Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Practicing a little patience

This morning I was awaiting a flight to Chicago when we were informed that due to “air traffic control” our flight was delayed. In fact, the time of our departure was unknown and an update would not be forthcoming for almost 2 hours.

I watched my inner dialogue of frustration and outrage. Stepping aside from this turmoil, I felt calm and still there was an impatience beckoning my attention. Letting that undercurrent flow without engagement, I stood in line waiting to talk to a gate agent about the impact of this delay on my further travel plans.

It took 10 minutes of so for the agent to take care of the man in front of me. I spent that time, looking at the people in line and wondering how this delay was for them. The agent was the perfection of calm and care as she did her best to take care of a difficult set of options for the man in front of me.

Now it was my turn with the agent. She entered my name into the computer and started looking at my options. As she was typing away, another agent came from the plane and let her know that our delay was lifted and that we would be leaving soon.In the end, we landed in Chicago exactly on schedule even with a 30 minute delay in boarding.

The reminder didn’t end. As I was standing in the jet bridge waiting for the bags to be brought up, there was a gang of folks who pushed ahead of where I was standing. Again, I could feel the annoyance rising and rather than let it take its usual head, I settle back and watched the rest of those disembarking from our flight.

At the end of this line of folks, was a woman who was waiting for a wheelchait. This wheelchair was parked right in front of where the gate checked bags were to be delivered. Again, the little (sometime not so little) voice arose. Well, I said to myself, “the best thing to do is just take a breath and let this happen.” In a brief moment, a single bag was brought up the outside stairs. The gate agent asked the women in the wheelchair if it was her bag. No she said and as I looked it was instead my bag. The first one off.

In the end, I was again reminded of the impact my emotions have on my experiences and that I have the ability to “feel” these emotions without allowing these emotions to be the center point of my experiences. Good to remember every minute of every day. 

 

So you want to be a Star?

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I think somewhere inside each of us, we want to shine. We have a desire to be thought of as a “star” in our world. We just have to look at the intense interest in celebrities to see evidence.

I’ve been working once again with my old friend, Jeffrey Hayzlett. Over the past 18 years, I’ve watched him rise from amazing to a star. I’ve had the opportunity to closely observe what makes up the change in him.

So many people come around our work and want to be like him. I can see why they would want this. Jeff has been generous with so many to show them what he does so they can appropriate it if they want. Yet, few have been able to grasp the golden ring of their ambition. Why?

There are five qualities that Jeff exhibits that few have. The first is Jeff has an amazing clarity of vision. He is clear what he wants and uses that clarity in making all the key decisions in his life. Most people have an idea of what they want but hold back for a variety of reasons.

Which leads to the second reason why others don’t succeed as he does – commitment. Jeff has an unfailing commitment to do all that’s required to bring his dreams to life. If this means three red-eye flights in a row, he does it. If it means he needs to shift his business model, he does so without looking back.

The third reason is courage. Most of us worry in some form about failing at what we do. We know this worry will likely attract the thing we are afraid of and yet, we continue to worry. Jeff is fearless and bold in his leaping into projects and initiatives that he feels are necessary for his vision.

The fourth reason is relationships. Jeff is in relationships with literally thousands of people. This is not a cursory kind of relationship we see often in social media. He knows people and what they are concerned with. He is constantly looking for ways to connect with them in meaningful ways and link them to each other.

The final reason is generosity. Jeff does not engage people thinking about what he can get out of them. He looks for ways he can offer something of value to them. He’s been doing this for all his adult life. His network of friends and associates have all benefited in some way from this extreme generosity.

So you want to be a star. The path is clear. Are you prepared to do what it takes to make that happen?

Open-mindedness and Truth

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This week’s cover on Time Magazine headline reads… “Eat Butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” How many times are we told that something is true and later discover what we were told was just the latest interpretation. Whether it’s scientists or the government or our company or religion, so many things called Truth is no more than the current thinking on something rather than truth.

Truth is something that never changes. Truth is not subject to interpretation. It simply is.

As leaders, we are faced with many “truths.” More likely than not, what is being touted as truth is an interpretation of a situation or set of data. For most of us, our reality is the interpretations we are making of the world around us. These interpretations arise from the myriad of beliefs we have, most of which we are totally unaware.

When I was teaching leadership programs and had groups that were made up primarily of people who didn’t know each other, I would conduct an experiment. I asked each person to select someone in the room they didn’t know and write a story about them. Everyone found this very easy to do. Then I had them talk to that person to see how accurate the story was. Not surprisingly, the story held little “truth” in it.

We walk around believing we know who others are because we know the truth about them. This sense of truth comes from our inner need to “know” the world. This “knowing” helps us feel more secure in our surroundings.

It’s this need that is the biggest blind spot for leaders. We stop questioning what we know, because we believe it’s true. Then something happens that we didn’t anticipate. For the most part this is because we believed we “knew” our world and what we “knew” turned out to be untrue.

Look back and see where that’s happened to you. Learn the cost of self-imposed blindness. Then, start the practice of questioning what you “know” to better see the truth.

Authenticity 101

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As all the hubbub in the media analyzing the congressional primary victory of David Brat over Eric Cantor reaches a crescendo today, I think the reason Brat won is very simple. David Brat didn’t play the game of big media buys and big money. That’s not who he is. He is a college professor in economics who is concerned with the way things are going. He tried to get the attention of the “establishment” and was unsuccessful. So he decided to take some action.

Now, he didn’t go raise a bunch of money and hire a top political operative and polling team. He found like-minded folks who agreed with his perspective and they agreed to support him. He did this over and over again. Sure, he had support from a very vocal conservative talk show host. This made sense because his basic positions were ones they supported.

The headlines about this campaign victory are misleading. He is not a darling of the Tea Party. They didn’t put their muscle behind him. In fact, they ignored the race.

What mattered here was one man who was true to his positions and talked about them every day to those who mattered – the voters. Showing that when we hear something authentic it motivates us to act. (18,000 more voters turned out for this primary than 2 years ago).

As a leader, this is a good example of the power of authenticity. People know if you are blowing smoke or speaking truthfully. Granted not all the time, but when it really matters, they understand. If there is one leadership trait you choose to guide you, I suggest it’s always be true to yourself and speak to all your constituencies with integrity, NO MATTER WHAT.

Don’t Let Your Day Run Away From You!

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It’s 4PM, and as you look at the clock, you wonder where the day has gone. Seems like only a few minutes ago you began with a large to-do list and great expectations. Now, you look down and few items are checked off and you have a feeling of foreboding. How will you get all that is on your plate done before the next hour or two has passed?

What happened?

For most, the ad-hoc nature of your day has tossed you around. The unscheduled phone calls, the constant stream of emails, a new request from a customer have all arrived and called for your attention. How did you respond?

In our 24/7 world, you had the feeling that you had to respond IMMEDIATELY. After all, it’s what others expect, isn’t it? Maybe… and if you let this constant barrage of incoming communications be front and center in your world, the most important promises you make will lay incomplete.

What can you do? It’s both simple and hard. I know, because I wrestle with this every day. First, start your day with a quiet moment or two and allow your intuition to give you some guidance about what’s most important to you today. Write down whatever you feel.

When that call or email sound rings, ask yourself, do I need to respond now or take care of what I committed myself to today? This will take some discipline. You will worry you are missing out, or that a moment’s delay will create some terrible consequence for you. Unlikely. Stay the course.

I have found that I make great strides day after day with those things that are truly most important when I follow this simple practice. The reason I’m working, whether it be for financial gain or inner satisfaction or both grows in ways I never imagined.

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

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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

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