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Showing posts from September, 2007

monday morning

How will your week begin? Your Monday morning can be full of promise or full of problems. Some of its quality depends on things beyond your control. Less than you think.

If you can admit the possibility that things can go wrong, that the best laid plans of mice and men often end on the rubbish heap, that no one is really in control - if you can admit that Murphy's law governs our best efforts then - logically

You must also admit the possiblity that in a world of random happenings, some surprises are pleasant and sometimes we are saved from ourselves and sometimes the plans that do not work are the plans that should not have worked. So -

You - and I - are left to make a choice. It is Monday morning early, and the week has not yet really begun. There is no indication that either promise or problems will win the day. It is up to you- and me - to choose. Promise or problems?

strength + stretch

I often wish I could find a way around the problem. It's like having two-year-old twins: they would be so much easier to handle one at a time. Like twins, they are often hard to distinguish, especially when found together. Strength. Stretch.

If the goal were just to cultivate strength, we could learn enough and repeat enough so that the neural pathways would be deep and reliable and we could count on having what we needed. If the goal were just strength, we could dig deep and find what it takes to hold ourselves together and to have an impact.

If the goal were just to stretch, we could take just one step, pull just one more fraction of an inch, open our minds to just one new idea at a time. If the goal were just stretch, we could free our imaginations and reach out. We could enjoy being pulled out of shape and out of orbit.

Growth for people (and trees, for instance) demands that we develop both strength and stretch. They demand different qualities, different practices, different pe…

Radical integrity

Structural integrity depends on having two qualities in sufficient degrees: strength and flexibility. Structural integrity allows buildings to withstand internal and external forces so that they stay standing. Buildings begin with foundations and foundations support all that comes after them. Foundations do not grow and buildings cannot expand beyond their foundations.

Roots are different. Trees grow in both directions: up and down. As they reach higher, they also reach deeper or wider (depending on the type of tree). Roots provide more flexiblity than foundations. They support structures that bend and change and grow.

When you think about your roots, it is common to think about where you began. That's not an entirely accurate way to think about roots. Plants begin as seeds, and while the roots might begin near the beginning, they keep growing throughout the life of the plant. If you want to think about where you began, think about seeds and soil. If you want to think about where y…

knowing what we want from a connection

It is not as common as it could be. I'm not sure that anyone has ever looked at me and asked: "What do you need from me to allow you to perform at your best?"

Why is that an unusual question? It makes sense for teachers, managers, and partners to ask what they can do to better the performance of the people on whose performance their own success depends. It is evident that there are benefits to understanding the perspective of the people we are supposed to lead or support, and to having them commit to that perspective by putting it into words. It allows us to provide better support and it commits them to working with us when we provide the kind of support or guidance they have requested. It is truly a win/win.

So try it. Notice that it is hard to ask the question and that it is a hard question to answer. Notice that there is an element of tough self-reflection that is necessary in order to make the question effective. It's not easy to risk asking a question that might o…

always begin with what you want

This morning, I told my class repeatedly, "Never send an email with a blank subject line." I forgot what I knew to be true: that the unconscious mind is really bad at listening to negatives. Some part of me heard "send an email with a blank subject line." And so, when I returned to my computer, I sent an email with a blank subject line.

Ouch. I had to avoid what I knew on at least two different levels to make one dumb mistake.

Everyone makes dumb mistakes. Everyone gets caught in the common failing of saying what we don't want - and thereby making it probable if not inevitable. We live in a world of "thou shalt nots" and they are hard to avoid.

Next class, I will tell my students: "Always begin by creating a subject line that catches the positive attention of your reader."

The discipline of making it fun

I had coffee with a colleague yesterday, an accomplished speaker who gets teams to see with fresh eyes and act with fresh energy. Paradoxically, we were sitting down to walk our talk as we reflected on a recent experience. The obvious part was that we wanted to give our own work the same open-minded appreciation that we encourage our clients to give to their work. We looked at what had really happened and noticed what worked and what we would change next time.

The more important part of walking our talk yesterday was that we sat down in fresh surroundings with great coffee and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. We made each other laugh. This was not the bonus added to the critical look at what we had accomplished. This was central to what we believe about how people achieve: we added fun to the mix precisely because we were absolutely serious about the conversation.

It is easy to leave out the fun, or to assume it should be added in as a reward once the real work is done. Only t…

What if work were more like play?

Try this. Think about a specific point in your working day tomorrow, a point when you think you will need to be able to think on your feet, make good decisions, and relate well to people. When you have identified the point, allow yourself to really imagine it as if it were happening right now. See it and hear and feel it exactly as you will tomorrow (or just pretend that you are imagining it that vividly). Experience it, then come back and continue reading.

Now imagine a time when you were very young, a time when you were completely wrapped up in playing. It will take a minute or two for a time like this to come into focus - but you have memories of being a child and spending whole days playing with complete imagination and wonderful concentration. You have memories of being so caught up in your play that the rest of the world seemed to fade into the background. You have memories of thoroughly enjoying a day as you played with energy and enthusiasm. When you have a really clear pict…

How do you feel when you read your own writing?

Reading your own writing is a little bit like looking at yourself in a photograph or video. It provides you with an opportunity to see yourself from across the room. It's not the same as seeing yourself objectively or seeing yourself as someone else sees you: other people have preoccupations of their own. They often do not notice the things that jump off the screen at you because they are not self-conscious about the way you look or sound. You are likely to be self-conscious.

If you read something you wrote some time ago, you will notice that paradox of the human self: you are aware of both being the person who wrote what you just read and of no longer being the person who wrote it. You can notice change in yourself - you notice that you have said things in words or phrases that no longer come naturally to you. You can notice that the way you organize your thoughts has changed. You can notice that the things you wrote seemed inevitable at the time, and now seem subject to change.

words matter (but not in the way you might think)

Today I begin working with new classes of very young business people. Although some will hide it better than others, most will resist coming to my communication classes. They know they do not know. They know their spelling is bad, their sentence formation unreliable, and the whole process of writing and speaking runs according to rules they just do not get.

What I will teach them is that words matter - and so do lots of things that they can handle better than words. The truth is that no one has 'the right words' all of the time or in all of the situations where they want them. None of us has precise control over what we will say next or what it will mean to the person who hears. Even following all of the rules does not guarantee success.

The good news is that breaking the rules does not guarantee failure.

The good news is that the mistakes we make with words can teach us as much about ourselves, our circumstances and our goals as the words we choose with what feels like better ac…

presence is power

My training partner, Chris Keeler, often used to end a training session with a story he had heard told by his teacher and mentor, Derek Balmer. The story involves a young man who follows St. Francis of Assissi as he makes his rounds one day. The young man discovers that the teaching of St. Francis is not in his words, but in his presence.

I once worked with a sales professional in financial services. Several clients had entrusted him with their entire portfolios to invest. When the markets took one of their unpredictable downturns, the clients would call. He sometimes complained about the need for "handholding" in this situation. I wondered what it took to turn holding hands into a bad thing, something to be endured rather than welcomed.

We all need to have someone hold our hand from time to time. We need the reassurance that comes from presence. Words are optional. Often, they are not even helpful. The people we crave are not the ones who will give us the right answers; they…