Too Many Leaders Fail To Live Up To Their Potential, Because They Stop Working On Themselves
(Harvard Business Review, 2011)
This quote captures the essence of the seminar that I will be teaching this summer at the University of Montana. It’s designed for experienced businesspeople and professionals who want to accelerate their own growth as well as the growth of their organizations. The premise of this learning experience is simple: The growth potential of all your relationships – with individuals, groups, or organizations – is capped by the self-imposed limits of your own personal growth. I learned, through my experiences as therapist, coach, and consultant, that I could take my clients not one step further than I had gone myself.
“The Leadership Challenge: Managing Yourself for Growth and Change”
June 10 – 12, 2011. Missoula, Montana
This is a great opportunity to dramatically expand your leadership skills and abilities while also enjoying a true Montana experience. We’re working with the owners of a very unique ranch (Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo, MT) to integrate an afternoon and evening experience at their property, with the seminar experience at the Business School. When you go to the seminar website, be sure, when you look at the “Seminar Schedule and Location,” to click on the link for “Dunrovin Ranch – Taste of Montana!” The ranch folks have put together some amazing adventures involving rafting (easy or very challenging); riding (tranquil or spectacular); and biking (thru mind-blowing vistas). These are all available to family, friends, etc. that may be coming with you.
To get to the seminar website, go to: www.business.umt.edu/leadership
You can register online at:
If you want to know more about my background and read a testimonial go to:
The seminar is limited to 25 participants, so register early to reserve your spot.
“Picking Winners & Keepers” – Sign Up For The Next Class
The next class of our unique interactive learning experience focused on recruiting and selection, begins April 20th (and runs thru June 1st). The course features on-line selfstudy combined with instructor-led teleconferences, incorporating 1-on-1 accountability and coaching.
It is built around the material I’ve developed over thirty years of work with over a thousand organizations, and is a joint venture with Training Implementation Services, an equally experienced company which has, I believe the most effective and leading edge delivery system for training and developing our workforce. If you or any of your colleagues has ever made a hiring mistake, or struggled with ambivalence after an interview, this is the course for you.
If you want more information on the course or want to make sure you get in the April 20th session, contact John Stout. John is one of the principals of TIS and is our lead facilitator for the class. You can reach John at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, for the newsletter –
Business: “Is Your Personal Life Screwing Up Your Business?”
On a recent flight, I had a most interesting conversation with my seat mate. (He had a fascinating job – costing out massive infrastructure projects all over the world. He had a unique take on the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East – that it would be a boon for Western countries because it would create billions of dollars of projects in underdeveloped countries.) We were discussing what each of us did, and at one point, he said, “Business can really screw up your personal life.” In my own inimical fashion, I heard myself saying, “No, you’ve got it backwards. Your personal life can really screw up your business.” He looked kind of quizzical and asked what I meant. I then had to quickly figure out what I did mean. (As I’ve said, on a number of occasions, I don’t plan what I say, very often. It’s almost always what I mean, but I figure it out after its released from my mouth.)
I don’t think, in the last thirty years, that I’ve seen a time in which so many people and so many relationships have melted down, and created crises in the workplace. Well, you might say, look at the economy for the last three years – that’s your answer. That may play a role, but I think that it’s far from the complete answer. I believe that the economy has been a catalyst for personal and interpersonal dysfunction, but not the fundamental cause. I see the economy serving the same role as alcohol for alcoholics. Liquor does not create addicts. Addicts abuse substances (or food, or sex, or people, ad infinitum) to dull their pain. The substance sparks the addiction and helps make it worse. So, I think, does the economy.
For some time now, I’ve become convinced that at least half the population is personally unhappy and unfulfilled, and has chosen personal, intimate relationships that are massive compromises. I don’t mean by this that the relationships are intrinsically bad and beyond hope. I mean that both parties, at some level, have decided that their relationship sucks less than not having one at all. This results in a decision, almost always unconscious, to lower their expectations, put up with what they don’t like or respect in their partner, and toss in the towel on ever getting their emotional (or, often, their physical) needs met. All the lousy economy does, is bring to the surface, serious, unattended to, personal and interpersonal issues that have been well camouflaged by better financial times. As we say in business, profits can hide a multitude of sins.
This shows up, in the workplace, as escalating irritability, passive-aggressive behavior (I’ll tell you what you want to hear, to your face, and then I’ll go off and do whatever the hell I want to), hostile zingers coming out of nowhere, the inability to focus, constantly missing targets and goals, and a poisonous and corrosive cynicism. An important point here: Work does not have the power to create chronic dysfunction and unhappiness. Only our personal lives can do that. Anyone who stays in a lousy, unsatisfying, and mean-spirited job, for an extended period of time, has the same thing at home.
So, what can you do, when you see any of these dysfunctional behaviors? First and foremost, don’t get tactical. It is insulting and patronizing to start telling people to just do some things differently and everything will be fine. It is equally insulting to tell people, directly or indirectly, that they have no reason to feel the way they do. Invalidating people’s feelings, at best, strengthens their resolve to act poorly; or, at worst, creates an escalating hostility, rage, and need for retribution.
Instead, give them feedback about two things: First, how their behavior impacts you personally. Do not bring in any other people! (Literally or figuratively.) Keep it between you and them. (People stop listening and get more pissed off, when you depersonalize the feedback.) Second, tell them, in the simplest possible language, how their behavior impacts your desire to have a relationship with them. For example, “When you put down everything we do here, and act like everyone is an idiot, other than you, I want to get away from you as quickly as possible.” Then the most important thing – a question: “Is that what you want to accomplish?”
This almost always leads to a dialogue, the focus of which is that the counterproductive behavior under discussion is methodically destroying relationships that keep the person connected to the organization. I’ve never met a person who then can’t understand the logical extension of this relationship-killing behavior. This, you may be thinking, sounds like a threat. That’s because it is. It is intended to begin a process of presenting the person with some tough choices, the first of which is whether he wants to start changing his behavior, or leave the organization.
The next set of choices involves the person looking at the connections between his poor actions at work and his life outside of work. This is catalyzed by a challenging assignment – “I want you to think about why you act the way you do, and come back and let me know what you discovered. For the purposes of this first discussion, you can’t bring up anything about work. I’ll be glad to listen to suggestions about improving things around here, but only at a later date.”
The last key point. This assignment will typically lead to a discussion of a personal dilemma or problem. Your response is critical, and always in the form of a question: “What do you think your options are, and which one are you going to exercise?” Don’t ever answer the question – “What do you think I should do?” Once you do, you relieve the other person of any responsibility for managing their life; you participate in an informal adoption; and you lay the groundwork for litigation. My response for the last thirty years, has always been the same: “Beats me.”
By the way, up to this point, you have not violated any knee-jerk liberal law about employee privacy, nor are you in danger of the HR police coming after you. The “protected areas” are, ironically, irrelevant to the conundrums people create for themselves, and telling people what to do with their lives is about the most useless and counter-productive thing you can do.
I have had people ask me if this methodology is not tantamount to putting undo pressure on people who are already under immense pressure. My response is – absolutely! I call it, the “Kick Em When They’re Down” theory of change. People only change when the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of staying the same. The best time to initiate change is when the pain trajectory is on the upswing. If you want to be genuinely helpful to people, the last thing you want to do, is remove the source of pain and discomfort in their life that is driving their dysfunction. You may feel a temporary sense of pride and beneficence, while they slide deeper into their self-destructive and illusory world.
Political/Cultural: “The Arrogance of the Poor: Entitlement and the Lack of Perspective”
Most nights Arleah and I watch the news on three different outlets. At 7:00 we watch PBS, at 8:00 we watch CNN, and at 9:00 we watch FOX News. All three have guest “commentators” supposedly representing a continuum or spectrum of political ideologies. PBS’s commentators run the gamut from far left to moderately left; CNN’s from moderately left to slightly right of center; and FOX News’ from far right to moderately right. If a ringer accidentally gets booked, who actually represents a legitimately contrarian point of view, they get patronized and co-opted, or just talked over. The differing perspectives, on the three networks, are fascinating; and some nights we wonder if all these commentators live on the same planet.
A few weeks ago, PBS devoted part of their broadcast to an examination of the ‘income gap” in America – a fresh and unique topic. They had the usual lead-in reciting the gargantuan compensation CEO’s and the piddling salaries of “working people,” as well as the obligatory “studies” showing how the gap has grown to “obscene” proportions.
What was most interesting was a montage of mini-interviews with four people, all at the wrong end of the gap, struggling to get by. One was a social worker who worked with displaced and poor people; one was a security guard who had worked previously at a higher paying position; one was a single mother with three young children; and one was a former middle manager, now unemployed.
The social worker, by her own admission, making “good money,” combining both her and her husband’s income, complained about how the two of them were just barely getting by, and could not do a lot of the things they’d like to do. The security guard, very bitterly, ranted about guarding the building of some “rich guy” who (he strongly inferred) got the building at the expense of some not so rich folks. The single mom whined about being stuck with a small apartment, saddled with taking care of three small kids, and therefore, unable to get ahead in her life. The unemployed middle manager was the angriest and most vociferous, venting her spleen about the nearly $200,000 she had spent on her undergraduate and graduate education, just to find herself unemployed.
For me, this was one of those yelling at the television occasions. The financial correspondent for PBS raised nary a question of any of the four. (I don’t know why I thought he would.) He didn’t ask the social worker why she didn’t choose to do something else, if she wanted to make more money. (I have never understood, or had much patience with people who choose work that everyone on the planet knows doesn’t pay much, and then complain bitterly about just scrapping by, and how awfully unfair it is.) He didn’t ask the security guard why he thought that some people end up owning buildings, and some people end up guarding them. (I have no doubt that he subscribes to the mythological belief that the angel of money anoints some people and passes over others.) He didn’t ask the single mother if she ever had any reservations or any hesitations, about having three illegitimate children. (I know it’s not politically correct, but he also didn’t ask her why she was a hundred pounds overweight, and the effect that that choice would have on her and her children’s future possibilities. I know that poor people eat a lot of junk, but there’s a limit to what Sugar Pops can do to you.) And finally, he didn’t ask the former middle manager a number of pertinent questions, like – “Why did you think that getting some college degrees would guarantee you a job? Or, “Why do you think you got fired and other middle managers are still employed?
The sense of entitlement that these four individuals had is infuriating. It was clear that each of these people felt that it was their right to have enough money to do whatever they wanted to do. It was their right to own what rich, successful people own. It was their right to avoid any consequence for bad decision-making earlier in life. And finally, it was their right to have a guaranteed job simply because they jumped through some socially acceptable hoops.
The fundamental reason that has spawned this outrageous sense of entitlement is the notion, rapidly becoming an integral facet of our cultural zeitgeist, that things should be easy. It’s the belief that if something is hard, demanding, and even exceedingly difficult, something is terribly wrong; and even worse, they’re obviously getting screwed. If I hear one more person in the Obama administration, whine about the terrible burden of student loans, or the right that everyone has to go to college, I’m going to seriously consider going into politics. I know lots and lots of people who borrowed (and paid back) enormous amounts of money, to make it possible for them to go to college. None of them (including many from poor, minority backgrounds) have been psychically scarred or economically disadvantaged for life. And I know an equal number of highly successful people who never went to college (some never finished high school) who have had great careers and great lives. As with all caretaking concepts, the idea of making things easy is, at its core, another form of racism. It posits an inferior, incapable individual who lacks the capacity to rise to challenges, and to learn and grow from their difficult experiences. With very few exceptions, everyone has the resources to surmount the difficulties they encounter; but they will never know what they are, as long as we make things easy for them. I have never worked with a successful person who does not attribute their very success to the hard things they had to work through and master.
The other thing that really angers me about the arrogance of the poor is the simple lack of gratitude for what they do have. It is very unfortunate and undermining of our culture that we are amongst the least traveled first world people. Most Americans are clueless about how the rest of the world lives (and dies). The majority of the citizens of the rest of this planet, with the exception of a handful of countries, would kill to be poor in America.
In addition to having chosen a career that has taken me to numerous places on our globe, I had an even greater gift. I grew up with immigrant grandparents. They came to this country with nothing. No money, no possessions, no knowledge of the language, and nothing to smooth their way into a culture they were ill-prepared to deal with. They got regularly ripped off, exploited, abused, and worked like slaves. And every day of their lives, they thanked God that they were in America. I have great empathy for people born into poverty, abuse, and ignorance. I have none for people who stay there. It is sad that the idea of American exceptionalism has become a cliché, because it has led to most people not knowing what it actually means. We are an exceptional people because of our fierce commitment to choice. No where else in this world do people have the choices we have. Some time it’s difficult to exercise those choices, but it is never impossible. Maintaining those choices is the quintessential challenge of our time.
Personal: “Losing a Parent: The Death Before the Death”
I have written a few times about my mother’s deteriorating health and the impact on our relationship. I’ve discussed the changes in her, from a vibrant, curious, somewhat argumentative person, to a passive, non communicative, almost obsequious individual. The transformation has been stark, and deeply saddening, but there has always been a ray of hope, when she would suddenly come alive, and really engage us in a true interaction. Those moments, admittedly, were few and far between, but they stoked our hope that, at some level, she was still there. That hope has now vanished. She is now gone. Her body remains, but her soul has departed.
About two weeks ago, when Arleah and I went to see her, we found her in bed, in a catatonic-like state. She looked like she had had a stroke, or something of that magnitude. We tried to talk with her, but to no avail. She literally could not speak, and could barely move her head, back and forth. We thought, initially, that she was indicating “no” to some of our questions, by shaking her head, but it soon became apparent that there was no connection between her head movements and our questions. In addition, it was soon clear that anything we said didn’t register, or if it seemed to there was a delay of 10 to 15 seconds. It is still hard to describe exactly what she was like. Both Arleah and I have been around stroke victims, and they can still communicate, if only with eye movements and a slight nodding. Her head movements were the kind of thing you do when you’re alone, and saying to yourself, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
In subsequent days, she was thoroughly evaluated at the hospital, and cleared of any stroke involvement or concussion (she had fallen three times in the prior week and had some nasty bruises). She had tested positive for a urinary tract infection, and some of the nursing staff (and one of the doctors) was attributing her lack of any responsiveness to that infection. (She has subsequently recovered from the UTI, and is still non-communicative.)
My mother has always been a proud woman. She took crap from no one, was fiercely independent, and had an opinion about everything. As she entered her 80’s (she’s almost 92), she opened up considerably about her feelings about her life, and the big decisions she had made. It was the first time, in my life, that I saw her express regret about some things she had done (and not done). In every one of those conversations she made it clear that she did not, in her words, want to live like a “vegetable.” She said to us, directly, that if she got to the point where all she was capable of, was eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom, she wanted us to “pull the plug.” She added that if we didn’t, she would. I think she’s pulled the plug; in the only way she can now.
At this point, I have an extraordinary mixture of feelings. I am deeply, deeply saddened. The woman I see at the nursing facility bears no resemblance to the woman I grew up with. She doesn’t look like her and certainly doesn’t act like her. I find myself longing for those pointless political arguments we would have; and the stories about her “great” friends who never came to visit her.
I’m also angry; at times furious about her leaving without at least saying goodbye. I want to talk with her about the amazing life she had; about what I learned from her; about her grandchildren; about my father and the great life they had together. Instead, all I get is a mindless smile, signifying nothing. She’s like an infant now, but without the hope and the promise of things to come.
As Arleah says, all that’s left now is to sit with her, and hold her hand.