Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

What did You Say?

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Do you have the tendency, when you hear someone telling you something they have already shared, to speak or at least think, “ You already told me that”? I do. Last Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were exploring the back roads of our area. She was telling me a story about someone we knew and my response to her was, “You already mentioned that to me.”

In a flash, I realized couple of things were happening. I mentally noted that I knew what she was going to say and I stopped listening to my wife about half way through her story. Not so good, if I’m committed to having a great relationship with her. In fact, this type of “checking out” isn’t a very useful approach whether the person I’m talking to is my wife, friend, co-worker or customer. In all cases, I am not “listening” to the person so I have disconnected from them. I’m sure they realize that I’m not present.

We are so polite in our culture that we don’t ask, “Were you thinking of something else?” when we sense someone we are talking to checks out. Without this feedback, we are often unaware of the impact of our habit of shutting down our listening.

We also deny ourselves a clearer understanding of what they are communicating. We have decided that hearing something one time is the same as full understanding. I know I feel this way at times, yet it can’t be true.

When I’m not fully listening to someone, I have a number of other things going on. I might be thinking about how to respond. I might be thinking what they are saying is either stupid or great and get lost in those assessments. I might just be thinking about dinner. Whatever is going on, it’s unlikely that I really heard everything they were saying.

Why not listen again? Maybe I’ll learn something that allows me to connect with them in a more meaningful way. Maybe I can find out how to be of true service to them, rather than wondering how this conversation is going to benefit me. Maybe I’ll just show them some respect.

So when you think that someone is about to repeat a story you believe you already know, consider how you can connect with them more sincerely and how you just might learn something of great value, both to you and them.

Thomas

Beware of leaping off the cliff

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First, a reminder- I’m writing this blog for myself. I’m a continuous work in progress, and I use this blog as a place to help me sort things out. Even when I occasionally write in the third person, what I’m writing about is something that is in my face and calling for my attention.

Do you ever notice how quickly you leap into something with no consideration for the purpose of your engagement? You may say, “Not me, I’m very cautious”, but as I consider this phenomenon in me and those I know, I have the feeling it’s something that is part of all our lives.

Say I’m walking in the mountains and I’m in the midst of the most beautiful sights imaginable, I can be distracted by a passing thought that has no linkage to what I’m doing right now. More practically, I‘m writing at my computer and a random thought appears. Maybe I wonder about what’s happening with an old friend, or what the weather will be like tomorrow. Whatever the distraction, I immediately leave what I’m writing and Google the area of inquiry.

This non-deliberate distraction is what I’m calling jumping off the cliff. Instead of walking along the path that I’ve laid out for myself, I jump off the cliff into thoughts or activities that don’t have any purpose except to scratch the itch, so to speak, of a random thought.

A word of caution about what I mean by “walking along the path I’ve laid out for myself”. I’m not referring to blindly following a plan set down in the past. I’m talking about the deliberateness of this moment. It’s like deciding I’m going to walk from the living room to the kitchen so I can pour a glass of wine. Sometime after arising from the couch, and before I arrive at the refrigerator, I’ve forgotten why I’m in the kitchen. My attention was placed on random thoughts that arose, and by engaging them, I have now forgotten my path.

Today, I’m going to pay attention to the distractions that take me off the path. Each time I have chosen to focus, I have a calmer, more fulfilling day.

Thomas

P.S. I did not follow a few thoughts to find out what emails I have as I was writing this. You know what?  They are still there now, and the world didn’t dissolve because I chose to finishing writing rather than switch to my email. Imagine!!

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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Ever hear the ticking of the clock that defines the parameters of your day. This clock tells you to hurry up or you’ll be late. Later in the day, looking at this clock brings up a sense of all that is yet to be done or will be left undone as the day ends.

What about a new relationship with your clock? What if the clock you feel is telling you that this moment is the most important moment of your life. Your clock becomes a constant reminder of the changing nature of life and the only thing that you can truly do is to experience all you can RIGHT NOW.

No longer is the sound of TICK, TOCK stalking you like the alligator in Peter Pan. Instead is the steady rhythm of life as you live fully every moment of every day.

Disappointer in Chief

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In this aftermath of the 2014 elections, there is so much talk about the reasons for the outcome. I think it’s pretty simple.

In 2008, we elected Barak Obama. Those of us that supported his first campaign felt that finally someone was going to make a difference in the way that government works. Finally someone was going to lead the country into a time of greater pulling together. So many promises were made that would support this vision.

Starting with President Obama’s victory speech in Griffith Park in Chicago six years ago, the unraveling of this feeling began. He spoke of the difficult road ahead. He talked about how it was going to take us all to make the change happen. This was a new message that was never part of his campaign. We listened and still waited for him to take action to change things we didn’t like.

We can look at the severe problems in the economy or the challenges with wars across the globe as underlying factors that inhibited his success, but these issues were known as the 2008 campaign unfolded. Solutions to complex issues are neither easy nor quick. Campaign rhetoric is easy. Turning those promises into reality is hard.

Very few have been able to lead in a way that brings us together and allows the greatness within each of us to be called forth. President Obama had that opportunity and he blew it.

Which brings us to now. We are disappointed. We want more than we are getting. We are indeed disappointed with Congress and its leadership. That’s a group of people without a single individual for us to focus our frustration on. The President on the other hand, is someone we can focus our disappointment on in a very personal way. The Republican party made the best of this feeling and it propelled them to control of both houses of Congress and many state governorships.

Now that they are in power, what will the Republican members of Congress do that they didn’t do in the last six years? What will the President do that he hasn’t done in that same timeframe? The opportunity for doing the right thing is always with us. Let’s encourage our national political leaders to focus on doing something positive for us.

As I write this, I an not feeling very positive. This morning, one of the darlings of the Republican party, Rand Paul started his day with messages under the Twitter hashtag #hillaryslosers. I know this is politics, but we are tired of this. Remember Mr. Paul, the sentiment of the country can change quickly if you, too, disappoint those who believe in you.

What’s your bias?

upordownI had another opportunity to learn a bit more about myself yesterday. I was traveling and had an early start. I arrived at LaGuardia airport and immediately went to the TSA pre line. I just love the easy way through airport security. I noticed that I was, in fact, feeling special because I could go through security without taking off my shoes or belt or jacket. In fact, I didn’t even have to take my computer out of my bag.

I know I like this expedited way of getting through security and have my own little dialogue about it. What I didn’t realize was that this feeling of specialness also uncovered some bias I have.

Let me digress for a moment on bias. Bias is defined as “mental tendency or inclination, esp. an irrational preference or prejudice”. Bias comes from our beliefs, most of which we are unaware. The impact of bias can be as insignificant as not talking to someone because you don’t like the way they dress or as terrifying as ethnic cleansing. Whatever the level of impact from your bias, it starts with the same phenomena. My judgements of someone else cloud my ability to be aware of things as they truly are. Every judgement I have distances me from truth and sets me up for suffering.

Back to my lesson. I saw two young asian adults in front of me in the TSA pre line. Immediately, my little voice (I should name it to have some fun) was saying things like, “What are they doing here? They don’t deserve to be in this line. Why, they’re not so special”.

Then I realized that I have a bias against these young people. People I have never met and, at that moment, had no clue who they were. Not that who they are even mattered. My bias was clear and it got me to thinking of all the places where I’m biased.

Kinda took my breath away. I certainty didn’t want to see myself in that light. Yet, that’s the way I behave at certain times. This experience is having a happy ending, at least I hope so.

Sometimes a lesson keeps on giving. Later in the day, I was attending a conference. When the evening was over, I used my iPhone to request a car to take me back to my hotel. I use the Uber service and had arrived at this meeting in a black suburban. When I went looking for my car, a driver in a Chevrolet Aero (I think their smallest 4 door car) arrived to take me to the hotel.

Again the little voice got very busy. “Where’s my big car? What an outrage this is; I’m definitely going to complain about this.” Recognizing the silliness of this turmoil, I engaged the driver in a conversation. He was very kind man and he asked if I had visited the Baha’i temple in the suburbs. I said I had not, but had driven by it a number of times and it was very beautiful.

From that jumping off point, we talked about his faith, about how he was committed to unifying opposing points of view, his career as a cameraman. He told me he had produced a documentary about the temple. As I arrived at my hotel and we parted company, he presented me with a gift of a DVD of his documentary. WOW… What lessons for this day.

It has left me in wonder about what I will find as I dig into my biases and expose them. I can’t wait to see what I discover.

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.

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