Be Interested in Intervention

Mamata making soap

Mamata making soap

My wife Suzanne and I recently spent a week with a group of Hunger Project investors attending celebration ceremonies for 3 epicenters that have achieved the exciting accomplishment of being declared "self-reliant," meaning communities that have demonstrated the confidence, capacity and skills to act as agents of their own development based on 53 distinct, rigorous measures. All told, nearly 42,000 people living in the 47 communities that make up the 3 epicenters have graduated to self-reliance in Ghana. Between 40-90% of the community members participate in one or more of the programs during the Epicenter Strategy journey which empowers community partners to go from a state of despair and resignation to self-reliance in on average, about 8 years.

During these celebrations, Mamata, a young village mother of 4 children who participates in The Hunger Project's Atuobikrom Epicenter in Ghana, Africa stated one of the most impactful leadership insights I've heard in a very long time.

When we arrived at her home, she was busy making soap outside in the yard. She never slowed her work down as we gathered around her and asked her questions about her life. She shared her very heartfelt thoughts with us as we probed for details about her family, the economics of her business, and how it all relates, (or doesn't), to the work of The Hunger Project. 


She shared a number of fascinating insights and her response to the last question was the capstone! "From your own experience as part of the epicenter, what would you like the women of the world to know?" Without hesitation, she replied, "be interested in intervention." Based on her earlier comments, she clearly was not talking about intervening in other people's lives. She meant intervention in your own life.

An example of what she was talking about was her “before and after” participation in The Hunger Project questions about her vision. She said she had no vision before being part of the program. Now she is building her soap-making business and has become involved in farming with her husband. She will put all her kids through school instead of having them work in the home and farm and she knows the importance of the kids getting an education. With support, she intervened in her own life and now her future has a completely different trajectory.

Her intervention quote was particularly relevant to me as I had just recently had a conversation with a rising star woman leader who shared her frustration with what seems to her an obsession with training in her organization and all the consultants pushing training, none of which seemed to her to be making much difference. We had contrasted the desire for information and intellectual understanding with development, which requires rigorous and sometimes painful examination of your own self-image and world view, and, more often than not, having to give up precious notions from your past. The payoff is that it will provide you with new openings and unexpected opportunities.

Mamata experienced The Hunger Project’s Vision, Commitment, and Action Program, along with several thousand of her neighbor's in the 11 villages that make up the epicenter. She has used that work to re-invent her life and create new possibilities for herself, her family, and the community.

If you became interested in intervention in your own life, what would be possible? What could it mean? What might be the unexpected outcomes? What if you could do it at the “collective level” of your organization as Mamata experienced within her Epicenter?

Need A Productivity Breakthrough? Try a Lean Conversation

tin cansFor the last 4 years or so we have developed a set of ideas we call Lean Conversations. The fundamental notion is that academicians, consultants, leaders, and managers in our culture have focused on and accomplished tremendous gains in productivity through process improvement, supply chain management, IT, and a host of manufacturing concepts including Lean Manufacturing. The area that has been largely overlooked as an opportunity for improvement in productivity is the friction and waste that occurs in the conversations people have with each other as they go about their daily work together.  By friction and waste we mean the upsets, resistance, broken promises, undelivered communications, failed intentions, etc., etc. (You get the picture.) We have long believed the single biggest key to productivity gains in our economy today is to identify and clear upsets, first in ourselves, and then in others. Over many years with our clients we have conducted a sort of “informal qualitative survey,” by asking them, “ if people in your organization just came to work, did their jobs, and went home without having upsets, issues with each other, their work, etcetera, what time could you go home?” Consistently we would hear they could go home between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. This answer used to surprise us until we heard it over and over clasped_handsagain. Let’s allow for gross overstatement and cut that savings in half.  Even with this modification it appears there is at least  two to four hours of time savings available for the leaders, (and presumably everyone else in the organization), if there were less upsets, less confusion and fewer issues in people’s interactions with each other.  Bottom line, this means ther are potentially enormous opportunities for gains in productivity right in front of us, largely unnoticed, (or framed in that way), and largely unleveraged.

We have written a white paper on this subject which we are making available as a free download in this blog post and, (which we will also post on our website in the Downloads section), with ideas as to how you can get started reducing the friction and waste in the conversations in your organization.

We invite you to get your free download here [Download].pdf, study it, and take on the practices that most apply to you.   Please comment on this post, add to our ideas in the white paper and let us know what you think. Let’s start an open source movement for Lean Conversations!

Leadership: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

corporate conflictIn a recent conference call with a group of our affiliated facilitators, I was struck by the high level of interest in becoming experts in conflict resolution.  From divorce counseling to working on international negotiations, their attention was focused on what I call the “seen” portion of communication and relationship.  It’s the part where fight, flight, freeze or appease behaviors are very observable and running the show. It’s also the part where people are very appreciative when someone helps pull the thorn out of their proverbial paw. The obviously large market of people, groups and nations in conflict is clearly calling to them.  Those in pain seem to be much more more willing to pay to reduce or eliminate the pain versus figuring out how to avoid it in the first place. In the physical world, that translates into Western medicine being largely focused on managing disease and illness instead of prevention.  In the “unseen” world of our psyche, it translates into therapists, lawyers, and judges dominating the world of struggling marriages and breakdowns in business relationships.

Isn’t all of this a demonstration of the old saying about “closing the barn door after the horse is gone?”

Sure it is an enormous market, especially when the expenditures for both mental and physical issues are included. My question is where does real leadership fit into this picture?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to engage early and regularly in developing capacities for well being - learning to eat well, exercise, and manage your health and learning how to effectively and successfully work with and communicate with others? 

What if you were known as someone around whom issues could be raised and resolved productively? What if you developed the “muscles” to step into difficult conversations and move them forward to conclusions that were valuable to all concerned?  What if you summoned the courage to stay with it when the discussion became scary? What can be added if you explored another person’s reality, confronted real issues together, and kept generating mutual trust, respect and safety throughout the discussion?

Wikipedia defines conflict resolution as a range of methods of eliminating sources of conflict. The term "conflict resolution" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term dispute resolution or alternative dispute resolution. It further defines crisis intervention as “emergency psychological care aimed at assisting individuals in a crisis situation to restore equilibrium...” and crisis as “one’s perception or experiencing of an event or situation as an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the person’s current resources and coping mechanisms.” 

Too often clients call us for coaching for one of their people as the last stop before they fire the person. In many cases they are shocked when the “loser” breaks through and becomes a valuable employee.  Think of the cost, however.  One-to-one coaching, especially with a top coach, is expensive and time consuming. What’s much worse, however, is all the lost productivity from that person and all the others who had to interact with them in a dysfunctional way, perhaps for years. 

After a very successful engagement with one of his people, one of our clients recently lamented “how many potentially excellent people have been fired without anyone ever being willing to invest in their success?”

first aid boxWe call this type of work “triage” which Merriam-Webster defines as 1) “a sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims...” and 2) the assigning of priority order to funds on the basis of where funds an other resources can best be used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.”  When I recall my mom saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the whole cultural spending priority seems backwards to me.

Combining the definitions of conflict resolution and triage it becomes clear that people are often sent to coaching having suffered “battle damage” beyond their resources and capacity to cope.  Since part of triage is assigning funds to where they are most likely to achieve success and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, doesn’t it become obvious that a smart leader directs investment into expanding her own and her team members’ capacities to interact productively?

Are you building strengths in self-generated accountability and in developing a culture of mutual trust, respect, and safety? Is your budget bigger for building capacities or for turnover costs - hiring, firing, severance, etc.?  How much of your turnover represents lost opportunities?  How high are stress levels - yours and those around you? 

How willing are you to take on shifting the paradigm in which you live and work from damage control to productive interactions?

Leadership Lesson From the Middle East

business man with a swordWitnessing the recent events in the Middle East has provoked feelings and reactions on many levels. Since this blog focuses on leadership, we want to point out a leadership lesson that we see. (Note: Because this is a leadership blog we are NOT making any comments about the political, economic or larger social implications of what is happening. We recognize that what is happening is complex.  We are going to pull out and comment on a particular thread.) When a situation is large scale and extreme, it creates a “stark relief map” where things become  vividly visible. This is why looking at the leadership in the Middle East is relevant to leadership within organizations. Similar dynamics can and do happen within many organizations, just on a more subtle and less complex level.

At its core, we are seeing the consequences of autocratic leadership - most often referred to in organizational terms as “command and control” leadership. One of the issues that is driving people in these countries (Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, et al.) to rebel is that they aren’t being listened to – they are not able to contribute to, collaborate on, or have self-determination regarding their lives and and social experience. The leadership is stubbornly, (and even violently), determined to set the agenda. A handful of people are deciding how everyone lives.

Organizational leaders often do similar things and create a similar atmosphere and culture. Like the Middle Eastern leaders, they feel entirely entitled to do so.  After all, they are the leaders right? Recently this has been most apparent in larger corporations, particularly those that have failed or nearly failed. CEOs have been very separate from the day-to-day work and workers and paid enormous salaries. There have been many examples of their workers losing their jobs and subsequently their retirements and homes while these CEOs walk off with multi-million dollar golden parachutes. This is similar to many of the Middle Eastern countries where leaders are living incredibly well and will continue to, even if they are forced out,  while their people don’t have enough to eat or real economic opportunities.

Paraphrasing a quote in the Wall Street Journal by a rebelling university educator in Bahrain, “We wanted some simple changes. They wouldn’t listen, they killed us, and now the king has to go.” This is the peril of leaders who don’t include, collaborate, respect and listen to their people. Your teams may not be able to rebel and overthrow you, but they will quickly learn their best efforts are not respected, so why bother? The best will leave. Resignation will set in for the rest and, at best, you will get vicious obedience or malicious compliance.  As gossip and complaining builds, the culture becomes poisoned. When your team is not listened to and does not have inclusion and opportunity, (just like the citizens of the Middle East), creativity disappears and productivity drops to a minimum relative to what's possible.

So does this mean as a leader you must live in fear of your people? That you must make sure everybody likes you? Try to please 100% of the people 100% of the time? Reach perfect consensus on everything? Of course not, but you will likely be surprised how far respectful listening, inclusion, positive feedback and validation will get you. People know when they are truly valued and when they are being strung along or are fundamentally disrespected. They also know when there are opportunities for advancement, for growth, for creating a job/role function that is needed and when jobs are a dead-end. This goes back to our post last week, “Viva The Naysayers,” – if your team is just your “hands and feet” or you are “deriding the naysayers and wet blankets” you are in the same leadership spectrum as the Middle Eastern leaders. Your way or the highway just doesn’t work anymore.

We are in a new year. Are you ready to re-evaluate your leadership style and skills? Are you ready to do some self-reflection and decide what kind of leader you really want to be? Are you ready to be part of your team?  Consider that you may not be able to that by yourself.  If you are serious, get intervention!  We, of course, say do our courses, study our book, and get coached, (yes, shameless plug noted).  If not us, then go find another great resource and get to work!

Yonder Star: Dare to Dream The Impossible Dream

man with raised armsDuring a conversation with one of our CEO clients this morning, we saw more deeply into something that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time that was both helpful and a bit entertaining for him.  My puzzle has been what makes it so hard for most of us to fully articulate and then share our real dreams with those around us? ‘ What came clear out of our conversation is that there is great personal risk in fully speaking a dream, even to yourself.  Our histories, (which we fondly refer to metaphorically at 2130 Partners as "File Cabinets"),  have lots of evidence stored in them about things that haven’t turned out, limiting beliefs, and circumstances that will prevent success.  These "historical files" may well be aggregated under the section tab called "Impossible."

Even getting close to speaking about really big dreams often brings up despair and resignation, given the weight of evidence in most people's "File Cabinets" against these dreams ever coming true.

To avoid the risk and pain of certain failure, people often start to speak predictions, which are dramatically reduced versions of real dreams. These reductions are ones that can likely be realized and if they don't work out, won’t hurt very much.  These reduced dreams can usually be shared with others without fear of ridicule or rejection. Some of us even predict, and work hard to produce more of the same in our lives, since we know we survived our past o.k. - the known is less frightening than the unknown.  (A note: Predictability -  that’s the middle line of our Leadership Choice Point Model for those of you who have done our programs or read our book.)

So what would really happen if you started sharing the biggest, boldest, riskiest dream for your life that you possibly stand to say out loud? What if you shared it with friends, trusted advisors, and as many others as you can?  What if you used the process to discover the worst of what you are afraid will happen if you fall short? Since much of our file cabinets contain beliefs and decisions made in childhood, ask your adult self if you can stand this. 

We would suggest that if you do this investigation, the worst case scenario will be something like this: everyone is gathered at your funeral and, when it’s time for your eulogy, the speaker enumerates all the ways you failed to reach your goals and dreams.  The audience breaks out in laughter that turns to boos.  They are kicking you out of the club!  They are going to go off to play without you! Worse, someone shoots a video of the whole scene on their Flip camera and puts it on YouTube for the whole world to see.  Soon the whole world is laughing at what a failure you are.

When written out it seems ludicrous doesn't it? Could the worst case really be anywhere near that bad? Is something like this really what you are afraid of at some deep, dark level?

Is it trulyworth it to sell yourself and your life short for some fears, that when faced, are so unlikely to come true? Are you ready to chase this boogieman out from under your bed and start sharing your bold goals and dreams?

Don't Tread On Me! The Powerful Desire for Personal Freedom in Business

In our last post we examined several important conflicts between the traditional “command and control” management paradigm and the new, collaborative leadership thinking.  Demand for more creative freedom, self-expression, greater distribution of power, and a strong say in how things are done, (which is being driven by younger workers in particular), are just some of the changes that are taking place in business. Although a rebalancing of the business paradigm to include new ratios of these elements is in process, the importance of liberty, freedom, and individualism are forces that have long been fundamental to our overall culture, and have been evolving in Western Europe and later in America for centuries. The Gadsden Flag

St. Augustine asserted around 400 that “…we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.”  St. Thomas Aquinas confirmed that idea and declared, “A man can direct and govern his own actions…” around 1250.

Those Europeans who left home, family, familiar surroundings and all the trappings of security to come to the “New World” were clearly the most passionate among their peers about seeking freedom. Early American flags and symbols included the Gadsden Flag and the first Navy Jacket which both bore the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me” along with the image of a rattlesnake. 

Clearly, a core element of what it is to be an American has been a fierce sense of independence and personal freedomIn business a very high percentage of entrepreneurs found their companies to escape the perceived tyranny of having bosses and "confining" structures and processes.  This is where things get tricky. These same fiercely independent creative visionaries then often want to control those around them i their own organizations. Part of this is certainly to create and maintain the quality of the products and/or services they offer, and to insure the execution of their vision, but part of it is certainly to maintain their own freedom. Collaboration requires that the idea of complete autonomy by a leader be "given up." How do leaders think they can maximize performance of a modern organization with top-down initiatives, myriads of centrally generated goals, constant demands for conformity with corporate directives and HR policies, and regular “Performance Reviews?” As we have seen one of the most foundational elements of our culture is personal freedom. The expectation that employees will give theirs up and conform is almost ludicrous when you think about it from the larger cultural push for independence and freedom. True collaboration requires that strong-minded business owners and entrepreneurs have a deep respect for others and recognize that while they have strong opinions theirs is not the only perspective nor the only way. This can be a very difficult pill to swallow. Often entrepreneurs become successful, (or at least think they do), due to their "single-mindedness." However, this approach is not sustainable long-term in the new business paradigm that is emerging.

We are not saying we have all the answers to what appears to us to be a major “fatal flaw” in many of the leadership/management teams’ thinking that we encounter.  Being an ostrich about such a fundamental problem with traditional corporate thinking does not, however, move us forward at anywhere near a fast enough rate to compete successfully in the modern business world. It is important that leaders recognize the powerful, cultural forces at work and that their own desire for freedom also exists in the hearts and minds of their employees and co-workers.

Obviously in the space of a blog it's not possible to go deeply into all the issues around collaboration. We have proposed a number of ways to maximize freedom, initiative, creativity, and productivity in our new book, “Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership For Today’s World” available here. We encourage vigorous inquiry and discussion and would love to hear your ideas on the subject!

Leadership Lessons from Volunteers

VolunteerThere are some highly valuable qualities that are universal with volunteers which are key for leaders to understand. If these qualities can be developed in "paid teams," the potential for a new level of results and for a new level of satisfaction and fulfillment in work is greatly increased. I first began to wake up to the valuable lessons from working with volunteers in the late ‘70’s when I spent two years as a full time volunteer during the launch phase of The Hunger Project, a global movement to unleash the human spirit by ending chronic, persistent hunger on the planet. 

The first phase of work at that time was to make people aware of the basic facts about the enormity of hunger around the world and that it could be ended.  The idea was through awareness we could generate the "political will" to end the problem. Our primary strategy was a campaign to have people sign “enrollment cards,” which was, in some ways, similar to having them sign a petition. Basically, by having them "sign a commitment" they were willing to say, "yes, I understand this is a problem and yes, I want it to end."  This was an intimidating task.  We learned to get the penetration we were committed to, we would have to go out in the streets and local markets with the sidewalk performers, Hare Krishna, Salvation Army, and many other uniquely interesting individuals and groups. We went on beautiful days, rainy days, in the snow, and sometimes late at night if that is what it took to make our goals.  That’s where I began to see people do things they would never do for a paycheck out of their passion for the end of hunger and their commitment to reach the number of people we said we would reach during a particular week.

I was reminded of all of this last weekend when we met and completed with last year’s facilitators and team from The World Academy For The Future of Women, and then spent two more days with twenty new volunteers looking to go to SIAS International University in China to lead one of the modules of next year’s program. 

Here was a group of experienced, capable professionals from across the United States gathered at our home to explore the opportunity to give up their incomes and familiar surroundings and pay their own way to spend five weeks working with young Chinese women aspiring to become leaders and global citizens.  Again, what stood out was their passion to contribute and willingness to give up income, creature comforts and conveniences, and the security of familiar surroundings and to commit themselves to producing incredible results with very few resources and little support.

When you consider the passion, excitement, commitment level and willingness in groups of volunteers it's truleadership spelled in tilesly extraordinary. Amazing things happen when individuals get together and feel commitment to a cause, another group of people, an issue, etc. There is enormous creativity generated when resources are slim and "the stakes are high" as far as the potential to make a difference. What if this same passion, willingness, commitment, excitment and creativity could be generated by employees? What if your team brought this level of energy to bear on your business? It's my experience that  most people are just itching to make a difference. What if you found a way to unleash this within your team? When you examine your own leadership, how might you shift your behaviors to honor the passion and commitment that your team members are dying to display?  What might you do to start hearing them in more powerful ways?  How can you unleash them? Get out of their way?

Much of our work in Vision Focused Leadership™ and Productive Interactions™ has been and continues to be developed out of these experiences.  We have found that the more you can let your teams bring their passion to your business and the more they feel a personal stake in the outcomes and results, the greater their satisfaction in their work and their productivity thrives. This is why we believe it's important to recognize and work with the "heart and soul" of an organization, not just the processes, the numbers and the org. charts.

Leadership and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal BallWhat I have been seeing in the past six weeks or so among my clients is what I would call, "The Paradox of the Double Dip." Let me explain. As you all know the economy and financial markets crashed badly. In March we saw "the low" and the economy was supposed to be on the road to recovery. Now we are seeing another down trend and the term "the double dip" is being discussed - meaning a second dip that might indicate the economy is not actually on the road to recovery after all. I am hearing "the sky is falling" from a variety of people about what's happening. I am also hearing comparisons to the '80s when we had the S&L scandal and Japan's economy tanked. The US recovered from the S&L scandal and cleaned up its mess. Japan did not recover in the same way and in fact is still experiencing repercussions because of the actions they did not take. In the current scenario we are being compared to Japan and the fear is our economy is going to be a mess for an undetermined length of time. The problem with all of this from a leadership standpoint is that instead of Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" we are in a "speak and grow poor" mentality and this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When asking clients how business is going right now I hear a range from "it's a good year," to "it's a record year." These are statements based on financial facts. However, the "looming crisis" conversations are not based on facts, but on fear and speculation and there in lies the paradox - things are going well for many on multiple fronts and yet there is a belief taking root that it's all going away. 

This brings up one of the most important lessons for leaders to learn - it's critical to understand that when fearful concerns and speculations are put out there it alarms the troops, which changes their behavior and the self-fulfilling prophecy is triggered.risks ahead sign One of the foundational pieces of our philosophy at 2130 Partners is our set of Operating Principles. One of these Principles is "Be Responsible for What Gets Heard."

From a leadership perspective it's critical that executives recognize when they are spreading fear. Leaders create "an emotional wake," (as our friends at Fierce, Inc. would say), just like boats leave a wake on the water. When leaders speculate in a negative tone and leave a wake of fear there are significant consequences. A frightened team is not going to be bold, innovative and confident. They are not going to be high-functioning and highly capable. Leaders need to be clear what emotion they are triggering within their troops - confidence, or fear and be responsible for it. 

Does this mean leaders should just be pollyanna positive and "paint the world pink" all the time? Of course not, but leaders do need to realize the power of their words, the emotional wake they create and learn to be responsible for what gets heard.

Is There A Common Global Language For Leadership?

ideasHave you ever wondered whether there is any common language that exists for all humans and, if so, how knowing about that language might help you be a more effective as a leader? Well, there is and researchers have called it “deep metaphors.” In the November/December 2008 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine, Managing Editor Betsy Robinson’s article, "Our Common Language," offers a very insightful summary of work done by Harvard Business School professor and sociologist Gerald Zaltman, Ph.D. and his team across 12,000 in-depth interviews in more than 30 countries. 

Dr. Zaltman and his son, Lindsay Zaltman, have described their research in their book Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers. While the consequences for marketing are dramatic, today we are more interested in how a working understanding of these metaphors will assist you in your leadership, your skill at conflict resolution, and your understanding of and ability to clear upsets.

According to Robinson, these deep metaphors are unconscious, universal, basic frames or orientations we have to the world around us.  In the language of the work of 2130 we’d call it "the instant, automatic, and largely unexamined context or paradigm in which you live your life."  The researchers have identified seven main lenses:

1)   Balance – justice, equilibrium, interplay

2)   Transformation – change in state, status, substance, circumstance

3)   Journey – meeting of past, present and future

4)   Container – connotes inclusion or exclusion

5)   Connection – relating to oneself & others

6)   Resource – source of support

7)   Control – sense of mastery, vulnerability, well-being

and four subsidiary ones:

1)   Movement or Motion – related to journey

2)   Force – power that can compel or constrict

3)   Nature – not from humans, growth and evolution

4)   System – gives order

If you’d like a visual experience of these lenses, go to:

Two very important dimensions of this work are the emotions and beliefs that we have connected with each of these deep metaphors and the fact that we cannot express ourselves without using the metaphors. Put simply, our conversations are full of phrases, which arise out of these metaphors, and they all have emotional baggage with them. Since we all use the same deep metaphors when relating to the same situations, it is the emotions that we have historically attached to each that yield the connecting or conflict that arises from each conversation.  In our 2130 Partners' language, this is the "stuff that fills our File Cabinets."

Your ability to resolve conflicts, dispel upsets, and be an effective, productive leader will all be greatly enhanced by learning about and observing these deep metaphors in the situations you encounter.  Robinson offers several helpful practices and exercises:

1)   Make a list of the emotions and beliefs you have associated with each metaphor.

2)   When you are in the middle of conflict, realize that there are deep metaphors at work and the parties have differing, perhaps extreme, emotions and beliefs associated.  Find a way to appreciate the others’ basis in the conversation.

3)   Find a way to sketch out a shared vision for the parties – what would life be without the conflict?  In 2130 Partners we call this finding a Shared Yonder Star for the conversation and the relationship.  Where will we be when it all turns out? Build a productive conversation from that commonality.

While it may seem difficult or awkward at first, viewing your encounters through the lens of deep metaphors and appreciating the generally unconscious, unexamined and often differing emotions and beliefs associated will almost certainly increase your conversational capacities and your ability to lead effectively.

Are You Available?

Keyboard -  blue key AccessIn a rather reflective one-to-one the other day, one of our clients said, Your availability in a world where nobody is ever available, (mentally, emotionally and physically), is greatly appreciated.”  This comment has unleashed a whole inquiry in which I have been examining the implications for my life and work. What does it mean "to be available" to others? Particularly if you are a leader?  At the Individual Level If you look at your individual availablity in the first person, meaning from the "I" level. What does it mean? When I consider it, the questions that come up for me are:  "Am I present to the day – to the sights, sounds, and sensations of the physical world?  Do I notice the birds singing, the waves rolling up on the beach, the sun and moon rising or setting, or the sea lions barking in the middle of the night?  If I do, how do I interact?  Do I miss it all because I’m lost in my own thoughts, opinions, judgments, etc.?  How would it change my life and well being if I got very, very conscious and dramatically increased my experiences of these things?" 

Pushing it a bit further, consider this from a leadership perspective:  "Am I available to hear what those around me are saying that could accelerate the quality of my experience, my life, and even my strategic direction?  Am I willing to be impacted by the things that people who care about and appreciate are saying to me/about me?  Would I be a bigger person? How much richer might life be and how big would I play?"

At the Relationship Level If you consider your availability in your relationship to others, at the level of "we," what does that mean? When you arecome in we're open sign interacting with others, can you be fully available to them?  What would that mean?  How can you do that, given all of your commitments?  Does this seem overwhelming?  What if being available has nothing to do with time or space and only to do with how present and open you are? How quiet your mind gets so you can hear what others are saying, whether it’s in person, on the phone or even in an email or text?  Rather than rattling around with your own thoughts and feelings, what if you just really listened, and asked questions and didn’t judge?

With clients and colleagues, can you listen newly to them or are you just listening to the noise in your head about what you are going to say next? Are you focusing on what you think about what they are saying, or whether they are on the right or wrong path?  What if you weren’t coming from knowing, rather just being there for them, being a generous listener, and asking questions that perhaps help them gather their own thoughts more clearly?

"Available" - What Does It Really Mean?

 According to the dictionary it means:

1. Present and ready for use; at hand; accessible

2. Capable of being gotten; obtainable

3. Qualified and willing to serve or assist

4. Chemistry. Capable of being used in a chemical reaction

5. Botany. Present, as in soil, and capable of being used by plants as a nutrient

The more I consider these definitions the more I like them all when applied back to this inquiry. 

I invite you to consider a commitment to being present and accessible, willing to serve and be used by another to cause a catalytic reaction in their lives, (remember your chemistry here: a catalyst causes a reaction and is not used up in the process), and to be a source of nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.

The Pitfall of Self-Referencing Leadership

leadership figureIn the process of growing up and becoming a successful leader, you most likely put together a set of well-developed values, beliefs, experiences, and capacities. You have probably done well at suppressing your emotions and demonstrating your rational thinking. Being successful means your mix has served you well; you have been rewarded, "bonused," and encouraged along the way. You have probably learned to rely on the way you interact, solve problems, and produce results to the point where the basis of your thinking, (your "paradigm"), is now instant, automatic, and unexamined.   To paraphrase the Peter Principle, you can expect to be promoted to your level of incompetence, (if you haven’t been already).  This means that at some point,"the success train" of your career is coming to a halt. If you happen to own your own business, and are already at the top, it is likely to happen in the form of business expansion. In other words, your business will expand to your level of incompetence. 

How does this happen?  Our belief is that as your work requires broader and broader reach and impact, the very traits and skills that got you rewarded and promoted to your next level of accountability, (or allowed you to create a successful business), can be what defeats you. You will be working with many more people who differ in their perspectives, learning styles, ways of processing information, and ways of interacting with others the bigger your career or business gets. In order to make the leap past the Peter Principle, you will have to expand your own skills and capacities.

Einstein’s oft-quoted statement problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them” applies here. If you continue to rely solely on your own thinking and way of operating, (and why shouldn’t you since, after all, you are successful and you got here, didn’t you?), then you are in a place of "self-referencing teamleadership," and that means the Peter Principle is "in effect."  To continue to lead successfully, you will be required to think in new ways and benefit from the thoughts and perspectives of others. In other words, cherished self-reliance becomes obsolete. Collaboration, inclusion, openness, the ability to continue learning, respect of others' skills, expecting others to contribute - these are the traits that are critical to develop.

To collaborate successfully will require opening up to creativity, inspiration, and empowering others. Doing this will require developing the added dimensions of intuition, (gut feel), and heart-centered knowledge to your already highly developed intellect. (See last week's blog post on using all of your intelligence if this is a new concept.)

So bottomline, when success is at hand, and all the skills you currently possess have gotten you there, it's time to push yourself to expand. You must increase your capacities to collaborate with others and your "capacities of intelligence" if you are going to overcome the Peter Principle and continue to be a successful, and not merely self-referencing, leader.

Are You Using All of Your Intelligence?

brain This may seem like a funny question, but do you know the answer? Are you using all of your intelligence? We don't mean "business intelligence" in the sense of consumer data, research and business results. We are talking about your own personal intelligence. You probably believe you "give it your all" and use all of your capacities and capabilities - but are you sure?

The fact is, there are three ways that we as human beings detect, receive and process information. There are three centers of intelligence - the head, the heart and the gut.

Our culture primarily values the head or intellect. Ever since the time of the philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Rene DesCartes, ("I think therefore I am"), the intellect has been prized as the center of our understanding, intelligence and knowledge.

However, at some level, we all know this belief is not quite accurate. For example, we know the heart provides us with key information. We have all heard the phrase, "I followed my heart," and we all immediately understand what that means. Think about that phrase for a moment. If the heart didn't provide us with information, how could we follow it? And if the information wasn't powerful, why would we follow it? It turns out that scientific studies about the power of the heart show there is an extaordinary amount of energy and information coming from and through the heart. In fact, there is now evidence that a type of neural tissue is present in the heart which indicates the heart and mind work together to process information. The Institute of HeartMath has been studying the power of the heart for years and we recommend looking into their work to find out more.Symbol of heart

When it comes to the idea of the heart as a center of intelligence, there is some cultural ambivalence. On the one hand, we are suspicious. Isn't the heart "emotional?" Emotions "shouldn't be followed." They are "irrational" and that's not a good thing. Right? However, at the same time that we have this cultural concern, there has been alot of work done in the realm of emotional intelligence and its importance. Some have even stated that being "emotionally intelligent" is more important than having a high IQ. So although in some ways we are suspect of the heart's information, we also seem to understand its value. 

How would you rate your EQ or emotional intelligence? Are you able to tune in to your emotions and what they might be telling you? Are you able to recognize what your heart has to say?

The third center of intelligence is our gut. We have all heard the phrase, "I had a gut instinct." Similar to the phrase about the heart, we all know what "having a gut instinct is" and what it means when someone says that phrase, whether we personally tune in to our gut or not. The gut actually has an extraordinary amount of neurological tissue and activity in it. So much so, that physicians regularly refer to our gut as having a "second brain."

Computer Circuit BoardWe can all think of examples of stories where people followed a gut instinct and it was either critical to their survival, or it changed their life, or drove them to make an important business decision. When people are tuned in to that gut information, and they are asked how they knew something or why they did what they did, the response they give is, "I just knew," and we can tell by the emphasis that the knowing came from a deep and solid place. Being able to tap into our deep-seated inner knowing is something fundamentally human that our culture does not overtly value highly.

How familiar are you with your gut instincts? Can you think of times it has served you well? Are you able to tune in and hear what your gut is telling you?

People have varying degrees of connection to their three centers of intelligence. Some rely almost exclusively on one center. Some may even use two or all three, but much of this reliance can be unconscious. Processing information and decision-making is often very automatic and unexamined.

We suggest you do a little experiment and self-reflection. Watch your decision-making processes this week and see which center(s) you use. If you find you are not using all three, then the fact is, you are denying yourself valuable information. The world has become so complex and difficult to navigate, we all need all the help we can get. Your body gives you three different ways to receive and process information and these centers of intelligence may even have different perspectives on the same issue. Taking time to tune in and listen to yourself is a skill we can all develop. It is likely that if you are disconnected from a center of intelligence it will be your heart or your gut. You can actually build this connection and it's not terribly hard, it just takes practice. If you want to find out what your heart has to say, sit quietly, put your hand on your heart and ask the question you need answered. This may seem incredibly simple, but it has the effect of dropping our attention and helping us connect. The same will work with the gut.

As leaders, we can't afford to dismiss or ignore key information. And frankly, who would deny themselves the opportunity to "become more intelligent?"

Dealing With The Tyranny of "Push Content"

paper stackAre you overwhelmed with the "tyranny" of emails, newsletters, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, tweets, and phone messages coming at you by the hour?  Do you have a feeling of guilt that somehow you are accountable for responding to all of them, even though you didn’t ask for most of them in the first place?  Is the e-stack in your inbox getting deeper and deeper?  Do you feel like a slave to your Blackberry or iPhone?  Are you spending longer hours responding and giving yourself less quiet time?  Virtually everyone we work with is concerned about this issue, not only for themselves but also for those who work with and for them.  If everyone is sending and responding to the stuff shoved at them all day, when is there time to think and be proactive and who is doing the work?

When we engage clients in conversations for solutions around this issue we hear several categories of reasons why they are complaining yet not able to get a handle on this:

1)   Fear & defensiveness.  There is a message in the stack that has a real zinger in it and they can’t take the risk of missing it. Key people will judge them harshly as being non-responsive or irresponsible.

2)   Beliefs & judgments. "Good people" answer all their emails and messages. If they were just more organized tswirling emailshey would have time to be successful at responding to everything.

3)   Addiction. They are hooked on Facebook, Twitter and the like.

4)   Absence of clarity. Vision, goals and priorities are subsumed by the sheer onslaught of “incoming.”  “What I started out to get done when I headed for the office was lost within a half-hour after I got there.”

To me, (and I struggle mightily with this as well), the antidote is:

1)   Remind myself that I did not ask for much of the incoming and never promised to answer it.

2)   Refocus on my strategic priorities regularly throughout the day and ask if what I’m doing is forwarding any of them.

3)   Choose to let the email and networking site updating slide and just sit with the discomfort.

4)   Keep looking for practical processes that support my intention to be the most productive I can be while also being reasonably responsive.

5)   Insist on setting out quiet times and free times to think, relax, and restore, even if I can only fit in a 15 minute break at times.

6)   Insure I get at least my minimum exercise and yoga practice in.

How do you handled the onslaught of incoming? What practices and processes are you employing to keep yourself sane, productive, and on purpose?

Ready for 2010? First, complete 2009

2010_exit_signIt’s the time of year when many of us conduct annual rituals that may include everything from strategic planning sessions for business to making New Year’s resolutions or setting Bold Goals for 2010 and beyond.  We’ve found any such process to be much harder to do when we haven’t completed and let go of the past.  It's very difficult, (impossible?), to really move forward when we are carting the past along with us. The process of letting go can include changing your attitude and perceptions about what the economy did to you, to digging very deep and letting go of some of the childhood stuff that shapes your life. On the fun end of the spectrum, we have for many years put flip chart paper all over our walls when we have a New Year’s Eve party with a simple question on each, such as “What did I start and not complete?” or “What did I accomplish that I haven’t been acknowledged for?” or “What did I screw up that I didn’t get caught for?”  Guests write on the charts all evening with colored markers and sometimes get even more creative with a touch of artistic display as well.  On a number of occasions we have taken them all down at midnight and symbolically burned them.

On a business note, we just completed a week of group meetings with our executive clients where we passed out an exercise with questions for them to fill out and discuss that explored accomplishments and failures in their businesses, practice of leadership, and lives.  One of my favorites is “What must I communicate to be complete with 2009 and to whom?”

A few of the highlights from the executive discussions included discoveries of attachments participants did not realize were holding them back, people around them who they had failed to acknowledge, and places where they were not leading by example.  For a couple of clients who have transitioned into the next phase of life after full-time CEO work, they discovered that there is not much useful and generally accepted language in our culture to describe someone who is no longer working full-time and yet intends to offer a contribution.  This opened up an exploration of advisor, teacher, mentor, sage, and wisdom roles. 

We also were reminded that for many folks the holidays can include a lot of upset, ranging form anxiety around gift giving and office party attendance to remembrances of lost loved ones or unhappy childhood experiences related to the holidays.  The latter is fertile ground for completion work, of course. 2010_in_lights

One of the participants in our completion work summed up the experience of working with the exercise as “transition/transformation is a lot of work!”  If you are intending to be powerful in 2010, have big goals, and produce great results, we highly recommend you spend the next couple of weeks completing and letting go of 2009, (and earlier if you need to), in order to create fertile ground for your 2010 vision to come alive.

If you would like to try our exercise format we have included it here as a free download.

Wishing you a happy ending to your 2009 and a fabulous 2010!