About Me

My photo
Welcome to nc’s blog. Read, comment, interact, engage. Let’s learn together - recursively.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Moe (my lovely bride of 38 years) and I have learned a great deal from the country wisdom of some of the old-timers we live among out here is West Texas.  One of those pearls of wisdom came from an old rancher in this form:  "If you can't find something broken, you ain't looking hard enough."

The same wisdom holds for life in organizations.  While usually not as obvious as a flat tractor tire or broken fence, the problems that surface in organizational work need just as much of our prompt remedial attention.

In organizational life, however, discerning where/what the problems are can be a nuanced endeavor for leaders.  Here are some strategies that have proven helpful in "looking hard enough" for those issues that cause organizational dysfunction:

  • Walk the premises, and pay attention to what we're looking at.
  • Invite frontline worker and customer feedback by asking questions AND listening to their responses.
  • Always thank customers and employees for their feedback (even if, especially if, it is painful to hear).
  • Apologize for boos boos past, but quickly direct the conversations toward fixes future.  It's always about getting better from where we are today.
  • NEVER shoot or diminish the messengers.  They know/see/hear things that we don't, and need to. 
Tractor flats and broken fences and limping organizational systems are best dealt with before they reach crisis status.  

There's always something broken.  We need to be looking.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


You've probably heard the old saying that "iron sharpens iron."  Actually, it's a verse from the Bible (Proverbs 27:17) and goes thus:  "Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." (New International Version)

On Friday I completed the 2015 version of the graduate class I teach at UT Austin to students who aspire to be school principals.  There are 14 students in that cohort:  
> 14 VERY sharp minds 
> 14 hearts that are full of love for children
> 14 spirits committed to leaving the world a better place than they found it

They sharpened me.

Friday, June 26, 2015


From endings come new beginnings.  Literally and figuratively.

> The end of a day turns to night which turns to a new day.
> The end of a chapter leads to the beginning of a new chapter (or a new book).
> The end of a project/task leads to the beginning of a new one.
> The end of a life leads to the beginning of a new one.  (Even if you're disinclined to believe in the possibilities of spiritual existence, death leads to the elemental decay of a life form, the elements of which are taken up by other microbes/plants/animals in the generation of new life.)

We often wish to maintain the status quo, to resist change, which is sort of like wishing to extend the dying process.  Wishing to avoid the inevitable cycle of endings and beginnings, of change, is usually a manifestation of fear of what the next beginning will bring. 

We are wise to acknowledge this constant unfolding and enfolding of life, to accept it, to flow with it.  Death - whether it be that of a life, of an organization, of a relationship - redirects the energy and consciousness embodied therein toward new beginnings.

Truly, each ending is really a beginding, bringing with it the prospect of new learning and new possibilities.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


As a teenager we often engaged in a mock exercise of assisted restraint.  We would see/hear something trivial that, in theory, would trigger faux outrage from us.  In response we would then yell, "Hold me back, hold me back," and throw ourselves into the arms of a nearby friend who would supposedly serve as our restraining guardian.  The mimicry implied that we could not control ourselves from exacting justice, by violence if needed, to rectify the perceived "sin" of some other(s).

If was fun, it was cute, it was humorous. (We thought.)

As Alan Jackson might say, "But here in the real world" it's a different story.

We do, in fact, hold ourselves back.  Quite often, really.  Without the assistance of friends (though they are sometimes complicit).  Here are some of the ways we hold ourselves back:
  • We choose to quit learning.
  • We choose to NOT think critically, and for ourselves.
  • We acquiesce to the status quo.
  • We avoid the discomfort required for our growth.
  • We fear failure to the point that we resist taking risks.
  • We go along to get along (even when we don't feel "right" about it).
We sometimes do get "held back."  Most of the time, however, we're the ones holding ourselves back. 

That can stop today, if we so choose.

Monday, June 22, 2015


According to Peter Drucker, "...one either meets or works.  One cannot do both at the same time."  

Oh how we punish ourselves with meetings!

I have heard it proposed that meetings should be conducted more like huddles on a football field.  

The analogy makes sense when you consider these similarities:

  • Everyone shows up with ONLY the needed equipment (you never see a smartphone or laptop or briefcase or lunchbox in a football huddle).
  • The purpose of the gathering has been in development and pervasively-communicated for at least the week prior.
  • The "agenda items" are all action items, not discussion items.
  • Everyone at the meeting is clear about their roles and the absolute necessity of their successful deployment.
  • They're brief, really brief.  Start and stop times are perfectly clear and religiously adhered to (tardiness and chit-chat are not allowed).
  • The invitees are few, and all have direct relevance to the gathering.
  • All the attendees understand the common technical language being used (no wasted time explaining stuff that is assumed to be known and understood).
  • Everyone stands (no sitting allowed).
  • The subsequent performance outcomes are clear to the WORLD (the ultimate in transparency - real and tangible accountability).
  • The persistent "failers" get un-invited pretty quickly.
I know, I know.  The analogy breaks down in some places, but............................
wouldn't you like to see more meetings run like a football huddle?

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Each of us is "shaped" by others (usually a large number of others).

The shaping is the result of a number of things:

  • Close and long relationships with shapers.
  • Direct mentoring by shapers.
  • Chance interactions with shapers.
  • Being taught by shapers.
  • Challenges to our beliefs/practices/assumptions by shapers.
Shapers change 
the way we think, 
          the way we behave, 
               the way we react, 
                    the way we see the world. 

Some of the shapers we engage with for our entire lives, others only briefly.  Like proverbial angels, shapers pass through our lives daily, often unbeknownst to us.

Unless we're looking for them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Observing is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.  It amounts to focusing, paying attention, being aware, noticing (I've written about Noticing before).  

In being fully observant we have multiple tools available to us by which to take "readings": 

  • Seeing
  • Listening
  • Sensing
  • Asking
  • Engaging
  • Feeling
Through those processes we can fully participate in LIFE.  

Two big inhibitors that get in the way of our observing are:
  • Going too fast (gotta get stuff done!)
  • Talking too much
Everyone of the things in both lists above are completely within our control.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I recently read Cows Save the Planet by Judith Schwartz (2013).  

In this book JS discusses a lot more than how cows positively impact the planet.  She thoroughly examines both the politics and the practices that underly sustainable living.  Actually, the book is more about how we restore and regenerate soil to a healthy state than it is about cows.  

Here are my biggest takeaways:

  • When (IF) money ever reaches a state of meaninglessness, healthy soil will be the premium currency; only from it springs the life that gives us life.
  • We must "give back" to the soil what we take from it, for when we erode/degrade it, we erode/degrade our social fabric.
  • Soil IS the critical hub of the carbon cycle.
  • Future wars will be fought over water, not oil.
  • Key mineral nutrients in our crops have declined 50-100% in the last century.
  • One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living bacteria than there are people on the planet (6 billion+). Wow.
  • "Regenerating" is a better goal than "sustaining," since we've allowed much of our soil to reach a severely degraded state already.
  • Healthy soil = healthy plants/animals/water = healthy us.  

My favorite sentence:
"I’ll leave you with Kurt Vonnegut’s iconic comment: 'We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.'” (p. 204)

Enlightening.  It'll change your worldview (maybe a little, maybe a LOT).

Monday, June 15, 2015


I've written about dying before; you can find those thoughts here.

Fact is, we're all dying - just at different rates of speed.  And, we're all at different points in that process.

Conceptually speaking, however, I believe that we accelerate our dying when we stop (or slow down) our learning.  Learning new stuff enlivens us, literally and figuratively.

Something to consider as we march through this day...

Friday, June 12, 2015


Sometimes you win.....................................but you lose.
Sometimes you lose.....................................but you win.

Those admonitions were embedded in my psyche by one of my mentors 20 years ago as he was shaping me to be a stronger leader.

Proving others wrong may be within our capability.  Trumping their decisions may be within our authority.  Undoing or devaluing their work may be within our jurisdiction.  Making them look or feel foolish may be something within our reach (in fact, we may wish it - with or without justification).

In leading others, there is a price to be paid for "winning" at their expense.  Like a soap bubble, our "winning" is visible and tangible but for a moment; but it pops and disappears rather quickly.  Like rot, their "losing" grows slowly and consumes us over time.

Making ourselves look or feel or achieve better at the expense of others in our organization carries a hefty long-term price, the bill for which will most certainly come due.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


I heard a compelling quotation yesterday that caused me pause.  Here it is:

"If your dreams don't scare you, they are too small."  - Richard Branson, Virgin United

Dreams, in this context, are our aspirations, our yearnings, our hopes for the future.  Dreams are not today's agenda, our short term goals, our to-do list for this week.

Branson is spot on, I think.  

What do we want to accomplish this year, this decade, in life? 

Scared yet? (If not, raise the bar.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


What causes morale problems among the (organizational) troops?  Here are a few catalysts:

  • Uncertainty about the direction (or the nobility of the direction) of the organization.
  • Feeling devalued by leadership.
  • Lack of voice in organizational decisions.
  • Absence of transparency within the organization (usually springing from dismal communications).
  • Ambiguity about expectations.
  • Concluding that member talents/abilities/skills/knowledge are being wasted.
  • Loss of trust between/among other organizational members and organizational layers.
Rarely is low morale about feeling overworked and/or underpaid (these are just less abstract symptoms of the root causes in the list above).

Leaders should think of every one of those catalysts as a form of "disease" that can infect an organization.  Skillful and effective leaders can and do proactively interdict the "infection" likelihood of each.

Takes some thought, takes effort, takes work, takes integrity...  It also takes intentionally deploying immunization countermeasures for each.  And, the work is never done - attention to the health and wellbeing of the organization (just like our bodies) is a daily endeavor.


Monday, June 8, 2015


If we want vibrant futures for the teams we work on (and thus, for ourselves), there are a few Dos and Don'ts to consider.

Things we should do:

  • Be open-minded in the visioning process.  Think big and encourage others do so, too.
  • Gain a WIDE range of perspectives (both from in and out of your field).
  • Acknowledge and value the gifts/talents others on the team bring to the table.
  • Take time to metabolize information (unless you're in emergency response mode).
  • Understand that emotion and personal dispositions almost always trump empirical data as rationale for action (or inaction).  Frame positions and messages accordingly.
  • Approach problems and people with a curious mind (demonstrated by skillful inquiry).

Things we shouldn't do:

  • Try to convince others they're wrong.  It's a waste of time and energy.
  • Explain stuff ad infinitum.
  • Embarrass or humiliate others.
  • Ruin a good plan by over-bureaucratizing it (with too many rules/procedures/protocols/restrictions).
  • Put all our eggs in one basket.  Bold and risky ventures are best rolled out as pilot programs.
  • Make assumptions about outcomes or people.  Both tend to defy prediction.
No guarantees, but better futures are more likely when we attend well to this prescription.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


The human brain is a remarkable thing.  The human mind even more so.  Philosophers, biologists, psychologists, chemists, theologians, physicists, even a few of us lay people, have for hundreds of years debated the connections between brain and mind, all struggling to make some kind of sense of where our consciousness comes from.  The debate still rages.

One thing that is without question is that the way we think impacts the way we behave.  More than anything else, habits govern our behavior.  And, we have great power to determine our habits.  

One small step toward re-wiring our thinking, thus our habits, is to think and talk in positives rather than negatives.  That can start with the way we think and talk about ourselves and others.  There is great (and empirically-based) wisdom in the old adage, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

+ examples:

  • I can get this right.
  • She's an excellent conversationalist.
  • We're a great team.
- examples:
  • I'm a screw up.
  • He a terrible finisher.
  • They're only looking out for themselves.
Our thoughts govern our words govern our behaviors govern our words govern our thoughts govern our behaviors govern our thoughts...   

All that recursive wiring and re-wiring has direct impact on outcomes.  We can do this.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Our genes (the DNA coding we received from our biological parents at birth) imbue us with a vast set of "possibilities" as we develop physically, intellectually, emotionally (and, perhaps, even spiritually).  This sequencing of genes is called our genotype and is instrumental in determining our hair color, our facial features, length of our our second toe, our psychological dispositions, etc.  These inherited features are known as our genotype.

Our phenotype is a far different us.  It's the us that actually emerges as we develop, the us that others come to know as us.  Phenotype is the us that results from the interplay between our genetic coding and our life experiences.  Phenotype influences stuff like whether we like to dance or not, what our food preferences are, how we deal with conflict, how much and what we read, our IQ, etc. 

Turns out that a lot of those life experiences (both those that happen outside of our control and those within our control) seem to "turn on" or "turn off" many of the genes we are born with.  Yep, it is increasingly obvious that the genes are not so much like rules chiseled in granite as they are on-off switches that control possibilities of manifested traits.  Wow!   (This is now commonly referred to as the study of epigenetics.)

So what? you may be asking.   Here's what:  There are great and increasing implications for our personal growth and malleability as we learn more about genes, the way they get "expressed" in our lives, and our ability to influence their on/off status.  Very cool!

It seems we have great power to influence who we become.  That's intriguing, and heartening, and a little bit frightening.  Begs the question:  Who do I really want to be? (Because I might actually be able to make that person "happen").