Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mediocrity’sChild

Mediocrity begets mediocrity.   

How often have we heard leaders of organizations rail about lack of intensity, anemic motivation, poor performance - almost always their ire is directed at others!

Could it be that, if an environment of mediocrity exists, we as leaders have created the conditions that promote (or worse, incentivize) such behaviors?  

Moreover, we must consider the possibility that the egregious behaviors seen in others are simply reflections (or offspring) of our own.

If mediocrity begets mediocrity (and I think it does) then we must look in the mirror FIRST to explore its roots.


(Ouch!  That hurts a little.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fulfillment

Living a fulfilling life is fundamental to our emotional/spiritual fitness.  In Parallel Worlds (2006) Michio Kaku ends his book about physics discussing, of all things, the elements that make for a fulfilling life.   Here are his conclusions about the elements that give life meaning:
  • Work gives us a sense of responsibility, purpose, focus to our labors/dreams, discipline, structure to our lives, it provides us with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and a framework for fulfillment.
  • Love puts us within the fabric of society. Without love, we are lost, empty, without roots, unattached to the concerns of others.
  • Fulfill whatever talents we are born with. We should try to develop our talents to the fullest, rather than allow them to atrophy and decay.
  • Leave the world a better place than when we entered it. Make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of nature, clean up the environment, work for peace and social justice, or nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide (this one I'm kinda partial to, since I've spent a career in its deployments).
Fulfillment is really an art, when you think about it.  It’s not something that we can purchase or inherit.  Our fulfillment is something we build personally, over a lifetime.  And, we never get finished.  On the day that we die, we will still be able to view that as work yet unfinished.

Yet, the process of thinking deeply about focusing our lives, our time, our effort, and our tangible resources on the things that have real meaning is the essence of crafting a fulfilling life.

Monday, May 26, 2014

LeadershipIsPlural

It is often said that leadership is a lonely business.  To be sure, the toughest decisions in an organization find a way of persistently floating themselves up the hierarchical chain until they land themselves on the desk of the leader.  As Ronald Reagan has oft been quoted, “The buck stops here.”

For the most part, leaders understand this phenomenon and accept that finality of authority that comes with the turf.

However, the best leaders understand that leadership is a not a job for isolationists.  They have learned (or will, or they'll perish) that the best sort of leadership is when the folks in each nook and cranny of an organization are enlisted and empowered in the leadership web.  

These are the leaders that major in empowerment.  They invest in the members of the organization in structural ways, in resource allocation, in education and development, in the distribution of authority, and in relationship building. 


These are the kinds of leaders that understand that leadership is really a plural concept, not singular.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

NotTheTrophies

I recently attended the annual all-sports banquet of the school I serve (Guthrie CSD).  It is always nice to see the students, staff, and community get dressed up, gather together in communion, and celebrate another year of athletic endeavor.

As I heard the coaches review the year and speak of the athletes, I was reminded again of the role that athletics should play in the school program. 

Any school, every school, has a solemn obligation to equip our children with the knowledge and skills they need to be productive, happy, and responsible citizens.  Participating in academics, fine arts, athletics, and career/technical programming all contribute to the achievement of that agenda.

Athletic competition, however, provides a unique crucible in which some very powerful life-lessons can be learned:
  • The value of pushing ourselves beyond our perceived limits.
  • The importance of winning with modesty.
  • The significance of losing with dignity.
  • The necessity of contributing substantially to a team effort.
  • The healing effects of hard work.
  • The reality that one's opponents are not always "enemies," and that one's allies are not always "friends."
These and many other powerful lessons flow from athletic competition, and the preparatory work associated with it.  Furthermore, they are learned best under the guidance and direction of wise coaches who grasp the BIG picture, who understand how/when/why those lessons should be taught.

Athletics is not, and should never be, about the trophies.  In fact, some of the most valuable and long-lasting lessons are learned when the trophies don't come.  


Friday, May 23, 2014

Insurgent

Fictional heroine Tris Prior wears the dual mantle of vulnerability and influence in this continuation of the Divergent Series, titled Insurgent (Veronica Roth, 2012).  


Societal “factions” that were created by the human survivors of a post-apocalyptic Earth have turned on one another in classic attempts to attain dominance and power.  A select few humans, the anomalies, are known as Divergents.  They are characterized by their unique physical, mental, and emotional abilities to think and behave in transcendent ways.  

They psycho-social struggles between and within the factions are classic case studies of the human condition.  Tris navigates danger in its legionic forms to affect, presumably, a future that represents a sustainable world.  

A good read, again. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Conformiocrity

I have often railed against living lives of mediocrity.  

To achieve “average” status, the only thing required of us is to keep breathing.  To pursue, or simply meander toward, mediocrity (either by acts omission or commission) seems inane, if not downright insane.  To live consequential lives is within the reach of each one of us, regardless of our station in life.

From a leadership perspective, there is a similar mindset of organizational mediocrity.  If we preach, incentivize, and promote conformity in our organization, we are essentially encouraging a race to the bottom – 
to the bottom of effort, 
to the bottom of creativity, 
to the bottom of risk-taking, 
to the bottom of innovation, 
to the bottom of performance. 

In A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber (2000) asserts that every group of people (e.g., families, churches, schools, businesses, nations) has a “cultural average.”   Wilber suggests that the "culture" of a people-group is simply the mean of the their beliefs, values, mores, and behavioral norms.  If we accept his argument, then that implies that about half the folks in the people-group (for instance, your softball team), think, live, and behave in ways that "exceed" the cultural average.  And, of course, about half think, live, and behave in ways that are less than representative of that cultural average.

Hold that idea in your mind as we go back to the leadership implications:  Leaders of people-groups (whether ski clubs, Sunday school classes, or unions) must find ways to raise the cultural average.  I'll let you think about the concrete steps that can be taken to affect that raising (for they are legion).


Hint:  Shared organizational goals should be the driver.  Not shared protocols, procedures, haircuts, etc.  Unless, of course, conformity and mediocrity are your desired outcomes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wholeness

I have recently become a fan of the thinking of Dr. Deepak Chopra, a neuro-endocrinologist by training. 

From this video of Chopra, I gleaned the following pearls of learning for my consideration:


  • Our cells have consciousness, thus our immune system is a “thinking” system. 
  • Our mind is not in our brain; it is in every cell of our body
  • Our body is not a noun. It is a verb, a dynamic cacophony of intertwined, interrelated, and interdependent processes.
  • In less than one year we recycle 98 percent of all the cells in our body
  • The definition of "mind" – an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information
  • EVERYTHING within us is integrated – mind, body, and spirit. It is at once a singular and dynamic process, and it is entangled with every other body (yep, yours, too).  
  • Our genes are not fixed or deterministic; we turn our genes on and off in relation to our thoughts/emotions/words/actions/choices. 
  • Practicing lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity changes our brain state toward higher levels of consciousness.
  • Our relationship with time can be changed. Time flies or drags, based on our psycho-emotional state, which we can control.  
  • Love is ultimately the root cause of all healing. 
  • Social transformation cannot occur in the absence of personal transformation. 
Plenty to ponder...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Listening'sAntecedents

Becoming a better listener has been a focus of my own personal growth for several years now.  Listening well does not come naturally to me. 

I have learned to leverage three prompts to assist me in being a more attentive listener.

Here are those three conditioners:
  1. Curiosity - I try to go into each conversation/encounter with a curious mind, in search of hearing/seeing/feeling/learning something I didn't know previously.  Engaging with curiosity also helps me ask better questions.
  2. Suspend assumptions - I try to put any presuppositions or assumptions I have about a situation or a person "on the shelf" in order to minimize my biases while hearing the other person out.
  3. What if I’m wrong? - I try to go into each conversation/dialogue with the understanding that I may be proven wrong, or mis-informed, or un-enlightened.  Adopting an I-may-be-proven-wrong mindset seems to help me be more transparent in the discourse, and it seems to help me accept more freely the perspective of others.
I've written about listening before in Listening and in The Gift of Attention.  

I think I'm getting better at it......................just not as fast as I'd like.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Insulation


In construction and in clothing, insulation protects us from unpleasant, even painful, stimuli. That stimuli comes in the form of cold, heat, wind, rain, intense sunlight, etc.  Moderate amounts of all that stuff is actually rather pleasant, but when experienced in extremes a little protection is most appreciated. 

Many leaders attempt to "insulate" themselves from interaction with customers, both internal and external.  They go to great lengths to make themselves unavailable to the folks within the organization and to customers of the organization.  Sometimes they insulate themselves by putting in place layer upon layer of organizational hierarchy, each level serving as a filter to mitigate bad news or unpleasant feedback before it climbs to the next layer.  Sometimes, leaders actually create physical barriers between themselves and their stakeholders.  These insulators show up in the form of inaccessible offices (often on the top floor), gatekeepers whose role is to intercept and redirect "intruders" (and visitors), huge desks behind which they hide/sit (usually in high-backed and elevated chairs).  All these techniques serve to insulate the leader from unpleasant elements. 

But, why?

If things are going poorly (or well), shouldn't the leader want a firsthand account of it?  If processes/systems are malfunctioning (or performing beautifully), shouldn't the leader want to know about it early on?  If there is a disgruntled customer (or a raving fan), shouldn't the leader need to hear directly from them?

The best leaders I know walk the halls, they talk directly to customers, they drink coffee with the custodian, they visit the loading dock, they sit in the waiting room, they ride with the delivery guy, they answer the phone, they ENGAGE with the stakeholders, at all levels.  

These leaders understand that organizational insulation will keep them well protected...........and in the dark, right up until the time the ship begins to sink.