Communicating From The Heart

Everyone seems to want to make deeper emotional connections with others but often fail in the process.

Part of feeling frustrated with the limitations of  heart-felt responses is captured in the title of a recent article “Don’t Google me. Talk to me.” This reflects a world where people seem more comfortable looking at the screens of their mobile devices than having eye contact with others. In the face of this interpersonal disconnect, relationships are superficial,  fact-oriented, transactional, and head-only.

This last week our beloved cat of 16 years had to be put to sleep. In the throes of grief we went to a local restaurant for dinner.

The server gave us the “How are you?” ritual greeting.

When we replied “Not too good!” she quickly added, “Fine, what would you like to order?”

Our very obvious feelings were quickly dismissed.

Contrast that encounter with a two-minute exchange I had on a plane with an ordained Buddhist nun whose writings I deeply value. I drummed up the nerve to approach her and ask, “Are you Pema Chodron?” When she replied affirmatively, I thanked her for her writings. She looked directly into my eyes, held both my hands in hers, asked me my name, and thanked me for my expression of gratitude. In those few moments I felt a profound sense of connection and acceptance.

There are lessons to be learned from cultures that are more comfortable with matters of the heart. We are deeply indebted to the Mexican people (where we lived for seven years) for teaching us the value of expressing our deepest emotions. For instance, when it comes to grieving, in our Western culture we are supposed to “get over it” and are given the message, “Don’t bother me with your feelings.”  In Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebration, embraces the ongoing life and memory of the deceased and gives folks permission to experience the full range of their emotions.

The price we pay for cutting ourselves off from our hearts is that we,

  1. Seldom know the joys of a soul to soul relationship or the oneness of our shared humanity
  2. Miss the depths of joy and gratitude for what we had or have. As poet Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
  3. Stay stuck in our heads and seldom engage our hearts for fear that we will be rejected, feel uncomfortable, or lose control
  4. Mask our feelings with addictions like work, shopping, and substances (alcohol and food).


How have you moved from intellectual only to the depth of heart relationships?

For a reflection on the way to navigate our sorrow you may want to read the Sun Magazine’s interview with Francis Weller on “The Geography of Sorrow.”

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Communicating an Effective Strategy – Use Fewer Words

Sometimes strategy statements are complicated and unclear.

One problem is that they use too many words.

An effective strategy statement needs to be crisp, crystal clear, and easily understood by everyone.

Take President John F. Kennedy’s moon speech where he declared with elegant simplicity

 “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard

Some may object that such simple vision statements do not reflect the difficulty in making them a reality.

But that is not their intention.

They are designed to communicate a vision, capture the imagination, and rally everyone to work for one clear and measurable outcome.

Complexity comes with the marketing and execution of the strategy.


Do you have a concise, clear, and compelling vision statement understood by all in your organization?

I would love to hear your example of a great strategy statement

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Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

There are certain people that exude a certain kind of humble confidence. When you meet them they seem to have a “what you see is what you get” authenticity.

What makes them like this, comfortable with themselves as well as with others?

How can you be one of them? Let’s take a closer look at

What they are not doing

They are not

1.   All Wobbly Inside

The root of most 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. Such internal instability is manifested outwardly by a

Craving for affirmation but give nothing in return

Driving competitiveness devoid of humility

Cloying desire to please

Reactive response to authority

Chronic need to escape into activity

2.   Defined by the opinions of others

Wobbly people have the need to have others “boot them up” to make them feel good about themselves. This is a variation on theme #1. But in this instance the person is making extra effort to prove to the other how smart, beautiful, valuable, or socially acceptable they are. The symptoms here are that the person

  • Name drops to validate their status
  • Flashes their knowledge or intelligence
  • Puts the other down to lift themselves up
  • Stays angry to push others away.
  • Looks for a guru to tell them what to be and do

What they are doing

People comfortable in their own skin not only have the relative absence of the above but they also

1.   Have a high degree of self-awareness

We all have our ghosts and hot buttons. And we all revert to dysfunctional and childish behaviors under stress. But self-aware people are wide-awake and generally know why and when they are getting a bit unsteady inside. They have a keen awareness of the triggers in their heads and environment that set them off. They also know what to do when they feel more inclined to react rather than respond.

Fact: Self-aware people make better choices for themselves

2.   Do not take themselves too seriously

If you cannot laugh at yourself you are in trouble when your internal “stuff” hits the fan. The big danger of falling into old dysfunctional patterns is that we over-dramatize the results. We forget that most people are so focused on themselves that they don’t even notice our emotional peccadilloes. And even if they do, what they think of us does not define who we are or what choices we can still make for ourselves.

Fact: Self-aware people don’t sweat their imperfections. They make choices to do better the next time.

3.   Place a high value on authenticity

The sign of an authentic person is that they can be transparent and vulnerable. They also have a deep inner sense of their value defined quite apart from their performance or even their perceived perfection.

Fact: It’s OK to be seen as less than perfect or completely competent. Even Buddha did not remain in an enlightened state all the time.

So look at your internal and external wrinkles and admit, accept, and laugh.

Walk easy with yourself through life.

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When The Crazy Thing is the Right Thing – Leadership Lessons From Adopting A Puppy


When do you intuitively choose to do one thing when your rational brain instructs you to back off?

For example,

You hire someone who is absolutely brilliant but have no place for her/him now in your organization

You see an injustice at work and decide to be a whistle blower even if it costs you your job

You rescue a dog when the timing for an adoption is terrible

Why in such circumstances would you go with your gut rather than follow what seems better sense?

A week before we left Mexico we took our 4-year-old lab for a walk and sighted a bundle of shivering fur in the grass on a vacant field in a trash bag. We peeked into the bag to see two terrified eyes looking back up at us.

It was a 12-week-old abandoned puppy.

Our impulse was to pick it up and take it home but all the time our head told us “You must be crazy! You are in the middle of packing up your home in Mexico for a long road-trip to New Mexico. With all the stresses inherent in the moving process you cannot be serious about keeping the dog?

We usually balance heart and head. We do this by gauging the correctness of the decision based on either best practice from the past or a good outcome in the future. We had neither data source available.

So what is a gut instinct anyway?

There is a large body of research indicating that our stomach has its own brain very different from that in our head. It holds a capacity to evaluate a situation at an emotional level in a flash. It is an intuitive knowing. So it is not just a metaphor. It is a physiologically based instinct that we either trust or distrust and use or neglect.

Why did we rescue that puppy? What are some components of an instinctive decision?

  1. Synchronicity.

At times there are seemingly random events that if carefully observed, form a pattern that eventually presents a compelling picture. We had been planning to rescue another dog anyway. But why this dog when we had seen dozens of seemingly abandoned dogs in our Mexican town? Such events don’t have to lead to a passive belief that “this was supposed to be.” Nor are they just a chance factors. In fact, they are a “message in a bottle” from the universe instructing us to act against what seems to be our better judgment.

  1. Values.

In a world where at times it seems that it is “every person for him/herself” there are deeper values that operate like a moral GPS. These can come into play in gut level decisions if we are willing to attend to and build on them. Included in these values is a sense that as humans (and animals) we are all one. We have an obligation to take care of each other especially the weaker and disadvantaged in our midst.

In the case of the puppy we could not leave her in the field. Nor could we depend on the vet whom we had examine the puppy to adopt her out (the vet was willing). The universe had brought this helpless animal our way and we had to step up to the plate and adopt her.


We adopted Dixon (named after our new home town). She is now 5 months old, is slowly becoming house trained, and we are now only getting up a 5am with her barking for attention. We are deeply fond of her. Her and our older dog Sawyer are constantly playing with each other and romping all over our place in the country.


How were you guided when your head and heart contradicted each other in a major leadership decision?





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Going Out on a Limb is Exhilarating

“Anything is possible if you have enough nerve” JK Rowling

 Last week

  • A colleague told me he wanted to write a book
  • A friend expressed an interest in visiting a far-away country
  • An executive decided to explore a new business strategy

In each case I encouraged the folks to “go for it.” I knew that the path ahead would be rewarding as well as challenging.

What type of person goes out on a limb with major life decisions and subsequently enjoys the fruit of that adventure?

Certainly not people who habitually play it safe and are preoccupied with questions like “What if?” As a result they live in a constant state of fear of venturing outside their comfort zone.

The flip side of being overly cautious in one’s decisions is found in an advertisement for the Mt Sinai Medical Center. Their philosophy states,

“But rather than going step by step, the goal is to make bold, conceptual leaps. Impatience is a virtue. Failure is an integral part of success, and no journey is as exhilarating as going out on a limb.”

So who are these risk-takers? They are

  1. Not afraid of experimenting.

Risk takers are the dabblers in life.

These innovators are the designers who will try out different styles knowing that some will not work, actors who experiment with scenes that “bomb”, or scientists who repeatedly try experiments that fail. Their philosophy is “Better to try and fail that not to try at all”. As a result they keep going with the knowledge that their efforts will eventually be successful.

When one looks at the disposition of the innovator one finds a person with a

  1. Fierce resolve in the face of obstacles

A study of the biographies of great leaders reveals that many doggedly zigzag their way to success. The one thing that keeps them going is an underlying confidence in the face of naysayers and uncertainties. They believe that they have the ability to come out on top.

Such confidence is based on the memory of past accomplishments, inspired by the vision of realizing an idea, and is combined with the ability to suspend self-doubt. Such fierce resolve does not have to manifest in cockiness (think Donald Trump). It can be the quiet determination of people with gentler and less bombastic dispositions.

It takes courage to try new things and to boldly adventure into new territory. The key is to face our inner fears and take the needed actions anyway.


What new ideas do you want to explore?

What rewards would you miss if you held yourself back?

Where can you get the needed support and/or resources?

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So You Want to be a Strategic Thinker

So much of our time as leaders is spent reacting to urgent tactical problems. Very little of our activity is focused on reflection. The result is that we produce great short-term results but sacrifice significant strategic thought.

I talked with a country manager of a tech company and asked her how she divided her time between tactical and strategic effort. Her response was “What I should or what I actually do?” I indicated the latter and she gave a telling reply. “Tactical 98% Strategic 2%.” No wonder she was not leading her organization into the future.

My next step was to ask her to evaluate the consequences of continuing to neglect reflective thought. Again she was very clear. “We will lose market share and the competition will eat our lunch”

What this tech executive told me was so typical of many leaders who seem to live their lives on speed dial with a focus primarily on the present. The solution to being a more effective strategic thinker is to,

Take time to reflect.

This is accomplished by,

  1. Carving out time. Not every organization will give you “creative” time to explore ideas that are not directly connected to current initiatives. However, this does not mean that you cannot take time out (away from emails, meetings, or sheer busy work) to reflect. You may, for instance, take a walk at the lunch break and carry 3X5 cards and record random ideas related to key questions. Let them come without letting your inner critic censor them. You can sort them out for significance at a later date.
  1. Learning the right question. The focus of this reflective time needs to be around key questions that will take you solidly into the future. The question is formulated as a response to a statement like “Imagine when the customer needs drive all our actions and not just old company policies or formulas”
  1. Rewarding people for futuristic thinking. Informally people are rewarded for talking about the future of their organization. They are often placed on committees where strategy is being discussed. However it would encourage more reflective thought if this type of thinking was considered in performance evaluations and promotion decisions.
  1. Making the message clear and compelling. The other day I received a statement of an organization’s future aspiration. I had to dig deeply for the core of the message. What I read was convoluted and abstract. Learning to be concise, clear, and emotionally compelling is the heart of any effective strategy statement.

So start thinking reflectively and increase your ability to help your organization see around the corner into the future.

Also, get more people to respond to your ideas rather than react against them if those ideas are based on a burning strategic question.


 What personal practices have helped you be more reflective?

 What key questions have shaped your strategy?

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The Kindness Factor

 “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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A Struggle With Values

We all strive to be value-driven people. But some values put us in conflict with ourselves especially when that value encroaches on another priority in our lives.

The dilemma we find ourselves in becomes much like when one wheel on a vehicle is out of alignment with the other three. The result, the whole car shakes and rattles. So too, commitment to one value can put our whole life in disarray.

Consider how loyalty can get us into trouble.

Some people of my generation (Boomers)  erroneously believed the social contract between the company and its employees, “you cover our back and we will cover yours.” If that were true, why did we need unions to protect us? Why has the expectation changed on the part of an employee that he/she will be with the company for life?

Changing conditions like shareholder value, new business models, and the need for up-dated skills can see an employee downsized at the drop of a hat. Move up or move out has become the norm in many organizations.

So for a person to believe that he/she needs to be fiercely loyal to that organization when the organization is not loyal in return may not be a wise move.

The same may be said of loyalty to friends. Just because one has known someone forever does not imply a lifelong commitment. This is especially true when the nature of the friendship changes and/or there is an injury to the relationship through a betrayal like backstabbing words and action. It’s all very well to say “Forgive and forget”, but if we are loyal at all costs this could be showing ourselves disrespect or acting in a co-dependent way.

So when do we stick to our convictions in the face of changing circumstances?

I read recently that Hamilton Jordan said that that the worst thing one could say to President Jimmy Carter was that a decision would be bad for his political career. When President Carter knew that an action was the right one both ethically and for the country, he boldly and uncompromisingly took that action.

Your Response

What stand have and would you take even if circumstances dictated otherwise?

When would you back off from a once held conviction?

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Pursue Excellence, Avoid Perfectionism

When we speak of the pursuit of excellence we always have some “gold standard” in mind like

  • A perfect safety record
  • A house that that is featured in a design magazine
  • A parent who provides age appropriate guidance but gets out of the way of the child’s development

When we aim for the best in any domain, how does that differ from perfectionism?

In distinguishing the pursuit of excellence from perfectionism we have to,

  1. View failure as a part of the learning curve

We can chose to view falling short of our goals as an unmitigated disaster. For instance, our perfectionistic inner critic may beat us up for an occasional parenting shortfall. By contrast, we can choose to view a parenting lapse as part of our learning experience. Such an attitude gives us the freedom to try out new things with the knowledge that we could fail in our initial attempts. This makes mastery a journey and not just a destination. As someone once said, “increase your success by doubling your failures.”

  1. Know when to back off and regroup when progress is frustrated

I love what Maya Angelou said, “If there is pain in the path ahead of you and pain in the path behind you, change paths” This act of finding a detour in the face of obstacles is not quitting but giving yourself other options. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a compulsive attitude of “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” It keeps driving ahead even though the behavior may be counter productive.

  1. Aim for the highest standards

 We have a deep inner knowing that we are capable of more than we can even imagine for ourselves. This mental and physical driver comes from both a healthy sense of our potential as well as knowledge of our learning capability. When we reach that mark, metrics from outside of ourselves, e.g. from our industry or peers, let us know that we did a great job. Perfectionism, on the other hand, comes from a faulty internalized measurement system, a deficit mentality that believes that don’t have it in us to achieve our goals. It has nothing to do with a healthy sense of our limitations or even our real capabilities. It is a phantom metric.

  1. Distinguish rational judgment and being judgmental

Perfectionists are highly judgmental. They frown on others who dare to think, dress, socialize, and live differently from them. Such negative judging comes from a deep sense of inadequacy. By contrast, people who pursue excellence embrace diversity and see it as strengthening their own view of the world. Their assessment of differences is based on external standards and not some internal emotional struggle. As a result it is easier for the to “live and let live.”

So by all means pursue excellence and work on getting over perfectionism. But don’t confuse the one with the other.

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How Not to Lose Friends and Alienate People

I was told about of a person who goes into battle with people who disagree with her.

Surprise! Most people give her a wide berth on touchy issues. She also does not have many close friends.

This is a case of self sabotage and is a way to derail a career or contaminate a friendship.

The key to managing such unruly emotions involves both Reality Testing and Impulse Control.

Reality Testing

It is of paramount importance that we see our world as it really is and not have fantasies about what is going on. Our emotions cannot cloud our objectivity.

For instance when there is a minor perturbation in your world like the arrival of an unexpected letter from the IRS, bad traffic on the way to work, a child comes home with a less than stellar report card, or your project starts running late,

You choose not to freak out when you,

* Size up the situation for what it is

* See it as a one time incident and not something that will happen all the time

* Do not allow the stress of the situation to color your perceptions

* View it as a problem to be solved rather than the beginning of a battle

* Recognize that your mind can make the problem bigger than it actually is

With your reality testing intact you have a better chance for

Impulse Control

Successful people know both how to name as well as hit the brakes on their feelings.   Consider the following examples.

  • A colleague disrespects you or someone you know. Your impulse is to get overly emotional and “cut them off at the knees” with a sharp verbal response. Your better choice. Cool down and decide whether to let the incident pass or make a boundary setting remark like “Let’s stick with the issue at hand and not make this personal”
  • You are deeply disappointed by a leadership decision that impacts you personally e.g. you were not promoted. Your impulse may be to complain to anyone who will listen.Your better choiceAsk you boss for feedback as to how you could be better prepared for such a position in the future.

Reflection and Response

What insights have you had and actions have you taken to keep you from being derailed by your emotions?

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