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.

 

Why Men Don’t Value Women

Considering where we’re at in America (the world too) today, I felt moved to put this post from 2010 out again. I’m still learning…

Hospital sisters picnic beside the Katherine River, Northern Territory / Arthur Groom

I’ve been thinking lately about what we value and what we don’t.  This is important because our values do define our lives.

For example, if your career is what you value most, then everything (I mean everything) will be second to that.  I’m not writing to judge, just stating a reality.  It’s ironic how little values are considered in our current age.

The above brings me to why men (significant numbers) don’t value their women.  I know this post might generate some scathing comments, but I speak as a recovering jerk in the area of valuing my wife and her motherhood.

I worked, as many readers/subscribers know, in corporate America for many years.  The majority of that was at a senior level.  And yes, I drank the kool-aid, participated in the rah, rah sessions and terminated the employment of people who were deemed disposable.  I was paid well and thought (at times) my path was only going to get better.

During this time my wife gave up her career to raise our two children.  This decision was mutually agreed upon.  The idea of her being the primary care-giver seemed like the right thing to do.  To this day, I would say our children are the better for this decision.

But along the way I began to see our roles as separate and equal.  She took care of things at home and I took care of things career related.  There were times when we’d share the burdens, but I thought little about her struggles and work load.  After all, I saw it as her role/job.  The “taking things for granted” process settled in.

Many times she would call me at the office to vent or seek affirmation.  I gave her words, but not my heart.  Life went on, money was made and security (perceived) became the normal.  We lived this way for almost ten years, and then things changed.  My wife went back to work and corporate America said goodbye to me.   I became a man who did many different things (author, consultant and stay-at-home dad).  All of sudden the world looked strange.  For example, work on the book manuscript and make sure my son got to preschool.  Ironically, after about six months, I found myself longing for affirmation and encouragement from my wife for all of my hard work at home.  I felt like a man exposed by his ghosts.

I don’t claim that my experiences are unique or more important than other men.  But here are the reasons why many men don’t value their wives or motherhood:

  1. As men we are taught early on that money makes the world go round and you’d better work hard to get it.  Therefore, making money becomes part of our root system.  Like a tenacious weed.
  2. We assign roles without understanding or caring.  I made so many assumptions without taking the time to understand my wife’s greatest needs.
  3. We’re too busy (cop-out) to give the attention where it’s needed.  We decide that our wives are fine in our mind, and then we just move on.
  4. We don’t evaluate the magnitude of motherhood.  We don’t consider what our wives went through to carry and birth a child, let alone be the primary caregiver.
  5. Being a wife and mother doesn’t, in form, produce money.  Assigning value becomes tough and we just take it for granted.  If wives and mothers started being paid for what they deal with, we’d probably stand-up and take notice.  But it would be too late to applaud then.

The Eric that walked the halls of corporate America is dead.  The post-corporate America Eric is learning how to live and has been given a chance to be remade.  It’s very difficult to live differently.  But I have found a life worth living-Epic if I may so.

Dehumanizing the Employee

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In my last post, I rang the bell about the gap between human development and the advancements of technology. The disharmony is evident to many. Within the large and mid-market organizations, there is another disturbing trend afoot. We are witnessing the dehumanization of the employee.

Dehumanizing the employee occurs as many employers are looking to advance efficiency and innovation. It’s a false belief that those twins can move human development the way technology does with automation or research.

One area worth looking at is the process many organizations use to hire talent. Keep in mind that the talent is made up of flesh and blood. I realize this can also be a source of real frustration for those in talent recruitment. Technology has convinced many senior leaders that vast problems are solved in the hands of inventive software.

The idea of using screening software has a place. However, it’s proven, the folly of hiring based on keywords. The old saying, “we hired your resume, but what we got was you” is on mark here. More critical thinking in this spot is what we need. Seems like that would remedy the incongruent state of the talent recruitment processes.

So the dehumanizing continues. What do we do now that the horses are out of the gate?

  • Put on your big boy pants or big girl skirt, and be a leader with integrity and vigor
  • Change the culture. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you do the first bullet it will increase the odds in your favor
  • Stop listening to the marketing
  • Trust only those who’ve been hurt deeply. They will be honest and real
  • Close it down, quit, move on, if that’s what it takes. Better to live to fight another, than die while still breathing

5 Reasons To Just Be Who You Are

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After much searching, maybe you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much better to just be who you are. I really believe you won’t embrace change until you get to the end of the search.

At the end of a search you should be tired, maybe sick and tired.

I know that many will not go here. They’d rather escape or medicate. It’s sad when a life, brief as it is, is made up in a spiral of dead ends.

Here are 5 reasons to just be who you are:

  1. You will run out of time. You, me, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and everyone else has this in common.
  2. Heaven knows we don’t need any more actors or actresses. I’ve given some Oscar-worthy performances in my life and they left me with nothing.
  3. The secret of success is found in being who you are. Warning here, the world you live in probably has a cheap imitation to offer. If you’re not careful, you could be fooled.
  4. The world is starving for it. With so many people neck deep in their own kingdom building, people are looking for the “real thing.” Many wonder if it really exists any longer. Hope is found in authenticity.
  5. You could find out why God made you. How wonderful! This is a connection you shouldn’t underestimate.

5 Questions with Dr. Andrew Thorn, Author of Leading with Your Legacy In Mind

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This edition of 5 Questions features Dr. Andrew Thorn. Dr. Thorn wrote a guest post on legacy last year, so I was excited when I had the opportunity to interview him about his new book Leading with Your Legacy In Mind. I know you’ll love our conversation and the book as well.

 

In the preface for the book, you give a personal take on the struggle between career and family. What’s one strategy from the book that could help someone breakthrough?

Choose to be guided by purpose instead of passion. The purpose of your work is not to be passionate, it is to be useful, to be honorable, and to be of value to your community. When we align with our passion we are constantly caught in the struggle of trying to feed our own self-interests. When we align with our purpose we make a difference, we add value, and we connect our actions to our values.

In our society, fame (even on a small scale), money and status drive many of us to leave our legacy in the dust. Is legacy becoming a forgotten art?

We have forgotten what legacy means and so naturally creating a legacy is a forgotten art. Too often we confuse it with impact, but that is what others feel. We carry our legacy with us. It is the ultimate answer to the question “Who am I?” That is why it is so important for each of us to live and lead with our legacy in mind.

You have a chapter in the book addressing the move from change to growth. What’s that all about?

Change is always driven by external pressures. None of us change because we want to, or because we like to. We may tell ourselves that we do it for those reasons, but in our most truthful moments, we recognize that we only change when we have to. When we do for external reasons, we rarely can sustain the change.

Growth on the other hand is internally motivated. It is the answer to our deepest yearnings and aspirations. It comes about as a result of true desire. This is what makes growth easier to sustain. There are still challenges and trials along the way, but we are committed to our own idea, so we keep at it when the going gets tough.

I read recently, that organizations spend billions on leadership development annually. Are we getting a good ROI in developing leaders?

Sadly, most leadership development initiatives fail to live up to their promise. This is because they are generally focused on the wrong things. Leadership is not a competency or a skill. It is a behavior. Most organizations are ill equipped to measure and manage behavior, but they are very effective at measuring and managing performance. Naturally, and without a lot of effort, most leadership development initiatives become nothing more than just another performance management strategy. When a leadership initiative becomes tied to performance the game is over. Instead of reaching deep into authenticity, it remains an effort to cover up weaknesses and threats. To grow, our weaknesses and threats need to be exposed so that we can understand them and even use them to our advantage.

Another reason why so many initiatives fail is because we forget that leadership is an individual journey. This makes it difficult to teach it in a group setting, but organizations are afraid that it will be too expensive to work with each individual. They know they have to do something so they invest in ineffective strategies, just so they can check the box. We can never check the box on our leadership development efforts. It must be ongoing or we will create a stagnant culture. No one wants that.

Do you believe we’d have better balance in life, if we made legacy a top-of-mind matter? What kind of positive outcomes might we see there?

I think balance happens naturally, so the only time we feel unbalanced is when something is wrong. In life and in work, the unbalances we feel are directly related to our own inability to focus on the things that matter most. We are easily distracted by our business and busyness and we run out of time and energy to deal with what really matters. This is an easy problem to fix. All we need to do is adjust our focus. This doesn’t mean that we forget the things that matter least, which would be impossible because they are directly tied to short-term demands. It simply means that we take time each day to put the big picture in perspective and then do our best to allow our short-term actions to be aligned with bringing that picture to life. When we do this, our legacy is strengthened and we are happy. Most people are surprised by how easy it is to focus and recalibrate their life and work experiences.

 

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A pioneer and leader in the field of work/life balance; Dr. Andrew Thorn is widely recognized for his breakthrough thinking on how to help people discover their sense of purpose and create greater meaning from their personal and professional experiences. He personally guided 2 of the top 50 business thinkers, currently listed on The Thinkers 50. His work extends to over 50 major corporate clients and over 250 Senior Leaders from many of the Fortune 500 Companies.

Graduating with a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University, Dr. Thorn also holds a PhD in Consulting Psychology and a Masters in Personal and Executive Coaching.

He resides near Los Angeles, CA with his wife of 25 years, Stacy, and their seven children.

Old Leaders, Old Ideas

Decided to take a look back and found this post from June of 2005. Ever experienced old leaders and their old ideas? Maybe you’ve approached your life this way. It’s a dangerous place, either way.

 

Isn’t it tragic how old leaders bring old ideas?  Here are some reasons for this dysfunction:

  •     Old leaders look through the lens of the past.  A place that “once was”
  •     Old leaders believe (foolishly) that what worked in the past will work again
  •     Old leaders grow old gradually…over time, and die before they are buried
  •     Old leaders are insecure and need an organization that will grow old with them
  •     Old leaders think change applies to others

I was at a holiday get-together this past weekend.  One individual gave me some interesting insights.  She worked for a company where many of the key leaders had moved onto another competitor.  This was the result of a management shake-up some years ago.  These leaders were now trying to implement a structure like the one they had some ten years ago.  She hauntingly noted; “it didn’t work at our place ten years ago, and it won’t work at their new place.”

One of the common mistakes of management is the dysfunction of justifying the old by glorying in the “moments in the sun.”  They experienced the success, and believed that is was a one-way ticket to everlasting success.  Again, old leaders with old ideas.

The Who of You

The above TED Talk got me thinking about many things. David Brooks stirred my soul and provided confirmation of the state of things. The state of who, or what, should be master.

It really is about the who of you.

I stand on the battleground of souls and lives. This was evident to me over 10 years ago, as it is now. As noble as that may echo, it really doesn’t matter, outside of the context of what you want life to be. Many are living under the sun and hope that will produce happiness and contentment. It doesn’t. All of the striving, all of the ignoring, all of the convincing self-talk will never provide lasting results. If it did, we’d have satisfaction. Ever notice how America continues to scream out that you need more education, more career mobility, more recognition, more money?

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

The wizard had a great gig, until Toto got in the way. He had us convinced that we could fool the audience with tricks from a traveling carnival. He told us the curtain was an absolute necessity to keep the audience from discovering what was real. “They will never understand,” he whispered to us in the deep of night. We believed him.

Now, here’s the irony, in my modern culture (an eroding one), most are still trying to conjure a spell or trick. We panically negotiate with the audience. We tell them what they thought was true, was just their imagination. We hope for the miracle of distraction. Maybe they won’t figure out who we really are.

As we face the truth, the deceptive self-talk kicks in:

  • “It could be worse, some people don’t have a job.”
  • “You tried before, and it didn’t work.”
  • “They won’t look at someone, who’s done that.”
  • “You need to make sure, you’ve got x number of followers and likes.”
  • “No one would think less of you, if you gave up.”

Ten years ago I had an audience that said, “OK, Eric, show us another trick.”

Find the who of you while there’s time.