Friday, December 11, 2009
It’s been a while since my last post. I would like to say it’s because I have been deep in conversation with all the people that are most important to me in my life. And I have to say that it isn’t 100% accurate. I love the deep, intimate, fully vulnerable conversations that take two or more people to a much more connected place. I would also say that I have been blessed over my lifetime with a multitude of beautiful and fulfilling relationships. The older I get, the deeper these relationships become and the more I cherish and seek out more.
I also find that the majority of clients that I coach seek the same depth and intimacy in their treasured relationships. For many, this pursuit is long and painful. For some, their coach is the only one with whom they find they can be fully vulnerable.
This is my work and my passion as well as my own work to do. New relationships in my life are easy. The new, more mature, sage, older Bob can now enter new relationships with full openness, trust and personal vulnerability. Old established relationships are much harder. The old Bob is there. The nice, mostly introverted guy. As a child, teenager, and young man, I learned to not let little things bother me. Most things were no big deal. I had learned that “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone don’t say anything at all.” Therefore, I still find my longest-term relationships to be the hardest to show the “changed” or more mature Bob. The relationship work I do as an executive coach is near and dear to me as I continue to grow in my own learning.
If this is what I coach others to do how do I keep from being a hypocrite? Keep trying myself. The relationships that matter most and have the longest history seem to be the hardest. There is more invested and at risk. Data suggests that the highest rate of divorce is among the Baby Boomers. Maybe we spent so long together not being in conversation and now both parties crave it and don’t know how.
I have also found that the economy brings issues of avoided conversation to the forefront. When we were running hard and making money the little things that bothered us about each other seemed to go unnoticed or unspoken. Now the small issues have surfaced to be bigger than we may know how to manage or enter conversation about. And it infects our whole system, not just the two that are having difficulty. Our work has grown to include coaching individuals, pairs and whole teams how to have the conversations that are necessary for success and for some, necessary for their very survival.
I hope to bring more conversation to the world as we all continue to grow and explore the best possible versions of ourselves. As my old friend Laura Whitworth once said, “We will all forever be perfect works in progress.”
Monday, August 3, 2009
Later this month I will be back into the Grand Canyon. This time we will be staying overnight at the base of the Canyon at a beautiful spot called Phantom Ranch. This time around I want to really experience the grandeur of the Canyon. The last trip was a grand test of my endurance as we charged into the Canyon and marched the 26 miles in and out in one day. On this trip I look forward to a challenging hike down into the Canyon and even more challenging uphill climb out the next day. And, I look most forward to just ‘being’ in the experience of this beautiful place without the rush of getting in and getting out in one day.
The Grand Canyon is a majestic place and the last trip left me unfulfilled as we rushed through the experience in order to accomplish our goal of the one day ‘Rim to Rim’ challenge. I was proud of the accomplishment and also left with a desire to go back and truly experience what I missed through the rush of achieving a goal.
I often wonder what true experiences are missed when we rush through life to the beat of setting and meeting challenging goals. Much of my life also centered around playing individual and team sports that were measured by win/loss statistics with a clear end result of scoring more than the opponent within a defined period of time. And I would say that I still get the rush of a great challenge achieved. As I age I seem to find greater wisdom and understanding as I choose to just experience life as it unfolds in front of me, particularly as I get to experience this life with those I love and cherish. I fully expect to leave the Grand Canyon this time with more joy of just having been there and experiencing it as it is.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I was about 7 years old when my parents announced we would be going on a road trip to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. It was about a 90 minute car ride, not much of a road trip by today’s standards. It was big for us since we were a relatively poor family and any road trip away was an adventure.
Two things struck me that day and have remained as distinct memories these many years later. One was the diving horse. A girl rode a horse up a large elevator lift of some sort and jumped from a high platform to the pool below. A pretty cool event and still not as powerful as the event that followed.
Later we were walking along a portion of the Steel Pier when we stopped by a small 3 or 4 piece band. I found myself mesmerized by the lead singer that also played the trumpet. He had a white handkerchief wrapped around his trumpet. His voice was silky smooth. We listened to a few songs before moving on. When my father told me it was Louis Armstrong – it meant nothing to me, and when he sang ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ it touched me. That song is a beautiful reminder of what is wonderful in this world. We could all use this type of reminder on a regular basis.
What are you doing to appreciate the beauty in this world? And I hope you will share the beauty that is you.
Monday, June 8, 2009
One industry that is thriving during the economic slowdown is executive coaching.
While many companies have cut back on employee development programs to save money, others are recognizing the increased return on investment and are keeping coaching firms busy.
These days, investors are being more selective about which companies they fund, so top-level execs are investing the time and money to hone their leadership skills, says Bob Johnson, founder at Leader Search Inc. of Calgary, Alberta a coaching services firm.
"Some companies are cutting back on non-direct revenue producing initiatives, but others are investing more," says Johnson, who's been coaching executives for over 18 years. "The good companies are encouraging their executives to get coaching because they want them to not just survive but to prosper when their competition doesn’t."
For the past few years, there was a "gold rush mentality" in the resource sector, where people didn't believe leadership skills and business models mattered, says Johnson. But the economic slowdown has forced companies to get back to basics.
"When there's a clanking noise in your car at 100 kph, you can't hear it. But you can hear it at 50 kph," says Johnson, who splits his time between coaching execs in Calgary and Phoenix.
While most executives stay in their roles after coaching, some realize they aren't the right person to lead the company, says Leader Search’s Johnson.
"My mistakes were easily costing the company more than Bob's fees," says Paul, one of the executives Bob coaches. Like the CEOs of many companies, Paul's background was in technical engineering, not business and particularly not leadership. And, he says, the company's ability to move to the next level, retain its good people and not become a take over target was weighing on his shoulders.
"My biggest area of weakness was my decision making," says Paul, who stepped down as CEO after several months of coaching.
"After we brought in a new CEO, we increased revenues by $2.5 million," says Paul, now COO and vice president of operations. "The results speak for themselves."
Programs vary by coaching firm and the needs of each executive. But intensive, one-on-one programs such as Leader Search's typically begin with a "360-degree assessment" in which the coach shadows the executive and then interviews those who work closely with him or her.
Leader Search's coaching program typically involves three sessions per month for six to nine months, with the cost ranging from $12,000 to $20,000. Fees vary by coaching firm, and depend on the scope of the coaching and level of the executive.
"A good executive coach works with the natural style of the leader, but then discovers their ambitions and fears," says Johnson. "CEO coaching, in particular, is really about accelerating the natural growth curve of a person who wants to be a leader."
Another CEO that receives coaching from Bob, hired Bob because he wanted feedback from someone with leadership knowledge. "One of my fears is that my knowledge or lack thereof will be the reason that the company does not grow at a maximum rate," says Ken. "By using coaching I am able to get an outside, unbiased evaluation on our effort and results."
Ken also adds a word of caution. For coaching to be successful, coaches must be committed to their client's goals. "Too many executive coaches have their own agendas," he says. "That's a disaster."
Companies are willing to spend the money on coaching because the return on investment can be significant. The average ROI -- in the form of increased productivity, reduced turnover and other factors – is $100,000, according to a study in the Boston-based Manchester Review.
“The direct monetary impact of coaching can be difficult to measure”, says Ken. For him, coaching is valuable because the ideas generated enable him to operate his company more effectively.
"Once in a while you can point to a specific situation where the coaching made a measurable monetary difference," he says. "I have asked for advice in negotiations when I was unsure of what the other company was trying to do. Based on my coach's input I changed strategies and we won the contract."
“In the past, executive coaching was viewed as a perk; now companies realize it can help their bottom line”, says Johnson. "When times are really good, people don't think there are any problems," Johnson explains. "In these times, people are much more aware of their limitations."
Thursday, April 30, 2009
One quote suggested “Companies want to bring people together during these economic times and come up with ideas for how they are going to ride this out together”. We have seen an increase in not only our coaching business activity, but an increase in interest in executive retreats as well. Retreats look different than they have in the past when cash was king and the agenda was predominately fun, celebration and recognition. Today we see clients staying closer to home, inviting less people and digging into deeper work agendas. Presently, the days of golf or fishing outings in the name of teamwork seem to be a fading memory. Deep and meaningful conversation seems to be the mainstay coupled with dinner and less casual conversation at night becoming the place for learning more about each other.
Challenging times create bigger irritants out of things we tended to ignore when we were running hard and makin’ money. During those grand times many of us would live with the teammate we didn’t get along with. Now we can’t stand them and these relationship challenges affect the entire organizational culture. Tougher times call for conversations that we would likely have avoided in the past. And many don’t know how to hold these necessary conversations. This becomes the work of coaches as they facilitate the conversations that are necessary to produce the relationships that work in order to create the results that are even more critical in these trying times.
Therefore, we have seen a decrease in traditional classroom training and an uptick in coaching, either on site in the workplace or in newly designed retreats that focus on the key relationships and the necessary conversations people need and want to have. As one of our coaching clients said recently, “Leadership is no longer for the faint of heart!”
Monday, April 20, 2009
On this past trip I did the usual and walked on to one of the local courses in Tempe as a single and got placed with a man named Rueben. Rueben is an aging black man with steel wool type gray hair sticking out from under his ball cap. He looked old to me and I later received confirmation that Rueben just turned 80 years old. Imagine the story I made up about the man I just got paired up with. He instantly gave me a sense of being a nice, kind man with a glowing smile and bright eyes. But I was mostly concerned with his ability to keep up with the group ahead of us and even more importantly, which set of tees he wanted to play from. I usually like to play the back tees, or as I age myself, maybe the next set up. Would I need to play the forward tees to accommodate the kind old man? As we came up to the first tee I stopped and asked Rueben which set of tees he preferred. To my surprise he asked if it was OK if we played from the back tees (the tips in golf talk). We stepped up to the tee box and Rueben hit a beauty right down the middle. If not for dumping a shot in the water and taking a double bogey on the 18th Rueben would have scored under 100 for the round. He played wonderfully and was a joy to spend the afternoon with. He told me he played 210 rounds last year! So much for wondering if this old man could keep up!
I believe the game of golf is much like life when it comes to relationships. Think about the stories we make up when we first meet someone. What about the stories they make up about us? I wonder what stories Rueben made up about me. And of course, I had my own performance anxiety as I stepped up to the first tee with my newfound friend watching. I had a pretty good score this time and couldn’t help make up stories of what Rueben would think if I had hacked the ball around the course. Consider the opportunities we may have lost over the course of our lifetimes because we made up stories about people the instant they crossed our paths. We then discount someone as not worthy of our time or energy and move on to the next possibility.
What if we considered:
• Everyone we encounter as worthy of our time,
• Someone we could learn from,
• A credible human being with their own unique gifts,
• Someone we would minimally get as much from as we would give to them.
I would encourage all of us to upgrade our level of tolerance for others and to live in a higher place of abundance and care. Then may all the stories we make up be positive about others and prove to be true. Here’s to all the beautiful Rueben’s in the world!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Baby Boomers and the Millennials have
more in common than either will admit.
Most of what we have read, researched and interviewed has brought us to the conclusion that there is not a discernible difference between the Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) and the Millennial (born between 1977 and 1998) generations when it comes to wants and desires. We have discovered that if the two took the time to talk with each other they would find the battles between the two to be almost laughable. The primary culprit in this generational war is nothing more than age. The Baby Boomers have forgotten all they stood for when they were young professionals and the Millennials have yet to experience the full benefits of age. Sit back and explore with us the similarities and the differences between the two and you will find that these two generations have more they share than the sandwiched Gen Xer’s have with either one.
“Because the demand for their services so greatly exceeds the supply, young graduates are in a strong position to dictate terms to their perspective employers. Young employees are demanding that they be given productive tasks to do from the first day of work, and that the people they work for notice and react to their performance.”
Sounds very much like the words of many of the Baby Boomer leaders we have coached as they speak of the sassy Millennial professionals entering their organizations today. The key to understand is that this is a quote from a Fortune magazine article written in April 1969! The more recent May 28, 2007 Fortune edition recites this 1969 quote as part of an article about managing the Millennial Generation titled “You Raised Them, Now Manage Them.” If this all rings such a familiar refrain, we will again, profess that there are many more similarities than differences between the two generations.
We have found that the search for the holy grail of leadership is still outside the grasp of almost all organizations. Through countless workshops, retreats, team development exercises and years of recruitment contracts, the qualities of the Sage Leader are often talked about and revered, and any organization that paid the fare to hire one or discovered one in their system coveted their prize possession. They learned to spend strategic time determining what it would take to find, develop and keep more of this sacred commodity.
Believing the qualities of this Sage existed only in the tenured ranks of seasoned Baby Boomers, companies have recently begun to realize this expertise is retiring and leaving in droves with little development of the leadership capacity remaining in the system. We have found that the wisdom of the Sage leader is available regardless of age or tenure. Mining the commodity from within the ranks of more tender aged employees becomes the task of the aging Baby Boomer leaders before they leave the ranks of corporate systems.
Let’s take a look at the differences, as well as the similarities between these two distinct generations. Consider that the Baby Boomer generation is into or fast approaching the second half of their lives with vitality never experienced by previous generations. They are healthier in mind and body and have an insatiable desire to stay connected to society and contribute. This contribution has appeared in many forms with a particular emphasis on giving back, legacy and making a difference while they also enjoy the fruits of their labor over the past thirty plus years. Life balance, contribution and being recognized for their capabilities motivate them to redefinition of the concept of retirement.
The Millennial Generation wants to design their careers, balance life, contribute to society and have more control over how they spend their time. And they want it now. They are a ‘work to live, not a live to work’ generation. You will find Millennial’s buying vacation time from their employers or quitting jobs altogether to travel, give time to noble causes or share staying at home to raise their families.
Both generations want for the same things. The battle lines have been drawn because the Baby Boomers expect the Millennial Generation to earn this right like they did. The Millennial’s have witnessed the impact of the live to work system of the Boomers. The missing component is a mutual respect for each generation. With this respect in place the cultures of organizations will transform and with it comes a better world for all.
Boomer parents in a fast paced, multi tasked, high tech, structured and scheduled activity environment raised the millennial Generation professionals of today. We have watched them play video games masterfully while talking on cell phones or text messaging their friends. At work they can be talking to a client while they e-mail memos and text message their friends setting up plans for after work. Yet, they still crave direct contact and a personal connection with their boss. That is assuming they have respect for their boss. Respect is earned, not a right of position or authority. With this respect, Millennials want a boss that is personally invested in their professional development. They want Sage Leaders to develop them, teach them and let them try, fail, learn.
Baby Boomers have a history of very direct supervision from their immediate boss. Respect was a right earned by tenure and position. Resentment crept in when respect was not evident since respect was assumed via positional power. Millenial’s want leaders and organizations to treat them as allies and partners, not ‘masters’ of them. Respect is not granted freely due to position or tenure. Respect comes with time proven success. They want their leaders to be mentors and strategists. Leaders that show their human side and want continual growth and learning for themselves as much as for their people.
Notice any similarities? As we have brought generations together to be in conversation we have had the pleasure of understanding emerging. May we all recognize that like many battles over history, the lines in the sand are drawn because we don’t take the time to understand each other. If I can contribute to some of that understanding I will consider myself content and fulfilled.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Throughout the year I would shoot buckets, play catch with both footballs and baseballs and spend countless hours on my own in make shift fantasy games. My first year in high school went well and I fell in love with football and continued to play football throughout high school and into college. Basketball was another story. All my junior high basketball experience worked well as long as I could dribble the ball with my right hand, my dominant hand. In high school I didn’t make the grade because I could not dribble as well with my left as I could with my right. All my previous experience was acquired by staying in my comfort zone of my natural preferred right hand. I spent all my practice and game time playing with my natural skill. By high school I wasn’t good enough.
What might have been if I had spent many of those countless hours practicing with my less preferred left hand? Maybe basketball would have been my game instead of football. I also have more recent experience on the squash court. Now this is a game where you only need to use your dominant hand to swing away at the ball. When I would jump into the court with the pro he would pity my level of play and challenge me by playing with his left hand. I am sure he spent countless hours working on a full repertoire of skill development making him a more rounded squash player and eventually skilled enough to play at the world professional level.
As a final example, I coached my daughter in soccer over an 18-year period. Watching not only my daughter, but also many of her friends grow and develop as soccer players and human beings was as much a gift to me as was my gift of time I gave them. With the girls playing at a competitive level the coaches looked for strategies that would give us the edge against any of our opponents. As players grew and developed the really good ones were able to use both feet with equal skill. They were the ones that made defending them a real chore. The girls that were good and only with their dominant foot were easier to defend. These girls were never able to progress to the most competitive ranks of soccer.
As an executive coach with over 25 years of experience I realize I would not have made it to a level of the coaching elite without constantly working both my natural and my less preferred skill sets. As a natural introvert, I have made a great living working one on one with leaders and executives. And I would have been a strictly one-dimensional coach if I stayed only within my natural comfort zone. A stretch for me is working with teams, facilitating learning to groups in a classroom and most of all, speaking professionally to large groups. With ongoing work in all of these challenge areas I have not only grown as a coach, I continue to have abundant energy about this work that keeps me excited after 25 years in the profession. There are many days that I count myself lucky to just now be fully hitting my stride. I look forward to the second half of my career as an executive coach.
Some of the leadership gurus espouse the virtues of playing to our strengths. I agree in theory. Let us recognize and continue to develop our natural gifts. And give us the fortitude to discover the stretch zones and work at them so we can stand tall in the heat of battle when we need to dribble around that defender and it calls for us to use our less natural foot to execute with success. The old adage of what got you here won’t keep you here looms large for leaders and executives alike. Without finding a way to grow both your natural strengths and your less preferred skill sets, you will languish in the ranks of leadership mediocrity at a minimum. More likely, you will find yourself looking for a new job or career. Only the strong survive may need to be replaced with – the lifelong learner that constantly stretches themselves outside their comfort zones will excel. If leaving a legacy ever enters you minds eye, embrace stretching yourself and you have a greater chance of entering the ranks of the leaders others tell stories about when we ask them to tell stories about the leaders that had a significant impact on their lives. I aspire to be one of those some day!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Fritz Halfacre, my high school football coach, comes up. Frank Osmun, the guidance counselor at the same high school. And most significantly, my father consistently shows up. I believe these three are most prominent because they were in my life at the potentially most vulnerable and impressionable times of my life. I fully believe that without each of them sharing the Unseen Road they saw in me I would not be where I am today.
When I would ask the people you lead, your children or anyone else whose lives you touch, would they readily say your name as one of those they see as a significant contributor to their lives? If not, what will you do to change that? If there are people in your life that made a difference in your life – tell them.
Margaret Cousins wrote – “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” And, I once heard Ken Blanchard, the One Minute Manager guru, speak and a few of his words have stuck with me for nearly 20 years. He said, “Good thoughts left in your head mean squat!” I would particularly like to encourage you to share the stories of the impact someone special has had in your life.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I write between upward glances to watch students walk by wondering what their stories are and will be. Their whole life sits before them and many will sit in quiet contemplation someday as I do almost 35 years after I was one of these wide-eyed students. Can they even imagine what their lives will bring? A brilliant career? Amazing relationships? A family to share life with? Life lessons to share with others? I could not imagine being 56 years old when I ran around campus in the early 70’s full of life and promise. Nothing seemed to matter then. Today, everything matters.
Today, as another milestone passes by I wonder what the rest of my life brings. I realize that the potential exists that I can be just slightly past half way through. I am still healthy, active and in generally good spirits. I still believe I have lots to offer the world with the time I have left. My good friend, Don Arnoudse, has a coaching company called – Praemia Group (he’s in the Boston area and one of the best, so look him up). He’s a brilliant coach and speaks often about the spirituality in the workplace. He realizes that people of our generation are vital, more energetic than any previous generation and that we can live long and healthy lives, leaving us capable of offering much to the world as we live the second half. These are the thoughts that leave me in a place of awe about what is left to accomplish as I whine about my grey hair (at least I still have some), my ever-softer belly and my aching knees. This is a place where wisdom is born and we can elect to share the wisdom or consider it as folly and keep it to ourselves.
I have another coaching friend named Rick Tamlyn. Rick has a company named - It’s All Made Up. What a brilliant way to look at life! It’s all made up anyhow. If it is, let us all see ourselves as the brilliant human beings we were meant to be. We have boundless wisdom and never ending opportunities to share with the world. As I contemplate these thoughts I consider this birthday to be one of many past and many to come – a halfway point. A wonderful place to be.
It must be between classes again. The campus is filled with students as they move from one class to the next. May all of their lives be full of joy and contentment as they pass from one phase of life to the next and may they all celebrate many birthdays and significant 2nd halves!
Friday, March 27, 2009
Imagine if I still did that as a parent. At 30 years old she would still be stumbling around the house trying to walk on her own. My daughter and her husband have recently created a new stage of life for me – grandparenthood. I love how they choose to include us in their lives and share their hopes and dreams as well as our granddaughter. It gives me peace to understand that our children no longer need us but they want us. I consider this a true testament to love and successful parenting.
Leaders can learn wonderful lessons from parenting. Leaders can measure their greatest success when their people no longer need them but they want them. Letting go continues to be the number one coaching challenge leaders face. I find fear tends to be the prominent reason for not letting go and entrusting others to successfully do the work. Can they do it as well as I can? Can I trust they can do it successfully if I don’t stand over them and watch? Maybe most importantly, what if they don’t need me anymore?
The greatest measure of a leaders success is when they don’t need you anymore. It’s not how many followers you develop; it’s how many leaders you develop that carries the trophy for successful leadership. Without ‘Letting Go’ a leader will sit in the over laden heap of people occupying the throne of leadership strictly by position only.
When we coach leaders to be more coach-like we ask them to consider the great leaders that impacted them over the years and the qualities these leaders possessed. We continually hear about how they trusted, challenged, coached and offered insights that motivated them to excel, many times beyond their own expectations. We call this the Unseen Road. Great leaders will often see something in us that we can’t even see in ourselves. What are you doing to be one of the names that quickly surfaces when others think of great leaders they have had the pleasure of knowing? If we were to conduct a survey of your people what would they’re honest view be about you?
We once worked with an exciting oil and gas company coaching most of their top leaders. Developing future leadership capability was a key initiative for this client. With aging Baby Boomers occupying most of the top leadership spots they wanted to incent executive leaders to define and develop their eventual successors. The Chief Operating Officer created a program for each member of the executive team that allowed them to take a 60 day paid sabbatical. The only requirement for this option was they had to have identified and developed their successor to a point where the executive could leave and the business run successfully without them. And the COO was the first one to take advantage of the offer. Now that’s a great way to know if you have developed your people to the point that they no longer need you but they want you! A great testament to being a sage leader sits in our actions not our words.
Are your people ready? Are you?
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
We have witnessed an increase in the coaching side of our business since this economic downturn has gripped the world, particularly, the relationship coaching work that has become an integral part of our practice. It seems that the issues that were overlooked when we were running hard, making money and being successful, become critical when times get tougher. I spoke with a client just recently on this topic and he agreed with the scenario I painted. He summed it up well by using the metaphor that “a pimple has become a boil!”.
I have enough grey hair to have experienced a couple of recessions. A key learning from any of these previous experiences is that we learn more about ourselves, and those around us, when times become different, particularly, tougher times. The best tests of true leadership show up when our people get scared. And we’re not talking problem solving, doing or project managing skill sets. We’re talking about the ability to have the conversations that are necessary in order to build the relationships that produce the most effective productivity. The Journal article continued on to state “executives believe that without capable managers, their ability to come through the recession in a healthy fashion is diminished.”.
Sage leaders will look at this recession and define it as our new reality, our new economy and our economic reset. A recent survey by a San Francisco marketing firm revealed some characteristics for these leaders and companies during this time of economic reset:
*They know and value their core strengths.
*They recognize new opportunities quickly.
*They demonstrate flexibility and persistence.
*They show speed in executing plans and strategies.
*They provide extreme customer service.
*They create powerful and vibrant teams.
There is not a better or more necessary time in a company lifecycle than now to lead effectively. Are you stepping up to the plate or are you one of the statistics that contribute to the #1 reason people leave organizations – their manager sucks? It is definitely a time to run with our winners and cut our losers. We need to be dynamic enough to manage this economic reset and come out the other side with a herd of running horses!
Monday, March 9, 2009
One added bonus to the visit was I got to see my sister that I haven’t seen in years. She was in the process of moving to Florida from Virginia to be closer to Mom and Dad. And she gave to me a folder she had stored with her for many years. The mangled and discolored booklet contained report cards of mine starting with Kindergarten. I tossed it into my suitcase and forgot about it until I was on the airplane several days later. As I glanced at the first one – the Kindergarten report card – I recalled the book by Robert Fulghum titled “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. Opening it I wondered if there would be any wisdom among the pages that gave me insight to the life lessons I might have learned there. Interestingly enough, there were comments in the very first Marking Period report that seemed life shaping.
The very first report Mrs. Eppler wrote to my parents contained some distinctive words. She said, “Robert has adjusted very nicely to kindergarten life. He is becoming a good listener. Once in a while he forgets and interrupts conversation to talk about something that doesn’t pertain to our discussion; this will improve with time.”
The second Marking Period report of course, faired much better. “Robert is always willing to share with the other children and works with them nicely. I have had to speak with him several times lately about his behavior at the table while eating.”
I smiled quietly to myself as I sat on the plane reading such telling behavior stories that appeared at the tender age of five. It felt like we could take a Report Card from a 1958-1959 school year and place a present day date stamp over the original blue ink on the front page. “Bob is still a very good listener with skills that have been honed over many years since Kindergarten. This has transformed him into a premier executive coach. And yet he stills needs to be reminded when he interrupts coaching conversations with something that doesn’t pertain to the topic at hand. Maybe we can still hope this will improve with time!” Also, “Bob shares well with others and his value around Shared Abundance has proven to be a great gift to himself and others. Now if we could just do something about his table manners!”
It would be a wonderful opportunity to sit with Mrs. Eppler all this many years later and show her what she wrote in my Report Card and the grand example of human behavior that would stand in front of her today. Maybe I would even buy her dinner!
Friday, March 6, 2009
We worked with the team Gary assembled in this new company and worked directly with Gary in an executive coach capacity. We spent many hours talking diligently about leadership. Gary faced both the successes and the challenges of executive leadership as he led his new company through the highs and lows of the oil industry. During this experience with a new start up organization Gary took a much deeper look at the impact leadership had on a system and how strongly the character of the individuals on a team impacted the climate of the system. He faced several challenges as he grew this little team of people into a viable going concern. The challenges were not just the technical challenges of finding viable plays to explore, even though this proved to be a key problem his company faced. More so, Gary realized how important, and seemingly challenging was the task of building a collegial team of professionals who passionately faced the ups and downs of the oil business. He had to make some changes on the team and regularly commiserated with me on the fickleness of the personalities that showed up to do the work they had been trained to perform.
I loved the conversations Gary and I had. We covered many miles of the leadership challenge ground that many have chosen not to explore. Gary found his passion of being a professional oil and gas executive based on historical technical expertise shift to a passion for understanding and leading people. With that shift I saw Gary move from a successful technical professional to a Sage Leader.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Lon is a man that has come from a grass roots world of experience. A Vietnam Vet flying Marine jets over the jungles, an undercover motorcycle gang cop in southern California and a high tech entrepreneur that learned his technical craft from the direct lessons of people much younger than he was. His street smarts experience translated into an emotional intelligence that became apparent to all the participants.
When asked by Lon what gave the young female manager the impression that he was wise she described him as older, grayer and observant, somewhat like a father figure. She also said that he didn’t say much and the key body language signal she noticed was his smile. He would smile on occasion and she saw the smile as acknowledgement or agreement without the need to verbalize anything.
Lon does have a captivating smile. His nickname, given to him by the Mexican gangs when he was undercover, was Smiley. And Lon was middle aged, showing the signs of the wear and tear of life. Salt and pepper hair and moustache along with the wrinkles on his face and traditional expanding middle gave him an almost grandfatherly appearance. We discussed further the key characteristic that seemed to dominate all the others she had defined as sage. That appeared to be that Lon sat mostly as a quiet observer during much of the workshop, speaking sparingly, mostly relying on asking clarifying questions and the occasional wry smile of acknowledgement. Group discussion followed raising question to the concept of quiet observation as a key tool to the sage leader’s repertoire.
Lon shared that he has many of the same concerns as everyone else in the room. He said he is just as scared on the inside as they are. He feels that the wisdom of age has likely given him more questions to ponder than it has answers to the questions that he had as a young man. He finished by acknowledging to the younger leader that he saw all the gifts in her that she was hoping to gain with age. The sage wisdom of leadership was not confined to the gray hairs of his generation. He shared his gratitude to be in a room filled with leaders much younger than his obvious years that showed the promise for the future of leadership in their organization.
Are you recognizing the sage leaders that populate your organization irrespective of age, race, gender or any other judgment that may cross our radar screens? And are you putting their best assets to use? I often wonder why organizations spend so much money drafting new players from outside the team while a quality player may sit unnoticed on the bench.
Friday, February 27, 2009
For many years we have worked with clients to help them determine what methods worked the miracle they needed to develop their people into the successful leaders required to match the needs of their organization. Particularly, with the growth associated with success, many found themselves woefully behind the curve when their leadership development did not keep pace with the needs of the organizational growth.
Accidental promotions have become so commonplace that organizations find many of their people that occupy leadership positions are inadequately developed or even worse, not capable of leading effectively. Leadership development is a major industry with a multitude of vendors providing the magic bullet answer that satisfies the quick fix solution that organizations are looking for. And many keep looking because the last one did not do the trick. The newest flavor of the month becomes the next answer to our dreams. We will get those leaders up to speed quickly so we can get back to the business of producing profit driven results for our bottom line, our share holders and ourselves.
As far back as we can all remember and even as far back as Titus Plautus cited sometime around 200BC, we continually turn to the wise sage to teach us the valued secrets of leadership that seem to elude many. We can find many of the secrets stashed away in the multitude of books sitting on the selves of the leadership sections of our favorite bookstores or proudly displayed on our own packed bookshelves. Training facilitators and key note speakers give us their versions of the most dynamic ways to the leadership holy grail and organizations spend millions to find, develop and retain the best talent to lead their organizations to success. The timeless concept of the sagacious leader lending their time to develop the leaders for today and tomorrow may continue to be the solution with the most dramatic and lasting effect.
What is different today more than it may have been back in Maccius’ era is that the sage leader today is often neglected and forgotten. A great resource sits within our midst typically toiling with many of the other technical duties associated with task accomplishment and productivity. We may have noticed and even recognized them for their gifts of leadership while we keep them strapped to the other responsibilities of their job description. Then we thank them for their service and send them off to the green pastures of retirement. Another great resource lost through the traditional views of business acumen.
Do not think we believe this valued commodity only exists in the gray haired wisdom of the aged. We have witnessed great sagacious leadership emerge from professionals several generations removed from the ranks of retirement. There are distinct characteristics that appear commonly among those sage leaders irrespective of age or expected maturity through years of experience.
We hope you can, and do recognize the sagacious leader sitting among your ranks and release them of all the ‘doing’ trappings that reduce their great leadership gifts to a secondary place of common results production that many a commoner has in their results tool box.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Sandwiched between these two distinctive generations are the ever heralded Baby Boomers and the oft neglected Gen X’ers. My children belong to the Millennial generation, often labeled as the Gen Y population. The Millennial generation seems to be a term they accept and even believe they coined themselves. They do not want to be labeled simply as the generation that follows the X’ers as if they were an add on after thought. My Baby Boomer generation distinctively take up the largest amount of space and have willingly caused the onset of the so called generational wars. Finally, the Veteran generation still kicks up their heels and reminds us all they still have something significant to contribute.
With four distinct generations interacting in a crowded workplace it is time to declare a halt to the perceived generational wars and realize the common needs, desires and values all generations cherish. The primary culprit in this generational war is nothing more than age. The Baby Boomers have forgotten all they stood for when they were young professionals and the Millennials have yet to experience the full benefits of age. We believe that with closer examination you will find that these two generations have more they share than the sandwiched Gen Xer’s have with either one.
“Because the demand for their services so greatly exceeds the supply, young graduates are in a strong position to dictate terms to their perspective employers. Young employees are demanding that they be given productive tasks to do from the first day of work, and that the people they work for notice and react to their performance.”
Sounds very much like the words of many of the Baby Boomer leaders we have coached as they speak of the sassy Millennial professionals entering their organizations today. The key to understand is that this is a quote from a Fortune magazine article written in April 1969! The more recent May 28, 2007 Fortune edition recites this 1969 quote as part of an article about managing the Millennial Generation titled “You Raised Them, Now Manage Them.” If this all rings such a familiar refrain, while we continue to place distinctions that seemingly separate one generation from another we still profess there are more similarities than there are differences. We are after all, all part of the human race, even though one generation may wonder if that is true of another generation.
Take a look at your own perspectives and the stories you make up about any of the generations. What are your beliefs? What stories that you make up would you like to change?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Overheard in the lobby of a hotel where I was the voyeur of a huge wedding group on the morning of the big day. Grandpa was talking with some of the guests at breakfast. Most around the table nodded in agreement and smiles abounded as the thought passed through each person. The wise sage that was Grandpa seemed to be the catalyst for what appeared to be his own grand view of what is most important in life. Even the youngsters at the table looked at Grandpa with reverence seeking the wisdom of his advanced years and life experience.
Is the pursuit of happiness our life quest? What does it look like? We all want to be happy ourselves and want those that mean the most to us to be happy as well. In what circumstances have you found yourself the happiest? How do you replicate it on a regular basis?
It seems that I hear people talk about happiness when they are in or witness connection between one human being and another. With that I would surmise that being in connection with other or others is the primary driver in our lives. I notice it in myself when I witness happiness on the face of another. It gives me a boost in my own happiness quotient. I want to capture it on film. I carry my camera with me when I can and with every opportunity try to snap shots of happy faces and people in connection. I would love to be a competent enough photographer to truly capture the image of connection between people and the happiness it portrays.
What is your own happiness quotient for today? What will you do to raise it to an even higher level? May your happiness meter always fluctuate on the positive side and may we all bring the gift of spreading the connection!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires to lead a four day leadership development event that gave me the experience of travel below the equator for the first time and to experience Argentinean culture.
I expected to consume major quantities of beef and wash it down with ample amounts of red Malbec wine. All that proved true. We assembled the troops at 8:30 pm each night for dinner, which was quite early by Argentinean standards. By the time the week was over I had my fill of beef and considered the merits of the vegetarian. Red wine is a different subject altogether. I’ve now added Malbec to my list of great wines to place in the wine cellar for those occasions I decide to have a heavy beef dinner again.
I fell in love with the South Americans I came to know over the week. Mostly Argentineans, there were also folks from Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia. My introduction to the participants came early Monday. There was great fanfare as participants came into the room and saw their friends again. Hugs and kisses were commonplace. The noise level was noticeably higher than the start of other similar events in North America. Getting them all to settle down and take their seats so we could start the real work became our first challenge of the week.
Little did I know that this challenge would last the whole week and one of my greatest aha’s would surround this dilemma. Throughout the week I would stand in the doorway barking out commands to get back in the room so we could get started again. If we started 15 minutes late we felt we were on time! The term ‘manana’, meaning operating on his or her own time frame, rang true in the morning getting started, after every break, as well as most extremely after each meal. I found myself rising to various levels of frustration. On the third day I continued showing my displeasure as I stood in the door trying to look as stern as I possibly could watching a stray group of participants stand in front of a painting hanging in the hallway joyfully talking away in Spanish with occasional glances my way. Later that afternoon as we debriefed another successful day of learning I shared my key learning as well.
I’ve made a living as a coach. I can’t imagine a better profession to share with the world. I have clear memories of impacting people’s lives often on a daily basis. In North America I find much of my work centers around a client finding their way through the maze of daily life, particularly their jobs, rushing with such furor that they often forget to slow down, connect with others and enjoy life. I get paid well to help open their eyes to the art of connecting with others, slow down the pace and take a strong look at want is most important.
And here I am in Buenos Aires completely frustrated with a culture that honors friendship, connection and appreciating life as it unfolds! Why won’t they just get back in the classroom, sit down and pay attention to what we have to say?
This past week I finished another four day leadership development event in North America and I was back to coaching the participants to increase their ‘white space. To make room for reflection and to clearly define their values and what is most important to them. Then we sent them off for some scheduled time for self-reflection and connecting with others. When we also facilitate an exercise in defining key values we consistently find Family and Health making it into the top six values with Family regularly occupying the top spot. How often do our actions match our values? Maybe my friends from South America can teach all of us a few things.
Monday, February 23, 2009
In the spring of 2007 I came away from a retreat with a newer understanding of my place in the world and a newly formed clarity that encompassed three circles. The core circle is still family. The third circle is the rest of the world. It is the newly discovered or now understood second circle that provided a level of enlightenment. These are the deep connected relationships with those who are most important in my life. It is with the people in this circle that my greatest learning, growing and understanding of life come from. They are the lifeblood of my purpose. It becomes ever so clear as the second half of my life stares me squarely in the face. When I consider Significance vs. Success, the second circle of relationships and the people I place there become particularly pertinent. My family remains the nourishing base for all the other connections I have in the world.
I set out selecting people that clearly sat in the second circle and placed their names boldly in there with simple fanfare. Of course these people were a significant part of my life and there was no need to qualify any of these people as very important to me. Then I came upon the first name I hesitated to place in the treasured circle. What really made some names a no-brainer and others a hesitation? Discovering the value of the second circle was one accomplishment. Consciously putting names in there with discernment became another challenge. Did this define a commitment to some and alienation to others? What elements of the no-brainer candidates made it so?
Identifying criteria for placement in the second circle became the next step. This is not a simple act. In doing this I exposed myself to the things that constitute a true reciprocal relationship, one in which I feel I get as much as I give. The concept of being exposed gave me pause amid thoughts of being naked to the world. Therefore, the term nakedness became a hallmark for criteria. One fitting definition of the noun nakedness is:
Nakedness: characterized by an attitude of ready accessibility (especially about one's actions or purposes); without concealment; not secretive [syn: openness] [ant: closeness].
Surrounding this definition are the four realms of nakedness that categorize the values of the second circle relationships. I have called this the Matrix of Connection Nakedness. The four realms are defined as:
Intellectual Nakedness: Each party can converse on any matter intellectual and both parties feel heard and respected, even when their views are divergent.
Intellectual is defined as (adj)
1. relating to or involving the mental processes of abstract thinking and reasoning rather than the emotions
2. having a highly developed ability to think, reason, and understand, especially in combination with wide knowledge.
Emotional Nakedness: Sharing your perspective on all that is emotional without attachment to each other.
Emotional is defined as (adj)
1. relating to or expressing emotion
2. being by nature easily affected by or quick to express emotions
3. openly affected by emotion, especially sadness
4. arousing or affecting the emotions
5. inspired or governed by emotion rather than reason or will-power
Relationship Nakedness: Connecting deeply and openly, exposing and sharing feelings about each other.
Relationship is defined as (noun)
1. a significant connection or similarity between two or more things, or the state of being related to something else
2. the connection between two or more people or groups and their involvement with each other, especially as regards how they behave and feel toward each other and communicate or cooperate
3. an emotionally close friendship
Soul Nakedness: Common interests and views regarding what’s right in the world. A deep set of values that are common to both.
Soul is defined as (noun)
1.the complex of human attributes that manifests as consciousness, thought, feeling, and will, regarded as distinct from the physical body
2.somebody’s emotional and moral nature, where the most private thoughts and feelings are hidden
3.evidence of spiritual or emotional depth and sensitivity, either in a person or in something created by a person
4.the deepest and truest nature of a people or a nation, or what gives somebody or something a distinctive character
With this matrix in hand and a trusty 5 point scale for each of the four realms I discovered why some names were easy to place in the second circle and others were left out. Along with this exercise came both clarity and guilt. I now had the list of names that were most important in my life and warranted a new commitment of time and energy. I have vowed to focus on this group of treasured connections, with a purpose to know them each on a much deeper level and to give to them as much as they give to me.
And I now had to face the guilt of the list of people that didn’t enter the second circle. I envision these people as friends and acquaintances. We will stay in touch and enjoy each other’s company when time permits. This group will be placed in the third circle; the rest of the world. This is the resource place for future second circle connections.
I find that as I age I have become more discerning about the precious commodity of time. With age and the frequent travel schedule I am purposefully on now, I find it harder to commit to the ‘rest of the world’ at the expense of the first and second circles. Therefore, I commit to making the time for the first two circles and to share greater connection with the people who are most important to me.
I encourage you to explore your own circles of connection. Who occupies the core first circle; spouse, significant other, family? Whenever we do a values exercise with client organizations today we find that family is consistently the number one or number two key value. Are you giving that first circle the time and dedication of its rightful place as the core? Have you spent key time identifying your second circle? Be critical. Set up whatever matrix works for this exercise. Give the realms that matter to you real thought. Then write the names of those you believe fit in your second circle. Use your 5 point scale to access the reasons for placing someone there. Look at the total scores for each person and fully access who stays and who goes. Don’t allow guilt to rule the day. After all is said and done you should have a clear picture of why you will choose to spend your valuable time with those you select.