Archive | June, 2014

The Forest and the Unconscious Realm

“I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with the luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.” -Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver


The Truth About Executive Psychological Assessments

At the most senior levels of leadership in organizations, psychologists often perform psychological assessments to do two basic things:

  1. Selection: To glean understanding of a leader’s ability to fit within the role, context and culture of a new organization or to ascertain whether a promotion will be successful or not.
  2. Development: To help leaders deepen understanding of their leadership impact through what we call “developmental” psychological assessments.

Assessments themselves vary from in-depth intensive one to one interviews, to full blown – multiple day assessment centers, to online survey tools, or various combinations of these. There is a proliferation of business speak and intellectual debate about the viability of some of these tools, including which are better and which are worse. I’m not here to reflect on the merits of the innumerable different methodologies or tools; rather, I want to discuss why you should do them and how you begin. This leads to who should do them which solves your methodology questions, because in the hands of the right professional, the process and tools become less of an issue.

There are three reasons why you absolutely need to do assessments in the first place:

  1. People lie. To themselves, to their colleagues and to their families. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes because they do not understand what great looks, sometimes on purpose. Assessments attempt to get to the reality about an individual that goes beyond perception.
  2. Leaders have personal agendas. It is difficult for leaders to distinguish between reality and what they perceive to be true. Leaders project their own fears, dreams, or issues onto those around them if they do not understand this about themselves. Frankly, most do not. It is because of this that it is difficult for leaders to objectively judge the merits of those around him or her.
  3. People are extremely complex. People that think they can uncover everything during a brief interaction are delusional (see points 1 and 2 above). Additionally, online tests and surveys at best capture just a few dimensions.

Here’s how you begin:

  1. Find a business psychologist with a PhD and significant experience working with and within organizations. This is important! There are numerous inexperienced professionals who are well intentioned but have never faced the intricate dynamics of organization life themselves.
  2. Uncover what’s important for your organization to achieve its business strategy. Then marry these criteria to a vetted leadership model. If you must, build your own that speaks to the organization’s unique culture, but ground it in the current best thinking.
  3. Conduct assessments against the criteria developed in the previous step for those entering the organization, for those you promote and for those that you think have a chance to be leaders.
  4. Do this for yourself and your employees. Lead by example, which should be a no brainer, but sadly, it is not.
  5. Craft developmental plans that help people engage in gaining additional insight into their impact. Help them uncover their purpose. Follow up, follow up and follow up. Make it fun.
  6. For a kick, step back and look holistically at your results to determine trends and areas of strengths and weaknesses in your leadership pool; plan accordingly.

And that’s how it’s done. Who knows what might be lying underneath all those smiling faces (or yours)? Having an objective external view of your talent gives you a clear picture of how to manage risk as it relates to executing your strategy. Everything thing else is lies, agendas, and delusion.

Soul Annihilation

“Work is a soul sucking experience,” I mulled during my few moments of eating breakfast this morning. Despite devoting years to trying to understand exactly what this work thing is we do, why we do it, and how to make it less soul sucking, I found myself at ground zero once again.

What event had placed me here? The day before, I had been in yet another corporate meeting where a decision to move forward was in the process of being reversed. It was as a result of a theoretical argument made by non-operations people about how operations “should” be done. There was merit in their view, but it ignored the day to day reality that our operations people had vetted with clients. We were on the verge of postponing a decision that would enable us to put a stake in the ground and to do something different to engage our customers and beat the competition. It was a commitment to change. But people were waffling. Systems theory would have predicted that all systems try to retain homeostasis, so I understood intellectually what was going on in the organization; the organization was attempting to maintain its own center of gravity, that is, protecting itself from change.

But what was really going on with me, personally? Why had this de-energized me? Frustration? Yes. Chagrin? Maybe. But it went much deeper.

When had I been happiest recently? The answer was clear: when I was painting a potting bench my husband had hand-made for me. At the time, I had found my joy curious. With complete and utter wonder, I watched the paint that I had chosen glide like silk over the bench. Side by side we painted, silently caught up in the spell of accomplishment, awed by the results of our efforts and the simple peace of being with one another. There was evident progress and satisfaction from a job well done.

I thought about my draining corporate experience and how something as simple as painting could be so rewarding. Then it occurred to me that what I was experiencing during my breakfast mull was alienation. Karl Marx described alienation as the result of living and working in a world based on social classes. The idea goes that the average person in this complex web of social classes loses the ability to lead their life and chose their own destiny. By working “for” someone, something, (not ourselves) pursuing our own destiny – life, is at best secondary. Many times it is not thought about at all. Thus, we cannot determine the character of our own actions or those of others, define how we relate to others, or own the things and use the value of the goods and services we make with our labor.

I wonder if we are experiencing a spike in the collective experience of alienation. Perhaps the surge and pull for “organic,” moving back to small farms, getting “off the grid”, disconnecting, etc.  is reflective of our collective unconsciousness of alienation. Additionally, there is more marketing on how to simplify your life, some examples of which include a venue called the “Container Store” and a magazine called “Real Simple” that has as its mission how to help you simplify every aspect of your life. (I find it curious that month after month the magazine is quite thick, making me think it is really not so simple to be real simple.)

We all feel this alienation pull at us from time to time, but especially when we experience a disconnection between our destiny and how we make our money. The literature abounds with research and self-help books that proclaim that success comes from doing what we love. Perhaps doing what we love is what helps us also to avoid the abject despair of alienation, too.

I write about perception, hopefully with depth, that helps us more clearly capture our individual purpose. By making the unconscious conscious we ensure we can more closely align what we love with what we do and avoid the feeling that we are mere cogs in a machine someone else created for us.

What makes you happy? When were you last happy? These questions must be mulled over so that we are not lulled into giving up our time and energy for “the other.” Otherwise, where does that leave us at the end of our short precious life?