Sunday, November 27, 2016

Curious or Critical?

A million years ago I was coming off a successful operating executive experience and landed the CEO job I had always wanted.  I was 35 years young and eager to make my mark.

As you do at the beginning of a new job, I was meeting with people at all levels, key stakeholders, long-term employees and new ones alike.  The Board gave me great freedom to move about and explore the landscape.  In my enthusiastic self, everyone seemed happy to hear what I had to say and seemed ready to march to the new beat that I brought.  Perhaps.

Within a few weeks, I began to notice that while people were happy to talk, they really weren't all that interested in changing anything.  They were committed to the way they had always done things.  "But, where do I get to leave my mark?" I began to lament to myself.  "These people are stuck in an old mindset,  they have no plan, they are entrenched and all the power is being held by the wrong people.  Can't they see it?"  I became more and more critical.  Disillusioned.

About 90 days in, the HR Manager came into my office and shut the door.  Rarely is it a good thing when the HR Manager shuts the door.  So, I braced myself.

"You know Vince," she said, "This place has somehow managed to survive for almost 100 years before you got here.  From your questions and the way you are moving about, it sounds like you don't think we've ever done anything right.  You might get a better response if you showed up with a little more curiosity."

Hmm.  Her 2x4 upside my head hurt.

And, I heard her. I had been coming from a place of criticism.  I saw problems with the way things were being done and my questions were digging in to clarify and confirm that my criticisms were correct and that things needed to change.  Instead of appreciating what was going right, I had been on a hunt to verify what was wrong.  And, the troops were pushing back against me, defending themselves, and drawing the battle lines.  Yikes!

So, did I make a course correction?  I like to think so!  Within a year or so I looked around the room and realized that more people were paddling with me than against me.  I noticed that we were aspiring to a vision that seemed to be embraced by all.  A few people had left and I had made a couple of key hires which had helped solidify the team.  Appreciation and curiosity seemed to be more the norm than criticism and defense.

My sense is that over time, curiosity wins the day over criticism.  Not a big surprise, but sometimes surprising that I need to learn it over and over again.

As I look at my life today, am I coming from a place of curiosity or criticism?

Onward!

V

Monday, October 31, 2016

What has changed?

One of my favorite pastimes is sharing stories of "benchmark moments"... the turning points, or directional shifts in our lives. I am always surprised at the granular nature of the stories.
  • A singular event on a school playground where someone learned they could stand up for themselves.
  • A moment a parent or loved one said "you've got this", and the success that followed.
  • A moment of decision to step into something we've always been passionate about as opposed to simply following a pre-determined script for our lives.
  • The birth of a child.  Becoming a parent. 
  • The birth of a grandchild.  Becoming a grandparent.
Moments are important. 

Last week I met my first grandchild.  In a moment following a warm welcoming hug, my daughter introduced me to her newborn daughter.  My son-in-law handed me his precious little girl to hold.  In a moment, they became parents.  I became a grandfather.  Life changed.

Mature leaders are always open to changing their viewpoint or position when new information arrives.  Well... new information arrived last week in the form of a baby!  So, what changes?  What long-held beliefs come into play?  How does this re-order relationships?  What are the deeper desires here?

My sense is the answers have less importance than the curious questions. 

Onward!

V

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Who do you want to be?

Ten years ago today I was released from the executive cabinet at Y-USA and handed a severance check. It was 2006, I was 47, my youngest daughter Janelle had just left for college, and our divorce had been final for about 6 months. The plate of my life had been scraped clean.
Two phone calls came soon after which set the course for the next ten years. One was from Paul Andresen, a good YMCA CEO friend, who asked if I would do some consulting work for him. The other was from Jim Warner, a Boulder-friend and mentor who asked if I would come co-facilitate an executive retreat with him. I said yes to both. And, while I applied for a couple YMCA positions early on, I haven't looked back. My long-time strategy has been "do good work" and follow the thread of opportunity from one gig to the next. I've always believed that good work leads to good work. Take care of the people and the rest tends to sort out. It worked for 26 years in the Y and still works today.
Relationally, the ten years could not have been more unexpected. In 2006 I was committed to the single life. Connections with a few good friends along the way helped me open up my thinking and accept myself in a whole new way. Coming out and the resulting shift in energy and focus in my life propelled me in ways I never expected. Six years with Rocky was a learning experience I've written about before. Being single again at 57 is unexpected, and I'm okay.
Going forward, I've been asked something like "What do you want to be doing in ten years?" and I tend to shift the question to "Who do I want to be in 10 years?"  At this stage, it's a bit less about the doing, and more about the being. And, I want to be a man of curiosity, with a spirit of adventure and creativity. I want to live a life of good self-care and create a positive environment around me wherever I go. I want to connect to my deeper self and be with others as they connect with themselves. There's always more to do.
 
Onward!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why Don't They Call?

She was a popular Hollywood celebrity.  Perhaps not A-list, but certainly recognizable after many years in the business.

"And, the hardest thing is this.  No one ever calls me to just have coffee, or to do the things that friends do.  We don't get invited to informal dinners, to just hang out.  No one just stops by.  Everything is fabulous and formal or nothing at all.  Sometimes I feel like the only reason anyone wants to be with me is to get something from me. I think people just assume I'm busy.  It's exhausting."

"Wow," I said.  "How would you like it to be?"

"I'd like to have people who feel comfortable just hanging out.  No agendas.  People who know I'll say 'yes' if it is possible.  People who know that if I say 'no' it's an authentic no, meaning I've already got something booked."

"So, what you really want are friends who are authentic with you."

"Not just authentic, but who are okay with me saying no three times without it counting against me!"

"Okay."  And then, I got quiet.  You see, I get in this same pickle.  My schedule is erratic, un-structured, and un-predictable.  I can be anywhere or nowhere anytime.  I fall off the radar screen regularly and rarely get casual invitations from friends.  I had no solution to offer.  Which is perfect, because I'm in the business of helping people find their own solutions.  So, back to it, Vince.

"I wonder how you might be creating the very results you're complaining about?"

She looked at me quizzically.  "Are you playing one of your mind tricks on me?"
 
"Well, perhaps.  And, perhaps I'm playing it on both of us.  But, really, what are the things you do that create the exact results you're getting?"

"Let's see.  I tend to only talk about the projects I'm on, or the places I've been lately.  I rarely talk about the mundane and normal things in life.  I don't tend to talk about the supermarket having a special on tomatoes this week."  She gazed off in the distance a bit.

"So, what do you think others make that mean?"

"I suppose it makes me seem above the mundane.  Maybe others are intimidated to talk about tomatoes when I've just gotten back from a month-long location shoot. Maybe I put people off a bit."

"Keep going," I prodded.

"Do I really want to talk about tomatoes?"

My sense was that there was a part of her that precisely wanted to talk about the mundane and normal things of life, like tomatoes at the local market.  I also sensed there was another part of her that had absolutely no interest in talking about tomatoes and only wanted to talk about the exciting and interesting bits.  Perhaps there was a path...  "It sounds like we have competing voices here.  On the one side we have..."

"Be normal!  Enjoy and appreciate the mundane and simple life!  It's about connection, not about amazement!  You are okay when you're ordinary!" 
 
"And on the other side?"
 
"You have to shine.  You have to be entertaining!  Everyone expects you to be interesting!  They will leave you in the dust if you're not!"

 
I could tell something was landing for her.  She fell silent.  "That's exactly what my dad used to say to me."  And then, tears.  "My Dad always wanted me to perform.  He'd have me sing at family events.  He only seemed to notice me if I was performing.  I think he was afraid I would disappear or be a nobody if I didn't entertain well."
 
"So, it sounds like you keep performing even when the cameras are off.  Tell me what the tears have to say right now."
 
"My tears like the other voice.  My whole body just wants to let down my guard.  To just be normal, ordinary, mundane.  To just connect.  I can breathe when I think about that."
 
"Okay.  What would that look like," I asked.
 
"Well, maybe I can be more conscious of what I share and engage with others about.  Maybe I can talk about tomatoes now and then.  And, not how fabulous my homegrown crop is.  You know what I mean.  Just, ask others about the simple pleasures of their lives.  Share the ordinary.  It doesn't need to be fabulous."
 
"And if you did that, what might you get?"
 
"Well, I think it would just be more authentic.  And, frankly, that's worth it, regardless if anyone ever calls me for coffee."
 
Indeed.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

React or Respond?

"But I feel so guilty when I take time for myself.  It's like I'm taking something away from my wife and kids."

"So, how's that working for you?" I asked.

"It's not!"

"So, what's the risk of making a change?"

"I suppose the risk of me changing is that others won't like me and my life will fall apart."

"And the possible benefit?"

"Ha!  That I'll be happy.  That I'll feel good and be more available to my family."

"So... are you willing to take the risk?"

"I have to.  I need to."

"Well, that's arguable," I said.  "What if instead of 'needing to' you simply framed it as 'I choose to?' 

"Interesting.  One is kind of a victim's reaction to what's going on.  The other is a more mature posture in response to living the life I want to live.  I like it."

Well said.

Friday, July 1, 2016

On Reflection

I was talking with a CEO today. He was sharing how he closed a meeting last week with two of our classic forum questions…

“What worked well today?”
“What could have been better?”


… and how the folks at the meeting gave him a ration for it. “What did you do with our CEO?” they asked.

Taking a minute to reflect and evaluate sometimes feels awkward. And, it makes us think. It makes us own our experience. It makes us show up. Try it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Appreciation Appreciates



The morning had gone well. There had been some difficult issues to debrief and plenty of good generative discussion as well, but the energy wasn't quite where I wanted it to be for the closing.

I almost always close by moving into a place of appreciation. What I've learned is that all of the worries about the future tend to take a back seat when we are appreciating what we have... as opposed to worrying about what we don't have. It's like when I'm walking on the beach with a friend... we can look toward the shore and the bazillion dollar McMansions and feel bad about what we don't have... or we can look toward the sea... and the waves, clouds and breeze... and reflect on the beauty and the splendor of what we do have. So, I chose appreciation as a way to end the retreat.

Because, at the end of the day, what we appreciate appreciates. It gains value. It gets bigger. It becomes something more.

So the group began to appreciate. One another. Their successes. Their challenges as an opportunity to grow. Their history. Their future. And you know what, the energy shifted and the group grew bigger. Stronger. More alive.

What is it that you appreciate today?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Up all night inventing the Camcorder?

Back in the day Al Gore was quoted as saying "I invented the Internet."  The media grabbed it and was poised to have a field day.  That he did not exactly say it was irrelevant.  It became an overnight lightening rod to skewer his annoyingly arrogant persona.

The expected move here would have been for Gore to defend himself.  To explain that he had been mis-quoted, to apologize for a mis-speak, to back pedal and correct his statement.

But that's not what he did.  His response was:
"I was pretty tired when I made that comment because I had been up very late the night before inventing the camcorder."

What's brilliant about that?

It's the counter-intuitive move.  He took the accusation "you're annoyingly arrogant"  and over-owned it.  With no defense, he made fun of his own arrogance.  And, it stopped the media in its tracks.  He skewered the story.

What can I learn here?

The importance of the counter-intuitive move.  When I am feeling accused, I can get curious and consider that there is possibly some truth in the accusation.  It wouldn't sting if there wasn't!  And then, I can own it.  I can let myself (and my audience) know that the accusation has no sting because it's something I've already dealt with.  I know myself and I've got this one.  Next.

When I first came out many years ago, I was terrified of the "gay accusation" from any group I was working with.  I was unsure of myself and unsure how to respond.  Over time, I worked my insecure edge and today it has no power over me.  And occasionally, I will toss some stupidly stereotypical comment into the mix... "If you think that was gay wait until you see the matching napkins and flower arrangements."  Because, I've learned that those who are compelled to comment about my sexuality are doing so often from some insecure place in themselves.  And that's their stuff.  And, that's okay.  I'm here to help with that.

What accusation are you defending yourself from?  What part of it might you own?  What might be the counter-intuitive move?

Onward!

V



Sunday, April 24, 2016

What have we learned?

Is there ever a bad time to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What have we learned?"  I don't think so.  And, how often is the crazy thing we are doing right now directly in conflict with a "lesson learned" from the past!  Capturing and anchoring learnings seems to me an important part of living in my maturity while aspiring to be an effective and inspirational leader.

Today marks the 101st anniversary of a terrible atrocity in what is now Turkey against some 1.5 million Armenians.  The Armenians were living in their homeland (it was Armenia!) but their land was arbitrarily given to the Turks as the Ottoman Empire unfolded.  The Armenians were then systematically exterminated.  Many of the survivors of the genocide escaped to Syria... and have now been displaced over the past five years by the civil unrest in their adopted country.

And, while I can't solve the complex geo-political issues of our time, I can always look at myself and stay curious about...
  • "How are my actions imposing my will on someone else?" 
  • "How am I taking 100% responsibility for my part in this mess?"
  • "How might I create a win-win solution in this issue?"
And the list goes on.  My desire is to remember the lessons learned and in order to do so, I do well to stop, reflect, and anchor what it is I've learned, every day.

Onward!





Friday, April 15, 2016

Grab a Beer?

Close your eyes for a moment and get in the helicopter with me. We'll only go up a couple hundred feet and just hover there.

Now, imagine that you can look back and see that you are in fact still right where you are... and that you are able to look down on your life from the helicopter view. What's going on? Are you someone you'd want to have a beer with after work? How about someone you'd want to confide in? Go take a hike with? Seek advice from? What do you think of you?

When we're able to get honest about how we are judging or assessing ourselves, the door opens to accept ourselves right where we are. This is the truth of this moment... and it won't always be this way. It also opens the door to learn from those inner critical messages that we berate ourselves with... the "you're really not all that good..." and the like. We all have some version of this and it is in when we detach and take an outside view that we are able to recognize it as simply the critical voice inside.

In any event... maybe today is a good day to go grab a beer with yourself... or an ice tea... and have a little heart to heart.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Whose Voice Was That?

And then he told me about a spat with his wife the night before. They were visiting one of his construction job sites and his wife had said “Wouldn’t it look better to extend the awning over this whole section?”

He had gone ballistic. “Don’t you know I’ve been working on this design for months and that it is way too late in the process for changes like that?” And on and on. Everyone had retreated into their corners before it was over.

“Huh,” I said. “So, what did you make her comment mean?”

Silence. “Good question. I’ll have to write that down.”

“Well? It sounds like her comment landed in your universe as something more than just her comment. What did it mean to you? What was the message you received?”

“That I’ve fallen short. Didn’t do it right. That I never do things right.”

“Wow. She didn’t say all that. Whose voice was it you heard?”

Silence. “I hate you. It was my dad. I could never do anything right in his eyes.”

“Sounds like you emptied your truck at the wrong dump, huh?”

“Yeah. Thanks. “

“What do you want to have happen now?”

And on it goes…

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Could the Opposite be True?

The last couple weeks have been a roller coaster ride.  My house is half empty (both figuratively and literally) after Rocky moved out.  His artwork and aesthetic touch are missing.  It's quiet. 

At points I begin to feel lonely and sink.  Lots of scripts play in my head... "Alone at 56?  Loser!"  "Without chaos at home there is no life!"  "You drive people away!"  And, it's a good opportunity to explore if the opposites might be as true or truer than the voices of lonely despair!

"Alone at 56.  Freedom to explore your own wants."
"Without chaos at home, there is sanctuary and grounding."
"You attract like-wired people."
 
So, I can ride the roller coaster down into the despair of inner chaos, and I can ride it back up into a place of acceptance and appreciation.  It's a choice.
 
Onward!
 
V


Friday, January 15, 2016

We've Got Issues

When people ask me what I do, my response back is often, "Well, what are the issues in your life right now?"

Because that's often what I do... create a pathway for identifying and clearing issues... those things that drain energy from our lives. So, if you have no issues, celebrate! But, if you find yourself feeling stuck, or beat up, or unclear, or out of integrity, or notice that you have lied to protect yourself, or hide, or are confused, or emotionally overwhelmed, or angry, or... well, you get the idea.

Too many times I see groups and people embark upon "solutions" before they have clarified "problems". My hope is to get clear on issues and current conditions... both problems and opportunities... then identify what the desired condition looks like... and then get to work on the solutions.

So, the starting question is almost always, "What are the issues that are draining energy from your life right now?" And then, "What is it you want to have happen?"

Onward!

Vince