What’s In Your Head?

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What’s in your head may be totally wrong.

The above statement may make you shrug your shoulders, as you think I’ve grasped something so obvious.

I had a conversation with a client today who relayed multiple stories of leaders who continued to rely on the faulty data roaming around in their heads. It was clear to him that much was missing and much could go wrong on multiple projects. As I’m sure you can imagine, big plans and tight deadlines were the drivers.

I asked him whether these leaders lived inside their own heads. I proceeded to explain why our own thought processes can deceive us. I pointed out that our thought processes have a tendency to be reliant on self and past accomplishments. You’ve experienced this before. A smart person who has been told how smart they are, with success to show for it, typically is not accepting of contrary opinion or advice. Who needs it when you’ve pretty much figured out the riddle of life and work.

People from all walks of life are interesting in how they apply thoughtful analysis, or critical thinking. My coaching client saw an example at work of how very smart people can fall into the trap of leaning on their own mental capabilities. Much of it is a pick and choose proposition. What if you were told by their doctor to come back annually for a test, you’d say of course they will make the appointment without missing a beat. Isn’t it ironic how you can rationalize not doing it. Recognize these sentences:

  • “I have to complete this project, and then I will…”
  • “I feel great and I’m not in any pain.”
  • “I don’t think it’s as serious as he told me it was.”

It really is arrogance-covert or overt. Arrogant people often have the biggest blind sides. Once again, relying only on information that fits what’s in their head. It took me years to turn around on this front.

How Fame Has Ruined the Game of Growth

“Depth of soul can never be measured by the eyes.”

– Author Unknown

Is the depth of soul important as you seek to grow a life and career?  Does fame poison the journey?  Yes, on both fronts.

Depth of soul is non-negotiable, unless you prefer to hang with the shallow crowd.  Besides, who wakes up in the morning looking forward to a day of engaging with the shallow.  Fame can be poisonous if not handled well, and keep in-mind that fame is relative.  If you work in a 3 story building, fame is attainable amongst the group.

In the media (new and old) age we live in we’ve been seduced into believing that fame is something to grasp.  Even those who won’t admit it long for the attention.  Maybe it’s the feeling of false validation that comes when people know “who you are.”  Which, by the way, is such a contradictory idea.

We forget that fame is a cost of doing business and not a barometer of how good we are in the game we play.  Not to mention the trade that occurs in the pursuit.  You can’t have it all.

Here some ways fame has ruined the game of growth:

  • In the old media days you needed to know what you were good at.  Fame in the new media world says; “everyone’s invited”
  • We bought the lie that the famous are as wonderful as an airbrush can create.  We connect without knowing anything about personhood
  • Fame made us long for comfort, which is a mortal blow to a life of growth
  • We didn’t learn from the teacher named rejection
  • Fame convinced us to seek validation from the applause
  • Fame, like money, caused us to become slaves, not masters

What Martin Taught Me

Seemed right to re-post this today, for the obvious and the not-so obvious truth that we need courage even more today.

It seems annually, I watch this You Tube clip from 1965 of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was taken from a segment of Meet the Press. Dr. King was being interviewed by journalists about events that had occurred in Selma, Alabama. The questions were tough and circumstances of the time even tougher.

So what did Martin teach me?

I don’t know what was going through Dr. King’s mind as he spoke on that Sunday morning news program, but it seemed like he was being carried by something greater than himself. Remember, there were more than a few people who wanted him dead.

Courage is manifested by something greater than ourselves.

Sadly, we live in a time where real courage is often refused. We now manufacture events and circumstances to show our faux-courage. We’ve found a way to manage authentic courage out of our daily lives. Our careers, our parenting, our relationships are often managed to avoid the difficult and daunting.

I find myself thankful for what Martin taught me. The reality that every human being will one day face a crossroads of courageous. It may be small or it may be large. But regardless, no one gets a pass.

The question remains, are we listening to that voice?

Telling Lies

A re-post from 2010.

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I read once that if you want to get comfortable with telling lies to others, you need to get comfortable with telling lies to yourself.  Kind of chilling when you think about it. I agree with the analogy.

Now what are these self-lies we tell ourselves?  In my case, during my days in the corporate world, it was performance.  For example, if I hit this number I will get an applause at the weekly staff meeting.  I would sit and find myself perspiring and feeling so much adrenaline at the thought of telling my peers how well my group was doing.  The lie I embraced was that age old dysfunction of; “if I do this or that, I will be liked/loved.”  Did my peers like/love me because of my great feats?  No, and if some were of the flattering variety, it never lasted very long.

Telling, and believing, self-lies is a dangerous habit.  Like an awful addiction to any opiate.  You can never find the strength to stop. It can cripple you from finding and leading an Epic Life.  One scary part is found in how many people/messages are out there to fuel the habit. It ends when the habit births regret.

In the end, lies are lies, no way around it.

Lying to oneself is not only confined to the individual.  But creeps into the organizational world too.  Take the large corporation that proclaims, via marketing, that it values the client.  Ironically, though, its client service department can’t even return phone calls in a reasonable fashion.  The organization continues to print materials, hold town hall meetings, format focus groups, but the truth is still the same; valuing a client is more of a fantasy.  And by the way, most loyal clients know this.

So what happens if we start embracing the truth versus the lie?  Here are some outcomes to consider:

  1. We can get down to the business of change-for the better.
  2. We’ll stop blaming the competition, our dads, the economy or some other phantasm for our poor results.
  3. Focus and happiness.
  4. A legacy colored in the brush strokes of love and action.
  5. Freedom!

I’m sure there are more outcomes to list, but the point remains for un to stop the lies.  Our Epic Life/Venture depends on it.

The Fractured Man

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

I am a fractured man. I have multiple scars and limps from battles lost, and won. All of these are forming every day. The forming of:

  • Empathy
  • Love
  • Humility
  • Focus
  • Contentment

The fractured men and women I’ve known are full of clarity. They see no point in pretense and posing. They understand that life is a limited time offer. This is only known when a human comes in touch with the brink (death, business failure, relationship loss, and more). Each time I’ve been in the position of looking at the brink, I’m reminded of the futility of thinking I have control. The story will never cede its authority.

I used to see the process of fracturing as unwelcome visitors. I discovered some time ago that these visitors are friends designed to bring me to a form of completeness.

In the age we live in, my words are contrarian and not talked about. Everything is about winning, typically at all costs. You would think life is just a big contest with all the glory at the end. I wish we paid more attention to the input, the blood, the sweat. It could make a big difference.

 

Untangling the Identity

Considering my post from yesterday, I thought it appropriate to put this one out again.

 

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Identity is one of the best barometers of who a person really is. It defines us even if we deny or look the other way. When the world in which we live starts defining us, the tangles begin.

Key in my story is the untangling of my identity.

Much of the tangles in my identity came from performance and a craving for affirmation. I’ll spare you and this page of all of what and where it came from. I want to use this time to talk about untangling identity and its next door neighbor, the real you/me.

In many ways we, grow tangles. They’re very much like weeds. The seed germinates, the stalk appears and the leaves sprout. Instead of wrapping around a big tree, it goes to our heart. It seduces and flatters. Before you know it you have a problem.

What if the world you run in celebrates the tangles?

It’s such a subtle play. The most dangerous situations are often this way. The decisions seem right, no one questions (or you stay away from anyone who would question) and you find yourself a co-conspirator in your own demise. You’re successful by some measures. You don’t disrupt much of anything. You are a model for many.

I began getting untangled when I was crushed underneath many of my decisions from years ago. Decisions I made with no one holding a gun to my head. Just me and my stuff. When the untangling began, I felt horrible and ashamed. However, over time I could see glimpses of what an untangled life could be. In many ways, something needed to be pruned in and out of me. It was a process of throwing stuff into the fire, engaging in serious self-discipline, recognizing the difference between what I can control versus what I can’t, and allowing God to have full access to my heart. Thankfully, I never lost my soul in the process.

The following ideas are key:

  • I have to be me in all areas of life, not versions of myself in different arenas
  • Don’t be so hard on myself
  • Recognize that it’s not ok for me to get my breakthroughs, and watch others struggle. Offer help
  • Think about legacy every day
  • Stay away from anyone or anything that desires to own me

Today my identity is pretty clean. Many years have gone into the process. Certainly, there will always be a need to be on guard and always recognize, and do something about, my areas of weakness. It is an ongoing battleIt’s a little difficult sometimes for me to see how beauty can come out of my past tangles. Fortunately, I don’t need to see in full right now. Think of the Polaroid snapshot here, it develops over time.

ARS DUCENDI

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I can’t think of a more abused/overused word than “leadership.”  So few practice well the ARS DUCENDI (latin for the art of leadership).  Seems like we should shy away from using it.  But, alas, this post isn’t about how to remove a word from our modern lexicon.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I believe that the “art” of leadership is found in integration and balance.  Show me a man or woman who integrates and applies balance to their lives, and I’ll show you someone who understands what true leadership is.  They may not have a title, may not have a corner office, may not rake in tons of dough, but they know and live the art of leadership.

The integration part is when the leader sees all areas of life (eight in my view) as important and therefore worth the time and work needed.  It would be easy here to anoint then as a superhero/heroine.  In a culture like ours (America in my case) we see these folks as superhuman and worthy of worship.  This is a fatal mistake.  We should never allow any human to live out our destiny for us.  As rhetorical as that statement sounds, many people are on the sidelines, content to let someone else play their role.  As you have heard before, only you can be you.

The balance part is a thing of beauty.  I consider it the knowing when to and when not to.  Miles Davis was brilliant at this from a musical standpoint.  He seemed to know that the music was inside him and he needed to get out of the way so that it could flow out.  Balance is found when you know the context and you live accordingly.  For example, you know you’ve hit the point of diminishing return in the workday and your daughter is nudging you to communicate.  You want to tackle one more email, but there she is.  At this point, those who practice balance know it’s time to shut the work down and inject themselves into the life of their daughter.  Like Miles, you get out of the way.

It’s time for you to start your version of ARS DUCENDI.  You can’t ignore it and expect to have a life you want.  Fools have tried and find themselves in the sad state of regret.

 

The Shift From Arrogance to Humility

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The shift from arrogance to humility should not be a take it or leave it process. Far too often, the two opposing mindsets have been relegated to personality test outcomes or to individual behaviors. We all know the two have far reaching impact on multiple areas of life. Like the following:

  • Family
  • Customers
  • Co-workers
  • Performance (business and personal
  • Community

Most businesses (large and small) are afraid to tackle arrogance and humility. The pendulum either swings to enablement of the arrogant, or swings to not feeling comfortable with the “touchy, feely” of humility. When an organization refuses to deal, they run to distractions. Typically, meetings and over-thinking financial performance are du jour.

I am a man who has gone (still going) through the shift from arrogance to humility. I’ve grappled with regret, sadness, embarrassment, and more regarding this. It’s very hard work and the sooner you do it the better. I’ve even had the 3 AM visits, from above, reminding me of things I thought were buried and unknown to others. Maybe you have too.

I decided awhile ago to allow God to change me so that I can be like the sun, not gray and overcast. I couldn’t change myself. Arrogance, like humility, begins with a seed, moves to the roots, and then evidence in the form of a plant. Seeing a field of plants was too daunting and intimidating to change. Besides, even with the self-loathing, I also built a place of comfort, It was something I knew how to be. This quote from Jony Ive reveals how subtle this battle can be:

“I remember talking to Steve Jobs and asked why he was perceived as harsh. And I said couldn’t we be more moderate? And he said why? And I said, because I care about the team. And he said: “No Jony, you’re just really vain. You just want people to like you. I’m surprised at you, because I thought you really held the work up as the most important and not how you are perceived by people. People misunderstand Steve because he was so focused.”

Remember, there’s a lot on the line here. I’m choosing to shift. How about you?

5 Questions with Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina, Authors of Rebels at Work

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I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time. Lois and Carmen are two thought leaders I admire and respect a great deal. Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within is a great read, and their insights here are powerful. Enjoy!

What or who inspired you to take on the challenge of helping rebels in the workplace?

Lois: A giant light bulb popped for me when I was at an innovation conference and heard Carmen talking about being a heretic within the CIA, and how hard it was to create change inside the “belly of the beast.” I realized that day that I had throughout my career I had either been helping clients create change inside their big organizations or had been shaking things up in my own organizations. I also realized that I had been winging it my entire career, and felt kind of sad about that.. What else might I have been able to do if someone had coached me on what it takes to move new ideas through the politics of any organization? Could I have enjoyed work more? Could I have been kinder and more empathetic? This melancholy motivated me to help others.

Carmen: Well, as Lois said when I retired from the CIA the first significant public speech I gave was about being a heretic at the CIA. I not only connected with Lois, but also with many other people trying to make innovation occur inside big organizations. We too often talk about entrepreneurs and startups, but as hard as that is, I think making change inside existing organizations is harder. Like living in your house while you’re doing a big remodel. When I was at CIA, I was always reflecting on what I was doing. A lot of those reflections evolved into better practices for Rebels at Work.

What keeps you up at night regarding this mission? Are there any storm clouds we should be looking out for?

Lois: how do we reach BOTH the rebels and the executives to whom rebels report? We can teach, mentor and inspire rebels. But for organizations to adapt and grow executives have to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed and they have to know how to coach their rebels. Maybe even more fundamentally, they have to want rebels on their teams, not just tolerate them. The storm cloud I see is that as changing market contexts upend business as usual, most people get scared. And when they get scared they double down and try to make what’s worked before keep on working, shunning the people with the new ideas. Related is that people stop raising new ideas because they know business is not good and they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Carmen: What keeps me up a lot is the worldwide conspiracy for the preservation of mediocrity. For the most part, it’s not an explicit conspiracy, although people who believe things like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are suggesting that we should just settle. All of us, at one time or another, are unwitting members of this conspiracy. I also worry a lot about how hard it is to get people to accept diversity of thinking. This is something I had to deal with during my career. And sometimes I worry it isn’t really improving.

In Chapter 8, you write about the importance of Rebel Self-Care. From a wellbeing perspective, can you expand on that?

Lois: We rebels tend to be passionate and that passion can morph into obsession. Obsession can eat you alive, causing all kinds of bad behavior and blinding us from being able to rationally see what’s what. Taking care of ourselves is the only way to not fall into an obsessive dark hole. It’s the only way to keep a positive perspective and sense of humor. When we lose those, we’re losing our ability to be effective. Maybe we’re just plain losing ourselves. The more committed we are about excelling at our work, the more we need to look after our mental, spiritual and physical well-being. That’s our fuel and our safety net. It’s also what gives meaning to our life and work. (And meaning is a much more satisfying outcome than money or status.)

Carmen: I flunked Rebel Self-Care in my career, so I’m excited that we discuss this in the book and that so many people respond so positively to the message. I lost some of my best friends at the Agency during my time there because I didn’t pay attention to my emotions, that I was approaching a breaking point. All rebels need to avoid that breaking point. When we become cynical and negative, it takes a lot of effort to recover. And sometimes we never do.

Can the strategies found in the book apply to multiple areas of a rebel’s life?

Lois: Ha! Anyone who has teenagers knows what it’s like to be the “boss” of rebels. You love their fresh thinking, their creativity, their intolerance for school and societal rules that just don’t make sense. And yet they make you crazy when they break the rules, do stupid things without understanding the bigger context, and let their emotions run wild. When we coach our teenagers and help them learn how to navigate, they develop capacities for being effective, meaningful citizens of the world. If we simply insist they follow the rules, they just get angrier and more frustrated. Same with rebels and their bosses. As for rebels, the strategies in the book apply to many areas of our lives where we’re trying to get groups of people or organizations to consider new and better approaches than what exists. Parent-Teacher Organizations, church councils, school committees, condo associations, boards of non-profits. It’s about people influencing people.

Carmen: I use my “lizard brain” mantra to control my emotions ALL THE TIME. It really works. One recommendation we make is for rebels to not dominate conversations. In everything we do, we need to listen more.

When you think back on your career, can you recall a manager who once looked negatively at rebels, and then changed their mind? What brought the change on?

Lois: As a lifelong rebel, I pissed off more than a couple of my bosses and most of them came around because of two reasons, and sometimes a third. They realized how much I cared for the organization and wanted all of us to succeed. Second, they often couldn’t believe how many risks I took to make new ideas work. I didn’t just have skin in the game, I had a whole body commitment. From my observations, no manager needs to give rebels the “you have to be accountable” talk. Because I spent my career working for ad agencies and consulting firms, the third thing that turned my bosses into believers was revenue. When my ideas produced new revenue, there was only happiness and support.

Carmen: It’s always surprised me how well I get along with gruff, no-nonsense people. I think I had a couple of managers in my career who first thought I was nuts and then came to believe in what I was doing. This is going to sound arrogant, perhaps, but I think what changed their mind was that they began to appreciate that I had been right all along. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wrong many, many times. But in the late 1990s, I appreciated what the internet was going to do to “knowledge work” sooner than many people in my organization. I had so many arguments with people about applications such as Wikipedia and Social Media. Years later, some of them now ask me how I saw it coming. Well, I can’t explain that at all. Really, I don’t understand why they didn’t see it.

 

Carmen

 

 

 

 

 

Carmen Medina 

Carmen spent 32 years as a heretic at the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite this, she held several senior positions at the Agency, including serving on the executive team that led the CIA’s analytic directorate. She thinks most organizations don’t have a good way of determining when it’s time to transform and/or “sell” their current business model. Heretics, mavericks, and rebels at work can provide organizations with the important early warning system they so desperately need.

Since retiring from CIA in 2010, Carmen has continued to write and speak about Rebels at Work, analysis and strategic warning, the emergence of new global norms in the 21st century, the future culture of work, and cognitive diversity. She is Puerto Rican by birth and Texan by nationality.  She tweets under @milouness and @RebelsatWork

 

 Lois

Lois Kelly

Lois Kelly has been a creative rebel throughout her career, helping some of the most respected companies in the world create new ways to launch products, communicate complicated issues, influence public opinion, deal with crises, go public, adopt innovative business practices, and occasionally try to move mountains.

During this journey, Lois has become a student of change, learning what it takes to get people to embrace new ideas. Her obsession is creating clarity from complexity. Her most meaningful work is leading workshops where people create the future they want for their organizations and companies.

Lois lives in Rhode Island, the smallest and most creative state in the United States, and tweets under @LoisKelly and @RebelsatWork.