Leadership & Being Real – Being Better and Doing the Right Thing

“Knowing the material

  • Self-Betrayal leads to self-deception and “the box”.
  • When you’re in the box, you can’t focus on results
  • Your influence and success will depend on being out of the box
  • You get out of the box as you cease resisting other people

Living the material

  • Don’t try to be perfect. Do try to be better.
  • Don’t use the vocabulary – “the box,” ans so on – with people who don’t already know it.  Do use the principles in your own life.
  • Don’t look for others’ boxes.  Do look for your own
  • Don’t accuse others of being in the box.  Do try to stay out of the box yourself.
  • Don’t give up on yourself when you discover you’ve been in the box.  Do keep trying.
  • Don’t deny that you’ve been in the box when you have been.  Do apologize; then just keep marching forward, trying to be more helpful to others in the future.
  • Don’t focus on what others are doing wrong.  Do focus on what you can do right to help.
  • Don’t worry whether others are helping you.  Do worry whether you are helping others.

“Okay, Bud.  This will be helpful.  Thanks,”  I said, slipping the card into my briefcase.

“Sure,” Bud said.  “And I look forward to seeing you again next week.”

I nodded, then stood up and turned to thank Lou.

“Before you go, Tom,” said Lou, “I’d like to share one last thing with you.”

“Please,” I said.

“My boy – Cory – do you remember him?”


“Well, two months after Carol and I watched him drive away, we rode in that same van to the remote wilderness that had been Cory’s home for those nine or so weeks.  We were going out to meet him, to live with him for a few days, and then to bring him home.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous.”

“I had written him frequently in the weeks he was gone.  The program leaders delivered letters to the kids every Tuesday.  I had poured out my soul to him in those letters, and slowly, like a young foal taking his first uncertain steps into a stream, he began to open himself to me.

“I had discovered through those letters a boy I never knew I had.  He was full of questions and insights.  I marveled at the depth and feeling within his heart.  But most especially, there was a peach singing through his prose that had the effect of calming the heart of a father who feared that he’d driven away a son.  Every letter sent, and every letter received, was a source of healing.

“As we covered the last few miles to the rendezvous point, I was overcome with the though of what almost was – a bitterly divided father and son who had risked never knowing each other.  At the brink of war – a war whose effects might have been felt for generations – we were saved by a miracle.

“Driving around the last dusty hill, I saw about a quarter of a mile away the dirtiest, scraggliest-looking group of kids that I’d ever seen – clothes worn and torn, stringy beards, hair two months’ past due for clippers.  But as we neared them, out of that pack flew a lone boy, a boy whose now-lean figure I yet recognized through the dirt and grime.  “Stop the car.  Stop the car!” I yelled at the driver.  And out I darted to meet my son.

“He reached me in an instant and leaped into my arms, tears streaming down his dusty face.  Through the sobs I heard, ‘I’ll never let you down again, Dad.  I’ll never let you down again.”

Lou stopped, choking back the memory of the moment.

“That he should feel that for me,” he continued, more slowly, “the one who had let him down, melted my heart.”

“And I won’t let you down again, either, Son,” I said.

Lou paused, separating himself from his memory.  Then he rose from his chair and looked at me with his kindly eyes.  “Tom,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders, “the thing that divides fathers from sons, husbands from wives, neighbors from neighbors – the same thing divides coworkers from coworkers as well.  Companies fail for the same reasons families do.  And why should we be surprised to discover that it’s so? For those coworkers I’m resisting are themselves fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters.

“A family, a company – both are organizations of people.  That’s what we know and live by at Zagrum.

“Just remember,” he added, “we won’t know who we work and live with – whether it be Bud, Kate, your wife, your son, even someone like Chuck Staehli – until we leave the box and join them.”

From Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute

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Self-Worth, Success and Failure, Trying Again

“You’ve designed a product or written an article or created apiece of art that you want to share with a group of friends.  Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living.  It’s the epitome of daring greatly.  But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth  to how your product or art is received.  In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky.  There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed.  Your offering is no good and you’re no good.  The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim.  You shut down  Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have tried.  Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or your product and people love it, let me answer that from personal and professional experience.  You’re in even deeper trouble.  Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place.  You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think.  It’s panned out a couple of times, but now it feels a lot like Hotel California: You can check in, but you can never leave  You’re officially a prisoner of ‘pleasing, performing, and perfecting.’

With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different.  You still want folks to like, respect, and even admire what you’ve created, but your self-worth is not on the table.  You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovating idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking.  Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are.  Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.

When our self-worth isn’t on the line, we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts.  From my research with families, schools, and organizations, it’s clear that shame-resilient cultures nurture folks who are much more open to soliciting, accepting, and incorporating feedback.  These cultures also nurture engaged, tenacious people who expect to have to try and try again to get it right – people who are much more willing to get innovative and creative in their efforts.”

From Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown

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Vulnerability, Openness, Courage

“During my talk I asked the audience two questions that reveal so much about the many paradoxes that define vulnerability.  First I asked, “How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?”  Hands shot up across the room.  Then I asked, “When you watched people on this stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought it was courageous?”  Again, hands shot up across the room.

We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us.  We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough – that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.  I was afraid to walk on that stage and show the audience my kitchen-table self – these people were too important, too successful, too famous. My kitchen-table self is too messy, too imperfect, too unpredictable.

Here’s the crux of the struggle:

I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.

I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.”

From Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown

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Goal Setting, Productivity & Vision

“We all know how important it is to have goals, right? And not just any goals, but stretch goals. Big Hairy Audacious Goals (or BHAGs, as they’re known to the inner goal-setting crowd).

It makes sense: if you don’t know specifically where you’re going, then you’ll never get there. And if you don’t set the bar high enough, you’ll never live up to your potential.

This is accepted common sense in the business world and it’s reinforced by research. Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right?

It would be if it were true. But it isn’t. That study doesn’t exist. It’s pure urban myth.

Still, that’s just one spgoal settingecious story. Questioning the wisdom of setting stretch goals is like questioning the very foundation of business. We might debate which goals to set, or how to set them, but who would debate whether to set goals at all?

I’d like to.

It’s not that goals, by their nature, are bad. It’s just that they come with a number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them.

The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the “systematic harm caused by goal setting,” has been disregarded.

They identified clear side effects associated with goal setting, including “a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Here are two of the examples of goals gone wild the authors described in their paper:

  • Sears set a productivity goal for their auto repair staff of bringing in $147 for every hour of work. Did this motivate employees? Sure. It motivated them to overcharge on a companywide basis.
  • Remember the Ford Pinto? A car that ignited when it was rear-ended? The Pinto resulted in 53 deaths and many more injuries because workers omitted safety checks in pursuit of Lee Iacocca’s BHAG goal of a car that would be “under 2000 pounds and under $2,000” by 1970.

And here’s another, via the New York Times:

  • Ken O’Brien, the former New York Jets quarterback, was throwing too many interceptions. So he was given what seemed to be a pretty reasonable goal — fewer interceptions thrown — and penalized financially for every one. It worked. He threw fewer interceptions. But only because he threw fewer passes. His overall performance suffered.

It’s practically impossible to predict the negative side effects of a goal.

When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific and measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia. Yes, we often reach the goal, but at what cost?

So what can you do in the absence of goals? It’s still often necessary to drive toward achievements, especially in business. We need help setting direction and measuring progress. But maybe there’s a better way to achieve those things while sidestepping goals’ negative side effects.

I want to propose one: Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

A sales goal, for example, might name a revenue target or a specific number of new clients won. An operations goal might articulate a cost savings.

An area of focus in sales, on the other hand, might involve having lots of conversations with appropriate prospects. An operations area of focus might identify areas you want to explore for cost savings.

Obviously these aren’t mutually exclusive. You could have a goal and an area of focus. In fact, one could argue that you need both together — the goal specifies where you’re going and the area of focus describes how you plan to get there.

But there is a benefit to concentrating on an area of focus without a goal.

An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.

In other words, an area of focus offers all the advantages of a goal without the negative side effects.

How do you do it? It’s simple: identify the things you want to spend your time doing — or the things that you and your manager decide are the most valuable use of your time — and spend your time doing those things. The rest takes care of itself. I have found that five major things are about the limit before your efforts get diluted.

The key is to resist the temptation to identify the outcome you want to achieve. Leave that open and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. I’m not suggesting that this is easy to do. I never realized how goal-focused I was until I tried to stop focusing on goals. Without goals, I found it hard to trust that anything would get done at all.

But things got done. And in my experience, not only will you achieve at least as much as you would have if you had set goals, but you’ll enjoy the process far more, avoiding unnecessary stress and temptation.”

Excerpted from The Harvard Business Review Blog Network – “Consider Not Setting Goals in 2013” by Peter Bregman



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Morality & Fairness, Human Behavior, Right and Wrong

“Some people say that though decent conduct does not mean what pays each particular person at a particular moment, still, it means what pays the human race as a whole; and that consequently there is no mystery about it.  Human beings, after all, have some sense; they see that you cannot have any real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently.  Now, of course, it is perfectly true that safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other.  It is one of the most important truths in the world.  But as an explanation of why we feel as we do about Right and Wrong it just misses the point.  If we ask: ‘Why ought I to be unselfish?’ and you reply ‘Because it is good for society,’ we may then ask, ‘Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ and then you will have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish’ – which simply brings us back to where we started.  You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further.  If a man asked what was the point of playing football, it would not be much good saying ‘in order to score goals’, for trying to score goals is the game itself, not the reason for the game, and you would really only be saying that football was football – which is true, but not worth saying.  In the same way, if a man asks what is the point of behaving decently, it is no good replying, ‘in order to benefit society’, for trying to benefit society, in other words being unselfish (for ‘society’ after all only means ‘other people’), is one of the things decent behaviour consists in; all you are really saying is that decent behaviour is decent behaviour.  You would have said just as much if you had stopped at the statement, ‘Men ought to be unselfish.’

And that is where I do stop.  Men ought to be unselfish, ought to be fair.  Not that men are unselfish, not that they like being unselfish, but that they ought to be.  The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, or may be, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave.  On the other hand, it is not a mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did.  And it is not simply a statement about how we should like men to behave for our own convenience; for the behaviour we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behaviour we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite.  Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing – a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.  And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact.  It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour, and yet quite definitely real – a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.”

From Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis

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The U.S. Navy in World War II, The Battle off Samar & True Heros

“The Battle of Samar was a battle of firsts: the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier was destroyed by surface gunfire; the first time a ship was sunk by a suicide plane; the first time the mightiest battleship afloat fired on enemy warships.  And it was a battle of lasts: the last massed ship-versus-ship action in naval history: the last time a battleship fired its main batteries at an enemy; the last time small destroyers charged an opposing battle line.

If Samar had never happened – if Halsey had left behind Task Force 34 to butcher the Center Force as it sailed through San Bernardino Strait – Leyte Gulf would probably have gone down in naval history as a major mop-up operation and a bloody one-way slaughter.  As catastrophic as it was, Taffy 3’s historic last stand at Samar conferred to the bloody campaign an aspect of transcendence.  The victory at Leyte Gulf was the product of Allied planning, savvy, and panache, to be sure.  But only Samar showed the world something else: how Americans handle having their backs pushed to the wall.  As Herman Wouk wrote in War and Remembrance, “The vision of Sprague’s three destroyers – the Johnston, the Hoel, and the Heerman – charging out of the smoke and the rain straight toward the main batteries of Kurita’s battleships and cruisers, can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority.  Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.”

From The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer


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The Myth of Multitasking, Finding Focus, Quality vs. Quantity

“Indeed, excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street.  Another study, of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.  Even multitasking, that prized feat of modern-day office warriors, turns out to be a myth.  Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time.  What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.

Many introverts seem to know these things instinctively, and resist being herded together.  Backbone Entertainment, a video game design company in Oakland, California, initially used an open office plan but found that their game developers, many of whom were introverts, were unhappy.  “It was one big warehouse space, with just tables, no walls, and everyone could see each other,” recalls Mike Mika, the former creative director.  “We switched over to cubicles and were worried about it – you’d think in a creative environment that people would hate that.  But it turns out they prefer having nooks and crannies they can hide away in and just be away from everybody.”

Something similar happened at Reebok International when, in 2000, the company consolidated 1,250 employees in their new headquarters in Canton, Massachusetts  The managers assumed that their shoe designers would want office space with plenty of access to each other so they could brainstorm (an idea they probably picked up when they were getting their MBAs).  Luckily, they consulted first with the shoe designers themselves, who told them that actually what they needed was peace and quiet so they could concentrate.”

— From Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain



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Worldly Needs, Early American Dream, Meriwhether Lewis

“He also wrote occasional pieces for the newspaper. On November 16, 1808, he contributed an essay on “The True Ambitions of an Honest Mind.”  It read, in full:

Were I to describe the blessings I desire in life, I would be happy in a few but faithful friends.  Might I choose my talent, it should rather be good than learning.  I would consult in the choice of my house, convenience rather than state; and, for my circumstances, desire a moderate but independent fortune.  Business enough to secure me from indolence, and leisure enough always to have an hour to spare.  I would have no master, and I desire few servants.  I would not be led away by ambition, nor perplexed with disputes.  I would enjoy the blessings of health but rather be beholden for it to a regular life and an easy mind, than to the school of Hippocrates.  As to my passions, since we cannot be wholly divested of them, I would hate only those whose manners rendered them odious, and love only where I knew I ought.  Thus would I pass cheerfully through that portion of my life which cannot last always, & with resignation wait for that which will last forever.

-From Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose

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Introversion – Listening before Speaking – Adding Value Quietly

“A well-know study out of UC Berkeley by organizational behavior professor Philip Tetlock found that television pundits – that is, people who earn their livings by holding forth confidently on the basis of limited information – make worse predictions about political and economic trends than they would by random chance.  And they very worst prognosticators tend to be the most famous and the most confident – the very ones who would be considered natural leaders in an HBS classroom.

The U.S Army has a name for a similar phenomenon: “the Bus to Abiline.” “Any army officer can tell you what that means,” Colonel (Ret.) Stephen J. Gerras, a professor of behavioral sciences at the U.S. Army War College, told Yale Alumni Magazine in 2008.  “It’s about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day, and somebody says, “I’m bored.  Why don’t we go to Abilene?”  When they get to Abilene, somebody says, “You know, I didn’t really want to go.” And the next person says, “I didn’t want to go – I thought you wanted to go.” and so on.  Whenever you’re in an army group and somebody says, “I think we’re all getting on the bus to Abilene here,” that is a red flag.  You can stop a conversation with it.  It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.”

The “Bus to Abilene” anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate action – any action.  We are similarly inclined to empower dynamic speakers.  One highly successful venture capitalist who is regularly pitched by young entrepreneurs told me how frustrated he is by his colleagues’ failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability.  “I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas,” he said.  “It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent.  Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded.  Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”

From Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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The Greatest Debate – God’s Intentions & The Book of Job

“The key to understanding the message of Job is to see the book as a transcript of one of humanity’s all-time most important debates – full of presumptions, questions, rebuttals – and ultimately as a quest for truth.  Why did the creator and sovereign Master of all things and events allow Job, a devout worshiper, to experience such unimaginable suffering?  This great debate was instigated by an even bigger debate, a confrontation between the two most powerful beings in existence, God and Lucifer, or Satan, the most powerful being God ever created…


The debate between Job and his philosophical friends deserves consideration as the greatest debate of all time for another reason.  Unlike many of today’s leading scholars, Job and his friends apparently grasped the intimate connection between the problem of evil and suffering and the question of purposeful creation vs. undirected evolution. […] Furthermore, they seemed to comprehend that their debate transcended their personal relationships and perhaps even their own time. I can’t help but wonder if they had some inkling they were debating for the benefit of all humanity.”

– From Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job by Hugh Ross

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