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Archive | 2005

It’s Good To Get Sick Sometimes

I’m back from Christmas with my in-laws in Southern Virginia. As much as I enjoy the annual visit from the jolly fat man, this year he left us a rather unsavory gift – the stomach flu. Fortunately, he was nice about it and left us the kind that has the courtesy to wait until the stroke of midnight on December 26 before inflicting damage. It managed to hit nearly everyone of us (eighteen in number) within a 48 hour period. The only two to escape the bug’s wrath were my daughters who stayed well only because they had had it the week before.

Unlike most of my family, I didn’t spend most of the time in the bathroom throwing up. I was nauseous, but I have the kind of stomach that selfishly wants to keep whatever it has. The real kick in the pants for me was the body aches, particularly in my knees and back. So, it was a welcome relief to feel 85% better the next day. As I was enjoying a cup of early morning coffee (after I slept most of the previous day away, I was more than happy to wake up at 5am), it struck me how appreciative I was to be feeling healthy. It’s like the old song line: “You don’t know what you got until its gone.”

And it’s also a main principle of my personal philosophy: to know one thing, we must know its opposite. It’s the natural yin and yang of our humanity. Too often, though, we only want to know what the sunny side of the hill looks like and deny that there is the darkness of the shaded side. It’s natural to want to avoid pain, sorrow, even our inclinations toward our less noble qualities. But does this truly honor ourselves? Does this avoidance lead to a better life?

I think back to those moments in my own life which are painful: getting the emotional crap kicked out of me in high school, getting rejected by a job which I thought I had “in the bag,” suffering a debilitating anxiety attack at a relative’s wedding. Would I want to relive any of these moments? I’d be a liar if I said I would. Yet, each one has offered me an opportunity to experience my own humanity and to better recognize love, joy, and success. Sometimes bad things happen to good people so they can be better people.

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You Get What You Give

I belong to a marketing listserve and a member posted an email he received from Chris Cardell, a marketing consultant. While Chris succumbs at times to a roaring bout of hubris in his message, he reminded me of a simple, golden principle: you get what you give. It’s a powerful idea and appropriate for this time of year. And if you think about it, giving and getting are never in direct proportion to a fixed ratio; we’ve all experienced the time where a small amount of giving yielded a far greater amount of joy, fulfillment, and solace.

Here’s one poignant snippets:

I made the prime purpose of my business to give, give, give. To add incredible value to the lives of people that I came into contact with. I gave everyone who was interested tons of great information on how to grow their business. I sent them information in the post. I emailed them. I chatted to them on the phone. Some became clients, some didn’t. It really didn’t matter because I knew I was making a difference. I stopped forever the "I can grow your business and solve your marketing problems – Why don’t you become my client" pitch. Within a few days people started contacting me asking me to work with them.

What had changed? Instead of trying to convince people that I could give them the knowledge that could solve their marketing problems – I just started giving them the knowledge anyway and let them decide for themselves. I switched my focus from what I wanted to what they wanted.

Take in that last sentence again. Play with it. Does it fit somewhere in your work right now? Someplace in your life? I think to my own experiences in business, in marketing, in designing a soulful career and realize that I have put way too much emphasis on me. The most difficult thing about having faith in the notion of continuous abundance is that you’re never sure if freely giving your ideas and knowledge will come back to help you. But then, that’s the real problem isn’t it? When we offer freebies, we tend to just give away the crumbs and hope its enough to entice new business or reup current clients. What if we also started to worry less about intellectual property and gave our best work away, as well? No strings attached.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. More than likely, someone else has had the same idea before. Think folks like Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, or Seth Godin are saying anything new or groundbreaking? Nah, not really. Yet, what makes them – and each of us – compelling to others is the quality and uniqueness of our own humanity.

When it comes to building a business of any size, clients and customers want to surround themselves with others who can make a true difference in their work and lives. In the end, its the relationship that matters. The key ingredient to any healthy relationship is a caring regard for another. So, practice freely giving and don’t be surprised if the return is far greater than anything you anticipated.

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Soulful Work Is About A Revolution

Now that I can actually post to the blog again (goodbye TypePad?), I want to write about something that I’ve been itching to produce since last Friday. Beware, a rant is brewing…

On my way to work, NPR’s Morning Edition had a brief segment called Salary Level May Not Indicate Contentment. If you go to NPR’s website, here’s the description of the piece:

Researchers say just about the time people are making the most money in their careers, they bottom out when it comes to contentment. Renee Montagne talks with Jonathan Clements, personal finance columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

Based on this, my only guess is that NPR is coming up empty when it comes to discussing meaningful career-related topics. Do we really need another long-winded report about how money doesn’t buy happiness? Making it all worse is the blathering of Jonathan Clements on how we can make our job seem better through fringe benefits like telecommuting and flextime. And listening to him talk, it makes me wonder why a guy who doesn’t seem to derive much joy from his own work has been asked to give pointers to public radio listeners. The poor fellow just perpetuates the whole notion of "work as drudgery."

Of course, it’s all masked in the idea of being busy, that ever-present status symbol of the fast and elite professional. The next time you’re at a dinner party and someone asks how you are doing, just respond that you’re doing great and have plenty of down-time in your life and watch for the reaction. I reckon that it will be somewhere in the ballpark of skeptical and amazed.

You might wonder why all of this gets me riled up. I guess its the narrow idea that if we dress up the fringes of our work and life, then we might find some contentment. The placating and safety-minded inner voice whispers that even if we stay in soulless work, at least we can do it from home or at a more convenient time. Yet, we’re only scratching at the thin veneer of what’s truly possible.

Digging deeper is much more dangerous (or at least to the rest of our society). It means tossing aside firmly held cultural norms that work is work and never to be confused with play. It means shunning the shallow tag of busy and replacing it with the elements of flow where creative ideas and passionate actions intersect. It means consciously and courageously pursue those things in life that matter. It means practicing love for ourselves and for those who come into our own unique vision for the future.

We get only one shot at this life. Live with no regrets.

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Strategies For Facilitating Emotionally-Charged Meetings

Chris Corrigan at Parking Lot offers ten strategies for making meetings work. His post directly addresses public meetings, but the ideas play well when you have to facilitate any gathering where passions run high and conflict is inevitable. Among the highlights are:

  • Be prepared and curious. Come into the meeting room curious. Be curious about the people who are there, about how the day will go. Genuinely want to find out stuff, get interested in the discussions and ask stupid questions. Maintaining a role of respectful curiosity, grounded in good preparation will allow you to be detached enough to see the possibilities as they unfold over the day.
  • Acknowledge that the heart speaks truth. People that care deeply about an issue will become quite emotional if they see that something bad is going to happen to that issue. They will speak out in emotional ways. It is a true reaction. You can’t lie when that kind of passion arises. So hear the truth, acknowledge that what they care about is real, and that it needs to be heard. It’s important that the client know that there is a real issue at the heart of the intervention.
  • Be honest. There is no faster way to get people angry than to lie to them. When bullshit detectors go off, the reaction comes fast and furious. As a facilitator I have ethical standards for working in these kinds of meetings…Honesty and trust are the only things you need to move past difficult public meetings. It is surprising how many people choose to go the other way, into deceit and mistrust.

Working among conflict resolution professionals has taught me how difficult it can be at times to manage your own emotions when facilitating an emotionally-charged group. I rank as a high ‘I’ in Myers-Briggs preferences so if I’m not careful, I can get pulled in by the undertow of intense feelings. This is even more so if I have something invested in the meeting.

Chris reminds me that my own best work comes when I stay curious, unattached, and authentic. It’s beneficial to acknowledge and feel the emotional power of the room as long as I stay focused on the objectives. Again, not always easy to do…

UPDATE (12/9/05): Chris’s comment below prodded me to take a look another at my post. While I am an ‘I,’ I also have strong ‘E’ tendencies. What I meant to say is that I am a high ‘N’ or intuitive.

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Generational Expectations Of Work Ethic

In the past, the topic of generations in the workplace didn’t really appeal to me as something to explore more deeply (although I did delve into it back in February). But then, Jodee Bock wrote a recent post called Identity Crisis where, in a recent training she held for supervisors, she encountered a recurring theme of generational work ethic. She notes:

But what I’m hearing from these supervisors now is that the younger workers – those in their early to mid-20’s – don’t possess that same ethic. The man who went out East to work when he was younger said he even sees it in his own son. He, and others during this conversation last week, said that the younger workers seem to feel entitled and privileged and some of them seem to think the work is beneath them, even if it is their first job (apparently "older" workers know something about having to rise through the ranks in a certain order).

As I started to write my comment, I realized that this goes to the heart of shifting expectations of what it means to work. As a labeled GenXer (I can’t help it…blame my parents), I certainly have a different expectation of what it means to work for an organization than my own father has…and even more different than my grandfathers. It is the very nature of life to find change, yet whether we accept it is another story.

Here’s different perspective on the GenXer work ethic. I believe what Boomers see as entitlement and privilege just might be the next generation’s unwillingness to sell their lives to their organizations in exchange for a now-mythical gold watch. Remember, this is the generation which has seen the myriad messes created by organizations through downsizing, pension-raiding, and other criminal acts of disregard for their employees. This is also the generation which was impacted by parents, but mostly fathers, who typically chose work over family.

I’ll pose what is likely to be an unpopular question: is all this grousing by Boomers driven by an envy that today’s early professionals have more opportunities to find different and more fulfilling work than they had?

Not to put it all on the Boomer generation’s shoulders, let’s take a step back and do a quick scan of American culture. We still lionize the workaholics out there. Of course, to call them workaholics is taboo, but read the periodicals like Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and even Fast Company. I doubt you’ll find many articles about folks who manage a 40 hour work day so they can do other meaningful activities watch their kids play baseball, work a community food drive, or just enjoy some quiet time with the spouse.

It’s easy to play the "work ethic" card. It’s just like saying that you’re not a team player. Yet, rather than simply making the assumption that a person doesn’t put in the kind of effort you did when you were their age, doesn’t make them a poor worker. It might mean they’ve got other plans for their life beyond completing that day’s TPS report.

UPDATE (12/7/05): The Future of Work blog points to More Evidence of Changing Workforce Values.

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Practicing Small Kindnesses

Think making a huge difference in someone’s life takes a herculean effort or a lot of time? Just ask Scott Hodge who not only rediscovered the power of a buck, but the power of simple generosity.

What I love about his later reflection is how this isn’t only a lesson for him, but for his kids. Scott writes:

This is going to be Elise’s bedtime
story tonight. Why?  Because I want her to be this kind of person. I
want her to understand the value in helping people – even at her own
expense. It’s easy to open a door for someone. It’s easy to help
someone carry something heavy. But it’s not always easy pulling out
the $5 dollar bill.

Think the world’s going to hell in a handbasket? Nah, that’s just overrated, cynical chatter. The chance to experience and return small kindnesses is all around us.

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The Power Of Our Common Bonds

Tammy Lenski wrote yesterday about her most recent experience as a volunteer for the Best Friends Animal Society and their efforts in the Hurricane Katrina area. The temporary sanctuary/triage unit/field hospital/reunification center just north of the Louisiana border in Tylertown, Mississippi has attracted volunteers throughout the country. In a battered place with far from optimal conditions, one might expect to see all kinds of conflict. She noted that none was to be found. In Tammy’s reflection for why this was, she writes:

It’s the power of feeling passionately about why we were there. The power of believing, first and foremost, that our mission was to help these animals, and understanding implicitly that having our own way or convincing someone else that we’re right or the righteousness of feeling tread upon were all less important than keeping these animals alive, helping them heal, and helping them find home again.

And later:

It’s surprisingly easy to set differences aside when we’re focused on what brings us together.

Sometimes it amazes me what petty and minor strife we allow into our relationships. We let the most foolish of things drive wedges between us and our loved ones…even our colleagues at work. We cling to our few competing differences like there’s no tomorrow and forsake the many heartful similarities that bind our hopes and dreams.

None of this is to say that I’m without my own problems on this issue. I have my own family squabbles to contend with. There are always workplace flare-ups. Yet, there’s something in Tammy’s post that has nudged me toward a deeper reflection. I find myself asking why its so much easier to get attached to our differences of opinion rather than the similarities.

Whatever the answers, I honestly believe the power and spirit lies in those common bonds that bring us together.

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Is More Money Really The Answer?

Going back through some older emails from the office, I found this from ASAE’s Greater Washington Network e-newsletter:

When your employees leave, they leave for more money. At least that’s the story they give as they head out the door according to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com, which notes that “better compensation” is the reason most often cited by exiting employees. That’s only part of the story, however. Opportunity will find some people, but, usually, people find the opportunity which means there is something about their current situation that has them looking. According to the same survey, 76 percent of workers are looking for new opportunities. The best way to keep them working for your organization is to keep them cozy. A competitive salary structure is your first and best option; it’s hard for most people to leave for less money. However, the survey notes that employers have several other weapons for their arsenal, including career development opportunities, promoting good workers, and flexible work schedules.

On first blush, I figured that this was the same old data that we keep seeing: the keys to employee retention are better pay, more training, greater understanding of work/life balance, etc., etc. Yet, I wonder why we keep reading these statistics and recommendations as if its new information. If these things really are the keys to solid retention efforts, why don’t they get put into play more? Are companies too unyielding or too resistant? Or perhaps companies do offer the kind of salary, career development, promotion, and flexibility options that employees want and they just aren’t enough.

Here’s my wager: they are not actually the true keys. They are merely band-aids applied to make us managers and executives feel better. They don’t address the real, core problems of the organization. Peter Block, in Stewardship, has influenced me to keep digging deeper into the relationship each of us has with our work. Peter writes:

The problem we face is that the organizational forms we have inherited and internalized do not nurture the realization of security, freedom, service. In fact, we’ve lost faith that these questions can be answered at the workplace. We have come to believe that to be productive in the marketplace we have to sacrifice our freedom, place our security in the hands of others, and bootleg our wish to be of service.

What would happen if we started offering our employees a true “grown-up” environment in which they could seek these three qualities?  What would happen if we stopped trying to play the “good parent” by coming up with more ways to earn our employees’ love and devotion? And what would happen if we all stopped looking for our organizations to take care of all of our needs? Just maybe we’d finally have something new to talk about.

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Dumping The “When…Then” Excuse

I’ve written before about my recovery from perfectionism. One of the related habits that I’ve been able to at least consciously notice, if not kick outright, is the urge to put something on hold until all the conditions are just right. I wouldn’t quite label the action as procrastination, but the behavior has an easy to recognize verbal structure: "when…then."

You may have heard some else say it; an employee, a boss, a spouse. Perhaps it was part of your own inner dialogue. It might have sounded something like…

"When my boss starts to listen to me, then I’ll be able to do my job."
"When I improve my presentation skills, then I’ll submit a speaking proposal."
"When I get that promotion, then I’ll be able to negotiate for more time to spend with my kids."

This kind of thinking not only plays into the obvious futility of our own desire for perfection and control, but masks an even more insidious problem which is a need to play the helpless victim. It’s an excuse to live a halfway life, one that banks on the illusions of safety and comfort. It’s the supposed promise of something better just around the corner.

Instead of believing that the answer to what we want is out there and in someone else hands, this is an invitation to seek answers from within. It’s an invitation to ask ourselves, "why not now?" It’s an invitation to live a whole life with no regrets.

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Is This What Leadership Looks Like?

I was chatting with my CEO yesterday when I noticed a stack of periodicals on his small conference table. On top of the stack was a trade magazine in which the latest issue deals with leadership (or at least I think so even though there seemed to be just one article on the subject). But what caught my attention was the cover picture:

Is this what leadership looks like? A person intensely gazing at nothing while others look up at the figure eagerly awaiting her decision? Okay…maybe that’s a loaded question. Or is it? Maybe I just like asking questions this morning(?) Here’s another one: if you had to draw a picture of leadership, what might it look like?

If it looks like the picture to the right, you might need to go back to the drawing board. For me, this picture seems to evoke the ideas of:

  • dependency leadership – I’ll take care of you
  • savior leadership – I’ll make everything okay
  • oracle leadership – I’ll answer all of your questions because I know everything that’s going on here

I’m sure we’ve all experienced and maybe even practiced these different types of leadership (I have and it almost led to a nervous breakdown). More than likely, they proved ineffective for your organization’s employees, as well.

If you’re struggling with your own leadership abilities and defining your own leadership style, I highly recommend Peter Block’s book, Stewardship. It’s nothing short of a radical rethinking of how our organizations work. After reading it, you might just swear off leadership as a way of getting things done in your company or association.

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