Realizing Your Desires

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de-Saint Exupery
French writer and aviator

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We dare not deny the presence or the validity of our desires especially those generated by our soul or core essence. Any attempt to suppress a soul-based wish leaves us frustrated and unfulfilled. In contrast, setting the compass of our hopes to our soul-promptings puts us on the journey to our personal true north.

Granted, some desires are based on ego needs (e.g. wanting recognition as an important person as determined by our rank or financial status). Working towards the fulfillment of these hopes leads to short-lived and mostly empty fulfillment.

Other wishes are based on the dictates of the soul (e.g. wanting to make a contribution to one’s world without the focus being on us). These are the desires that we need to validate and act on because they contribute to a life well lived and the shaping of a better world.

(You may want to read our blog “Moving Towards A Soul-Based Life”)

Our struggle with fondly held hopes is often quite forceful. And as in the martial arts, there are two basic ways to manage this resistance

  1. The first is go “against” the force with a stronger force (strong push back). People try all manner of such strategies to ensure change and compliance. These include demanding that the person “shape up or ship out”, begging, hinting, ignoring, appeasing, denial, bribing, or bargaining. Mostly these tactics are ineffective and can make the problem worse.
  1. The second is to go “with” the flow of the force. In order to go “with” the force of the resistance (e.g. the message: you cannot fulfill this want), we have to acknowledge the validity want.

We resist or deny our desires by telling ourselves,

“I don’t deserve to fulfill my aspirations.”

“If I want something I am being selfish”

“I have failed too many times in the past”

“What will others think if I pursue my goals?”

These “bad mind” messages that are not aligned with our true selves can be challenged and changed.

We embrace and go with the force of our wants when we,

  • Align them with the promptings of the soul
  • Set our intentions to their compass direction
  • Find ways to act on these yearnings


What soul-based wishes of yours are being frustrated?

What steps do you need to take to get on that path?

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Beyond Blah, Blah, Blah – Towards A Satisfying Conversation

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Why do some conversations leave us feeling empty and lonely? What happened?

We all long sometimes for satisfying dialogue, where:

No matter what the topic, we all experience an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialogue in the context of mutual trust and respect.

This article is about why conversations fail and how they can  succeed.

Let’s take a look at conversational styles that satisfy everyone engaged and those that leave us wishing we’d stayed at home with a good book!

Conversation Killers

Certain interactions smother reciprocal conversation; for example, people who:

  1. …. just want you to be their audience. The rule “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is their idea of a conversation. It is almost as if they did not get enough “show and tell” time in childhood and are now trying to make up that deficit by talking “at” you. Although it’s interesting initially to hear people’s stories and get to know about them, a balance of talking and listening with genuine interest in each other is essential for a satisfying conversation and real friendship to develop.
  2. …..rely solely on small talk and other superficial interactions. This can serve an important function; for example, to open a conversation or acknowledge each other in a public place such as waiting in line at the bank. However, when small talk becomes the only currency and small talk is mistaken for genuine connection, we can be left wanting. Once we scratch below the surface and go beyond the façade of friendliness and small talk, we may find little substance to the person or their ability to carry on a more authentic and satisfying interaction. We are reminded of people who only talk sports: “How about those Dodgers?” That may be good for an opener, but when the topic never changes, even after the listener has expressed their ignorance or lack of interest in sports, the speaker is not respecting the needs of the listener and the conversation fizzles.
  1. ….takes over the conversation, speaking at length as an authority on whatever topic comes up in conversation. This can be an important educational experience for the listener but when it morphs into the speaker asserting their authority on each new topic, and expecting the listener to be an admiring and appreciative audience, the only sound we hear is that of the authority.
  1. .whose body language cancels out any words that they are using. There is nothing like a person yawning, breaking eye contact, or changing the subject to let you know you are not being listened to, appreciated, or valued.

Now contrast these ultimate conversation killers with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

  1. A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently. No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.
  1. A person with a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart. These people are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view. They are able to put their own needs aside when they sense the other person needs a listening ear. In the end with such a conversation there is a climate of safety, mutual respect and acceptance.
  1. A flow of dialogue that includes both point and counterpoint. A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.
  1. People who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities.

What are some of the conversation killers and enhancers you have had in your experience?


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History is Not Destiny – Reshape Your Future

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Stories with the redemption theme can be very powerful catalysts in reshaping our future. Consider,

* The alcoholic woman with ten years of recovery under her belt.

* The failed business that reinvented itself and now is an example of success in its industry.

All stories of people who survived  tough times and creatively wrote new chapters for their future.

I learned from my years as a practicing psychologist that we shouldn’t reduce a person to their diagnosis (e.g. a depressive) or the sum total of their childhood conflicts and hurts. While the latter may be formative of what the person is today and represent part of a struggle against conditioned thinking (e.g. I am not lovable or of value unless I perform at the highest levels), there is another side to the story of our person.

I also learned that tough times do not last but tough people do (A title of a book I once read)

But the central theme of a redemption story is that we are

A highly complex mix of psychological assets and liabilities

Shrouded in mystery that unfolds as we are exposed to new people and experiences.

Like the starry sky that cannot be defined by observing one star or galaxy

Defined more by our potential and strength than by our weakness and failure.

 Transforming Hurtful Experiences

Consider the following examples of how people transform the liabilities of childhood and adult life into a positive contribution in their world.

  1. An academic whose mother was extremely self-absorbed and grossly neglected him. As an adult he studied unhealthy and healthy ways children bonded with their parents.
  2. A psychologist who had an “all about me” father who would never allow the child to express his own opinion. The child grew up to be a very effective public speaker.
  3. An exuberant girl who was banned from speaking at the family dinner table. She grew up with a passion for giving others a voice.

 Discovering Hidden Talents

Living out a lifetime drama of hurt is not all there is to a person. Take the many cases where people discover professions and abilities when mentors saw a talent in them and facilitated the expression of this talent. In an article in the NY Times “It Takes a Mentor” Thomas Friedman discusses the predictors of success in students. Each of these students had one or more mentors who took an interest in them.


Take charge of your self-perception and the things you attempt by

  1. Refusing to limit yourself to defining yourself by your history of hurt and disappointment.
  2. Finding people who believe in you and bring out the best in you.
  3. Treating yourself as an unfolding mystery where you are in the process of creatively writing the ongoing  scenes.
  4. Discovering what inspires you and letting that be the true north on your life’s compass.

So go ahead, creatively write and live the rest of your life’s story.


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Transforming the Destructive Power of Envy – Cinderella and Her Stepsisters


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Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

The Cinderella story is (among other things) about the destructive power of envy that all of us have experienced sometime in our lives. The sisters envied their stepsister, Cinderella, for her admirable qualities (e.g., her kindness and goodness) – qualities that the sisters perceived they did not have themselves.  Consequently, the sisters marginalized Cinderella, denigrating her and trying to diminish her in the eyes of others.  In so doing, the sisters hurt themselves because they compromised their own potential for goodness.  One interesting aspect of envy is that it can hurt both the person who envies as well as the person envied. Let’s consider the variety of ways that envy is expressed:

  1. The “your good qualities are interpreted as bad” put down. People envious of the good qualities in others often interpret these characteristics negatively. For example, the strong and assertive woman leader is described as pushy.
  1. The “tall blade of grass gets cut down” response. Sometimes the cultural or gender role expectation dictates that no one should rise above the others. For example, if someone frequently toots his or her horn about achievements, the group quickly censors that individual.
  1. The “I hate you for all that is good about you” phenomenon. Consider the woman who is trapped in a long marriage to an abusive husband. She transfers her hate for the husband onto her independent daughter who pushes back in the face of mistreatment by the father.  Her mother envies and hates her daughter for the strength that the mother cannot express.
  1. The “I am going to ignore you” response. Cinderella’s sisters refused to acknowledge Cinderella’s good qualities. They ignored her, thinking she did not deserve validation and/or hoping that by ignoring her, her goodness would somehow disappear or be overlooked by others.

Why are some people consciously or unconsciously envious of the strengths and abilities of others?  Why do they despise them so much”? Let’s look at why people envy and what happens when they do.

Cinderella’s Sisters – The Enviers 

Let’s take a closer look at the inner life of the sisters.

  1. The sisters are (consciously) unaware of their own inadequacies.  However, they experience pain in the presence of Cinderella’s good qualities because, unconsciously, they feel inadequate. This pain is difficult for them to tolerate. As a result, the inadequacy they experience is projected or transferred onto Cinderella, resulting in them viewing Cinderella as inadequate instead of themselves.
  1. The sisters cannot move forward to uncover their own positive qualities and potential. The gaping hole they feel in their lives and the resultant hate for those who seem to have what they long for keeps them stuck and unable to move toward uncovering their own goodness and/or spirituality.
  1. The sisters are excessively critical of Cinderella, which generalizes to others. The sisters, for example, may constantly compare themselves to others and judge others to be wanting in relation to themselves.  They in turn assume a position of superiority vis-à-vis others, resulting in statements like: “I am privileged and wealthier than you are” or “I am more accomplished than you are”. All such comparisons are an attempt to bolster their perceived inferiority by posturing a critical superiority.

Cinderella – The Envied

What does it feel like to be in Cinderella’s shoes? What do people typically do in response to being envied?

  1. Mute their strengths and giftedness. In response to the critical disposition of their enviers, the envied may become inhibited. Because they want to avoid the pain of being criticized, the envied may make self-deprecating statements or render themselves altogether invisible by not expressing themselves at all. This is an unhealthy response because it is self-negating.
  1. Accept the abusing messages as the truth about themselves. The envied (especially in childhood) may internalize the toxic criticisms of the enviers and turn it against themselves. This can manifest itself in self-abusing behaviors such as eating disorders, undermining their own success, or lowering expectations for themselves.
  1. Escape from the pain through compensating behaviors. The envied may try to cover up their pain by behaviors such as overworking, promiscuity, and substance abuse. These maladaptive responses dull the pain of  feelings of  inadequacy and shame that they experience at the hands of the envier.

 Pain – The Portal to the True Self

 How do those that envy and those who are envied release themselves from the pain caused by these destructive emotions? Below, are some suggestions:

  1. Get out of denial and come to terms with the fact that envy exists. Unless we name it for what it is, it will continue to eat away at us like an emotional acid rain. This is true both for those who envy and those who are the targets of envy.
  1. Push back against the enviers. For those who are envied, come to recognize that you are not the person the abusers are saying you are. This position of strength will lead you to respond with a resounding “No” to all envious bullies in life and put you on the path to personal wholeness.
  1. Affirm the goodness within. Both enviers and those envied can acquire the psychological strength and spiritual knowledge to express the best that is within them. People are capable of accessing their authentic selves and through that connection, can validate their worth and make strong, loving connections with others.

The healing of envy, for the envier and the envied, represents the resilience and triumph of the human spirit. Envious sisters can become loving siblings. Cinderella can cease to be the target or victim of abuse and embrace the fullness of her humanity. How has envy manifested in your life? What was your path to recovery?

Your comments are valued.

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Praise Now – Why Wait?

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In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend of ours told us that recently someone wrote a letter of commendation about one of her employees. She reported that it was so rare to get such letters since most people were negative and critical with their comments.

Why such a drought of praise?

Where does this constricted view of life come from?

What is the positive impact of praise?

Why are we so slow to praise?

There are a multitude of reasons for our reluctance to praise others and here are a few.

  1. We are competing with others. We envy their abilities or personal power, feel that they may detract from what we are and have, and so like Cinderella’s sisters, put them down or withhold praise.
  2. We are not generous in our spirit. Like Scrooge we “Bah humbug” the need for praise. It is not in our mental range to see the good in others due to a basic cynical or pessimistic view of life (often because we carry deep personal hurt).
  3. We are not grateful for what we have. When we are stingy with our praise we lack a sense of the abundance in our lives and are unable to celebrate the goodness that we already have.
  4. We have a distorted view of humility. I heard a leader say of his star employee,“I don’t want to praise her too much she may get a swollen head!” (Please read the blogs on Humility)

Whatever our reason for withholding praise we forget it’s the positive that motivates, not the negative, and it’s the positive that builds strong relationships, collaboration,  the best results, and close and healthy relationships.

Since when did genuine praise “spoil” another person?

So how can we shift to a more proactive climate of praise?

How can we praise now? 

Think of the times in your life when someone important to you, parent, mentor, teacher, or colleague, commented positively on your contribution or character. Instead of making you overly proud or arrogant it spurred you on to greater things.

So then let praise

  1. Come from an authentic place. People sense when you are “kissing up” to them and trying to get something from them with flattery. But genuine praise has no hidden agendas. It expects nothing in return. It is entirely focused on the object of praise.
  2. Be something you just do. It is amazing how uplifting it is for us to bestow praise on others especially in unscripted and spontaneous moments. Intentionally set this as a goal each day.
  3. Be great for your health. John Tierney in the NY Times writes about the positive effects of praise and gratitude. “Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.”
  4. Be the driver to take stock of your life. Sometimes it takes the shock of facing one’s own mortality to experience gratitude. Playwright Dennis Potter (who was dying from cancer) remarked during his last television interview that he was living so intensely in the present that he noticed the beauty in ordinary things that he’d hardly paid attention to before.  He captured this beautifully in his comment: “The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.”
  5. Be directed towards yourself. A friend of mine save notes from people who praised her. From time to time she reviews these affirming statements to remind herself of the value of her person and contribution.

The Results of Praise

There is a positive cascading impact of praise as seen where

1The leader is the group’s emotional guide. Daniel Goleman writes, “The leader sets the emotional standard.”

Your positive disposition (optimism) spreads through your organization/community and influences both morale (a dark or sunny emotional climate) and productivity (defined as “getting it out the door”).

2. Gratitude increases positive feedback. Next time you do a performance evaluation start from a place of gratitude for the other person. See how your disposition towards gratitude impacts the tone of the session even if you have difficult things to say to others.

Take the Challenge

1. When did you last express your gratitude to someone who has impacted your life in ways big or small? Go ahead and do it now.

2.  Measure your gratitude level. Martin Seligman developed a measure of gratitude at

 Test yourself

3. Why wait until a person’s obituary before you praise them?

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Why Kindness Matters

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 “I will never forget his kindness to me,” remarked an executive recently in reference to a boss who was retiring.

“How so?” I asked, curious to understand how she experienced this character trait in her boss. “He was so empathic and supporting when my ten year old boy died of leukemia and he had my back when I was making risky changes in my organization.”

As she continued to enumerate a long history of kind and thoughtful actions toward her, I got the clear impression that this boss was extraordinary in that he didn’t just lead with his mind, he led with his heart, and he displayed a positive disposition and genuine concern towards others. He showed a strong inclination to do a good turn and seek the best for others.

Human beings are social animals who work together to achieve goals; we are all interconnected. Consequently, it is no surprise that in all major world religions, the overriding guide, the “golden rule”, is that we treat others the way we want to be treated.

Curiously, when people talk about the workplace they often start by relating stories about cruel behavior, the antonyms for kindness. They may talk about bullying co-workers who are non-conforming, behaving in a callous manner towards someone who has experienced a personal tragedy, making competitive put–down remarks in meetings, or harassing others in one way or another.

In such an environment, when kindness comes our way it’s like a breath of fresh air!

So, how do we account for the relative absence of kindness at work?

What makes us shut off ourselves from something so basic to our humanity and so good for ourselves and everyone else?

Below, are some examples of conditions that inhibit the expression of kindness.

Kindness is eclipsed when

1.   Our hearts are closed because we’ve been hurt by life and are defending ourselves from being hurt again. We come to believe that if we show kindness, we open ourselves to being either used and/or hurt by others. To be kind is to be vulnerable.

2.  We equate kindness with weakness. Give them an inch and they will take a foot.” We equate kindness with ineffectiveness or giving in to others: we don’t know how to be kind while, at the same time, clearly communicating expectations that must be met.

3.   We view the workplace environment as a competitive, zero-sum gamewith no room for generosity of spirit: “I need to take all the credit or recognition or else someone else will rob me blind of what I earned or deserve”

How can kindness be nurtured?

1.   Learning to open our hearts after we have been hurt is a risk we have to take in the quest for personal growth. To begin the process, take small experimental steps in showing kindness while at the same time, observing: “This stuff works”. Start by choosing someone who is likely to respond positively to kindness. Note the results and keep on going.

2.   Start with the premise that kindness does not let others off the hook in enforcing high expectations. If you feel others have exploited your kindness, it’s difficult not to believe that you have compromised your strength. However, if you can see kindness as a way of supporting others to achieve goals, that it is kind to set high standards, then you can find strength in being kind.

3.   The belief that the workplace is a ‘zero-sum game’ is a lose-lose proposition for you and sure to stifle kindness.  The way to nurture kindness in this context is first, to change your beliefs about your workplace. Data that may help are recent findings that kindness begets kindness.

A study by Fowler and Christakis (2010) demonstrates the cascading nature of kindness in human networks. When one person starts showing kindness, many follow suit. Start with an experiment in showing kindness to someone you respect and value and see if it becomes contagious.

4.   Be kind even when you don’t feel like doing so. Granted, in many circumstances being kind is not easy.  But do it all the same. The magic of behaving in a kind way is that you will eventually come to feel kind and express kindness naturally.

5.   Adopt the belief that “The golden rule works”; however, not in the way most people think! It’s not a “If I scratch your back you will scratch mine” rule. Rather, we do it because it is the right thing to do and that’s how we like be treated as well.

6.   Similarly, show kindness but do not expect a return in kind.  The Bhagavad-Gita says, “Do your duty unto god without your eyes on the fruit of your action.”  The fruits of our work should not be our motive or preoccupation.

7.   Learn to do it without any fanfare. We often acknowledge people in public for acts of kindness. However, acts of kindness mean more when they are expressed privately (that is, unseen by an audience wider than the recipient). Remember that being kind isn’t about shifting the focus to yourself; that is, getting credit for what a nice person you are. The focus should remain on the person you are helping.

Ways to Show Kindness at Work

1.   Unofficially mentoring others. This is probably the most important act of generosity you can make to another. When people remember their past, they always point to those key mentors or teachers who made a difference in their lives.

2.   Writing letters of appreciation or condolence. To show compassion during a time of huge loss and appreciation for a job well done is never forgotten. In both instances, you are expressing to the recipient that he or she is cared for and valued. Contrast this to a recent example of a CEO who proclaimed publicly that the community of senior executives was a ‘family’ and then mostly ignored an executive who was diagnosed with cancer.

3.   Showing a kind disposition toward others while setting high standards and expecting the best from others is a powerful way to achieve a motivated team that works to their potential. An example of this is one of the statements in the HP Way: “People want to do a good job” and to this, we’d add: “when they know how much they are valued.”

4.   Demonstrating humility by giving others credit for goals met as a team: “My career was built on the shoulders of others”

6.   Celebrating and promoting the fact that others have skills superior to yours.

7.   Refuse to rub peoples’ faces into their failures. Be compassionate to yourself and others in the face of failure.

Please leave a comment

What are some examples of kindness that you have experienced?

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Imagine A World Where – Ten Practices of Innovators

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Today I ran into a Mexican friend who took me on a tour of his dream come true. He had rented a street-front office for his travel/educational business. This was after he had lost his lease on an office of 15 years in a prime setting on the city square.

In the process of moving to his new location he discovered that there was a run-down mansion in the rear of the property. A dream sparked in his mind and he saw the possibility of a boutique hotel at that location. A year later, there it was in all its renovated glory with a steady flow of international guests.

We all develop mental images of what we want for ourselves. Some are based on fantasies that seem to die an early death. Other visions of the future or innovative ideas are serious intentions based on deep long-standing desires and stellar abilities. Here we need to be alert to signs from the universe (some call those coincidences) that call for bold action. We see solutions to challenges that no one has thought of or developed before that meet real world needs. 

An IT Director in a large tech company told me, “I want to create applications that make my customers wildly successful” When I met her several months later she was well on her way to realizing that dream. 

One thing that is true of all possibility thinking is that people don’t just jump in and support us. Recently a research scientist told me “At a meeting in our corporate headquarters last week they brought in a couple of the top scientists who talked about how they created new and astounding technologies. The amazing thing was that they did it in their spare time. Apparently these same scientists had asked their bosses if they could go ahead with their new ideas and they were told to focus on their present projects. So the work of innovation took place after hours.

We cannot wait for the majority in our world to give us the green light to follow our passion. Most go it alone or with the support of one or two close friends or associates. But it is more important that we cast a vote for ourselves.

Is your imagination stimulated to innovate or move in new directions in life? 

Here are the ten practices of innovators. They

  1. Created a compelling story (imagine a world where) that arose from their imagination.
  2. Invited influential stakeholders to be partners/sponsors in the venture. They told their story in a way that excited others. Visions are caught not taught.
  3. Persisted despite skepticism and opposition. They knew the difference between “Know when to quit” and, “Don’t give up too soon!”
  4. Broke or at least bent the rules by which others thought they should operate.
  5. Showed flexibility and a willingness to change course quickly if new circumstances demanded such an action.
  6. Allowed their mistakes to act as course corrections or learning trials.
  7. Estimated the risk accurately.
  8. Launched out on an “adventure of faith” before all the resources were available. One ancient writer described faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”.
  9. Remained very clear on the opportunities built into the vision of the future base on clear data.
  10. Used the toothbrush test (A term used at Google to determine the viability of a project or investment). This test answered the question “will people use it at least twice a day and will it have long-term usefulness?”

 Go ahead now and imagine, intend, and initiate

And observe how the universe conspires with you to make things happen

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Assert Your Brand with Humility?

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Why do we even ask the question about a successful marriage between making our abilities known and humility?

Two reasons.

First, talking about one’s achievements or personal success solicits censure in some circles. Many believe that showcasing one’s perspective, product, or person is a sign of boastfulness, a lack modesty and narcissistic tendencies (sometimes they are but that’s another blog). The result of brand assertion is that,

“The tall blade of grass gets cut down.” 

The second reason is that, unless we define carefully who we are we can miss opportunities to get what we really want and make our greatest contribution. 

The negative press on brand assertion is deeply embedded in may societies and is shaped by faulty thinking.   Carl Jung said, “we are battered by the forces of our own psyche”. Each of these forces is shaped by,

  1. Cultural conditioning. In certain parts of the world the welfare of the group is more important than that of the individual. A person advocating strongly for his/her point of view or personal brand is believed to detract from the focus on the group.    Here individualism (equated with assertiveness) is seen as a personal deficit and is frowned upon. This cultural conditioning even extends to the different ways men and women are socialized in Western culture. While it is perfectly acceptable for a man to “toot his own horn” women do not want to be viewed as rising above others.
  2. Assertiveness Misinterpreted. It is fairly common for people to confuse brand assertion with aggressiveness. But the two are worlds apart. Aggression is rooted in the spirit of wanting to dominate or even hurt the other. Declaring one’s brand, in the best sense, comes from a deep desire to serve others to the best of one’s ability.  In a sense aggressiveness is like wrestling. Assertiveness like a dance.
  3. Humility Misconstrued. Somehow humility has been tarnished with the thought the person should apologize for him/herself, remain invisible, and not stand up and speak for themselves or their organization. I heard recently of an organization that lost a sale to a customer because they did not assert the value of their service/product.

The Solution

We need an antidote for the belief that personal brand definition and humility cannot coexist. In this fast-paced competitive world the imperative is “define your brand or die or be ignored”. So as a result, 

  • View the above three beliefs (and our resultant aggression) as the product of our conditioned thinking. So evaluate your self-assessments more carefully.
  • Be careful to distinguish between assertiveness and aggressive tendencies. As Pema Chodron said, “You have to want to lose your appetite for violence and aggression. And to do that, you have to lose your self-righteousness”.
  • Establish a new way of thinking where we give ourselves permission to state our views or advocate for our position or that of a cause/company.
  • Observe the old habit with patience and compassion. Don’t try to push the thoughts away or deny them because that makes them even stronger.
  • Be very clear to have a simple and compelling brand-statement. For instance one IT executive told me recently “I love to create applications that make my customers wildly successful”. You need to define what distinguishes you from others so that you can be deployed as the right person for the right job.

And guess what? Your world will not fall apart if you assert yourself. Many times when we are on the right track we get a lot of criticism. A brand statement makes it far easier to get what you envision for yourself.

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Making Conflict Work for You

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Some find it difficult to handle conflict.

Recently a senior executive told me “I have worked all my life in a collaborative work environment where we seldom openly expressed conflict. However, recently we merged with a company from another continent. They have no problem strongly disagreeing with each other. In fact, the debate gets quite heated at times. I just don’t know how to be that direct. In fact, when I encounter conflict, I tend to avoid it.”

You may be really thin skinned and go into a tailspin when others disagree with you. That may be because in the past inter-personal friction turned out badly. You also believed that you did not have the tools to handle strongly felt differences of opinion. This is possibly due to the fact that in your family of origin you did not acquire the tools to handle conflict well. Also you may be from a culture where folks avoid conflict especially when it comes to disagreement with senior leaders.

There are two sides of the coin with conflict.

The first has to do with destructive or unproductive fighting. This usually occurs with political turf battles or one ego bumping into the other. Here people get their feelings hurt and generally believe “What’s the use of my speaking up, nobody listens anyway?”

The other side of the coin is when conflict leads to positive outcomes. Here both parties,

  1. Stay attuned to each other. This requires skilled listening skills.
  2. Work towards the same high-level goal.
  3. Seek to build on (not contradict) the position of the other. They tend to use “yes-and” rather than “yes-but” responses.
  4. Engage in robust dialogue but at the same time demonstrate deep respect for each other.
  5. Allow their view to be changed in the face new and more accurate data.
  6. Decide, in the interests of higher goals (the need of the customer), to “agree to disagree”.

The senior executive in the opening example learned to experience conflict as productive and the natural outcome of her new diverse workplace. Instead of avoiding it as she had done in the past she adopted the above 6 strategies. In so doing she experienced new levels of creativity and more productive work relationships.

How has conflict worked well for you and your relationships?









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Go Ahead, Break the Rules

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If you have even the slightest inclination to innovate you have to break the rules. You have to at times disregard the majority decisions and follow your own inner truth. If not, your ideas will die on the vine.

An executive vice president in a large financial institution told me that his leadership style was to “break glass”. He thrived on devising original solutions that met business goals. Despite the fact that he did not conduct business as usual, the Board of Directors and his boss (the CEO) loved the results he produced with his team.

Rule breakers are rewarded by organizations if they get positive results. Otherwise there is “organ rejection” — they are told to conform or leave. In families that value conformity, rule breakers are sometimes marginalized and demonized. Conformity, particularly in a dysfunctional family or work system, can result in a slow death.

So, do you want to innovate and be creative? Yes?

By nature, you are not just a rebel for the sake of being a rebel. You have a drive to explore new territory in your field and make a contribution to your organization/society. Here are some things to avoid that will sustain you as you explore and express your creative impulses.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to get squeezed into roles that are not you. Too often I find that people who want to be the architect of new strategies get trapped in tactical roles. This may work for a while but such people become bored and restless. They need to be in situations that play to their strengths.
  1. Don’t allow the fear of what others think constrain your creativity. Innovative people have to resist internalizing the criticism of bosses or families (You want to do what?) and in turn inhibit themselves with self-limiting thoughts. Any idea worth its salt will be criticized anyway.
  1. Don’t stay trapped in unproductive roles/jobs. Many innovative people leave constrictive work environments and either go off on their own or find other work situations that nurture creativity. There are many organizations that keep reinventing themselves in response to industry and customer needs. Find such a culture for yourself.

So go ahead, break the rules. Question authority. Remember, organizations that rest on their laurels for too long, now no longer exist. And people who are not willing to show flexibility of thought and action are trapped in dead end jobs or relationships.

If you have the impulse and talent to innovate and are restricted in your current role, “break glass”! (You won’t be disappointed…)

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