Friday, February 27, 2009

The Need For Sage Leaders

Every man, however wise, needs the advice of some sagacious friend in the affairs of life. — Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 284-c.184 BC), ancient Roman playwright.

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

Generational Similarties

My children grew up in front of a TV and a computer monitor. My parents grew up in the remains of the Great Depression and Second World War. The organizations of the world today are faced with up to four distinct generations populating the workforce. My parent’s generation would take cautious, calculated risks while my children have learned from great video games how to leap wildly ahead and reboot once you fail. They learn to advance from their adventurous previous mistakes.
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

Looking For Happiness

“She seems happy.”
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

Buenos Aires Lessons Learned

I have purposefully started traveling for work again after over fifth teen years of very reduced travel to be in Calgary and watch my kids grow up.  Travel has always been interesting to me and I crave going to different environments, seeing new places and meeting new people. With every experience comes a new view toward life and new lessons to add to the book of life.
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

Is Your Second Circle Well Defined?

When it comes to my view of the world and my relationship to the people in this world, I used to believe that there were two circles of relationship for me. The core circle was clearly family.  The primary purpose for being on this earth was to focus on family. Raise children, provide for them, nurture them and create a place in this world for them to make a difference. This core circle also provided purpose for me to do the work I do to help create a better, safer world for them to be part of. This led me to the other circle - the rest of the world. I also believed that I was placed on this earth to impact the rest of the world. Not just the people I came directly in contact with. It included those who were impacted directly by the people I’ve had a significant impact on and the cascade effect rippled throughout the world. And it also included those people that I had not yet met. My dedication to this other circle was always life purpose driven.
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.