Monday, December 10, 2012

Want To Live Longer? Embrace Your Passions

The Journal of Aging and Health Study recently published a piece that suggests creative thinking may have lead to a 12% reduction in mortality risk after an 18 year study of 1,349 older male veterans (women were not included in the study). The study indicated that creativity; indicating openness, the willingness to try new things and accept new ideas, seems to have predicted a longer lifespan.

The study’s authors say, “For one thing, creativity requires the engagement of multiple neural networks, perhaps strengthening those networks as the brain ages. In other words, creative activities may act as exercises that keep the brain fit. People who exhibit creativity also seem to cope with stress better, finding solutions to stressful situations rather than being overwhelmed by them.“ They went on to say, “Hobbies or other activities in which we create something new–be that music, food, or furniture–require problem-solving skills and imagination. Such tasks are often relaxing, and even when they take a lot of energy, they are usually fulfilling. It stands to reason, then, that creativity could reduce our stress levels, improve our overall health, and increase our longevity.”

As I began writing this piece a timely email arrived pointing me to view a You Tube segment about Janey Cutler, the 80-year-old woman that made it to the finals of Britain’s Got Talent. I obviously do not watch enough television since Janey appeared back in 2010. It was a real treat to see her on stage and I was compelled to watch more clips about her and learned of her death at 82. Janey had 7 children, 13 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. She was a perfect picture of someone that embraced her passion and ‘went for it’ with No Regrets (the song she sang when first on stage). I imagined her as a perfect example of how we can live a vibrant life well into our later years and the creativity study supported the concept of vibrancy and its relation to health and longevity.

Are you embracing your passions? Have you taken the time to define and declare what your passions may be? When I work with leaders I challenge them to define leadership as a passion. I suggest that if they are not passionate about leadership they should get out and stop occupying a position that has significant impact on people’s lives. These positions of leader should be held by those that exhibit the passion to do it right – with the noble intention of service to the talent that exists in their organization. In so doing, these leaders may just live more passionate and extended lives themselves.

Take the time to define and declare your passions. When you determine what they are, pursue them passionately well into the later years of your life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

8 Days Rafting The Grand Canyon

Another big bucket list item bit the dust the end of this past August. My very good friend, Gregg and I, have done a few big trips together the past few years and realized that rafting the Grand Canyon has been on both our lists. So off we went.

I have hiked into the Grand Canyon several times. I find the Canyon to be quite a mystical place and very excitedly jumped at the opportunity to float the Colorado. We became part of a group of 19 eager rafters on two big blue pontoon rafts. Being a kayaker, I wondered if I would feel hypocritical running the Canyon on monster rafts that were over 30 feet long - and motorized. After 15 minutes on the boats and the first big water under our belts, I was sold that this was absolutely the way to go!

Thinking about 8 days looking a water, rocks and sky did get me wondering about how long it would be before I said I had had enough. That never happened. The scenery was spectacular, the water ever changing and exciting and the company was a pleasure. Admittedly, the other thing I did wonder about was if I could survive 8 days with no cell phone, email or internet! I can imagine some of you breaking out in hives just reading this and considering yourself suffering through a similar fate. Of course, I spoke of it as a real nice option and wondered more how my friend Gregg would fare. Without  exaggeration I remain solid in the story telling about how we barely thought about it the entire time on the river. Both of us live on the run and cell phones and internet keep us connected. The big question was if we could make it that long without connection. The answer was we did survive and the world went on to exist without our constant connection. Did I learn anything profound through this experience? After downloading the over 600 emails awaiting my return to civilization I found most to be junk mail and no others seemed to be screaming "where have you been?".

I often tell a story in our Leader as Coach workshop that suggests we will win at the leadership game when we get to the place that our people no longer need us but they want us. Maybe the experience of 8 days without contact proved that I may be a good leader? No one needed me while I was gone. Some did express missing me but none needed me.

So I move forward with the knowledge that I can resist that constant buzzing of my iPhone and be fully engaged and dedicated to the people I am with at the moment. No one is more important than you - the person standing right in front of me at this perfect moment. 

Maybe others could benefit from an 8 day purge of a habit that becomes automatic and we miss the impact it may have on others around us. If you think it could be helpful for you then I would recommend you pick an adventure on your bucket list, sit back and enjoy!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don’t Screw It Up!

I recently ended a Leader As Coach workshop with a picture of my two granddaughters, Reese and Isabel, on the screen. Besides using the oportunity to show off both my granddaughters as well as my photography skills, I had a very specific reason for this closing message.

I have the joy of traveling all over the world teaching coach like skills to leaders and executives. I consider it one of the ways that I achieve world work and have impact that is measured by the faces of those attendees as I then know that the way they see and lead others will be forever changed. And I get to travel and see parts of the world I never imagined seeing in my life time.

I miss my family when I travel. My wife, my grown children and especially Reese and Isabel. It is not quite the same when I Skype to talk and see them on screen. I am called "Flat Papa" when we Skype call. It suffices when I am gone and never quite replaces real live touch. Hugs and kisses can never be quite duplicated over the internet!

Back to the workshop. After two days of working with this latest batch of leaders I had a picture of these people being the leaders that will be leading my granddaughters some day or developing the leaders that will a generation from now. I imagined how Reese and Isabel will spend much more of their waking hours working for leaders like those I had in that classroom. More hours than they will likely spend with their parents as well as their own children. Imagine the impact these leaders will have on their careers and their lives personally.

It was the evening at the end of day one of the two day workshop after our nightly Skype call that it hit me. These people, or ones much like them, will greatly influence how my girls will be engaged at work. We know that the number one reason someone leaves a company is because their boss sucks. What if Reese or Isabel were to have that experience?  Maybe this was defining significance and purpose for me? Maybe this world work I do is intended to impact the experience that children like Reese and Isabel have when they enter the professional workplace a generation from now. That thought truly cemented how important the experience is that I can give every time I get the chance to have present and future leaders in our workshops.

Therefore, I placed a picture of my two precious granddaughters at the end of the slide deck and closed the two day experience with those two beautiful faces looking down on the classroom and said "Don't screw it up!"

As todays leaders continue to step into classrooms and workshops I applaud them for continuing to learn what it takes to be a significant leader and to realize the responsibility and honor it is to lead lives. And don't screw it up!

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Want To Work More Before I Die

An Australian palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware cared for dying patients in their last twelve weeks of their lives. Bronnie wrote a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. She asked them what was their biggest regret. She recorded the top five. Many will guess that one of them was I wish I had not worked so hard. True. It ranked as number 2. The top five are:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Look at your unfilled dreams. I have the luxury of traveling all over the world delivering leadership workshops and hope I have good health that allows me to continue to travel to interesting places long into later life. Ware says that “health brings a freedom that very few realize until they no longer have it”. What are you doing to live a life that is true to yourself versus what others say it should be? Consider this seriously before your health gets in the way.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

We hear, or say, this one often. I find that few people are passionate enough about what they do so they can wish they had more time to do the work they love. Have you found the work that you love and are passionate about? If yes, you may hope for more years to do the good work that the world needs. If not, I hope for you to challenge yourself to find work that makes you happy, energized and contributing to the world.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Bronnie writes, "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.” Are you keeping your feelings bottled up inside? I encourage you to enter into what we call the Dangerous Conversations. They are dangerous only because the outcome is uncertain. Avoiding expressing your feelings can lead to far more disastrous results. There is an old commercial I remember that had a tag line something like “pay me now or pay me later”. What do you choose?

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Bronnie says, “Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying." I have always craved new relationships and as I age I realize how many friendships have faded away. Now I reminisce more about past relationships that have been lost over the years. Anyone you wish you had stayed in touch with? What will you do about it?

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

She says about number 5, “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again." This is a big one. Are you choosing to be happy? Do you see life in an optimistic or pessimistic view? The choice is yours.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Wisdom From The Downhill Side Of The Mountain

Turning 59 this year was pivotal for me. I cannot explain why. I have always heard that it usually happens with the big round numbers like 30, 40, 50 or 60. For me, it seems like 59 struck me more than any other year. I have never been a fan of the term mid-life crisis. And 59 is certainly not bringing about any actions on my part that friends and family might call a mid-life crisis. I have always preferred the term life transition instead. I believe that people have used the term mid-life crisis because when someone hits that age that moves them into transition, the outcome of any change is uncertain, leaving those around to be concerned that any changes will dramatically affect the status quo they have become accustomed to for so long.
I drove along the Skyline Drive in Virginia on my way to deliver a Leader As Coach workshop and became attracted to the cement posts that were the mileposts along the way. I decided that when I came upon the #59 milepost I would stop and take a picture as a memento of my 59th year. I was revisiting a place I had not been to since I was a young boy of 7 or 8. As I passed each milepost I got more excited about taking that picture of #59. As I finally came up to this particular post I slowed to a stop, got out of the car and proceeded to take the signature picture I wanted. The most interesting thing about this particular post was that of all the posts I had past so far, this one was the only one that was beat up and worn. How ironic that the one I wanted a picture of looked the most in need of repair!
I then realized how significant this was to me. I snapped several pictures and continued along the drive. No other post was worn like the #59 post. It struck me that it was exactly the way it needed to be. This became a great representation of my life. I came to realize that at 59 years old I was now on the downhill side of the mountain. Also ironic was that the #59 milepost was also on the downhill side of the Skyline Drive. I am almost certain that I do not have another 59 years to go before I have lived out my life.
I have hiked many mountains in my lifetime and reminisced about how I always enjoyed reaching the peak, enjoying the view and then enjoying even more, the walk down the backside. It always has been more enjoyable for me to make the downhill walk versus the uphill climb. I hope that to be true of the downhill side of my life.
I am very passionate about what I do and treasure the fact that I have impacted many lives along the way. I fully expect to impact many more as time goes by. I hope to share the wisdom of climbing the mountain, seeing the summit and enjoying the gradual walk down. And may I continue to learn and grow for whatever number of miles I have left before the trail down the mountain runs out.
Are you passionate about what you are doing with the downhill side of your life? Are you impacting the lives of others? What would a significant life look like for you? What will you do to accomplish that significance before you are done? Maybe you will join me on the walk.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Monkey Rock

I travelled to Virginia this week to facilitate a workshop. I choose to drive along the Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains as a more interesting route to the client site. As a child we used to family camp at a place called Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park on the Skyline Drive. Last time I would have been there was over 50 years ago when I was 8 or 9 years old. I cannot imagine talking about a place I was revisiting fifty years later!
As I finished my short hike I came into the parking lot and found Mike and his daughter, Melissa along with his son, Logan. I walked past them and made the bold decision to go back. I found it compelling because Logan reminded me of myself 50 years ago. He looked keen to head out on this hike with his Dad and sister. I went back, introduced myself to Mike and told them the story of how we used to camp here as a family when I was about Logan's age. This family camping and subsequent hiking shaped much of my life. I found out that Mike was taking his two children on their first hike. I took pictures of them, thanked Mike for listening to my story and allowing me to take pictures.

So, what about Monkey Rock? As kids we would go run along the AT and play for hours at a place we affectionately named Monkey Rock. I reminisced about how at ages of 6, 7 and 8, we would freely roam the wilderness finding places like Monkey Rock to claim as our own. One day we took our parents along the trail to see where we had spent our days and hours gleefully playing. I remember the shock on my mothers face when she discovered that Monkey Rock was an out-cropping on the side of the mountain. If any of us had tripped over the edge it would have been certain death. And none of that happened. For me, it was shaping the adventurer I would become.

I wonder how restrictive we are as parents today. Some might say, over-protective. Others, not protective enough. If we are going to help our children grow into the adventurers they are capable of being, we need to get comfortable with them venturing out – expanding their comfort zones, taking risks and learning from each adventure.

What about us as leaders?  Are we over-protective of our people? Or maybe over-protective of ourselves?  Maybe as parents or leaders, our over-protectiveness stagnates the growth of our children and employees. How are you showing up? Are you growing your people or stagnating their growth?

I am happy that I returned to talk to Mike and his children. He risked taking his daughter and son on an adventure that they had not experienced before. Would they see dad as a nerd or a jerk that took them away from their comfort zones? Seeing Mike and the kids reminded me that it was my parents that took me away from my comfort zones and created experiences that impacted not only my life in the moment but shaped much of what I was to become later in life. Enough that I wanted, fifty years later, to revisit Big Meadows campground, walk again on the AT, and see if I could find and recognize Monkey Rock. Who knows what experiences will be the ones that shape who we will become? I hope that the adventure that Mike chose to take Logan and Melissa on will positively impact who the two of these wonderful young people may someday become. And hopefully, they will remember the impact that their father has had on the human beings they became.

If you are a leader, the same applies. How are you impacting the people you lead?  Will they tell positive stories of the impact you had on their lives or will you become an added statistic to the number one reason someone leaves their organization - because their boss sucks! You decide!

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Became Picasso

"My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso."
Parents always seem to see the best of possibilities in us as children. I am sure almost all of us have heard our parents say you can be whatever you set your mind to be.
I now watch my two young granddaughters and wonder what each of them will grow up to be. I love seeing the wide-eyed curiosity that is a daily occurrence with our three and a half year old granddaughter and we are witnessing the newness of life with our six week old granddaughter. I heard yesterday all the joy in our family when the newest member of the family smiled at grandma for the first time. I see in each of them their different personalities emerging and what kinds of things seem to ignite the passion in them, even if for the six week old, cuddling and food seem to get her the most excited.
Reese, the three and a half year old, laughs constantly. I read an article that suggests that laughter is healthy for us and that a child laughs over 300 times per day and an adult less than 17. What is it that took the laughter out of us adults? I do find myself laughing more when around Reese. I saw a quote from Michael Pritchard that said, “You don't stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing."
Reese also is at that stage where she asks WHY about a thousand times a day. She asks why out of pure curiosity and no fear that she doesn’t have the answer. She feels no shame in not knowing something. And I am learning that the older I get, the clearer I am about how little I know. Maybe I can get over the embarrassment of asking why! In our leadership coaching workshops we teach leaders to try and avoid why questions because it tends to set people on the defensive. Maybe I should bring my granddaughter with me to co-facilitate some of our workshops.
I hope for my granddaughters that they will become the Picasso’s they feel the passion to become. That they will laugh as much when they grow up as they do as children. That they play as hard as they do now and that they love as openly as they do as the wide-eyed children they are. And may I finish out my career helping many people realize the Picasso dreams they had as young children.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dangerous Conversations

Reading the local paper this morning I saw a piece that talked about how “Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has apologized to Mick Jagger for derogatory comments he made about the lead singer in his 2010 memoir, Life, which caused a rift within the band. In comments reported by Rolling Stone magazine, the two rock ’n’ roll veterans agreed it was time to move on.”
The article continues to tell the story of how the rift between Keith and Mick goes all the way back to the 1980’s. Some may find it hard to believe that these two closely related people had held on to such a concern for almost 30 years! Or maybe it is not such a surprise.
Dangerous Conversations is one of the key component parts of the Leader As Coach workshop I facilitate. What we mean by a dangerous conversation is simply that the outcome of the conversation is uncertain. It is because of this uncertainty that many of us avoid having the conversation at all.
Back in the 80’s Mick Jagger took on managing the business of the Stones. He felt no one else was showing any interest in handling the business side. Mick thought he was stepping into handling the biz side of the Stones and didn’t know how Keith felt until he read it in Keith’s book in 2010!
Any of this sound familiar to you? How many conversations have any of us thought was important are left unspoken and left inside with the other having no idea? Many relationships have gone sideways with one or both parties saying, “I never knew.”
Significant relationships will be so much more when all parties involved can step into dangerous conversations on a timely basis. How are you doing with the conversations you need to have? The one that you may consider the most dangerous may be the most important to step into. What is the cost of remaining silent?
Without Mick and Keith finally braving the Dangerous Conversation, their up and coming 50th Anniversary Tour would likely not become a reality. What great possibilities may never become a reality if you stay on the sidelines and keep the Dangerous Conversations to yourself?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

High Performers Are Leaving – Who’s At Fault? – Their Bosses

Still another recent survey, this one by Right Management, revealed, “three out of four organizations lost high-performing employees they did not want to lose during the past year.”  Even in a slow job market? What is making them leave? The survey suggested that many factors come into play and like many we have seen, this survey continued with the theme that the number one reason someone leaves their organization is their boss.
The survey continues to state “if your managers aren’t able to communicate effectively and build connections with employees, they’re helping push those top performers out the door”.
All of this is not news. I often put it more bluntly in our leadership workshops. I suggest that the number one reason your best employees leave is that their boss sucks. This is blunt, direct and full of the truth. Seems to fit with my coaching style that has been described as “one of benevolent irreverence”. A truth that seems to get the attention of the leaders that show up in our workshops. This statement quiets the finger pointing upwards when leaders want to accuse their bosses of ineffective leadership. They then realize that they have people reporting to them that are pointing fingers directly at them.
Our concern is are we reaching all the leaders? The ones that attend leadership workshops and use coaches to develop their leadership talent are only a small fraction of those in position to affect performers in their workplace. We still see a significant amount of people in leadership roles that got there on the rail tracks of their technical competence. From there they continue to operate in their comfort zones of what got them there. The rub is their technical competence no longer provides them with the tools to effectively lead teams. The result is poor and ineffective leadership and employees choosing to leave to hopefully find greener leadership pastures to graze in.
The Right Management survey left readers with four key questions to ponder:
-    What are you doing to avoid being part of the 75% of companies that have lost top talent in the past year?
-    How are you taking care of your top people?
-    Do your managers communicate effectively with each of their direct reports? Do they have the tools and skills to engage employees in a meaningful way?
-    How are you equipping people to be better leaders and managers?
IF you cannot adequately answer these questions, get your leaders leadership training and/or coaches to work with them. Or get ready to continue watching your key employees march out the door.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Leadership Unconscious Incompetence

Noel Burch developed a model way back in the ‘70’s called the “Four Stages of Learning”. Burch’s model suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know and therefore unconscious of their own incompetence. This is the first stage of the model defined as Unconscious Incompetence. In example, my daughter sat in Unconscious Competence (you don’t know that you don’t know) for the first 16 years of her life, as she was a passenger in the family car. When she acquired her learners permit she slide behind the wheel of our standard transmission Jeep and quickly realized how little she actually knew thus placing her in stage 2 of the model called Conscious Incompetence (you know that you don’t know). She now knew what she did not know and struggled through learning the intricacies of driving, as well as suffering through my attempts to teach her to drive (not a recommended practice to have a parent teach a child to drive). Each step took significant focus and determination to move through complete ignorance to a place where the techniques started to become more comfortable. As she entered the stage of knowing how to drive stage 3 of Conscious Competence (you know that you know) arrived. Fortunately, stage 3 came in time for her driver’s exam and she passed and was granted the freedom-producing gift of a driver’s license. Many years have passed since Megan was granted her license and she, like most drivers on the road, entered stage 4 of the model – Unconscious Competence (you don’t know that you know – it just happens easily). This means the act of driving became a rote process or second nature.
I am sure that most of us can relate to this story and likely can recall examples of times we arrived at a destination and wondered how we got there or if we actually stopped at that stop sign we had stopped at so many times before while driving this route. When we are in stage 4 of the model we do most things almost unconsciously. I will also add that with sustained time in the Unconscious Competence arena most humans enter a place commonly called boredom. Therefore we look for the excitement of new things to do or learn. Consciously we hope to be back in Conscious Competence or even back to Conscious Incompetence in order to thwart off the boredom that has set in.
How is all of this connected to leadership? I have spent 30 years in the leadership development business. I continue to marvel at the number of people that enter the profession of leadership in a very Unconscious Incompetence state. We see the typically Unconsciously Competent technician make the move to management and struggle to apply the different tools necessary to be successful in their new role as a leader. They soon realize (Conscious Incompetence) that leading is very different than doing. And it takes bold action to develop the necessary skills to become a successful (Conscious Competence) leader. Few seem to reach the pinnacle of leadership (Unconscious Competence) where it seems to be an effortless exercise. These are the leaders that people tell the stories about when we ask them to share the stories of the leaders that have had a significant impact on their lives.
Staying in the Unconscious Competence state as a leader takes continuous analysis and development. The leaders that constantly look at their growth are the ones that never enter a state of boredom and look to find something new to generate enthusiasm in their lives. They are the leaders that see leadership as who they are and a lifelong pursuit constantly learning and honing their skills. These are the leaders I find joy in working with.
Which stage of the Four Stages of Learning are you sitting in as a leader?