Steven's Own Words

We Have Strategies for Everything Except This

We Have Strategies for Everything Except This

Have you ever noticed that in business, we have strategies for everything — everything, that is, except people? Think about it. Most leaders will sit down and thoughtfully design all kinds of strategies with their team: goals, growth, skillset, compensation plans…everything EXCEPT the team dynamic. Because that’s a tough conversation to have. How do we get along? What kind of culture/team do we want? How do we want to handle conflict? What language do we use? How do we want to feel about each other? All that touchy-feely stuff is something teams often avoid. But outside of the business world, it’s exactly those types of conversations that make great relationships. It’s only with our healthiest, most successful relationships that we talk about what we need, or how we communicate. We debrief after an argument with our significant other: When you said this, I felt this. We tell our friends we’d rather they didn’t say this or that. But we don’t do that in a business setting. Instead, we tend to interpret what we experienced and think we know what it meant. If someone said XX, he meant YY. We’re sure! We don’t take into account that in that circumstance the behavior might have been and outlier. It might not be who they really who they are. Businesses need to talk about people, because businesses are made up of people. Get a strategy for your team dynamic, and all those other strategies? They’ll thrive all the more.  Photo by Natalie...
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Last week a client said something fascinating: He said he didn’t really know his people. Prior to our work together, that is. A little context: He was the manager of a team he invited me to be a part of to help facilitate communication and improve functionality. Now that the work is successfully completed, he admitted to me in the debrief that, he came into the work believing he knew his team inside and out. He thought that he knew who would say what, and that our work was really just a forum for them to say it — to vent. He thought he knew pretty much everything they were going to say. It turned out, he told me, that he was very wrong. He was surprised to find that he didn’t know his people as well as he thought — and said, “that was a fantastic discovery!” Such a discovery opens you up for a wealth of new connections and interactions, because once you realize that you don’t know your people as well as you thought, then you can start to see them with genuine curiosity. We often operate from this premise that we know people. We think, “I’m a ‘people person.’ I read people really well.” We might even have evidence to support that. But in long term, I can pretty much guarantee — we’re not as good as we think we are. Which is why we need to ask more questions and come at all relationships — especially with those we’re leading — with a spirit of insatiable curiosity. Only then will you really be able to see them, understand them, and lead them to...
You Can’t Choose Success

You Can’t Choose Success

I heard John Mayer in an interview once make a brilliant statement: “The problem with success,” he said, “is that success justifies every stupid decision we’ve ever made.”The irony of some success is it doesn’t always come as a result of good choices. It’s like that old saying that good judgement comes from experience, but most experience comes from bad judgement. We want to believe that success is a by-product of doing everything right. It’s just not. Some success is the result of careful work and focused discipline. Some success comes as a fluke out of nowhere. Some success comes from the benevolence of others. And some success comes unjustly — to us, when it should have gone to someone else. Some failure comes as a result of our mistakes. Some failure comes as a fluke, out of nowhere. Some failure comes from the mistakes of others. And some comes to us unjustly. So since it’s clear that our success or failure is not necessarily the result of our choices, should we just give up? Grow cynical? Stop trying? Of course not. Because even though our choices might not affect our success in the way that we want, they always, without fail, 100% of the time, affect something else: Our person. Our Being. Who we are becoming, how we are showing up. Who we are is a result of our choices. Success or failure is connected, but only tangentially. And who you are decides how you’ll face that success or that failure — and in the end, that’s really the only thing that...
Leadership: A Skill or an Art?

Leadership: A Skill or an Art?

A lot of people seem to operate under the assumption that Leadership is an Art — that it’s an intuitive action and should therefore come naturally. That great leaders are ‘born’ with the skill to lead, just lying dormant within them until they come across a team. It’s an interesting take, considering how much discipline art itself actually requires. Ask any professional artist, in fact, and they’ll likely tell you that natural talent is only a small piece of the pie — discipline and perseverance have a much bigger effect on your artistic success in the long run. In any medium, art is a skill you must study and learn. Sure, some people are born with more natural talent than others — but talent can only get you so far, and it certainly isn’t the be-all, end-all. So the idea that art has to come naturally is as off-base for the writer, painter or musician as it is for leadership. A true leader needs training, needs to learn, needs to grow. It’s not going to just come magically. What’s more, we need to practice in the real world; we need to get it wrong, and make it better. The more you lead, and do your best to lead well, the better a leader you’ll become. It can be learned. Yes, some people are born already good at it, sure, but for most of us it’s a constant need to keep ourselves in check. And that’s a good thing — we should always want to improve, and it’s important to know that we can. Leadership is as much skill as it is intuition. Are you...
One Simple Step To Turn Your Office Culture Around

One Simple Step To Turn Your Office Culture Around

I once worked with a team that was — and there’s no gentle way to put this — highly dysfunctional. Most of the team was unhappy and in conflict with the manager, who couldn’t really see the problem. When I asked the manager about the problems the team had listed, he simply said, “Those problems don’t exist.” I asked him to elaborate, and he gave his side of the story. “It’s a startup,” he explained. “We’re building the ship as we sail it, so yeah, everyone’s busting their ass; it’s stressful, I know, everyone wants it to be more fun, but they signed up for this knowing it was an entrepreneurial adventure. All they really want is for it to be more fun!” Having heard both sides of the story, I was shocked. “It’s all about the fun?” I thought to myself. “Are you sure about that?” I asked. “Is that really the issue? Is it that simple?” He shrugged. “Sure! I mean, I guess. I mean, think so. Maybe.” It is amazing to me how often we operate on an assumption that makes perfect sense in our head, that the evidence from our perspective and bias totally supports — only to find out later we were off the mark, solving the wrong problem, judging people for truths that aren’t theirs. And we rarely think to verify. So I challenged the manger to make sure, to verify — to ask specific questions, to understand what his team really needed to thrive, what they really wanted. Specific questions like: “Help me understand your perception of our culture. How do you see this team?” “What’s the biggest obstacle to our success?” “How do you...
What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Paradox: a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. – (Dictionary v2.3.0) We have trouble with paradoxes, don’t we? Is seems to me that so many people much prefer contradictions: opposing positions that allow them to be right and the other person to be wrong. A paradox, however, is when two opposing thoughts are somehow both true; it’s a positive thing, a yes-and, a both-are-right situation. A contradiction is when two opposing thoughts are just in opposition to each other, and one of them has to be wrong. Despite the fact that most people tell me they hate conflict, we tend to prefer contradictions; we can understand contradictions. Two opposing thoughts being true is a lot more difficult to hold — how can we both be right?  Who wins in that situation? It feels like unresolved tension. When two people disagree deeply, it’s easy to treat it as a contradiction — one of them has to be right. But the invitation of leadership is to step into the paradox — what if they’re both right? How would that affect how they treat each other? How would that affect how they discuss this issue? How would it affect how you lead them — what can you build on when you look for the truths rather than the inaccuracies, when the problem isn’t about finding out who’s right, but it’s learning how to hold an uncomfortable tension together long enough to understand the paradox? Just like with the image above: Some people see an old woman. Some people see a young woman. They’re both right, aren’t they? But you have to work to see...
Vulnerability Is…

Vulnerability Is…

… Leadership. To put it simply, if you are not willing to be wrong, not willing to be vulnerable, you’re not really leading. Doing only that which you know works from the past, or leading only those who agree with you, is not leading. To lead is to be vulnerable, to step into the unknown, to engage with those that disagree. To be vulnerable is to risk being interpreted differently than you interpret yourself. To be vulnerable is to be authentic and genuine, and risk others interpreting that authenticity in a negative or disagreeable way. It’s risking getting hurt — it’s risking hurting others (not intentionally, of course). To be vulnerable is to trust that those experiencing you will believe the best about you, even if you don’t quite say or do it right; and if they don’t, the willingness to be vulnerable is the willingness to be okay with that.  It’s hard, isn’t it? I personally feel very vulnerable at the thought of putting out political opinions in a public and social way. Even writing here that I am vulnerable about that — makes me feel vulnerable. I have this instinct to protect myself from the kind of criticism I see others receive, and fear how might be judged. But if I have to protect something, I can’t be fully authentic, can I? Protecting how I’m perceived keeps me from being genuinely real, and to lead myself and others I must first and foremost be real, yes? If we hold back to prevent that vulnerability, we are holding back what might well be the very best we have to give. Heck, there are atheists, right? So even God can’t win them all....
People Who Enhance Us

People Who Enhance Us

I’m not walking around with just my left or my right side — or just my front without my back. So I don’t believe our spouse ‘completes’ us. I’ve never believed that. We are, each of us, whole, complete people, so another person ‘completing’ us just doesn’t make sense in my mind. You know what our spouse does (ideally, anyway)? They enhance us.  It’s like when you have blue eyes and you wear that perfect shade of blue shirt, and your eyes just pop! The shirt didn’t change your eye color. But your eyes were enhanced.  Of course, in a real relationship, it’s not just our good qualities that get enhanced, is it? In fact, when we’re with people we’ve chosen to spend our lives with, they can make our negative qualities that much more clear too, because we give over to that relationship our entirety — not just part of us, but all of us (remember? we come complete and whole). We can’t give just part of us, we come as a packaged set — the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. And we enter into relationship anyway. Why? Because those we come to trust, we are willing to show our weaknesses as well as our strengths. We’re willing to be vulnerable and not run away — even if at times we want to. We’re willing to be in a relationship where all our greatness (which we often can’t even see) and all our insecurities (which we fear are glaring) are respected, honored, appreciated, accepted. Like my best friend Tom says: “Friends are people who know all about us and love us anyway.” Spouses, too.  And that goes for leaders...
Life Is Not Zero Sum

Life Is Not Zero Sum

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin Why do we so often treat life like a zero-sum game… …that any win you get is a loss for me? If you’re right, I must be wrong, black-white, yes-no, my way or the highway, you’re either with me or against me… life, business, politics, families, are so often treated adversarially, like competitors, but that approach couldn’t be more wrong.   Crap, I did it again: right/wrong…this is hard, isn’t it? I think the problem begins by seeing everything as a game: the game of politics, business, Thrones…and the mindset of games is to win. But they’re not games. And winning at life has a whole different meaning than it does in, say, ping pong. In life and all its manifestations, it’s more a matter of whether you actually stay in the “game.” Like the Lottery, “You’ve gotta play to win,” and if you’re not playing, you can’t win. So staying in the game truly is paramount.  Take business: it’s a long game, not a short one, or what James Carse calls the Infinite vs the Finite Game. The problem with the shortsighted nature of winning and losing is it forces everyone to measure only by their strength, or whatever factor puts them ahead. You can’t be first in everything, and first in anything never lasts — otherwise Michael Jordan never would have missed a shot. Just look at the companies Jim Collins profiled in Good To Great. They virtually all fell from greatness, and he had to write a new book.   A long game, the Infinite Game, is about our...
I Couldn’t Face My Contract

I Couldn’t Face My Contract

Just because it’s obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to them. This could be true professionally, personally or otherwise (is there an otherwise?). What seems so obvious from the outside can be invisible from the inside. Here’s an example. Remember the course I audited and wrote about last week?  Well, I was so hooked I went back for the follow-up program: a 4-day workshop that turned out to be one of the most difficult challenges of my life.  The objective in this program was to write a contract with yourself; something that would hold you up to, you know, the person your dog thinks you are. As you can imagine, I actively participated and was wholly engaged in this fantastic program. When it came time to write this contract, however, that which we’d been working towards for four days — it should have been simple. We’d already done the work. But, for some reason, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see it. This was difficult work, facing our truths about ourselves, owning who we really are and how we show up in the world. But when it came time to write my contract, something we were supposed to put into the positive, the truth of our higher self, I had an extraordinarily hard time articulating what my ‘contract with myself’ would be. The facilitator saw me struggling, so she came over to ask what the problem was. “I just can’t get there,” I said dejectedly. “I have no idea.” And, if you can believe it — she laughed! “Interesting. I expected yours to be the easiest of the class! You’ve been saying it over and over,” she said. “We all...

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