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We're Ready for Bigger Small Talk

I'm convinced that, in general, we humans are getting to the point where talking about the weather, sports, politics and recipes is not as fulfilling as it used to be. Sure, we have to start somewhere in our conversations and the aforementioned topics are great places to start. But I get the feeling that most people are dying to connect on a deeper level which will lead us to all kinds of unpredictable relationship opportunities.

I'm reminded of a former boss who once told me that business has nothing to do with relationships. It is that type of thinker I used to think really dominated the world of work, but I'm beginning to change my mind.

I spent 2 days last week working with top-level executives about leadership - more specifically, about how we as leaders are ultimately responsible for the results we get from our work teams - and even with our friends and families.

Although there are still those people in leadership roles who believe the best results can be obtained by force and fear, and will show you the results they get by use of that leadership style (at least in the short term), I'm very encouraged by the leaders who do want to go beyond their traditional leadership practices.

Fear may well be a motivator and can get quick results, but rarely will that tactic work with human beings over the long haul. When we treat human beings as objects to be used for our own gain, we rarely get much real satisfaction.

Maybe the problem is that few of us really want to know how our behavior impacts those around us. We all know the statistic from the Gallup poll that says that 80% of employees leave jobs because of their immediate supervisors, yet I'm guessing that old 80-20 rule applies here too: 80% of those supervisors who the employees are leaving probably don't look in the mirror to figure out why the employees are leaving.

Ben Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra, and co-author of the book "The Art of Possibility." He also conducts leadership seminars and has produced, with his wife Roz, two training videos which are outstanding. In one, "Leadership: An Art of Possibility," Ben shares that one of the ways to see the impact you as a leader have is to look for the shining eyes of the people around you. Shining eyes are evident when the spark of possibility is present. Ben says if he doesn't see shining eyes around him, the first question he asks himself is "What am I not being that their eyes aren't shining?"

If things aren't going exactly the way you would like them to go in your life - whether that's as a leader or as a parent or as a student or as an employee or really as any of the many roles we all play - consider Ben's question for yourself: "What am I not being that things aren't going the way I'd like?"

When you take that honest look at yourself with sincerity and authenticity, you might find huge opportunities to move beyond your own personal status quo and be well on your way to creating significant lasting transformations in your personal and professional relationships.

A great place to begin is by listening to the small talk around you. How might you contribute to raising the level of that small talk? Of course it can't end with the talk - we need to figure out together how to move beyond talk to action. But it's got to start somewhere.


Where Have All The Gordon MacKenzies Gone?

Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself: "I wish I would have written that!"? Well, this is my book like that.

I'm just re-reading "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by the late Gordon MacKenzie and I'm inspired all over again.

How is it that I'm just figuring out all of this "bring your whole self to work" stuff and so many people have gotten it so many years ago? Case in point: Gordon MacKenzie.

Back in the early 1950s, according to the back cover of this book, Gordon flunked out of the Univesrity of British Columbia and later stumbled into a job as a cartoonist and writer for the Vancouver Sun. While at Hallmark Cards, Gordon didn't find so much as he created his niche. His title there was Creative Paradox.

Gordon imparts so much wisdom in this fabulous book and it's a blast to read, too! Here are a couple of little snippets:

"Being infinite, the whole of reality is too much for the conscious human mind to grasp. The best any one of us can do is to take the biggest slice of Infinite Reality we can hold - intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally - and make that slice our personal sense of what is real. But no matter how broad it is, any human perception of reality can be no more than a tiny sliver of Infinite Reality.

"Civilization also has a limited perception of Infinite Reality. And with a haughty self-assurance, it imposes that perception on us until we think it is our own. The same is true of the companies we work for. They have their perceptions of reality and they impose them on us. As a result, we are wrapped in a cocoon of realities perceived by others who came before us. It is a cocoon that gives us a sense of emotional security through connection to a shared belief. But it is also a shroud that binds and cripples us as surely as the ancient social abuse of binding Chinese women's feet crippled them." (p. 45)

Through his original stories and drawings, Gordon shows us what happens to organizations when they stifle individual creativity. Policies, procedures, rules, regulations - all become hairs which join together to form a giant hairball which eventually develops its own gravity. People are sucked in by promises of security, benefits, salary but often lose their souls in the meantime. Others, daunted by the structure, leave the organization to find more suitable employment. Gordon shows us that in order to have the best results both for the organization and the individuals within the organization, we need to help those creative beings find a way to orbit the giant hairball so they are not so close they're are sucked in, but not so far away that they leave.

Gordon's take on corporate America and his style of storytelling coupled with his original sketches makes this a must-read for anyone who feels the call of creativity within their corporate environment.

Can we carry Gordon's torch and light up our workplaces without succumbing to the suffocation of the cocoon or the gravity of the hairball?

It takes courage and persistence, both of which Gordon exhibited and both of which I'll do my best to follow. Who's with me?


The Headiness of Being the Leader

I've been thinking a lot lately about how difficult, exciting, stressful, exhilarating it must be to be the leader of a company, enterprise, or organization.

For some reason a Lord Acton quote has popped into my mind as I write this post:

"Power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely."

How does this relate to my original thought about leadership?

One has only to read the current issue of Fast Company magazine and check out the cover story called "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" to see some sort of correlation. Which comes first (if at all): the ego involved to start a company or the ego involved later as things get successful?

I realize that there has to be some semblance of confidence for anyone to lead anything. I'm reminded of my basketball playing days, both in high school and in college. It seems for every John Wooden-like coach there were at least an equal number of Bobby Knights. But recently, at least in the world of sports, I've been hearing more about the successes of the Coach K's, the Phil Jacksons, the Bill Belachicks and their effect on the teams ... no, the individuals who make up the teams ... than of the crushing results of the iron fist leaders.

Iron fist leaders who rule by fear and loathing probably can get results quickly, but I can't think of even one leader - at least in modern times - who produced lasting results with that type of leadership.

But what happens in our businesses when the rulers rule by fear - and the fear is so great that no one dares say or do anything? It doesn't seem to matter the size of the organization - even in very small companies the iron fist makes an impact on individuals, teams, families, and even communities, and often the external results (the football field named after the town mogul who donated the land presumably out of the goodness of his heart, but more likely to see his name in lights on Friday nights) somehow justify the means.

How long will we go on accepting this as if we can't do anything about it within organizations? Are our workers bound by the golden handcuffs at the price of their very hearts and souls? What will it take to get leadership to see that it doesn't have to be this way? That people really will do the right thing if given the chance?

Perhaps it's fear that runs the hearts of the leaders ... and the only way they can get beyond their own fear is to control what they think they can control, and that's the way the business is run - their way. As they look for the worst in the workers, that's often what they will find, and they can continue to be right about that.

It's funny, though. It takes exactly the same amount of energy to find the worst in people as it does to find the best. The difference is that the leader has to shift the perception, and often that's the most difficult part. Shifting the leader's perception to ask the question "How is that REALLY working for me?" and to really want to know the answer to that question is often more difficult than continuing down the path that no longer works.

Remember the story of the Emperor's New Clothes? Couple this with the lesson we've been taught as children: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" and you get more and more of the same.

Is there a way to share a dialogue - respectfully and with noble intention - with the emperor about his nakedness in a way that doesn't get the messenger's head chopped off? The challenge will be to get the emperor to realize that there's opportunity for him/her in having that dialogue, regardless of the outcome.

Anyone up for that challenge?


Thoughts Become Things

If you haven't heard of TUT yet, you need to check this out!

I'm a member of TUT's Adventurer's Club and it inspires me to greatness with its daily Note From the Universe. Each daily message, which feels like it's created just for me, ends with the reminder: "Thoughts become things - choose the good ones!(R)"

As I've thought more about TUT's advice, I realize that even without trying, my thoughts really have become more positive and uplifting. When lasting transformations or evolutions happen, it's only in stopping to really look back that we can see how far we've come. If you live with someone who is pregnant, you won't notice the changes that are happening daily. But if you only see your pregnant friend (and eventually her baby) once a month, you'll definitely notice the changes.

Our thought creation process really is a circular process that both begins and ends with the thoughts we think. Of course the thoughts we think can be influenced by other factors - the music we listen to, the books we read, the people we hang out with - which gives us many choices depending upon what we really want.

So our thoughts influence what we create; what we create is what we become; what we become is what we express; what we express is what we experience; what we experience becomes who we are; and who we are dictates what we think.

It's all about choice, and we really are in the driver's seat of our own lives. And it's crucial to remember that, regardless of our spirituality, we're never alone in our lives. Whether it's a Higher Power or our friends, co-workers, relatives, we don't have to be in it alone. There are always others to support us along the way.

The interesting fact in our journey to self-discovery is that some of the companions along the way may be with us for the long haul while some may be with us for only part of the journey - and at different stages. If we become clear in our own minds about where we want to go on our journey, it becomes easier to determine who will be with us. But if we ask those questions in a different order (who will be with me first, and where am I going second), we will almost certainly have very different results.

As usual here, I don't have answers for anyone but myself. As I become more clear about my own purpose and trust my Higher Power to guide me, the pathway really does open up. I am experiencing for myself the whole Thoughts Become Things phenomenon - and TUT was and is a big part of that joruney for me. I know I can't and don't want to make this journey alone, and I've been blessed with wonderful companions along the way.

Thanks for being here with me!


The World According to Patch

I'm working this week delivering training in a small town in northern Minnesota where I don't have internet access at my hotel. I've forgotten how dependent I've become on keeping up to date with e-mail and the web, so this is a great place for me to unwind.

The hotel does have a TV though, so last night I watched "Patch Adams" on network TV. For whatever reason, I have never seen this movie before so it was a really fun way to spend a Monday evening away from home.

I think what Patch tried to do with the medical field can be compared to what trainers like me are trying to do in manufacturing environments. In both industries it seems questioning the status quo is not looked highly upon. But in each, the real key to ongoing, long-term success is how you treat the people.

Last night I heard Patch say that if you treat a disease, you win some and you lose some. But if you treat a person, you win every time.

In the environment Patch was passionate about creating, he said "you carry with you a flame which you can only hope will spread through the institution like wildfire. We can only hope that others will practice 'excessive happiness'."

The movie was set in the early ‘70s and showed the amazing results Patch got from his rather unorthodox method of healing. It was inspiring to me even though sometimes I might think being innovative and creative is a “new” phenomenon. According to the movie credits, Patch Adams’ home-based medical practice has attracted more than 1,000 calls from physicians willing to leave their practices and work with Patch for no fees because they are called to make a difference.

How is this different from Corporate America? Shouldn’t people want to be involved with situations where they know they can make a difference? Are we still so bound by fear that we’re paralyzed to do what we know is right? If we’re afraid of being fired by doing what we know is the right thing, is it really a job we want to have? Does fear hold us captive? Are we willing to sell our souls for a sure paycheck? How sure is that paycheck in the long run? If we’re required to check our true selves at the door, how effective are we in our own lives?

If we’re selling out for the paycheck, we may be missing out on something else that would allow us to live fully, but we’ll never know if we’re not willing to take that risk. I’m willing to bet that if we stand strong in doing and being what we know is what we need to do and be, the universe will conspire to make good things happen for us. Patch Adams was a great example of the good that can happen when you stick to your guns. I’m sure there are many, many more examples – maybe even in your own life – of what happens when you sell your soul to the company than of what happens when you listen to your life. Patch was accused of practicing “excessive happiness.” What a crime!

When you think about what holds you hostage in your job, how much of that is fear? And how much of that fear is authentic fear? How often do people really get fired for doing the right thing? I’m guessing it’s a very, very low number. What is it that we can do to get beyond that fear? What are you willing to do?