These times are our times

January 12th, 2018

I’ve been trying to write a super-duper, kick-off-the-year message that would inspire you in your quest to make your unique contribution and be your best self at work and at home. I’ve been coming up blank.  Writing something about the January-ness of it all – a new beginning, out with the old/in with the new, turn over a new leaf – seemed slightly off and out of sync with what we are dealing with personally, professionally, socially and even politically.  Maybe that feeling is just mine … read on and see what you think.

Close, but …

To crack my writer’s block, I rifled through multiple stacks of clippings around my desk for something that would spark my “this is worth talking about” criteria.  When I came across an HBR article about VUCA, a managerial acronym meaning volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, I felt close to what I was seeking, but not quite “it.”  I pawed through another stack and then I found it.

The ‘it’ is a message from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an internationally recognized scholar, award-winning poet and author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.   Her message, entitled “Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times”, invites us, in a most compelling way, to recognize we are ready for these times and not to lose hope.

Choose:  S  or  s

As you read the letter (link below), please listen from your best Self (capital “S”), not your little self (small “s”).  The Self is the one who is self-aware, adaptive, always learning and willing to be the author of your experience.  The little self is one who is righteous, knows it all already and generally feels victimized.  If your little self shouts “Don’t read the letter! You’re not an activist!”— hear the warning as a signal you’re about to empower your best Self.  Of course, you get to choose.  Click here to read the letter. (My thanks to Nona Gandelman, Maven Productions, for curating Estes’ works.)

It is up to each of us to push our great, unique ship out from the harbor and create a fleet of possibility for all of us.

Onward, out to sea …


When our self-talk comes out of another’s mouth

September 9th, 2017

Channel surfing on Sunday, I stumbled upon the show “Off Camera with Sam Jones”.  Off Camera is hosted by director/photographer Sam Jones who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest.

In the dark

I’d never heard of Sam Jones, his show or knew of the interviewee Mike White’s career (film writer, director, actor: School of Rock, The Good Girl, Orange County, Nacho Libre, Enlightened).

Mike White’s communication style drove me batty.  Within 1 minute, I desperately wanted to keep surfing. Mike didn’t complete sentences and trampolined from thought to thought.  I was batty for the entire hour of the show.  The vulnerability and unpretentioness with which he revealed his concerns, uncertainty, and dreams grabbed me and was worth fighting to listen.

In the light

While I didn’t know him, and had to fight off my communication preferences to listen to him, what he was talking about was something I not only knew about but make it my business to understand. He shared the conversations that come from the universal human being paradigm — the conversations that lurk inside each of us and shout fears, dilemmas, doubts, and desires 24/7.

In his stories, I heard my self-talk. His insights about “comparison anxiety” rang especially true for me.  When you watch or listen, and I really hope you do, I think you’ll hear yourself, too, and reaffirm that you’re not “the only one” with this nagging conversation. (BTW, Sam Jones, the interviewer is so skillful.)

When we hear our internal conversation — the ones we think are ours alone — come from the mouths of others, the opportunity is to use what we hear to connect deeply, person-to-person. That connection can help us  generate compassion for ourselves and others. That connection builds trust and relationships, the fundamental elements that we  need to resolve dilemmas and put doubts on the shelf.

Thanks for listening.


Lions and Tigers and Liars, Oh My!

July 30th, 2017

We’ve been lying as long as we’ve had language. 

Research shows that a child’s ability to bend the truth is a developmental milestone, much like walking and talking.  While our noses don’t grow like Pinocchio’s when we lie, research shows a person’s nose can “heat up” when they lie.

Liars populate our literature (Gatsby; Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones), movies (Liar Liar, Fargo, Marisa Coulter in The Golden Compass; Catch Me If You Can) and TV shows (Claire Underwood in House of Cards; Pretty Little Liars, Lie to Me).  We may say we don’t like them, even that their behavior turns our stomachs, but our reading and viewing habits say we can’t get enough of them.


While we could ask a series of esoteric, rabbit-hole-diving questions about the phenomenon of lying – Is not telling the whole truth the same as telling a lie?  Is a statement we’d classify as a little white lie ok, while a statement that perpetuates a financial scam despicable?.  I’d rather take a look at our own behavior. Why? Because we can do something about our behavior.

“The liar’s punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.”  George Bernard Shaw

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between these 2 statements:  “You lied about X.”  “You are a liar.”  “You lied about X”  focuses on a particular, discrete event or action.  “You are a liar” assigns a characteristic to your entire being, to the core of you.

What we say

Let’s say I was late to your meeting and, when I arrived, I said, “I’m late because of heavy traffic and construction. I apologize.”  When I know a more truthful statement would be, “I left the house later than I knew I should have to be on time. I apologize.”   Assigning the reason for my lateness to the traffic may be the social norm, but the “I left late” statement says I hold myself responsible and not the external circumstance. Locating the responsibility for the outcome in my actions rather than in the circumstances does two things:  (1) It gives me the power to produce a different outcome next time and (2) it speaks to my commitment to be responsible.

“She put the lie in my mouth.” – Irish proverb  (When someone offers you a reason for something you did/didn’t do and asks if that’s the reason and you say “yes”, even though what the person offered you isn’t the real reason, it’s a lie. Ex., A person’s face is bruised from a nose job and another person says: Were you in an accident? And the bruised person says, “Yes.”)

What others hear

Consider each of the two statements in the scenario above. How would your experience of me be different? Which one might might build trust between us? How might “I left late” create an opening for you to support me in the future?  What might be different in how you listen to what I say in the meeting?

Be scared and speak

Telling your truth – not “the” truth – is a moment-by-moment choice.  The choice is to have what you say and how you listen represent who you want to be in the moment – and the moment is all we have. Telling your truth, even when you’re scared of the repercussions from others, or the potential disruption of your own identity, is a way to reduce the hold the imaginary fears (the lions and tigers) have on us. That is a worthy outcome.

All lies aren’t the same. We lie for the greater good. We lie because the truth wouldn’t serve the greater good. It is for us to make the judgment call and live with the consequences of our judgment. I have lied in the past, and I will likely lie in the future.  I’m not boasting about my future lies. I’m being honest and aware of my humanity.   That awareness coupled with our commitment to be trustworthy serves our development to be truthful and trust worthy more than anything else.

Bring the Redwoods Indoors

June 20th, 2017

One of the many benefits of living in the SF Bay Area is that I’m nearby the ocean, the mountains and all that’s in-between. One of the amazing in-betweens is the magnificent redwood.  Learning about them might inspire you to bring their magnificence into your team.

  Foundation:  Root Systems   You would think that a 350 foot-tall tree would need deep roots – not so for redwoods. Their roots are very shallow, often only five or six feet deep, extending up to 100 feet from the trunk. Redwoods thrive in thick groves, where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together, giving them tremendous strength against the forces of nature.  They can withstand high winds and raging floods.  Their intermingling root systems help them remain upright for millennia.
  Diversity:  Differences needed    Because these trees are so tall, the treetop needles are exposed to more dry heat than the needles of branches in the dense canopy below. To compensate for this, redwoods grow treetop needles with tight spikes that conserve moisture, due to little evaporative surface. The lower branches, on the other hand, produce flat needles in order to catch additional light through the thick canopy of branches. (If you research these needle differences, you’ll see that the lower needles are called “senile”. No kidding.)
  Sustainability: Surviving challenges

Fire is the quick destroyer of forests. Because redwoods have an asbestos-like bark that contains tannin and grows to at least one foot in thickness, fire seldom is able to kill these trees.  There is a lot of water contained in the wood itself, and pitch, which is very flammable, is not contained in the tree.

  Renewal: Regeneration   One of the keys to the survival of the redwood is its regenerative abilities. One of the regenerative capabilities of the redwood involves the burl, a lumpy outgrowth from the tree’s trunk.  A burl, composed of dormant redwood stems, grows when a redwood is cut, damaged, or injured, or diseased. Saplings may sprout from these burls.

Foundation: Relationships   

Leaders and teams alike often have their attention focused on the grand results desired and forget to ensure a healthy foundation for results:  authentic relationships.   Leaders committed to people first, then product, strengthen the team’s “root system” with skills to challenge the status quo, raise issues before they become serious problems, acknowledge mistakes, create trust and rebuild trust when it is broken.  The breadth and depth of their relationships create a foundation that can withstand the swirling winds of change that are the new normal of business.

Diversity:  Differences needed   

Any system involves linkages and interactions between its components.  The more the interactions are in alignment, the less friction and wasted energy. Understanding the diversity of talents, skills and motivations needed for the organization to perform well leads to creating the best person-to-role fit.  Test this out in your own experience:  Are the career goals and life aspirations you had as a 20-year-old the same as you have today?

Sustainability: Surviving challenges

A burning platform is a term that seeped into organizational leadership conversations that describes crises that are either natural or engineered to force change. (The story about the 1988 burning oil-drilling platform in coast of Scotland) . An engineered (invented) burning platform implicitly refers to the active use of panic and fear to bring about change in an organization.  (“The plant is going to close in 4 months unless we hit targets of   …”)

When relationships, the foundation for results, are aligned and committed to achieving shared commitments, engineered burning platforms are not needed to bring about change. In root-strong organizations, leaders at all levels can share challenges openly and honestly and tackle them together.

Renewal: Regeneration

When an organization generates a strong, resilient foundation of relationships, the challenges it experiences – key leaders retiring, continual competition, reputational disasters from IT hacks stealing customer information – are greeted from a context of partnership and used to move toward the desired future, not abandon it.  When the foundation of relationships is broad and deep, new possibilities can sprout from the burls of setbacks.

Isn’t it time to bring the redwoods indoors to your organization?


Ask for Tension … (really?)

February 2nd, 2017

Advancement takes effort. When the effort is fueled by a self-generated commitment (part 1 in this series: your “why”) and not an other-imposed “should”, everything and everyone moves forward.  When people continually seek to expand relationships and build trust (part 2:accountability knots), that behavior benefits everyone.  With these two commitments activated, when support is needed, it is supplied, freely, with respect, compassion and in partnership.

A climber asking for tension is normal. It means: “Hey, belayer, I need your support.  I need to stop climbing now. I don’t want to come down. Please put tension on the rope, because I am going to put all my weight on it and let go of what I’m holding onto.”  Yup … all that is said with a call for “Tension”.   Only after hearing the belayer’s response, “Tension On,”  does the climber let go and relax.

Asking for tension

Asking for tension – for support – is a frequent request I make of my belayer. Sometimes it is because my muscles are cramping, sometimes it’s because my brain is cramping (I can’t figure out where to reach next or “if” the reach is doable).

The support/tension is giving without questioning whether it’s needed or not.  If it is asked for, it is needed. Support is provided without blaming or shaming, and eye-rolling. Quite the contrary.  Both parties view asking for support as a responsible action to take.  Providing support/tension is never viewed as being asked for “too much.”   Ah, if only those roles were played out at work more often. The good news is: they can be.

What does it take to ask for tension? 

The climber – the one who challenged gravity and their skills by stepping off the ground and looking skyward – is the one who asks for tension. To do that, the climber has to trust that …

  • The structure (equipment and knots) are sufficient for the task.
  • Her relationship with the belayer is sufficient (belayer’s listening, ready, in an instance, to hold my weight).
  • Her ego won’t get in the way of her safety.

At work, to ask for support, a person has to trust that …

  • The relational structure of the team is developed enough that there is alignment on how they’ll treat each other as they get work done, a commitment to stay in communication.
  • Asking for support will be heard as being responsible, not shirking work.
  • Her ego won’t get in the way of trying to do it all herself, look good, or any number of automatic, unexamined, self-defeating (and team-defeating) points of view.

How is trust developed?

That’s kinda like asking “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”  Practice, Practice, Practice.

Seriously, it takes awareness to say trust is missing and a commitment to build it. It takes having conversations with the team to define what your team (not a generic team) means by trust, what the behaviors are that break it, maintain it and increase it.  It takes practicing those behaviors … over and over and over … and self-correcting.

Best place to start: with yourself.  Who do you trust? What do you trust them about?  How do they behave, that builds your trust in them? Who don’t you trust? How do they behave that has you not trust them?  So … how is trust developed? Take it on and practice, practice, practice.  Yes, this is a big topic. Exploring it offers big rewards.

Let’s get it ON!  Tension On! Support On! Trust On! Results On!

Accountability Knots

January 20th, 2017

In Part 1 of this 3-part series, I offered a climbing analogy for leading yourself with your commitments, your “why’s”, and I promised to share the calls-and-responses between climber and belayer that exemplify support through accountability and how to translate them into team success. Read on!  (That’s me in blue jacket, belaying niece Caity.)

In the top-rope climbing class at Pacific Edge, I learned different climbing techniques and how to belay.  Top-rope climbing is a style in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. The belayer is the person on the ground who secures the climber for a safe ascent.

A significant amount of instruction was dedicated to safety. In addition to tying proper knots, we learned and used essential communication call-and-responses between the climber and the belayer. Safety was the senior context of the conversation between climber and belayer; a secondary context was “make it to the top”.

Call & Response

In basic top-climbing, a few of the conversations between climber  and belayer sound like this:

Climber’s Call (Request to Belayer) Belayer’s Response (to Climber’s Request)
On Belay?
Belay ON
Climb ON
Tension ON

The power of these exchanges: A climber doesn’t move until she hears the belayer’s response that says what action can be taken safely.

In the climbing class, this exchange can often be heard:

Student:        Well, I can see if the belay is hooked up, I just did the safety check. You mean that even when   I’m on the ground, standing next to the belayer, and before I start climbing, I say “belay on? 

Instructor:    Yes.  

Student:        Aren’t we over-doing this communication thing?

Instructor:    No.  The way you begin the climb sets the human connection for the climb. 

So what do the belayer’s responses mean?

The belayer’s response of “Belay On” means: We are safely connected. I am here to keep you safe. To the climber’s “Climbing”, the belayer’s “Climb On” means: I’m ready for you to head toward  your goal. To “Tension”, the Belayer’s response says: I’m holding your weight. You can rest, shake arms out, put your full weight in your harness, and release your grip. I’ve got you. (More about Tension in Part 3 of this series.)

It’s the same in a business (any) relationship – how you begin the relationship establishes a context and connection for what’s next.  Let’s move from climbing to cubicle-ing.

Off the wall, into the cubicle

In a relationship where there is a commitment to a specific results or outcomes, a particular kind of call & response – called “conversations for action” – coordinates the action so both can fulfill their role successfully.

Response to a Request What your Response Means
Accept I promise to do as you request, fulfilling the conditions you specified, by the Y time.  (A promise is not a guarantee.)
Decline I do not accept the request. (It isn’t a request if a person can’t decline. If a person can’t decline, then you are making a demand.)
Counter-offer I accept the request with these proposed changes … Do you accept my counter offer?
Promise-to-promise I promise to respond to your request by Y time. (Without a time specified, it is an intention, not a promise.)

Sometimes people (in and outside of business) tell me, “Oh, I only make requests when it really matters, when it’s really important.”  My response:  So …. You do lots of work during the day that isn’t important enough to require coordination or certainty? Doesn’t matter when it gets done? Work in an environment that encourages micromanaging? Oh…

Practices creates trustworthiness

It’s the practice (practice: a behavior done regularly and with an intention to produce a particular result) of “being in communication” that coordinates the action, that builds the relationship, that supports the journey. It’s the practice of having conversations for action – and the follow through with appropriate behavior – that  creates trust and trustworthiness and that makes new levels of results possible.

No matter what your virtual mountain is — on-boarding new hires, laying people off, launching a new product, leading a team or an entire organization — using a shared, meaningful “call & response” builds accountability and deepens trust – and both of those are essential to producing the kind of relationships that produce outstanding, extraordinary results.

In the final part in this series, I’ll reveal how the knots of accountability are essential for building trust and producing results especially when the “yogurt hits the fan.” (<– my favorite Tom Peters quote).

Climb on!

Walk your Talk … Vertically!!

November 27th, 2016

pacific-edge-statueWhen I tell people I’m taking an indoor climbing class at Pacific Edge, their “Good for you!” is usually followed quickly by “Why?”

My Whys

I have several whys.  Every day, I ask leaders to commit to something without knowing how to do it and without a guarantee of success. I ask them to step outside their comfort zone, be vulnerable, listen more deeply, take care of their well-being (they are a precious resource) and shift their mindset. I don’t ask once, but again and again.  Taking this class gives me the experience (somewhat) of what I am asking them to do – experiment, fail, try again, make progress. In essence, to develop.

Then, there’s the why of being physically fit.  I ask my body to play tennis full out for 2-3 hours a couple times a week, lift field stones to build garden walls, and walk briskly for 2 miles while having enough breath for a conversation with my partner.  Taking this class helps me build my lung capacity and my capacity to quiet my inner critic shouting “you’ve done enough, you may not succeed, be careful.”

As for my mindset, this class helps me calibrate the challenges that are appropriate (small wins when I’m learning something new) and those that are Evil Knievel-ish and too risky (because I’m trying to prove myself).   I did a climb blindfolded. That was fun. I declined to attempt the chimney climb. It looked to have a high probability of incurring an injury and jeopardizing tennis and walking, aka, not worth the risk. (Watch someone climb the chimney.)

If you’re in business, you’re on a climb.  You’re challenging yourself to reach the “top” you’ve declared.  Without knowing where the toe holds are or if your legs will lift you high enough for you to grasp the hand hold you spy, you begin. You begin because you commit to a possibility.

On the route, you often encounter volatility, uncertainty and the unforeseen.  In these moments, the possibility you committed to may fade or seem like the wrong commitment to have made.  In these moments, while you don’t need a rope or a safety harness, you do need gear.

Gear up!


9-yr-old Caity, fearless, going for it.

When you’re on your daily work climb, it may seem easier to be on a real physical climb on an actual mountain.  Sometimes, it’s that way for me.  Physical challenges are in a different domain than the non-physical ones. For most of us knowledge workers, our routes are rife with self-doubt, concern, what ifs and what abouts and, hopefully, populated with successes and satisfaction.

(Full disclosure: If you ask any climber, and I did, about their routes, they too say they are inhabited by the same self-doubt conversations. Aka, the grass is not greener. Both of us don’t have to be stopped by the doubts; we can use them to energize our respective climbs.)


Whether it’s a real or virtual mountain, each climber/leader needs gear from the storehouse called  “Generating Commitment”.   (Big Note: This storehouse is not called “One & Done Commitment” – it’s called generating to distinguish ongoing and continually.)

1st:     Declare (state) your whys. If your first response is “for the money”, don’t stop there.  Say why the money matters to you. (Does it provide you with the ability to care of your family? Does it bolster your self-confidence or esteem?) I suspect the more you answer “why”, you’ll find more compelling, inspirational, more meaningful whys.

2nd:     Assess each why and identify what you are currently doing to live it and generate it daily.

3rd    Whatever your assessment, own it – don’t deny or sugar-coat it.  Then choose your next move.  Is there an action to take? Is there something to acknowledge and put in the past? Is it supportive to revoke your commitment, or to reformulate and recommit to it newly?

This reflection and self-assessment gives you the opportunity to choose. Choosing is fundamental gear for leaders who lead themselves first, then ask others to join the journey.

call-response-imageIn Part 2 of this series, I’ll share the calls-and-responses between climber and belayer.  It’s a conversation of support, trust, accountability, possibility and results.

You’re gonna love it.  Enjoy your climb!

Learn to Interrupt (yourself, not others)

August 30th, 2016

Before last month, if you would have asked me if I was a good listener, I would have quickly and assuredly said “Yes.”  Now, my response is, “I’m learning to be a better one.”  Why the change? I’ve been engaged in dialogues, the art of listening. Dialogue is the discipline of collective learning and inquiry. The purpose of dialogue is for people to participate with others and realize what is on each other’s mind without coming to a conclusion or passing judgment.

Practice makes practice

practice gladwellA practice is an activity that you do repeatedly to bring about a particular experience. It has a deliberate design and intention that, when used well, produces a defined result. We engage in practices to learn an instrument, a sport, make pottery, create and sustain a loving relationship. In a dialogue, four practices are exercised: suspending, voicing, respecting and listening.  While all four are essential, listening is fundamental.

Romi Boucher, an extraordinary consultant, my mentor and colleague of 30 years, shared this about listening: “By default, I always prepare myself to speak. Preparing myself to listen leads to better results and takes more interruption!”

When I first read “interruption,” I knew it was a typo. It turns out that my assumption that it was a typo (it wasn’t) was a perfect demonstration of what Romi was saying.  Since the word “interruption” didn’t make sense to me, I automatically concluded it was an error. I did not suspend my automatic judgment that, as an English teacher of 10 years, I know how words should be used (Hurrumph!).  When I asked if she meant “interruption,” she respectfully confirmed her choice. At that moment, I got curious and, when I listened newly to what she said, I understood.  (Yes, I was embarrassed that I didn’t get it at first.)

“I listen with an intensity most people reserve for speaking.”   Lily Tomlin

What’s there to interrupt?

To understand someone, we need to interrupt our automatic habits of not listening. Habits of …

  • Composing what we will say when they stop talking
  • Assuming we know their point before they make it
  • Judging their view to be brilliant if it agrees with ours, and stupid if it doesn’t

What is there to do instead of pre-composing, assuming and judging?  How about being curious. How about being will to see their view as valid, and one that you would have if you had their life experiences. How about listening to understand who they are, what they see. BTW, understanding does not equal agreement. Understanding means seeing their view as a valid interpretation.

Listen for the rattle & suspend

I shake a new tennis ball to detect any unwanted beads of rubber inside that will rattle and distract me during play. If I hear any, I discard the ball and get another one.

To listen well to others, we need to metaphorically rattle our heads and set aside any distracting noises – the judgments, the assumptions, the conclusions.  The unwanted noises that keeps us distanced from each other will slide back in – that’s where the practice of suspending becomes vital.

Interrupting the unwanted rattles and noise in ourselves is the first step in truly connecting with another.

(Not all rattles are unwanted. Tennis SERVES, a non-profit that teaches visually impaired people the game of tennis, uses tennis balls with a bit in rattle. Inspire yourself: Watch them play.

on way to future_cropped

Shared with permission from Brian Andreas, artist of

Be an Olympian at Work

July 9th, 2016


torch The Olympics are here!! With them come all the excitement of underdogs versus shoe-ins, veterans versus first-timers and photo-finish dramas. Athletes commit long before they know if they will have the opportunity to compete.  They commit to the idea, to the possibility of being an Olympian and promise to do what it takes to master their sport and manage their life in a way to achieve that possibility.  The commitment is beyond winning a medal. It’s a commitment to playing a different type of game – an infinite game. It’s time to bring the spirit of the Olympics to work!

What game are you playing?

Finite games have a beginning and an end, clear winners and losers, and rules that ensure the game is finite. The Olympic Games are finite. There will be winners with medals and losers without. Let’s consider the context for the Olympians in a different context – in the context of an infinite game.

mobius“Infinite games do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play and sometimes with a purpose of bringing more players into the game. An infinite game continues play, for the sake of play. If the game is approaching resolution because of the rules of play, the rules must be changed to allow continued play. The rules exist to ensure the game is infinite. The only known example is life.” (Wikipedia)

An Olympian-hopeful commits to achieving the seemingly impossible goal without knowing what it will take to achieve it. Embedded in that commitment is a promise to actively reveal and breakthrough mental, physical and emotional limits, not just one day, but every day.  Being an Olympic athlete is a life style, a mindset, a way of being does not end because the torch is extinguished.

The commitment to living a life of breakthroughs – a life of constant learning, challenging limits, being coachable – is a bigger context than the 2 weeks of the actual games.  While we may not have aspirations to be an athletic Olympian, we can generate a context of being an Olympian and play infinite games at work.


Here are 2 infinite games to play at the office this summer, and (you guess it) all career long. All participants reap the benefits:  Transparent and trusting relationships. Genuine appreciation of colleagues. Less friction, fewer feuds. More curiosity and learning. More satisfying performance.

Game #1: Blow the whistle  

assembly lineBack in the day, when going to work actually meant “going to work”, as in leaving home and going to a work place, we had external forces (the factory whistle) telling us when to put the nut on the bolt, when to take it off.  Back in that day, we left our work on the desk (or work bench), turned the light off and went home, perhaps only carrying our lunch pail. Today, our desk comes home with us and the light is, virtually, always on.

Thinking doesn’t stop and start like an assembly line.   In the context that recognizes today’s work as knowledge-based that requires processing and thinking, working 24/7 makes sense. Because there is no external whistle, knowledge workers must be responsible for generating their own.  If we don’t intentionally and regularly disengage from work to rest, our well-being safeguards will blow the whistle for us.  That whistle may sound a lot like an ambulance siren.

You win when you … Leave work early to cheer your daughter’s swim meet. Come in late after volunteering at the teen summer computer camp.  Take vacation and unplug. Everyone wins when you set up others to lead while you’re out. Everyone wins when you blow the whistle on yourself.

Game #2: Helping hands       

We used to be in a constant state of self-defense because of the saber tooths in the next cave. That ancient, inherited, hyper-heightened self-protectionism now has us worry about the competition in the next cubicle.  Rather than protecting us, that unexamined interpretation harms us. Our concern for self-preservation erodes what I believe is a shared, innate human value: helping others.

Winning:  You win when you do something for someone without expecting something in return. You win when you risk being called a goody-two-shoes and volunteer anyway. Everyone wins when you model supportive behavior.

Because work is a finite game – projects start/stop, tasks begin/end, careers start/stop, companies begin/end – playing infinite games to accomplish the work creates an expansive environment, one of individual and collective learning and development. Playing infinite games creates the opportunity for people to commit to seemingly impossible goals and accomplish them because they are drawing on all of their amazing human talents and commitments.

The larger, infinite context generates an opportunity to be whole human beings at work, living our values, breaking through our individual and collective limits.  Be an Olympian! Let the games begin!

The Canary in Leadership’s No Man’s Land

June 7th, 2016

Last week I learned I was wrong about something I was absolutely, bet-you-$100-sure about.  In my 40 years of playing tennis, I was sure “No Man’s Land” on the tennis court was located just inside the baseline and extended through about half of the service box.

no manIt’s called “No Man’s Land” because if a player stands in that area they are vulnerable to being on the defensive and losing a point because the opponent will have an opportunity to hit a ball at his or her feet. Trust me … it’s almost impossible to hit a good return if the ball is at your feet.

Here’s what I learned from my tennis coach, Jon.  The location of “No Man’s Land” depends on what’s happening on the court.  It is not a static, physical location. It is a dynamic, situational location.

Tennis is a series of dynamic situations.  Players move side-to-side, up-and-back to assume either a defensive or offensive position.  How a player moves and where they stand is connected to their skills and experience. Beginners tend to stand in one place (aka, No Man’s Land) and move “late” to the ball. More experienced players are constantly anticipating and moving to where the ball is going to be before it gets there. Inexperienced players miss hit a ball with back spin because they do not know how spin affects the ball’s bounce.   Experienced players read the opponent’s racket movement, aren’t surprised by what’s coming, and pro-actively adjust their response.

The dynamic nature of the game constantly shifts the location of “No Man’s Land”.  Experienced players moves to avoid it, inexperienced players often claim it and the disadvantage that comes with it.

Leadership depends

The situational leadership theory was developed by Paul Hersey. The fundamental underpinning of the   theory is that there is no single “best” style of leadership. The most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity and capacity of the individual or group they are leading and to the outcomes that need to be accomplished.

tuckmanThe Tuckman model of team development is one way for a leader to assess a team’s “maturity and capacity” to effectively respond to their situation. An accurate assessment lets the leader provide the team what it needs to produce the desired outcomes and move to the next level of performance.

As with any model, what looks simple in theory takes a multitude of effort in practice. Likewise, as with any staged process, what looks like a simple progression in actuality is more of a fuzzy, grey line between stages.

No Man’s Land for leaders

Effective leaders are always expanding their own self-awareness. As a leader, assessing your maturity and capacity is crucial. If you avoid conflict and can’t facilitate others in resolving their conflicts, you may slow down or even halt your team’s development. Staying in the storming stage too long burns people out. If you know you aren’t effective (yet) at dealing with conflict, bring in someone who is and develop your capacity along with the team.

If you miss-identify the stage your team is in, you may not provide them with the developmental tools they need to progress.  For instance, in the storming stage, group members need to move from a testing and proving mentality that can pit individual against individual to a problem-solving mentality that focuses on resolving issues and not people’s personalities.

The canary

Communication skills, listening and speaking, are fundamental.  The polite listening in the forming stage may shift in the storming stage as the fear of failure surfaces and threatens identities and relationships.  In response, some members may turn silent, while others may become more dominate, even aggressive.

canaryThink of a team’s communication skills as the canary in the team’s coal mine. (Canaries used to be used by early coal miners as oxygen detection systems. If the canary died, the miners knew to exit or be next.) If the communication skills do not mature, the team will stop developing.  The team’s canary dies from breathing toxic vapors given off by the lack of communication.

Effective leaders are oriented to what’s happening “on the court” with the team. They recognize that one size of leadership does not fit all – not all teams, not all situations – and that if they are not adapting and moving toward where the ball will be, they will put everyone in No Man’s Land where they are vulnerable and on the defensive.

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