Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fragments for the End of the Year by Jennifer K. Sweeney.

Post 398 - Here's a poem as my last post for 2009. The recipient of the 2009 James Laughlin Award for How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009), Jennifer K. Sweeney received the 2006 Main Street Rag Poetry Award for her debut collection Salt Memory. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Sweeney serves as assistant editor for DMQ Review and currently lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, poet Chad Sweeney.

Fragments for the End of the Year by Jennifer K. Sweeney

On average, odd years have been the best for me.

I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know.

Without fail, fall makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.

The sky is molting. I don’t know
if this is global warming or if the atmosphere is reconfiguring
itself to accommodate all the new bright suffering.

I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland.

Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit.

I was terribly sorry to be the one to explain to the first graders
the connection between the sunset and pollution.

On Venus you and I are not even a year old.

Then there were two skies.
The one we fly through and the one
we bury ourselves in.

I appreciate my wide beveled spatula which fulfills
the moment I realized I would grow up and own such things.

I am glad I do not yet want sexy bathroom accessories.
Such things.

In the story we were together every time.

On his wedding day, the stone in his chest
not fully melted but enough.

Sometimes I feel like there are birds flying out of me.

Happy New Year to everyone. And thank you for reading my blog this year. I hope you'll continue next year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to be a successful evangelist.

Post 397 - Yesterday's post reminded us that we can all be masters of our own destinies. We can influence, direct and control our own environment and make of our life whatever we want it to be. However, it will also help if we know how to influence others so we can continue to grow and prosper in the coming year.

Guy Kawasaki, a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, lists the following ten things that make evangelists successful:

1. Create a cause.
A cause is something that attracts people by seizing the moral high ground and making their lives better.

2. Love the cause.
“Evangelist” isn’t a job title - it’s a way of life. If you don’t really love a cause, you won't be able to evangelize it.

3. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists.
It’s too difficult to convert people who deny your cause. Look for and work with those who are supportive or neutral instead.

4. Localize the pain.
Never describe your cause by using bullshit terms like “revolutionary” and “paradigm shifting.” Instead, explain how it's helpful to real people.

5. Let people test drive the cause.
Let them try out your cause, take it home, download it, and then decide if it’s right for them.

6. Learn to give a demo.
A person simply can't evangelize a product if she can't demonstrate it.

7. Provide a safe first step.
Don’t put up any big hurdles in the beginning of the process. The path to adopting a cause needs a slippery slope.

8. Ignore pedigrees.
Don’t just focus on the people with the big titles and big reputations. Help anyone who can help you, wherever they may be.

9. Never tell a lie.
Credibility is everything for an evangelist. Tell the truth — even if it hurts (actually, especially if it hurts).

10. Remember your friends.
Be nice to the people you meet on the way up because you may need them again on the way down.

As Dale Carnegie says in the opening chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People: "If you want personal happiness, and if you want to create great relationships, avoid the three Cs - don't criticize, condemn, or complain."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to recalibrate your agreements with yourself.

Post 396 - For years people believed that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. Then Roger Banister proved that wrong in 1954. The following year, another 37 runners broke the belief barrier. And the year after that, 300 more runners did the same thing. Which all goes too show that there’s no other more powerful force in directing human behavior than what we believe. The line between "the way it is" and “the way it could be” is often no more than a belief about what’s possible.

What we agree to believe impacts our health, wealth, work, and every one of our relationships. Everything we do is based on agreements we’ve made - agreements with ourselves, with other people, with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we've made with ourselves. In these agreements, we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what’s possible, what’s impossible. One such single agreement isn’t a big problem, but when we have many such agreements that are3 based on fear, they deplete our energy and diminish our self-worth.

As we get ready to welcome a new year, it seems a great time to review the ideas of Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz, a Mexican author and New Age spiritualist, born in 1952. His most influential work, The Four Agreements, was published in 1997 and has sold more than four-million copies worldwide. In it, he advocates personal freedom from agreements and beliefs we've made that are creating limitation and unhappiness in our lives. Ultimately, it's about finding our own integrity, self-love, and peace by way of absolving ourselves from responsibility for the woes of others. These four agreements are:

- Be impeccable with your word.
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

- Don’t take anything personally.
Taking things personally is like taking poison. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you're immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

- Don’t make assumptions.
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

- Always do your best.
Your best is going to change from time to time. It'll be different when you’re healthy as opposed to when you're sick. Do your best under all circumstances and you’ll avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Why not review your beliefs now, this week, and find out which ones are empowering and which ones you need to change in 2010. By acknowledging and changing our negative, distorted beliefs about ourselves, we can live richer and more fulfilling lives. Ultimately, each of us is free to unlock the shackles of our limited mindset and regenerate ourselves anew to become whatever we wish to be.

"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday leisure.

Post 395 - Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She’s best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat Pray Love, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. What she wrote about taking time off strikes me as particularly relevant at this time of year when we talk so much about joy and celebration.

"We are the strivingest people who have ever lived. We are ambitious, time-starved, competitive, distracted. We move at full velocity, yet constantly fear we are not doing enough. Though we live longer than any humans before us, our lives feel shorter, restless, breathless…

Dear ones, ease up. Pump the brakes. Take a step back. Seriously. Take two steps back. Turn off your electronics and surrender over all your aspirations and do absolutely nothing for a spell. I know, I know – we all need to save the world. But trust me: The world will still need saving tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re going to have a stroke soon (or cause a stroke in somebody else) if you can’t calm the hell down.

So, go take a walk. Or don’t. Consider actually exhaling. Find a body of water and float. Hit a tennis ball against a wall. Tell your colleagues that you’re meditating (people take meditation seriously, so you’ll be absolved from guilt) and then actually, secretly nap.

My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year – if only to make sure that we don’t lose forever the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating ease."

I'm taking the rest of the week off and spending quality time with my family, sharpening up my appreciation of present giving, turkey and football, among other things. I'll be back on the 28th. In the meantime, I wish you all a very, very happy and relaxing Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What Every Woman Knows, a poem by Phyllis McGinley.

Post 394 - Phyllis McGinley (1905 - 1978) was an American poet who wrote about the positive aspects of suburban life. She was born in Ontario, Oregon and studied at the University of Southern California and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, graduating in 1927. Her poems were published in The American Scholar, The Commonweal, The Critic, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Magazine, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, The Reader's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, The Saturday Review, The Sign, Woman's Day and the New York Herald Tribune among others. In 1955, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; in 1964 she was honored with the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame. She received a number of honorary Doctor of Letters degrees (Boston College, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, St. John's University, Smith College, Wheaton College, Wilson College, among others) as well as the Catholic Book Club's Campion Award (1967), and the Catholic Institute of the Press Award (1960). She also appeared on the cover of Time in 1965.

W. H. Auden praised her poetry and found in her a singular and accessible voice. “I start a sentence: ‘The poetry of Phyllis McGinley is . . .,’ and there I stick,” he wrote, “for all I wish to say is ‘. . . is the poetry of Phyllis McGinley.'”

What Every Woman Knows by Phyllis McGinley

When little boys are able
To comprehend the flaws
In their December fable
And part with Santa Claus,
Although I do not think they grieve,
How burningly they disbelieve!

They cannot wait, they cannot rest
For knowledge nibbling at the breast.
They cannot rest, they cannot wait
To set conniving parents straight.

Branding that comrade as a dunce
Who trusts the saint they trusted once,
With rude guffaw and facial spasm
They publish their iconoclasm,
And find particularly shocking
The thought of hanging up a stocking.

But little girls (no blinder
When faced by mortal fact)
Are cleverer and kinder
And brimming full of tact.
The knowingness of little girls
Is hidden underneath their curls.

Agnostics born but Bernhardts bred,
They hang their stockings by the bed,
Make plans, and pleasure their begetters
By writing Santa lengthy letters,
Only too well aware the fruit
Is shinier plunder, richer loot.

For little boys are rancorous
When robbed of any myth,
And spiteful and cantankerous
To all their kin and kith.
But little girls can draw conclusions
And profit from their lost illusions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Developing a new sense of self.

Post 393 - The holiday season can be a stressful one for people trying to fit many new demands and events into their already busy, fragmented lives. Maybe a new year would be a good time for them - and for all of us - to reimagine our work, our self and relationships. David Whyte, the best-selling author and poet, says there are three crucial relationships, or marriages, in our lives: the marriage or partnership with a significant other, the commitment we have to our work, and the vows, spoken or unspoken, we make to an inner, constantly developing self.

In The Three Marriages, Whyte argues that it’s not possible to sacrifice one relationship for the others without causing deep psychological damage. Too often, he says, we fracture our lives and split our energies foolishly, so that one or more of these marriages is sacrificed and withers and dies, in the process impoverishing them all.

Whyte isn’t interested in the idea or ideal of balancing these three arenas of life. In fact, he believes that pursuing of this sort of perfection will only lead to more frustration and exhaustion than we can handle. "Most marriages are dynamic, moving frontiers, hardly recognizable to the participants themselves, moving frontiers that occupy edges of happiness and unhappiness all at the same time." The central idea is that people can be (and need to be) loyal and completely committed to more than one thing and/or person at the same time, and don't need to slight one for the other.

Whyte offers the possibility of living them out in a way where they’re not put into competition with one another, where each of the marriages can protect, embolden and enliven the others and help keep us mutually honest, relevant, authentic and alive.

The three marriages are separate yet interwoven life threads, capturing the need to belong to another, to belong to community, and to belong to something larger and deeper within ourselves, all at the same time. Each is vital, and neglecting any one weakens the others. But it's not simply about "balancing" them, Whyte warns. It's a bold lifelong adventure to keep them in an open and honest conversation. When we allow these marriages to learn from and revitalize one another, we risk becoming vulnerable but we also become open to a life that's "innocent, dangerous, and wonderful all at the same time."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Continuing to improve your self-discipline.

Post 392 - “I talk a lot about the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. You really only have two choices in life. And I’d rather have the pain of discipline than feel the regret.” - Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings.

• Hard work pays off. Some people do what’s easiest and try to avoid it — and that’s exactly why you should do the opposite. "The big secret in life is that there's no big secret. Whatever your goals, you can get there if you’re willing to work hard" according to Oprah Winfrey. Experience shows that hard challenging work is highly correlated with exceptional results. So, make it your ally instead of your enemy. Yes, you can be lucky once in a while and find an easy way to succeed. But if you're not industrious, you won't be able to maintain that success and you won't be able to repeat it. When you discipline yourself to do what's difficult, you're able to get results that are denied to everyone else. The willingness to do what's difficult gives you the key to a special private treasure room. The greater your capacity for hard work, the more rewards fall within your grasp. The deeper you can dig, the more treasure you can potentially find.

• Being industrious doesn’t necessarily mean doing work that’s challenging or difficult. It simply means putting in the time. In life, there are many tasks that aren’t necessarily difficult or exciting, but they collectively require a significant investment of your time. If you ignore them, you'll likely end up with a mess on your hands. You can be industrious doing easy work or hard work. The more you discipline yourself to be industrious, the more value you squeeze out of the time that's available to you. Time is a constant, but your personal efficiency is not. Despite all the technology that's available to potentially make us more efficient, your personal productivity is still your greatest bottleneck. Don’t look to technology to make you more productive. If you're not productive without technology, you won’t be productive with it - indeed, it will only mask your bad habits.

• The fifth and final pillar of self-discipline is persistence - the ability to keep at it regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. Listen to Calvin Coolidge on this subject: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." Persistence ultimately generates its own motivation. If you keep on keeping on, you’ll eventually get results, and these results can be very motivating. For example, you're likely to become a lot more enthusiastic about dieting and exercising once you’ve lost the first 10 pounds and feel your clothes fitting you better.

When activities persist and become habits, less and less self-discipline is necessary to accomplish them. As an example, when you were younger, your parents had to remind you to brush your teeth every day after meals. Eventually, this activity became a habit. Now, hopefully, brushing your teeth doesn't require willpower anymore because you're on “automatic pilot.”

As a general rule, persistence of action comes from persistence of vision. When you’re really clear about what you want to accomplish in such a way that your vision doesn’t change very much, you’ll be consistent in your actions. And that consistency of action will produce consistency of results.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How to improve your self-discipline.

Post 392 - Yesterday's post may have seemed obvious advice for many, but after a lifetime spent in meetings, I've found that these guidelines are ignored more often than they're practiced. This suggests that a few words about self-discipline might be in order. Vince Lombardi once noted that, "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."

Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of how you feel. Imagine what you could accomplish if you could follow through on your best intentions no matter what. Experience suggests the more disciplined you become, the easier life gets. Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you train it, the stronger it gets. But it takes self-discipline to build self-discipline. You can learn to improve by tackling challenges that you can successfully accomplish but which are near your limit. This doesn’t mean trying something new and failing at it every day, but it doesn't mean staying in your comfort zone either.

Steve Pavlina writes that the five pillars of self-discipline are: Acceptance, Willpower, Hard Work, Industry, and Persistence. The first letter of each gives you the acronym “A WHIP,” which is a convenient way to remember them. That way, you can think of self-discipline as whipping yourself into shape!

• Acceptance means that you see reality accurately and consciously acknowledge what you perceive. This may sound simple, but in real life it can be very difficult. If you experience chronic difficulties in a specific area, the root of the problem is probably a failure to accept reality as it is. And if you haven’t consciously acknowledged where you currently stand in terms of your level of self-discipline, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to improve in this area. So begin by identifying an area where your discipline is weakest, assess where you stand right now, acknowledge this as your starting point, and design a program to improve in this area. Start out with some easy exercises you know you can do, and gradually progress to greater challenges.

• Willpower is your ability to set a course of action and “Go for it!” Start by sitting down and making a plan. This doesn’t require a lot of energy, and you can spread the work over several days if you wish. Don’t try to attack your biggest problem directly. Instead attack the environmental and social obstacles that perpetuate the problem. Once you implement the plan, you can turn it into a habit. Habit puts action on autopilot, so very little willpower is needed for ongoing progress. This makes it a whole lot easier to achieve your goal of improved self-discipline.

Hard Work, Industry, and Persistence tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How to have more productive meetings.

Post 391 - "Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything," according to John Kenneth Galbraith.

Business people often do a lot of work in meetings. And unfortunately, they can take a lot of time without accomplishing much if they're not managed carefully. The most effective meetings are short and to the point. Good planning helps to make a meeting successful, and an important first step is deciding who to invite. As a general rule, the most productive meetings are those with the fewest number of people attending. Therefore only invite those who will be directly involved in decisions to be made at the meeting, those significantly affected by the decisions, or those who have some specific knowledge to contribute. If the meeting is to cover a variety of issues, ask people to drop in and out when their part of the agenda comes up.

Here are five major strategies for increasing the productivity of meetings:

- Use an agenda:
Give everyone plenty of notice regarding the time and place of the meeting, and stipulate the start and finish times. The best time to schedule a meeting is just before lunch or toward the end of the day as this motivates attendees to focus on the agenda and keeps the meeting from running long. Circulate a draft agenda outlining the topics to be discussed, the time limits assigned to each topic, and the person responsible for each item. Other information you should provide prior to the meeting includes:
- directions to the venue, if the participants haven’t been there before;
- information on who else is attending (particularly helpful if you’re going to include people from outside your company).
- background information and documents relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
- your contact details.

- Select a facilitator:
The person who called the meeting can act as the facilitator, or for regular meetings with standing agendas, the participants can take turns rotating this responsibility. The facilitator is responsible for making sure the meeting remains focused and moves forward at an appropriate pace. He should also regulate whose turn it is to speak, and intervene if the discussion breaks down or goes off track. The facilitator's role is to make sure that there's only one discussion at a time. Participants sometimes start their own “private” meetings; this can be a few whispered asides, or even a full-blown separate discussion. These diversions need to be stopped by addressing those involved directly, asking them politely and assertively if there’s some issue they’d like to raise that's relevant to the topic under discussion.

- Take minutes:
One person should take notes on the main themes and the key points discussed during the meeting. Be sure to include who committed to do what tasks by when. Clarify with the person taking the minutes that they need to write them up and distribute them to all the attendees promptly. They should also be very clear and concise. The key things to note are:
- agreed-upon actions dealing with the issues raised.
- the people responsible for implementing them.
- the deadline or timing for reporting back.
- the date of the next meeting if you've agreed to schedule another one.

- Evaluate the meeting:
Always review and evaluate each meeting and discuss how the next meeting could be improved.

"A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there's no meeting of minds" according to a Chinese proverb.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Do Women Want? a poem by Kim Addonizio.

Post 385 - As I think about what to gift the women in my life for Christmas, this poem by Kim Addonizio comes to mind. She was born in Washington, D.C., in 1954, and received her B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University. Her books of poetry include Tell Me, (from which the current post was taken) which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000. Addonizio was a founding editor of the journal Five Fingers Review. Her awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, a Commonwealth Club Poetry Medal, and the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared widely in anthologies, literary journals, and textbooks, including Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, Bad Girls, Chick-Lit, Dick for a Day, Gettysburg Review, Paris Review, Penthouse, Poetry, and Threepenny Review.

Previous occupations include working as a waitress, fry cook, tennis instructor, Kelly Girl, attendant for the disabled, and auto parts store bookkeeper. She currently teaches private writing workshops in Oakland, CA.

“I originally wanted to be a singer. But I think I've ended up being a singer in another way.”

What Do Women Want? by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Fresh Look at Leadership.

Post 384 - In the widening gap between what we want and expect from our leaders and what we're currently getting, it seems sensible to take a fresh look at leadership. Walter Lippmann defined leaders as "the custodians of a nation's ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals."

True leadership has always been a selfless act because it involves taking yourself out of the picture and considering the needs of others even when your own needs are pressing. It asks what's right or best in the wider interest. Few would question the need for more leaders today like George Washington. Washington, who served two terms as the first President of the United States, is remembered for his strength of character and discipline, his loyal patriotism, his principled leadership, and his selfless devotion to public duty. He held in trust for the American people the very values and beliefs that made this nation possible without regard for his own gain. He completed the job he was asked to do, then refused a third term and went back to his farm in Virginia. While he was president, he provided strong direction and didn't merely register the popular will of the people.

Leadership is an issue that affects us all because not only are we impacted by it, but we're also all called upon to exercise it. Whether we're involved in leading government or business, guiding young minds, leading a family, standing for what’s right, or organizing a household, everyone has a leadership role to play. We're each thrust into many different leadership roles again and again throughout our lives. As a result, we're called upon to be custodians of what’s right and good, lasting and of value, for those in our care.

Michael McKinney writes that with true leaders, their boundaries always come from something outside themselves. George Washington believed that those values and boundaries came from God. In his first Inaugural Address, he asserted that "we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained." An effective leader has an agenda designed to produce results, but is guided by a core of values that come from outside and not from within. This process is maintained by means of the leader's integrity or custodianship of those values.

One of the most observant political thinkers, Niccolò Machiavelli, wrote that leadership is virtuous only if the good of the community is sought out and achieved above all else. A good leader, in other words, is a steward and servant of the community. The true leader serves the best interests of others, and in doing so, he isn't always popular and he isn't always impressive. But because he's motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, he's willing to pay that price.

According to Albert Schweitzer, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The importance of being a good follower.

Post 383 - For some reason, the word “follower” seems to have a bad connotation in this society. A recent article reported that a search for book titles on netted 57,000 hits for books on leadership, but only 494 books about how to follow. However, according to Aristotle, "He who's never learned to obey can’t be a good commander."

Effective followers are highly participative, critical and independent thinkers. They aren’t just "yes men," and good leaders appreciate that because they’re confident enough to hear opposing views that help them avoid pitfalls. When leaders are willing to follow others who are more qualified to lead particular tasks, the probability of the success of the greater objective is higher. Being a good leader is often about being able to be a good follower. It’s about having the flexibility to step aside and let someone else take the reins when it benefits the team as a whole.

Good followers continue to give advice even when this advice isn’t being followed. Following isn’t about submissively carrying out any task asked of you. Good followers are active individuals who contribute not only through their actions but through their ideas, thoughts and emotional sensitivity as well. They’re not afraid to disagree. They defend their positions and their arguments, but when a decision is finally made, they drop their arguments and move on. When they disagree with those in authority, they try to do so in private to avoid embarrassing confrontations. They don't broadcast what was discussed and they don’t disrespect their leaders behind their backs. In other words, good followers are loyal.

Good followers show respect to those in legitimate positions of authority in a company (and in a country). They don’t call people names, use provocative language, or engage in passive-aggressive behavior. If they had differing opinions on something in the past, and it turned out that they were right, they don't keep bringing it up. They don’t blame their leaders for unpopular decisions or policies; they view their role as supporting, not undermining. They have a high sense of responsibility for their own actions and for the good of the group as a whole. They’ll therefore question or even oppose leadership that’s unethical or against the good of the enterprise.

No one likes to work for a micromanager. We all believe we’re smart enough to get our job done without someone looking over our shoulder and giving detailed directions. However, one reason people are tempted to micromanage is because they see their subordinates standing around waiting for specific instructions. They then feel obliged to provide it. So, good followers use their initiative to decide on a course of action before running it past their leaders.

Developing followers is an important responsibility of leadership. Good leaders grow people, bad leaders stunt them. Good leaders serve their followers, bad leaders enslave them. When everyone tries to be the leader at the same time, nothing gets done. So be a good leader when it is your time. But be a good follower, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to create followers.

Post 382 - People won't just follow anyone. You can't just say, "Follow me," and expect them to follow out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to provide them with good reasons to follow. So, if you're looking to lead people, it's a good idea to understand why they're likely to become followers.

Some key aspect of creating followers:
- people follow someone they trust.
- people follow someone they like.
- people follow someone who supports them.
- people follow ideas, not objectives.

Here are five rationales that people use when deciding to follow a leader:

• Fear of retribution - If I don't follow, I may lose my job!

Following out of fear is not so much following as being pulled or pushed along. This will work only as long as the follower sees no other choice. Fear isn't a good tool for effective leadership - it's a lot of work to keep people sufficiently scared! Fear generates weak commitment and needs constant attention in case the follower freezes or flees.

• Blind hope - We must do something. I hope this works!

Here, the follower is desperate for some solution, and what the leader offers is either the only option they see or the best of a relatively weak set of choices. The follower is therefore not so much following out of agreement but because of a lack of alternatives. These kind of hopeful followers are likely to be disappointed and disillusioned with a less than a perfect outcome. And they're likely to leave and follow others if they give them more hope.

• Faith in the leader - What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!

Here, the follower doesn't care about the solution but is following because they have faith that the leader will, by some magic or genius, provide an answer to their needs. Again, there's significant hope in this form of motivation which could result in disappointment. But here, in case of failure, the follower is more likely to accept situational explanations rather than pointing the finger at inadequacies in the leader's capabilities.

• Intellectual agreement - That's a great idea. That makes real sense.

Here, the follower understands the logic of the argument that the leader's putting forward and is following that rationale rather than the leader as a person. This level of followership is typical of educated people who need to understand the reasons why things happen. They may also have emotional commitment, but it typically comes after rational buy-in has occurred.

• Buying the vision - What a brilliant idea. I don't care who thought of it.

When people buy into a vision, they're emotionally invested in a view of the future that appeals to them and pulls them forward. So they're not following the leader per se, and they're often unaware of how they'll actually get to the vision state at a later date. Visions are much talked about in the leadership literature and can be remarkably effective at motivating people, but only if they're sustained over a considerable period of time. It's one thing to articulate a compelling vision of the future; however, it's another to keep going during the difficult days that are typically involved in getting there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to influence others.

Post 382 - Leadership is a non-coercive influencing relationship, not an authority relationship and it’s a process that's entirely distinct from management. Management is a continuous on-going activity, while leadership is a once-in-a-while requirement. Leadership isn’t what one individual labeled a leader does, but what leaders and collaborators do together to achieve a common purpose. Leaders and collaborators share a relationship where they can influence each other. Everyone in this relationship is engaged in the process of leadership. There are no followers. Different people assume leadership roles for different issues.

Robert B. Cialdini lists the following six universal principles of social influence:

1. Reciprocation (we feel obligated to return favors performed for us),

2. Authority (we look to experts to show us the way),

3. Commitment / consistency (we want to act consistently with our commitments and values),

4. Scarcity (the less available the resource, the more we want it),

5. Liking (the more we like people, the more we want to say yes to them), and

6. Social proof (we look to what others do to guide our behavior).

The Seven Cs of Social Influence encompass: caring, coaching, correcting, confirming, collaborating, clarifying, and conciliating as proven ways to influence behavior.

Here are three tips to assume authority in any situation, whether or not you're the officially designated leader:

1. Your genuine excitement about a project will motivate others to become engaged and care about it. Enthusiasm is contagious.

2. No one wants to be responsible for making you feel important. Leave your ego out of it. Assume authority by demonstrating excellence in your field, not by soliciting the approval of others.

3. When you don't have formal authority propping you up, others will be suspicious if you grab the reins too forcefully. Don't be over-invested in the outcome. Lead quietly, get everyone involved, and ask plenty of questions along the way.

"Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence," according to Charles de Gaulle.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Everything is Waiting for You, a poem by David Whyte.

Post 381 - Poet David Whyte was born in 1955 and grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home, with his family, in the Pacific Northwest. The author of six books of poetry, and two best selling prose books, he has a degree in Marine Zoology and has lived and worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands. He’s also led anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon, and the Himalaya. An Associate Fellow at Templeton College and Said Business School at the University of Oxford, he is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, where he works with many European, American and international companies. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Neumann College, Pennsylvania.

“The central work of my life is to get poetry to as many people as possible in whatever world they live in because it’s such a lifesaver and because it … gives you a language that makes you able for the world … whereas our strategic empirical language is constantly trying to give you a readout into which you can retreat and to say if you get competent in this area you’ll be safe. And it’s not true. There’s no area of competency you can enter to keep you safe from the disappearances of life.”

Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Strategies to create friendly futures.

Post 380 - The third way for businesses to grow and succeed today is by creating intuitive futures. Here, you gain sustainable competitive advantage by finding patterns that connect different elements of your business in new and original ways, or by inventing elements that can be used to create new and unique patterns not previously in effect. Here, innovation and speed win the day.

Competitors often wait to see if new business models will be successful before attempting to copy them, thus providing innovators with a very profitable time while they have first-mover advantage. In addition, if you can incorporate new elements that will take a long time for competitors to copy (e.g. patented technologies or new capabilities), you build in a sustainable competitive advantage. When this is part of an integrated growth strategy, by the time everyone else catches up, you'll have introduced yet another difficult-to-replicate innovation, thus retaining the position of leadership in your industry.

Successful companies today are simple, small, speedy and strategic, and aspire to be global, lean, fast and smart. The challenge is to add speed and capability without adding complexity. When creating the future, the real voyage of discovery isn't in creating new structures but in seeing the world with new eyes. Great strategies come from understanding what’s happening in the world in totally new ways.

As an example, Netflix has made a good business out of what's unprofitable fare in movie theaters and video rental shops because it can aggregate dispersed audiences. It doesn't matter if the several thousand people who rent Doctor Who episodes each month are in one city or spread, one per town, across the country - the economics are the same to Netflix. It has, in short, broken the tyranny of physical space. What matters is not where customers are, or even how many of them are seeking a particular title, but only that some number of them exist, anywhere. As a result, almost anything is worth offering on the off-chance it will find a buyer. This is the opposite of the way the entertainment industry now thinks. Today, the decision about whether or when to release an old film on DVD is based on estimates of demand, availability of extras such as commentary and additional material, and marketing opportunities such as anniversaries, awards, and generational windows (Disney briefly re-releases its classics every 10 years or so as a new wave of kids come of age). It's a high bar, which is why only a fraction of movies ever made are available on DVD.

Just compare the new on-line and the old off-line businesses: The average Blockbuster carries fewer than 3,000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix rentals are outside its top 3,000 titles. Rhapsody streams more songs each month beyond its top 10,000 than it does its top 10,000. In each case, the market that lies outside the reach of the physical retailer is big and getting bigger. Or take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are. Google, for instance, makes most of its money off small advertisers, and eBay mostly serves niche and one-off products. By introducing new business models that overcome the limitations of geography and scale, Netflix, Rhapsody, Amazon, Google and eBay have discovered new markets and expanded existing ones. They were among the first to realize that the biggest money is in the smallest sales.

Great strategies are often counter-intuitive, based on developments outside the company’s current field of knowledge or where discontinuities in technology, demographics or lifestyles are reshaping industry boundaries. These “white spaces” represent new areas of growth that fall between the cracks because they don’t naturally match the skills and capabilities of existing business units. The companies that built the best sailing ships didn’t learn to build steamships. The people who manufactured horse buggies didn’t go on to build automobiles. Companies miss the future not because they’re stupid but because they’re blind.

In a dynamic world, conventional wisdom is an oxymoron. Long years of experience in an industry can be a detriment rather than an asset - think of the reasons given for the removal of Fritz Henderson at General Motors earlier this week. Since business models are only useful for a limited time, managers need to constantly revise the ideas and ruling metaphors that guide their perceptions. Smart companies change before they have to. Lucky companies scramble and adjust when push comes to shove. The rest disappear. The best way to see the road ahead is to start moving forward because clarity emerges more readily from error than from confusion. Great strategies move companies in new directions and are quickly refined through rapid experimentation and adjustment. In a business environment where progress depends on serendipity and spontaneity, high risk and high rewards go hand-in-hand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Evaluating three strategies for survival.

Post 379 - When living with continuous change, it seems to me there are at least three ways to develop strategies for survival and success:

1. Plan for the predictable.

Study the latest developments in your industry. Learn what your competitors are doing. You can find this out from suppliers, customers, previous employees, consultants, websites, trade shows and trade magazines. Study demographic and economic forecasts and monitor announcements about relevant new technologies. Then plan to take prompt action based on trends that appear self-evident from a review of all these data.

The good news is that you can stay up-to-date this way. The bad news is you'll never get ahead of your competition. What's evident to you will be obvious to many others as well. And once others see you make a novel move, since they have the same capabilities that you have, they'll rush to copy it. So, this represents a necessary but not a sufficient strategy for industry leadership.

2. Plan for the unpredictable.

In a world where uncertainty is the only certainty, you're bound to face unanticipated developments and surprises. As a result, only the most adaptable and flexible organizations will survive and prosper. Incremental change, by itself, will no longer be enough. The organization structures that are right for today will likely be wrong for tomorrow. Sustained success will require harnessing creative initiatives that transform as well as adjust. Winning structures will move away from complex vertical organizations built from simple building blocks to simpler, flatter organizations built from ever more complex building blocks.

Smart companies don't try to respond to every fluctuation in the marketplace. Instead they try to spot what's really important to achieve their goals and focus their time and resources on these factors. They work on influencing their future by continually adjusting their organizations to eliminate weaknesses and exploit opportunities. The most successful managers will make their share of mistakes, but they'll quickly learn to fine-tune their intuition.

3. Create your own future.

Unconventional market-leading businesses seldom come from looking only at existing business models. Instead, they redefine them in terms of needs and benefits rather than in terms of products and customers. Here, the secret is to anticipate your customers needs and to organize to meet them in ways that your competitors can't match easily or quickly.

More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's a time to invest in intuition.

Post 378 - In today's uncertain world, most managers still try to create the future by extrapolating trends and developments in the business environment. However, inventing really innovative futures depends primarily on intuition. The great American artist, Andrew Wyeth, who died earlier this year, once observed, "I spend weeks out doing drawings and watercolor studies I may never use, I throw them in a back room, never look at them again, or drop them on the floor and walk over them. I feel the communion that has seeped into my subconscious will eventually come out in the final picture." Like Wyeth, business owners can also use their curiosity to fuel intuitive creativity.

For example, when Leonard Riggio turned a small Manhattan book store into the Barnes & Noble book chain, he studied industry trends and conducted detailed market analyses. However, he also relied on his educated instincts to tell him what consumers really wanted. Riggio believed shopping was a form of entertainment, so he introduced stores with a soft-colored library atmosphere and plenty of welcoming public space where customers could linger, feel at home, and meet other people. He put coffee shops in his superstores, hosted readings and book signings - anything that would entice and entertain and keep people browsing through the shelves. Riggio viewed books as consumer products and believed people bought them not just for their content, but for what they said about their taste, cultivation, and trendiness. He understood that it took more than a structured, quantified analysis to invent the future. It also took what Wyeth would have called "art."

Synthesizing experience into strategy means developing an intuitive feel for the future that often eludes others. This creative process involves:

• Acquisition (gathering up ideas and impressions)

• Association (putting them together and recognizing connections)

• Expression (giving them a new voice)

• Evaluation (making them better) and

• Perseverance (staying the course until they catch on).

The most creative managers go beyond statistics and reports, mulling over ideas and instincts that lead them in surprising directions that no amount of quantitative research can stimulate. They look to see beyond the data. Relying on many intangible sources of information (hearsay, gossip, etc), they observe, internalize, comprehend, and synthesize as they assemble viable patterns. As John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA basketball, once remarked, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Implementing Change Strategies.

Post 377 - Talking about healthcare over the weekend, I was moved to hope that Congress gives up on the current bills, all of which are disasters, then drafts a new one and implements it considering the following guidelines. All the effort and energy expended in developing and approving a strategy for change is to no avail if the results aren’t implemented effectively. Experience suggests using the following guidelines:

• If possible, introduce changes on a small prototype scale first, with the understanding they’ll be expanded later on. The intent is not to “see if they work” but rather to learn how to make them work effectively.

• Sites for prototypes should be chosen to provide the best opportunities for learning, rather than presenting the greatest challenge to the concepts involved.

• Treat mistakes as opportunities for learning, not as experiences to punish or ignore. Make sure the learning loop gets closed quickly while the experiences are still fresh in people’s minds.

• Deal with emerging issues promptly. Don’t allow dissatisfaction and frustration to reign unchecked. Some frustration is helpful as a prelude to learning, but it's easily overdone.

• Provide formal training on an “as needed“ basis during the implementation phase, rather than trying to get it over with all at once in the beginning. Skills and concepts can be acquired more effectively when there’s some previous context in which to assess their usefulness.

• Design the training around specific, identified needs rather than using existing pre-packaged programs. The focus of the training should be developmental rather than remedial, as people tend to embrace the former while resisting the latter.

• When replacing people who leave, retire or are promoted, look to appoint or hire those who possess the personal philosophies and capabilities called for by the change initiative.

• Provide constant high-visibility feedback on what’s going right. Avoid publicizing only problems and failures. Create special events to celebrate specific achievements.

• Evaluate progress from the beginning of the implementation and don’t be afraid to introduce corrections if change elements aren't working out as planned.

• Don’t over-structure the details of implementation since doing so limits opportunities for initiative and learning by those involved. It also incorrectly presupposes that every detail can be planned in advance.

• If the change moves too quickly, many people will be left behind. As a result, they’ll be unsure about the purpose and detail of what’s likely to be implemented and unable to frame appropriate questions to express their concerns.

• People are, at times, resistors as well as initiators of change. They’re involved on both sides of the process of adjusting to change. Resistance by itself is neither good nor bad. It may be based on good reasons or it may not. Resistance, like pain, doesn’t tell what’s wrong, only that something is probably wrong. It’s always a signal that further inquiry is advisable.

• Try to reframe “I don’t want to change…” into, “It won’t work for me because…”

A final thought from Sarah Ban Breatnach: “Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Lasting change happens in infinitesimal increments; a day, an hour, a minute, a heartbeat at a time.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Starfish, a poem by Eleanor Lerman.

Post 376 - This is a very short week with Thanksgiving just about upon us. I wish you all a very safe and very happy holiday. I'm taking some time off to give thanks with my family and this blog will resume posting on Monday next.

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx, and has lived in New York City all her life. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love, was published in 1973 when she was twenty-one and was nominated for a National Book Award. Reacting to the backlash against that book, which looked very frankly at sexuality and popular culture, she didn't write another book of poems for 25 years. When she finally published Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, it was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry.

Commenting on her own work, Lerman says, "I can't stop writing. But it's a lot less crazy than it was when I was younger. I used to feel that if I didn't write every day, I was falling down on the job. And I never edited anything - I just spewed it out, and there it was. Good or bad, it was finished as soon as it was written. I'm more thoughtful now - I hope! - about what I'm doing, and I've become - again, there's a big element of hope here - a good editor of my own work. I don't think that because I wrote something, it's just fine as is. Now, writing a poem or a story is the beginning of the process; there's usually some work to be done to fine-tune the piece."

Starfish by Eleanor Lerman.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creating a family philosophy, continued.

Post 375 - Continuing on with the family philosophy posted yesterday, we as a family also agreed on some guidelines for several areas that were increasingly contentious about that time. I personally found this quite helpful as I hadn't previously developed a rational argument for why I didn't agree with some of the practices and preferences that were beginning to show up in our lives. As a result, I tended to adopt the Princess Leia approach to setting limits - "... from now on you'll do as I say, okay?" which wasn't always terribly effective.

So we developed these agreements about how activities and behaviors in the following three areas should conform to the guidelines and limits listed below:

• Television.

Viewing should, in general, not exceed two hours at a time, otherwise undue mental fatigue can result. In addition, prolonged exposure to a passive media discourages personal interaction with others, and lessens individual initiative. The discontinuous and fragmented format of most network programming weakens the ability to concentrate without distraction for extended periods of time.

Programs that reflect an undue preoccupation with physical violence should be avoided as regular viewing material. Repeated exposure to violence desensitizes the viewer, making higher levels of violence more acceptable in the future. It also distorts perceptions about opportunities for resolving conflict in ways that treat people's differences with dignity and respect.

• Clothes and Appearance.

How we dress reflects not only our own sense of style and individuality, but also indicates how we see ourselves in relation to other individuals and groups in our society. Our choice of clothing, coiffure and adornment are very personal ways of expressing who we are and how we feel. However, extreme or exaggerated forms of personal appearance, which give offense to others, should be avoided. Clothing and appearance should always be clean, modest, and in good taste.

• Shared Activities.

Since each individual member of the family has their own friends and interests, they will frequently be engaged with others in events that do not directly involve other family members. These events should be scheduled, however, taking into account the need for members of the family to spend time together engaged in joint activities.

Sharing common interests and activities allows us to deepen our knowledge and respect for one another, thus helping us grow together in love and mutual understanding. By exposing our strengths and weaknesses in an atmosphere of trust and respect, we help each other define who we are. This self-knowledge leads to an inner confidence that is essential if we are to develop and sustain healthy lasting relationships with other people.

I'm not saying that we always lived up to these value and agreements, but we did try more diligently after we developed and discussed the ideas illustrated above. Perhaps Marcus Aurelius was right many years ago when he wrote, "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts … take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and a reasonable nature."

Monday, November 23, 2009

How to create a family philosophy.

Post 374 - While clearing out old files over the weekend, I found some "guiding principles" we developed as a family when the kids were about 10 and 12 years old.
I was doing a lot of consulting work about that time helping startups get off the ground successfully. A key part of this involved working with top management groups to create a set of guidelines for how they'd set up, organize and run their businesses. So, I though why not introduce these same ideas to developing our family! I think, in retrospect, it had quite a powerful impact on our lives by bringing us all closer together and providing a rationale for clarifying our aspirations and defining our accountabilities. So, I share it here to inform others who see value in trying something similar. It started with a list of key aspirational behaviors:

We want members of our family to be:
- Honest and Trustworthy
- Industrious and Hard Working
- Civilized and Mannered
- Considerate and Compassionate
- Disciplined and Responsible
- Religious and Respectful
- Loving and Giving.

If we all try to live according to these values, we'll be healthy, growing, confident members of society, proud of ourselves and able to provide leadership to others.

For this to happen, I believe we must treat each other in a way that's consistent with the following guidelines:

• We must openly share our experiences and feelings with each other..

• We must acknowledge our uniqueness, respecting our separate needs and aspirations.

• We must make the effort to really listen to one another, and provide helpful and supportive feedback rather than just criticism and blame.

• We must react to problem situations with humor rather than anger.

• We must "take a hike" whenever people "short-circuit."

• We must share equally the responsibilities of managing how we live together.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A love poem by Christopher Brennan

Post 373 - John Christopher Brennan was born in Sydney, NSW, in 1870 and educated in the classics at the University of Sydney. Having spent time in Berlin on a traveling scholarship, he returned home to become a library cataloger and a part time lecturer. He was appointed an associate professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Sydney in 1920. He was dismissed from this post in 1925 following a divorce, because of increasing drunkenness and his unconventional life-style. He then lived in poverty for some years before his death from cancer in 1932.

Brennan's highly personal verse was never very popular with the Australian public but was highly regarded by critics and fellow poets for its vitality and sincerity. For many years, much of his work was virtually unobtainable, having originally been produced in small editions or circulated privately. A collected edition in 1958 helped rescue his reputation from obscurity. In remembrance, the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1976 established the Christopher Brennan Award (formerly known as the Robert Frost Prize) in the form of a bronze plaque which is presented annually to an Australian poet recognizing a lifetime achievement in poetry of "sustained quality and distinction."

Because She Would Ask Me Why I Love Her by Christopher Brennan.

If questioning would make us wise
No eyes would ever gaze in eyes;
If all our tale were told in speech
No mouths would wander each to each.

Were spirits free from mortal mesh
And love not bound in hearts of flesh
No aching breasts would yearn to meet
And find their ecstasy complete.

For who is there that lives and knows
The secret powers by which he grows?
Were knowledge all, what were our need
To thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?

Then seek not, sweet, the "If" and "Why"
I love you now until I die.
For I must love because I live
And life in me is what you give.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Stay Close to Your Significant Other.

Post 372 - "Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me." Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky." ~ Hafez, (the most celebrated of the Persian poets - he lived from 1315 to 1390).

Having a spouse, a partner or a significant other is one of the most important relationships most of us ever have in life. Yet it's easy to grow apart, even when you’re living together. Here are some tips from the experts to help you stay close:

- Listen.
Listening, really listening, increases trust and decreases conflict, resulting in a more satisfying partnership. While this may sound simple, it requires more than being in the same room while your significant other is talking to you. Show that you care by making eye contact, turning off the television, giving your undivided attention, and following up on what you hear. This is especially important if your partner is upset. When you listen carefully, you’re more likely to understand what the issue is and then be able to find a way to help.

- Keep focusing on the positive.
When you first meet, you pay attention to all the things you like about the other person. As time goes on, however, you begin to take them for granted and your focus shifts instead to the things that bother you. If the relationship becomes more negative than positive, you’ll end up breaking up. The solution is to make a conscious effort to stay focused on the things you like. Every partner has many good qualities, as well as things that drive you crazy. So pay attention to the positives and learn to appreciate them. Even write them down occasionally so you won’t forget them.

- Don’t be a nag.
Nagging only creates tension, plus it usually gets you nowhere because your partner will tune you out. If someone isn't giving you what you want, think about what you’re doing instead. Have a dialogue where instead of saying what you don't like, say what you’d prefer. Suggest some alternatives. And always balance your criticisms with lots of positive feedback. That way, you take the edge off your remarks as you express appreciation for your partner's good qualities.

- Spend more time together.
Put "couples time" on your calendar to reinforce your sense of dedication and commitment to each other. Make these private times special by not including others. But don't just limit your interaction to designated couples time. Make time to enjoy each other's company first thing in the morning, at the end of the workday, and just before you go to bed. Use those times to talk about positive things. Make a special effort to greet each other at the end of the day. If you're home first, stop what you're doing when your partner arrives and spend a few moments together. Act like the other person is really important to you, and don’t just treat them like they’re the postman delivering the mail.

- Touch each other often.
In any deep relationship, physical communication is as important as emotional communication. It helps to relieve tension and shows your partner that you care. Go out of your way to show affection, and always sleep in the same bed together. Just assume you're going to have sex every night. It's really hard to fight if you're looking forward to having great sex!

- Own your relationship.
This means accepting responsibility for creating your own experience. You choose the attitudes that you bring into the relationship, and you choose how you act and how you react to your partner in the relationship.

- Accept your partner.
The need for acceptance is so profound that that most issues that cause conflict in a relationship ultimately come down to one or both partners feeling rejected - and, in turn, wanting to feel accepted.

- Promote their self-esteem.
Show your significant other that they’re loved and accepted simply because they exist. Everyone needs to get the message that they’re worthy of love (even if they sometimes behave badly) from the most important person in their life,

So, to summarize all of the above:
- give love with no strings attached,
- show acceptance through your daily expressions of affection, care and concern,
- spend time playing, working and relaxing together,
- tell them often, "I like what you did / said," and "I love you."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to maintain a healthy relationship.

Post 371 - According to relationship guru, Denis Waitley, “It’s not what I think that counts, nor is it what you think that counts. It’s what I think you think and what you think I think that really counts.”

When you disagree with someone close to you, it doesn’t have to mean you don’t like them. A healthy relationship doesn't require being in total agreement. Rather, it means agreeing to look in the same direction together. If you both take care to fight fair, you'll replace emotional shouting matches with caring problem-solving conversations. Here are some tips about how to proceed:

- Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them. Keep your expectations realistic. No one can be everything you might want them to be all the time.

- When you have a problem, agree on a time to talk about it together. Ask, "When is a good time to talk with you about something that's bothering me?" And avoid having tough conversations when you're feeling angry or tired.

- Talk with each other. This means making the time to do this and really being there when you do. Don’t plan what to say next while you’re listening. And don’t interrupt. Listen with your heart as well as your ears, so you pick up any emotional messages. Ask friendly and appropriate questions if you think you've missed the point. Show your interest by asking for opinions as well.

- Attack the problem, not the other person. Open sensitive conversations with "I" statements; talk about how you're struggling with the problem. Don’t open with "you" statements; avoid blaming the other person for your thoughts and feelings. Don’t criticize. Blame has no place in a healthy relationship.

- Let others speak for themselves - don’t assign feelings or motives to what they say. Healthy relationships recognize each person’s right to explain themselves.

- Don’t use your current concern as a reason to jump into everything else that's bothering you. Stay focused and on topic. Don’t use ammunition from the past to add fuel to the fire that you're now trying to put out.

- Be generous in sharing information about yourself, but don’t overwhelm the other person with too much, too soon.

- Be prepared to say "I’m sorry" when you’re wrong. This usually goes a long way toward making things right again. People in healthy relationships are willing to admit their mistakes.

- Don’t assume things. When you feel close to someone, it’s easy to think you know how they think and feel. However, in my experience, you never know why things are the way they are. Healthy relationships check things out. Never assume that what’s obvious to you is obvious to others. And to assume you know what’s best for another is insulting.

- Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Talk with someone you trust who can help you find resolution — like your close friends, your family, your minister, or even your parents.

- A totally happy ending for everyone may not always be possible. Be prepared to compromise or to disagree about some things. Healthy relationships don’t demand conformity or perfect agreement. Be flexible.

- Don’t hold grudges - they just drain your energy. Studies show that the more you see the best in others, the healthier your relationships become. So, let go of past hurts and misunderstandings.

- The challenge is to make everyone a winner. Relationships with winners and losers don’t last. Healthy relationships are between winners who are prepared to work at solving their problems together.

- Healthy relationships are trustworthy, so make sure you're dependable. If you make plans with someone, follow through as agreed. If you've agreed to an assignment deadline, meet it. If you take on a responsibility, complete it.

- You can always leave a relationship. While loyalty is very important, healthy relationships focus on the now, not some hoped-for future development.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When and how to talk tough to others.

Post 370 - Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in Difficult Conversations point out that every conversation includes facts - the date you were born, how much you pay for your mortgage - that have clear, right and wrong answers. Questions where information on these facts is easily available seldom cause difficult exchanges. Tough conversations are much more likely about issues where people can have different values, preferences, judgments and interpretations. When this is the case, strong feelings and identity issues are easily triggered.

For example, you probably won’t have a tough conversation about how much you actually pay for life insurance. But things can get more complicated in a hurry when you discuss whether you have “enough” insurance coverage. Reasonable people have different comfort levels with risk and different values around responsibility. Each party feels that there’s a right answer to this, but in reality there isn’t.

Whenever a question with a right or wrong answer comes up in a tough conversation, the real issue is almost always something else that has to do with meaning, feelings or identity. Just insisting that you’re right won’t get you very far when others with differing opinions believe they’re right as well. Instead, try understanding why they think the way they do while explaining as clearly as you can why you believe what you believe and why you feel what you feel. You can be committed to your own perspective while working to understand that of others. Understanding and conviction aren’t mutually exclusive,

Sometimes, people really can have bad intentions towards you. They’re trying to harass you, or steal your job, or your spouse, or whatever. Even if you suspect this is true, start by giving them the benefit of the doubt, “I don’t know whether you know this, but I felt very frustrated when you took all the credit for ---- in today’s meeting. I expected you to say we both contributed equally.” If they’ve made a mistake, now you’ve brought it to their attention without accusing them. They can then change their behavior to make everything OK.

However, if they are actually out to get you, they now know that you’re aware of this. So if they do it again, you can call them on it right away, “I wonder if you’re doing this on purpose? If that’s the case, we have a real problem here that we need to resolve right away.”

Save your tough conversations for issues or relationships that are important to you. This doesn’t mean you have to like the other party. It may just mean your relationship with them has a big impact on your well-being - you need to have a good working relationship with your ex for the sake of the kids - or the relationship is important to someone else you care about - such as when your wife feels it’s important that you get along with her mother.

And always consider you’re relationship with yourself as well. Your self-esteem and identity depend on how diligent you are in speaking up for yourself.

For those of you in relationships with children, I recommend the following two books to help you learn to become better parents:

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,
by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish


Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too,
also by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to have more productive conversations.

Post 369 - The key to having more productive conversations is not what the other person does as much as what you do differently yourself. You're the one who has to take the initiative to improve. By acting differently, you'll begin to change the patterns of communication with the other party and provoke different responses in them as well. Over time, you'll both end up changing how you deal with each other, in the process, develop a more resilient relationship.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in their excellent book, Difficult Conversations; How to discuss what matters most, point out that there are often three conversations going on at the same time. It helps to understand what they are so you can then decouple and manage them.

First, there’s the What Happened Conversation.
Here, we often get stuck because we think our story is "right" while their story is "wrong." In practice, there's almost always some reasonable basis for both sides' stories. So it makes more sense to explore each other's stories instead of attacking theirs and defending ours.

We also often demonize the intentions of others while sanitizing our own. If they did something that hurt me, it was because they meant to. If I did something that hurt them, it was an unintended consequence because I had good intentions, etc. So, try to separate intent and impact.

With a few exceptions, it's rarely helpful to blame each other for whatever went wrong. It's more helpful to explore what each party contributed to the issue at hand.

Secondly, there’s the Feeling Conversation.
Our feelings often tend to leak into our conversations in unproductive ways. So to lessen the negative effects this produces, make an effort to have both parties identify, acknowledge and discuss how they feel.

Thirdly, there’s the Identity Conversation.
Sometimes, conversations are difficult because they threaten some aspect of our identity. We see ourselves as truthful, generous and fair, so anything that challenges that picture upsets us. Here, we need to revisit what's at stake for us and broaden our picture of who we are.

The real challenge in all this is to create a conversation where both parties can share, understand, learn and move on. Here are some helpful reminders:

- Start by describing what happened in a way that includes the other person, such as, “I’ve noticed we have a recurring argument where I see things this way and you see them that way. I’d like to talk about why that happens.” Use this to invite them to have a conversation with you.

- Pay attention to the old maxim: Listen first to understand, then to be understood. Look to find the pieces of the puzzle that you don’t have.

- Speak for yourself. Don’t speak for the other party or assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling.

- Take the lead in problem solving. Name troublesome dynamics in the conversation as they happen. Suggest better ways of talking to each other. Move to problem solving together after you’ve learned about their story. Remember it said together - don’t impose this on the other person.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Please Fire Me, a poem by Deborah Garrison.

Post 36- - Deborah Garrison was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1965. She earned her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Brown University and subsequently earned her master's degree in Literature from New York University. In 1986, she joined the staff of The New Yorker where she worked for the next fifteen years, ultimately becoming the senior non-fiction editor. She's currently the poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon Books. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Garrison says, “I have a nine-year old, a six-year old and an almost-five-year old, and I just can't convince myself it's a priority to close myself off from them and spend time alone in a room, which is what I need in order to write. I'm just a person living her life, and once in a while I'm struck by something - a detail, a moment - and this might become a poem. Sometimes while I'm commuting into the city, I scribble ideas or images in a notebook. I also keep a notebook by my bed, and occasionally I jot something down just before I fall asleep or when I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea. These notes develop into poems eventually, but I write so infrequently that it might be a couple of months before this happens. I'm someone who is seduced by life, and my life is very full. Writing poetry fits into the interstices. One of the great things about poetry, though, is that there’s no pressure to make a living from it. So I'm really in no hurry to write.”

Please Fire Me by Deborah Garrison

Here comes another alpha male,
and all the other alphas
are snorting and pawing,
kicking up puffs of acrid dust

while the silly little hens
clatter back and forth
on quivering claws and raise
a titter about the fuss.

Here comes another alpha male --
a man's man, a dealmaker,
holds tanks of liquor,
charms them pantsless at lunch:

I've never been sicker.
Do I have to stare into his eyes
and sympathize? If I want my job
I do. Well I think I'm through

with the working world,
through with warming eggs
and being Zenlike in my detachment
from all things Ego.

I'd like to go
somewhere else entirely,
and I don't mean

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to deal with difficult people.

Post 367 - Relations at work often involve dealing with "difficult people." When this happens, start by reframing the issue: It's not the difficult person that's the problem - it's their difficult behavior.

Remember, it takes two to tango: If you stay away from blaming someone who's being difficult, you can take control of the situation. What happens after the "first shot" will be determined by your reaction to it. If people are difficult, it's usually because they're rewarded for it. So let's look at where the reward comes from.

Many of the things difficult people do are intended to control their situation and to get other people's attention. Being difficult and creating problems allows them to manipulate, control, and influence others, even if the reactions are negative. Their reward and reinforcement comes from creating those reactions. It's like parents and children. Once children know what the parents don't want them to do, they have the exact information they need to get the parents' attention.

Difficult interpersonal behavior often shows up when people have an almost compulsive need to show others that they're worth something. It isn't that they're evil or intentionally unpleasant. Rather, it's that they're often insecure and desperate. Some people act out in difficult ways because of their biology. The truth is they can't help it. So add a dash of compassion to your negative reactions.

It's important not to give difficult people the emotional reaction they want. If you keep the reasons for their behavior in perspective, you're less likely to reward their bad behavior.

Here's a checklist to bear in mind when dealing with difficult employees:

- Always remain positive.

- Be direct, descriptive and non-judgmental.

- Be prepared with facts, not gossip or rumors.

- Address the problem, don't attack the person.

- Maintain eye contact and be aware of your body language.

- Watch your tone of voice and timing.

- Focus on the message, restating it as appropriate and as necessary.

- Realize that their behavior is often predictable. Look for patterns.

- Expect that their behavior will impact others.

- Try to discover the root causes of their problem so it can be addressed most appropriately, either by yourself or by other professionals.

- Don't try to provoke them into quitting or getting fired. Most employees are worth saving with some coaching to help them change or accept help.

- Always deal with the issue of their performance rather than criticizing them personally.

If you want to read more about this topic, I suggest you try Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to use your personal power.

Post 366 - Power by itself is neither good nor bad; rather, it’s an inevitable part of all human relationships. Power is the ability to get your own way and politics is the use of power to advocate or protect your own interests. Managing in even small to medium-sized businesses is a sophisticated game of influence which quickly becomes quite political in nature.

Our political skill becomes evident in how we deal with others, especially those who have doubts about our actions, or who propose alternative courses of action. Usually, politics isn’t because of conflict about the company’s goals, but comes from conflict among people’s personal visions. Political activity becomes more intense when the old order threatens to change and a new one begins to emerge.

Our political behavior usually comes from our dependent relationships growing up, living in a family of frowning others who said what was right or wrong for us. It entails how we went about getting what we wanted from our parents and others who had power over us, As children, we often used manipulation to get our way and we tend to repeat that strategy in other relationships for the rest of our lives.

Manipulation means trying to control people without telling them what you’re doing or why. Negative politics uses manipulation to get your way by, for example, saying yes when you mean no, dropping people’s names to influence others, underestimating or padding demands, presenting benefits without stating doubts and liabilities, or using language that minimizes problems. This kind of manipulation is often justified in the name of expediency and pragmatism.

Choosing a personal vision is the beginning of every political strategy. When we commit to this vision, it gives meaning to what we do, regardless of external influences. It lets us function using an internal gyroscope, so we're less dependent on others. People with such high self-esteem act as if they’re operating from an optimistic, powerful position. They know the most politically powerful way to change a culture is to be a living example of the culture they advocate.

Sources of power in organizations are:
- competence and expertise
- control of information
- personal linkages and relationships
- the ability to get sponsorship and support
- stature and credibility based on personal characteristics
- control of resources
- group cohesiveness

Reward power, coercive power and authority come with the position and can be delegated.

Expert power, informal power and personal attractiveness power are conferred or withheld by others.

Personal power comes from expertise, attractiveness, track record and effort.

Position power comes from formal authority, relevance to the organization’s objectives, influence in key networks, autonomy and visibility.

Strategies to advance your cause include expanding your power base, managing your image, and developing powerful support networks that support the cause you want to advance rather than blocking it. Start by evaluating how much power you currently have, and if you don’t have enough, begin to explore how you can get more.

Political dynamics frequently center around the person who first introduces an issue. So, success involves getting support for yourself as an advocate of that issue.

In real life, formal authority wins most power struggles. But experience shows that formal authority or coercive power is most effective when it’s not used very often. Hierarchy confers less power today than in the past as companies, in an effort to be fast and flexible, give people at all levels more power to make judgment calls on their own. In a flat organization, you depend on many other people over whom you have no authority. In network organizations, where leadership is constantly shifting, all you have to depend on is trust and influence.

While expertise can move people into positions of power, it can’t keep them there. The power that comes from being able to outthink or outsmart other people actually diminishes the higher up you move in a company’s hierarchy. In senior management jobs, people skills – listening, networking, influencing, engaging in positive politics - are what really matter most.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stages of Healthy Conflict Resolution.

Post 365 - Start by identifying the problem or the issue together with the preferred outcomes.

• In this initial stage, you say what you want and you listen to what the other person wants so everyone understands what's at stake. When you speak, use “I messages” and avoid the “blaming” messages. Also use active listening when paying attention to the other person’s point of view.

• The next brainstorming stage is to generate several possible solutions. Drawing on the things you both agree on and your shared goals and interests, look for several possible alternatives that might resolve the disagreement. Avoid evaluating and judging until it looks like no more ideas are forthcoming.

• Then evaluate each suggested solution and eliminate those that aren't acceptable to either party. Keep narrowing them down until you have just one or two that seem to best fit the situation. During this stage, both parties must be totally honest with each other and willing to say things like, "I wouldn’t be happy with that," or "I don’t think that would be fair for me."

• Now, select the alternative that's mutually acceptable to both of you. Make certain there's a mutual commitment to this decision.

• It's one thing to arrive at a decision, but it's another thing to carry it out. So it's important to talk about how it's going to be implemented, specifying who's responsible to do what and by when.

• Not all mutually agreed upon solutions turn out to be as good as initially expected. Arrange for the parties involved to routinely evaluate how the solution is working and how they feel about it. Something unexpected may have occurred or something may have been overlooked or misjudged. From the beginning, help both parties understand that decisions are always open for revision, but modifications have to be mutually agreed on in the same manner as the initial decision.

Here are some common mistakes:

- Not discussing with the other person the method used to resolve the conflicts.

- Discovering too late that more information was needed.

- Being too focused on getting your own way, or making extreme demands, and therefore not being flexible enough to be fair with others.

- Forgetting that there are usually several ways to do something. Your own reality isn’t the only reality. You’ll be much more effective if you’re willing to see the other person’s point of view.

- Focusing too much on what you could lose and not enough on what you both could gain.

- Believing the other person must lose for you to win.

- Bringing up additional issues before resolving the one that got you started.

If you both stay true to each other and true to yourselves, working together to resolve your disagreements will help you maintain a healthy relationship.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Managing conflict for healthy relationships.

Post 364 - "We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out," according to Winston Churchill. This is especially true in situations of disagreement. And there’s no such thing as a relationship without conflict. It's just a normal part of life and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a relationship with no apparent conflict may be less healthy than one with frequent conflict.

Conflicts don't age gracefully. They can weaken or strengthen a relationship. They can be productive, creating deeper understanding, closeness and respect, or they can be destructive, causing resentment, hostility and separation. How the conflicts get resolved, not how often they occur, is the critical factor in determining whether a relationship will be healthy or unhealthy, mutually satisfying or unsatisfying, friendly or unfriendly, deep or shallow, intimate or cold. Conflicts run all the way from minor unimportant differences to critical fights. There are conflicts of needs, wants, preferences, interests, opinions, beliefs and values.

We usually try to resolve conflicts by:

- Avoiding or denying the existence of the conflict.

- Giving in rather than struggling and working through the conflict.

- Getting mad and blaming the other party.

- Competing and winning, using power and influence to get our way.

- Appearing to compromise, but instead subtly manipulating events in an attempt to win.

However, some people learn to control their angry, competitive, I-give-up, self-serving feelings and to genuinely seek a solution that's fair and optimal for both parties. This is a healthy and integrative approach. Here are three types of healthy solutions:

- Win-win.
Most conflicts are in areas that have more than two alternatives. If you don’t like the choice the other person favors, and they don’t like your choice, with a little more effort you might find another alternative that you both like and want.

- No lose.
When you can’t find an alternative that you both want, look for an option that’s at least acceptable to both parties, or negotiate an agreeable compromise. Neither gets everything they wanted, but each gets enough to be satisfied.

- Win-lose equally.
When the conflict is over an issue that has only two choices, one person will get what they want and the other won't. You'll end up with a winner and a loser. If you’re fair with each other and generally half-the-time each gets their own way, it'll be easier for everyone when they don’t. The loser will trust that next time, or the time after that, they'll end up the winner.

All this is easy to understand intellectually, but not so easy to apply and use consistently. For a start, both parties must view their conflict as a problem they want to solve together. It isn’t about just getting the best deal for 'me,' it’s finding the best solution for 'us.' This requires a joint commitment to being actively involved together in finding a fair and acceptable solution.

If you disregard, minimize or invalidate the other person’s position, or if you must always get your way, you'll invariably damage the relationship. Your lack of sensitivity, consideration and respect will cause hurt and smoldering resentment.

If you use fear and power to win, the relationship usually ends up mortally wounded.

If you’re just a willing giver, constantly trying to keep the other person happy by satisfying their needs and avoiding conflict, you’ll also damage the relationship. You’ll inadvertently teach the other party to be insensitive to your needs and self-serving at your expense. Your self-esteem and self-worth will deteriorate, and resentment will fester, thus poisoning the relationship.

Tomorrow I'll describe the stages and steps in healthy conflict resolution.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Dream a World, a poem by Langston Hughes.

Post 363 - Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, James Langston Hughes was the great-great-grandson of Charles Henry Langston who was the brother of John Mercer Langston, the first Black American to be elected to public office. He attended Central High School in Cleveland, and began writing poetry in the eighth grade. He entered Columbia University in the fall of 1921 but stayed in school there for only a year. He later received a scholarship to Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. degree in 1929. In 1943, he was awarded an honorary Lit.D by his alma mater; a Guggenheim Fellowship followed in 1935 and a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1940.

His father discouraged him from pursuing writing as a career, in favour of something 'more practical.' However, Hughes turned out to be a prolific writer. In the forty-odd years between his first book and his death, he devoted his life to writing and lecturing. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of "editorial" and "documentary" fiction, twenty plays, children's poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts, and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies.

Langston Hughes was, in his later years, deemed the "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race," a title he encouraged. He died of cancer in 1967. After he died, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem was given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission and his block of East 127th Street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place." He once said that, "When people care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul."

I Dream a World by Langton Hughes.

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind--
Of such I dream, my world!