Archive | April, 2014

The Battle for Alignment

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower

I think of this quote often. I live it daily and so do my partners and clients. Not only do I consult to leadership in a variety of different organizations, but I also lead within organizations in which I’m employed. I have made this choice, as opposed to being an independent consultant, because I think there is great value in the insight gained from being a leader in a complex organization when you consult to leaders within complex organizations.

Without fail, there is a time each week when this quote comes to mind. Although I’m someone who enjoys spontaneous and evolving conversations, I prepare in advance as much as I can. I do this through reading, talking to colleagues and in general, collecting and organizing a variety of points of view so that I feel I understand the landscape – as I think it is going to be – in an upcoming “battle.” In this instance, I liken gaining alignment between people to a battle as sometimes it can feel that way. I find this to be the essential requirement of leadership, to bring others together for the sake of getting something done in a certain timeframe. Underlying this is energy engagement, which I feel is what a leader “really” does, but that is a topic for another day.

Even after the alignment is created, which can be a battle in and of itself, the plans that are created don’t work. People change their minds, other priorities emerge, technology doesn’t work, one person is left off an email, or perhaps organizational priorities shift. Clausewitz once opined, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.” The same is true in getting things done in organizations.

What do I recommend to clients and what have I learned to do myself?

  • Be clear about and “in love” with the effect you want to achieve.
  • Maintain emotional distance and do not be “in love” with a specific way to achieve it. It is OK to shift and do things differently even if the decision has been made to do it a certain way. Consciouly chose the right path, not the default path.
  • Take your own emotional pulse – if you fall “out of love” with what you’re trying to achieve, others will too and maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something. What is shifting your focus?
  • Be prepared for wildcards and the unpredictable, something unplanned will happen. Knowing this can take the emotional edge off when things go astray.
  • Be open to new information to build or shift your vision

The battle for alignment is an ongoing process that requires renewal and revisiting as the twists and turns of execution unfold. Eisenhower had it right, planning is necessary while plans go astray. And they always will. How we adjust to it is what organizational life is all about.

The Frog, the Dolphin, and the Giraffe

This past weekend, I found three stuffed animals in a storage box that I had kept since I was three years old. Now 50 some years later, I pondered why I had kept them so long. There was a Frog with a crown, a silvery yet furry Dolphin and a speckled Giraffe with a little red tongue dangling outside its mouth. Presently, they were sewn together piles of dust that “should” be tossed. In the middle of a cold, wet Lake Michigan day in April I could not bring myself to do so, despite my sense of urgency to get my spring cleaning done. As I stood pondering, struck by the fact that they were still with me and wondering why that might be. Remembering that Socrates was attributed with saying “the unexamined life is not worth living,” I continued to reflect. I realized I had not examined the difference between the lifeless artifacts in front of me and the life-filled archetypes they had represented to me as a child. They had somehow remained one in the same, my childhood imaginings captured somehow in these dull lifeless forms.

What is an archetype and why is it important? In Jungian psychology an archetype is a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, or image which is universally present in individual psyches. For instance there is an archetype of a Mother, Father, Hero, and Victim that are well known to most of us. Literature uses these archetypes through their fictional characters to speak to us about their greater truths that lie beyond fact. The media uses archetypes to create connection with their ideas and views beyond what might come about with an interaction with a simple product or consumer item. Individually, we have archetypes which are generalities or stories about ourselves and the world. These stories form scripts that we often follow unconsciously, whether they are correct or not. Many times they operate out of our awareness, guiding us without our knowing. The more closely we examine our stories and scripts, the more we will have examined our lives. My hope is that we all move away from “living a life of quiet desperation” (Thoreau).

To what archetypes did my dust balls speak? It was easy for me to understand the Frog – he was the smart one who could be relied upon for logical, practical and straightforward advice. He was wise and kind, a natural and benevolent leader. He saw things as they were, made things happen and had a realistic view of the world. The Dolphin was equally easy to understand as she was at the opposite end of the continuum, a free spirit looking for adventure, love and laughter with a sweet sense of humor. She had a good nature and was supportive and loyal to her friends. She strived to make her impact positive on those whom she met.

But the Giraffe, named “Baby Giraffe” was a mystery. What had he represented? He was awkward looking, could not stand on his own even when he was new and had big soulful eyes too large for his oversized head. His neck was too long, even for a giraffe, and his back too short, his tiny feet were incapable of holding his weight, his legs too weak. Through the years his long neck had buckled under the weight of his head and his tail had been chewed apart by a dog. Yet, he had been my favorite of the three despite his apparent imperfections. Baby Giraffe had been the joyful one, who ran about getting into mischief, going places he was not supposed to go and saying things he was not supposed to say.

My realizations when I looked at what each represented was that I was all those things, but had let the Frog dominate most of my life and only recently had I reacquainted myself with my dolphin self. She had reentered my life as I tried to free myself from issues that held my energy down. This had occurred through several significant life changes that still have me reverberating. Yet, they had set me off on adventures of travel and love I had only dreamed of. Now, perhaps it is time for me to acknowledge that the frog and the dolphin were really servants of the flawed, fragile, beautiful yet ugly giraffe I had always felt I was underneath it all, but was afraid to acknowledge. Baby Giraffe, the playful, wounded mischievous one, is fully formed as the archetype I adore most in my life, now that the Frog and the Dolphin have made it safe for him to come out and play.

The doors of perception.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
Aldous Huxley

When I first heard about The Doors in the 70’s as a grade schooler, I had no idea why a band would name themselves after something so simple as a door. I pondered what kind of door could inspire a band? Was it the pure simplicity of opening and shutting a piece of a wall that was so compelling? Was it a brown door, a white door or a glass door? And then I completely forgot my questions as I trudged through my teenage years reading gothic romances, historical fiction, and Mad magazine. Then, I discovered Carlos Castaneda. Reading his first three books felt deliciously adult and shifted the way I perceived my life and how I wanted to live. From that point on, I was mystified by perception and how different people saw things so completely differently. This is when I also realized I wanted to be a psychologist. Perception has been a lifelong muse ever since. One of my most treasured quotes from him is this: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” To me this is the essence of perception. We determine how we look at things, and we must do this consciously, and whether or not you do think consciously, the work of life is the same. Why be miserable? Change your perception of what is happening.


If only it were so easy, but perhaps it is just that easy. Having witnessed death in family and friends where long-term illnesses wreaked havoc on people I loved, it is easy to slide into despair and rant about how hard life can be, how cruel a fate, how physically painful, and how fickle it is in whom it blesses with health, and whom it does not. My family and friends chose to be happy even during horrendous and challenging struggles, perhaps because they knew their life was so short. Could I not do the same? It was a matter of perception, what is real and what is not.


As an executive coach, my own life experiences cannot help but inform how I work with clients. Perception, my muse, is often the blind spot that hurts many leaders. Their ability to “see things as they are” is difficult when they only see things from their perspective. A leader’s ability to integrate multiple viewpoints and perceptions into a mosaic whole that makes sense is an art that few master. Sometimes I feel my job is to eliminate “how did I not see that?” from my client’s expressions. I do this by helping them to open their own doors of perception about who they are, what matters most, and by expanding their understanding of their current realities through multiple perspectives.

Oh, and The Doors? I get it now.

The slow leak of psychic energy.

How we lead our lives can deplete us in ways we cannot articulate. And sometimes the fact that we cannot articulate how we feel is draining in and of itself.

I have worked with innumerable leaders over my almost 30 year career as an organizational psychologist. Some have been entry level and some of been CEO or board members of large, public companies with all levels of leaders in between represented. Irrespective of title, the one common element between all leaders is that each needs to uncover uniquely how to best utilize their intuition in ways that help others and themselves better manage their personal energy. It is this simple. Yet, it is the one element that seems the most elusive. This is as true for those who lead as it is for those that do not lead.

Imagine a balloon filled with helium, floating for joy during a birthday celebration, jubilantly dancing to any slight breeze, yet tied down with purpose to its real goal: being part of a birthday gift. With purpose, the balloon stays it course and for a while it can sustain itself without more helium being injected into it. Eventually though, the birthday celebration ends and the balloon, if not popped, is placed some place where it receives no helium and eventually becomes smaller and smaller to a point it can no longer hold itself in the air. It circles around listlessly, seemingly disconnected from its original purpose, a clear and negative change from its former self. I liken this process to the individual psyche in situations where no new energy is injected. It can happen almost imperceptively and unless we take the time to reflect and listen to our intuition, we may miss that it is happening until we are on the floor. This is the slow leak of psychic energy. People feel drug down, dispirited, minimalized, deflated and disempowered. How does one recognize this slow leak when it is not obvious like our balloon? What is our helium of choice to combat it?

Let’s discover things that fill us, uncover what depletes us, and ponder the mysteries of why there is such a process to begin with. I’ll share the things that I believe give me energy in the hopes it will do the same for you.