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Thursday, December 16, 2004


Stuck in the Middle of You

clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...

Yep, being a middle manager can a tragicomic experience. Lisa Haneberg at Management Craft comments on a recent article from the HBS Working Knowledge e-newsletter by Harold J. Leavitt on The Plight of Middle Managers. I think Leavitt gets some things right, but unfortunately seems to be happy to accept the organizational hierarchy model as the way things are done. Of course, I may be oversimplifying his argument based on only an except from his book.

Here's what I think he's right on about:
Being a middle manager can be a lonely, isolating experience, at times. You have to be savvy to navigate and coordinate the often different desires of your line staff and those of executive management. Both of these groups need to be open to understanding the objectives and needs of the other and if they do not, it is up to the folks in the middle to clear a path for making this happen. The danger is being perceived as being too much in favor of one group over the other. This is where personal integrity must be a middle manager's chief value. And yet it's never as easy as it seems. Leavitt writes:
In big hierarchies, the middle managerial highway is pitted with such psychological potholes. Despite valiant humanizing efforts, it will continue that way. Traveling that road requires a fine, continuous interplay among a triangle of forces: one's personal values, the real (not the professed) standards of the organization, and the need to keep the family's refrigerator full.
I would only argue that this is what a middle manager faces regardless of whether its a big or small company with a hierarchical structure.

Here's what I think he's got dead wrong:
There's a line between accepting what is and striving for something better. It seems that he's arguing for the former:
Perhaps it's time to stop trying to persuade managers and other organizational employees to behave as though they are not occupants of authoritarian hierarchies, when, in fact, that's exactly where they live. [...]
I cringe to see the word "authoritarian" in anything. Take a look at the word in the dictionary and you'll find such phrases as "requiring unquestionable obedience" and "against individual freedom." This is the way of the industrial age when individuals went to the factory and told to be non-thinking entities. This is not the way of the new age we live in, the age where we are no longer mindless cogs in a machine, but thoughtful, soulful individuals who know that organizations NEED their talents far more than they need the organization.

Folks, if you're at a crossroads where you have to choose between your integrity for what's right to you and the standards of your organization (in other words, these are in conflict), think carefully. If this happens often, think carefully about finding a better place to work.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Leadership; c.Management; c.Organizations

Monday, December 13, 2004


More Myths of Creativity

In the December issue of Fast Company, there's a thought-provoking article on Teresa Amabile who has researched and compiled six myths about creativity in the modern organization. From experience, she's dead on with most of these myths.

Her third myth, "Time Pressure Fuels Creativity", points to what I think is a more systemic problem plaguing not only work, but life as well. We allow ourselves to be busy for no other reason than it offers status. We own "busyness" like a badge of honor. Why? Perhaps its because if we slow down, we might actually have time to reflect on who we are and where our life is heading. In this case, the actual act of reflection isn't the terrifying's what we fear we'll find as a result. Consider this recent essay in Harper's Magazine by Mark Slouka which extols the virtues of idleness. He talks about the slow disintegration of a democratically-literate society, but could easily be addressing the same disintegration of a soulful, conscious individual.

I would also like to add a seventh myth: Creativity Can Be Managed. Many organizations love their streamlined processes, their rational objectives, their linear methodologies for execution. But creativity thrives on chaos. It thrives on those mysterious connections that only come from improvisation and sudden inspiration. The very thought that the creative process can be controlled and managed is an illusion. The faster an organization gives up this idea, the faster they will encourage groundbreaking, world-changing results.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Creativity; c.Organizations; c.Play

On Curt's Post: Create a Sangha

Curt Rosengren's latest post is a brilliant reminder that we don't have to take the journey toward more purposeful and soulful work alone. It's sometimes easy to forget, though, particularly when we blaze a path where few have gone before.
Consciously creating your Sangha, both by identifying the people currently in your life that will support your journey and by reaching out and creating new connections, can have an amazing impact on what you are able to achieve.
If it's a matter of just getting started in creating your support network, find a couple of people who will be your biggest fans. For instance, my wife is my rock. She's both my most vocal supporter, but also my source for reality-checks. I can be a very "blue sky" dreamer-type and she offers the kind of "green grass" practicality that helps me assess my decisions. Yet, most importantly, as my rock I can hold on to her when everything else in my life seems to be caught up in the maelstrom. I have a spouse, but it could easily be a good friend, sibling, mentor, or parent.

Probably the harder part of creating your support network is developing new connections. Putting yourself, your ideas, your dreams out there to new contacts can be frightening. One place to start is with the folks you already know and trust. Ask them to suggest other individuals they know with whom you might connect. You'll continue to build your network steadily outward from your core of biggest fans above.

And if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can take more dynamic action and create more networks outside of your familiar contacts. This is going to those places where other people who share your passion hang out. You might find these as networking events (a word on 'networking' below) or professional society meetings or a local coffee shop. The point is that creating a bold life of passionate work means getting out of your comfort zone and taking a risk. Consider the words of Andre Gide, French critic, essayist, & novelist:
One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
And that word on networking...the concept has developed a kind of nasty connotation which is unfortunate. Rather, consider networking to be an act of relationship building, one that may not exactly bear fruit immediately. Purposeful networking is an act of cultivation, of nourishing the relationships with your contacts. It means that you give as well as receive, which is where we circle back around to Curt's posting on creating your own sangha. As others support your dreams and work, it's up to you to do the very same for them.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Community; c.Creativity

Saturday, December 11, 2004


Reclaiming our Creativity

Odd how themes emerge when you're conscious of them. I came across this old article in Fast Company on Dee Hock and his management principles. Dee Hock was the Founder and CEO of VISA International and more recently founded Terra Civitas. Among the ideas that caught my eye was this one on creativity:
The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.
I'm also thinking about how many of us tend to "lose" our creativity as we mature into adults. I have two daughters (ages 2 and almost 6) and they amaze me with some of the things that they conjure up. They tell the most interesting stories. They draw these fabulous pictures. They dress up and pretend to be fascinating creatures. And fortunately, they pull me into their world. They are my links to the creative reservoir within me. However, I'm considering the very real possibility that its going to be me who will need to return the favor in the not too distant future. They may need me to inspire their own sense of wonder and creativity. Sadly, there's something about our schools that can help children forget they are creative, imaginitive people. Or it could just be a natural struggle of growing up.

So, to all the creative and imaginative dreamers out's a heart-felt desire to more fully reconnect with you.

Categories: c.Creativity; c.Parenting

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Comments on "Spirit in Business"

Yesterday, David Batstone posted a blog entry on Spirit in Business at Worthwhile Magazine and probably spoke for many of us who are trying to help organizations understand how powerful they can be when connecting their actions to deeper principles. He writes about how difficult it can be to get through the front door, particularly when the organization's culture rewards the financial bottom line over the personnel bottom line. David goes on to say:
I take a broader view of spirit in business. I find it embedded in the relationship that a customer has with a company, that a worker has with her boss, that an investor has with management. The degree to which these relationships, these points of connection, create trust and generate real value, then a company is soulful.
I commented:
I share your same dilemma - you start talking about spirit and purpose in the workplace and it’s often perceived as too woo-woo for the business world. Managers and execs wonder what that has to do with making decisions and execution (those two areas that often define performance). Yet, what holds up those decisions and actions? They’re not made in a vacuum, but come from a personal philosophy that may or may not match the one held by the company.

I like your perspective on spirit as the connection of relationships. And I’d like to add that its also the connection that one has with their work. A person who believes in what they are doing and believes that it is a true display of their unique talents and passions has found the soulfulness of their work.

Keep the faith, David. Perhaps we’ll come to the place soon where the big picture is too compelling to ignore.
And as I thought about this further, I remembered a familiar voice from my experiences trying to grow my practice. This voice reminded me that you have to know how to speak your audience's language. Talking about spirit may be woo woo at first, but if you put it in the terms of the culture's preferred lexicon, you'll open the door to possible acceptance. If you're speaking to a CEO or Executive Director, find out what's important to them and use the metaphor and imagery that can speak to that specific individual.

I'd be interested in hearing about other experiences out there in the field.

Categories: c.Leadership; c.Organizations; c.Spirit

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Is It Luck or Something Deeper?

I discovered this article on creating your own luck in career success and there were some ideas that resonated with me. Rather than viewing luck as a series of coincidences, Susan RoAne, author of How to Create Your Own Luck, believes it is a conscious pattern of thought: "People who create their own luck live large, remain open to possibility, and expect that good things will happen -- and they do."

Similarly, in Manifest Your Destiny, Wayne Dyer writes:
The process of creation begins first with desire. Your desires, cultivated as seeds of potential on the path of spiritual awareness, can blossom in the form of freedom to have these desires in peace and harmony with your world. Giving yourself permission to explore this path is allowing yourself the freedom to use your mind to create the precise material world that matches your inner world.
We have the ability to create what we want from our lives. We also have the ability to wait around for things to happen. The choices are all ares to make. What choice do you want to make today?

Categories: c.Books; c.Living; c.Spirit

Monday, December 06, 2004


Work and Life: Is One Worth More Than The Other?

Ever since working for a professional association dedicated to the improvement of work/life issues within organizations, I've been intrigued by this notion of "work/life balance." It seemed to counter the rampant workaholism which existed in many companies and even non-profits. It scared and angered me to see both men and women idolized for working 16 to 18 hour days, sleeping in their offices, constantly on the road on the covers of major business magazines. Our overdriven culture continues to highlight these professionals as models of success and respect in the business world. One such example documented by Fast Company just last year made me cringe:
A few inches over 6 feet and more than a few pounds over 200, [Dan] Talbott is a Texas dynamo who seems to live on hot dogs and 18-hour workdays. He bears the pasty complexion of a man who has spent most of his working life in airports and conference rooms, and indeed, he has -- he's racked up 3 million miles on American Airlines alone.
Later, the article goes on to discuss Talbott's project team:
Working out of its Blue Ash headquarters, HP's pursuit team lived on a brutal, nearly round-the-clock schedule, with no time off on weekends. Their family lives were tested; at least one team leader reports that his marriage is in trouble. The stress took an enormous physical and mental toll. At a 7 AM breakfast meeting with his HR-team leader, Talbott watched in alarm as the man got up from the table, took a step, and keeled over from exhaustion.
Have our priorities always been so messed up? Would you sacrifice your marriage or your health for your work? What if you felt the work was absolutely important to your success? It seems that it comes down to critical choices surrounding our core values. But, let's make sure those core values are focused toward what's really important to us and not just getting that next "deal" done.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Leadership; c.Living; c.Organizations

Finding Your Voice

I seem to be very conscious of this notion of voice lately (see: What's Your Voice from a few days ago).

I continue to be influenced by Stephen Covey's work, but have yet to pick up his latest book, The 8th Habit. Based on this interview, I think maybe Santa could bring me a copy when he comes to visit later in the month (granted that he reads blogs and needs some additional ideas). Covey equates having a voice with a deeper connection to one's work:
People have basically lost their voice. They’re alienated from their work. We’re in a knowledge age, yet our management principles are from the industrial age. They’re the authoritarian, command-and-control models. Just take the accounting system: It calls people an expense. Performance-appraisal systems are just repugnant to the dignity of people. You give them some nice words, slip in the knife and call that “areas for improvement” and then a few nice words at the end.
BTW, his 8th habit is: Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.

Another article that caught my eye was one from Alaska about a sculptor named Sylvester Ayek who is trying to return to his Inupiaq roots.
Ayek says, he's leaving Anchorage in pursuit of balance, something he can find only in the Bush. That's where he finds solace, center and sustenance, a solitude in whose heart he regains equilibrium as he tries to maintain his footing in two worlds -- worlds that continually pitch and roll beneath his feet. "If I'm in the city, I'm just an artist," Ayek says. "But out there, I can be a hunter, fisher, gatherer and an artist. I get some sense of good order when I'm in nature, in the middle of nowhere, by myself."
What struck me about this was the reminder that we are so much more than the labels that we attach to ourselves or those that we allow to be attached from others. In our work, we can be more than what a job description says. Once we have an idea of what our voice is, then its time to add another element to it.

Categories: c.Books; c.Creativity; c.Careers; c.Organizations

Friday, December 03, 2004


Looking for Leadership in Reality TV

There's an interesting critique of the business moguls on TV (Trump, Cuban, and Branson) and their leadership flaws in today's Globe and Mail (Reality TV reveals real-life leaders' flaws).

While each might provide great theater (Cuban and his reality show aside), I wouldn't hold any of them up as outstanding models of leadership. But then, maybe it was foolish to expect this anyway.

Categories: c.Leadership; c.Movies/TV

Leaving Your Legacy

Jeremy at lifestylism posted an entry on Legacy Matters. Here's the comment that I offered:
Making a conscious decision to leave a legacy focuses the mind and activity toward a higher level of significance in life. Sometimes, the first exercise I'll do with a client is to envision their 80th birthday celebration. When it's time for toasts, what do they want for their significant other to say? Their children? Their business colleagues? Their community leaders? Etc. It's a simple visualization, but it has a lot of power. It can help nudge folks out of the now and the current things that seem so permanent and overwhelming.
Take some time today to answer those questions. What do you want for others to say about you at your 80th birthday celebration? And then, how can you plan to make it happen today?

Categories: c.Living

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Creating from Abundance

This week, I've been thinking about creating from a mind-set of abundance rather than from scarcity. There's real power in this, but not always the easiest thing to do. One of my very favorite books is A Simpler Way by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers and they write:
Life creates more possibilities as it engages with opportunities. There are no 'windows of opportunity,' narrow openings in the fabric of space-time that soon disappear forever. Possibilities beget more possibilities; they are infinite.
There's a certain peacefulness that comes from this knowledge. That the right clients, the right job opportunities, the right career, or whatever it is for us are always out there waiting for us to see them. And they are never alone - we always tend to attract more just like them. It might seem a little woo-woo, particularly in a business setting, but I believe there is a creative force that exists that successful leaders know how to tap into to get phenomenal results in their lives.

So, fellow explorers, any experiences with creating from abundance?

Categories: c.Books; c.Careers; c.Living; c.Spirit


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