Steven's Own Words

Can You See The Possibilities?

Can You See The Possibilities?

I remember, way back in the day, I was working for a software company, selling scheduling technology to colleges and universities. At one point, I was talking to a prospect whose entire team was, unfortunately, attached to an incredibly obsolete, home grown program. If it weren’t for ancient hardware being replaced, I’m not sure they ever would have looked at new software at all. But their change came with pain and resistance — because everyone loved what they had. It was theirs, they built it, they knew it, it was comfortable, familiar and personal. And while it was true that our technology could replace what they had and upgrade it in amazing ways, that didn’t seem to matter. They didn’t want to lose what they had; they didn’t want to give up the comfort of the familiar. Last week, we talked about how easy it is to get caught up in the sorrow of what we’re losing and completely miss the joy and possibility of what we can gain. Humans have tendency to look at anything different as bad. As I spoke with the school, they were so focused on what they were losing, they were unable to see what they could have gained. So, I took a different approach. I asked them about everything they loved and were afraid of losing. They were able to tell me what their beloved software did and everything they loved about it. Truth be told, it was amazing on so many levels — especially when you consider the platform it was built upon and its age. From there, it was all too natural for me to shift...
Sitting In Celebration

Sitting In Celebration

It’s officially summer, and I’m still shocked by the fact that my youngest daughter just finished the fifth grade. She finished elementary school! At times like this Ferris Bueller keeps playing in my head: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  I try to pay attention, really I do — and yet here we are, and it feels like the years are blowing by. She’s eleven. We have seven years left with her, only three with our oldest, before they’re off to college. It’s a mind-blowing and joyful dichotomy, isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s exciting! My amazing daughters are growing up and are going to do amazing things with their lives. On the other hand, bittersweet — because they’ll never be children again. Here’s the lesson I’m working on: we don’t want to miss the joy of it all by wallowing in the sorrow of it all. When I think about my daughters, I know that I don’t want to miss the adventures that are going to happen tomorrow because I’m mourning what ended yesterday. My daughters are growing up, and there are moments for the bittersweet nostalgia, but not at the expense of what they’re doing right now. Dr. Seuss wrote, “Don’t cry that it’s over, celebrate that it happened.” Instead of being upset that something is ending — let’s celebrate what’s wonderful. Let’s celebrate the joy we just experienced. When you focus on what you’re losing, you stay in the negative state. When you sit in a place of celebration — you start to seek more celebration. When it comes to leading your daily self, I encourage you to remember the wisdoms of those...
What’s Your Independence?

What’s Your Independence?

How was your fourth of July? The day we celebrate our Independence. So here’s a powerful question: What are you declaring independence from? What are you breaking away from this Fourth of July? Fear of risk? The naysayers in your life? The status quo of mediocrity and repetition? What are you declaring independence from? The wonderful irony of Independence is that by stating such a declaration, you step wholly into interdependence. And that’s a good thing. Think about it: The founding fathers could not have built this nation alone. They separated from tyranny to build possibility! But the thirteen colonies needed each other to survive; in order to build a more perfect union, they had to work together. The Continental Congress couldn’t do it by themselves. It took community, people of all types, and a collective commitment to work together for a common goal. It’s taking us a long time, and we still haven’t mastered it, of course, but it is interconnected, interdependence that supports our independence. We tend to celebrate independence in this rugged, bootstraps, I-don’t-need-anyone American mindset. But NO ONE does it alone. No one! We use collective resources, services and roads; we eat food others have grown, and drive cars others have built. In all aspects of our independence we are working with a team, a community, a neighborhood, a family…it is this very interdependence that is powerful. If we’re celebrating independence as some kind of isolated lone wolf, then we’re missing the point. So, by all (safe) means, celebrate Independence. And, while you’re at it, honor also the truth and value of interdependence: Great leaders...
Leaders Embrace Difficult Conversations

Leaders Embrace Difficult Conversations

… Not because they’re fun, but because those conversations are the incubator of change and growth.   Lately, I’ve noticed a theme among my coaching clients. I’m not sure if there’s something in the water or it’s just a strange coincidence (or perhaps it has something to do with our political climate), but everyone I’m talking to these days is learning how to embrace and engage in difficult conversations. You know the ones: When you have to confront your boss because they’re sending you contradictory messages. When you have an employee you have to let go. When you have a teammate who’s spreading negativity behind your back.  A loved one with a diametrically opposed view than yours. You know you want to engage, but how does one engage in those conversations productively? Remember this lesson: Everything we see hides something else. When we see sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, learn to ask — what’s that hiding? What’s underneath it? What is their anger covering up? Seek that sense of understanding, to know what’s really going on under the surface. As is wisely pointed out in one of my favorite books, Getting to Yes, the key to being able to engage productively in difficult conversations is the ability to state your opponent’s position better than your opponent. That doesn’t mean you’ll change them overnight; nothing happens overnight except sleep. But when you can state their position, and its underlying catalyst, your ‘opponent’ will feel understood by you — and that’s the real tipping point, isn’t it? That’s where there’s room for change, that’s where they begin to really feel heard and seen, and no longer can they say “you...
Independence Leads To Interdependence

Independence Leads To Interdependence

Happy Fourth of July Everyone! Today, we celebrate our Independence. So here’s a powerful question: What are you declaring independence from? What are you breaking away from this Fourth of July? Fear of risk? The naysayers in your life? The status quo of mediocrity and repetition? What are you declaring independence from? The wonderful irony of Independence is that by stating such a declaration, you step wholly into interdependence. And that’s a good thing. Think about it: The founding fathers could not have built this nation alone. They separated from tyranny to build possibility! But the thirteen colonies needed each other to survive; in order to build a more perfect union, they had to work together. The Continental Congress couldn’t do it by themselves. It took community, people of all types, and a collective commitment to work together for a common goal. It’s taking us a long time, and we still haven’t mastered it, of course, but it is interconnected, interdependence that supports our independence. We tend to celebrate independence in this rugged, bootstraps, I-don’t-need-anyone American mindset. But NO ONE does it alone. No one! We use collective resources, services and roads; we eat food others have grown, and drive cars others have built. In all aspects of our independence we are working with a team, a community, a neighborhood, a family…it is this very interdependence that is powerful. If we’re celebrating independence as some kind of isolated lone wolf, then we’re missing the point. So this Fourth of July, by all (safe) means, celebrate Independence. And, while you’re at it, honor also the truth and value of interdependence: Great leaders don’t go it alone....
Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

You know those moments when you get smacked in the face with a “DUH!”?  I recently had one of those. Last week, I was honored to speak at the Community Summit in Washington State, a conference that serves those with disabilities. The basic mission is to mainstream those with disabilities, to cultivate and honor the gifts they bring to community — to get them access to careers they love and in which they can thrive. This is a beautiful mission that is extremely difficult, for many reasons, not the least of which is because those without disabilities can often feel awkwardly uncomfortable around those with disabilities. We assume that what we see is what they are. Which is ridiculous, really, if you take two seconds to think about it. Of course they have gifts! Of course they have something to share with the world! Of course they can make a workplace better! But all too often we don’t see that right away, because they may not look or sound or speak or think like we do. The more I learn about the work these amazing people do through organizations like SAIL: Self Advocates In Leadership, and Wise, and St. John’s, and APSE, the more I come to understand an even greater realization: everyone has a disability. Some are just more easily accommodated. How many of you wear glasses or have had vision corrective surgeries? Anyone cut off a little closer to the ground needing a step-stool when others can reach just fine? These are accommodations to help you succeed — they’ve just been normalized.    Consider fidget spinners. They were invented as...
This Is Not A Pipe.

This Is Not A Pipe.

A few months ago, I spoke at a conference where the average age of my audience was 72. One of the issues they asked me to address was how, exactly, to connect with younger generations. As I was considering what to say, I was reminded of the surrealist painter Rene Magritte. He famously presented a painting of a pipe once, and asked his audience, What do you see? They, of course, responded that they saw a pipe. No! he exclaimed. This is a PICTURE of a pipe! Of course, as some critics pointed out, inasmuch as pictures represent actual objects, that image really was a pipe. Using imagery representation is how we learn; we point to a picture of a banana and tell our children, this is a banana. Then, when they see the real thing, they can recognize it. But the point that Magritte was trying to make was this: Everything we see hides something else. Sure, it was a picture of a pipe. But you could never pick that pipe up and smoke it. The picture we have of the younger generation is just that: a picture. Our own shorthand imagery, used for convenience and comfort, hiding the deeper truth of who that younger person really is. Which reminded me of another famous artist: Michelangelo, who famously said, “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  Or, more specifically, “In every block of marble I see a statue…I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it.” When we see the simple picture of today’s youth,...
Turn Around!

Turn Around!

We’ve all faced it: the illusive goal, desire, objective…whatever we want to achieve. But, no matter what we do, whatever “habit” we add to our day, whatever plan or process we implement, whatever mindset we attempt to master…the results simply elude us. So what do we do? We turn around.   We are often so focused on moving forward, thinking that the answer lies in what we do, that we often forget how much we have trailing behind us.  I am finding with myself, and many of my clients, that our secret lives not in what we add, but what we subtract.   So think about your goal or objective this way: Instead of asking “What can I do?!” Ask, “What do I need to let go of?” Every yes is a no to something, so to say yes to a new habit, plan, process or mindset, you must be clear on what you are saying no to.   What must you let go of? Asked another way: what is the most important thing, that if you stopped doing it, would have the greatest positive impact on your progress? These are the anchors that hold us back, that prevent us from sailing forward as fast and free as we want. By naming “it” and letting it go, by stopping something that holds you back, it’s like cutting the anchor chain and releasing your boat to sail powerfully forward. What do you need to stop...
Checking My Privilege

Checking My Privilege

How does it feel to be a minority? I’m not sure I really know. Last week I spoke to a women’s leadership summit. I was one of only 3 males in the entire event of more than 270 women. “Was I nervous?” A friend asked as she helped me prepare my thoughts. “Yes. Very!” I replied. “I don’t blame you,” she said “I’m nervous too when I’m a minority outnumbered by that many.”  That’s when I was hit with a realization of my own male privilege. “No,” I realized, “that’s not at all why I was nervous.”  I was a bit stunned and confused.  The fact that I would be a minority hadn’t even crossed my mind!   “Huh!” I thought. Isn’t that ironic? While I was preparing to speak at a women’s leadership conference to a room full of women, I was indeed aware that I would be the only man — but I never considered myself a minority. Even in an environment where I am the minority of one, I am apparently incapable of seeing myself as such! I see myself as inherently equal. That’s very much a white, male privilege thing, isn’t it? Us white men are are taught from the ground up that that we are capable, competent and top of the heap! The system that favors us, and teaches us to see ourselves as at least equal with everyone else. That’s not inherently the same for women and minorities who clearly aren’t favored in that same system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t know I was the only guy. I knew it. I acknowledged...
That’s NOT Leadership

That’s NOT Leadership

It’s opposition. Perhaps I should back up. When a leader, or a person in a position of perceived leadership, simply stonewalls, railroads, opposes without engagement, or impedes and creates division, that’s not leadership. If a leader only considers the views, needs and opinions of those who agree with them and disregards everyone else on their team, that’s not leadership.   If a leader thinks all they need is their power and their position, that the details of what they do doesn’t matter – That’s Not Leadership. Now, many of you are likely thinking at this moment – duh! No s*&t. Except that’s what many people in leadership positions do. In the face of opposition, rather then doing the real work of leadership and engaging with team members who feel and think differently, to convert that opposition into power, and to build a coalition of collaboration, the weak leader finds ways to weed out the opposition, or to stonewall until the opponent quits, or simply ignores them and does whatever they want to do anyway — to hell with everyone else. Dare I say…you only have to look as far as Congress to see this behavior in action. Real Leadership has the courage to do the work, to find the connection between their goals and what is right for those they lead. Leadership realizes that if you ask someone to do something that pushes against their values, those people will resist in the form of poor performance, low engagement, quitting, or worse. Do you know what’s hard about engaging people or changing people’s behavior – even when they want to change? The human...

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