Photo by Author 

Recent times have given us the opportunity to pause, reflect, perhaps change direction, or clarify what matters.

Pandemic restrictions have fostered an imposed simplicity of life and lifestyle that many were never previously accustomed to.

One outcome has been a resurgence of Minimalism. This countercultural movement has been around for centuries.

Minimalism has influenced art, music, design, architecture, science, business systems, and personal lifestyles.

I love it when an ancient concept comes roaring back with new relevance.

Wholesale changes in our lifestyle include spending less, saving more, working more simply from home, and rediscovering the great outdoors.

Me?  I loved it and lived it long before Marie Kondo started cleaning up, Elon Musk decided to sell all his houses, or some guys made a Netflix movie about it.

The recent past has allowed us some head-space to evaluate everything. I mean everything from how we “do life” and how we do “do business.”

If you hold vague negative feelings about things like consumerism, clutter, debt, and all forms of distraction, you’re well on the way toward a minimalist lifestyle.

Don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean you have to toss it all and adopt a monastic existence.

The basic tenets are to combat the chaotic excesses of modern-day living.

History abounds with minimalists who adopted a simple living lifestyle in support of a greater life mission.

JESUS OF NAZARETH   Rabbi | Prophet | Healer

“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.”

CONFUCIUS  Philosopher | Chinese Mystic

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

 

LEONARDO DA VINCI – Inventor | Painter | Sculptor

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

More recent examples include:

 HENRY DAVID THOREAU – Writer | Philosopher

“Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”

LEO TOLSTOY – Author | Essayist | Educational Reformer

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN – Physicist | Nuclear Scientist | Scholar

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

More importantly, Minimalism has become a viable antidote to what I’ll call the info-demic. Never before have we been carpet-bombed with so much information. So often, the data is conflicting and confusing.

Like guard rails on a mountain road, or radar in the fog, there’s a measure of wisdom in functional Simplicity.

There’s really no manual or rulebook for adopting Minimalism.

Here’s my take on how it works in real life.

Desires and Expectations; Deliberately expecting less from those around me and the world, in general, allows me to appreciate what I have. That doesn’t mean I stop striving for better. I can only do the best I can, and others can only give what they’ve got. Often that leaves gaps of unmet expectations. Approaching those gaps with a measure of grace and understanding smooths the bumps. Sometimes you find pockets of joy along the way.

Possessions; This means being intentional about owning only what you really need. I’ve started ditching stuff that no longer serves a purpose and stopped buying things for the sake of ownership.  This frees up resources for me to be generous with the people and the causes that I love.

Relationships;  Minimalism in this realm is brutal to explain but here goes.

Relationships have different degrees of value. I think of them as relationship “buckets.”

Some are purely transactional– like the guy who cuts my hair. We have some friendly chit-chat about family and life, but that’s about it.

Then there’s the relational bucket. Here’s where I relate and stay in touch with many folks, but it’s more at the “acquaintance” level.

My standard Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Disclaimer:

Hi Ray! Great to hear from you, and I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for your Invitation to connect, but it was probably an algorithm suggestion – right?  Fair warning – I’m a minimalist FaceBook contributor. I do enjoy staying in touch with what’s going on for others (minus cute cats and what so and so had for breakfast)  So – just so you know – my FB “friend” bar is pretty low. You don’t have to loan me money, bail me out of jail, or visit when I’m in “The Home” or anything.

This usually gets a good response and opens the door for further conversations.

Thirdly, there’s the transformational bucket. These are my “spark” people who inspire me with their intellect, wisdom, care, love, and humor. Time together is always an energizing, uplifting, and nourishing experience. Hopefully, I do the same for them.

In the end, it’s about discerning which relationships add genuine value and making enough time for those who mean the most to you.

Thought Life;  Thought life minimalism involves confidence to not over-think (worry), underthink (neglect), or race ahead to check off as many boxes as possible. It’s being present and engaged while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Each day is a chance to engage fully in the joys, triumphs, sorrows, fears, faults, and near misses that make up a life.  Each day is a chance to do better and make a difference for yourself and others.

A Myriad of Benefits

Go ahead. Google “Benefits of Minimalism,” and you’ll quickly get the picture.

Personally, I enjoy the less stress, more freedom aspect of Minimalism. The additional freedom allows me more time to be productive. It leaves more room for people and causes I care about. Decision making becomes much easier because either it fits my value system or it doesn’t

Wrap Up

You see, simplifying, and removing clutter, whether it’s figurative or literal, isn’t the end result – it’s merely the first step. Understanding why you’re doing this gives you the traction to keep going.

Until next time,

Lorne

 

 

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

 

A PERSONAL STIMULUS CHECK

True confession: It’s hard for me to stay motivated these days.

 And that’s unusual for me. Usually, I’m a pretty motivated self-starter type, but I hit some invisible wall and have to dig way deeper to stay motivated.

My whiteboard of “to-do’s “is glaring at me from across the room. I have trouble deciding where to start, and then a sense of overwhelming arises.

Maybe it’s the S.A.D. Season and my vitamin D levels are down.

Maybe it’s the mild cognitive impairment brought about by ever-lurking pandemic fatigue.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

“He who moves not forward goes backward.”

– Von Goethe 

 

What I Know Works 

Well, first, I have to remind myself that this is a weird time when millions of lives have been lost. Millions of more jobs have been destroyed. 

In a few short months, we’ve had to reshape how we work, socialize, learn, and generally do life.

 “The future ain’t what it used to be.” 

― Yogi Berra

If you’ve ever endured a significant house renovation, you’ll know the unsettled feelings that accompany the chaos. Walls and wiring get ripped out; spaces are re-configured; everything is re-routed. Life for many folks is something like that.

The temptation is there to be scared and anxious about a thousand stupid things. 

But really, the job these days is to do the best we can and take it one step at a time.

And then take those steps. 

Motivation Is A Task

Intrinsic motivation is indeed part of every project that you and I are working on. It’s a task to check off. I frequently have to motivate myself to stay on target with my work, relationships, spiritual, and life goals. 

Why? Because some people are counting on me to show up. 

The same goes for you. 

If my goal is to be healthy and “eat well,” and I crave cookie dough ice cream, it’s my job to say, “I’ve got a better plan, and that craving will have to wait right now.” 

An acquaintance of mine is a competitive bodybuilder. He works out daily, sometimes twice a day, and eats a lot of food but according to a rigorous and well-constructed plan. When he’s in training for an event, he would MUCH rather chow down on a double cheeseburger with fries than another five ounces of steamed chicken breast and asparagus.

So motivation is something one must consciously choose.

Grit Is A Factor

Let’s face it. Perseverance, determination, willpower, and sticking to it don’t get much air time these days.

I mean it’s just not sexy. 

We live in a culture where people expect immediate results. There’s Nexus lanes, movies on demand, coffee drive-thru windows, high-speed internet, Instagram, and Door Dash.

If you want something right now, all you have to do is spend a few bucks. 

Unfortunately, people carry this idea into the work world where success is anything but instant or without effort.

The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work, patience, and time to experience success.

Success often comes and goes in cycles. This intermittent nature of success can be too much for some aspiring leaders to handle.

It doesn’t take much to be motivated when things are going well. But how will you respond when you go through a rough patch? As your energy slips, will you stay the course and continue striving toward your goals?

You see, grit isn’t necessarily the same thing as success, but it’s positively correlated with success because how can you overcome obstacles 

unless you’re willing to grind out through all the failures?

It seems there’s no such thing as easy on the stuff that’s worthwhile.

People who train hard and run a marathon don’t ever say, “Wow, was that ever easy! “

Grit is a critical factor that determines outcomes.

 

Take Some Steps – The Passion Thing Will Follow 

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” 

Yogi Bera

 

There’s this pervasive, unrealistic life theory out there that says you have to be passionate about just about everything you do all the time, or else why bother. Wrong!

True – it’s great when you can find that sweet spot in your work, where you feel challenged, rewarded, and fulfilled all at once.

Statistics and life experience tell us this is very much the exception, not the norm.

It is also true that sometimes there’s great wisdom and sound judgment in knowing when to throw in the towel.

 It shouldn’t be the default response when things start heading south.

All too often, I see initiatives, jobs, and vocations getting ditched because someone “just isn’t feeling it “(aka discouragement, overwhelm, disillusion, unmet expectations) 

 I think it’s a net result of the digital era where we’re all a part of a massive cognitive disconnect between what’s virtual and what’s real. 

I’m bombarded every day with smiling faces, successes, and achievements of others on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, etc., which leaves me feeling “what’s wrong with me” or “I must really suck at life.”

But it takes doing something to actually “do something.” You can quote me on that.

Being persistent and consistent at doing the right things is what builds your influence and a leadership presence.

Sometimes that means just showing up and doing the work even when you’re not “feeling it”. 

Just do the work. The passion thing will follow. Trust me. 

The vast majority of leadership is a mental attitude. 

One of the most significant mental challenges for leaders is self-motivation, especially during slow or tumultuous times. If you find yourself struggling to move forward, you’ll need to get a grip.

“90% of the game is half mental.”

Yogi Berra 

Can we take this one step at a time? 

Until next time

Lorne

 

 

2020: Blessed, Stressed, and Downright Hard.
(Revisiting The Big Why ) 

Too soon to debrief 2020?
C’mon, admit it. You’ve been thinking about that as well.
It wasn’t as though you didn’t have a plan. Getting lambasted by massive upheaval has seen a lot of plans, hopes, and dreams go flying out the window.
(not to mention jobs and in some instances, personal and mental health, and well-being)

LEADERSHIP IS HARD 
Finding personal motivation for hanging in there when the going is particularlychallenging is a key to forming resilience.
Having a clear personal reason for leading—a  “Big Why”—is not only a good strategy but it’s the secret sauce for developing sustainable resilience and tenacity that perseveres when resistance arises.
Usually, I’m pretty resilient. My rear-view mirror “take” on this past year is like that great line from the 1976 flick Gumball Rally.
(1st rule of Italian driving)
“What’s a behind me,…. is not important!
For whatever reason, when I face the worst, it fires me up to become positive, driven, and eager to be part of building a better solution.
On the other hand, the monumental difficulties of this last year have caused the empath part of me to be working double overtime.
I need to hit the pause button every once and a while to remind myself and those around me, that there are still a lot of good things going on and we can we live hopefully and with courage in this coming year.

Author Simon Sinek burst onto the public scene making one point: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” in his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” (52 million views), Sinek lays out his view that the key to bringing change is to “start with ‘why.’” Your inner motivation or purpose is directly linked to rallying others to buy-in to a cause.

START WITH WHY
In the talk he draws a diagram of three circles; the center circle is labeled “why” and two outer rings are labeled “what” and “how.” “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he says. The key factor for bringing change to the world is not in the strategies (the what) or the tactics (the how) but in the motivation (the why). For Sinek, the key to unlocking change is to find those people who share at the center of their being your same central beliefs and motivations and engage them in joining you.

Leadership, at its core, is about gathering people together to create value, in order to accomplish or produce something worthwhile that needs to be done. That mission is usually focused on a need or pain point that if addressed, benefits everyone, and makes our world a better place.

In this way, leadership is born not of the desire to lead but—at the center of our being—a desire to serve others in light of the painful realities of the world. It flows not from a desire to achieve, succeed, or accomplish, but to serve others at the point of real need and in turn experience that as one’s own calling.

For most of us, this is straightforward enough. For those of us whose leadership is characterized by words like transformation and mission, we are eager to make a difference and meet those needs. It’s a big part of how success is measured on our scorecard.

The prolonged Pandemic threat has had a blunt-force-blessing effect by forcing an examination of the status quo, plus adding some new perspectives.
Existential threats tend to do that.

  • The business world as we know it is transforming and resizing.

  • We’re personally needing to adapt, transform, and resize our worlds as well, to accommodate imposed changes.

  • Relationships have taken on fresh new meaning and value.

  • Simplicity, complexity, and uncertainty seem to cheerfully co-exist everywhere.

  • Usefulness and people’s time have become a new form of currency.

As I engage with executives and leaders, the recurring themes are eerily familiar; Survive, stay together, deal with rampant anxiety, regain a market share, return an organization to sustainability, or even “save the company.” The question before any leader of an organization is to “save the company for what?”

Fact is, the end-user of whatever product or service you work hard to produce, may not care all that much if your organization survives.

What they do care about is if you care about them!

Resilient leaders endure through resistance because of the deep care they have for people in pain in the world and the deep belief that their organization, institution, or company is meant to meet that need. The Big Why (Purpose) is both critical for an effective strategy and vital for forming the resilience to see it through.

It’s All About Purpose 
One of the best statements of “Purpose” comes from the ubiquitous Agent Smith character in Matrix Reloaded. I always liked Smith’s banal politeness, even while he’s trying to kill you.

“There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist.
It is purpose that created us,
 purpose that connects us,
purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us;
it is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us.”
Agent Smith

I doubt if Mr. Sinek could say it any better.

Thinking It Through 
How would you describe your personal “Big Why”?
What is your deepest reason for life and service?
What is your motivation for developing resilience as a leader?
How does your ‘Big Why’ help you face the challenges that come from leading and serving other people?

Until next time.
Lorne

 

 

 

 

 


Hang in there with me for a bit. This is Part 1 of a 2 Part-er
I’m trying to capture the prevailing mood of what’s happening these days.
We’re navigating the vague ambiguities of just about everything, and I’ve got
to admit, I’m struggling to come up with the words.

There’s a new kind of antsy with the current “half normal” weirdness we find ourselves in. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown.

The best descriptor is the secret phrase that got me through French in high school.
“Je ne sais pas.” ~ Simply “I dunno.”

August usually signals one of the more carefree months.
“Normal” means barbecues and beaches, a buffer time to ease off a bit, and recharge.
Later on, comes that creeping back-to-school, back-to-work, Sunday-night feeling.
 
But in August 2020?  What kind of school? What kind of work?    

What this will mean for many of us is a return to the home office (or couch) where we’ve been Zooming in varying degrees of casual since March.

 

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
—Charlie Munger

This pithy quote stuck with me and served as a visceral kick-starter.

The Idea: What if I start talking with fellow leaders about the toughest challenges that they are facing right now in our COVID-impacted world?  

One of my projects over June and July was to invite 40 Leadership Conversations with leaders I know.
A huge “thanks” to those of you who participated in this.

I started personally inviting leaders to a focussed 15-20minute conversation with me around”
What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging and existing leaders in your sector today?”

The conversations have been rich and varied.
I’m still wrapping up, collating, and compiling results.

Why 40 Conversations? 

Well, that seemed like a nice round sample number.

A bit of a stretch for me, but doable if I buckled down
(BTW, if you’re wondering “why didn’t I get a call on this?”, there’s still time.
More is better and I’d love to hear your story, so just hop on  my scheduler, pick a time, and we’ll make it happen.)

Why now?  We all have a bit more time.

Bigger Picture Why? 

I need help articulating current realities for an Executive Leadership course I’ll be offering in October.

Leadership realities are often way more fluid than can be captured in the latest business bestseller. LE 

Our Topic? What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging leaders in your sector today?

Here at HeyWhat’sNext? HQ,  I like to ask the hard questions, keep us on our toes, mix things up, try new things.

This month is no different.

Most leadership newsletters give you a litany of best practices.

Boring.

How many give you an opportunity for real-time feedback on leadership issues?

Here’s “40 Conversations” Part 1 Let’s get to it.

Today’s Toughest Leadership Challenge: Tackling Uncertainty 

THBigee: Dealing With Uncertainty

The one thing that was top of mind for most everyone I spoke with was the topic of “uncertainty”.  Most leaders I know are Ok leaning into a certain amount of the unknown. COVID has ratcheted this up to a whole new level.

Privately, it has everyone a bit freaked out. It casts a pall over everything.

A trusted friend, who is always a good bellwether on all things leadership says, “Yeah it’s very weird. Usually, I have a sense of plans and direction, but suddenly all my reference points have been wiped out. It’s hard to know if we’re even moving in the right direction.”

When we come up against situations that are charged with anxiety and ambiguity — a pandemic, a recession, a job loss, an unwanted family change — most of us have trouble thinking about an upside. We can easily become paralyzed by circumstances. It’s tough to see the bigger picture let alone figure a way forward. Scientists call this a status quo bias.

There’s Always Options 

The key here is not to get stuck in “paralysis by uncertainty”  It easy to be overwhelmed by the array of possible negative outcomes. Start rethinking things in the broader context.

To my way of thinking there are three distinct mental models that are clear options when thinking through the chaos of uncertainty.

  1. Victimhood
  2. Survivorship
  3. Accept and Navigate

Victim Mentality

One is that of defeatism and victim mentality. “Nobody ever tells us anything” and “They’re doing it to us again” are some of the common narratives of this mindset.  It’s surprising to me how many “progressive” organizations, actually have little open and transparent communication. So “us against them” rumors are an easy way to explain what’s going on and why.

It comes quite naturally. Most people can quickly identify what’s wrong. It’s less instinctive to focus on what’s right and build upon that. It takes much more courage to correct a problem than to point and complain about the problem while waiting for somebody else to fix it. For some, it brings on personal existential crises.

Left unattended, cynics and naysayers can easily hijack our emotional well-being. You might need to point out that raising complaints without possible solutions can be unproductive and even harmful. If team members or co-workers insist on remaining a victim, I’ve gone so far as to encourage, or even help them to find another work setting. Unfortunately, with this mindset, things aren’t that different in a new job,

Survivor Mentality

The second mindset is that of a survivor. These are the “let’s just get by” folks. Imagine a body of water where the surface is the status quo.  Survivor mentality says “let’s just wait and see what happens” while furiously treading water. Sooner or later survivor mentality succumbs to victimhood or eventually “gets it” that change is necessary and either adapts or looks elsewhere.

Navigator Mentality

The third mindset is that of a navigator. These folks look at an upcoming change and say “Hmm, this is really happening. How can I make this work for me and others on my team?”

Leaders who foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s happening earn a whole lot more respect and trust. It’s been my experience that with the right leadership coaching approach, staff colleagues and even family members can unlearn victim and survivor mindsets and actually become navigators.

Challenging the fear-based narratives by weighing objective evidence against imaginary outcomes needs to be on-going. Keep desirable alternatives or what you would prefer to happen front and center. Harness the power of imagery —you have a clear picture of what outcome you want from this situation. Ask yourself, what would a successful outcome look like? What would you be doing with the key players involved? How would you be feeling? What mindset have you adapted to rise above the difficulties and problems?

If anything, over-communicate and be very “present” during times of high uncertainty. Make the vision of the future, the picture, a very real presence in your communication. If they see a vision that you have, they will find new ways there. If they don’t see your vision, they will only find ways to do the tasks.

My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne

During times of necessary, non-productive downtime, we often get stuck imagining extreme either/or outcomes.

Creative leaders who are adept at managing uncertainty think realistically in terms of probabilities.
I.E. It’s possible that a meteor can land directly on your house, BUT it’s much more probable that it won’t.

They also think in non- binary terms that include “both /and”.

If we can remember there is a context vaster than we might initially have thought, filled with more options than we might have envisioned,
we are much more likely to find what I call the best minimum viable outcome.
(A Minimum Viable Outcome is the most  basic outcome you want to achieve)

Most importantly, with that broader mindset, we can weather the discomfort of unproductive uncertainty with greater optimism and calm.

Remember Those Options? 

I recently reread Victor Frankl’s account of his years in concentration camps. I was struck by his observation of how critical it was to their
survival that his fellow prisoners could find meaning in their lives, even with their suffering.

His conclusion is a powerful testament to the potential for growth even in unthinkable circumstances.
He wrote: “Everything can be taken [from a person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms
— to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The opportunity to exercise that freedom is available to all of us — and it is key to finding a way forward in uncertain times.

Stay safe! Stay strong!
  
Until next time.

Lorne

 

Climbing Out of the COVID Rabbit Hole and Looking Back, Forward and Up

It feels like I’ve been in a rabbit hole for the last 8 weeks. 

Photograph by Richard Barnes. Set Design by Jill NichollsWho knew Hey What’s Next?, would be THE question on everybody’s mind these days?

It feels as if we’ve been under some kind of weird siege and we’ve had to “hole-up”
until there’s some sort of all-clear signal. My personal time/space continuum has gotten seriously messed. Tuesdays feel no different than Saturdays and it all just kind of melds together.The crisis has been physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, political, and existential.
It’s individual and collective. Hope you and yours are doing ok.

I’m more grateful than ever for coffee!  My morning coffee ritual has been one of those little things that help “ground” me. One of those familiar and comforting constants that stays the same when all else seems to have changed.

What’s helping keep you grounded and going these days? (In a good way) However small or weird it may seem, if it’s working for you, please share. It may help others as well. Shoot me a note and I’ll share it with everyone next time. Deal?

BTW. Feel free to pass this along and invite other readers. Easy signup here. 

Yup. I’ve had that holed-up feelin’ for about the last 8 weeks now.

Finally, it’s semi-safe to pop my head out and have a look around. (appropriately masked, gloved, and socially distanced of course)

Much like the fierce rabbit characters in “Watership Down” (a tale of survival and adventure) we all had to scurry to our respective warrens and hole up ‘til the outside threats of danger subside. The pandemic has upended things with breathtaking speed.

Our hopes and plans for the future have been compressed to almost nothing. We’re flying blind into a foggy future. If we make plans or draw assumptions that don’t embrace uncertainty as an all-encompassing factor, we’ll get messed for sure.

Side Note Rant Re: Uncertain Times

The ubiquitous phrase “these uncertain times” bothers me in several ways.
It dismisses the pain and disruption that many people are experiencing right now.

Yeah, we’re feeling uncertainty alright. But many are feeling far worse as well. Some are dealing with the certainty of being painfully sick. Others are worried sick about their loved ones. Millions are grieving the certainty of loss, while others are living in fear of layoffs that are certainly coming. Hordes of people are feeling intense loneliness, confusing disruption, or getting squirrely with cabin fever. So, these are not just “uncertain times.” They are also painful times, distressing times, sad times, frightening times, and so much more. “Uncertain times” seems like such a woefully inadequate description.

It also feels like a phrase coming from a position of considerable privilege, people who haven’t lost their jobs, who aren’t worried about their health, whose loved ones are well, and who are relatively comfortable during this pandemic. The worst thing in their lives is right now is the inconvenience of uncertainty.

Truth slap!  I’m probably one of these people, at least so far. My angst these days is mostly due to uncertainty related inconveniences.  My decades in the housing and health sector taught me that there are those around us who are poor or powerless, people whose lives are regularly disrupted or devastated by things beyond their control. They live with a measure of uncertainty that—honestly—is rare in my life.  I need to remember that millions of others are struggling with much worse.

I’m thinking of those, and I want to be compassionate and helpful in tangible ways.

Looking Back 

Realize this. Our generation has never had to face a world event of this magnitude. My pattern-seeking, data gathering brain immediately goes into hyperdrive to make some sense of it all.

Just one hundred short years ago, the civilized world was reeling from the effects of WWI.

By the end of 1918, twenty-million people had been killed. In that same year, 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic broke out. Combined these two world events killed approximately 50 million people, which included mostly young, healthy people.

Then came the roaring 1920’s and people felt good for a while. That is until the Great Depression began, putting 15% to 25% of people out of work for years. And what was it that ended the Great Depression?  World War II, which caused the deaths of about 70 million people between 1939 and 1945.
For almost the first half of the 20th century, the world was slogging through one big honkin’ disaster after another. Those were hard times, but people got through them, and later prospered like never before.

COVID-19 is a big problem, but in hard comparison to past world-shaping events, it’s not quite as catastrophic.
Our familial grandparents and great grandparents had to walk through all this stuff. Both world wars, a global depression multiple economic collapses, political revolutions, and much more.

Each time, they didn’t acquiesce and say “well, I guess this is the new normal… we’ll be at war or depressed forever.” Yes, those events shaped them and changed their worldview, but it wasn’t like they emerged into a completely new way of living.
They adapted and moved on. They innovated.

I suggest we’ll do the same.

The takeaway? Own your mindset. Protect it

“It’s entirely possible to be both realistic and optimistic at the same time.”

Yes, it’s a tough time, and there’s a chance of more difficulty before it gets better. It’s important during this time to stay clear-headed and acknowledge the challenges while maintaining a sense of hope in the midst of it all.

Hope is not just a feeling. It can also be a plan.

Looking Ahead  

Of course, the immediate future presents a difficult set of problems.
All the easy ones are already solved.
Difficult problems are precisely what we as leaders sign up for, right?

Here, in no particular order, are a few emerging trends that I think will become more mainstream.

URL (virtual connecting) AND IRL (in real life)
It’s like these two very different things got popped into a high-speed blender and totally homogenized. Can’t say I’m totally used to this yet, but adapting.

Touchless – I love hugs and handshakes.  This won’t be okay, at least for a while now.  On another front, public touch screens and keypads will still be the enemy, too. Touchless payments and digital transactions will be a big part of the new normal.

Concise and to the point- We’re in attention overload. Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, pointed to the overall mental state brought on by unrelenting change.

This pandemic has been the tipping point factor that’s caused a lot of people and situations to hit a wall. The result is that people will begin to need everything to be brief, compact, and repeated. More prompting and instruction could be the new protocol.

Green(er) – It’s hard to want to go back to driving my car everywhere when I see satellite images of how air pollution has dropped since we all were forced to stay home. Luxury travel and exotic vacations via planes and boats all are going to get a serious re-think.

Different /Better Work – Work colleagues have seen us in our jeans and a hoodie now. Kids and dogs are increasingly a part of Zoom business meetings. Why do we have to stay so formal? And why waste so much time?  Meetings for the sake of meetings has never been my thing!  Learning to teach, lead, and manage remotely just became the new must-have skillset.

Gig Economy – and work from home. Job monogamy has been in decline for some time now It appears we’re going deeper on this one. Big corporations are taking notice and following.
We have a capacity for more fluid interactions. More than one boss. More than one team.

Creative Renaissance – What’s happened during quarantine? A lot more art. More music.
A lot more business creativity. It seems forced downtime gets the creative juices flowing.

Take a moment to think about whichever ones resonate with you.
Better yet, shoot me a note or book a “let’s just talk” time. I’d love to hear
your thoughts and ideas around this.

Looking Up 

Generations of writers have used the “peaks and valleys” of life analogy, so let’s go with that for a bit.

Each successive change in life comes with its own built-in dip. You know – a downside, a trough, and an upside. Change management researchers tell us we can’t avoid the dip. We just have to find our way through it.

This infographic courtesy of J.M.Fischer explains it beautifully.

On the downside of the curve, we experience a whole range of seemingly unrelated random negative emotions (of fear, anger, denial)

At the bottom, or the trough is where the existential questions arise. Who am I? where am I going?

The trough is the fertile zone for finding resilience. Bill George in his book True North calls these times “crucible moments”

This is where we re-prioritize, rediscover, or perhaps reconnect with a personal faith tradition. We human beings are after all spiritual beings with intellect, creativity, will, and purpose. (not just a bunch of sophisticated bio plumbing with a survival instinct)

Other sample questions might be:
What brings me meaning and joy? What do I really want?
Where do I want to be? What do I want to build?
What do I have control over/absolutely no control over?
Where do I need to fight?
What do I need to surrender?

By processing the negative emotions that come on the downhill side and digging deep on personal meaning, goals, and direction, then and only then, can we begin to contemplate processing forward and looking up. Here’s where individuals find their resilience factors

If you can find your way past “the trough” then there’s really nowhere to start looking other than up.

Face it. Everything just became so different. Life and work just got more intertwined than ever, and really, none of us have enough time left on the planet to hide and worry.
The pace of change in and of itself can be mentally exhausting and physically draining.

There’s an additional undercurrent of anxiety and It doesn’t take much to set people off or get a little bonkers. I’ll pick up on that thought next time.

Meanwhile, stay safe and strong.

Until next time,

Lorne

 

 

The call for courageous leadership in days like these is more important than ever.

Why?

Because authentic leaders find their mojo in times of great uncertainty.

Now’s not the time for a predefined response plan.

It requires leaders with behaviors and mindsets that deal with the realities, prevent overreaction, and lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow.

The Panic

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

 “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”  M. Tyson  

This quip came from world champion boxer Mike Tyson when a reporter asked him about his “fight plan” for an upcoming opponent.

It captures that sinking feeling of panic and disorientation when things go horribly wrong.

Seemingly overnight, jobs flew out the window, vibrant businesses failed and investments tanked. Everyone I know is struggling to cope. If your health or family routines have been turned upside down its little comfort that this is happening across the nation and around the world. A whole new 27 million North Americans had to claim unemployment these past few weeks.

Science tells us that when we face threatening change, our “caveman software” kicks in. Suddenly fight, flight or freeze responses are triggered and we experience a flood of random emotions from anger, denial, anxiety to just plain old fear. Composure dissipates. We’re not at our best

Now’s the time to take a deep breath, literally and figuratively, and decide what really matters. Rely on your faith, training, experience, skill, and instincts to figure out the next right thing to do. Then move towards that in the very best way that you can.

We’ll likely have to shelter in place for a while longer.

There’s a lot of uncertainty between now and our new normal, the next normal, and the never normal.

There will likely be false “all clear” in some regions. There may be future spikes. But everything will play out.

It’ll be different, but ok.

The Pause 

“April seems like it lasted a year and March seems like a distant lifetime ago”

The forced suspension of plans, travel, schedules, and times with family and friends pale in comparison to the real devastation of lives lost. The daily news updates tell the story.

There’s unfathomable grief for those who’ve lost loved ones to this insidious pandemic. There is care and concern for those who are suffering loss and genuine economic hardship.

The things we learned?
We learned that shaking hands can be deadly.
That the economy can stop overnight.
We’re all more vulnerable and fragile than we’d like to believe.
How people can bond in adversity, and how isolating lockdown can feel.

There is also a slowly dawning reality.

While health care workers and home-schooling parents are busier than ever, much of the rest of the world has come to a screeching halt.

Streets are emptier, the air is cleaner, even at a distance, people seem friendlier and more supportive.

Perhaps a growing recognition that life just got simpler?

Perhaps the whole world as we know it just got a cosmic “time out”.

We’ve suddenly been given a windfall gift of time. A chance to reset. A chance to reflect how fragile, human, and inter-dependant we actually are.

Processing Forward 

When friends, colleagues, and clients are making hard decisions about, layoffs, personal futures, and whether or not to keep the business doors open, the best thing I can do is stifle my internal advice monster and simply “be there” for them.

Many of the questions I’m being asked these days don’t have easy answers.

Talking things through to cope with the present seems to be the foremost healing conversation.

Some sample questions and scenarios I’m coming across:

“When does this end? I wish I knew when this would all be over.”
Often this question masks deeper concerns.  My response is usually something like, “What part of this have you found to be the hardest?”
This allows us to identify and talk through those deeper concerns.

“What’s something you’ve learned during this crisis you would have never expected?” 
This uncovers hidden capabilities and resilience.

“What’s one thing you hope remains after this crisis?” 
We can acknowledge things we’ve discovered that we actually enjoy — like the perks of remote work and extra family time.
It helps to see past the current challenges.

“What’s the absolute  worst thing you could imagine happening from all of this?”
This helps sort through real concerns vs. irrational or imagined concerns.
Those prone to worry have trouble distinguishing between what’s “possible” and what’s “probable”.

What is something you’re looking forward to when things somewhat normalize?  
Having some well-defined goals can have a powerful effect to mitigate anxiety.

Coping with current reality while laying the groundwork better days is leadership job 1.

Until next time,

Lorne

 

Feel free to connect with me here and Let’s Just talk 

 

On “Banes and Biases”. Fears large and small that hold us back

First the Banes

Once upon a time, there was a king of great fortune and power.

He ruled his empire with tyrannical zeal.

History has it that he wasn’t particularly gifted in either administration or military prowess. He made a futile attempt at rebranding himself as a “philosopher-king”. He even hired Plato as an executive coach for a while. Like most tyrants, he wasn’t very coachable, so that whole thing didn’t pan out.

One day one of his pandering courtiers commented. “Gee. It must be really cool being King with all that luxury and power and stuff!”

His reply: “Oh yeah? You just try it and see if you can last a whole day!”

Note to reader: I’m paraphrasing liberally. 

So arrangements were made for this up-sucker to be King for a day. Unbeknown to him, the King arranged to have a heavy sword suspended directly over the throne by a single hair from a horse’s tail. He wanted to convey the imminent and ever-present threat of fear and peril faced by those in positions of great power.

Of course, when the dude became aware of the hanging sword, he started pleading with the King to get out of the deal. He departed in shame and disgrace.

This anecdote, known as “Sword of Damocles” originated in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse around the 4th Century BC. This story has survived 25 centuries and surfaces frequently in popular culture, including novels, feature films, television series, video games, and music.

It’s one of the better examples of a “bane”.

Bane -A cause of harm, ruin, or death or thing or situation which causes a prolonged state of impending doom or misfortune. IE Superman and kryptonite, Green Lantern and Sinestro, etc.

A bane has a fear-enhancing, debilitating, and paralyzing effect.

Example 1 
As a kid in the days of the cold war nuclear threat, I remember drills at school where we’d have to curl up tightly under our desks whenever the siren wailed. It occurred to me that if I was to be vaporized by a Russian nuke, I’d at least like the dignity of being seated upright. My friend, weird Freddy, reasoned that the “curl-up-tight” instruction was so that we could kiss our collective rear ends good-bye. He may have been right

To this day, when I hear that certain siren noise, my heart rate goes for sprint and I’m instinctively looking around for a desk to crawl under.

Example 2
In an address before the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 25, 1961, JFK said:

Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”
– John F. Kennedy 

Eventually, Kennedy’s message took hold. The threat of mutually assured mass destruction via a superpower grudge match subsided. Corrective steps were taken through detente and nuclear nonproliferation agreements.

Example 3
It wasn’t that long ago we were all about to be fried to a crisp by that massive hole in the ozone layer caused by aerosol overuse and bovine methane emissions. That was about the same time the world was about to be thrown into complete mayhem by the Y2K bug.

These days, the new “bane of our existence” is more about rapid global warming, being awash in a sea of our own garbage and the specter of rogue AI.

It’s worth noting that the true fear factor of the sword and the siren represent possible harm.

“We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality.
— Seneca

Nothing close to the extreme outcomes that were portrayed actually happened. The mere prospect raises primal fears.

Politicians, news outlets, home alarm salesmen and others understand this well. All too often this foible of human nature gets exploited by playing to our deepest fears.

There are times when the danger is very clear and present. In these instances, swift appropriate action needs to be taken.

If it’s something that only appears to be potentially dangerous, that’s a different story.

The key here is to distinguish between what’s “possible” and what’s “probable”.

Many scary things are possible. Most of them aren’t probable.

Now on to the Biases 

These are much more common garden variety type fears.

“Bias” is a geometry term referring to a slanted line. These days it’s better known as a reference to a slanted viewpoint based on emotions
or misplaced beliefs that misinform our decisions and actions.

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

My crack at the explanation:

Because we’re inundated with tens of thousand bits of data and we can only process about 40 concepts at a time, our brain goes into “hack mode” and automatically starts spitting out answers from our caveman software memory bank.

•           We all have firmly held beliefs that aren’t necessarily factual
•           We all don’t know everything.
•           Therefore, some of those beliefs are incomplete, misguided, or wrong.

This applies to everyone, including me. Admitting I’m wrong about something I firmly believe means admitting I haven’t fully thought things through. Herein lies the ultimate stuck-ness.
Fully aware that I’m wrong about something, but unable to admit being wrong about anything. Huh!

Biases cause great ideas to get stymied, resolve to evaporate and produce unreasonable anxiety over one’s capabilities.

Our friends at Wikipedia have listed approximately 200 plus biases.  Workwise, I run into some of these all the time. The Ostrich bias and Information bias come up a lot.

Most of these biases adversely affect belief formation, business and economic decisions, and human behavior in general.

The  “Knowing-Doing Gap” was one of the first leadership books that explained at a granular level how individual and group biases actually prevail in preventing knowledge to be turned into action.

Sometimes it’s a bias for the plain old status quo can derail ideas and thwart progress.
Does “but we’ve never done it that way before” sound familiar?
Ok if the status quo is working well. Not ok if it’s not.

Admittedly, I have a few personal biases that may not be listed anywhere that I believe are useful.

For example, I have a firm bias against standing in a long line up for coffee at you know where. (starts with S)
It’s my Life’s- just- plain- too short- to -stand in line bias.

Another useful one is my Anti – BS bias.

I can usually dial my BS detector down around teachers, nurses, farmers and pilots because their personal incentive to deceive is near zero.
Then again, there are otherwise good, honest people who spout nonsense and promote wild ideas based on beliefs that are shaped by the power of fears, paychecks or social status.

In conclusion, – banes and biases. We all have them. Once you know exactly what they are, you can name them, face them and develop some workaround strategies that move you forward.

Until next time.

Lorne

Got any cool or unusual biases you care to share? 

Shoot me a note or leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it.

If you’re enjoying this monthly article and the Winning Habits Challenge, feel free to forward it to a friend.

You might just win a referral Taco on me. It’s been known to happen.

What Does Success Look Like For You ? How Do You Know When You Get There?
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Like You, I Wonder About “Success”.  How Do You Know When You Arrive?

Are there “stages of? ….building blocks for?….  formulas or recipes?

It’s a big topic so let’s get it popping.

True story:

I recently ran into a business friend from many years ago.

We’d known each other when we were both grinding it out through a dismal time in the construction industry.

We’d agreed to catch up over a Starbucks. Now here we were.

Phil is a burly guy with a kind of brusque manner and voice that is permanently set on “outdoor” volume.

After some opening banter, he pauses and then declares (outside voice).

“I googled you man. You’re a freaking 40-year overnight success!”

The conversations around us fell silent. I could feel multiple laser stares aimed right at me.

His spontaneous outburst and the absurd hilarity of it all caught me off guard. Something welled up and I bust out laughing and couldn’t stop.

He joined in full volume, enjoying the dramatic effects of his own comedic delivery. When our moment of mirth subsided, the surrounding conversations came back to the normal Starbucks level.

As with any honest humor, it’s usually wrapped around a nugget of truth. This was no different.

Examples of “success” in any field if examined, come after a ton of hard work, sacrifices made and obstacles overcome over extended periods of time.

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”    -Winston Churchill

When you talk “success” and how you actually define or quantify it, the definition tends to vary.

A quick G search of the word renders 210 million hits in .64 seconds so it’s obviously top of mind for lots of people.

For some folks, it’s about money.  Ok, probably for most folks that’s the measuring stick for comparison.

For others, it might be house size or being able to travel to faraway places. For others, it’s about a relationship to their family; for some it’s faith, and for many, it’s honestly just staying alive another month. The definition of the term will change relative to where you’re at in life, probably dozens of times.

The part I love most about my work is helping clients figure out what success looks like for them. Then we start navigating obstacles, achieving more or getting better at something – a.k.a. becoming “successful.”

Because most of us spend on average 1/3 of our life (about half of our waking hours) pursuing a livelihood to make ends meet, it’s important to have some sort of scaffolding or contextual framework around how to think about this concept.

From observation and experience, there are some underlying factors to success in any realm.

Wealth is definitely an easily understood way of keeping score, but if that‘s the only way then look out!

Ok – back to the point.

 

Because the wealth/success thing has such an overshadowing effect,  I’ll get it out of the way in this months’ post.

We’ll deal with the other success factors in future posts.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”  ― Albert Einstein 

A Remarkable Essay

I love it when someone else writes a brilliant article around something I’ve been thinking. Moreover, they absolutely nail it.

In this instance, kudos to American venture capitalist Morgan Housel who has provided a remarkable essay ranking every type of wealth and poverty.

It’s equal parts enlightening, entertaining, surprising and useful for perspective.

Stage one of 19 on the wealth spectrum begins where you would expect – complete dependence on others for sustenance – but quickly jumps to people who have money and assets but are impoverished in other ways.

Stage four is a cautionary tale, “Your lifestyle expectations consistently grow faster than your income and assets. Adaptive poverty.” Stage seven is too: “Your entire personality is built upon the appearance of being wealthy, attracting a predatory social group that will abandon you.”

The stages of wealth start looking attractive around number 13, where you love your job enough that it feels like a hobby and pays more than you ever expected.

I’ll let you go on to discover the highest stage of wealth – the psychological equivalent of the Forbes billionaires list.

If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.  –Edmund Burke  

 

The overriding revelation in the piece is that wealth is often as much a matter of perspective as it is a sum of money.

Folks who are deeply envious and generally insecure are unlikely to feel wealthy no matter how big their investment account becomes.

Those with close family ties and social connections can feel content with far less.

Another poignant revelation of this innovative list is that we often fail to recognize the wealth of all types that we already have.

Here Are The 19 Stages Of Wealth

  1. Complete reliance on the kindness of strangers for sustenance. Deep poverty.
  2. Your income is above average but you are overcome with envy and a feeling of inadequacy towards those who earn more. Psychological deep poverty.
  3. You have a large income and net worth that was acquired in a way that brings active disdain from people who would otherwise want to like you. Socially bankrupt.
  4. Your lifestyle expectations consistently grow faster than your income and assets. Adaptive poverty.
  5. You have so much money you can do nothing, and doing nothing leads to boredom at best, self-destruction more often. Ironic poverty.
  6. You have a large income and net worth you are satisfied with, but your career and assets are fragile (often leveraged) and will disappear when the world shifts only a little leaving you yearning for the money you used to have and became accustomed to. Pent-up poverty.
  7. Your entire personality is built upon the appearance of being wealthy, attracting a predatory social group that will abandon you without remorse the moment the money stops.
  8. You have a large income and net worth that was made in a job you hate that requires such long hours that it derails your social and family life. Financial wealth, life poverty.
  9. You have a job you love surrounded by people you enjoy but one that doesn’t pay well and leaves you vulnerable and stressed about your finances. Financial poverty, life wealth.
  10. You have enough money to stay comfortable and a good group of friends but you didn’t earn the money yourself, creating a lack of pride and ability to appreciate the value of a dollar that makes you feel poorer than someone with less money that was earned from hard, meaningful work.
  11. You can afford a little bit more than the people you interact with daily and it makes you feel superior to them. Technical wealth but actually insecurity that’s likely to backfire into social poverty.
  12. You can afford a little more than the people you interact with daily but you still live the same material lifestyle as they do, which creates social cohesion among your friends that’s valuable. You have a high savings rate that puts a gap between your mood and most financial hassle.
  13. You like your job so much it doesn’t feel like work and it pays more than you ever expected to make.
  14. You could stop earning a paycheck tomorrow and your lifestyle could remain the same for the indefinite future.
  15. You can go to bed and wake up when you want to. You have time to exercise, eat well, learn, think slowly, and clear your calendar when you want it to be clear. Health wealth.
  16. You can, and want to, use your wealth to help other people. And you want to help them because you care about them, not because it will make you look good or make them beholden to you.
  17. You genuinely feel no benefit from the social signal of wealth, because everyone you want to love you would still love you if you weren’t wealthy. So everything you spend money on is for its utility, rather than glitz.
  18. The people you love the most will have to work hard in life, but your wealth provides them a safety net that will help them avoid undue hardship.
  19. You are respected and admired by people you want to respect and admire you regardless of your financial circumstances. Psychologically speaking, you’re now on the Forbes list of billionaires.

“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Phil’s perception of my alleged success was that somehow I had “arrived”.

My read on the same scenario was that I was merely “staying on track and keeping going.”

Huh! Guess that’s the kind of stuff that makes life interesting.

Like Abe,  I had some friends who believed in me. I didn’t want to let them down.

Until next time!

Note to Reader:  This “Success” article will probably wind up being one of a three-part series into 2020, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Meet Festus the dog. (seen here with my sis)

Upon our first meeting, I got a perfunctory sniff.

He mulled it over for a bit, then cautiously decided I was ok.

We soon became fast friends.

Festus lives on cattle farm with my sister and brother-in-law in the scenic hill country south of Des Moines, Iowa.

He’s wired for a purpose.

He’s a combo of Heeler/Australian Shepherd who is wired to herd livestock.

More than a cherished family member, he is also an invaluable farmhand when it comes to rounding up cattle.

Heelers generally are hardy and intelligent breed stemming from their dingo outback ancestry.

He’s compact and muscular with a high energy level. His friendly demeanor belies a fierce determination that allows him to face the most ornery 2700 lb. bull.

Festus’ remarkable intellect shines through as he problem-solves and follows complex instructions in the course of his work.

When he’s not on cow dog duty, as sometimes is the case, he’ll get bored and starts herding anything else that moves, like little children, or the chickens, or even cats. No matter how much they object, he does it anyway.

His vigilant guarding instincts have him protecting the farmyard yard day and night from anything and everything. This includes chasing errant squirrels, the occasional fox, or treeing multiple marauding raccoons. This leads to a lot of excited barking, even in the middle of the night. He won’t stop until brother-in-law David gets up and deals with things.

As annoying as that can be at times, he’s just “doing his thing”, exactly what he was born to do.

Festus was wired to be a working dog. His Creator gave him remarkable energy and intelligence specifically for herding cattle. He either fulfills that purpose or creates minor havoc doing something else!

 Did you know that every human being is created with a purpose and that they have a responsibility to not only discover their purpose but also to fulfill it?  Zig Ziglar 

Like Festus, we’ve been created as human beings to be “wired for a purpose”.

Watching Festus do the work for which he was intended is remarkable. With his feet barely touching the ground, he moves with speed and skill, strategically corralling and directing the herd.

And, he seems to do it all with something akin to delight and gratitude. He always returns to perch on the back of the ATV with a wide doggy grin and “that was fun” look and eager for more.

What Festus presumably does from instinct, we have the privilege of doing by choice.

We too have been wired for work, even though our work is much more complex and nuanced.

Us humanoids require thoughtful engagement and considerable discernment when it comes to working.

Nevertheless, Festus can teach us something about fulfilling our purpose and the wasteful consequences of not doing so. Our capacity for work will always find expression in some form. Our challenge is to be intentional and discerning about how we choose to live that out.

Like Festus, we can either fulfill our purpose for good meaningful work or get bored or sidetracked chasing squirrels.

The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain 

Unlike Festus, our work is rarely singular in its focus. Our vocational roles are often multi-faceted.

Me? I’m a builder at heart.

While I’ve built houses, commercial structures, and entire communities, my current work is helping others build strategy, effective teams and innovative organizational cultures at for-profit and not-for-profit companies.

With my family, it’s all about being a husband, father, and grandfather to three enegetic grandkids.

In my local community, I serve in volunteer roles, and so on.

In all these contexts, there are different dimensions to providing leadership.

 One of the gifts of being human is the sheer variety of our work. The best part? We get to do this!

What are you wired for? Do you see a better future when others don’t? Are you able to teach and lead others? Perhaps you driven by empathy and a deep concern for others. Are you an explorer who enjoys conquering new territory?

Been chasing any squirrels recently?

Until next time.

Lorne

Festus in action