Five Behaviors of a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader.

Here’s how.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What five behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary?

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple socio political and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of artificial intelligence, and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials.  He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we leverage the downturn in the economy to our advantage?” And their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of such a leader could well be

Pensaron que nos habían enterrado, pero no sabían que éramos semillas They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”.  We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Our resistance may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization.  All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas.

5.  Deep Interest in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic group, or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The surprise was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders read widely, travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about the world around them. They then import this experience to their business experience that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack a dull boy”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors. However,

My Question

What behavioral markers have you observed in true visionaries?

What research (articles) do you have to support your observations?

Please share your perspective.

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Trust Matters


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

We all know that when trust is broken, it hurts.

Trust is the bedrock of every relationship both political and personal. Without trust, we are like a boat, left to drift with no anchor. From infancy to adulthood, trust is the cornerstone of healthy relationships,  personal well-being, and civil society.

Though we all know trust is important, why does trust matter?

In infancy, the answer is obvious. Without trust, an infant can literally perish.  When, as children, we cannot trust our parents, we grow up coming to believe that we can’t depend on anyone else either. Later as adults, we may have very low expectations of others and be hesitant to ask for help. This lack of trust in others can be isolating and may affect our personal well-being and our ability to establish bonds with others.

Trust is an important factor in developing bonds with each other and is determined by how well we meet our obligations (implicit or explicit) to each other. Our bonds can be strong or tenuous, healthy or not, depending upon how well these obligations are met, be they in friendships, marriages, and/or work.

In adult life trust is broken when mutual obligations are violated. For example:

A partner betrays the other through lying or infidelity
A boss does not deliver on the promise of a promotion

A politician lies to us
A friend reveals information about us that was confidential
A colleague bad-mouths a peer to their boss in an attempt to gain advantage

Recently, an organization conducted a survey among its senior executives, asking them what leadership competencies they most highly valued. Interestingly, trust came out on top. Trust was critical because trustworthy individuals behave in ways that optimize organizational effectiveness. Specifically, trustworthy individuals:

Behave ethically and honestly at work
Consistently follow through on commitments
Establish a climate of mutual respect
Maintain the confidentiality of restricted information

In the absence of trustworthy behaviors, such as those noted above, an organization (or any relationship, in fact) can eventually descend into chaos.

Responding to Broken Trust

When trust is violated, we typically respond with strong emotions. Below, are some typical responses:


Anger is a natural response to betrayal. Anger functions as a defense mechanism that keeps the perpetrator (individual or organization) at arms length. Anger is useful in that it can protect us from further hurt and give us time to regroup while we develop a more productive response. However, anger also has a downside in that it can spill over, negatively impacting everyone in our life. Anger is a tricky emotion and one that needs to be managed carefully. Unlike sadness or crying, which can be cathartic and restore one’s emotional equilibrium, anger often produces more anger, and anger can be addictive.

Emotional Freeze

Another response to broken trust is to respond by shutting down our emotions. People often describe this as feeling numb. Though this response may be useful in protecting us in the short-term, eventually it can backfire because when we shut down, we also tend to shut out our significant others, potentially damaging our relationship with them and depriving us of the help they can provide.


Disappointment, sadness, and confusion are typical responses to a violation of trust and are important responses in validating our experience of betrayal. However, sustaining feelings of hurt over the long-term can result in seeing ourselves as a “victim”. Embracing a victim identity may attract support and validation from others but eventually it disempowers us by depriving us of more productive responses.

Recovering From Broken Trust

As discussed, our initial responses to broken trust are anger, hurt, and the numbing of our emotions. What typically happens next is we get stuck in these emotions and we can’t let them go, resulting in emotional paralysis.

How do we disengage from these emotions and move on?

First, Find a safe context or person who can contain, validate, and normalize our emotional responses to being betrayed.

Second, learn to detach from our feelings so that we can begin to talk about the experience without getting overwhelmed and derailed by our emotions.

Third, explore new coping strategies that allow us to change our orientation to the painful experience. For example, change the way we think about the experience; distract and reorient ourselves by engaging in physical activity, which also helps to relieve the stress; and talk with others about their best practices in moving on from the pain of broken trust.

Finally, turn the negative emotions into productive action. Ask yourself: “What do I need to do to turn this situation into a growth opportunity or a productive outcome?” Then begin to visualize the details of that productive outcome.

We may never be the same again after the severance of trust but we have a choice: we can grow and produce a satisfying outcome or we can regress to unproductive states such as feeling emotionally paralyzed or perpetually angry.

There are countless stories of people who have grown through pain. Let yours be one of them.

(Please see the links below on this blog site for three other resources for recovery)




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Why Character Matters in Our Leaders

 Character is destiny

-Heraclitus, 2500 years ago:

When we admire leaders as having “good character”, we are referring to their

essential moral nature as it is typically expressed through their personality or

behavior. In this section, we will also use this term to refer to the consistency

with which one expresses those good qualities; that is, in private as well as in

public, in good times as well as under duress.

Character has been jokingly defined as how we behave when no one is

watching. What makes this so funny is how well it captures human nature:

Individuals may behave according to their highest moral aspirations when

trying to impress others, as when they are representing their organization

in a public forum. But, put these individuals in a tempting situation where,

for example, they could derive financial benefits illegally and likely not

get caught, these same folks might find their high moral standards slipping

away. Similarly a leader, who never loses self-control when interacting with

colleagues at the office, may, in the privacy of his home, abuse his wife and children.

Such a person is often referred to as a “Street angel, home devil”. There has to be 

consistency between one’s public and private face for the judgement of 

good character to be made.

A hallmark of people with distinguished character is that they stick to their

principles, even when it may involve making large sacrifices. They inspire us

because they show us that it is possible to conduct our own lives according to

our most valued principles and ideals.

What are the specific values that distinguish leaders of character from others?

In his work on positive psychology, Martin Seligman (2002) has identified

six character traits he found to be universal and valued in their own right:

Courage (standing by convictions in the face of great opposition, staying

the course in the face of overwhelming odds)

Wisdom and knowledge (curiosity, love of learning, originality, social


Justice (teamwork, fairness, and leadership)

Love and humanity (kindness and generosity of spirit)

Self-regulation (control over impulses and emotions, humility)

Transcendence (transcending self-interest, contributing to the greater


One business leader who exemplified these values in his actions was Aaron

Feuerstein, owner of Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After his

factory complex burned down in 1995, it was expected that he would lay off

all his employees until the Mill was rebuilt because it was not profitable to

do otherwise; in fact, it would be both costly and risky to keep employees

on the payroll under these circumstances. Mr. Feuerstein, however, did the

unexpected: he kept all 3000 employees on the payroll for the three months

it took to repair the facility. In making this decision, Harold Kushner (2002),

in his book, Living a Life that Matters, quoted him as saying:

“I have a responsibility to the workers and an equal responsibility to the

community. It would be unconscionable to put three thousand people on the

streets and deliver a death blow to the city of Lawrence.”

In his response to this catastrophe, Mr. Feurstein manifested the universal

values to which we all aspire: he showed courage in paying his employees

when it would likely make his job much more difficult and challenging in the

months ahead. He showed wisdom in recognizing the potentially deleterious

effects and long-term reverberations the layoff could have on his employees’

families and their community. He put justice and fairness as well as

humanity ahead of the financial bottom-line in supporting his employees and

his community through this catastrophe.

As a leader who inspires others through expressing your personal character,

you will:

Personally live your values. Throughout the organization, people tend

to mirror or adjust themselves to the example of their leaders. Living,

as well as speaking, one’s values is what give leaders their credibility, a

characteristic essential for a healthy and productive workplace.

Not make demands on employees that put them in conflict with their

values. Working against one’s values puts a person in a state of cognitive

dissonance or internal conflict. A conflicted person is an uninspired person.

Recognize people for acts of kindness, truthfulness, and honesty. Then

make this a part of the organization’s rewards system.

Think hard and long when tempted to make marginal decisions.

Only claim to have values when they have been tested under pressure.

Acknowledge that each of us has the potential to display character virtues

and that positive aspects of character can be strengthened. Recognize that

we never reach our aspirations vis-à-vis character. It’s a process and a


Learn to distinguish between your extrinsic and intrinsic motivations.

Then put intrinsic above extrinsic motivations.

Extrinsic – Valuing monetary compensation, power over others,


Intrinsic – Finding satisfaction in doing a good job, empowering others,

and finding meaning in one’s work.

Finally, we must think hard and long about the legacy we want to leave in this world.

And the most enduring positive legacy a leader can leave is one impacted by character.

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Finding The Good Life

casita-lindaWritten by

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

If we were to ask: “What does it mean to live the good life?”, many of us would immediately think, “financial security”.

However, once that need is satisfied, and even if it is never satisfied, we can still live a highly meaningful life, a “good life”.

If we define a “good life” in terms of realizing our highest values, we become rich in the very deepest sense of the word.

To begin to define what is a “good life” for you, ask yourself: “What do I most deeply value in my life?”

Maybe it’s one or more of the following:

  • Making significant contributions to the welfare of others
  • Achieving and celebrating excellence in pursuits
  • Expressing one’s creative (eg, artistic) self
  • Experiencing awe and adventure in travel, Nature, and/or everyday life
  • Seeking and appreciating beauty in Nature, humanity, and/or the Arts
  • Sustaining a satisfying emotional connection with others

Once you have identified your highest value(s), you need to link that value to a specific purpose. Then, you need to act on that purpose.

A couple of years ago, we met a very “rich” man who builds houses for the desperately poor in his community in central Mexico. He told us he had found his life’s calling. In his former life, this man was a successful administrator at a university who loved his job and his life, living on 15 acres in a bucolic countryside. He often told people that he would happily die at his desk. Then one day while visiting a Mexican town, he saw a community of families living with no plumbing in handmade shacks that leaked badly in the rain. He recalled how he had stumbled upon a larger calling that triggered a deeply held

….value: to make a significant contribution. He had found a purpose that expressed that deeply held value.

….purpose (or calling): to meet the needs of the extremely poor in his community by providing them with permanent shelter. This led to his

…..action: to create an organization to build 500 square foot cottages for families without permanent shelter that would include an interior family living space, two private bedrooms, and an indoor toilet.

To date, this man and his organization have built over 80 homes for families who were living, literally, with no solid roof over their heads.

How can YOU take the values you hold most dear to find a purpose in your (community, work and/or personal) life that you can act on now?

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Be the Adult in the Room

When we tell someone to “grow up” it is usually in response to one of his/her immature emotional cadenzas.

By contrast, great leaders are viewed as effective when they effectively maintain a positive emotional state, handle pressure well, and are not easily provoked.

This ability to hit the brakes on unruly emotions makes for an adult in the room and a mature leader.

In a recent interview with Oprah First Lady Michelle Obama gave a clear description of how to respond to biting and unfair criticism. She described it as making a choice to be the adult in the room with the recognition that

  1. It’s not about you.

Often others repeat hurtful things about us that are grossly inaccurate. These are characterizations of who we really are. Many times a “hot button” issue has been excited in them and they react to us in ways that reenact their own past hurts. Most of our critics, including our own inner judge, grossly misrepresent who we really are.

Action: Depersonalize the negativity

  1. When they go low you go high.

This statement became one of the most used recent campaign slogans. And even though it may have lost its impact through frequent use,  our baser urge to “jump into the swamp with the alligators” needs to be countered with the “better angels of our nature”. Self-regulation is a choice.

Action: Choose the best and not the base.

  1. Forget and move on.

I find that rumination over past hurts is one of the more corrosive habits of the mind where the mentality of “they punch me and I punch back” prevails. Instead, the power of “forgiving and forgetting” is a course correction for past wounds. Not that we actually erase these incident from our thoughts but we learn to detach from them so as to defuse them.

See my blog on Forgiveness

Action: Lick your wounds and move on

 Life is so much more satisfying and productive (and political discourse is more fruitful) when we response from our mature adult self.

Your Story

 Please share an incident where you chose to respond from your adult self.

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The Meaning of Work in Different Cultures

(Most read article in the 6-year history of my blog)

Reflect for a moment on the meaning of work in different cultures and please join the discussion around the closing questions. Remember that within each culture there are exceptions to the general rule.

Also, if you have a different opinion to the one I expressed I would love to hear your point of view.

 Work in the USA

At your typical social occasion in the USA what is one of the first questions people ask you? Is it not “What do you do?” Have you thought for a moment why that is so? Why is it so important for others to know what job you have?

The answer to this question is at the heart of the culture of work in the United States.

“What do you do?” is really tantamount to asking, “What is your purpose? What is your identity?” “How important are you?” By the same token, if you are doing nothing or are unemployed you are nothing.

In addition, the position one has and the money one earns is a measure of how important one is. Money is a scorecard. I distinctly remember two people asking me in recent years“How much do you earn?” They did not want the total of my actual salary. They were just looking for a benchmark to see how we stacked up against each other in terms of importance and the pecking order of life.

Meaning of Work in the USA: Identity/Importance

 Work in Mexico

In Mexico (where we lived for 7 years), work is the means by which a person helps his or her family to get ahead; Mexicans work to advance the education of their children, advance their collective national aspirations, and above all to have time for their family and friends.

Work has such family implications to a Mexican that he/she expects the workplace to have a home-like atmosphere.

To many Mexicans more (time or money) is not better when it comes to working. On a recent visit to our Mexican doctor he decided to do our lab tests right there in his office. He said, “If I send them down the street to the lab I will have to wait until 3pm for the results. By that time I want to be home with my family”.

In Mexico when it comes to money, enough is more than enough. Recently I read of an international company that purchased a Mexican business. Before the acquisition the annual profits of the Mexican enterprise were $40 million. The new international board of directors now set the annual goal for the group as $70 million. The Mexicans leaders did not respond enthusiastically to this new goal. To them $40 million annual profit was quite enough.

(Comment: I was informed that this verdict about the place of work in the lives of Mexicans does not apply in all cases like in the industrialized Northern area of the country)

Meaning of Work in MexicoFor the family: With my family

Work in France

“In France, work takes a backseat to the pursuit of pleasure. If a job isn’t entertaining, most French workers would prefer unemployment” – French Psychiatrist Clotaire Rapaille

In France work is valued for the pleasure it provides the individual both in and out of the workplace. The French don’t see any point in spending 12 hours/day at the office; they will tell you that after six hours, you become increasingly unproductive. So, from the French point of view, why not focus on being highly productive for six hours and spend the rest of the time doing all the other things you enjoy? Some of the most emotional strikes occur when the government tries to institute longer working days. And then for the French there are the 6-week annual vacations (versus 2 weeks in the USA).

Meaning of Work in FranceFor Pleasure and Only Pleasure

Question for Discussion 

What is the meaning of work in your culture?

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The Pinocchio Syndrome – The Quest for Truth in the Age of Spin




Under current law, it is a crime for a private citizen to lie to a government official, but not for a government official to lie to the people – David M Fraser

What’s wrong with that statement?

You know the story. Pinocchio’s nose became longer the more lies he told.

We live in a post-truth society. With the epidemic of fake news, boldfaced lies on many fronts, “alternative facts”, and runaway fact denial, we soon will see some very long noses in our country

To be fair, lies are equal opportunity villains when it comes to political spin. Someone once said that politics was like window cleaning. The dirt always seems to be on the other side.

Despite this alarming trend from all sides of the political spectrum the key is to take care of our own noses by being vigilant advocates for the truth. We also need to fight spin with truth and not sink to the level of invectives.

If we don’t, imagine the long-term consequences if,

  • A CEO concocted facts in the annual report to the board of directors and shareholders.
  • An employee fudged a weekly review to a manager on the status of a project.
  • A parent lied to his/her children.
  • A President lied to the people.

Intuitively we know that we should judge others by the content of their character. Most folks dare not

  • Rationalize a lie as a bargaining tool or a communication ploy to make a strong point.
  • Allow the retribution impulse to replace the need for collaboration.
  • Use lies as a political tool to manipulate others.
  • Make up ‘news’ either to hurt someone or improve our ratings.

So how then do we return to the true north value of honesty?

Consider these two actions. We need,

  1. Constant vigilance against confirmation bias

Research warns us against confirmation bias. Here the trend is to gravitate uncritically towards pundits and studies that support our point of view. We need to be like the Dalai Lama who said, “If a scientific discovery contradicts my Buddhist beliefs, I will give up my belief.”

Such humility and openness potentially protects us against untruth. It also helps us step back and consider the reliability of the sources of our information. For instance, a report by a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist is more likely to deal in facts that some private news website.

  1. Courage to speak to the truth of a position

It is difficult to speak up in the face of lies or a strong statement that seeks to manipulate us. With everything from death threats to other forms of retribution, many dissidents adopt the attitude “When they go low, we go away”. However retreating from the battle for truth insures the continuance of the mistruth. We should never underestimate the power of the protest any person.  We witnessed to power of “we the people” in the recent Women’s March.

Remember Rosa Parks.

We are in for a long and challenging season where truth will be assaulted on many fronts. Topics under the ‘truth’ microscope  include global warming, the place of torture, civil rights, the right of every qualified citizen to vote, and our place in the international community. Each topic will require an honest and unbiased look at the data, the use of critical thought, examining our conscience, and us having the courage to speak out and act with courage.

The challenge I give myself is “Each day, how can I advocate for the truth?

Why is the veracity of our information so important in the light of the fact that, according to Charles J Sykes of the NY Times, “The battle over truth is now central to our politics”?




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Beyond A One-Trick Pony – Problem Solving That Works


In our highly complex world it is quite natural for us to crave simple quick-fix solutions. But as a result we may oversimplify the remedy for human problems with slogans like,

“Just say no” – which supposedly was the solution to drug addiction.

“Give us our country back” – the purported political answer to a complex immigration challenge. This is at times a veiled way of saying, “make America white again” (As if it was always white.)

The problem with such seemingly clear solutions is that they don’t usually work.

 For instance, a person addicted to drugs cannot “just say no”. They take the drug that eventually takes them. You cannot “will” your way out of an addiction.

Even if we stopped immigration to the USA today there are still more brown babies being born that white babies. We cannot legislate ourselves out of the need to balance identity with diversity.

In all instances the proponents of such views are like a pony with one trick or practitioner with one solution. Granted each may have part of the solution to the problem for some people some of the time. But not to all people all of the time.

Ultimately a single solution approach can reduce us to simplistic thinking, lead to an aversion for objective facts, and leave a huge block of the population in the lurch.

So beware of those who proclaim “all you need is!”

 Living Beyond the Simplistic

Learning a more comprehensive approach to our problems implies that we,

  • Recognize the depth of our addiction to quick answers

This has been named the “bumper sticker” syndrome. Just examine any of the social media outlets that are filled with such slogans.

  • Realize that there are evidence-based solutions

Consider some of life’s thorniest problems like the reasons for personal happiness. Scientific evidence indicates that those that making a meaningful contribution to the common good and who have healthy social networks are the people most likely to be happy.

  • Acknowledge the complexity of most of the challenges we face.

For example, healthy living comes from more than just jogging and eating well. Nor is health just based on case studies from the longevity of a few outliers like Jack Lalanne.

  • Learn to tolerate ambiguity

Here we need to live the questions rather than just having the answers. A sign of maturity is the capacity to live gracefully in the face of ambiguity. Let’s face it, most of life falls into the gray zone.

  • Pay the price of bucking the “one solution” system.

One does not win popularity contests or enhance one’s marketing campaign by subscribing to points 1-4. Imagine telling your boss that the quick answer she wants is not immediately available but you need time for a deeper root cause analysis.

  • Balance our rapid analytic thinking with slower more deliberate thought

At times we need to slow down before we move ahead. This includes unconscious processes as sometimes revealed in dreams. Note also how many problems find solutions when you are not working on them or while you are jogging.

  • Adopt a multi-modal diverse approach to dealing with challenges

Broadening your horizons in your search for knowledge must include the examination of philosophy, theology, literature, the arts, the quiet of nature, exposure to other cultures, and other disciplines/positions outside of your own. Be willing to change your position in the light of new and more compelling data.

Instead of having a pony that only manages to pull off one trick, expand the range of capabilities that go outside of your as well as the pony’s comfort zone.




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The Headhunter Called – Then What?

You are on the job-recruiter’s radar.

Since you are a high-potential and talented employee he/she has probably called to gauge your interest in another job at another company. The deal may even be sweetened with offers of more money, a better location, or a more advanced position. Did you pursue the offer or not return the call?

I have been through this scenario with hundreds of my clients over the years. I apply the traffic light test in helping my clients make the decision about staying or moving. So for you, is the light green (investigate or pursue the offer), amber (consider it more carefully), or red (reject it outright)?


(Reject the offer)

While many find it flattering that another organization wants to recruit them they are adamant that, for one reason or another, this is not the right time for a move. An executive I know in the high-tech industry received a potential offer from a competing company. They offered him twice his current salary with a significantly higher position in their organization.

He decided to reject the headhunter’s offer for an interview because he

·     Valued his boss’ investment in his career

·     Was making a significant contribution to his organization

·     Cherished the network of peers that he had built up over the years

·     Did not want to disrupt his family that was happily rooted in the community

·     Examined the culture of the other organization and decided that the grass was not greener in the other field

If you are in this category you are very fortunate.


(The dilemma – You don’t know)

I come from the generation where loyalty to one’s organization is of paramount importance. However, the old social contract that your organization has your back and expects loyalty in return has changed. It is now more common that employees are likely to have several different jobs, be laid off in a recession or organizational restructure, or start their own business before they retire.

The problem with being in the amber mode is that it can keep you off balance emotionally. I know that some consultants tell people “If you have a plan B it shows your lack of focus and commitment to Plan A.” I disagree somewhat with this position. However, I counsel people to keep their primary focus on the job at hand and add, “Treat the next possible job as you would a lifeboat on a ship. You don’t plan to take your cruise in the lifeboat but will need it in an emergency.”

So don’t be afraid of asking the question “Should I go or stay?” But don’t distract yourself unnecessarily with other job offers.


(Decide to leave)

Your job environment needs to become quite toxic for you to decide to move. There has to be a confluence of factors like workplace discrimination (e.g. sexism), an abusing shout and scream or command and control culture, a ceiling placed on your potential advancement, or the mission of the organization changing to where your talents are no longer prized as they once were. All this triggers a possible move.

There are broader issues that may precipitate a move. You may want to

·     Have a healthier and simpler lifestyle

·     Expand your capabilities

·     Work in another culture

·     Deal with family crisis like an aging/sick relative

·     Earn more money

·     Have an opportunity to expanded or change your career

Before you jump ship, check to see if some of these needs can be met by your present employer in another function, location, or with expanded job opportunities, experience, and training. If the light remains red, move on.

What color is the traffic light at the intersection in your life?

How have you managed this decision?

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Beyond Productivity to Fruitfulness

Do you feel that you are being pushed to your physical and psychological limits by time pressures and the sheer volume of work?

Consider this.

The numbers are in. In American business the hours employees spend at the office have gone up.

So, with an increase in the number of hours worked each year, Americans must be more productive than ever, right?

Wrong! According to the US Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics there was only a slight increase in productivity in the last few decades. And the productivity increase has been attributed to advances in technology, especially the internet as well as the fact that business is doing more with less.

Nonetheless, American business still operates under the belief that:

“The more hours employees work, the more productive they are.” 

 In addition, as we will see, business also (falsely) assumes that: 

 “The faster employees work, the more they accomplish,” and “The more employees are paid, the more motivated they are to be productive.”

Based on the increase in productivity in relation to the significant increase in hours worked, we may conclude—at least on this point—that we were wrong on what makes employees productive. Now what? Certainly not push harder. Unfortunately, that’s what corporate culture is continuing to do. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. It’s no wonder that employees are feeling pressure.

Consider a typical employee’s work situation. He or she grinds out twelve-hour days, with up to two-hour commutes, and less than three weeks vacation per year. Moreover, with the advent electronic devices and social networking capabilities, the distinction between personal and business time has become blurred. So where do we go from here? How can we restore employees so they feel inspired rather than used up?

First, we need to question our beliefs about productivity.

Next, we need to look deeper to discover what really motivates employees to be productive.

Finally, we need to know how an employees’ deeper needs relate to the quality of the work they produce.

Consider the belief “The more hours employees work the more productive they are.” It is common knowledge that most people who are rested and healthy can work at optimal levels for six to seven hours a day. Occasionally, in a burst of energy or inspiration, employees can perform optimally for an additional two or three hours. Then they need to rest.

We also need to have a life outside of work. It may seem a surprise to learn that many employees would forgo a salary increase (with a longer work day) for time off for themselves and their family.

A study conducted by the International Labor Organization concluded that employees “would happily accept lower incomes in exchange for working fewer hours.”

If working longer hours is not the answer to increased productivity, then what about working faster? This belief was challenged by psychologist Guy Claxton in his book

Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less

Claxton summarized research which strongly indicates that some problems are better solved by slower paced, intuitive thinking which originates from the unconscious mind rather than the fast-paced, analytical, “meet-the-deadline” thinking with which we are all more familiar. This finding flies in the face of prevailing business practices which demand fast, logical thinking as the way to solve business problems.

Contrary to popular belief, at times we need to learn how to slow down our thinking rather than speed it up.  This is especially true, Claxton argues, for the development of complex and original ideas.

Generally, in what people are looking for in a job,

  • they consistently ranked not pay but interest in the job
  • the sheer pleasure of working
  • the opportunity for collaboration through group decision making well above financial compensation.

So, if employees are not more productive when they work longer and do not accomplish more when they work faster, what drives people to work at their best?

First, it needs to be emphasized that productivity, obviously, is a good thing. If companies were not productive, as measured by a healthy financial base, we would all be out of work. However, that said, productivity should not be the only way of viewing our relationship to work. Consider the words of Henry Ford:

 “Business must be run for a profit….else it will die. But when anyone tries to run a business solely for a profit…then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence.

What is the reason for the existence of a business if it is not just for profit? The answer is to be found within the true assets of every business, its people, and their deeper needs—the need to be not simply productive, but fruitful.

What Does it Mean to be Fruitful?

The heart of fruitfulness is that one’s work flows from the essence of oneself to the essence of the other. The quality of the relationship assumes, what philosopher Martin Buber calls, an I-thou relationship rather than an I-it relationship:

I do this because of who I am in my inner self and I show reverence for who you are in your essence (I-thou).”

In contrast, the attitude of the I-it relationship is “I do this to gain something from you, regardless of your needs.”

 Once we focus on the notion of fruitfulness, and all that it entails, we begin to think differently about what it means to optimize employee performance as well as the nature of our work relationships. But how does fruitfulness differ from productivity?

The ‘fruit’ in fruitfulness refers to a product that flows from the life or essence of a tree. Productivity, in contrast, often comes from outside the person, from the employer trying to coax or even manipulate better performance with some quid pro quo arrangement; for example, “Work more or harder and I’ll pay you more.”

In the end, we don’t motivate people; rather, they have to find it within themselves. In short, people are more motivated by a good job that does the following: expands one’s mind and skills (content/creativity), involves individual initiative (choice), provides the chance to work on a team committed to the same task (collaboration), has value to others or the world (meaning), and sparks the desire to make a difference in the world (contribution).

As human beings, we have a deep need to express our uniqueness and talents in the work we do.  The ancient philosophers viewed three aspects of persons that need to be expressed in their work: nous (mind), psyche (the instincts and emotions), and pneuma (spirit).

According to this model, fruitful people are those who effectively engage all three levels in their work. Like the wheels of a car needing to be in balance to insure a smooth ride, these three aspects of being need to be in balance for healthy living and fruitful work.

Let’s consider each of these three aspects of fruitfulness, in turn:

The nous (mind) is the rational part of our humanity. It is that part of our being that is inspired by the content of our job and the opportunity to choose our mission at work. We love for our minds to be engaged, expanded, and challenged in accomplishing this mission. It is this capacity that makes sure we think before we act, consider the consequences of our actions, and ask questions such as “Is this the most prudent course of action?”

Nous operates best when there is a program of lifelong education. Nous is stimulated by curiosity and makes a habit of seeing the world with a different set of eyes (creativity). It has a need for solitude (hence the stress that results when one is constantly interrupted), and cannot always be rushed (it needs time for quiet reflection).  Finally, nous thrives in a climate of dialogue where people are willing to learn from each other through collaboration.

The psyche—instincts and emotions –  is the often unconscious part of our nature which also needs to be engaged and expresses itself as a passion for our work. The sheer excitement about the job and the opportunity to collaborate with others drives us through discouragement and obstacles to accomplish far more than we realize possible. It is also that intuitive part of us that knows something to be true even if we can’t exactly put it into words.  The psyche recognizes that work is an art as well as a science.

The pneuma (spirit) of the person, often neglected or disregarded, is a capacity of humanity that causes us to reach for principles and a power deep within and beyond ourselves. We can also describe the pneuma as the ethical force behind the “golden rule”—that force which shapes character. What exactly is this character factor? It can best be described as people who operate by a ‘higher’ principle—beyond self-interest and ego-gratification—a commitment to a set of values which some view as transcendent.

In pneuma, people sense a calling being expressed in their work. They often have a clear-eyed vision of their goals based on this calling. They draw on a power beyond the self of nous and psyche for inspiration and creativity. They express their calling to make a difference for good in the lives of others (contribution). The consequence of such expression is to give one’s life meaning.

What then are the signs of a fruitful person, engaged at all three levels: nous, psyche, and pneuma?

Maybe this is best answered by a series of statements about our work. We are fruitful in our work when we can say ‘true’ to the following:

In the area of nous (the mind)

  • There are ample opportunities for intellectual growth and development.
  • There is a continual quest for intellectual or professional mastery
  • My opinions are valued and taken into account.
  • My curiosity is continually stimulated.
  • Creativity is encouraged and rewarded.
  • I am encouraged to come up with new ideas.
  • I have uninterrupted time to think deeply about challenges.
  • I have a clear career development plan.
  • I know (or, I am willing to learn) what it takes to get the job done.
  • I am continually learning in the work I do.

In the area of psyche (the instincts and emotions)

  • I take time and attend to deep personal relationships.
  • I value time for reflection.
  • I like working with my colleagues and clients or customers.
  • I am grateful to be a part of a team or a collaborative effort.
  • I am seldom bored at work.
  • The work environment is exciting.
  • I feel joy at work.
  • I am gratified that my contributions are recognized.
  • I share in the benefits and gratification of corporate success.
  • I am loyal to my company and our clients or customers.
  • I am proud of what I do.

In the area of pneuma (the spirit)

  • Business is conducted by the Golden Rule.
  • My values and that of the company are mostly in harmony.
  • I am of service to others.
  • I am making a contribution to society as a whole.
  • I draw strength from the highest aspects of myself or from a transcendent source.
  • I have a deep sense of meaning or calling in the work that I do.
  • I am energized by my spiritual principles and practices.
  • My personal calling finds expression in our corporate mission.
  • I have reverence for the environment.

As you begin to imagine possibilities of fruitfulness, plan and act towards that end, you will experience the ‘flow’ where you enjoy the job for itself and not just the pay. A new energy will fill you where work hours will fly by.  Your self-consciousness and fear of failure will evaporate. Is this just a fanciful dream? On the contrary, it is the experience of all who enjoy a life of fruitfulness.



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