The price of “just getting it done”

I glanced at Dear Abby this morning and read a heart-wrenching letter (aren’t they all?) About a young woman who had finally gotten the courage to tell her mother about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father while growing up. The young lady said that she felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders – for about two minutes – that’s when her mother picked up the phone and began to tell everyone she knew.  It had been two years; the mother continues to tell the daughter’s story like a gossip.  The daughter was now ready to walk away from the relationship with her mother.

“Abby’s” advice?  It was to never tell her mother a confidence again.  I was flabbergasted! From the mountaintop of “what is going on here?” We can see a young woman who is trying to regain her self-confidence and self-esteem alongside her mother who probably suffers from some of the same issues and seems to mask her own story with that of her daughter.  And all “Abby” could see was how to conduct a conversation.

 When lost in the weeds of “what should be done here”, Abigail–the-writer lost sight of what is happening within these two people and between these two people.  Her tactical view completely ignored the strategic, big picture view. This young woman poured her heart out to her mother. Her mother responded badly. What’s the big picture here? We don’t know – however if we were to look from a bigger perspective, the situation begs us to find different alternatives. 

 How does this big picture/tactical picture dynamic show up in leadership? How about the employee or coworker who says, “I’m having problems completing this.” And Abby – leader might say, “here do it this way” or “have you tried…?” A big picture leader would stop and ask, “so tell me about what you’ve tried” or “what are you trying to accomplish?

 ImageShame on Abby and shame on us if we get so lost in the “doing” that we lose track of what’s really going on!!

Leadership lessons from a Greyhound.

The lesson: get out of the rut you’ve been running in, look around, learn as much as you can.

The greyhound is our Belle.  She came to live with us after 3 years as a racer (terrible life!!)  We noticed when we first got her that almost EVERYTHING was out of her realm of experience.  She had no language skills, had never been in a house (it was very disconcerting) and even when she ran in the backyard, she only turned to the left…think of a racetrack.

We realized that all she had ever done in her life was to live in a crate and get out to race.  Pee, poo, run, repeat.

As Belle became more aware of her surroundings she literally began to see more.  Her singular training as a racer had her look straight ahead, aware of other dogs only when they were in front over her.  There was no other input.  Anything not directly in front of her basically simply didn’t exist.  That was her world and she executed well in it.

It didn’t work so well when she moved in with us.  They it occurred to us that our job was to introduce the breadth of possibilities to her: stairs, dog parks, even her own name.  They don’t teach dogs their names – it’s a distraction.  The more she learned, the more curious she became.   She learned she could move from one room to another, that the doorbell meant to run to the front door (rather than the hallway where the noise actually was) and when she ran in the backyard, she could turn any direction she liked.

So where’s the leadership lesson?  Think of a worker – an individual contributor: someone who is really good at what they do – so good that their attention becomes narrow.  Focus stays on those things that pertain to getting the job done, life becomes predictable and its easy to run an auto pilot.  Do that too long and you forget how to turn right when you’re running – a greyhound racing reference – you lose the ability to see other ways to do things.  In fact, in business, the distinction is between 10 years experience versus one year’s experience 10 times.

So to embrace leadership, no matter what the job, means to look broadly, be curious and not get lost in “rules”. A leader gets above the task to look around at the bigger picture. Leadership is a “way of being” as much as an activity. A “curious” way of being that is energizing, creative and well, strategic!  And you can be  in that way of being no matter where you are.   Lead from your seat, lead from the corner office, lead from the trenches… being a leader is more perspective than title.

When Belle moved in with us, her world got bigger.  Actually, the world was the same.  What changed was her ability to see it.  Sometimes it was scary, but look at her now and you know its more fun.  Deciding to embrace leadership can do the same thing – it can be scary at first.  But get past that and its fun!

Emotional intelligence and…..Yoga?

Now before I draw connections between Emotional Intelligence and yoga, I have to confess that yoga has never been on my radar. I’m a product of east Texas: you know the type–meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  It’s a world where “out of the ordinary” is to be avoided.  And even though I’ve evolved from my youth, yoga was NOT on my radar.

But then again the life I’ve lived for the past 12 years or so wasn’t on my radar, either!! So back to yoga. We decided to try it because we’ve seen our parents need more and more medications to get through the aging process.  Paul and I decided we wanted to avoid “better life through pharmacology” as long as possible.  Quite simply, we decided we wanted to see if we could postpone some of the vestiges of aging through natural methods.  We also began to consider that 6000 years of good press about yoga and staying flexible couldn’t all be wrong. It still felt like a leap into the unknown for a “meatloaf and mashed potatoes” kind of girl.

What I didn’t expect was to discover a strong connection between yoga and Emotional Intelligence. I’ve been teaching and measuring emotional intelligence in my work for the last dozen years. One of my mantras is  “self-awareness is necessary for self-management.” Shoot I can even give you the percentages of how likely you are to be successful if you are self-aware  (vs. if you aren’t)!

Back to yoga — what I DIDN’T expect was the physical manifestation of self-awareness I experienced.   There it was – first I got the instruction to be self-aware. “Try the movement – listen to your body – be self-aware” followed by “do as much as you can – listen to your body – self manage.”  And as I struggled with the challenge of doing what looks easy when someone else does it, I became more and more aware of my consciousness, my body and how it shows up in leadership.  Just as I had been teaching.

It was amazing to experience the lessons of academic research being played out in a discipline that is thousands of years old.  It was funny to realize how long yoga been trusted and practiced by many.  And, yet, how many of us have viewed yoga with a bit of suspicion by people like me?  I suspect it’s very much like emotional intelligence:  trusted by many and viewed with suspicion by those who think that “touchy, feely stuff” is for wimps not REAL leaders.

Well I am here to tell you that emotional intelligence is not touchy–feely. It is complex relationship management. And it is no more for wimps than is yoga. Here’s to self-awareness!

Listen to your intuition… OR ELSE!

I’ll start by confessing that I’ve talked about intuition for years without really understanding it. In fact until 2 weeks ago I thought I DID understand. Here’s the story of how I learned how much I didn’t know.

I was visiting my elderly mother.  She doesn’t drive so one of the gifts I’m able to give her is to take her to church.  That’s what we were doing. I had my mother and 2 of her friends… 2 walking frames and one cane. I let my ladies out at the door of the church and had gone to park. I pulled into an almost-empty parking lot.  Just as I chose a spot, I got this feeling. It was a dark and foreboding sensation and it was aimed at the parking place. “Well that’s silly.”  People like me ignore feelings like that.  So I pulled in to the spot, parked and made my way into church.

Fast-forward.  It’s now after the service and I’m on my way to collect the car.  I turn a corner and watch an 85-year-old woman slowly; carefully back her very large Buick into my bumper. She backed her care until there was resistance (my car) and then shifted into gear and slowly drove away.  She was oblivious.Image

Good grief!!  I was torn between a groan and a laugh. After all, I had been warned – I just chose to ignore the warning. My intuition had been clear. When I realized it, I had to laugh.

As an intelligent, educated individual I scoff at “feelings”. After all when I followed those feelings in the past, nothing happen!   (Are you getting the “duh” I discovered in that logic??)

So, how are we to ever know if feelings (or intuition or the Universe or God…choose the name that resonates with you) is telling the truth?  Well one way is to ignore it and notice what happens. In my case, it was cost me a new bumper!

To believe in something beyond myself is to have faith – in the unseen, in the stuff I can’t control.  OMG – I hate that!!.  At least,  I find it hard.  On the other hand, it’s a place I plan to play.  As we’ve been moving into a new business with new types of clients, I’ve realized I can’t do it all myself.  I have to lean on something greater than me…a scary realization.

I bet you’re not so different from me – hoping to get a “sign” that we’re headed in the right direction – right?  So that’s where I am – working to believe the universe speaks as loudly about what I should do as what I shouldn’t.  My job is to pay attention – an BELIEVE.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

OMG!! When did I lose that…when did I change?

That was a question uncovered by my client a couple of days ago.  “I used to see those people as people and now I see them as objects. OMG – when did I lose that…when did I change?  What happened to me that suddenly getting the job done was more important than the people doing the job?”    Take a moment to pause here and realize how big a revelation this could be for a leader.

It was a pivotal moment – a light bulb moment – a when-did-results-begin-to-define-me? moment.  It was important because it became really clear what we will be working on.

But let’s roll the clock back.  What he discovered was that some time in the past, the results of the team’s work had become more important than the team.  Achievement trumped people (their growth, development and well-being) and failure was no longer an option.  The tone of his leadership changed because IT was more important than THEY were.  THEY became no more than a means to an end…”if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can!”    

Here the story of how it all began to fall apart.  The team came close to perfection – they delivered far more than was expected.  But in their moment of triumph, the leader reminded them it wasn’t quite good enough because it wasn’t perfect.  It’s like going to the Olympics and winning the Silver – since when has Silver been shabby?

So there they were – delivering excellent results and hearing about their shortcomings and not their accomplishments.  That’s what happens when winning becomes the only objective.  (For those of you who would quote,  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” –  that is a simple truism that will defeat you in the end.  Life’s games are way more complex than that!!  In fact, read on – that’s exactly what this is about)

Back to our story.  There was little celebration of milestones accomplished.  Oh, milestones were noted, but praise came with the caveat that what they had delivered was never quite good enough.  Some of the team decided that the message they received was not really different whether they failed or succeeded: if they failed they would be berated and if they succeeded, their success was applauded while any weaknesses were noted.    So people began to leave .  They defected to other teams and to other companies.  The people could feel that they were seen as objects – less valued.  They wanted more for themselves.   Over time, our leader had changed his focus – from developing great people to delivering great results.  He took his eye off the leader’s ball – the leader’s objective.  Leading is about delivering results through people.

“When did I lose that? – the ability to see my people as people?”   It was a great moment.

What’s the lesson?  Before change can begin, honest self-examination is critical.  Change requires an awareness that something is not right and an intention to make a change.  The “ah-ha” was the beginning for my client.  And now our work begins.

Intuition – or that little voice that says “Don’t step THERE”

I’ve been playing with Intuition.   You know that voice in your head that can say “Oh – try that” or “Don’t step THERE!” We all have the voice.  The question is, how often am I willing to first listen and second give credence to what it tells me?

Back in my corporate days, you wouldn’t have caught me dead paying attention to my intuition. I was so in my head!   Any new idea had to be validated through research, published (HBR was always a good source) and widely recognized as valid.   Are you aware of how limiting those head games make us?  I didn’t either – never even considered it. I was such a good corporate player.  Turns out I played pretty small.

Before I left my nearly-30 years at IBM.  I read Joseph Jaworsky’s and Peter Senge’s Synchronicity:  The Inner Path of Leadership.  It made me very squirmy.  What they said about slowing down, being aware of energy beyond themselver and the success and happiness they found when they let go was very foreign to me.

Not anymore – I’m no longer a ‘good corporate player.”  Nope,  I’m just not “good” in the sense of being too analytical nor am I corporate. However, I am still a dedicated player.   And I choose to play with intuition. What a cool place to play. Here are the challenges:  FIRST I have to discern the little voice. That’s a challenge because it can be just a “no, not that” twinge.  Then I have to pay attention.  I have to slow down –  a competency I’m working on – to even get the signal.  Finally, I have to believe that what I’ve just perceived is significant.  I don’t know about your little voice, but mine rarely offers more the tiniest view into what is coming.

Sometimes its clear that I will never know for  sure if it was my intuition and if it worked (like when the voice tells me to go a different road when I’m driving).  I do know I’ve had a time or two that the voice has said, “jump off here” that I didn’t and got stuck in traffic for a couple of hours – no kidding!   Well, I give intuition credit for knowing more than I do.  And its comforting to realize I’m not alone.  Not just that – that I’m not alone and the energy around me is actually on my side!!

So where is this taking us?  To a place of slowing down and having faith in something besides ourselves.  As leaders, we all know that slowing down helps us catch mistakes, separate the churn into definable streams and have enough energy to be up for the marathon of leadership.  It also gives us the opportunity to be aware of coincidence, intuition, or whatever you want to call it.  I find it amazing.  By the way, I still have to shush the corporate voice in my head.  She thinks its nonsense.  I believe she is wrong.

I CAN too throw a party!

Now that I’ve written about “limiting beliefs” they began to tumble around me like playful children. I was thinking about the “little do” that I threw last week when I had my book club in for dinner and discussion. I took the day off to prepare… I was so panicked I felt like I should have taken the whole week off! to get ready. I was so flustered I finally had to stop and ponder what was going on.

I realized that the critic in my head kept telling me that my house wasn’t big enough, clean enough or fancy enough… I live in a VERY nice

After all, what makes a misfit???

neighborhood. Then the voice started in on the food. “You haven’t created a theme. You’re not a very good cook. You don’t even know if people have food allergies!” You probably understand the “critical voice” drill. The hard I try, the louder it gets. It sure can get old.

Just for the record, the party went fine. The food was delightful, the conversation and friendship was fabulous. Mission accomplished. The limiting beliefs were wrong. HA! Even with that, I was giving the ole LB’s too much space.

Then it hit me. My limiting beliefs aren’t just about me. When I am consumed and designed by limiting beliefs, they have as big an impact on those around me as on me. Here’s where I’m going with this. Remember that I spent the hours prior to my party focused on how people were going to judge me and how hard it would be to live up to the expectations (that I was making up)! How welcoming is that? More than questioning my ability to be a hostess, I was coloring the character of my guests. From the smallness of my limiting beliefs I was seeing my friends as judgmental shrews who were simply coming to see what I had done wrong. If that were true, you’d have to question my taste in friends! And its NOT true, they are incredible women.

Oh, the power of limiting beliefs! When I look at life through the lens of limiting beliefs I play small and I see a world of scarcity.

So what’s to be done about it? This is simple – be ready for it. What’s to be done? Just notice. Notice when the energy inside you is tense, hard and unpleasant. That’s the time to stop and look inside: How am I seeing the world? What am I making up? What is showing up as a belief – a truth – that is powerful but limiting?

Here’s the caution. Limiting beliefs will try to convince you that they are true–that I’m a lousy cook,or that my house is dumpy – that I’m not good enough and no matter how hard I try I’ll probably fail.

The real truth here? Limiting beliefs are the critical voices in our heads that we can say “no” to.

I mentioned noticing the energy. Here is how it works. if you notice tension or churning – that negative energy that makes what you are doing “un-fun” that’s it. – you’ve pinpointed it.

Here’s the good news – Just noticing begins to take its power away. Follow that noticing by a deep breath or 2 and relax. Breathe the tension away so you can remember what is good – what had you busy in the first place. In the case of my party it was my friends. They weren’t coming to critique my cooking or my house. They were coming to be together, to share a meal and engage in meaningful conversation.

What are the implications in leadership? Limiting beliefs would have us play small. They would have us make assumptions and judge others. Not good as a leader. Our job is to notice, breathe and turn our attention to what is important and quit follow the energy of the critic!