Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Archive for the category “Purpose”

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.

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

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

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.

What was I thinking?

Do you know what your job description is? I don’t mean the few paragraphs someone in the HR department put together to give you an outline of your job responsibilities. I’m thinking about the job description for your life. What is it that you are here for? Big question that often baffles us and whose answer evades many.

A while back, as I have written about here, I realized that I had the directive, “love yourself”, in my job description. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? For starters, it’s a lot easier to talk about than experience. Sure, I want to feel love. Most of my ideas about love are that it comes from someone else. Early on, it was from my parents and grandparents. Then, god crept into the picture. Although that was a bit confusing, since I was told “to love and serve god” and that he loved me, I did as I was told. I could really feel that love at the time.

As I moved into adolescence, love got to be more about relationships with women with sex thrown into the mix. Then there was marriage and children and the circle started over again, or so I thought.

What I didn’t understand was that love starts with me. If I don’t love myself (meaning that there is nothing about me that I don’t accept), I can’t fully love anyone else. So much good and bad literature and media brings us glimpses “into love”. These perspectives are primarily emotional and conditional. If I do what you want, or I don’t hurt you or something like that, then you love me. God bless grandmothers, who don’t have such conditions.

Anyway, I didn’t understand the absolute requirement to love myself, so I didn’t. I looked in all the wrong places for love and it eluded me. All the while, loving myself was part of my life’s job description. Can you imagine my frustration?

That’s not the worst of it. There’s a second part of my job description. I’m to live in integrity. If I thought I had a clue about that, I was sadly mistaken. I didn’t know anything. I have recognized that integrity requires loving myself, so at least my job descriptions are complementary. I had no idea what a challenge this can be. If it was about being truthful, as we commonly think of it, that would be challenging enough. I find that it’s far more than that. It’s about being aware of everything I do. It requires that every action, word, feeling and thought are in harmony. If you have ever felt confused, you know the challenge of having the internal orchestra work together.

It doesn’t stop there. Not only does my job description include loving myself and living in integrity, it calls for me to teach others love and integrity. At times, this feels too much. I know when I fall down and don’t live up to what I know integrity is. There are plenty of moments when I don’t love myself. So how can I possibly teach others?

The good news is that I can do it because it’s easier to see love and integrity in others than myself. The gift of this job description is that I have the privilege of learning from my wife and children and all those I work with. As I teach about love and integrity I can see where they struggle and find my struggles. I offer them love and see it reflected from my remembering.

In the end rather than wonder, “What was I thinking, when I took on this life’s job description”, I find wonder and gratitude for having the perfect job. Good to remember, at moments when all I can see I believe to be my defects.

So what about you? What is your job description? Not sure? Send me an email (find it in the “about” section of this blog) and I will send you a tool that might help.

Why would I do something that’s less than great?

I love being behind the microphone. In 2003, I hosted a radio program in Cincinnati. From the first broadcast, it felt like home. I eventually walked away from this program, when I couldn’t produce it the way that I felt would be the best program we could create.

I moved from Cincinnati to the Chicago suburbs, and knew at the right time I’d be back on the radio. I loved listening to This American Life. I felt their storytelling was the best on radio. As I listened to an episode, a vision of how I would come back to radio emerged. I knew that the most powerful force on the planet wasn’t government or religion, it was business. Businesses were setting the agenda for our communities, countries, in fact, the planet. This agenda was often narrowly focused on maximizing profit at any cost. This cost was producing significant challenges that weren’t always obvious. Traditional media, including public radio, was ignoring the real behind the scenes stories of the good, bad and ugly of business. I knew it was important to get these stories out.

As this idea percolated, I could feel the qualities of the new program. I wanted each episode to be a masterpiece. Everything about it enhanced the story telling, and this attention to quality would enable it to be a widely listened to program. For me to stay focused on this dream required deadlines, which in the radio business meant having a regular time and date for the program to be broadcast.

I started looking for a radio station to be our home. I discovered a local AM radio station that offered about half its air time to paid programming. I contacted the station and we quickly struck a deal. OK, now I have a start time, but how am I going to find a team to produce this program so it matches the dream I’m have.

My previous experience was with live radio. I felt that this format wouldn’t support the quality I wanted. I also didn’t know anything about the production stuff. I advertised on Craig’s list, and after several false starts found someone who could produce the programming I was envisioning.

We were off to the races, and Business Matters was birthed. Our first program was not half bad and it gave us a good reference point to improve from. I was having a great time and the quality improved from week to week. We added a producer, who helped with finding guests and promoting the program. The only problem was that no one was listening. At least, that’s what I thought.

How could I find out if my hunch was right? I decided to run a promotion on the program. The first ten people who called our toll-free number, would receive $50. That’s right, free money. We received NO CALLS. What could I do? Our producer heard that there was a potential change in the programming lineup at WLUW, the station owned by Loyola University in Chicago. We met with the station manager and boom, we were on the air in Chicago within four weeks.

The program team changed over time. For the first year and a half,we consistently produced programs that were good. Then I took my eye off the ball. From time to time, we would create programs that rocked, but we also broadcast mediocre programming. I had a great rationalizing story, “the program may not be great, but it’s good enough.”

When I see this sentiment, I cringe. How have I let this happen? I lost touch with the dream. I’ve allowed perceived limitations to justify inferior content. I’m not saying this from the perspective of comparing our program to something else. I’m saying this because the program doesn’t feel like the dream.

I would like to say that I realized this from some moment of personal insight. That’s not the case. I was recently inspired to find collaborators for the program, who feel the dream, and can help bring that dream to the radio. One of these people wrote me a note yesterday about a recent program. He was blunt, which I’m very grateful for. He said the program was disappointing compared to some of our earlier work. I knew in an instant he was right. I also knew I needed to either renew my commitment to the dream or stop production.

I recognized all the times in my life where I have drifted away from the dreams I have been inspired by. Each time, the underlying dynamics were the same. I compromised. I allowed myself to believe in some perceived limitation rather than remembering that if the dream is right I will be able to find everything needed for its continued creation.

Today, I am both energized and humbled. I’m looking through my life to see where I may be compromising, and if I am stopping.

How about you? What are your dreams? Do you follow them or allow yourself be distracted? There’s no day like today to come alive again.

Why do I do the things I said I woundn’t do?

I have been wondering why people do things that they know aren’t good for them. When I talk to people about changes they want to make, they are so clear. They make a commitment to take new steps and then they begin. Sometimes this commitment lasts a few hours, or a few days. For some, it lasts longer, but still it doesn’t stick. Very few continue to experience these changes for long periods of time.  So what’s up?

As is often the case, I have my own example to help me examine this question. A few months ago I started writing this blog again. I promised myself (and you) that I would write five days a week. I started off a bit rocky, but then got into the grove. Along the way, I realized that if I was going to write, then why not every day. Ok, I made a new commitment and kept it up for a month.

Then my own version of dropping what I know is good for me popped up – how perfect. I was reading a blog that I quite like called zenhabits. The author, Leo Babauta, has created a large following through clear writing, listening to his readers and absolute service. He writes three times a week a simple and helpful blog. I got to thinking (this is the first step in getting off track) that maybe I should be only writing three times a week. “This would give you more time to deepen each posting”, was the logic of my inner voice.

This distraction had my attention on Friday and guess what, no writing. Along came Saturday and I was still under the spell of this inner voice. I began to write a longer piece on simplicity (isn’t that interesting?) and told myself that more research was needed. This meant that nothing was written on Saturday.

This morning, I was sitting with my wife for our morning tea and she, in her loving way, asked if I had not written over the past few days as a deliberate choice. There she goes revealing truth again. Sometimes I just don’t like to hear what she says. As I reflected on what happened, I began to get an answer to my question of why people do things that aren’t good for them.

Michael Murphy, who co-founded the Esalen Institute, wrote in The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature that a distinguishing quality of our nature is we are story-telling beings. We use stories to make sense of things. Whether it’s ancient myths or modern literature, we want to understand why things are they way they are (the distraction of this need will be a topic for a future posting).

Without examination, we believe these stories are true, often even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. Holding on to my past story is the root of the problem I faced this past week.  My inner story is that I’m not very good at writing and if I stopped it wouldn’t really matter.

This story has been in place since childhood. When I embraced a calling to write because it was clearly connected to my purpose, I knew this was true. Yet the old story continued. When I had the mildest distraction and moved my attention from my daily writing, the old story asserted itself. All this happened without my being aware of the story.

This morning, when I saw the truth in my wife’s comment, my automatic reaction was to reject what she was saying and offer some comment about things she wasn’t doing. I knew immediately this was a defense response and let it go. Now I was able to hear her without distraction. As I did so, I was able to locate the story that was at the root of walking away from my commitment to write. This story may persist for the rest of my life.

What a poignant reminder of the power of deliberateness. I was not aware of the disruptive nature of the distractions. They arose so quickly and quietly that I didn’t see their impact until now. Many of us lament that we don’t have the life we envision. We look around for quick fixes and despair when they don’t work.

The news (like you don’t already know this) is that there is no quick fix. Unless you consider being in the present moment a quick fix (it sorta is since I can bypass all the distractions). Being present comes when there are no distractions (visible or invisible) that take me away from NOW. When I am in the NOW, I am completely aware of everything and everything thing that I do or say or feel is deliberate. There is no other way in the present.

Something for you to chew on as we go into a new week.

Sacrifice Not Required!

Today was a peculiar day for writing. The weather is perfect. It’s sunny, the temperature is in the low 70s and there is a gentle breeze. My relatively new office overlooks an amazing stream and the outdoor pours in, inviting me to come out and play.

Guess what I want to do? I want to have a temper tantrum, which could look like sitting here staring outside, and feeling angry that I’m here and not there. Yet, I sit here with my fingers poised over the keyboard and wait for writing to pour forth. Surely there is something that needs to be expressed.  I get it, I’m going to share with you my frustration about being at the keyboard, rather than walking barefoot in the grass.

It’s good to remember that distractions take many forms. One that’s very familiar to me is worry. My worries are generally about something that’s either going to happen or should happen, but probably won’t. Today though, my distraction is annoyance. The alternative to writing appears to be so attractive that I forget, temporarily, why I write.

I love writing. When I write, I see things more clearly, I connect with you and I expand my abilities as a teacher. I see that part of the nature of my distraction is the illusion of sacrifice. My little voice is protesting my choice of activity with the warning that if I don’t go outside RIGHT NOW, I will miss out on the best day of the year. The voice is very convincing. I’ve followed it many times.

I realized a while back, that the type of sacrifice the voice is using to induce me to abandon writing isn’t real. I can write and spend some time outside. This won’t be possible if it sit here paralyzed by “writers block”. I decided about ten minutes ago, ENOUGH. I’m going to have some fun writing about my dilemma and not put any attention on the voice’s dire prediction. I know I’ll be outside in no time at all.

How often do you allow distraction to take you away from what’s important? It happens so subtly. One minute you are getting ready to do what you love, and the next you are drifting in thoughts. You discover later (could be minutes or hours or days) that you have been lost.

Remember distraction comes with a high cost, as the present moment will never be here again. OK.. now it’s time to go outside

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.

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.

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