Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Remembering the Power of Design

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I keep looking around for the key to unlock so many doors of uncertainty in my life. The more I read the more I find momentary glimmers of light, and then I forget. Today I am returning to one of these glimmers of light to remember once again.

One of the lessons of many years of working in the world of technology is the power of design. Too often, I follow the old adage, “Fire, Ready, Aim”. I forget what I learned over forty years ago. The more attention I place on what I am creating up front the better the outcome. Too often I skimp on this vital aspect and spend most of my time “fixing” the things that I could have visualized at the beginning, but in my haste went to work building.

This lesson is much more ancient than my lifetime. I have been reading a book written by Thomas Merton about the teachings of an ancient Chinese master, Chuang Tzu. Today’s lesson was the story of the Woodcarver.

The Woodcarver

 Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be

The work of spirits.

The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:

“What is your secret?”

 

Khing replied, “I am only a workman:

I have no secret. There is only this:

When I begin to think about the work you commanded

I guarded my spirit, did not expend it

On trifles, that were not in the point.

I fasted in order to set

My heart at rest.

After three days fasting,

I had forgotten gain and success.

After five days

I had forgotten praise or criticism.

After seven days

I had forgotten my body

With all its limbs.

 

“By this time all thought of your Highness

And of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished

I was collected in the single thought

Of the bell stand.

 

“Then I went to the forest

To see the trees in their own natural state.

When the right tree appeared before my eyes,

The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

All I had to do was to put forth my hand

And begin.

 

“If I had not met this particular tree

There would have been

No bell stand at all.

 

“What happened?

My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From this live encounter came the work

Which you ascribe to spirits.”

Losing Perspective

Perspective

Have you ever gotten so busy that you felt the only thing you could do was to work harder or faster. Then you found, like I have, that the hole you found yourself in was only deeper. It is a rather maddening place to be.

Over the past few months, I’ve become more involved in the operational details of my business. To some extent, I love these details. They both make life more tangible and give me a false sense that I’m important if I’m so busy.

This is a trap! Busyness isn’t a virtue. Focusing on what’s important is a virtue. Deliberately choosing what to do next, that’s a virtue. Working more hours because I’m busy is a modern form of insanity.

So what can you (I) do when you find that you have more “on your plate” than you feel you have time for? Put less on your plate is the answer. How do you do that? You start by stopping everything. I don’t mean you go to the beach. I mean you stop for a short while (maybe an hour or a day) and observe the momentum of your life.

You will quickly see two types of work in your “in box”. Work that is something you feel you need to do so that someone who is important to you will be happy.  The other type of work, the work that really matters, is work that moves what’ s important to you forward.

Is it really that simple? Yes and No.  Yes, if you focus on what’s important to you, you will find fulfillment in your day, vast amounts of energy, and those you are working with will want to work with you more. No good comes from the fact that most of our training from early childhood on is that we are here to please others. This is a dead-end street that we spend so much of our life following.

It may seem counter-intuitive that you are doing what’s important to you. We believe that this will be selfish. Just the opposite is true. When I do something because I’m passionate about it and it serves what’s most important to me, it always creates value. I will gravitate to be around those who appreciate this value.

We are just afraid to try this out so we stay stuck in the old pattern of more hard work, rather than the work we love.

Writers and Entrepreneurs

imgresAs a writer, I know that the sign of engagement in this craft is the number of crumpled pages I find around me at the end of the day. Great writing doesn’t happen by sitting down and writing the perfect paper, short story or novel in the first draft. No matter how gifted you are the first draft is just a beginning.

In business the same is true. When someone conceives a new business the first step is often to write a plan of sorts. For some, it’s a complex treatise on the full ins and outs of what’s possible. For others, it can take the form of a dinner napkin with sparse words and a few drawings.

Whatever the beginning, the initial concept is version 1.0. No business has ever succeeded by sticking to this first version. Business, like writing, is a constant work in progress. Sometimes you find that only the first line (concept) works and the rest of the words (description of how things work) don’t.

As a writer, I often receive feedback from my spouse or friends or other authors. They can often see what’s hidden from my perceptions. In a business, potential investors and early customers let us know what we have right and what doesn’t work.

Writers and entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to start over or brutally edit what’s created. They are in a quest for excellence, however they conceive it. This drive forms the core of their passion and guides them to the experience of personal satisfaction.

Today, as you journey forth, look around you. How many crumpled pages do you see? Did you allow yourself the freedom to just begin without worry that the first draft wouldn’t be perfect? Remember – life is a journey not a destination

Spring Cleaning

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Well, it’s officially spring, at least according to the course of the earth’s orbit around the sun. This time of the year seems to inspire cleaning. For some its their closets and for me it’s life. I know, it’s kind of dramatic, but that’s what’s up.

Recently I wrote about focusing on what’s important. What could be more important than clearing away everything that’s not essential? You may say, “sure that’s easy for you, because you work for yourself.” Actually, it’s not easy for anyone. We all hold on to what we are familiar with, sometimes with a death grip

As much as I teach about change, I really don’t like it. It’s kind of like taking medicine that you know is good for you but doesn’t taste very good. So here I am, taking my medicine and not particularly happy about.

I find in this process some simple rules help me decide what to keep doing and what to discard. The first rule is I have to enjoy what I’m doing.  Getting to the truth about this can be a little tricky. If I’m doing something that I feel is important for what I care about, such as making money for my family, I might “fake” enjoyment. So pay attention and don’t deceive yourself.

The second rule is that whatever I do is promoting growth for me. I understand so little of the breadth of the world I inhabit. Each day, I love learning (well at least most of the time). This learning is like the most important food I ingest that keeps me growing in greater awareness.

The final rule is that I find what I do to be rewarding. It could be that it’s rewarding in the traditional way we think about it such as money or other types of material goods. It can also be rewarding because it feels right. In my world, that can happen when I see someone’s life change in ways that are better for them

I have pruned away a number of areas of endeavor that don’t measure up to my three rules. When I finally realized that they were out of whack, the decision was actually easy and I wondered what took me so long.

Rather than labor on the last part of that point, I’ll just say, I’m enjoying my spring cleaning and looking forward to summer.

Sacrifice is Optional

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Stepping back into writing is sobering. It’s a bit like agreeing to grow up, once again. The adolescent part of Thomas wants to stay in its slumber of bad habits and endless excuses. I know the cost of this numbing behavior and yet, it’s so appealing to be unaccountable for what happens in my life.

Oh, that it would be so simple to fall back into the life of letting others carry the weight of the consequences of my decisions. For many reasons, that option is no longer available. There are moments, when this irritates me no end.

One of the impacts of knowing that I’m the one who’s really accountable for everything is that I know that I must look in the mirror if I’m looking for an answer to why something isn’t working out the way I want.

I was talking with my wife yesterday about how hard we are working. We seem to be following an age-old story that says, “you have to sacrifice today so that you can be rewarded tomorrow.” Sounds like a good path to follow.

The problem is there is a flaw in this. I look around and find examples of people who are living as if this isn’t true. They have time for everything that’s important to them. How is this possible?

They know the difference between stories/ beliefs and truth. They know that perceptions create reality and if their perceptions are filled with limiting beliefs, they will experience feelings of insufficiency.

Does that mean that sacrifice is not required? Yep, at least in the way we think about it. Our common understanding of sacrifice is that I give up something important to me by choosing something else that I also feel is important. I began to see the problem with the notion of sacrifice.

I am making a choice. This choice opens doors and closes doors. By being guided by the belief that sacrifice is required, I’m immediately hooked into an emotional response rather than accepting an outcome. Yes, I’m make this new choice and the consequence is that something I am currently choosing may no longer be possible.

I like writing. In fact, I love writing. I made the choice to start a new business. I didn’t stop and consider the consequence of this choice. I certainly didn’t want to cut myself off from my family so I chose to put my attention and time on this new project and the time I spent in the past for writing “disappears”.

My old belief about sacrifice was activated. “Yep”, I said, “not being able to write is simply the way things are.” It’s something i must sacrifice so the project can get going.” Examining this belief, I see how unconscious it is. I rocked along accepting this outcome for months. Finally I “woke up” and realized I was just feeling the limitation of my beliefs.

I realized there were other areas of life that were no longer that important to me. So, I made an inventory of how important each of these “choices” was. That’s right, every moment I spend awake or sleeping comes from choosing how to spend my time. Many of these “choices” are not deliberate. Either I’m not aware of what I’m choosing or I don’t ask myself the question, “how important is what I’m doing right now?” I just mosey along in the rut of habit.

Through this process, I made some simple decisions and already, as you can see, I’m having different experiences. For one thing, I’m writing again.

I also realized that when I honestly look back at my life, I remember times when I wasn’t trapped in believing sacrifice was necessary. Life was a blast! I jumped out of bed in the morning. I zoomed through my day and I fell asleep tired, but not exhausted.

I invite you to join me in remembering the truth of choice and consequences.

Until later,

Thomas

Time to Remember What’s Important!

Have you ever looked around in your life and wondered, “where did all the time go?” I found myself having that experience yesterday afternoon. I was talking to someone who is overseeing how I communicate in the world of social media. I suggested she attract people to read this blog. While we were talking she said, “Oh, I see you haven’t posted since last October”. Ouch..

I’ve been involved in a “startup” business and falling into my old patterns of how busy I am. The startup mentality (at least the one that I learned) is that everything in your life is put on hold to get the business started.

Now I haven’t quite followed the old script. I have been busier than normal, but my family is not being ignored (althougth I’m sure they are feeling less attention). Other aspects of my life have been taking a hit, though, when I live out of the way of the past.

As I’ve drifted into this pattern, I stopped writing. Sure, I’m writing all kinds of things for the new business. You know, the important stuff like business plans, presentations and marketing material. It’s not the same.

I miss stopping what else is going on and wondering. Wondering about what makes life tick and why I am happy or not. I ponder questions of big and small scope. In these times of reflection and the writing that come from them, I learn so much. I’ve missed both the learning and connecting with you.

So the drought is over. I’m back at the keyboard, pondering and feeling and writing. Some of you have written and encouraged me to resume posting. To those of you who proded, Thank you.

Until tomorrow.

Thomas

Finding the Quite

I must be on a fall theme. I’m sitting here in the early morning, enjoying the fire in our newly installed woodstove. There’s something about heating with wood that you can witness burning through the glass doors of the stove that brings warmth that seems unavailable in traditional heating.

The treat for me of this quietness is the feeling of grabbing some precious time for myself. Just the fire and I, sitting here talking with you. In the daily quest for a life filled with service and learning and family and friends and everything outdoors, I seem to have overlooked quiet time.

I know it’s easy to justify this oversight. Sure, I’m busier than I can remember. Physically I feel pretty maxed out, in terms of my capacity. Yet, I know that if I can pry away minutes that have no agenda or mission or task, and just sit with the silence, I feel rejuvenated. Nothing else restores me this way.

I feel a bit selfish. There is so much to do. I know this inner voice of concern is a distraction, and not true anyway. Earlier in the week, when I started writing again, I felt like I had regained a lost friend. For that’s what writing is for me. A friend, that listens patiently, offers reflection if asked, and never complains about anything.

I know that my day has a different music whenI start it this way. I tend to be more patient, more aware and way more peaceful. What needs to get done, does and things don’t, weren’t that important anyway.

So why doesn’t every day start this way, I wonder. Simply put, I get sloppy. I know that being deliberate is so much richer than living in reaction to the stimulus around me. Yet, I forget this simple truth and fall into the pattern of reactivity.  The good news for this morning is, I remembered. I celebrate remembering and sharing it with you.

May you find your own quiet moments today and remember what matters most.

Falling Leaves and Plans

I am surrounded by the most amazing maple trees. This is a new experience for me. Watching them come alive in the spring (which was May where I live), I was amazed each morning by the umbrella of leaves that changed my relationship with the sun. Sheltering me on the long scorching days of summer, my appreciation of the abundant maples expanded.

Now as they transition to winter, and the leaves that so magically appeared are changing colors, I am in awe. I look out my window and see their gold and red leaves drifting to the ground like the snow that will follow. One leave bumps into another, sometimes disturbing it’s hold and together they fall, silently.

The ground is now covered with these remnants of spring that again change. Changing from their vibrant colors to brown. They curl in lifelessness into carcasses of the forgotten spring that will be covered with snow and return the gift of their decomposition to the tree that bore them.

All this happens without one instruction. No grand action plan has been created that guides the trees through their life’s cycle. Yet, I seem to be bound by my need for how. How can I make the program I am teaching work? I need a clear plan, of course. How can I buy the land I desire? A plan is needed so I make sure that I have the money I require.

Attachment to plans is the root of false security and suffering. Plans are today’s music helping to focus my thoughts. That’s good. When I think of plans as more than that, however, I am setting myself up to operate in a manner that is different than the way things are.

Life unfolds in its purity and uniqueness, beyond the scope of my ability to understand, like the unfolding of the trees outside my window. If I use plans to sharpen my ability to adapt to what I am finding before me, then they are fulfilling their true purpose.

So whether you are writing a business plan or today’s to do list, remember not to be lost in the plan, or the most amazing possibilities that are occurring right before you may be missed.

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Can you handle the Truth?

I’ve had some inner rumbling for some time about how inauthentic we are with each other. When I’m in the supermarket and greeted by an acquaintance, the usual question is, “so, how are you doing?” The response I give is usually, “Great!” or some other positive word. When I return the question to them, the answer is similar.

This little dance plays itself out over and over throughout my day. On the phone, at the bank, at a restaurant, I engage people I know and don’t know and we say things that just aren’t a true depiction of how we feel and what’s going on in our lives.

I don’t feel that I’m required to share the intimate details of my life with every inquiry, but it seems that we have adopted a practice to put on a mask when we engage others. One of my great joys is working with people to help them find the truth about their own greatness., We often have a great bond of trust between us and still I notice that the other person will often grab a mask of some sort and not speak what’s true for them.

I’ve come to realize that the practice of speaking the truth is one that we have so little experience with.  From early childhood, I was told to either hide what I was feeling or to say something that was untrue. I bet you had a similar experience.

Watch children who haven’t been taught to be deceitful about how they feel. They will say things like, “look at that fat lady (or man)” or “my daddy says you aren’t very nice.” Immediately they are quieted by an embarrassed adult and later remonstrated for what they said.

At first, it is confusing for the child. They are either saying how they really feel or repeating what someone else said. Quickly they learn that this is not a good idea. They are taught to speak what’s “nice”. The consequence of learning to be deceitful is that we deceive ourselves. Once this practice is engrained, it becomes difficult to first realize that what I’m speaking and thinking isn’t what’s true but an age-old reaction to hiding what I feel so I can be “nice” to others.

It calls to mind a court room scene from the movie A Few Good Men. Lt. Daniel Kaffee (portrayed by Tom Cruise) is interogating Col. Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) about a situation at the Marine base at Guantanimo. When Lt. Kaffee presses Col. Jessup to answer his questions, he says ,” I want the truth,” to which Col. Jessup answers, “son, you can’t handle the truth.”

To stop the cycles of ups and downs we experience throughout our lives calls for us to stop the old pattern of intentional deceit. The old saying that “the truth will set you free” is more powerful than you can imagine. I’m on my own path of re-learning truth. It’s rocky and, when I’m being truthful (smile), worth it.

How do you start? A simple way is to observe the automatic things you say to others. When you are asked questions, how often do you respond without any consideration. I bet if you pay attention you will notice that you have a small number of “canned responses” that are predictably given.

Once I start to see myself as I really am, then I can begin to change the old “programming”. It takes some time and the road is filled with starts and stops. Don’t despair, an authentic life is worth the journey.

I will be sharing more on the process of being authentic with yourself over the next few months. Let me know of your experiences and any questions you have. We are on this journey together.

Until later,

Thomas

To Conform or Not to Conform – The Story of the Big Orange Splot

Last night, I was reading to our young boys one of my favorite children’s stories, The Big Orange Splott by Daniel Pinkwater. In this story, Mr. Plumbean’s world is disturbed in a most unusual way when a seagull drops a can of orange paint on the roof of his perfect house. You see, his house is like all the others in his neighborhood. This unlikely event starts a change that I invite you find out more about by reading the book.

I was reflecting on Mr. Plumbean last night and he wandered into my dreams. Conformity is such a strong force in our lives. It used to be called “keeping up with the Jones”. How we can belong to our local tribe by being alike seems to compose our actions in ways that we don’t really understand. Marketers know this, and people like Malcolm Gladwell have talked about it. Conforming is as good a name as any to describe this phenomenon.

I have always fancied myself as a non-conformist. I tell myself that I don’t like “the conventional wisdom” – another way of saying I don’t like others telling me what to think. Yet, I see the many ways that I allow what other’s think to influence my thoughts and feelings and actions. I want to be liked, so I stop considering what I feel and let others shape my life.

The act of non-conformity is not so much an act of rebellion, but a declaration of independence. It’s not selfish, although maybe your mother told you it was so. It’s your right to choose what you feel is right. One of my favorite aspects of Buddhism is the following that has been ascribed to the Buddha: Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

We assimilate so much based upon what we are told. Look at our current political campaigns for president. Candidates feel that if they say something, even if it isn’t true, we will believe it because we don’t take the time to follow the Buddha’s wisdom. The compelling story teller can influence us because we have forgotten that we are the ones who decide what’s true for us.

We pride ourselves as Americans on our fierce independence of thought. That may have been so a few hundred years ago, but what about now? Without our return to discernment, we will miss the amazing adventure life offers outside the lines of conformity, and the opportunity to create a life filled with wonder will be left behind.

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