Experiencing Wow at Work – Follow Your Ball

oaxaca ball

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A wow experience at work is something we all desire.

Remember the time when you came up with a novel idea and then made it happen. Recall your natural high after you delivered an “impossible” solution for a customer.

Are these long forgotten memories for us?

It is more likely that we have those ecstatic experiences as we encounter the wonders in nature.

I felt that overwhelming wow this week when we visited the Monarch butterfly sanctuary here in Mexico. As we observed 150 million of these exquisite creatures in their natural habitat I felt myself on the brink of tears most of the time. How can we rekindle this sort of magic at work?

  1. Recall why we entered a calling in the first place. For me it was a combination of curiosity as to what made leaders great plus my deep sense of satisfaction in helping them realize their leadership goals.
  1. Look for significance in small things. When it comes to inspiration at work we often look to big events like the release of an innovative technology or the publication of our book to inspire us. Enjoying the small stuff is almost a lost art. Celebrating our small daily wins with moments of gratitude is a path to wonder.
  1. Learn to “Be here now.” We live such distracted lives. We go way beyond multi-tasking as our minds go in a thousand directions at one time. It takes practice, discipline, and a quiet mind to be pulled back into the present. And it is in that place of rest and reflection that one can begin to be fully open to wonder and realize our leadership greatness.
  2. Chase your ball. The photograph is of our dog Oaxaca and her ball just before she died. She lived to chase that ball. Even a few days before her death she summed up her energy for one last time to fetch the ball.

What is YOUR ball?

What energizes you to do what you do?

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Managing Fear

Nature has equipped us with an internal red alert system. Fear.

When an out of control truck careens towards our car we get that rush of adrenaline that helps us think fast and take evasive action. Fear saves the day.

However, there are times when the same alarm bells go off and scare us unnecessarily.

Recently a group of university students from the USA travelled to a small town in Mexico. They were there to learn Spanish and supposedly learn about the culture. The problem was that they had been programmed to believe that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. On the first week of their visit they were alarmed when they heard the loud explosion of fireworks that often accompany local fiestas.

Nobody could persuade them that the explosions were from fireworks and not gunfire. They were terrified and took the next plane back to the USA.

Their fear was real but based on a faulty premise.

Reflect on the following acronym.


E= Evidence

A= Appearing

R= Real

Fears based on false evidence feel VERY real. Your gut churns as much as it would with the runaway truck scenario. Our physical systems cannot distinguish between false or true fear situations.

But our minds can be trained to distinguish between the two.

Here’s how.

Years ago when I worked as a psychologist I learned a powerful strategy Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). Use the ABC’s of this theory to analyze your irrational fears that feel very real to you. Then learn how to choose a more productive response.

A = Activating event. The trigger in this case was the explosion from fireworks

B = Belief. What they believed about the situation, “Those are gunshots”

C = Consequence. Their fear drove them to the airport.

Now did A cause C? Obviously this is not the case.

It was the interpretation of the event that scared them. It was the B=Belief part of the sequence that kicked in.

Let’s continue to follow the ABC process.

D = Dispute your belief. Engage in some reality testing. Do a sanity check with a colleague with a question like “Is it just my perception or should I go to the town square and check out the fireworks?”

E = Establish a new belief. After a thorough sanity check you may receive information that contradicts your belief that they heard gunfire. The fear is then extinguished.

Recognizing and managing the fear factor does not happen overnight. Some of our old hurts and beliefs run very deep. They have morphed into bad mental habits. Don’t stop at C , learn ways to move to E.

 How have you managed your fears?

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Love Your Job – Is That Possible?

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We all feel ambivalent about our job at times.

However, unlike Disneyland employees, we seldom portray our office to be the happiest place on earth all the time. It’s not so much about us having a perpetual smile on our faces but a deeper sense of fulfillment.

The truth about the quest for fulfillment at work is that,

  1. No one is happy all the time.

Even the most talented and productive people feel at times that they are drowning at work. We all have days when a dark cloud seems to linger over our heads.

That’s just life.

However it is helpful to identify and manage common energy drainers.

One downer may be that at times we assume undue responsibility for others. In an article in the NY Times “ Women Doing Office Housework” Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg point out that women are socialized to “take care” of others to the point that they over commit and exhaust themselves with their helping behavior.

Setting limits on our helping behavior is easier said than done. Assisting others is part of being a good team player. However sometimes we go too far. But the answer  to “just say no” can get us into hot water. This is especially true of women where they may be judged to be selfish if they decline assisting others voluntarily. By contrast, men who do the same are judged to be good boundary setters.

  1. You play to your strengths

Do an analysis of your signature strengths at authentichappiness.org. This free test will quickly tell you what you love doing the most.

For me it is the quest to find wisdom (best practices that produce the best results in life/work).

If you spend at least 80% of your work time using these strengths more likely than not you are a happy and fulfilled camper.

  1. The job is not all there is to one’s life

The most common feedback I get is that “you spend too much time talking about your work.” And here I am doing it again! But seriously, what other priorities do you have in your life other than work?

Nurturing your relationships?

Following your curiosity?

Developing your artistic self?

Exploring aspects of your spirituality?

Venturing into the world beyond your culture? (Only 20% of people in the USA have passports)

Again, it is very likely that a multi-faceted life will be lived from our center and bring deeper sources of fulfillment.

What course corrections have you made to make your work/life more fulfilling?

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Got Soul?

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

Our natural inclination as humans is to live from the perspective of our ego: our thoughts and behaviors revolve around what we are getting or not getting from life or other people. We seek satisfaction; however, we never fully realize it because the ego is insecure and insatiable—it is never satisfied.  Consequently, we are often left feeling somewhat empty or disturbed, as if there is something missing from our lives.

Interestingly, many of us go through our lives never realizing that we can make another choice, a choice that allows us to see our lives and relationships with others through a very different lens, the lens of the soul. Switching from an ego-based to a soul-based perspective is a powerful paradigm shift. It dramatically changes the way we experience the world, improving the quality of our experiences and leading us to a deeper understanding of life and the great gift that it is.

How do we make the shift to living from the perspective of the soul?

First, we need to learn to distinguish ego-based versus soul-based thoughts and actions.

Second, because the ego is a constant presence in our lives, we need to recognize when it threatens to derail us.

Finally, during these destabilizing moments, we need to intentionally choose to view our life’s circumstances differently.

Here’s an everyday example of making a different choice. One of the authors had a long and frustrating travel day. The following morning, feeling exhausted and very grumpy, he left a popular hotel chain to meet a customer. As he exited the elevator, he read the hotel’s slogan, “Wake up on the bright side” and thought, “You must be kidding!” After he met the customer, however, he felt inspired to collaborate and help solve her problems. Suddenly, he found that he was engaging and energetic.

What happened? He made a choice. (Grumpy consultants are unemployed consultants!) But moreover, in choosing to be the best he could be for this customer, he discovered he had inner resources he wasn’t aware of.

We are all capable of viewing life from a soul-based perspective because it is an inherent part of who we are. It does, however, tend to be overshadowed by the insatiable needs of the ego.

At work and at home, it takes an intentional focus to respond to life’s challenges from a soul-based perspective. It also takes time to develop this awareness so that we can choose to shift our perspective at will.

As Thomas Moore notes: “Soul doesn’t pour into life automatically. It requires our skill and attention.”

Let’s take a look at some of the wiser soul-based choices we can make:

▪   We can choose kindness in responding to others (especially when they irritate us) rather than being judgmental

▪   We can focus on using our talents and abilities to serve others as opposed to showcasing our accomplishments.

▪   We can be present now, accepting what is and embracing it, rather than ruminating about the past or distracting ourselves with fantasies about the future.

Following is a checklist of typical life situations and our responses to them. Approach each category as an exercise, thinking of instances in your life where you acted from an ego-based or soul-based perspective and the impact it had on you and/or others.


Signs of the Ego                                       Category                          Signs of the Soul

Self-gratification                                    Personal actions                      Benefit others

Performance-based                                 Self-esteem                              Values-based

Conditional                                                  Love                                       Unconditional

Entitled                                                        Attitude                                  Grateful

Getting love                                              Relationships                           Giving love

Personal comfort                                        Religion                                 Compassionate action

Chattering mind                                         Meditation                             Transcending ego                         

Intellectual pride                                       Wisdom                                   Humility

Despair                                                           Loss                                       Hope

Promoting self                                            Education                               Serving others

Domination                                                  Conflict                                  Resolution

Parents’ agenda                                          Parenting                               Child’s aspirations

Advance self                                                Contribution                          Benefit others

What choices are you making to live a more soul-based life?

What impact has this choice had on you and others?

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What Self-Aware People Don’t Do

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There are certain people who appear to be comfortable in their own skin. When you meet them they seem to have a “what you see is what you get” authenticity.

What don’t these self-aware people do? You seldom find them,

  1. Seeking love from accomplishments

Many live their lives on the assumption that since they cannot be loved for what they are they will then be loved for their accomplishments. The root of this type of personal insecurity is the belief that we are not lovable, worthy of love, or good enough. This sort of stuff, generated in childhood and reinforced by a performance oriented and conditional culture, creates havoc in our heads and in relationships.

Here are some of the symptoms. Self-aware people don’t

  • Wear their resume on their sleeve. They don’t use their accomplishments to garner approval from others.
  • Bend over backwards to please everyone in sight no matter how much it costs to do so.
  • Compete with everyone in an endless game of one-upmanship.
  1. Defined by other’s opinions

At times we all run focus groups in our minds where the burning question is “Of what value am I to others?” The trouble with such an approach is that we provide our own answers.

We have faulty assumptions of what we think others think of us. Even though this data is not objective or scientific we flagellate ourselves with the results. In order to diminish the self-inflicted pain we seek to prove to others how smart, beautiful, valuable, or socially acceptable we are. The symptoms are that we

  • Name drops to validate our status
  • Flash our knowledge or intelligence
  • Put others down to lift ourselves up
  • Stay angry to push others away
  • Showcase our possessions to boost our value
  • Look for a guru to tell us what to be and do

Heaven knows we all have our weaknesses. But in the end our self does not need fixing or self-improvement. At a very deep level we are loved unconditionally by the Universe.

In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside.”

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Bouncing Back After Tough Times

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Change and tough times are inevitable for all of us.

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks asked readers to reflect on their lives. Interestingly, many spoke of the challenges they faced and how hard life could be. These same readers also reported how they managed to be resilient in the face of their struggle.

How successfully we are able to navigate through those tough times often depends on our internal resources and the external support we receive from others. If we find ourselves in situations like this,

How do we remain strong?

How can we use reason to help guide us when we’re flooded with debilitating emotions and confusion?

How can we remain flexible and make the best decisions in the midst of life-disorienting change or pressure?

Below, we discuss a number of steps we can take to improve our resilience.

Find a supportive community.

Studies demonstrate again and again that people who do the best in times of loss, transition, and tragedy have one thing in common, the support of a caring community.

In our society, there is an interesting tension between the need for independence and the longing for connection. We want to say we can make it on our own and yet, at the same time, we have a deep need for each other. Social needs, of the sort tapped into by the creators of Facebook, is not what we’re talking about here.

Rather, we’re addressing the kind of  foundational interdependence that results from a commitment to each other in times of vulnerability and real need; a moral obligation to be there for that individual who needs our help; a laying aside of our own needs and preoccupations to listen, seek to understand, and provide emotional support for another who needs our help. This social web of support is to be found in a different sort of community.

As Jacob Needleman noted in a recent interview in The Sun Magazine, in this interpersonal context, there is “a higher quality of attention [that results in] a transformative energy that passes between people when they genuinely listen to each other.”

A famous example of this “transformative energy” at work is the huge success of alcoholics supporting and helping to transform and restore other alcoholics’ lives in Alcoholics Anonymous. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of people who provide the best support:

  1. They are not so preoccupied with their own lives that they cannot listen to your story.
  2. They do not judge you for the tough time you are facing.
  3. They are not defensive but, rather, truly open to who you are and what you say.
  4. They don’t revert to clichés as in: “It happened for a reason…”
  5. They align themselves with the ‘wise’ person in us (i.e., our essence).
  6. They don’t give up on us when our circumstances don’t change right away.

In addition to a supportive community to help us through our crisis and facilitate our resilience, there are other things we can do ourselves to bolster our resilience.

Discover what is really important.

Once we’ve moved through the initial crisis and have achieved some control over our situation, we can begin to address ourselves at a deeper level. For example, we may begin to ask these questions of ourselves:

  1. What is it that I really need for my life now?
  2. What am I most grateful for?
  3. How can I contribute to the greater good?
  4. How can I restore beauty, balance, and a sense of wonder to my life?
  5. Where will I experience the greatest mastery and creativity?

Times of difficult transition can be an opportunity to reengage with the deeper needs of one’s soul.  “Bouncing back” becomes a time of renewal and growth. As we move ahead with these priorities to guide us, we can begin to take concrete actions to improve our situation.

 Make specific changes, one step at a time.

  1. Remind yourself of your abilities and the strategies you have used to navigate past transitions.
  2. Brainstorm your ideas with trusted individuals. They can help you with reality testing as well as give you those “go for it” messages.
  3. Be willing to consider a paradigm shift or look for solutions in totally different places, especially soul-based solutions based on the answers to your questions about what you really need for your life.
  4. Get facts about your situation from reliable sources and not from those who repeatedly say: “That cannot be done.” For example, we were told, “You can never live in Mexico and have a consulting practice” (but we did).
  5. Look for role models of people who have successfully navigated through similar transitions. Study their best practices.
  6. Give yourself holidays from scary “what if” thoughts and focus on short-term “can do” strategies that are likely to produce success.
  7. Learn to laugh at certain aspects of your circumstance. There is always something funny about your situation; laughing about it releases tension and puts things in perspective. If you can say, “I’ll laugh about this some day”, why not laugh about it now?
  8. Turn to the spiritual resources of your religious faith or spiritual tradition to sustain and empower you. That always works to get you back in touch with what is really important.

Tough times don’t last. Resilient people do.

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Your Mission in Life is…

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No matter where you are on the journey of life, retired, retooling, or reflecting, do you have a clear sense of your mission? Or are you a little unfocused and at times caught in the busyness trap where your motto could well be In the absence of a clear strategy we redoubled our efforts?

It is quite amazing that so many people or organizations lack a clear sense of purpose.

Recently a senior executive friend of mine attended a corporate retreat for its top leaders. The president and CEO asked the group  “How many of you feel that we have a clear and compelling strategy?” Only a few raised their hands. He then asked, “How many can articulate our strategy?” This time fewer indicated an understanding. Astounding for a company of its size and importance.

This story can be replicated again and again. A sense of clarity about our mission requires that we have

  1. A deep sense of our signature strengths.

A previous blog posting pointed out how you can evaluate your Signature Strengths. Studies indicate that if we live and express our lives around these strengths our level of personal fulfillment is greatly enhanced.

A factor about these strengths is that they are keyed into our deepest values like the pursuit of kindness and the search for excellence.

Are you expressing your strengths in what you do?

  1. A clarity in all our communications.

It’s amazing how much more effective we can be if we work on clearly and briefly stating our core message about ourselves. In recent years I have come to view my mission as helping international leaders find sources of inspiration in both themselves as well as those that they lead .

Can you clearly and concisely articulate your mission?

  1. Insight to our behavioral drivers.

Knowing why we behave the way we do is key to the realization of a compelling mission. An article in the NY Times on the “Busyness Trap” captures the reasons why people live such frenetic lives.  It could be anything from the fact that the activity gives the person  a sense of importance to the possibility that they are running from the a variety of “inner demons” from their deep past or oppressive culture.

Are you running from some inner turmoil or towards a life-affirming mission?

  1. A mission that gives us a sense of meaning.

Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search For Meaning” wrote about his fellow concentration camp prisoners that had a will to  survive. In most instances, they talked about wanting to survive because they had some overarching goal. For instance, they desired to tell the story of the Nazi horrors so that no one would forget, or they wanted to still compose a piece of music, or they longed to be reunited with their family. This sense of purpose gave them the will to live.

“What sense of inner purpose gives you the will to live and makes you get up in the morning?

What is your life affirming and community enhancing reason that makes you dance joyfully through the day?

What legacy do you want to leave where people say of you “He/she made a difference to my life/community?”

This sense of personal mission is a practical map for a flourishing and fulfilling life.

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Living with a Narcissist

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Whether we admit it or not we all feel the hurtful impact of “me-first” people somewhere in our lives.

Maybe one of your parents or your partner or your boss was a narcissist. You never felt heard by him/her,  consistently had your own abilities diminished, and, if the narcissist was a boss,  you felt invisible in the organization..

Generally you have very hurtful memories from such “all about me” people.

How does this ubiquitous condition manifest itself?   And, how do you manage it?

The Roots of Narcissism

Narcissism is deeply rooted in our childhood experience and pandemic in our society. It,

  1. Arises from a deep sense of self-loathing – many sense that there is a fatal flaw in them that requires overcompensation with personal boasting and bluster. We are scared and so shout louder about ourselves.
  2. Deeply impairs relationships. A person so deeply focused on the self cannot attune to others. As a result they remain inaccessible to deep and authentic relationships. They are an accident waiting to happen on work teams. Because when they don’t have their needs met it,
  3. Leads to a narcissistic rage response when the narcissist senses that you are not meeting his/her needs.
  4. Shows itself in grandiosity. It overestimates its real abilities, exaggerates its talents, and boasts about small accomplishments as if they were something akin to the Nobel prize.
  5. Constantly craves attention and in so doing attempts to choreograph everyone around to dish up praise.
  6. Treats sycophants well and abuses those who see them as the “emperor without clothes” (often their own family members).
  7. Wants to keep us as infants dependent on them. Narcissists never want us to grow up and think for ourselves.

How then does one live and work with a narcissist?

 Managing Narcissism

There are certain insights and actions needed to live more successfully with narcissists. These include the recognition that,

  1. We all have elements of narcissism in our lives. The smaller the dose the less miserable we make others and ourselves. The key here is self-awareness and then self-regulation.
  1. We should not confuse it with the self-confidence found in so many successful people. That confidence is often wedded with a deep humility.
  1. When we detect narcissism in ourselves and others we should never become judgmental. We need to always forgive. Self and other-loathing is not the solution for narcissism.
  1. Self-deprecating humor is often a good antidote, e.g. “please join me on my pedestal!”  This requires some self-insight
  1. In cases where the narcissism of the other is intractable we need to defend ourselves and break off or severely limit major contact with them.Managers need to arrange that narcissists work mostly alone and not have them on teams.

We don’t have to put all narcissists in the same category since there are different degrees of severity with the condition. Mild cases are easier to manage. Severe cases may have to be managed out. But we cannot just wait for the problem to fix itself. We need to proactively deal with it or it will pull us and our organization under.

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Are You An Individualist or Conformist?

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The USA is one of the most individualistic societies in the world. It’s part of the DNA of the culture to believe that we make our own choices and determine our own destiny.

Recently I noted a bumper sticker on a Texas truck that proclaimed boldly “Take my gun? Never”. Like the Texas trucker we all cherish our power to choose to march to the beat of our own drum.

But look for a moment at the other side of the coin. Conformity.

To what degree do you allow the opinions of others to shape your choices? Do you do most things that others want you to do? Before you hit the denial button remember that conformity is one of the most powerful forces in shaping human behavior.

Think hotel towels for a moment.

We have all seen the request in the hotel bathroom to reuse the towels for the sake of the environment. I don’t believe the compliance rate is very high. However, in a series of experiments the level of compliance amongst hotel guests goes way up (47%) when the hotel notifies the guest that other people are reusing their towels and so should they too. What other people do shapes our behavior.

A few years ago I heard a Stanford business professor say that the chief driver for behavior change in individuals was the social pressure from their organization to conform.


The pressure to conform has a downside.

There comes a time when one has to assert one’s individuality. The “I will not sit in the back of the bus” or “I will not fight in an unjust war” or “I will not do everything you think I should do” becomes a part of our living our truth, asserting our individual rights, and acting on the basis of personal preference or conscience.

The result of asserting one’s individuality is that we;

1. Earn the disapproval (and sometimes admiration) of others.

2. Show courage in traveling the road less traveled.

3. Take innovative and adventurous steps that we would not have taken if we listened to the voices of naysayers.

4. Live our lives not worrying “what will people think?”

5. Are influenced by the dictates of our inner moral compass.

One key to a life well lived is to balance prudent conformity (team player and collaborator) with individual expression (think and act for yourself).

And that takes both wisdom and courage.

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Influence Like An Executive

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You know senior leaders who are powerful influencers. You would love to emulate them.

How can you develop their sharply honed skills? Consider this. Look at what you are actually doing right now. For example, perhaps you just nailed a presentation to the senior leaders in your organization.

 What did you actually do?

More than likely you did some of the following. You,

  • Were concise and clear in your presentation
  • You knew your audience, message, and yourself
  • Asked thoughtful questions that showed that you had a deep understanding of issues
  • Included your audience as partners in seeking clarity and solutions
  • Demonstrated that you had a grasp of strategic issues (You saw around the corner into the organization’s future)

Now take an additional step.

 What do effective executives do in a similar situation?

Your boss is a brilliant communicator. What behaviors does he/she demonstrate that makes for an influential communication? More likely than not such executives,

  • Demonstrate an unwavering confidence in their position
  • Have spent time nurturing close relationships with their peers and superiors (Networking)
  • Show humility in admitting when they are wrong and include your input and build on it (Emotional Intelligence)
  • Depend on the domain and skill expertise of others (Collaboration)
  • Always have a big picture perspective in mind (Strategy)
  • Continually focus on how to get the job done through others (Execution)
  • Are deeply committed to the development of their leadership bench (Leadership development)
  • Know the levers to pull on the path to profitability (Business savvy)
  • Tell a concise and compelling story that influences others at an emotional level (Communication)

Executive skills are not the stuff of a secret society. They are best practices from all effective influencing practice. You already have some of these skills in place so go ahead and refine them. The one’s you still have to learn get experience and coaching in acquiring these skills. See you at the top.

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