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Archive for the tag “Authenticity”

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

The New Normal!

Two snippets by great writers stirred me this morning. Robert Bly wrote, “How much sadness we feel because we have given up expecting truth. Every moment of our live we exchange comfort or discomfort for statements we know are lies, or mostly lies, in gatherings with our parents, or at speeches, or watching a movie. How abandoned our truth receiver is: a bag-man, who spends the day without hope.”

As I read his words, I felt a sadness I’ve been unwilling to honor rise. I listen to our political process and know that we have all abandoned any hope that truth will be present. The role of a political campaign, with its abundant rhetoric, is to distort our perceptions so that the speaker can persuade us to accept their agenda, which is never truthfully revealed.

Our ability to discern truth withers from disuse and despair. There are candidates who speak what they believe is true. Ron Paul continues to stir a small segment of the population. Ralph Nader has done the same in the past. This truth-telling isn’t what we want. Rather, we follow someone who encourages us to HOPE. Hope they have the key to a better life.

We know what they are saying doesn’t feel right, and we override our perfect gift of discernment to feed the needs of our emotional nature. Only to once again feel deluded. We express cries of anger at being misled, never wondering, even for a moment, if perhaps the anger is misplaced.

So accustomed are we to look without to find the cause of our pain that we overlook a common thread that is easily revealed if we allow the truth to penetrate the fortress of our false reality. William Gass wrote, “we are accustomed to the slum our consciousness has become.” We take no accountability for this predicament and are in constant search of a villain.

I have bad news. The culprit is much closer at hand than we realize. In fact, we saw them just his morning as we looked into the bathroom mirror. I don’t like this fact much of the time. It sure seems that it would be great to blame someone else for what I don’t like about the world.

Blaming others is the new normal. I remember talking with my grandparents about the great depression. They certainly witnessed the dire consequences of this bleak economic time. Rather than have despair about this experience, they were determined. Determined that they would not experience this again. They knew the responsibility for their lives working out was their own.

Over time, we have slipped into a belief that others are responsible for how we feel, whether we have a job, the weather or the national debt. Nope… that’s not true. No matter how many believe it.

I was listening to a report on NPR yesterday from Dubai. The skyline of Abu Dhabi has been filled with construction cranes and the streets filled with the usual busyness of new building. Once again, the enthusiasm of the local government that their prosperity would go on indefinitely met the truth of economics (or life for that matter), nothing is permanent except change.

The new normal is that the good times will continue unabated. Throughout most of the 90s, we believed that they technology revolution, particularly the part fueled by the Internet, would continue as far into the future as we could see. Everyone wanted a piece of this explosion. Yet in 2000, this enthusiasm came tumbling down.

This same myopia transfixed most of us when we considered housing values. We traded up to the new and bigger house because we could. We were encouraged to buy more house than we could afford today because it would increase in value so quickly, we would soon profit from our risk.

The new normal is to ignore what is true, so that it doesn’t interfere with what I want. Want has driven so much of my life that it drowns out need. I have been examining what I need and find that my wants can be traced to inner insecurities rather than what is necessary to live a full, rich life.

The cost of the new normal can result in a shock that has the experience of the recession that went into full swing in 2008 look insignificant. I encourage you to re-establish your relationship with your intuition. It’s a powerful “truth receiver”, if we allow it to be heard. The more I listen, the less complicated life becomes, and the more the unnecessary falls away. What’s left is more than I could have dreamed.

Always Ready.. Never Surprised…

Like many things in my life, this story originates with a conversation with my wife. She was telling me about a blog posting she just read by Sharon Astyk. If you don’t know her work, check it out at this link. She is a clear writer, that’s for sure. What I appreciate about Sharon’s writing is how authentically she tells the story of her life and the impact of all of our choices on our lives.

The posting my wife was talking about is titled, Always with the Prep. I’ll let you read it to get the full story she’s telling. In essence, the message is that we can prepare for radical shifts in our world. We can do this by going to the essence of what’s involved in sustaining our life. We need water, food, shelter and clothes. That’s what we need. Everything else is not required, however, everything else is where most of our creative attention goes.

Most of us, and I put myself in this category, spend little, if any, time or attention on making sure we have the basics of life if something disrupts the way things generally work. We go to the grocery store and expect that all our food needs will be met. What happens if the power is off in your community for a month? Not so far-flung, when you consider that a million folks are still without power today from an unpredicted storm that went through the northeastern U.S. last week.

Power is needed for refrigeration, lighting and from the perspective of the grocery store owner, to collect your money. When the power is out the grocery stores are closed. What do you do about food for a month? It doesn’t stop there. We also need electricity to power the gas pumps at the local filling station, so no groceries and no gas for a month.

If you are living in an area where heat can be in the triple digits (more and more of the U.S. qualifies), how do you cool your home when it was built for air conditioning as the only way to stay cool in the summer? You can open your small windows but that will only make a dent in what you need.

I haven’t gotten to the good part yet. Then there is water. Water needs electricity too. The pumps to put the water in those towers we see around the town need electricity and the backup generators will only last a short period without more gasoline. Right.. no electricity, no gasoline.. no water….

You get the picture. We are being offered a less than gentle nudge toward preparedness. Sharon makes a good point in her piece. If there was a hurricane coming, you would stock up. Hurricane tracks are becoming more predictable. Things like thunderstorms and earthquakes and tsunamis are not. They happen when they happen.

We could say there’s nothing we can do about these types of “natural disasters” . Yes, I can’t control them. I can, however, be prepared for them. We don’t seem to want to put attention on preparing ourselves for an uncertain future. Let’s face it, the future is uncertain and we can ignore this fact or take action.

The Mormon church is very aware of the possibility of an uncertain future. They strongly encourage their members to have a year’s supply of food and water. Take a look at this excellent writing on questions of Mormonism for more details. What stops me or you from this level of preparation? Many reasons, but at the heart of it is that we are focused on protecting the present form of our life, and live in deep hope that nothing will mess that up.

I encourage you to take a new look at your life. If you are a business owner, you know that nothing is constant. How are you prepared to take care of the basic of life for your business if a major disruption happens. I know, first hand, the impact of not doing this. I consulted for a major company, who represented almost all of my client billings. One day in September of 2008, they called and said, “We won’t be needing you after this month.” Whoops. I knew better and allowed myself to be lulled into the ease of the situation, and totally forgot the truth of how life works.

If you are concerned with the care of a family or elderly parents, how can you prepare, in a reasonable way for the uncertainty of the future? It will require that you put some attention and resources on this. Some of the money you are making is set aside for this purpose.

We live in a society of gratification now. That’s ok, as long as everything remains the same. SInce that’s not going to happen, I MUST focus on preparation, or be willing to accept the consequences of my choices. Which, quite simply, are that I will be putting my business and all that I care about at risk.

Something to consider on this hot, summer’s day.

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.

What do you Really Believe?

One of our projects today was to put a deer fence around my wife’s half-acre garden. You see the deer have been freely walking through and seem to like the leaves of everything from sunflowers to soybeans. With all the hard work that goes into tilling and growing, this is not a welcome development.

My wife and I were in our local Tractor Supply looking for twine to tie the deer fencing to the posts we were installing. We had reached the point where our seemingly endless ball of twine had been used up. We made our way to the rope section and found that all the rope and twine were products of a company whose values we don’t support.

We were faced with the dilemma of the convenience of buying what we needed right now or walking away. We didn’t think long about it. We decided we would scavenge twine from other parts of the garden until we could find twine from another company.

When we were back in the garden, I got to thinking about how, each day, we are faced with the choice of whether we support businesses whose values are not consistent with ours. On the one hand many people I know are quick to share an opinion about how badly these companies treat their employees, subvert the political process for their own gain, undermine unions, etc. They say they believe this is wrong. Yet, when they are faced with spending their money with the companies they vilify they have some rationalizing story that soothes their conscious and overrides what they say. To my way of thinking the only way to know what someone truly believe is to observe their actions.

I’m no saint. There are times when I don’t pay attention to the company behind the products I buy. My wife is much more attuned to this and helps me steer clear of obvious situations like she did at Tractor Supply today.

Many who read this post believe we need to reform corporate values. The only way this change is going to happen is for you and I to vote our values with our purchases. Companies can’t exist without customers. Customers who buy from their values will impact company values. For one of the key principles of all corporations is survival. If changing the values of a company can impact its survival, that change may well happen.

My invitation is for you to join me in exercising greater vigilance in spending your money. FInd out about the companies behind the goods and services you buy. Never compromise for the sake of convenience. It’s just not worth it.

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……

Culture and Goldman Sachs

I have been receiving notes from some of you about the New York Times op-ed piece shared by the departing Goldman Sachs executive, Greg Smith. His complaint is that Goldman has become a company that is different than the one he joined 14 years ago. He blames their intense focus on profits, while forgetting the importance of the client, on a shift in the culture of the firm. He lays this cultural change at the feet of CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn.

This whole drama has the feel of the 1996 movie Jerry McGuire. If you have forgotten the theme, Jerry has a realization, early one morning, that the sports agent firm he is a part of has lost its way. Its focus is on maximizing the money, not on what’s best for their clients. He invites the firm to go back to its roots.

There is a misunderstanding about cultures in both Greg Smith’s piece and the movie. Cultures consist of a network of beliefs, most of which are unspoken. These beliefs fall into three categories: creation myths, the rules of the inner game, and the rules of the outer game.

The creation myths comprise the originating beliefs of the founders as remembered and interpreted by the second generation of members of the culture. Myths are never about truths, but about how we want to see ourselves. If you are a student of Apple Computer, as I am, you know that the myths of the birth of Apple often don’t square up with the facts those of us who were around at the time know.

The rules of the inner and outer game consist of the beliefs we have about what’s permitted, excluded and forbidden. Artifacts such as employee manuals and codes of conduct consist of less than 5% of the rules of the inner game. The bulk of the rules of the inner game are handed down through conversations between workers. One of the challenges in changing organizational culture is exposing these beliefs and changing the ones that no longer serve the purpose of the organization.

The rules of the outer games are about how we treat people outside the walls of the organization. The constituencies involved are customers, suppliers, governmental bodies, media, communities and others who we believe have power. While we have at least a beginning framework for these rules of the inner game, almost everything about these rules is anecdotal and passed along informally.

One would think with such a loose framework for these beliefs and rules, they would be inconsistent and oft changing. That’s not how it actually works. These rules are part of the operating system of the organization. As pack animals, we have an instinct for finding out “how things work here”. This instinct enables our quick understanding of the rules and why they so seldom change.

Culture is visible in the actions of the organization. We are often distracted by what people write or speak about their values or beliefs. I suspect it’s to an organization’s advantage for others to believe this spoken or written about virtuous image, rather than a truthful articulation of how things really work.

I also suspect that Mr. Smith isn’t seeing a different Goldman Sachs. Rather, he is seeing Goldman Sachs differently. The concerns he raises are about practices that have been part of the Goldman culture since its inception. The myth and rules of the inner and outer game haven’t changed. People are attracted as clients to Goldman precisely because they believe they can make the most money through this relationship. Goldman’s reputation, for clever financial instruments, has been an integral part of its culture since its pioneering efforts in creating IPOs at the beginning of the last century. They have always been interconnected to the seats of financial power and benefited from these relationships. So you can see, nothing is really different.

I offer this final note in today’s conversation about cultures. In the current issue of The Atlantic, there is an article, Why Companies Fail, that points to culture as the root of business success or failure. That’s true, but what’s missed is why this is true. Cultures are about people, not technology or capital structure or marketplace. Cultures always trump everything, and when this phenomenon isn’t recognized, the only outcome possible is a continuation of the past.

Tomorrow, I will write a companion piece about the rise and fall of an American iconic company, Kodak, from a cultural perspective and what companies can do to transform a culture when faced with the demise of the effectiveness of their current cultural mindset.
Until then,
Thomas

So Who is The Customer We Serve?

I was struck by a headline last week in the Wall Street Journal that read, “Bank of America Weighs Fee Revamp” . With the bank struggling to regain its footing after mistakes and outright illegal activity, they now want to pass the bill to their customers.

The situation has me wonder if we have two very different realities going on. In Reality Number One, there is a “customer” who is someone we serve. We offer them goods and services that enhance their life and provide them something of true value. We treat this reality’s customer with respect.

In Reality Number Two, there is a “customer” who is someone who can help us make money no matter how badly we treat them. We believe this reality’s customer is someone we can dupe through clever marketing programs and scare tactics.

I scratch my head and ask myself if the general population has become so desensitized that they simply allow a high level of abuse because “it’s just the way things are.”

I suggest that Reality Number One is the only way to create a world that is truly prosperous for all. Is there an action to take here? You bet. Move your money to a credit union or local community bank. They are living in Reality Number One every day. I think you would love the experience. I do.

Until Later,

Thomas

Is War A Necessity of Peace?

The following is an except from the speech by President Barak Obama when he received the Nobel Prize for Peace:

“So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions. A gradual evolution of human institutions.

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps beAs I have read and re-read this speech, I found my reaction went from anger to despair to resolution.For those of you who haven’t either read or heard the entirety of this speech, I encourage you to do so by checking out the links for it on our website.

It seemed offensive to me for President Obama to reference Martin Luther King, Jr and Mohatmas Ghandi and then say they are wrong minded because its not possible to use non-violence to change the actions of a despot or groups acting with disdain for other’s human rights. He said that the only way for countries to defend themselves was with the use of force. He did give an eloquent rationalization for this point of view.

Its felt that the President has taken a pill since he was candidate Obama and his perspectives about war and peace had been altered. There has been a large cry of outrage from many who backed his run for President who now feel betrayed.

That may be true, and I believe that the President missed a golden opportunity to expose and begin a dialogue to truthfully bring about an end to war and an emergence of a sustainable peace not only between nations but within nations.

On the December 18th Business Matters program, we talk about the role of capitalism in reducing war between nations. Its not good business to fight each other. OK, but let’s take that all the way.

We have a huge war machine in the US. For example, in the fiscal 2010 US Government budget, $1 Trillion is allocated to either defense or national security spending. That accounts for ½ of all the money spent in the world these areas. Imagine – all the countries in the world combined, including Russia, China and India combined spend what we alone spend

This enormous machine has links into over 100,00 businesses of the US alone. These businesses that involved in war are naturally going to fight to keep the existing system alive. For many of them it feels like a battle for survival.

So without a transitionary plan to redirect the work of these businesses and others like them in other parts of the world to peace oriented production, wars will be waged in some manner or form.

If we continue to spend at this level, there will not be adequate resources for the fundamentals of peace like food security, education and the environment. Its time for national governments to start having the hard conversations about redirection of resources. After WWII, there was an unpredicted restructuring of the war machine to peaceful applications. The time is now for such a commitment.

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[audio:http://businessmatters.net/fyc/fyc-091218.mp3%5D

New Day – Letting go of the Past

As I reflect on this day, I see how often I refer to the past to make decisions about the present. Much like living through looking in the rear view mirror. What is it that I feel I can glean from this perspective? What am I afraid of in the present moment?

The answer is clear. I am afraid I will make the same mistakes that have been part of my past. In a flash, I realize that by being focused on the past, I will always repeat it.

Only by allowing the past to fade away and bringing all my attention to this moment do I experinece today in its full brilliance.

For now,

Thomas

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