Steven's Own Words

Why Meditate?

Why Meditate?

One of my clients decided to try meditating recently. I have to admit, I’m not a meditator — not because I haven’t tried, however. I have. But it’s frickin HARD! It’s one of those tricky things that seems like it should be easy — but trust me, it’s not. What’s more, for a lot of us (like me!) meditation has something of a ‘woo-woo,’ goofy quality to it. You hear ‘meditation,’ you think guru on a mountaintop. So then, when you try, you feel stupid. Okay, I feel stupid — and I really can’t turn off my mind. The problem with meditation is it’s only marketed for a certain type of person, which causes this sort of discomfort among other types of us. But all meditation is, I’ve discovered, is practicing presence — noticing when our mind drifts. And when we realize that, we realize how beneficial this is for anyone, in any walk of life. Because what happens to us in everyday happenings? We’re constantly distracted. We’re constantly bouncing from one thing to another. Our minds wander, there’s interruption, it seems like there’s always a distraction of some sort; we get a ping from social media, a ding from our email, a buzz from a text — and we have a Pavlovian response. Most of us don’t know how to control the things that are distracting us, because we have no practice. Meditation is that practice. It’s taking five minutes and saying “Can I do that? Can I notice when I’m distracted? And can I pull myself back to a task?” That’s it. And that’s why meditation focuses on breathing —...
One Simple, Powerful Truth

One Simple, Powerful Truth

A few things we’ve been talking about — building a culture with our team, having tough conversations, clarifying terms and decisions — all of it is uncomfortable, I know. All of it is difficult. If you don’t think so, I’m sorry, but you’re likely kidding yourself. This is tough stuff, and if not for you personally, then for members of your team for sure. That’s why we resist it. But this week, I want to remind you of one small, simple, powerful truth: The best things we ever achieve are, in fact, quite difficult. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have problems. As the Dread Pirate Roberts once said, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Wesley might have meant that with a bit more cynicism than I’ll accept, but the positive side of the same coin rings true. Life can be wonderful. But the most wonderful things in life come from extremely difficult work. So don’t allow yourself to skip out on trying because it’s hard. It will be way harder when, someday, you look back and realize you never tried. Which ‘hard’ would you prefer? Photo...
The Problem With Group Decisions

The Problem With Group Decisions

Has this ever happened to you?  You make a decision as a team. You think you have all decided together. Then, you go about your day, and you notice — not everyone is following through with that decision. They’re sitting at their desks doing something else, not doing what you all just agreed to do! To them, it wasn’t a decision at all, it’s just a what, a suggestion? Maybe it was clear to you, but obviously for them this decision was not definitively clear.   The problem is this: You lack a culture of decision making. Decisions linger without congealing because there’s no real conclusion, criteria or context for that decision. For instance, is the decision designed to serve a client, the staff, the profit margin? Which group is ultimately being served? How will we measure the options and opinions on the table to discern which is an idea worthy of pursuit, and which is a pass-through idea that gets you closer to the truth? Criteria and context can do amazing things to make everything more clear for everyone.   Equally important is knowing: who is making the final decision? Who’s the head of that bottom line/final call? It may not be the highest ranking person in the room. By naming that person, rather than assuming that everyone knows — and often this is left to assumption — you give everyone a final word, but everyone knows how the decision will be made. Otherwise, someone might assume it’s the CEO when it’s actually the VP of marketing. Why does this matter? If I’m trying to sell my idea, I may want...
It’s Always Toughest To Be First

It’s Always Toughest To Be First

I know someone who recently left an incredibly toxic work environment. It was a long time coming — he really did his best to stick it out, to try and make it work, to do his part — but nothing was enough, because, as my dad used to say, “You can’t make chicken soup out of chicken poop” (OK, so he didn’t use the word ‘poop,’ but you get the point). Sometimes we just need to commit to a courageous act.  But we resist, of course, because we often second guess ourselves, and don’t quite know if we can say for sure if it’s toxic, or if it’s just us — maybe if we’d just try a little harder, it might get better? But it’s not just us. Case in point: after this person left their job, two more people quit within the span of about a month. That’s a total of three employees leaving this workplace in under six weeks! And just like that, one’s courageous act gives others permission to do the same.  It’s like that closing line in the Marianne Williamson quote:  “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Sometimes, when no one else is making the change, it can be terrifying to be that first person to take the leap. If no one else is leaving, it’s harder to justify — because again, we’re second-guessing ourselves. But as soon as one person makes that leap, it’s as though everyone else sees the problems clearly. Our questions are justified when we’re not the only one asking them.  Is it time for you to...
You Can’t Have Leadership Without Conflict

You Can’t Have Leadership Without Conflict

Imagine if your whole team agreed with you, all the time, about everything. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Too bad that’s about as realistic as certain bacon producing farm animals sprouting wings. If that were the case, there would be no need whatsoever for leadership — there wouldn’t be a need for YOU. Let’s face it, leadership is easy when people agree with you. True leadership doesn’t even get out of bed without some kind of conflict or challenge.  Everyone and anyone can be a “great leader” to a team with no disagreements, no disappointments, no problems. I mean, I’m a fantastic mechanic to a brand-new car. But when it breaks down? I’m not the mechanic you’re going to call. I’m not a mechanic at all, in fact! When you get push back or disagreement from your team, that’s when your true leadership comes out to play — but often, instead, we hunker down and turn from leadership to dictatorship. We don’t want to deal with the problems, have the tough conversations, or do the work of understanding different perspectives with the risk of being wrong. We just want people to listen to us, do it our way, and get out of our way! But let’s face the music: that’s not leadership. That’s treating your team like an app, a computer program that will do what you tell it to if you press the right buttons. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, that rarely works out well for the team or the leader, both because people don’t like being treated like tools, and because every leader needs their team just as much as their team needs them! If...
Facing the Lions: How Far Can a Leader Go to Define Culture?

Facing the Lions: How Far Can a Leader Go to Define Culture?

In a recent past post, we talked about how we typically form culture by accident rather than design. Which is important, to be sure. But it also begs the question: When it comes to culture, what do we have the right to define, as leaders?  A client of mine had a recent conflict among her team. In one group — we’ll call them Group A — they were fond of using, shall we say, colorful language. The rest of the team — Group B — was not fond of that habit. My client told me, “Well, I’ll address it of course — but it’s not like I can tell them to stop being who they are!”  “Interesting. Is that how you see it, ‘asking them to be something they’re not?” I asked. “Well, until you replied with that question I did,” they sheepishly responded. The truth is, you absolutely CAN say: “We’re developing a culture that elevates the quality of our language. We’re choosing to be, in the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in the The Four Agreements ‘impeccable with our words.’”  We absolutely can decide to be impeccable with our language, and in doing so not be asking anyone to be anything they’re not. After all, we all change our language depending on our environment. We don’t sit in church and talk to the pastor, or to our grandmothers at the holiday table, the way we do with buddies drinking at the bar (well, at least I hope not). Our language is a choice and we chose all kinds of versions of that language depending on the environment and...
If You Had The Courage To Look, What Would You See?

If You Had The Courage To Look, What Would You See?

Have you ever had one of those bosses whose actions and words are out of alignment? Where they talk about collaboration and pretend to solicit your feedback, but you know full well they have no intention of ever taking it? I have several clients facing that very reality. It’s disheartening, and causes people to feel like, “What’s the point? They’re just going to do what they want anyway, they don’t really care what I think.”  And maybe they’re right — but that’s not what I came to talk with you about today. Embedded in that scenario is a deeper problem, wrapped in a solution, and rooted in this common reality: the qualities we dislike in others are generally the ones we possess ourselves. The Deeper Problem: A manager came to me with the above frustration. When talking later about the challenges of his staff, however, he painted the exact same scenario with one minor/significant difference: He was the one not taking in the wisdom of his staff. But! And this is a big and important but: his behavior wasn’t exactly the same, and anyway, he had very good reasons for doing so. When I asked if his leader had good reasons for doing so, he paused — a long pause — then said, and I quote: “Huh.” The qualities we dislike in others we most often possess ourselves. That’s why they’re so easy to identify! I know it’s not always exactly the same duplication, but let’s face it, there is usually a pretty strong resemblance. What we’ve seen modeled, we tend to model. So often it’s easy to send judgement upwards and get frustrated with those who are leading us, while...
A Useful Strategy for Every New Leader

A Useful Strategy for Every New Leader

If you’re a new leader, joining a new team — or you think you might be doing that some day — have you thought about your entrance strategy?  Every new boss, manager, CEO, and everything in between, has an entrance strategy — even if they’re not consciously aware of it. That strategy is how they make the transition from outsider to teammate; how they go from ‘one of them’ to ‘one of us’ — or, at least, how they try. Some people come in guns blazing, new smokin’ ideas to stir the pot and ruffle some feathers. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, largely depending on the personalities and needs on your new team. Some people come in quiet as a whisper, hoping to keep everything smooth and even keel; in their ideal world, the new team wouldn’t even notice a transition of leadership had ever happened! They want to keep things going as always. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, largely depending on the personalities and needs on your new team. Some people come in wanting to be everybody’s best friend. Work, schmerk! If you can hang and laugh together, everything will be fine! Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, largely depending on the personalities and needs on your new team. Do you notice a pattern emerging?  No matter how you make the transition — whether you strategize or fly by the seat of your pants — your success will largely depend on the personalities and needs on your new team. So why don’t you just…ask them? Ask them what they want and need in this new transition. In fact, this is the perfect time to utilize...
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...

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