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

Friday, December 29, 2017


Ideally, our approach to dealing with difficult, sticky, and complex problems should look something like this:

Step 1:  Observe - pay careful attention, collect data
Step 2:  Inquire - ask probing questions that spur thinking/discourse
Step 3:  Interpret - leveraging Steps 1 & 2, form diagnosis 
Step 4:  Solve/Resolve - create a plan to address the problem

Here's a (typical) recipe for train wreck:

Step 3:  Interpret - diagnose without sufficient evidence/thought
Step 4:  Solve/Resolve - tackle the wrong/nonexistent problem
Step 1:  Observe - the mess we've made
Step 2:  Inquire - ask WTH went wrong?

Getting the steps outta can really get us outta step (or, worse, going backward).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Policy does not dictate behavior.  Culture does.  Quite a few who hold leadership positions in organizations conclude that policy (or rules or regulations or tightly defined protocols) somehow trumps culture.  Nope.

What are the effects of pervasive policy plop?

  • De-energized team members (usually, many of the best ones)
  • Letter-of-the-law compliance as opposed to spirit-of-the-law manifestations
  • General resentment by team members that compliance rules were written for ALL to address the sins of a few
  • Team exasperation at the deficit model message - "you'll only get/do it right if we demand that you get/do it right"
  • Ubiquitous hunker-n-hide syndrome --- it's just easier to take the minimalist route, to stay off the radar, to not push boundaries, to not press for improvement

Not a lot of upside to policy plop.

If the time we spend on developing, writing, communicating, monitoring, and enforcing policy could somehow be spent on improving organizational culture, what a Merry Christmas we'd ALL have (throughout the whole year!).

Stop the PLOP!  (Or, at the very least, reduce it a little.)

Sunday, December 24, 2017


All life forms require fuel.  Same goes for human-made machines.  

Machines only run on specific kinds of fuel:  gasoline, firewood, natural gas, coal, electricity, sunlight, wind, etc.  Machines quit functioning when their fuel supply is depleted.  When the electricity stops, the ceiling fan quits turning.  When the natural gas quits flowing, the furnace stops heating.  When the gas tank is empty, the car engine quits running.  

For the most part, machines run only on the fuel they were designed for.  We can try if we want, but lawn mowers don't run if we put coal in the gas tank.  We can try if we want (and some have), but a gasoline engine won't run (for long) if we put diesel in it.  We can try if we want, but the coal-fired ship engine won't operate if we try to fuel it with sunlight. 

We humans are fundamentally three dimensional beings:  physical, intellectual, and spiritual/emotional.  Each of those dimensions runs optimally on certain kinds of fuel.

Some fairly important questions follow:  

  1. What kind of fuel does our physical body need for optimal performance? 
  2.  What kind of fuel does our mind need for optimal performance? 
  3.  What kind of fuel does our spiritual being need for optimal performance? 
Oh, one more question:  What kinds of fuel have we been supplying for each?

Sunday, December 17, 2017


I recently read Origin by Dan Brown (2017).

DB is one of my favorite writers of fiction and this book is as good as any of his works.  The reasons I love reading DB:

  • He's a magnificent story teller.
  • His writing is superb.
  • He educates me along the way.
  • He always challenges my assumptions.
Sounds like a recipe for cognitive engagement, huh?

In Origin, DB delves into the interesting topic of human existence.
"Where do we come from?"  "Where are we going?"

Read it only if you want to experience a magnificent story, written superbly, that will educate you and challenge your assumptions (and then some).  

By the way, this is nc writing this review, not artificial intelligence.  ;-)

Monday, December 11, 2017


Disruptive forces generate a lot of unsettling turbulence in our lives - whether on the personal level or at the organizational level.

Shifts in the status quo are almost always unsettling.  The most disruption occurs when we have little control over those catalytic forces.

Some examples of that kind of disruption:

  • Loss of a loved one or critical team player.
  • A new and robust competitor arrives on the scene.
  • A storm (in the environment or in the marketplace) shakes our very foundation.
  • Significant changes in policy or law emerge.
  • Revenue drops precipitously.
  • Family/Organization relationships become strained.
Turbulence happens.  Disruption happens.  Shift happens.   

What we learn from it, and how we respond to it, is what matters most.

The healthiest RE-sponse is to...     RE-flect     RE-assess     RE-align     RE-learn

We can dissolve into dismay and drivel, or  ...  we can turn it into 
GROWTH (which is its own form of disruption).

Saturday, December 9, 2017


At our ranch in west Texas, we rarely have issues with mud.  Very rarely.  Like once a year.  Maybe.

However, I know from the experience of others (and a few of my own) that mud can bog one down, inhibit the work flow.  Or worse, completely bring progress to a halt (as you dig, pull, winch, and jack yourself out of the muck).

Same thing happens in organizations.  What are some common bogger downers?

  • Egotists - who seem more focused on their progress than that of the team.
  • Deniers - who seem never to grasp, or take seriously, troubling data trends.
  • Yakkers - who spend most of their time talking and little of it doing.
  • Blamers - who are adept at identifying problems and quickly assigning responsibility, to others.
  • Puds - who don't want the waters stirred, the boat rocked, or their comfort disrupted.
  • Plodders - who resist working too hard, doing too much, thinking too deeply.
Every organization has 'em.  That's not news. 

That list fundamentally betrays the way individual and organizational energy is being used.

Some organizations manage to re-direct energy toward a few, common, worthy, meaningful goals.  They're the ones least likely to get bogged down. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017


I attended a memorial service yesterday for a dear friend and mentor, Jerry Gibbs.  Mr. Gibbs was the first principal I worked for as a young teacher-coach.  

God must have known I would need such a powerful and positive force to get me moving in the right direction as a fledgling educator.

Some of the most impactful learning I garnered from Mr. Gibbs:

  • Students first, always.
  • Have high expectations for yourself, for those who work with/for you, and for the students you serve.
  • Be fair, be honest, be forthright, be forgiving.
  • Do the right thing, and don't get wobbly when circumstances would make it easier not to.

In relation to that last bullet, one of the speakers at the funeral referenced a sign he has in his business, for all employees and customers to see.  It reads as follows:

Do what needs to be done.
Do it when it needs to be done.
Do it as well as it can be done.
Do it as often as it needs to be done.

Those words aptly fit the way Mr. G lived.

RIP, Mr. G.  And, thanks.  (I owe you debt I can never fully repay.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017


The best parents do it.
The best teachers do it.
The best preachers do it.
The best mentors do it.
The best physicians do it.
The best leaders do it.
The best coaches do it.

They pay exquisite attention to those over whom they have influence.  

They notice thoroughly, they watch carefully, they ask probingly, they listen deeply, they engage fully.

And when they do, we grow - well and rightly.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


When my boss told me and her other direct reports back in 2005 that she wanted all of us to develop a personal growth plan for ourselves...............Well, I was not a happy camper.  

The connotations I had always associated with growth plans were negative - a compliance document foisted upon less-than-optimally-performing subordinates.  I failed to see the need for us to engage in such a meaningless waste of time.  After all, we were in leadership positions, heading up divisions of a high-performing organization.  WHAT???  REALLY???

We dutifully complied with the boss's wishes.  That boss was my boss for only one more year.  A tough boss, but a good one.  She made me better.

I am now in year 12 of crafting and re-crafting my own annual growth plan.  No need for a boss to push it on me.  I intend to keep up the practice until they put me six feet under.

There is great power in reflecting on our performance, assessing where we need growth and improvement, and making a plan to get better, every day, on purpose.  There is also great power in sharing those intentions publicly.  

My current version is HERE, if you care to peruse.

What might yours look like?

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Moe (my lovely bride of 40 years) and I learned early in our experience as stewards of the land the unintended consequences of bulldozing.  We purchased several acres of land and promptly had some bulldozing done, to create the aesthetic effect on our property we desired.

That was over 20 years ago and we still see the negative effects of that carnage in these ways:

  • Compromise of the life systems in the soil, which is ultimately the feeder of all life above the soil.
  • Reduced availability of water/moisture (the life-sustaining medium) in the ground.
  • Lessened evidence of wildlife (birds and animals), who both feed and feed from the plants that grow on that ground.
  • Diminished diversity of plant life and of animal life that does manage to grow on that plot.
With years of hindsight and experiences in trying to regenerate life on that acreage, we have learned that gentle embellishments, that work WITH the natural systems, would have been a much better path to take in trying to increase the health, wellbeing, and long-term productivity of that land.

Leaders who think they want to "bulldoze" perceived negative elements in their organizations........................take heed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


I recently read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion (Hagel, Brown, & Davison, 2010).

This is one of the best books I've read on the topic of leadership - moving others and ourselves - in several years.  It would make a great resource for team book studies. 

My biggest takeaways:
  • Success can be defined as making sense while making progress.
  • In current contexts, our ability to tap knowledge flows is more important than tapping archives of knowledge.
  • We should think of our environment as a creation space, something we have power to shape.
  • Talent development MUST be a top priority.
  • Push models lead to heightened resistance, boredom, and stress.  Pull models stoke curiosity, innovation, and energy.
  • Seek out and engage the folks who have the tacit knowledge - the know-how - rather than the know-what group.
  • Connect with smart, talented, capable others, and make the most of those "serendipitous" encounters.
  • Leaders should be trying to pull the core to the edges rather than the edges to the core.
  • Senior (seasoned?) leaders ought to be seeking out "reverse mentors," in order to stretch their own thinking.

My favorite quotes:

  • “As a billboard along Highway 101 in Silicon Valley put it, '1,000,000 people overseas can do your job. What makes you so special?'” (p. 12)
  • “There are always more smart people outside your company than within it.  If we are serious about developing our own talent, we must find more ways to connect with and collaborate with all of those smart people outside our organization.” (p. 189) 
A superb book!

Monday, November 13, 2017


I've been reading a lot lately about the advent of artificial intelligence (AI).  Machine intelligence, driven by powerful software and computer algorithms, is progressing at warp speed.  This opens up worlds of possibilities for supplanting human work/thinking, not just in the manufacturing realm.

The assumption is that these AI thingywhoppers (droids?) will begin thinking on their own.  Not only will they be able to compute, search, disaggregate, and decide much faster than us humans, they can do so more effectively, more efficiently.  Doubt it?  jWhen you start shopping for something online, you get some nifty little "suggestions" to one side of your screen about other things you might like to consider buying.  Those suggestions are NOT coming from a human; it's AI at work.

What happens, however, when these powerful AI solution crafters start making decisions and feeding us "answers" to our problems that are completely void of compassion, of judgement, of heart?

Then we'll get automated solutions to complex problems that have some of these features:

  • No concern for the human collateral damage of the decisions.
  • Solutions driven solely by data, ignoring contextual elements.
  • Decisions completely devoid of values.
  • Purely transactional processes, disregarding the contributions of those who do the work.
  • Zero accountability for the decision maker (in this case, AI).
  • No interest in the development of others on the team (they're only humans, you know).
I've already worked with a few boss-humans that think and act like that.  Heartless.  Don't wanna do that anymore.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Magicians do it when they create illusions that fool us.

Contract designers do it when they fill up pages with font-size 4 text that immunizes against responsibility.

Lots of professions do it with their disclaimer statements.

Policy makers do it with endless babble that goes in circles.

Occasionally in life, however, we run across people who mean what they say, say what they mean, and back up both with their actions.

Even more rarely, and blessedly, those folks end up in leadership positions.

Enjoy them when you find them.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


We talk about learning a lot in this blog.  ;-)  Let's look at it backwards for a moment:

What are some things that keep us stuck on dumb (or ineffective)?

  • Thinking we're too busy to read that book, take that class, post the question in that forum, ask someone who can help...
  • Deluding ourselves into thinking our shortcomings are simply the result of bad luck.
  • Failing to spend some time (individually and as teams) reflecting on our results and discerning which of our practices produced the same.
  • Being fearful of failing or of looking less smartish.
  • Presuming that we have no control over the outcomes (aka, victimhood).
  • Ignoring the fact that it takes time, effort, energy, and resources to LEARN new stuff.
  • Trying to go it alone.
Here's the continuum.

DumbStuck                                              WarpLearn

Both the direction AND the speed we choose to move along that continuum are completely within our control.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Consumption is part living.  We consume stuff like:
  • Nutrition
  • Knowledge
  • Time
  • Energy
  • Love
  • The thinking/perspective of others
With all this consuming, a couple of tenets hold:
  1. When we consume healthy versions of that stuff, we get healthier.
  2. When we consume not-so-healthy versions of that stuff, we get sick(er).
These principles apply whether we're talking about physical health, intellectual health, emotional/spiritual health, or organizational health.

Some important questions:  What are we consuming?  Why?  How are those intakes impacting our health right now?  What are the expected long-term effects of that consumption on our wellbeing?

What we consume is based on choices we make (either consciously or subconsciously).

Conscious is better.  Conscious and healthy, even more so.

Friday, October 27, 2017


When it comes to getting better, either as individuals or as organizations, most of us understand that there is an element of learning involved.  

Ideally, it looks something like this:

  1. We clarify what we want to accomplish, specify where it is we want to go
  2. We reflect on what we know or how we performed
  3. We assess whether or not we've met our expectations accordingly
  4. We put a plan in place to either improve on the performance or correct underperformance
  5. We act on that plan (not put it in a three-ring binder and store it on a shelf)
  6. Back to Step 1 - regularly, frequently, habitually, intentionally
One word seems to capture this whole process nicely - LEARNING!

The best learning is self-directed and intrinsically motivated.  Words we often equate with learning, such as "training," "workshops," "classes," "professional development," "in-service," etc. imply that learning is something that others do to us or do for us.  It's almost as if we abdicate the responsibility for our learning to someone else, as if we're at the mercy of others to affect OUR learning.  


Getting better, every day, on purpose, best occurs when WE initiate and engage our learning in a self-directed manner, not waiting for someone else to do it to us or for us.

Learn on!

Monday, October 16, 2017


The best organizational leaders I know are excellent forecasters.  

Just like the best weather forecasters, these wise leaders run models (in their minds, with their teams, across their networks) of the possible outcomes of a particular event/initiative/election/scenario/conversation.

Just like the best weather forecasters, these wise leaders know that, when the dust settles, only ONE of the possible scenarios will have played out (even though hundreds of potentialities might have been considered).

Just like the best weather forecasters, these wise leaders know that shifting conditions can change the outcome potentialities in a matter of minutes, completely undoing and/or negating previous anticipations (and any commensurate contingencies put in place).

Just like the best weather forecasters, these wise leaders know that the ultimate outcomes are NOT within their control.  Mother Nature always bats last.

Just like the best efforts in weather forecasting, these wise leaders know that, at the end of the day, they could be proven wrong.  Or right.  Neither seems to matter that much because the attention of the public/organization shifts quickly to the next storm on the horizon.

Why, then, invest the effort, time, and thinking into anticipating futures?  With weather forecasting, it's a matter of safety, risk management, and saving lives.  In short, stewardship.  Same goes for the motivations behind such forecasting by organizational leaders (though hopefully not so much about saving lives).  

For leaders there is the added element of organizational stability and stewardship.  The wisest leaders invest time in those forecasting and contingency planning activities because it's the right thing to do, for the team.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Getting better ain't easy.  It almost always means adjusting our habits (either adopting new ones or abandoning old ones).

Getting better as an individual is hard, really hard.  

Getting better as a small team is harder, really harder.

Getting better as an entire organization is harderer, REALLY harderer.

Why?  With each added person, the complexities of getting better get messier.  It means adjusting personal and organizational habits.  Layered, nested, intertwined, tangled habits.

The high cost of avoiding the messy business of getting better is ... that we DON'T.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Precious few people we encounter in life seem fully, completely, and exclusively committed to loving their family and friends, unconditionally.

Precious few people we encounter in life seem perfectly happy living their lives "locally," without fanfare, without bombast, without the need to be elsewhere, to do something else, to own what they don't, to hobnob with the someone different.

Precious few people we encounter in life seem better at listening than they are talking, better at observing than they are at being observed, better at laughing than they are at growling, better at serving than they are being served.

Precious few people we encounter in life seem so perfectly comfortable in their skin that they make the rest of us feel a little more comfortable in our own.

Precious few people we encounter in life seem so trustworthy that we would allow them to help raise our own children - teaching them, guiding them, comforting them, feeding them, loving them.

Joan P was all of those.  Our family was and continues to be blessed by her presence in our lives.  

RIP Joan.

Friday, September 29, 2017


NO!  I'm not gonna talk about religion.  However, I am gonna rob a phrase that cropped up in my early days of religious education - "the unforgivable sin" - to make a point.

Let's talk about getting better, every day, on purpose - the process of continuous improvement.

We ALL have flaws, weaknesses, points of vulnerability.  Those weak spots could be in areas of our physical health and wellbeing, they could be in areas of our intellectual/cognitive health and wellbeing, or they could be in areas of our emotional/spiritual health and wellbeing.  Most of us, in fact, have some limitations in all those areas.

And, most of us will go to our grave with weaknesses that still need our attention and remediation.  

So, if we've all got 'em, what's the sin in that?

When we decide that getting better, doing better, learning more is not worth the time or trouble, we have chosen to give up, to not care.  In effect, we've made the choice to begin circling the drain.


Monday, September 25, 2017


Our personal or organizational growth, real growth, always causes some ripples.  

Just as a pebble (or boulder) is dropped into a body of water causes ripples outward, so does our learning and development (whether as an individual or as a team).  Authentic learning always has derivative impact beyond ourselves. 

Some observations about the rippling effects of learning/growth:

  • Ripples are, in effect, disturbances to the calm surface of the water.  So, too, does our new growth disturb the status quo.  If it doesn't, it probably does not qualify as real growth.
  • Incremental growth (the pebble) causes small ripples.  
  • Significant and consequential growth (the boulder) causes much larger disturbances.
  • Learning in and with teams almost always accelerates the growth experience, and thus the ripple effects.  
  • Lack of growth/learning preserves the precious calm, a state also known as stagnation.
How's the learning/growing/rippling going with you?  Your team?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


The phrase "pencil whipping" is old expression often used in discussing fancy footwork when it comes to accounting practices.  It can also apply to a lot of organizational behaviors meant to create falsified or questionable data.  

Fundamentally, it's the egregious practice of the let's-don't-but-say-we-did syndrome.  Huh?  Examples, you ask?  Here goes:

  • Keeping sign-in sheets for staff each morning to provide proof that everyone showed up on time.
  • Tying commissions to new sales only, thus incentivizing sales staff to chase new customers and disregard old (and faithful) ones.
  • Crafting survey questions in such a way that they only provide the data responses that can be portrayed as favorable.
  • Posting a sign on the inside of the door of your public restroom to prove it's cleanliness, though any casual observance will clearly reveal otherwise. 
  • Developing padded up budgets with innocuous sounding line items to hide expenditure plans.
You get the idea.  The list could go on and on.  Those of us who have worked in organizations of any size could continue to add to this list of absurdities that serve as falsifiers of reality.

To what end?  Such acts and initiatives never serve the organization, or its membership, well.

TRUTH is a fundamental metric of health, whether personal or organizational.  Denial, or outright deceit, are symptoms of deep-seated dysfunction or illness.

Our habits, our behaviors, belie our intentions.  Always.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Deception is very much like a disease.  It can creep in on us unawares, and it can insidiously compound itself to the point in which we feel significantly compromised - cognitively, politically, emotionally, physically...

The disease of deception is problematic and limiting in any of its forms.  The worst form of that disease, however, is SELF-DECEPTION.

So, what are some of the symptoms of self-deception?

  • Feelings of victimhood.  Thinking we deserve more/better, just because.
  • Insecurity, which drives defensiveness.  Not being comfortable enough in our own skin to admit weakness and to genuinely seek assistance in closing those gaps.
  • Bulletproofedness.  The misconception that we can go it alone, do it alone, accomplish it alone.
  • Martyrdom mania.  Stuck on the belief that nobody cares like we do, nobody tries like we do.
  • Condescension.  Believing we're (almost always) smarter than those around us.
Some antidotes to the disease of of the self-deceived?
  • Strong, healthy relationships with thoughtful and honest others.
  • Relentless focus on the BIG stuff.
  • LEARN more.  Tirelessly, persistently, ubiquitously, pervasively.
  • reflection...Reflection...REFLECTION!
Happy healing.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


You know the old saw:  "Even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes."

True enough, but the implication is that the hog finding the acorn was pure luck.  

I think not, and here's why:

  • The hog had a need and knew it.
  • The hog had a clear objective in mind - food.
  • The hog was actually searching and working to achieve the objective - not waiting for someone else to supply it.
What makes the acorn finding somewhat accidental is that the hog did not have the full compliment of tools needed (in this case, sight) to expedite the achieving of the objective.

Now let's shift the view into the mirror... 
  • Are our needs clearly known?
  • Are our objectives precisely articulated and understood?
  • Is our tool set full and functional?
  • Are we working, really working, toward our well-defined goals?

Wimpy, wobbly, wishy-washy, and whiny are not the tools of achievement.

What excuse(s) do we really have for not achieving?

Thursday, September 7, 2017


It has been a personal objective of mine for several years to be (and become) a better listener.  Progress is being made, but not as quickly as I'd like.

From that learning journey toward being a more powerful listener, here a few observations that continue to shape my growth in this area:

  • Listening, counterintuitively, seems to be a more powerful tool of persuasion than talking.
  • Talking makes me tired while listening makes me think.
  • Deep listening is a very difficult skill to hone.
  • Talking is more likely to convey arrogance, condescension, rudeness, devaluation, and pressure than does listening.
  • Listening exposes me much more to the thinking and wisdom of others than does my talking.
  • Listening seems to make me a better servant, a better friend, a better husband, a better leader, and, yes, even a better talker (not a more prolific talker; just a more effective talker).
The journey continues.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


I recently read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (2010).

In this work of non-fiction, IW documents the Great Migration of black Americans from the South to the East, North, and West from 1915 to the 1970s.  IW gives us meaningful context by specifically including the stories of three individuals:

  • Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, who migrated from Mississippi to Chicago.
  • George Swanson Sterling, who migrated from Florida to New York.
  • Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who migrated from Louisiana to California.

These three, as did millions of others, chose to flee the codified and overt racism of the South (even after their supposed emancipation), only to find themselves subject to tacit and covert racism in the American North, East, and West.

The southern migrants fled for many reasons: fear for their lives, an unwillingness to continue to cope with oppressive Jim Crow laws, the hope of a better future.  But oppression was not the only thing they left behind; loved ones, heritage, tangible belongings, and precious memories were also casualties of their flight.

Some powerful quotes:

"Still it made no sense to Pershing that one set of people could be in a cage, and the people outside couldn’t see the bars.” (p. 174) 

“All told, perhaps the most significant measure of the Great Migration was the act of leaving itself, regardless of the individual outcome. Despite the private disappointments and triumphs of any individual migrant, the Migration, in some ways, was its own point. The achievement was in making the decision to be free and acting on that decision, wherever that journey led them.” (p. 535)

“With the benefit of hindsight, the century between Reconstruction and the end of the Great Migration perhaps may be seen as a necessary stage of upheaval.  It was a transition from an era when one race owned another; to an era when the dominant class gave up ownership but kept control over the people it once had owned, at all costs, using violence even; to the eventual acceptance of the servant caste into the mainstream.” (p. 538) 

An informative and moving work.