Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash We are called as leaders, as people, as the species at the top of the food chain, to ask bigger questions. We’re called to move beyond the basic instinct of survival and self-preservation into something larger than ourselves. We’re called to recognize that discomfort and fear aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because we know powerful growth and learning can come from both. The old Charlie Brown cartoon said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn.” Growth and learning have no conclusion — just better questions. I hate to break it to you, but our rise to leadership (most specifically of ourselves) isn’t about life getting easier. As a child,we learn simple shapes and simple colors — not as conclusions, but as building blocks. Similarly, as adults our understandings of faith, culture, or humanity aren’t conclusions either — but building blocks. We don’t teach primary colors in art school so that artists will limit themselves and paint only with red, blue and yellow, but because they can be combined in near endless combinations to create millions of colors. As people, we are called to the same curiosities and creations with one another. Your human color mixes with my human color, and together we form a new color that can’t exist without us. The more we blend, the more we explore, the more we paint, the more we understand that our human interactions aren’t about conclusions; it’s not about settling on answers of right and wrong. Rather, it’s about the ability to use our experiences to ask bigger and better questions. When mixing colors, it isn’t about what you take...
Creating an Atmosphere for Positive Criticism

Creating an Atmosphere for Positive Criticism

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash “I am the first to admit when I’m wrong,” a company owner boldly and proudly exclaimed,  “I am even eager to admit when I am wrong.”  I laughed spontaneously, before I had a chance to control it, and then quickly apologized. “Yeah, but, come on,” I said, “you stack the deck to never lose or be wrong.”  At first he laughed with me, then it hit him. You could see his mind rolling through interactions with his team. “I really do, don’t I?” A lot of leaders do this with no malice or negative intent. They just set the rules, or ask the questions in such a way that technically they aren’t “wrong.” Of course, efficiency tools are a good thing — duh. And the one they’ve chosen is the “best” for the problem it solves, but when they take off the table the discussion of whether or not that particular problem is worth solving, then how do people respond? The decision is made. And team members get the message loud and clear: Don’t question, don’t disagree. The fact that this makes other, more important aspects of their job harder and doesn’t solve the most pressing issue facing the team becomes irrelevant, but hey, by the letter of the question, the boss isn’t wrong and doesn’t have to admit anything. If you are going to set the rules and foundation and then stand as judge and jury afterward, you will always be right!  Here’s the serious and very real question: Does the rest of your team have permission to say no or disagree? If your decision, while technically “right,” causes more problems than you can see, can your...
Delicious Meals And Superior Problem Solving

Delicious Meals And Superior Problem Solving

Photo by Tucker Good on UnsplashThe issue with solving big problems, say market share or racism, is we tend to think we need to solve them with one big fix. We often discount ideas when they aren’t the entire solution — more of an “all or nothing” approach. But problems are like a great meal — and no great meal is made up of a single component. Each is made up of lots of different ingredients and flavors. Heck, even water has two parts of H and one of O. And even if you like your steak “naked” as my dad likes to say, he still eats the meal with its classic side-kick of potatoes on which he likes to add salt and pepper.Like ingredients that aren’t the whole dish, or seemingly even part of the final flavor, solutions have many parts. In theater the saying goes: there are no small parts, only small actors. What if we looked at problem-solving that way?Take me, for instance; I don’t have the specific skills to help a company sell paper clips or harvest corn. I can discount my experience and say I have nothing I can add to help the productivity of these companies, but that would be dead wrong. I can be an incredible asset by helping them improve their reluctant leaders or repairing dysfunctional teams — both of which could destroy a company and have nothing to do with the sale of a product. I’m not everything. I am part. Sometimes I’m the whole Pesto Pasta and sometimes I’m just the Pesto, and sometimes, I’m just the basil in the Pesto. In either case, without me, you...
Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash The Core Values Index teaches us that we drop into our negative conflict strategies out of fear. A lot of what we do, or more accurately don’t do, is rooted in fear. It is seemingly always the obstacle we have to overcome. I can hear some of you saying, “Hell, I don’t have to face my fears; I’ve gotten along just fine ignoring them.” Maybe you can ignore them. The only reason we have to face our fears is because they stand between where we are and where we want to be. Leaders don’t want to admit when they are afraid. Parents don’t want to show fear when they check under the bed for monsters. Husbands want to appear brave and tough when they investigate what goes bump in the night. Fear is perceived as weakness. It’s not. It can keep us safe, make us smart. And that’s a good thing. It can also hold us back, debilitate us or worse, cause us to miss opportunities and successes that are rightfully ours to experience. The first step to conquering fear is awareness. We have to admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and then we need to be clear and honest about what we are actually afraid of. Awareness. But we don’t really want to be aware, do we? As a species we tend to be like an ostrich, ducking away from fear, rather than acknowledging what stands in our way. We figure, if we don’t see it, it isn’t there. Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I...
Brand Allegiance? Seriously? That’s What This is About?

Brand Allegiance? Seriously? That’s What This is About?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash As every condemnation of the events of the past couple weeks comes across my screen, I feel more and more sad. More angry. More confused. More scared. Not scared like Black people are scared, of course, because I’m white and have little to truly fear. No; I’m sad because the condemnations are too often sanitized and shallow. They seem to just want to make a statement of acknowledgment but not to offend. And I get why, I’m the same; personally, I’m scared of going deeper, speaking what is in my heart and thereby saying something that hurts my business. I’m afraid of offending someone, and that their anger at me will somehow undermine my reputation — or they’ll somehow have a way of getting between me and potential clients. Pathetic. I know.   I’m not fearing for my safety or my life or my children, because even if my business fell completely apart, I’m white, educated, somewhat smart, and would likely find a job and be able to put food on the table. I almost sent this this week, but my marketing advisor advised caution, reminding me that I am posting as my brand, and warning that it therefore could come across performative or opportunistic. So I put it on my personal Facebook page rather than in my ‘branded’ newsletter. Funny, huh? I’m afraid of my truth losing me business, and she’s pointing out that it could be perceived as “riding a coat tail” of tragedy to get business, especially if it’s perceived as ‘off brand.’ But is it off brand? I’m a HUMAN Strategist™ for God’s sake. If this isn’t my brand, I’ve been doing...
Getting To Know Your Team One-On-One

Getting To Know Your Team One-On-One

Photo by Smartworks Coworking on Unsplash Guess what I’ve discovered? I have frequently misquoted Nelson Mandela as famously speaking this beautiful truth: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” While he has spoken a similar phrase, this one was never actually said by Nelson Mandela — though the words still ring so true. The only way to speak to a person truly, to their heart, is to know their language. In Mandela’s version, “Because when you speak a language, English, well many people understand you, including Afrikaners. But when you speak Afrikaans, you know you go straight to their hearts,” he was speaking specifically about the language of Afrikaans and being able to eloquently connect with his oppressors through the emotions of their own language. But what I mean by language is something even more emotional: Speaking to someone in their own language means speaking in the way that they are most receptive to listening. This personal language can’t just be picked up through observation; it must be experienced to be understood. You must actually connect to someone. If you can’t connect, you can’t lead. Think about the coupling between the first engine and the first car of a train; the cars aren’t welded together. They are just connected by a “handshake,” as it were, and those cars could uncouple at any moment with a poor connection. As leaders we are not making clones, but connections, each between independent bodies. In conferences I have pairs of people interview each other for just one minute — literally 60...