developing a new digital-marketing strategy—and provide personal-development opportunities for the participants.”

I got very interested in this part, since it is my job to have such courses work!

They give an example of when a medical-device company “got this balance badly wrong when one of its employees, a participant in a leadership-development program, devoted long hours over several months to what he considered “real” work: creating a device to assist elderly people during a medical emergency. When he presented his assessment to the board, he was told that a full-time team had been working on exactly this challenge and that the directors would never consider a solution that was a by-product of a leadership-development program. Given the demotivating effect of this message, the employee soon left the company.”

He needed Lacey to lick his ear and say, don’t worry, the sun is out, there is food for breakfast, and you will do better in your next job anyway.

They didn’t say he quit because he was thwarted or professionally unfulfilled, they said it was because he was demotivated. Is that even a word? Have they “finalized” the decision “impacting” whether “demotivated” qualifies as a real word?

Can I just coin a term, too?

Disencouragement, I will call it, the act of dissing someone’s encouragement. Yeah I know there is already a word called discouragement, but irregardless, I like it. Keeps me motivated.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Status quo, by Nancy Chek

Status Quo
Human beings are not objects—well, actually, we are objects, even if we also are so much more. In groups, especially the large groups we call culture, we do exhibit tendencies that Newton applied to objects in his laws of motion.
First law:  An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. In other words, objects tend to keep on doing what they’re doing.
We don’t even know the status quo quietly informs us from deep in the background, unobserved, unchallenged, invisible, telling us to pay no mind. Things may not be wonderful, but “they are what they are.” The status quo allows for complaining: That keeps everything the same. And oh, when everything is “fine”--wow!  Such a drug, such a soporific. Back-patting also keeps everything the same. The status quo lulls us: It’s fine. Go back to sleep.
CDC discovers a bunch of anthrax samples from long ago—

The status quo had “informed” them:

Nobody gets anthrax any more. We’re the best. We’ve never had accidents. Filing = out of sight, out of . . . .  And there’s really nothing to see, since that stuff’s so small . . . .
Nuclear reactors –
The job of checking seams and valves and all the safeguards is really boring, and nothing has happened so far, we’re such an advanced society, so. . . . Yeah, check, check, check . . . .
The status quo probably “informed” the Darwin Award winners: You haven’t died yet, you wild and crazy guy, and you always make your buddies laugh, so one more stunt probably won’t hurt . . . .
Every prospectus warns: Past performance is not an indication of future performance. The status quo says: Yeah, they have to say that. Don’t worry about it.
When you consider the PULL, the seduction of the status quo to “hold the line,”—after all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—you have to admire the CEOs who GO FOR IT, who are never content to rest on any laurels, who always look for ways to blow the lid off performance NOW instead of waiting for signs of trouble. The great ones possibly consider complacency the biggest sign of trouble.
That may be why we love to work with visionaries. They keep breaking themselves up to create bigger and bigger visions, to play bigger and bigger games. That’s why we keep breaking ourselves up to play with them.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Breaking the rules, by Carol Orndorff

A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch the tail end of The Rachel Maddow Show. She ended the show as she always does….”Stay tuned for The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.  Tonight he returns from his three months of battling back from his accident and he has some thought provoking and moving stories to tell from his journey.”

Okay, I didn’t really know he had been gone.  How would I,  not being a regular follower of MSNBC?  I was curious and decided to watch longer.

Mildly, Lawrence began, “As you can see, I am not wearing a tie tonight and most anchormen always wear ties. And real anchormen don’t cry on their show, either.  It’s not acceptable; if we did, we would make the stories about ourselves.  Heaven forbid, we teach America that it’s okay for its leaders to suppress emotion.  Well, I am not going to wear a tie tonight and I don’t promise not to cry.”

He had me now.  What in the world? Where was he going with this?

Lawrence proceeded to share his tale of tragedy and hope and being humbled by the richness of humanity. 

Three months earlier, Lawrence and his big brother, Michael were vacationing on a Pirates of the Caribbean trip in the Virgin Islands.  Late one night they were hit by a drunk driver and both crushed.  He recounted the surreal moments of watching his life flash before his eyes and then acknowledged the many individuals who ran to their rescue.  Not only the people in the streets, but the local hospital and eventually his MSNBC family, including the station president and the head of the newsroom who personally pulled strings to get Lawrence and Michael helicoptered back to the states. 

Once back home, Lawrence, suffering from a broken and displaced hip, was rushed to one of the best hospitals in New York.  He recalls being rolled out of the ambulance, looking up and reading

The David H Koch Pavilion for Special Surgery

And he had a moment with himself. 

“I may not agree with his politics, but the Koch brothers have given millions of dollars to hospital facilities, giving people like me a better hospital experience in a time of need and helplessness.”

Recalling a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald:  “Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Lawrence realized that he could oppose their politics and appreciate their contribution to healthcare.

At that moment in the show, he paused and there was a quiet humility present. It was clearly a turning point in his career as an anchorman.  

Lawrence could not end without acknowledging the doctors and the nurses (the care community) who stayed right with him, and “got him through the night.”
“It’s a remarkable thing to save lives.  When’s the last time you saved a life?”

That night he ended by saying, “More good things happen than we know how to report to you.”   There was not much more to say. 

As a leader, Lawrence has demonstrated what it is to be publically authentic.  He owned his views and gave space for others to contribute to him.  He was moved and humbled and transformed by this experience.  And he continues to not wear his tie.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Unwelcome assignment, by Nancy Dorrier

I had been working with Joe, executive of an outdoor education adventure company for teenagers and their families, for about 6 months in an executive coaching engagement, meeting one on one about every 2 weeks and some email back and forth.
We loved working together and working on his being a great leader, listening to parents’ concerns, raising money from donors who are looking for how to make a difference with family money or with their corporation’s philanthropy.
While Joe complained about one of his staff over and over, I listened and wondered what am I going to say to cause a positive and useful shift in his thinking.
At first I thought well she must be a real problem so I asked a few questions and couldn’t see what he was saying was the problem, the way she put things, the way she went on and on, the way she interrupted, the way she never made her point which were some of my pet peeves.  Not those things, just bothered by her thinking style, her presentation style.  It wasn’t real clear.
I asked about her performance her results and how the parents and guides liked her.  Over the top.  I could see myself in Joe and how we both can get blinded by someone’s style that we don’t particularly like and find annoying and frustrating yet she is producing results and the parents and teachers like her and she is always on time with her reports and gives effective talks at team meetings.
So I gave him this assignment and he accepted under some protest and here it is.
During meetings and in the hall and coffee area, when you can, when you can see something to say, say something you appreciate about her work and what she is doing well.  Do it 3 ways, one on one in person, in front of her team and in writing on an email so she can forward it to her husband or mom or whomever she wants to share what is happening at work.  All three ways.  Not one or two or three.  One and two and three.
He did it.
I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen.
He likes to be right about his opinions and doesn’t suffer fools gladly so this could have been hard one to let go.  Gathering evidence for his complaints and being right that he is right.
I thought at the very least he would be under less stress gathering evidence for what IS working.
What happened is now he really loves Cindy and loves how she contributes to the team exactly how she does and he tells her so.
Based in this affinity, he is making bigger requests of her and also able to give her feedback about her behavior that is less effective when it is which she loves and thanks him for and says bring it on, give me more.
This is a story of turning a complaint into a freaking miracle.
This is a story that happens over and over at work and at our work, in fact, and having a way to work your way out of the conundrum, the stuck place is magical.
It seems simple but it isn’t.  His appreciations had to be specific, close to the time that the positive behavior occurred and he had to authentically praise her, not just do it because it was his homework.
He has taken this practice and is spreading it out in other situations, personal and business and can hardly believe its rewards.  Needless to say, his wife and children like this new Joe.