Managing Feedback Resistance

Once in a while in my consulting work I come across a person impervious to feedback. Although all of us are initially reactive or defensive when we get tough input on changes we need to make, eventually our wise mind kicks in and we make necessary growth-oriented changes. Not so for some who resist accurate feedback and are seemingly blind to their need for change. So, 

What do you do when you face such a wall of resistance?

Some reasons behind feedback resistance is that the person

1. Shuts down in the face of pain.

A history of painful hurt often shapes how a person responds to difficult feedback. Their past wounds seem to be covered by emotional callouses. A typical response to frank input is to either push back with a “what do you mean I need to change?” Another response is that the person checks out or dissociates from the experience by saying “This is not happening to me”. As a result your feedback falls on deaf ears.

2. Lives with intractable narcissism.

Feedback deniers can also be incredibly self-centered people. They experience a marked tension between an inflated self-image and the reality of what others actually see. A massive blind spot is evident. Despite an exaggerated self-confidence and distorted sense of self the person is actually deeply insecure. All of us have a bit of this tendency to minimize our growth challenges. As one writer put it,

“We like to see ourselves as strong and in control but we are more like a fragile eggshell that is easily broken – This makes use feel deeply vulnerable and not in a good way.” –  Dzigar Kongtrul.

However, the narcissist seldom embraces this fact.

3. Shows Low Social Intelligence

A person unaware of his/her emotional world and that of others is usually clueless in the face of feedback. It is as if his/her life is directed by the amygdala (the physical seat of emotions). The world seen through the lens of their emotions becomes their perceived reality. Here feedback is a non-starter. They react but do not respond. So the chance of persuading them to change dysfunctional behavior is very low. In the end social pressure, i.e. the organization not putting up with their bad behavior is probably the best way to force change

How do we best respond to such fragile, hurt, and/or defended people?

1.Don’t let them lead the team.

Often people who resist tough feedback are highly talented. As a leader sometimes you cannot afford to flush them out of the organization. They can be your star performers. However, because they cause emotional havoc everywhere they go you never let them lead a team but confine them to an individual contributor role.

2. Appeal to their sense of self-importance

In the case of the narcissist the best strategy is for the leader to leverage the person’s narcissism. One manager gave the following feedback to her self-important colleague, “If you don’t learn to share credit with and stop ticking off your colleagues you will jeopardize your promotion to a director position”Such an appeal to extrinsic and not intrinsic factors was the leverage the manager needed to get this difficult employee to make the needed behavior changes..

3. Show compassion without compromise.

Those impervious to feedback need our compassion. But compassion does not mean that we explain away the difficult behavior. We should not remove our boundaries that protect the rest of the organization or keep us from being abused. “I sense this is difficult for you” is balanced against“Back off ” or “Make the necessary changes”. Being kind does nor preclude being firm.

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It’s More About Me Than It Is About You

Does someone at the office or in the community really make your blood boil? Reflect on what Anais Nin cogently observed, “We see things not as they are but as we are.“ Consider also the words of Shakespeare in Hamlet “The lady doth protest toomuch, methinks.”

Our capacity for understanding others emotionally really gets messed up when we unconsciously impose our feelings onto them. Here we deny our own feelings or thoughts (usually negative) and in self-defense attribute them to others.  In the psychological world this is called projection.

When our projection is negative we may perceive the person as threatening.

When our projection is positive, we may recognize a couple of good qualities but then incorrectly also assume that everything else about that person is positive.

Consequently, we find ourselves being either strongly attracted or repelled by the person to whom we are projecting onto. Our resulting perception or understanding of that person is distorted.

Example

Julie was an MBA student at a university in Pennsylvania. Although she was getting good grades, she was struggling with feelings of insecurity. Julie had been socialized to be cooperative and felt uncomfortable with the overt competitive atmosphere in one of her classes. She was having a hard time being assertive with her ideas in class and was beginning to feel resentful. The teacher of the class, Dr. Smith, was an associate professor who was confident, ambitious, and highly accomplished in her field. The MBA students admired Dr. Smith and enjoyed taking her classes. Julie did not.

Julie soon discovered that she had been assigned a new course advisor and that it was Dr. Smith. When Julie and Dr. Smith had their first advisory meeting, Dr. Smith asked about Julie’s long-term goals. Julie expressed uncertainty. Dr. Smith remarked to Julie that she should think carefully about her direction before they decided which courses she should take. Feeling humiliated, Julie left the meeting, later telling her best friend that she was going to switch advisors. When asked why, Julie said she viewed Dr. Smith as a cutthroat competitor who would try to eclipse her talent and ignore her contributions. In reality, her advisor wanted to make their time together optimally productive and had Julie’s best interests in mind.

Because Julie was uncomfortable with and could not acknowledge her own competitive urges and the negative feelings it evoked in her about herself, she projected those feelings onto her advisor who she then experienced as intimidating rather than the helpful and supportive advisor she, in fact, was.

In this example, Julie’s projection resulted in her having a distorted perception of her advisor and their relationship. If Julie continued to hold this faulty view of her advisor, it could eventually preclude the development of a potentially productive and healthy relationship. In addition, in situations such as these where projection distorts one’s perception of another person, one’s capacity for empathy is limited or impossible. Recall that empathy is the capacity for understanding the (genuine) feeling states and motives of another person.

Because projection is a subtle process that occurs without self-awareness, how can we learn to see when we are projecting and put it aside to perceive the other individual more accurately?

The following suggestions will help you identify and manage projection.

  • Use a trusted colleague or friend to provide you with candid feedback on your negative and positive attributes.
  • Explore with that confidant possible problematic individuals where projecting your weakness onto them may be an important variable.
  •  Ask yourself: “Am I reading this person accurately and could my strong negative reaction be more about me than about him or her
  • Once you have practiced 1-3, make an attempt to try to get to know one of the “problematic” individuals without having any other agenda. Try to go into this encounter thinking of something Abraham Lincoln once said: “I don’t like that man. I need to get to know him better.”
  •  After you’ve examined your presuppositions about the other person and learned more about who he or she truly is, you can consciously choose to respond to him or her in a more positive or (at least) a neutral way.
  • Learn to suspend negative feelings toward or judgments of others until you have processed them (by engaging 1-2).

Making a more authentic connection with another opens up the possibility for empathy and therefore a deeper and less distorted relationship.

Once we free ourselves from our tendency to experience and understand others through our individual filters of projection or pre-judgment, we are free to be more receptive to the real world of the other.

WARNING.

We seldom come to the realization that we are distorting an experience by others telling us what we are. Awareness comes mostly when our pain goes through the stratosphere, we hit a wall, and slowly come to our senses.

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Standing in Line Waiting to Die

Now that’s a title to lift your spirits for the day!

But seriously, living life to the fullest is learning how to die.

I often tease my aging friends that out conversations slowly turn into “organ recitals”. We seem to have a preoccupation with our physics ailments. Sometimes these discussions border on hypochondria. That reminds me of an inscription purported to be on the tombstone of the hypochondriac “See I told you I was ill”! In my opinion, I feel that a lot of this morbid preoccupation with our aches and pains is the denial of death.

In North America we still have a lot to learn about death and dying. We push death into the background of our consciousness, have few rituals to process the experience, try to get it over as quickly as possible, and generally remain in denial. 

This year the reality of death has been front and center in my life.

Several months ago I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension. Dr. Google (not my cardiologist) informed me that the condition was probably terminal and that I had two years to live. That was the bad news. This crisis led me to contemplate with more seriousness my mortality. The current reflections added to my growing awareness on death and dying received while living in Mexico. A subsequent consult with a specialist assured me that the condition was reversible with the right treatment.

In Mexico we were introduced to the celebration of El Dia Del la Meurtes (The Day of the Dead). This festivity highlighted a huge difference between the Latin and North American perspectives on death. Here we are obsessed with youth and are uncomfortable with death. We have few rituals and mechanisms to deal with a terminal event. An illustration of our discomfort with our passing is seen in a recent memorial service where the deceased was not mentioned by name. By contrast, in Mexico, there is a very thin boundary between this life and the next. The “departed” are always here (in spirit) with the family. Death is an integral part of living.

Today I met with a friend facing his own terminal disease. In his early years he used to work with the political activist Caesar Chavez. Six months before Chavez died he visited my friend, and knowing my friend’s interest in Yoga, introduced him to the “death” yoga position. At that time Chavez had a knowing of his imminent death and incorporated his yoga position as a way of preparing for death. What is our level of knowing?

I am aware that I have few rituals like the Day of the Dead or Yoga positions to keep me mindful of my mortality. I am also becoming more mindful of the gratitude I feel for life, relationships I have, and the significance of work that I am doing. If I knew for sure that I only had three months to live I would not change what I am doing right now.

I was told of an order of nuns where each Sister placed a simple wooden casket in her room as a reminder of her mortality. I don’t need to be that dramatic. But the reality dying is now beginning to inform the quality of my life. Where I go and what I am after I die is not the focus of my life right now. Putting it quite simply. I don’t know and right now I’m fine with that. 

Playwright Dennis Potter (who was dying from cancer) remarked during his last television interview that he was living so intensely in the present that he noticed the beauty in ordinary things that he’d hardly paid attention to before.  He captured this beautifully in his comment: 

 “The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.” 

How few of us achieve that level of awareness and appreciation for life! 

Question

How do you rise to the challenge of being wide awake to life as well as to death?

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How to Get it Done When it’s not Perfectly Right

Perfectionism is a pain in the Glutis Maximus. The reason is that perfectionists obsess unnecessarily about the details of a decision, sweat the uncertainties of the situation, at times miss deadlines, turn themselves into emotional pretzels, and kill themselves with worry.

Here are some perfectionism changing behaviors to help you reduce stress and execute on tasks with greater efficiency.

1.  Aim for Excellence not Perfection

Recently I asked a leader why her perfectionism was a problem for her?’ The answer she flashed back was, “You can never achieve it”.

“So why do you set the bar of performance so unbelievably high for yourself?”I asked. 

What she said next was telling about the burden she put on herself (and others). “As a woman leader I have to work twice as hard as a man to be recognized by senior leadership. I also am trying to avoid being criticized for anything short of perfection”.

That was a lot of self-awareness packed into a few words. She had nailed the WHYof her condition. However, she was stuck on HOWshe could move on from her self-paralysis.

Here are some ways she adopted to exit her hamster wheel.

No matter what you do you will be criticized.In fact not to be criticized is a dangerous place to be in. So welcome criticism either as a course correction or an affirmation that you are on the right track.

Aim for excellence insteadbecause it factors in the learning curve introduced by our mistakes. A friend of mine who was struggling to complete her doctoral dissertation was told by her professor, “Get it done but not perfectly right. Remember this is a exercise to get you to graduate not a monument that you are building”.

Focus on what you have done welland look forward to the improvement that you can make. A friend of mine who is on the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization routinely asks her fellow Directors “How can we do better next time?” Continuous improvement trumps aiming for perfection.

Excellence gives one a set of high standards not the impossible bar of perfectionism. It also builds on a set of best practices that ensures a job well done.

2.  Focus on Reflection not Rumination

A perfectionist shows his/her true colors at those “two in the morning” moments. Here sleep is disrupted by “stinking thinking”episodes. Thoughts rattle around one’s head like a BB in an empty rail car. You seem powerless to make them stop and then add insult to injury by telling yourself “I am going to be a mess tomorrow at work because I’m not sleeping”

 Such a thought disability is called rumination

For disclosure purposes I suffer from this condition myself from time to time.

Here are some of the solutions that I have personally used and recommended to others. 

Plunge your head in a bowl of icy water. This shocking intervention dramatically interrupts your restless thought patterns. It actually works. It’s like a self-inflicted slap in the face wake up moment.

Declare yourself temporarily insanewhich in that moment you are. Then tell yourself that your disabling perspective will emerge right side up in the morning at sunrise and you’ve had your two cups of coffee. Don’t be amygdala driven. That seat of the emotions in our brain can be an unruly critter. So, wait for morning to come and use other more rational parts of your noggin.Q

The ultimate cure for automatic and unconscious rumination is intentional reflection. This is the learned ability to step back from our disabling (and also effective) behaviors. It is the heart of leadership and personal success. Here we create rest stops on the rushed journey of life to reconstitute and take a breather. It is in those moments of reflection that we shift from not ready, fire, don’t aim to “this is what I really need to do”.

What is you ‘recover from perfectionism’ best practice?

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Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Bride – Unconscious Ways We Sabotage Ourselves

We have all heard that woeful refrain in one form or another. It could well be “groomsman not the groom” or “manager but never an executive”. I have heard this story again and again from athletes, academics, actors, and account executives that “choked” in their career or relationships at some point. They

Interviewed for a high profile opportunity that did not pan out

Vowed to lose weight but still ate all the wrong things

Wanted to reinvent life but never got out of the old patterns

Kissed a lot of princes that turned into frogs

What keeps people from getting what they want? Why do they procrastinate on doing what they know is good for them? And why do they have so many lost opportunities?

These major stumbles cannot be blamed on a lack of talent or bad luck or fate, so what’s going on?

Well the answer is not flagellate oneself with negative labels (procrastinator or worse still, loser). Nor is it to redouble our efforts. The key is to ferret out the core beliefs that sabotage our behavior. More often than not,

 Such assumptions are deeply embedded in our unconscious minds.

Have you ever tried to swim when there is a strong current? You exert a lot of effort but you go nowhere.

The unconscious mind operates in a similar fashion. It undermines our best efforts to achieve an important goal.

Deep in the recesses of our mind we carry an underlying story about ourselves that often was born in painful childhood experiences.

These stories and accompanying feelings are the core of our mental and emotional operating system. They inform everything from our intimate relationships to our work experiences. And they drive us unwittingly to self-sabotage in directions we would not choose with our conscious selves.

Case Study

She was one of the most talented junior executives I’ve ever met. She had rocketed to  the top of the marketing division of her organization. Everyone predicted she would lead the group in the near future. In fact, her boss tapped her to be his successor. After his retirement she interviewed for his job.

She bombed in the interview and she was devastated.

Aware that somehow she had sabotaged herself she began coaching. She wanted to find out why and how she could have a better outcome in the future. I soon realized that she did not need to be coached on interview strategies. She had been through many such interviews in the past and been very successful.

What was going on?

After some preliminary questions about her childhood experiences I became aware that there was an unconscious belief system that had shaped her poor interview. I asked her,

“If you had been successful in the interview and been promoted to lead the marketing department, what fears would you have to manage?”

 After a few more probing questions the answer she gave was,

“If I had that executive position, maybe some issues would come up that I would not be able to handle and then folks would know that I am really not up to the job!”

 We still had not excavated deep enough into her psyche to get to the real reason for her sabotaging her interview. But the pivotal phrase was “not up to the job”

Her narcissistic and highly competitive father could not handle her competence as a child and young adult. He continually dismissed her achievements and put her down in cruel and hurtful ways. As a result she muted her talents and did everything she could not to let him feel that she could eclipse him. Here was the underlying message,

“If I succeed at anything significant (like the head of marketing) I will be treading on land mines and ultimately be discredited (first by my father and then by others in leadership positions) I dare not compete with my father”.

That eureka moment brought up a lot of deep sadness but it was the turning point in her coaching. The big assumption that a significant achievement would be a prelude to a failure (the voice of her father in her unconscious) now became part of her conscious mind..

Slowly she was able to review other significant career and personal achievements that had not turned out to be a disaster. She saw clearly that her unconscious perception had shaped her reality. As a result she was able to perform in future interviews without the riptide belief “I will prove that I am not competent” causing her to self-destruct.

As I have told myself and others at least a thousand times “Optimism is learned” but first pessimism has to be negated.

Previously published in 2017

Questions

What unconscious beliefs shape your assumptions (What you believe will happen if you get what you desire)?

What hurtful event/person in your past contributed to this belief?

How can you rewrite your script with a new line of evidence?

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Wake Up

It takes honest introspection to admit that we sleep walk through life most of the time. In our somnambulant state we try to find meaning in ego pursuits. We seek prestige through the acquisition of knowledge, the accumulation of stuff, and the attainment of position. But in the end we often ask,

What is the point of all this?” and “where is this getting me?”

Then in middle age something changes.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that the middle years are when many people start yearning for meaning in life. However, often the person in crisis is confused about this life passage. He/she can be easily derailed.

I remember (with some embarrassment) the red Porsche that I bought in my mid-life passage. Sure there was the thrill of racing up the winding roads of a mountain pass. Then there was the ego boost of gunning the car at the green light and leaving other drivers in the dust. But ego fixes are short lived. You can shop until you drop, but after that, what then?

A real mid life crisis is in fact a soul cry. It is a yearning for meaning and is reflected in the poignant midlife question, “What is the point of my life?”

What has been your mid-life question?  

My burning question for past decades has been

How can I be as awake as possible to all of life?

Many have no clue as to what being awake means. Or we perceive the waking state as too painful. Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness

“The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away”

A key component to being awake is found in our capacity to connect with our feeling world and that of others.  It is crucial however for us to define what we mean by “feeling world”. Some of our emotions are dysfunctional. They pop up easily without any censorship in the form of rage and jealousy. Then there are positive feelings like compassion and kindness. At times they have to be squeezed out like toothpaste from a crushed tube.

The chief cause of constricted feelings comes from the ego wall that we construct around our hearts. We have an image of ourselves that we want others to see. This is an ego publicity stunt. The sexist impression that many males want to display in our society include status, strength (god forbid vulnerable), knowledge (recounting facts), and in control (my way or the highway). In the impression management men don’t want to appear like the stereotypical “weaker sex”.

As a male I needed a lot of good mirrors that would reflect back my emotional dysfunction. Years of psychotherapy, spiritual direction, feedback from significant women in my life, and reflection on some of my foolish life decisions started to open me up to my feelings.

Here are some strategies for navigating the feeling world

Being responsive, not reactive

We all have our hot button issues. People who trouble or perplex us typically activate these pain points in our psyche. In reaction to such persons we have strong negative emotional reactions like anger, dislike, judgment, and avoidance.

More often than not, these persons are simulating an old conflict with ghosts from our past. We react automatically and unconsciously to them “as if” they were embodied in the person irritating me in the present.

The key to managing these disabling feelings is to know what is going on by identifying the hurt parts of us that they activate. We can learn to curb our reactivity by hitting the brakes and learning detachment from the emotional situation . Viewing these difficult people as our teachers and looking for their inner essence is a helpful discipline.

Feed the soul starve the ego

The soul should always stand ajar – Emily Dickinson

When I speak of self-awareness I must ask a deeper question like “What is that self”?  And here’s the rub. We are all made up of two entirely different selves.

There is the ego self, which is based on the story the mind constructs about us. Mixed in with that story is the preoccupation we have with the opinion of others. Ego baggage includes a dualistic narrative that tells me that I am,

“separate and distinct from others, entitled and privileged, measure yourself by your performance, and what’s in it for me

I like what Michael Pollan says about the ego that

”It is that inner neurotic who insists on running the mental show, is wily and doesn’t relinquish its power without a struggle”

Other practices useful in the toppling of the ego include prayer and meditation. However demolishing the ego is an almost impossible task. It is not like the toppling of a statue of some despotic ruler. It is more like the popular arcade game of Whack-a-Mole. One knocks the ego down and it pops up in another location. I believe that the attempt to demolish or whacking the ego is a life long quest.

To date, the best I can expect from self-awareness is to quickly identify the presence of the ego with a “there you go again” and then to make soul-based choices.

We also need to learn how to step back from a busy thought life that behaves like a barrel full of hyperactive monkeys. The talkative brain can be silenced through mindful meditation or centering prayer. The meditation technique that I find useful is every time the mind starts chattering, I don’t resist it but say instead “I see you mind talking away”. It is often in those moments that into that pause steps the observing self. He/she is more likely to be objective about our person. In so doing it reflects the true self.

So, what woke you up to your true self?

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Are Your New Year Resolutions Still Working?

The snow is starting to melt in our neck of the woods and Spring could soon be here. Is that wishful thinking?

But what about our new year resolutions?

What are yours? Were they

To lose weight, exercise more, avoid toxic people, learn to dance?

Why are such resolutions typically a waste of time and usually have a short shelf-life? Two reasons.

They are self-focused. Anything about “me-only” is an exercise in diminishing returns. It leaves one empty and looking for more. Remember that our commitment to behavior change that is not other-focussed prevents us from learning that at the heart of all there is no distinction between “you” and “me”.

They are not designed to inspire. New year resolutions are often not based on life-inspiring principles. Now while weight loss is a good penultimate aspiration, we need big reasons that touch the heart, convince the mind, and get our feet moving to make our plans happen. Getting to one’s inspirational edge changes lives. Ours and others.

So try formulating resolutions that factor in

What makes a contribution to the lives of others?

What brings out the best in your character?

What utilizes your strengths?

What sets the bar of living high for you?

What facilitates living in the now?

To all of my readers, some for 9 years already,

May you have a purpose filled New Year.

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How To Stop Spinning Your Wheels

We have had a particularly heavy snowfall this winter and I have very little experience driving in snow. Need I say more about my frequent experiences of spinning the wheels my car and having to be towed out of my predicament?

 How many times have you been stuck in a certain mode of thought?

Have you found your self stuck in a rut that could well be your intellectual grave?

In his book “How To Change Your Mind” Michael Pollan describes radical and effective ways that we can break out of the deep patterns of thought. These tendencies keep us stuck in everything from drug addiction to depression to not finding meaning in life. Granted Pollan’s solution through the use of psychedelics would hardly be embraced in the corporate world today (maybe tomorrow?). However his thesis of how we succumb to mental rigidity stands true for all of us.

Getting out of these deeply ingrained and habitual ways of thought is the key to everything from living life more fully to developing a groundbreaking strategy for our organization

 For instance how does one break out of the following patterns of thought?

 “We have always believed this or done things this way”

“Why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

Getting Unstuck

Here are some possible ways we can stop spinning our wheels.

1. Awareness of one’s position and the courage to risk change. There comes a point where we have to have the courage to admit, “This is not working for me”. That admission could relate to everything from a fad diet to a policy of employee or customer engagement.

2. Having an effective devil’s advocate who calls out “The emperor has no clothes” is something most of us resist hearing. That may because we are afraid of change or reluctant to give up a position that we may have espoused for years. Killing our sacred cows is not easy to do.

3. Asking yourself “What really matters to me?” or for your organization “What is our core mission?” An honest answer to both those questions will help realign our thinking.

4. A commitment to diversity of thought and team selection. The more I associate and work with folks who are not like me and who see the world in different ways, the more likely I am to become unstuck and pursue new and productive ways of thinking.

 Question

 How have you become unstuck enough to pursue paradigm shifting ways?

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Imagine A World Where – Building Your Field of Dreams

To some, imagination is black box stuff, pure mystery. But think about it. What does it really take to imagine something?

We used to imagine all the time when we were children. But somewhere some of us were told, “Stop imagining things!” That voice became our inner critic that suppressed musings like 

“I wish”

“What if I tried this?”

“Just suppose that”

“Who says it can only be done this way?”

These statements are a way of seeing in our mind’s eye or exercising our imagination.

For those of you who would follow the creative urges of your imagination here are three parts of your being that have to be engaged. They are your,

Head – The plausibility factor centering on facts/data

Heart – The emotional driver of imagination

Feet – The action component where the job gets done through others with vigorous and disciplined effort.

Recently an executive invited her team to an all-day off-site discussion on the group’s strategy. She used the question “Imagine a world where!” At that time her team laced focus and was demoralized and unmotivated.

As the group brainstormed and imagined possibilities, a vision for their future slowly began to emerge. The “imagine” question energized the group to see a new path ahead . They are now well on the way to the realization of their dream.

Here are some questions you may ask that will bring your imagination to life. They involve the activation of your head, heart, and feet.

Head

What data (customer surveys, industry trends, scientific findings) inform your imagination?

What resources (people, technology) do you have/need to execute on your plan?

 Can you articulate this vision in a concise statement?

Heart

What inspirational need (contribution, excellence) does this imagined idea meet in you and your community?

What story do you tell that captures the imagination?

What gut feelings are generated by your imagination? (e.g. this is really important).

Feet

What do you have to do to make your imagined idea a reality?

What initial steps will you take to ensure some early wins?

Who are the stakeholders that can make this vision a reality?

So make sure that your imagination is grounded on data, appeals to people’s hearts, and generates action.

I recently asked a Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization where I serve as a member, “What could we create if we had all the money we needed and all the resources necessary for the task at hand?”

The result was an amazing flow of creative ideas that became what we named “The Field of Dreams”. The project incidentally is the development of a public park adjacent to our rural library that is involved in the revitalization of our community.

In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek” “Make it so!”

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Your Authentic Voice

Your effectiveness as a leader depends on your voice.

Your voice is your uniqueness that makes you stand out from the crowd. Whether that voice is expressed in writing, public speaking, or influencing leadership decisions you will die on the vine or fade into oblivion without it.

A renowned photographer friend of mine tells of a time when she shared some of her best landscape photographs with mentor. After scanning the photos for a while the mentor said,

“These photographs are very beautiful. However, where are you, your unique voice in each of them?”

The characteristics of your voice are,

Authenticity

One of my favorite movie scenes is in the Mel Brooks movie “Blazing Saddles”. In one of the last scenes, as the sheriff rides out of town, he pontificates to the crowd

 I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” … Crowd: [in unison] BULLSHIT!

A voice is not a pose or mask intended to impress others. It comes from the center of our being. If we are angry we regulate but do not hide it. If we are ambivalent about a decision we honestly tell others that we do not know. People see through any façade we present in a heartbeat.

The key to having an effective voice is to have it as closely aligned to your personhood as possible. Mary Karr writes of the style of ones voice “The writer doesn’t choose these styles so much as he/she is born to them, based on who he/she is and how he/she has experienced the past”

Your voice is a display of your history and truth. It is also the presentation of

All of You

From the very moment you walk into a room, open your mouth, or the first line of your writing your voice comes through loud and clear.

What people need is to see all of you. Both the beautiful and beastly (within reason) side of you is needed to capture the attention and imagination of others. Demonstrating the good, bad, and ugly parts of yourself shows you to be human like the rest of the crowd.

Your voice, like your fingerprints, is one of a kind.

An authentic voice is when you speak from the heart—when you speak your truth to another’s truth. That voice is made up of many parts of you. It includes: your cultural background and perspective, what you value (e.g. honesty and humility), your unique personality style (e.g. a quirky sense of humor), and the ability to adapt a message that you know well to different audiences.

 

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