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