Category Archives: Uncommon Sense

Time To Ask the Real Question

I was trolling through various websites, of various gurus and pundits. And you hear incontestable gems like, “Teamwork really pays off,” or “Managers have to care about who the person is beyond the 9 to 5 job,” or “Don’t let negativity get you down,” or “If you don’t care about your health, who will?”  Now, underneath the fortune cookie gloss there are veins of wisdom in each of these observations, that if mined can be genuinely illuminating.

But why are these base-line statements still needed? Why haven’t we moved on to saying, as perhaps a next-stage observation for each of these: “For teamwork to pay off you have to know who you’re on a team with and why,” or “Managers have to show they know their people by customizing recognition and coaching accordingly,” or “Look to reframe the negative concerns shared with you in a way that releases rather than inhibits possibility,” or “Care about your health by creating goals that would be fun to realize even if seemingly tough to reach.”  These are far more interesting insights and assume we’ve at least passed “go” already.

Arguably the reason we keep reiterating basics as if they were first-time bolts from the heavens is because cerebral repetition, even of almost axiomatic observations, just doesn’t work. And while I can as a fan of  the indefatigable nature of the human spirit applaud the seeming immunity to lack of results (or can I?) that engenders such enthusiastic repetition, the consultant in me would suggest we’re using enthusiasm as a surrogate for strategy which is rarely wise. Sure, absent a viable strategy, I’d rather have enthusiasm, as we’ll  at least muddle forward until we find a way through — a way that can spawn a strategy. But when there’s a repeatedly failing and dysfunctional strategy, enthusiasm can be just a convenient name given to dogmatism and obtuseness.

The real question is not, “Do teams deliver value?” Surely we’re past that.  The real question is, “Given how valuable teams can be, why are we not one, or seeking to become one?”

The real question is not, “Should managers value people as people?”  Again, paradigmatically at least it’s the 21st century not the 19th. Rather it is, “Why would you practically expect to get the best from someone if they feel you don’t know them or care about them?” And, “How can we most effectively and appropriately care about those who work with us and for us?”

The question is not, “Should you let negativity get you down?”  Surely everyone from Zig Ziglar to the Dalai Lama have helped us tackle that one. The question is instead: “Why do we so often encourage and proliferate negative downward spiral conversations and thought patterns?”

The real question can’t be, “Should you care about your health?”  Our mania in this regard is well documented. Health-obsession, at least insofar as the cosmetic aspects of health having become a virtual religion,  the real question is, “Since we all have a vested interest in our health, how can we make sure that translates into how we live?”

Questions need to be applied at the fulcrum of knowledge and behavior, at the potential disconnect between understanding and emotional commitment. Repeating nostrums won’t help. Delving into barriers, obstacles, limiting logic, ineffective default positions, outmoded reflexes, can be transformational. The Archimedean lever with which to move the world is asking the right question. A question jarring enough to our complacency that it almost impels action. A question that mobilizes action, not just piles on more insight.

So beware of any adviser, guru, consultant, or otherwise, who spends the bulk of their time with you repeating homilies or seeking to browbeat you into acting on the patently obvious — by stint of its conceptual incorrigibility. There is a huge knowing-doing gap in human affairs. Otherwise the Golden Rule would have outlawed almost all conflict a couple of millennia ago.

Understanding what keeps that gap gaping in specific situations for specific people and organizations, and thereby understanding, learning and practicing how to bridge that gap based on such understanding — that’s where the mother lode is.

Decide to make 80% of all problem solving or educational or coaching conversations about why what needs to happen isn’t happening, and demanding accountable progress at those epicenters of the issue, and watch your business, your life and your results, and those of others you are seeking to help, positively transform!

The Inarticulate Drool of Modern Communication

There is something vapid and vacuous about much of modern discourse. Stopping for an Espresso today, I was obliged to listen in on the animated banter of two ladies, spurred by caffeine and the salaciousness of gossip to be shared,  to emote with the abandon of an Athenian orator. Though alas, they did so with jarring diction, vocabulary and syntax.

One of the primary verbal sins of the age was flicked hither and thither like a wet towel — the curious use of the word “like” as a recurring hyphen, qualifier and punctuation mark. “I was like you know saying to this guy, I’m not like…like that kind of girl; like man don’t like treat me like I’m some kind of idiot.” That we escaped this sentence with but one gratuitous dollop of “you know” as additional muesli for the mix, was a true blessing.

The diminution of thought by way of the devolution of language impoverishes discourse far and wide, and not just on cafe stools amongst those possibly taking a break from coherence.  I heard on a morning show someone ranting that they differed from President Obama because he did not believe in American exceptionalism, and the ranter did. The host of the show also piped in with an almost self-evident reaffirmation of his faith in American exceptionalism.

But what does American “exceptionalism” mean? It could mean that the United States has been blessed with tremendous advantages and we are obliged to make the best use of them. If so, bravo! It could mean acknowledging the evident leadership the United States has provided post World War Two to the world. Wonderful!  But if it means that America has to be better than others in some zero sum (I win you lose) way, it gets murkier. And if the belief is that a great country at times guilty of great blinkers, that has undermined its middle class and emasculated its education system, has been on military and consumer binges it cannot now easily afford, with a democracy “for sale” to the highest bidder, must not be challenged to recover its greatness, then it’s imbecilic. If the act of holding ourselves accountable to our ideals and potential is unpatriotic heresy, we’re done for.

On a recurring rampage, atheism propagandist Christopher Hitchens, who seems to be perennially jarred and emotionally inflamed by an allegedly non-existent Deity, nevertheless demonstrates the power of polemical fireworks as he mobilizes and rouses the legions of those supposedly liberated from the yoke of medieval superstitions. Taking a diametrically different view, mathematician and scientific philosopher David Berlinksi derides what he calls the “scientific pretensions” of atheism. Berlinksi is as eminently readable in his sardonic and satirical rapier thrusts against the dogmatism of fundamentalist atheists as Hitchens is compelling in his incendiary outrage at the gullibility of religious rubes.  People flock to these books, not because they point out anything profoundly new (these debates have been with us for quite some time), but for the pleasure of enjoying the performance.

Plato warned about the dangers of rhetoric. He warned of reason being seduced and swindled by linguistic sleight-of-hand and verbal embroidery. But Robert Pirsig, gave modern voice to a co-equal disquiet about the divorce between the “search for truth” and the “search for beauty”. The rhetorical triumvirate of ethos (the credibility and standing of the communicator), pathos (appeal to common emotions and intuitions) and logos (logical reasoning) is something we would do well to recover…and to teach again.

Emotions swirl within us. Thoughts cascade in our minds. If they remain inarticulate, or are rendered specious or trivial through a paucity of language or an inability to convey what we intend or to marshal the nuances of what we think and/or feel, we (and our relationships with us) become far less than what they might be.

We don’t need the flatulent zeal of charismatics, but we don’t need the dribbling confusion that so often poses for communication in modern life either. Perhaps a world of increasing complexity and challenge needs us as citizens and contributors to show up mentally, emotionally and linguistically. We need to show up to listen, to evaluate, to challenge, to engage, to learn, to generate, to design, and to hold the feet of our political leaders to the fire of accountability. We can’t be misled by drivel, and we must demand more than the empty drumbeat of slogans or the gewgaws of simplistic jargon.

Plato’s teacher and mentor, Socrates told us that the unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined leader is not worth having. And all of us must examine, really examine, with all the armaments of education and with the widest possible consideration of alternatives, our countries, our leaders, our possibilities, and our own lives and then take an articulate, passionate and persuasive stand for our beliefs, our convictions and our aspirations. Now that’s a worthy dialogue to envisage!

Oliver Wendell Holmes once opined that truth is the shifting residue from a competition of ideas. If not “truth”, then perhaps at least human progress.But ideas can only meaningfully compete when they can be fully expressed and genuinely understood.

Let’s take a stand for such understanding.

When Carpeting Doesn’t Work…

I love Changi Airport. Justifiably rated as the world’s best airport. Why? Because it’s designed to facilitate travel, not as an ego-testament to a designer. It’s not jaw-dropping…but then distances aren’t back-breaking either. Your luggage is there by the time you clear immigration, which usually takes less than 10 minutes. In fact, you can count on being in a taxi within 30 minutes of landing. Wonderful!

Most airports are designed to look good in glossy magazines and fail miserably in terms of facilitating travel or enhancing the actual traveler’s experience. It’s a confusion between “means” and “ends”. As a Consultant, I am constantly exhorting customers to ask of every tactic they debate, “What is this really meant to achieve?” Ensure the “Ends” make sense and are aligned on, then and only then, debate tactics. As the old saw reminds us, “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Alas, even Changi in its revamped Singapore Airlines Terminal has fallen afoul of this confusion. To enhance the aesthetics of the terminal they’ve put in plush carpeting. That’s lovely, except for the fact that most travelers have some form of bag with wheels. Those wheels don’t perform well on thick, plush carpet. But they glide effortlessly on uncarpeted floors for which they were designed. So as you emerge, dragging your wheeled bag across the fine grains of a totally gratuitous and effort-exacerbating carpet, you curse whichever interior designer sold the decision makers on the misguided conclusion that carpeting would add finesse and aplomb to the glistening new Terminal. The “means” frustrate the “ends’, of efficient client passage and movement.

A good question to ask often is, where have we provided “unnecessary carpeting” for which we congratulate ourselves, but which adds nothing to client success, customer value or any enhancement of the experience people come to us for? The shiny brochures, bespoke offices, bells and whistles, scripted phone greetings, industry certifications and more land with a thud if at key “perception points” we misfire and frustrate those who deal with us. Then these gewgaws are irritating, nothing else.

As I write, people around the world have had travel plans disrupted as volcanic detritus is spewed into the skies from Iceland, and due to unusually clement weather, is settling in over much of mainland Europe (rather than being blown away). Weddings are being missed, family reunions ruined, key medical treatments and business engagements rendered impossible, people stranded and more. Many service providers are dealing with distraught and helpless people. How they handle them, at least hopefully with a modicum of humanity and empathy, will make all the difference to how these providers are perceived when the cloud finally moves on or is dissipated. The “carpeting” won’t count. But responding with imagination to mitigate what can be mitigated, and with clarity, grace and compassion otherwise — as much as strained resources permit — will bolster or decimate loyalty. When people are vulnerable, they are also most open.

We would do well to remember this in normal times. The invitation to serve someone is an invitation for them to rely on us.

Always separate out “means” from “ends”. Get the ends right, then keep course-correcting on the means. And don’t just rush to “carpet” everyone with tangential “solutions” and potentially irrelevant enhancements.

Making Conferences Matter

I’m writing from Penang, Malaysia, after a Global Conference for a global personal care powerhouse. We helped design it, organize it, facilitate it, and to coach key leaders in engaging their people.

It was in direct contrast to typical Conferences which truly are elaborate time wasters. There are numerous problems with conventional Conferences.

1) They waste budget that could go into genuine development efforts.

2) They allow mechanical and uninspired bosses to tick a box to demonstrate they’ve done something “to bring our people together”.  Even though often they’ve confirmed grounds for apathy and cynicism and additionally served to entrench cliques who tend to flock together, hang out together and fortify each others pet prejudices.

3) There is not only a huge cost but scant ROI because the real cost is all the untracked commitments made during the Conference. Fuzzy questions (as no one wants to say the Emperor has no clothes) elicit fuzzier answers (as titular “leaders” are loathe to commit to anything without first going to committee to ensure any action has been rendered anodyne).

4) Any “team building” or “bonding” component is artificial, contrived, treated as a graft or an off-ramp, and rarely integrated with the overall flow of activities.

5) The quality of internal presentations is often truly appalling, with Powerpoint overload and acronym avalanches predominating.

6) More time is spent on getting t-shirts and banners right than engagement right. This then begs the question, “How much of what we experienced or achieved could have been done by Webcast?’  The answer had better be that at least 50% of what we did could only have been or certainly best be accomplished in a “high touch” setting, or don’t bother.

The Conference we just concluded was one of the very best I’ve seen.  Here’s why:

1) The leaders have spent time becoming a true team — a team with both unity and diversity in appropriate measure. This was evident and remarked on by numerous delegates.

2) Messages were crystal clear. The split between vision (where we are going) to plans (how we will get there) to capabilities (things we have to build and transcend in order to deliver) to people (tracking an intensive engagement survey and team dialogues as prep) to action planning (real actions we will take in our natural teams right away) to leadership commitments (made clearly, unambiguously and with a time-line by the senior team) was just about right.

3) Different modes of engagement were in evidence. Superb videos to titillate the senses and replete with comments from key stakeholders, the ability for delegates to Tweet comments in real-time, plenary huddles and live Q&A with senior leaders in a “fishbowl” at the front, culturally relevant activities like helping to paint a part of your portrait on a Batik that became ultimately a stunning piece of art with everyone’s “piece” being a part of the whole, a chance to compete in a race around historic Georgetown (the Unesco World Heritage epicenter of Penang) interacting with locals and partaking of local activities and delicacies, innovative venues for dinner in historic mansions and glittering ballrooms and our own outdoor hawker stand, great jazz bands and DJ’s and local dancers, a chance to make music with rhythm experts, a caricaturist who captured key moments with insight and edge, a wonderful recognition ceremony where teams (and not just individuals) were acknowledged for specific achievements and progress, wonderful break-out syndicates where different leaders presented plans and answered questions, daily huddles and rehearsals by the senior team to course correct and calibrate, and the willingness of the global boss to be coached, and to connect as both leader and human being in a closing that was an “opening” and which brought 200+ people to their feet.

4) Each presentation was challenged to be a) specific b) interactive c) relevant d) future-creating  e) succinct  f) delivered by someone who had a real passion for the subject.

5) Facilitators from our side coached and helped capture commitments and will follow through. The mode of follow-through and the time-lines are clear and committed to.

People found it illuminating, fun, entertaining. New relationships were created (the most critical thing you can’t do by Webinar), next steps understood, emotion engaged.

Then the price-tag becomes a true investment, the time and energy provide astronomic returns, and the Conference becomes a true launch pad and catalyst.  Don’t settle for something else — it will inevitably then be something less than what it should be.

A Conference is to bond, provoke, guide, focus and liberate collective potential. If two days or so can do that — and they can when done right — wow!

Things That Continue To Baffle

I am repeatedly astonished by various sins of omission.

First example, many people don’t read or grasp agreements. I can’t list the number of clients we write to, detailing an offer, with clear terms and conditions, who write back enthusiastically and say, “Let’s go!” Then, having broken ground, asking them to make time, to be responsive with their accountabilities, or pay our invoices as per the terms of engagement, they cite “sudden reversals,” “meetings,” or “standard practices.”  Occasionally I understand the corporate equivalent of a natural disaster may strike. Usually it’s a tempest in a tea-cup being utilized to justify inertia. We’re good at tackling that, invoking our client’s own best interests as a way to get them up off the mat and going . Meetings recur. That can hardly be an argument against taking necessary proactive time. As for “standard practice,” that’s irrelevant when you’ve agreed to specific terms. Why we should be bound by the lack of imagination or dogmatism of other consulting firms  is beyond me. These temporary sticking points are usually all resolved amicably through engagement, but I almost feel like saying, “Okay, can we get past the post agreement depression at realities, so we can get on to delivering value for you?”

Second sample, people who don’t reply to messages or emails. These are often people who end up hiring us, getting back to us and more. So why do they disappear for periods at a time and enjoy being chased? Why don’t they say, “Not now”?  Or else, “I need something else.” Or even, “I’m struggling with this decision.” Then we could have a dialogue. Or if they know they aren’t proceeding, why keep wasting everyone’s time? Evasiveness, elusiveness, vagueness, does not make you special, or important, or a celebrity. It reveals you as a flake, someone taffy like, or so self-absorbed that simple courtesy or honesty eludes you. These are not great calling cards. Worse, they become habitual. If you only respond to those who can benefit you, and can’t abide by professional decorum and reciprocal courtesy, that’s a way to begin unraveling your character and reflexes. Good luck when the shoe is on the other foot.

Third offshoot, obliviousness to others. These are people who stand in front of restaurant doors say, phones in ears, or chattering with pals, holding up everyone else. When you say, “Excuse me,” they glower at you, because you have dared to intrude on their self-absorbed banter or loud ranting. We all may be temporarily oblivious. Most of us when we realize it, apologize pleasantly, and oblige the other person’s request. It’s called civility. What do we gain by dulling our senses at what is happening around us? Might such blinkers not inhibit awareness of opportunity, dull the creativity to connect our services to other people’s needs (which requires discerning that these are other people and may have needs that may not immediately occur to us), or lessen the capacity to communicate across disagreements or barriers? What is the motivation for such tunnel vision?

Someone who delivers on their accountabilities, understands and abides by agreements, refuses to make paltry excuses (like “meetings”), responds clearly and proactively, is a pleasure to interact with, is aware of the world around them, and enjoys expressing as well as receiving civility and service, is almost in  a league by themselves. Their businesses will flourish, their lives will be enriched.

Let’s join them!

How Hard Can You Try To Get it Wrong?

A man attempted to set ablaze if not blow up a flight headed from Amsterdam to Detroit. The flight originated in Nigeria, and the alleged perpetrator (not so “alleged” as he put himself on fire!) was on a terrorist watch list.

Why was he allowed to get on a plane, particularly one headed to the US? The inanity is mind-boggling. We’re told he was on a “watch list” but the concerns weren’t “aviation related” and so he wasn’t on a No Fly list! Spend a bit of time on that one and see if you can extract any sense from that. A terrorist may surely switch their focus without broadcasting it to intelligence officials. Surely a simple rule that we don’t want people on a terrorist watch list on airplanes wouldn’t be too controversial?

Moreover, if a potential terrorist presents themselves at an airport, pays all cash for his ticket (as he did), has no checked luggage and the smallest possibly carry-on, don’t we want to flag this somehow in a common database so he can be detained, searched and questioned? Why do we think there is union discipline among terrorists whereby say railway bombers don’t step on the turf of airline arsonists and vice-versa?

This gets even more bizarre. The Nigerian terror suspect was refused a re-entry visa into the UK 7 years ago for various reasons — one, he was known to have some ties with radical Islamic extremists, but also because he claimed he was returning to carry out studies at a University that doesn’t exist! Surely, that was a modest red flag. Less than a month ago, his own father reported to the US Embassy his concerns about his son’s ties to extremists! When your Dad turns you in (an affluent and respected individual), you’d think (and here the consultant in me comes forth), you’d get that information disseminated to border patrol, airlines and more. Shockingly, the re-entry visa to the US of this individual was kept valid despite what had happened in the UK and this information from his father. My own uncle (I’m an American, but originally was from Pakistan), who has a son who is a US citizen, was himself former Pakistan Finance Secretary, and is over 80, needed over 4 months to get his own multiple entry visa re-issued! Surely we’re missing the point in how we focus our energies?

There are now largely irrelevant panic-stricken knee-jerk responses. So now coming into the US, we are told no one can get up in the last hour before landing (that’s when the incident occurred). What if the next person does something in the first hour? So then we can’t get up in the first hour either? What is the relevance of the “last hour” necessarily to this incident? We had blown our obligation for due diligence well before we got to that point. No blankets on our laps in the last hour either we are told. How ridiculous! Talk about locking the gate after the horse has bolted!

If this happened from someone we had no reason to be concerned over — not a one way ticket buyer denied a visa in the UK and on a terrorist watch list — maybe we would say we’re down to that and have no choice. But why is the response to inconvenience as many law-abiding citizens, further decimating the airline industry as people further try to avoid air travel,  for what are utter lapses in inter-agency communication and scrutiny? Why this rush to more indiscriminate symptom management? So we’re all to interfere with countless businesses and lives to compensate for lack of integration and competence? This needs surgery, not Pavlovian mania.

Rushing to “ban” peripheral activities that are often quality of life issues (say for a shivering passenger wanting a blanket, or a pregnant woman needing the bathroom) is an almost insulting response to such a core breakdown.

Congratulations to the passengers and crew. We’ve at least as a public started to re-empower ourselves. It’s high time that same accountability filters through to the inane if not insane ways our intelligence lists are managed, shared…and acted upon.

Reality Where is Thy Sting?

Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that Tiger Woods should be nominated “person of the year”. Why? Because the chasm between his public persona and his frenzied personal antics and peccadilloes seems emblematic of a rather tawdry decade, book-ended by Enron and Woods, with Iraq war fictions and sub-prime meltdowns in between.

We have reached that period where people truly cannot distinguish between “status” and “stature”. More’s the pity. Nonsense eventually reveals itself, and the debacle of the “Me” decade where we sought personal identity from retail logos and gadgets, impoverishing our discernment and perhaps our souls in the process, is now before us. The debris of reality-avoidance and narcissistic self-indulgence, of chastising political candidates who make us think and mulishly following those who beat their chests, is everywhere.

But if these icons have been shown to be incontestably hollow, where does that leave us? Do we rend our garments, flagellate ourselves, what?

Maybe it’s time to remember instead that human progress has depended on substance, not spin. It is the evolution of social institutions, the wide scale dissemination of education, Gutenberg and the printing press, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the expansion of voting, Civil Rights and more. None of these came from congratulating ourselves for fluff and having role models who had to parade themselves as paragons for the rest of us to build esteem vicariously from.

Let’s get back to education. Let’s demand accountability from leaders. Let’s rise to the responsibility of active citizenship. Let’s rebuild families rather than using electronic babysitters for our kids. Let’s balance budgets, personal ones and national ones, and let’s restore common sense. Let’s not be bought off by pyrotechnics, in war or in economics.

It has been said that life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think. We need to feel more passionately and think more clearly.

It’s time to get real.

The hope was that President Obama’s election was an augury of a new decade to come. But not if we think we can delegate our future prospects to him or any other leader.

We have to live the words so beloved to Nelson Mandela from the poem Invictus,  “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”  It’s time to reclaim that mastery and leadership.

Baby steps are fine. But let’s break ground on a better, more worthy decade!

Updating Relationships

Relationships matter now more than ever.

This is sometimes assumed to be a tropism, a natural or innate tendency.

It’s not. It’s a cultivated skill, propensity and reflex. To relate to someone is to first understand them and connect with them on their own terms. It is secondarily to understand how to be helpful to them in appropriate ways, not excessively or obsequiously, not pandering to them, but just seeking to be of value.

And in establishing that rapport, trust and credibility, to be eligible to also be understood and connected with in turn, to also hopefully be someone reciprocally cared about and also potentially added value to.

Harvey Mackay put it poignantly, “dig the well before you’re thirsty.” In other words, relationships have to precede our need for them. And whatever it is we seek, be it respect, or understanding, love, or value, we had best offer it ourselves, passionately, authentically and unstintingly. People who do seem to outlay these things proactively, invite and seem to enjoy abundance. Those that cling to these things, doling them out reluctantly and parsimoniously, seem to invite a corresponding poverty into their lives.

The play IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the Vibrator Play) is a saucy, juicy, provocative, titillating (if occasionally a bit too extended) tale of Victorian repression and how women (and “artistic” men) came to doctors to be cured of “hysteria” (emotional anguish leading to a deadening of physical responses) by virtue of “paroxysms” (today referred to by other names with more recreational than therapeutic implications) brought about by vibrators.

But the play is really about personal fulfillment, the right to need emotions and self-expression, and the  default drive to find substitutes (if we must) for the love, passion and intimacy we really seek. But it isn’t just about vibrators. There are all kinds of toys we turn to,  and varieties of what has been called “cheap grace” from booze, to drugs, to consumerism, to promiscuity (the other extreme of repression).

Relationships are at essence about our need to touch and be touched…emotionally and physically. Let us open ourselves up over this period in particular, to giving in expanded ways…and receiving. And indeed these will then be, happy holidays! And the period will “vibrate” with far more expansive positive paroxysms (as well as gentler fulfillments) of all kinds than ever before.

Choose the Part You Want To Address

Why do we feel we have to strike a haughty tone when dealing with people?

Years ago the researchers behind Transactional Analysis (TA) warned us of the dangers of Parent-Child conversations. Being chided, either the child in us pouts and huffs off — or erupts, or our own Paternal counter-judgement is invoked — a retaliatory defensiveness.

Instead if we can make requests or points addressing the maturity of the other person, speaking to the better angels in their nature, enrolling their positive pride, eliciting their commitment for something we want to advance together, we’ll get far more resourcefulness from them.

We’ll then be more likely to tap their passion and their gifts, rather than their tap dancing skills.

Whether with customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, or anyone else — give people something to live up to in the way that you address them. Leaven judgment with appreciation and approbation, bring in objectivity and curiousity to soften the sting of sometimes necessary observations, and above all address the person you want them to be, not the crackpot that may occasionally emerge under stress. “I like who I am when I’m with you” is not a bad aspiration to try and make true for those who relate with us, in both our professional and personal lives.

Karma Fostering Leadership Largesse

  1. Test your intelligence by challenging it, flexing it, extending it, giving it a novel work-out, or deploying it in an uncertain situation to create new and unanticipated value. The more you ask of your intelligence, the more it will give back.
  2. Give the best possible information you can to others. Be clear, complete, informative, incisive, and indicate what needs to be done. And always taper what you convey to what others need to know and perhaps want to understand, rather than gratuitously broadcasting your eloquence without purpose.
  3. Enjoy your eccentricities as well as those of others. We are a mass of eccentricities, they are the coordinates of our uniqueness. However as we revel in our own, let’s remember to also accept and enjoy those of others. None of us are ‘normal’, and the most abnormal things happen when we try to be.
  4. Provide some extra unexpected value to an external or internal customer. When they are positively surprised and ask why, you have a chance to let them know in what ways they are distinctively important to you and deeply valued.
  5. Volunteer at your child’s school. Make time, make a choice, make a difference. You will emerge with an expanded vision of life and the stakes involved in us adults being good life coaches, role models, and trustworthy friends.
  6. Whenever you read anything, a memo, a report, a book, a newspaper article, a love letter, remind yourself of the purpose for which you are reading. Then savor the reading and derive value from it accordingly. Pick the intensity of the reading, the mood, the ambience, and your quality of attention accordingly.
  7. Focus is the key to success — don’t do everything at once. You can ‘nibble’ at tasks that are peripheral, but really important work requires dedicated attention. Pick what matters most and commit your best energy to it. How long matters less than how well and how completely you immerse.
  8. Leaders often need to do strenuous mental work. We should revitalize by shifting tempo and activities. Regularly, as a real pattern interrupt, do something physically active that oxygenates the blood, allows you to sweat out stress and toxins, and gives you a glow of physical well being in the aftermath.
  9. Be open to improvising. So often we don’t know the answer, can’t imagine the right way forward, are ‘stuck’. So we do something, we adapt, we experiment, we take a chance, we stir the pot, we stimulate some reaction and stimulate a way forward.
  10. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, see if you can leave a bit more joy in your wake than you found when you arrived. As a way to do this, notice people. The person who pours your water, or checks your ticket at the cinema, or sells you fruit on the street, or wraps your purchase…really SEE them, notice them, acknowledge them. It’s not only good to do, it’s great training for our senses, our awareness, and perhaps our soul.
  11. Take a hand-delivered thank you note to someone you want to acknowledge at work. Take a hand-delivered “I love you” telegram to someone you really love outside of work. Find the words, find the occasion, honor the person.
  12. It’s easy to babble over what someone is saying, or to leap to conclusions, or to listen half-heartedly. Not everyone manages to convey the fullness of their message in the first two sentences. Listen to the whole answer, listen to the whole message. As you hear more, you can do more with it.
  13. Galileo once said to his colleagues that they should assume their own theories were wrong and seek to disprove them. Only when they could no longer disprove them, but had no choice left but to accept them, should they say they were correct. This dedication to truth, this openness to find out the way things are, this openness to test assumptions and dig deep into situations, is something we have to foster in ourselves and our teams.
  14. Make meals a celebration. ‘Breaking bread’ together is an act of kinship and fellowship. We need to invest such times with attentive appreciation, rather than lackluster complacency. We all have to bring the fun in us and with us.
  15. Occasionally, break a pattern. Get up earlier than usual and go for a morning run with friends. Go to bed a bit later that evening and listen to Beethoven’s Ninth with a glass (or bottle) of wine you haven’t tried before. Read a point of view that challenges yours. Order something totally different at a favorite restaurant. Sleep on the other side of the bed. Change your ‘look’ for a day. Positively acknowledge something good in a person who infuriates you usually. Volunteer a favor for your spouse. Do something different in other words…as we expand our paradigms, we expand ourselves.
  16. When you get home, let your posture, your actions, your willingness to relax, your openness to engage loved ones, convey that you have returned to a wonderful oasis, and to a remarkable opportunity to nurture and be nurtured…though sometimes to infuriate and be infuriated too if we’re honest! But take off your shoes, and take off your terminal seriousness and remove a few layers of your world weariness. Everyone has issues and problems. And you can help each other with them — but create a mood of community and connection first.
  17. Master a new skill, be it technological, artistic, business-related, interpersonal or otherwise. A new skill will require new thinking, fresh adaptation, necessary evolution. Not a bad collection of benefits to reel in from time to time!
  18. Become a connoisseur of language and communication. But also ensure your words reflect your real intent, and some of your compassion along with your intelligence. And the way to calibrate communication is always from the impact it has on others. Become a student of impact and you will invariably heighten your communication prowess.
  19. Make your work meaningful. Create a role to which you can fully give yourself — at least for some time. When you’ve found that, you can focus on truly growing rather than just artfully coping. If you don’t find it ready made, help to design and invent it in a way that produces value for your organization and team.
  20. You can’t change what you can’t face. First accept yourself as you are. That will give you the energy, the motivation and the necessary self-confidence to create compelling change. If daunted, start small, but keep moving. Each bit of progress fertilizes our self-belief.
  21. One way to enlarge your own perspective, find someone who sees things quite differently, and engage with them until you can begin to at least glimpse the world as they see it. Then return to your own view and expand and enhance it from there.
  22. Get to know your team. Use projects as a way to build up a leadership and team culture that exemplifies the way you want to interact overall. Projects are a way to deliver results; they are also labs for how we wish to interact, communicate, engage and behave.
  23. When it’s salad instead of steak, enjoy the health-giving benefits, the lightness, the wellness, the pleasure of flooding your body with needed vitamins and minerals. When it’s steak instead of salad, enjoy the voluptuous delight, and let your enjoyment foster your sense of well-being in a different way. Either way, and in fact in every possible way, expand your capacity for joy.
  24. Be astute, be attentive, be present. Hone your powers of observation so you aren’t easily hoodwinked by appearances or seduced down blind alleys. Remember the wisdom that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave to his creation, Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated what is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Let’s be observant enough to spot the nuggets of insight and opportunity that so often lie in front of us, awaiting our discovery.
  25. We have to create possibilities, not wallow in obstacles. Never argue for limitations, look for ways to re-imagine and re-invent. We have to be architects, not just mechanics. Our job is to enroll and align others to help us imagine and then create the future.

In short, let’s help create the Karma we wish to experience!