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Native Wisdom, Part 2: It takes a long time to get to know someone

“It takes a long time to get to know someone,” I heard my Father say. He was musing about two close friends who had erupted into battle. After a long heated argument, the two friends determined that the quarrel was the result of a simple misunderstanding. My father waxed philosophically about how two people who presumably knew each other so well could not comprehend the other’s perspective, or even be curious enough to explore it to avert the meltdown.

We act as if our assumptions about the world are correct. We are wandering through this world, operating “as if” what we perceive and believe is true. Our perceptions are shadows cast from our filters. Our filters are formed from what others tell us, what we read, and our experiences. Hardly the most thorough methodology.

The differences in how people view the world can be just as humorous as they are disconcerting. The classic comedy by Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First,” is an example of two individuals operating with two fundamentally different belief systems, yet failing to comprehend and address this difference. It’s funny because it’s true.

This weekend would have been my Father’s 90th birthday. My Mother and my Father had me very late in life, so our time together was short. He was Cherokee (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a tribal elder), had a high school education, was US Marine Sniper in World War II, and a Teamsters Union representative who spent 30 years delivering vehicles to various locations across the United States. He saw a lot, and saw through a lot. Although he wanted me to be a lawyer, his humor, wry perspective, insight, and keen intelligence instead formed me into a psychologist. Through the process of becoming a psychologist, leader, and then a coach of leaders, I found that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Yet, his Native Wisdom rings true: It does take a long time to get to know someone. Next time in the heat of a battle, pausing, reflecting, and being curious might be something to explore. Ask yourself some questions: What do you believe about the world? What are your assumptions? Where do they come from and for what purpose do the serve? Perhaps the person it takes the longest to know is ourselves.

Steve Martin on Success

“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four years were spent in wild success. I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a byproduct. The course was more plodding than heroic.” -Steve Martin.

Why are Organizations so Fouled-up*?

It was a question my husband asked over this morning’s breakfast after another of my rants about organizational politics. The answer I gave him was this: You’re fouled up, I’m fouled up, that makes organizations, which are full of people as much or more fouled up as us, even more so. How can organizations not be anything but fouled up given all that fouledupness brewing and simmering together? Then you throw in money and power, and the fouledupitude goes wild. Sadly, he agreed. I’ve consulted or been in over 50 organizations at this point, and I know that there is not one organization that is not fouled up. I challenge you to find one.

How do you avoid being consumed by all the fouled up people in fouled up organizations? Maintain a positive attitude and remember to not take it personally. Even if it is personal. People don’t know you well, so most of any feedback you get is to ensure you meet the organization’s goals or are projections of their insecurities. Or you could be one of the people others are talking about that are so fouled up! Then perhaps you should listen, and listen very carefully.

Now and then a team or a small group of individuals unite around a common purpose and have transparent and authentic relationships with one another. Their whole selves come to the experience, and they focus on something that not only meets their immediate goals but also meets some more lofty purpose. That is the trick for any leader: Alignment of individual and organizational purpose. There are glimpses of it here in there, like the glimmer around Peter in Fringe, where Olivia knew he was from a different world.

*Please substitute foul for any other f word you might choose to use

What is Your Internal State?

As a wise colleague once said, “If you want to find something on the outside, you must first find it on the inside.” Or, in other words, “wherever you go, there you are,” a saying popularized by Buckaroo Bonzai. While coaching executives and with my ongoing work with myself, the truth is that our internal state is the most important aspect of our lives to attend to and manage. And we can manage it. By doing so, we can direct how we perceive our world, what we get done, and what (and who) we attract.

What is your internal state of being? How do you feel right now? How do you usually feel? What is the noise inside your head?  Are you covering up negative feelings with food, alcohol or some more sophisticated gamesmanship where others are the blame for your problems? With what are you surrounding yourself?  With whom? How are your family and friends with their internal state? What is your purpose? Check-in with yourself and others, you might be surprised how you’re feeling. You can change how you think about things. Your reaction to the world is in your control.

A lotus is the most powerful of flowers as it makes its way through the murkiness to the light. Much like our hidden feelings, they too must make their way to the light. Without this process, they remain ever present, controlling us, sometimes choking and stifling us in ways that we don’t understand and keeping us from seeing the light.

Living in a VUCA world: It’s all about energy

Madonna’s song “Living in a Material World” captured the mood and feeling of the 1980s. What phrase captures the moment now? According to some leaders of the largest businesses in the world, we are living in a VUCA world. What is VUCA? VUCA is a military acronym that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In my day job, I do research with others in my firm along with a well know international university. We are trying to learn what great leaders do that makes them exceptional. Ideally, we want to identify common themes about their thoughts on various leadership topics and how their reflections might differ from the way you and I go about perceiving our world. Our purpose is to not only be able to identify what characteristics make up superior leaders, but to also understand if what makes them exceptional can be coached or taught to others. We ask ourselves if great leadership can be learned then what is needed to create more of them, so that the world will be better led.

It is apparent to the leaders we interview that the world is a much more VUCA place than it once was. Whether this is true, or whether there is only a perception that is true does not matter to these CEOs. To them, the environment of social media mixed with immediate access to global information creates a complex, ever changing landscape of stakeholders that inverts the classic organizational pyramid on its head.

Interestingly, most of the leaders we have interviewed believe that, positive energy is the element that matters most in their own lives and the lives of others. It’s the key critical resource needed. They claim to focus on requiring this energy to have clear, positive and inspiring points of view. They want energy to manage and attend to the needs of the stakeholders that routinely confront them. They want energy to confidently engage, energize and inspire the teams they build. They want energy to develop depth of expertise and the wisdom to apply it. To them, the mechanistic drone like approach to work that infiltrated the Industrial Age is no longer relevant and definitely slipping away. Are these desires and perceptions different from yours?

How do you help the world be better led? It starts with your next interaction. Be the person, be the change you aspire to see. Become conscious of your real purpose in life and access the positive energy of yourself and others around you. Some might do this on a grander scale affecting many more people, but each of our interactions count; especially if we are to create a new shared consciousness or collective unconsciousness that focuses on a more positive way of interacting in our current VUCA world.

A Brain the Size of a Golf Ball

“If you have a golf-ball-sized consciousness, when you read a book, you’ll have a golf-ball-sized understanding; when you look out a window, a golf-ball-sized awareness, when you wake up in the morning, a golf-ball-sized wakefulness; and as you go about your day, a golf-ball-sized inner happiness.
But if you can expand that consciousness, make it grow, then when you read about that book, you’ll have more understanding; when you look out, more awareness; when you wake up, more wakefulness; as you go about your day, more inner happiness.” – David Lynch

Leadership – leading others, your family, or yourself requires consciousness, so the best way to improve your leadership is to expand your consciousness. How do you expand your consciousness? It starts with understanding that you may not have the full picture of reality, or understand other peoples’ perception of reality. This is the primary way that conflict arises: numerous people can view the exact same situation with vastly different perceptions.
Leaders often become leaders because they are comfortable making decisions. They have a level of confidence in their own perception of reality that gives them this ability. Often this confidence is perceptible by those who are unsure about what is happening, and the unsure gravitate toward those who appear surer.
This same attribute can backfire when that confidence continues in new, ambiguous and even chaotic situations. Great leaders continue to increase their consciousness as they become more senior through involving and gathering a broader range of perceptions so that they expand their conscious awareness of what is really going on.
How do you expand your consciousness as a leader? The number one best way is to remain curious. This is especially true when you feel the most sure of your own view. How do you do this? Ask questions. Probe deeper. Listen to the silences, if any, after you speak. Do people feel comfortable sharing their real thinking with you, or do they stammer and hedge their opinions? Has anyone yelled at you or acted angry with you? If not, mostly likely others are holding back around you. By being curious and encouraging other to share their minds and hearts with you, you will ensure you continue to expand your own consciousness, improve your leadership impact and grow your brain bigger than the size of a golf ball.

Native Wisdom Part 1: If you do something long enough, you must like it

My Father used to say, “If you do something long enough, you must like it.” These were wise words from a part Cherokee truck driver, born in the hollers of Western North Carolina. His belief was that life is full of mysteries and paradoxes, and that people inevitably did what they wanted. He also believed that people’s behavior spoke louder than their words and that while free will was everyone’s right, few took advantage of it.

The paradox he was speaking to was the difference between people’s professed intentions and their actions, or more clearly stated the difference between what people said they wanted and how they acted. He was fascinated by this observation and so came up with his own explanations of human behavior, independent of psychology or any other academic schooling. For these nuggets of Native Wisdom, I’m eternally grateful and I’ll share them in this blog.

Let’s take an example. A friend of mine was upset about how her children and their families have come to dominate her life. She repeatedly complained about this dynamic and conveyed dismay at how they routinely took advantage of her. While her children, now in their 20’s, are able to manage their own lives, they instead relied on their mother to care for many of their wants and needs. She took care of their pets, fixed lunches, and loaned them money. They also repeatedly come and go from her house at all hours, with the expectation that she take care babysitting, washing their laundry and making them meals. She claimed that she disliked her children’s behavior, yet when observing her actions, the contrary seemed to be true. Her actions shouted that she loved being involved and relied upon. According to my Father, though she claimed that she was unhappy with the situation, it was obvious she didn’t want things to change because she liked things as they were.

Since she had known my Father and his many insights, I quoted him one day, during a visit. In the middle of one of her complaining sessions, I imitated his Southern accent and his wry sense of humor to provide some gentle teasing about her dilemma. She laughed, thankfully.

While, she loved her children and deeply wanted to be connected with and involved in their lives, being intimately connected on a daily basis was proving to be stressing for her. Both her and her children had learned behaviors – habits that had been developed years ago that met the needs of the times for everyone in the family. But now, though she had evolved, and her children had evolved, both still lived their lives through the behavioral system that each had outgrown.

My friend knew that change in the family dynamic was needed, but changing is hard. Why? The behaviors people learn, are learned for a reason. Behaviors develop because, even if only temporarily, they work to provide an answer to a problem. Then, new problems are encountered, and we try to force fit an old solution on a new circumstance. When we become conscious of this, it forces us to confront the fact that what was once the best that we could do, is no longer good enough. This causes pain, so we avoid it be letting the awareness of this go unconscious again. The paradox is that it’s the pain that provides the space for growth. If we are aware of what no longer serves us and could sit with the pain just long enough, we can change our behavior, so that we can create better alignment between what we say and what we do.

Working through her behavioral system was tough, but she was up for it. She spoke with her children and has re-contracted behaviors and boundaries and unexpectedly positive changes have enriched all their lives. All thanks to gentle Native Wisdom from my Father, “if you do something long enough, you must like it.”

How about you? What is no longer serving you well? What actions are not aligned with what you love? What can you change today to bring you closer to your real potential? It might be painful to examine, but you’re up for it, right?

Inside out, change your scripts, change your world

We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted t0 change, you’re the one who has to change. – Katharine Hepburn



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.