What Are You Dedicated To?

It’s been said that you can be world class at everything if you spend 10,000 hours practicing. That’s  3 hours a day for ten years, give or take a few days. What that means is that every person could be world class at something ten years from now. For some, it could be an olympic athlete. For others, a world class musician or artist. Some will be dedicated to their health or their wisdom, in order to remain a vital, contributing person as they age. Some will dedicate their lives to writing, speaking, or learning to communicate to impact others in a positive way. Others will be dedicated to a spiritual practice, community service, or  a cause beyond their own self-interest. Some are dedicating their time to parenting. And others will become world class complainers. Have you ever met a world class complainer? It’s a person who has spent three hours a day for the past ten years complaining. If you spend three hours a day watching television, you will be a world class television watcher, and if you watch the same shows during that time, it’s likely that no one else in the world will know more about those shows than you.

Years ago I memorized a quote written by the nineteenth century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose words continue to inspire me:

“The heights by great men [or women] reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

I don’t think he was talking about distracting yourself by surfing the net at 3:00 am. He was talking about being dedicated to something.

The question is: What are you dedicated to? Where are you investing your time? What difference are you making in the world through this dedicated effort? Is what you are dedicated to inspiring you? Engaging you? Making a contribution to others? Do you have a vision that awakens you, that gets you up early or keeps you up late? What if you set a worthwhile ten-year vision to dedicate your life to? It’s never too late to consciously dedicate your life to a vision that inspires you. You are going to be ten years older in ten years anyway. Why not dedicate yourself to a worthy cause in the process? You can be interested in something, but that is different than being dedicated.

Hurriedness, Kindness, And Organizational Health

I was driving to a meeting a few days ago when I noticed a young woman, with two children in the back seat of her car, stopped on the side of road attempting to change a flat tire. Ordinarily, I’d like to think that I would never pass someone by like this without stopping to offer assistance. But not that morning. I was late for an important meeting with a client. Torn between two conflicting values, accountability to my client, or compassion to a stranger, I quickly made the choice to pass by this woman in need. Accountability won out. I kept my commitment to be on time and kept feeling guilty about it all day. I have since come to an important realization: I’m not as compassionate when I’m in hurry.

Over the past few days, I have spent some time researching the effect of hurriedness on one’s level of kindness. What I found is a classic social psychology study, conducted by researchers who were interested in how situations affect people’s helping behaviours. John Darley and Daniel Batson, psychologists from Princeton University, studied a group of theology students who had to listen to a lecture on charity, and who then had to move, one by one, to a nearby building. On the way, they met an accomplice of the experimenters.  This person was down on the floor, pretending to have fallen and hurt himself. Most of the students helped him. But when they were pressured and had to hurry from one building to the next, the Good Samaritans among them reduced radically. One of the priests, in his hurry, even stepped over the unfortunate crying actor and headed straight for his destination. We really are not as compassionate when we are in a hurry. We are kinder when we have more time.

One of the indicators of organizational health is kindness. It’s a sign of a healthy environment when people feel cared for, when they feel supported, when they feel acknowledged, respected, and appreciated, even in small ways. How is the level of kindness in your culture? How are hurriedness, pressure, and demands affecting people’s level of compassion? How is the hurriedness, so prevalent in today’s organization life, affecting your culture’s health and the well-being of your workplace?

What if we all slowed down and took time to be kind? Would we actually be less productive if we created a compassionate place to work?

Easter… A Time For Reflection

Easter, especially in recent years, has been a time for reflection for me. A time for taking inventory. A time for letting go. A time for renewal. A time for resurrection.

As we grow and evolve, things in our lives need to die to make room for something new. Hanging on too tightly to our old ways of thinking, our old familiar patterns and habits, our possessions, our achievements, our accumulations, blocks new growth.

Death is a part of life. It’s integral to the human experience. When we resist death, we resist life and can’t live fully. Death, letting go, surrendering to what is, is all part of living authentically with richness.

I have been taking an inventory of what I’m letting go of these days:

  • I have experienced the death of two close friends and a family member this past month. Grieving is not easy, and it is necessary.
  • As my business grows to a new level, I am letting go of my need for control. In the past, I have had a strong need for independence and the accompanying illusion of control. When I work alone, I avoid some hassles that come with collaboration, but I can’t take my business to a new level alone. I need others. I am letting go in order to make room for new relationships. It’s not easy, and it is necessary.
  • I am letting go of my need for certainty, and learning that uncertainty is a necessary ingredient to a full, rich life.
  • In grief, new, enriched relationships are born. Letting go of my belief that my security lies in my external world, my need for control, independence, and certainty, means that inner peace, new connections, new opportunities, and a renewed life emerge. In letting go I learn to trust at a new level. New resources arise.

Letting go isn’t complicated. It’s a simple decision.

What are you letting go of these days? What is emerging? What is calling you?

Finding Balance And Health In Your Culture: Wisdom From A Yogi

Did you ever have a bad day where everything seemed to go wrong? Although our tendency is to blame something in our external environment, it is the state of mind that you bring to your work or your life that determines whether the day is “bad” or “good”. You can train your nervous system to be depressed or angry or pessimistic, just as you can train yourself to be hopeful, loving, and optimistic. That is, you can teach yourself to let life get you down or choose to use whatever life sends you to find a lesson that will move you forward.

The same is true with cultures. Have you ever been in an environment that is not as productive as it could be or living up to it’s potential? How often have you been in an organization where you found that there is far more talent, brainpower, wisdom, and resourcefulness than the job required or even allowed? Just as people can be ruled by emotions, cultures can take on an emotive “state,” because cultures are made up of people.

Culture is essentially an interplay of energy and yoga, the practice of moving into stillness and focusing your energy, can be instructive in understanding organizational culture. According to yoga there are three basic qualities or energies: rajas, tamas and sattva. Rajas is the energy of action, change and movement, while Tamasic energy is associated with a state of inactivity and inertia, heaviness and darkness. Sattva is light and uplifting and indicates a state of harmony and balance.

In order to find balance, we must start on a journey towards sattva. We do need rajas and tamas energy, but in their proper proportion and at their proper time. If we didn’t have rajas we would not have energy to move towards sattva.  If we have only tamas, we become “lazy” and never get anything done. However, we all want more balance and harmony in our lives, both corporately and personally, so we must ingest more sattva both mentally and physically.

In Yoga, as in life, the greatest obstacle to our growth towards a state of sattva is the continuous fluctuations of our minds.  The mind is always busy and it can flow in two directions – upwards towards sattva or downwards towards negativity. Patanjali, a great yoga sage from 200 BC gives a simple method for turning to sattva. He says when negative thoughts are encountered we must immediately replace them with the opposite positive.  Simple, but not easy! This is a practice of the mind. It is hard work and takes practice!

This has many implications for corporate culture.  We must not entertain negative thinking.  Gossip, slanderous talk and negativity of any kind work to undermine a positive mental framework, and makes most of us ineffective and generally miserable. A first step, and something infinitely practical is to breathe. A simple practice of mindful, deep breathing can be performed in any office, anytime of the day, in any meeting, at any moment, and thankfully it can be instituted without scrutiny or negative consequence.

We all make a difference to the environments we live and work in. Having ways to connect with sattvic energy can be a way to positively impact those around you. A healthy, balanced culture starts with you.

Note: Thanks to Jeff Lichty, my Yoga teacher (www.ashtanga-yoga-victoria.com) for writing this article with me!

From Performance Management To Success Management: A New View of An Old System

When I am asked to work with an organization to help improve their performance management system, my first step is to have leaders look at the request differently. If they want a better process for managing expectations and getting a grip on results, while at the same time making it engaging and meaningful, then “performance” management is a limited goal. In today’s workplace, the aim is not so much performance management as it is success management: creating the conditions that ensure both results and passion.

Following are seven conditions for success management. The goal is to turn these conditions into instinctive behaviors in your culture. But until they become established habits, written agreements can be helpful to ensure clarity, focus, and energy.

  1. Connection
    I learned years ago, in my first career as a family therapist, that the secret to parenting is not what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child. Great leaders and teachers understand that when others are drawn to seek contact with you as a trusted advisor rather than simply as “boss,” you have earned the credibility to influence – with or without a title. All the leadership skills in the world will never compensate for a lack of connection.
  2. Self-Assessment
    Before attempting to “evaluate” others and their performance, it is important to ask people to assess themselves. “How do you feel about the results you are achieving?” “What do you need to do raise the bar for yourself?” These are questions about working with people, rather than over people. You will only want to “evaluate” others and their performance as a last resort.
  3. Authentic Expression
    What engages people is a connection to their passion, purpose, and values: authentic expression. When you are given the chance to express your unique talents in the service of others, you lose track of time and create abundance in your life and the lives of others. If work doesn’t provide both personal and financial growth, you’re wasting far too much of your life on it.
  4. Accountabilities
    Results are the name of the game, both in organizations and in life. Mutually negotiated accountabilities are a statement of quantifiable promises to the people who depend on you and the fulfillment of those promises. Accountabilities create a clear, mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished and what will be accomplished: from activities to results.
  5. Support Requirements
    Support requirements are the accountabilities you require from others to ensure that you can fulfill your promises. These include the human, financial, technical, or organizational resources one can negotiate for and draw upon to deliver the expected results. Support requirements lock people into an accountable relationship.
  6. Consequences
    Consequences specify what will happen – both positive and negative – when you fulfill your promises. This could include financial or psychological rewards, different job assignments, and natural consequences tied into the overall mission of an organization. Consequences are a statement of what is important to you, considering what is reasonable and respectable in your current environment.
  7. Follow-Up
    How will your agreements to each other be maintained as significant, relevant, flexible, meaningful, and engaging over time? How will you hold yourself and others accountable? How often will you review it, and with whom? Far too many performance review programs are make-work projects that become “shelf-development” instead of self-development.” Take a brief inventory of where you stand on these conditions for success management. They can be applied to a business partner, direct reports, colleagues, clients or customers, or even yourself.

I’d love to hear about your conditions for success in building a more engaged and focused success management system or how you have used these conditions in an authentic and powerful way.

Transform Yourself From An “Employee” To A CEO

When a good friend was offered a position as CEO, he wrote me with this question: “If you were taking over an organization as the new CEO, what would be the first 10 questions you would want answers to?

Here’s the questions that came to my mind. What would your questions be?

  1. What is your mission?
  2. What are your values?
  3. What is your process for getting the value statements off the wall and into people’s hearts?
  4. Who are the real influencers – the “unofficial leaders” in this organization? Why are they the influencers? What do I need to do to build trust with them?
  5. How is the level of trust in this organization? Where are the pockets of high trust? Where are the pockets of low trust? How do you know?
  6. How authentic is this culture? How do you know?
  7. How accountable is this culture? How do you know?
  8. How engaged are the front line employees? How do you know if they are engaged?
  9. What do we need to do to get them engaged?
  10. What are people’s biggest frustrations (that aren’t being talked about openly)? How will we find out and what will we do about them?

To succeed in today’s economy  you have to think of yourself as a freelance contractor – the CEO of your own business within the business you are working in. You have to transform yourself, in the words of Tom Peters, “from an ‘employee’ into a brand that shouts distinction, commitment, and passion.” This means you have to be savvy, informed, continually learning and growing, and take ownership of your career, the organization where you work, and your life. You have to know how to sell yourself, be committed to serve others, and most importantly, do work that matters. Given this assumption, the questions I passed along to my friend might be appropriate for anyone to ask the CEO of their organization.