Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

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

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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