Steven's Own Words

Leadership is Thankless

Leadership is Thankless

Leadership is about doing what is right, not what is easy, and it can quickly become a thankless job. Especially if people don’t agree with what we have to do in our role as leader. We may, in fact, harm someone by the choices we make. In fact, anything you do might hurt someone just as much as it helps someone else. So how do we know when we’re doing the right thing if a choice has collateral damage? Well, if you’re unsure, ask yourself this question: How am I treating people?   When your decisions and choices are singular, isolated, self-serving or serving a minimum few on the whole of the people you are responsible for, then you may need to put yourself in check. When you see people as tools to accomplish your goal, regardless of who gets hurt, when others become ‘expendable’ for a sake of your destination, it’s time to check yourself. There is a big difference between leading people and using people. But when you respect the people around you, when you recognize the risks for them as well as yourself and do your level best to mitigate that risk, when you can honestly say, “this choice is about US, not ME,” when you’re building up those that don’t have your level of power, influence or position, and seeking their input, make choices that include their benefit — that’s when you are likely making the right decision, even if, in the end, some get hurt. If you’re doing this for the thanks, for the acclaim, for the pat on the back about how great...
Accountability Is HARD.

Accountability Is HARD.

It’s a funny thing about being human: Looking backward is easy. Doing the same thing over and over is easy. Of course it is — you know exactly what you’re doing. You’ve figured out the rules, and you can coast without much stress. You can even live in the past, if you doggedly refuse to turn around and see the future. It’s the easy life to live, which is why so many people fall into its trap. Looking forward, however, choosing a different path, a different way to engage, a different idea — that’s where you’re suddenly exposed and vulnerable. You may not understand the rules for this new place, and you may step on a land mine or two along the way — and worse, people will witness your results. Some will laugh, judge and tell you all the reasons you “can’t” have/achieve/create/live the future you have in mind. And some people you will invite in courageously, knowing you can trust them, and more importantly, knowing you must trust them to hold you accountable to your choices. That’s when it gets tricky. Accountability is interesting; we need it to improve, and we all know we do, but we resist it. Even I resist it instinctively, even though I know it will help. No, it’s not that it merely helps; rather, it’s absolutely necessary in order to face forward, to grow, to improve, to achieve the goals we want to achieve — but that kind of vulnerability can be painful. Let me assure you, you’re not the only one who feels that way. Here’s the key: don’t let that...
Face Your Fears

Face Your Fears

So often we are held back more by our fear than pushed forward by our possibility or potential. We are bombarded with mantras and cliches for addressing this fear: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”  “Just do it”  “Get over it” “Push Through.” There’s a lot of basic, real truth in all of that, but it’s not the whole truth. The thing to remember is that most change or growth happens in stages, over time, and mostly definitely starts with something small — it still might be scary, but it’s doable, like holding a thought that you are worthy. Try that for a while, and at some point you’ll notice your fear has diminished enough to see the next step with a little more confidence to tackle the next hurdle — like asking that girl/boy on a date, or your boss for a raise, or that challenging prospect if they are ready to buy. To use another cliche, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  The problem for most of us is figuring out what that first step is, and many of us look too far down the road at what looks like a boulder in our way, rather than at our feet so that we can see that tiny pebble over which we can step over with ease. You can’t do everything to conquer your fears in one fell swoop, but you can do something. What is your something? What is your first step? You will feel fear. You will feel stress. But you can practice through it. Contact me today if you want a free coaching session...
Holding a Courageous Space

Holding a Courageous Space

In leadership, especially in the industry of mentoring, coaching, counseling, or other support professions, many of us use the expression that we “hold a safe space” for people.  But that’s not really the truth, is it? We don’t hold safe spaces. We can’t guarantee safety in their lives, that their fears won’t materialize, that they will never be hurt. No space we create can do that. No matter how kind or accepting we are, or how patient and forgiving we see ourselves, the best we can truly do is hold a courageous space for someone, because that’s what’s required of them: courage. Courage to face a fear, to confront a demon, to respectfully challenge another, to question authority, to step into their life-long dream, to envision a new possibility for an age-old experience, to truly live a new day in a new way — any way different than it was lived yesterday. That can only happen in a courageous space.   When we come to realize that such act of choice is not safe for them, we begin to realize that what our lives, what our world, asks of us, is not safety at all — but courage. How do you hold courageous spaces...
Which Way Will You Face?

Which Way Will You Face?

Is it too direct or macabre to suggest that in a very real way, we die every night? Perhaps a more accurate phrasing might be the day dies — but that doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the moment, does it?  Because with that day goes a part of us that will forevermore be gone. This part of us, this day we are experiencing and who we are in this moment — it ends, never to exist again. We can remember it, mourn it, and celebrate it, but we cannot relive it. And like a Phoenix from the ashes of that day, hopefully well-lived, we rise each morning anew. Alive. Largely unwritten. It’s there, in that moment of first consciousness, that we face the single most important and difficult decision of our day: Which way do we face? Do we face backwards, seeing only the days that have past: familiar, comfortable, predictable? Do we walk through the curtain of time in an effort to relive it all once more, rising, engaging our routine, doing again what we have done for many days before this one? Or, do we turn forward to a script unwritten, to a life yet un-lived, and choose a different level of awareness, a different experience, a different courageous act of life and living?   I first heard it from my friend Tom, who asked: “At the end of a year, have you lived 365 days, or have you lived the same day 365 times?” It takes courage to stand in the same place you stand every day — your house, your office, your town — and recognize that you have choices for how you will...
A Beautiful Response

A Beautiful Response

One of my favorite things about writing this blog is the responses I receive from you all via email. A few weeks ago, I shared a post with you called “The Flexible Oak,” and an old friend responded with something remarkable: this beautiful poem by Lao Tzu.   newborn – we are tender and weak in death – we are rigid and stiff living plants are supple and yielding dead branches are dry and brittle so the hard and unyielding belong to death and the soft and pliant belong to life an inflexible army does not triumph an unbending tree breaks in the wind thus the rigid and inflexible will surely fail while the soft and flowing will prevail   Let that encourage us to be flexible in our mindset. Thank you for responding with this, Frank; I hope all of you will always feel welcome to respond to these posts. Just comment here, or email me! I’d love to hear form...
Is Change Possible?

Is Change Possible?

Maybe. We’ve all been there, right? Your boss has hired some schmuck to deliver a bunch of feel-good, kumbaya mush that’s supposed to build better teams or something? As one of those schmucks, a question I love to ask my clients and audiences at some point during our interaction is: Is this worth your time? I particularly love to ask that when it’s clear they’re thinking…no!  Of course, many of them don’t believe it’s going to help. They don’t know me. They don’t have any reason to believe this particular talk is going to make any difference. They’ve tried stuff like this before, and it’s created no change whatsoever… What I like to point out is that they’re right. If you’re under the belief that nothing can ever change, well guess what? Nothing will. What’s Henry Ford’s famous line? “If you think you can or you think you can’t…”  It is soooooo easy to stonewall this kind of effort. All you gotta do is Nancy Reagan it and “Just Say No!” No, I won’t participate. No, I won’t talk about it. No, I won’t do anything different. No, this is who I am, I can’t be someone I’m not…No. But if you’re one of those people that thinks “just maybe,” and you’re willing to make a concerted effort to change the toxic culture you work in, your career trajectory, your relationships, your goals — is their any chance that you could do it? If you don’t think so, then any effort is a waste of time. Reading this blog is a waste of time. Coaching is definitely a waste...
The Reciprocal Benefits of Leadership

The Reciprocal Benefits of Leadership

Last week, we talked about the power of your mindset as evidenced by a profound psychological study. Well, there was another study involving nursing home residents that I found to be just as incredible, and just as impactful for us today. In this study, nursing home residents were given plants. Half of the residents, Group A, were expected to take care of those plants; they were explicitly told the plants were their responsibility, to water them, fertilize them and keep them alive. The other half of the residents, Group B, were told the staff would do all the plant care work — their job was just to enjoy them. After eighteen months, twice as many of the residents in Group A were still alive. That means those who were caring for a plant had double the chance of survival! Think about that for a moment. When we have responsibility for another living thing, the value and benefit of our actions isn’t just for the living thing we are caring for. It’s a reciprocal benefit for us both. If we’re twice as likely to live longer taking care of a plant, imagine the impact when we care for and nurture people! When we are called to lead, which we are called to do in every interaction we have with ourselves and others, caring for and nurturing those “on our team” isn’t just the “right thing to do” — it’s the best choice for ourselves. It sustains us, no matter how difficult it may occasionally feel. Leadership isn’t something we do to people, it’s something we do with people. Leadership is...
People Never Change Around Here!

People Never Change Around Here!

Turns out that’s not quite true. In fact, people can change quite dramatically. Recently, I read about a psychological study on people in their 70’s. If any generic group would be set in their ways, surely it would be those people past retirement, yes? So this is what researchers did: The year was 1979, but the researchers set up a house to look like it was 1959 – the décor, the radio, the tv, the shows playing on the radio and tv…everything was set to look and feel like 1959. Then, they put a group of 70-somethings into this home and told them to go and live for five days as if it were 1959 — as if they were whatever age they were in 1959. When you talk about your family, talk about them as they were in 1959. When you discuss politics, discuss the politics of 1959. Watch the shows and dance to the music of 1959…   And they did.   Now, when they entered the house, they were in varying levels of health. Some used canes and couldn’t carry their own bags; others had heart or vision issues or high blood pressure. The catch for these five days was that they were told they would receive no support from the facilitators. If they had canes and couldn’t carry their bags upstairs, they had to figure it out — carry one shirt at a time if you must, they were told. They just had to manage. For five days — just five days. Can you guess what happened? Remarkable and measurable improvement was made with ALL residents! Some who entered with canes walked out on their own accord! There was physical and mental improvement...
The Flexible Oak

The Flexible Oak

Unconditional Presence: The Oak Tree was an article last week from one of my favorite newsletters, The Daily Groove by Scott Noelle.  Noelle is an amazing Parent Coach — and oh, how I wish I could be the parent he writes about!   As a leadership coach, however, his article today really caught me. On the one hand I agree completely, especially in the context and spirit with which it was written.  Oh, to be that rooted, that grounded, that confident in one’s position!  As a parent, it has great value and gives your children a solid, safe & stable foundation to push against. The question I began asking myself, however, is whether this translates equally to leadership. After all, doesn’t leadership call on us to be flexible — at least on some level? Even if, as a leader, I am not “standing against you,” or taking your behavior personally, if someone runs into us, into our vision, into our ‘leadership,” we don’t want to damage them in any way. We don’t want them to get hurt. When is it right for a leader to be solid like an Oak Tree — and when should we be more flexible, bending with the influence of your team, of lessons learned, or of direct challenges? Leadership challenges us to walk a weird and fine line between a solid oak standing powerfully in its position, and the flexibility that allows you, your team, and your organization to adapt. After all, Darwin taught us: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” What does it look like for you to be a solid, flexible, and adaptable oak? It’s a tough question. If you want to work on...

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