Open-mindedness and Truth


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.

It’s hot and I don’t like it!

Today is another scorching, hot day. I know many of you reading this are experiencing the same. I come from the south. In my hometown of Monroe, Louisiana the normal high temperature is 95 for several summer months with high humidity as an accompaniment. You would think I would have grown used to this and just love summer weather. Nope. I have an aversion that is quite emphatic.

I was sitting with my dislike of hot weather and wondering how it impacts me. For starters, it creates a bit of separation with my wife. She loves hot weather. In fact, while I write this piece in the cool of my office, she’s outside in the 90+ afternoon smiling as she clips the grass. This is on the tail end of putting in 3 hours in the 1/2 acre garden today.

So how is it that she has this love of heat and I don’t. I know that the simple answer is, it comes from our beliefs. I believe that hot/ humid weather is uncomfortable, stifling, clammy (I can fill the page with adjectives and adverbs). I remember as a child feeling unhappy when it was warm and muggy. We didn’t have air conditioning until I was well into high school and I detested having to sleep in a puddle of sweat. Yet, all this is my response to the external world, rather than some absolute truth.

If hot and humid weather produced misery in everyone, then my wife would feel just like me. For her, the heat is a source of growth for the garden. She feels alive and stimulated on these hot summer days. She hums while I grin and bear it.

There is something simply astounding about my situation. Beliefs come from so many places that, often, we don’t even know we have them. Sometimes, the only sign of a belief is an opinion that comes with it. Such as I like this or dislike that, or this is good and that is bad. This opinion often arises to bolster my beliefs.

Today, I’m looking at my beliefs about heat. Probably a good idea, considering it’s likely going to get hotter here on planet Earth. More fundamentally, I’m reminded once again of the power of beliefs. WIth heat and humidity, my mood can quickly become glum and my physical stamina depleted. These reactions are coming not from some discernment of what I’m experiencing, but from my conditioned responses that are reinforced over many years.

As with my wife and I, the only difference between each of us is what we believe. When we start remembering that, and drop the need to be right about our beliefs, we open the door for authentic relationships. We don’t need to absolutely agree with each other, but to respect each persons right to their beliefs.

As you start your week, you may want to look around and see where you have different beliefs than someone you are close to. Practice not judging their beliefs as wrong or bad or inferior. Then, see, what this little change does to your relationship.

Let it all hang out!

Most of my days start with tea and a conversation with my wife. We sit in our comfortable chairs looking over a part of our beautiful outdoor space. This morning I was sharing that I have separated my work into two buckets, if you will. I work with individuals on “personal issues” and with organizations on “leadership issues”. I realized that this separation is artificial.

As humans we don’t have a public and a private side to ourselves. We are who we are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s true that certain aspects of our personality may be more prevalent at work than at home, but we bring ourselves to both. So what is this separation about? For me, it’s my comfort level. I am uncomfortable with bringing my full resources into a business setting. I believed that certain conversations are off-limits in the workspace, like people’s relationships with their spouses or children.

From time to time, I would find anomalies to my beliefs. I remember sitting with a group of executives of a financial services company. The occasion was the completion of their nine-month leadership program. I asked what was the most important learning from this program. Almost half spoke about improved relationships with members of their family. In particular, the lessons they learned about satisfying their customers extended to these important relationships. I remember feeling deep satisfaction about this and then, over time, I forgot.

Today, I’m reorienting my work (actually everything – more about that in a moment). After all, it’s all about authentic relationships – relationships with myself, others and the world around me. The essence of relationships is integrity, accountability, love, harmony and service. The tools to deepen each of these are the same.

As if some magic spell dissolved, I don’t feel any hesitancy in talking about the “soft stuff” in any context. I know from my experience as a business leader, and working with many organizations, that by focusing on these three aspects of relationship all aspects of life improve. I have seen this show up almost instantly in improved income or profits, breakthroughs in solving problems and clearing up messy issues like distrust.

The funny thing is that I realized that I operate in a way that separates how I work with my clients and how I support my family. As I was talking with my wife this morning, I recognized that I could be of service to her, and when I was, it helped her immediately. Its time to let it all hang out – holding nothing back at any time……

Are you Awake?

Some years ago, I was a student of Richard Strozzi Heckler. Richard is extraordinary. He is a 6th degree Aikido black belt, has a PhD in clinical psychology and is one of the founding spirits of modern Somatics. I was in his dojo one summer afternoon with 30 fellow students. Lunch was delicious, and many of us ate more than necessary. Most of the class was in a dozing kind of mood.

Richard entered the dojo, and we assembled around him in a circle. He immediately sensed our inattention. Richard suggested we consider we were sitting on a very narrow precipice. Below us was a long drop. Our sitting perch was only as big as our bottoms. If we teetered in any direction, we were certain to fall to our death.

Immediately the class’ attention went to full alert. In the 15 years since that summer afternoon, I bring that experience back when I feel I’m drifting. Richard’s point that day was that every moment calls us to full alert. When we drift because our body is out of harmony or our thoughts are about something other than the present moment or our actions aren’t deliberate, we are missing the aliveness that is always present.

As a leader, in whatever way you choose, remember you are always called to be alert, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tipping Point

Today I’m reflecting on tipping points. If you’ve read the Malcolm Gladwell book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, you get some idea of how things bubble along and then their importance grows, seemingly overnight.

Normally I don’t bring numbers into this blog, but to illustrate this point I need to show you a graph. You have read about the IPO of Facebook (unless you’re off the net). This is the largest technology IPO ever. Why are people so entranced by the stock? Several reasons. The first is, to people like you and I, it’s personal. We use it and have a sense of the value of its service. For the professional investors, it’s more like, “I don’t want to be left out.”

The real dynamic that has the attention of many is their user growth. Some who say the price of the Facebook IPO is exaggerated focus on the slowing of the growth rate. That’s actually understandable when you look at this graph.  What has my attention is the “tipping point” that began in August of 2008. For the next 12 months, Facebook users increased from 100 million to 300 million.

Why is this important to talk about? Two reasons. Many of you are either entrepreneurs or part of businesses that want to grow. Growth requires patience. During 2006, for instance, Facebook grew by 6.5 million users. Facebook listened to their users, kept offering them something they liked, and took the long view.

If you want to grow your business, start with clarity about who your customers are and how satisfied they are with what you are offering them. Know that their satisfaction is based upon today’s expectations and will change tomorrow. Facebook, and many other companies, are adept at meeting this continuously changing customer environment.

The second reason that this conversation interests me is more metaphysical. We live in a really small world when we consider how connected we are to each other. The original Six Degrees of Separation study of social psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1967 showed that we are no more than six steps away from each other. New research of Twitter users shows that this separation is 4.67.

Why is this so? There is a lot of study and no agreed upon conclusion. My sense is we are energetically connected in ways we don’t yet understand. These connections are not just with each other, but with everything in the universe (lots of good quantum physics on this).  We are at a time when we can positively shift the dynamics of the world, through authentic and purposeful connections. The impact of these connections is amplified in ways that are important and that we don’t understand.

So remember, you may be the one person who makes a difference.

Warning Bells

This morning I was reading more about the big losses at JPMorgan Chase. By most accounts, warning bells had been going off about the danger the bank was facing with its trading activities in London. Executives were tranquilized by their optimism. This type of emotional illusion is often present at the downfall of leaders.

This myopia, however, isn’t the exclusive purview of organizational leaders. We all get caught up in it from time to time. There was a groundswell of optimism in the U.S. about the continuous rise of housing prices. While there were some on the edges, who warned of the fallacy of this belief, many bet their 401k accounts or acquired greater debt than was prudent under the spell of this infectious optimism.

Warming bells go off and we don’t heed them. We believe they are not meant for us. Our intuition is often screaming “NO” and we override the warning with tranquilizing stories that are logical. It is the flaw of logical thinking that blinds us. There is no logic that can understand the complexity of the world. We can’t yet explain how a plant knows to grow roots and leaves and flowers. How then can we logically explain an economic system that is as much hidden as it is visible?

If we reorient our guidance system and allow intuition to be the centerpiece, we will rarely experience surprises. I’m not advocating ignoring the logical mind. I suggest we use it in a different way. Instead of having it be the captain of our boat, give it a new job. This job is to gather information that helps us better understand what our intuition is showing us. This broadened understanding helps us act with greater confidence and feel more peaceful.

I’m trusting intuition more and more. I see life-long patterns that orient me to not trust it. Every time I have ignored intuition lately, I look back and realize it showed me the truth of a situation and my mind’s confidence was not well placed. The journey continues.

What is Enough Accountability?

Yesterday, I wrote on the the question, “What is Enough?” As I was walking with my wife among the wild peppermint and bee balm hearing our bees industriously gathering pollen around us, I realized there are many other viewpoints from which to consider this question.

As I sat back at my desk to write, I remembered a conversation I had with someone who works with leaders of large corporations. I said, “I believe it’s vital to strive to absolute accountability within businesses.” He pushed back saying, “That is too much. People will become disillusioned if you set the standard too high. We should be satisfied with improvement over the current state.”

What is enough accountability? Over the past few days, I have read comments from Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, about the $2B trading loss they incurred. Today several people who were directly responsible for the loss resigned. This is a typical outcome when something big goes wrong. A few people get the ax and the beat goes on.

What about the people who are accountable for the business culture that fostered this situation? What about the board of directors, who have oversight accountability? They all seem to be saying, “OK, we made errors, let’s learn from them and move on.” I’m not certain that real learning is possible unless everyone who is accountable has a consequence. I’m not suggesting that a bunch of people be fired. What I’m saying is that there should be a consequence that is public and clear.

I know when my young boys act in a way that is inconsistent with our agreements, they experience a consequence. They might lose access to television or treats for a period of time. I know if I don’t apply a consequence immediately and uniformly, they don’t learn.

Accountability is absolute. We are either accountable for what happens, or we are not. I know if someone is being accountable if there is a consequence for their accountability. This isn’t a matter of blame. It’s simply an outcome that is directly connected to accountability.

My accountability to you as readers is to write what I feel is true and do it when I promise. If I don’t do that, I’m not going to be punished. There is a consequence. It’s lowered trust, which may mean you tune out. On the other hand, if I do what I promise, trust increases and the number of readers grows. It’s really simple.