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?


The Skeptic's Dilemma

So, when you read that title, did you automatically draw a conclusion in your mind about what a "skeptic" is? Did that word have a negative or a positive connotation in your mind?

I must admit, when it first occurred to me to write about skepticism this morning, I was thinking about those people who never trust anything unless they have proof; those people who want to live in what they KNOW, not what might be possible; those people who won't support anything new; people who are basically difficult to have a conversation with because they question the logic of every idea. For me, the word had a negative connotation.

But when I looked up the meaning of the word in my trusty, I found out that the definition is:

One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.

And I discovered that I am a skeptic.

I've always been a questioner. As far back as I can remember, I had to know why things were the way they were, and whether or not they had to be that way. I really don't believe I was trying to be difficult - I was just curious.

But the older I got, the more I began to understand that questions didn't always have answers, and the people to whom I was addressing my questions didn't want to appear uninformed or unintelligent, so they encouraged me to stop asking questions. Whether this was in school, in Sunday school, or even at home, I remember the effect of my questions on my teachers and parents, and I remember that I slowly began to shut up - at least on the outside.

But now I wonder, where would we be in our world of science, religion, education, business without those people who "instinctively doubt, question or disagree with generally accepted conclusions"?

Maybe for me the hangup has been with the context in this definition provided by the word "habitually." Even the "right" thing done for the "wrong" reasons is still "wrong," right?

Was I asking questions all my life just to be difficult? Was it a habit? I don't think so. I'd like to get beyond my own preconceived notions and concepts of what constitutes skepticism and trust my own gut and instincts. Maybe that's why I asked other people for the answer - because I didn't trust my own knowing. Maybe I wanted validation. Maybe I just wanted to be acknowledged. Maybe I just wanted attention. I'd like to think those reasons for being curious evolved as I evolved throughout my life.

Maybe people have to be skeptical as they're learning things in their lives. Maybe it's their conditioning that turns them from intuitive skeptics into habitual skeptics. Let's not let past perceptions - others' or our own - keep us from questioning.

So let's get back out there and be curious. Ask questions. Challenge the status quo. But don't be afraid to look inside yourself for the answers.

Skeptics unite!


Unconventionalists Unite!

What does unconventional mean to you? Is it something you think you shouldn't be? It might be one of those words, like the word "unreasonable," that sounds "bad" until you really examine what it means.

I used to believe that being unreasonable meant I was stubborn or pigheaded or closed-minded. Since that was the context I had put around that word, it was difficult for me to see anything but that. Then I realized that by being reasonable, I'd put all kinds of reasons out there for why I was staying right where I was in my life. It was easier to avoid responsibility because I had so many reasons for not making any changes. I lived in a little town, therefore I couldn't be involved in national organizations. My grandma had fat thighs so therefore I was destined to have fat thighs, too. There was nothing I could do about it. It would be unreasonable even to try.

Conventional is another of those words. We have conventional wisdom which tells us what we should and shouldn't do. Unconventional wisdom may seem like something that's really "out there" and our past experience of lives of convention may come crashing down on us, even though we're attracted to more unconventional ways of thinking.

My friend Gail and I have created a really fun event called The Unconvention in which people gather to create dialogue around what it means to be unconventional. Gail came up with the concept when she went on an "untour" in Europe. The group traveled together, but when they got to their destinations, everyone created their own tours within the cities or locations, gathering again at the end.

The Unconvention is like that. We gather at the airport conference room to leave on our journey, but each of the participants has a hand in creating the experience for the 3 hours we have gathered together. We have a very loose agenda, but the experience is unique each time we get together because it goes where the dialogue takes it. Together, the participants (all of whom are somehow attracted to the unconventionality of the event) are creating a roadmap which will help guide them through their more conventional work lives. Our hope is that we can provide support to other unconventionalists so they know they're not alone, and so they can practice some of their more creative and unique conversations and share their ideas with a supportive audience.

So far we've had two events and are planning for the third. Gail and I have no expectations, so we are never disappointed with the event. It has proven to us that we are correct in our belief that there are more unconventionalists out there who share our interest in unique points of view.

As Gail's mission statement for her company Blue Moon Training states: "my desire is to inspire!"

Anyone game to participate?