Sunday, January 31, 2010

The definition of a saint.

Today, I've struggled with getting to the desk to write. It’s a cold, gloomy day and I’d rather pull a novel down from the shelf, curl up under a blanket, and read the day away. But, I tell myself, you’ve made a commitment. You started this blog knowing that you’d need to write regularly. And so the internal discussion begins, the kind that makes you feel like there are multiple people in your head.
- You’ve made a commitment. (Connie Conscience)
- Commitment to whom? I didn’t promise anyone I’d write every Sunday. (Lazy Lucy)
- There’s an implied commitment with the people who read this. (Lawyer Lorna)
- They’ll never notice. No one reads it anyway. (Whiney Winifred)
- Not true, but even if it were, you made a commitment! (Reasonable Rhonda)
And so I sat down to write thinking about this idea of an implied commitment.

Recently, I saw part of a show on PBS of a Harvard professor lecturing to a full classroom on ethics and justice. Part of the discussion included students defending the position that a car company did not need to fix the defect in one of its models until it reached a certain threshold even though people were dying because of the defect. What is a company’s implied commitment to its consumers and when does the obligation to honor it kick in? Is it when the publicity is too bad? Or is there some ratio regarding death and profit? What about responsibility to the shareholders? Or should management respond as soon as they know of the problem?

I suspect most of us believe the latter – if you know of a problem you have a responsibility to do something. Does that responsibility change depending on whether or not there is danger to life and limb? Many of us, many of our organizations don’t do work that rises to that level, so does the answer change? If there is no danger and I feel lazy I can ignore my commitments – great, I don’t have to do my blog today!

But then I remembered a definition of integrity – doing what is right when no one is watching. Seems to me a corollary is doing what you say you will do even when no one will know the difference. It takes each one of us honoring our commitments, both explicit and implied, to make sure our organizations honor their commitments.

Author and motivational speaker Barbara Glanz says the definition of a saint is someone who always does what she says she will do. Think about that for a moment and you’ll realize what a very high standard that really is. How are you doing with your commitments?
I’m no saint. But today I have honored my commitment and here is my blog. Have a great day,


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rules and Creative Leadership

I don’t believe that ‘rules are made to be broken.’ However I do agree with Emerson that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” (Notice the important word foolish; it often is left out.) Organizations, large and small, need rules to operate effectively. However, we all know of situations in which someone’s insistence on following a rule rigidly stops us from doing something that needs to be done and that benefits the organization, the staff, and the purpose of the organization. Also situations change and almost always faster than rules do. So what’s a leader to do to help staff members follow the rules and yet not practice that ‘foolish’ consistency?

It seems to me there are two elements necessary for anyone to find that balance – clarity and creativity. It’s important to understand the underlying principle for the existence of the rules in the first place. That clarity will help us make better decisions as we try to apply the rule. For example, some outside organizations want to use university facilities for events. However, state universities have a number of rules for different circumstances that all have the same underlying principle - state property can’t be used for personal gain. When you understand the principle, all of the arcane rules about external groups using campus facilities make a little more sense and can be applied more reasonably. It’s also important to be clear about the purpose of the situation to which we are applying the rule. We might have one idea about the purpose and the person we’re working with might have another idea which can lead to confusion as we try to apply the rules.

Once we have clarity of principle for the rules and purpose for the situation, then creativity comes into play. The rules might prohibit us from having this event on campus as it is currently designed, but perhaps if we found a way to redesign the event, it would fit within the rules. The clarity of principle and purpose allows us ways to find solutions to these kinds of problems.

The leader’s tasks then become making sure organization members understand the underlying principles and creating an environment which supports creativity in applying the rules to varied situations. The environment also needs to be comfortable for individuals to make suggestions about redefining rules to meet those changing circumstances.

Working creatively within the rules really is possible for all of us when we are clear about the principles behind the rules and the purposes for the activities we want to do. Helping organizational members find this clarity and be creative is a critical leadership task. So, where have you creatively (and legitimately) found a way to do something when the rules were working against you?

All the best,


Sunday, January 17, 2010

"One hundred percent of the shots you don't take, don't go in." Wayne Gretzky

As I write this, I’m listening to a CD by Susan Boyle. In case you don’t remember, she is the woman who became a YouTube sensation after she blew everyone away on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s a fitting CD to listen to now since I had the idea today to write on the subject of risk-taking.

What is risky varies for each of us – I can speak in front of a large audience with no qualms. I can perform a ballroom dance in front of friends or strangers without hesitation. Sing a solo anywhere outside of the car, no way! As I listen to this soaring voice through the speakers, I think of Ms. Boyle standing in front of an audience prepared to laugh at her because of her looks. I don’t know if she saw it as a risk or not when she stepped out on that stage, and some might say she had little to lose, but at the very least she was risking her dream. When you think about it that is not a little risk at all!

Where are you in your ability to take risks, large or small? Both creativity and leadership are risky ventures. Both require us to imagine a different reality for ourselves, our department, or our organization and then to step out onto one kind of stage or another and try to make change happen. Once we try to make a change, we have risked failure. We have also risked success which sometimes is even scarier! To be a creative leader – one who can envision another way and help move the change forward – we have to take risks.

To undertake this leadership task, it helps to have a clear understanding of our willingness to risk, our tolerance for the messiness and conflict of any change effort, and our ability to help others. We also need to have an appreciation for those factors as experienced by others who will be impacted. Perhaps most important, we need to have an ability to stick it out through the entire process until we truly know whether or not we have succeeded. Change takes time and we need to be committed to a longer time frame than we might be used to. Just think about your New Year’s resolutions if you aren’t sure what I mean! (FYI, I Googled “change efforts” and the first listing was entitled “Leading Change: Why transformation efforts fail”.

Susan Boyle risked her dream and now has a number one CD to her credit and it has sold over three million copies. What dream or idea do you have? What change can you envision for yourself or your organization? What’s stopping you from giving it a try? Is your assessment of the risk accurate? Find a trusted friend or colleague and talk with them about it. For most of us the risk is not as big as we might imagine. I had the idea to do a blog for quite a while, but I wouldn’t start. I told myself it would take too much time, but it was really more about the risk of looking foolish. What if no one reads it? Well, I finally figured out no one could read it if I didn’t write it and so I started. Some people are reading, a few are kind enough to tell me they enjoy it and get something useful. And now I have a few followers who are people I don’t even know! (Welcome to each of you!) And all I had to do was step out onto this stage and see what happened. Turns out to be quite fun and not scary at all.

So - what risks are you avoiding? Maybe there’s a small one you can try and see what good things might happen. And then why not use the comment section to share your story, so we can all share your good news.

Good luck,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Balancing Act - Part Two

During a presentation on work-life balance, a colleague explained to us that ‘Balance is in the eye of the liver, not the beholder.’ Once we got over the oddly anatomical sound of that statement, and understood she meant the person not the organ, we realized she had something important to tell us.

It’s not for us to look at others and judge whether they are balanced or not. How can we know that? Conversely, we’re the only ones who truly know if our life is working on an even keel. However, sometimes we get so caught up in one aspect of life or another that we don’t notice for ourselves when we are not doing so well on the balance beam. Or, sometimes we feel vaguely unhappy about things, but we really can’t say why.

I think there are some specific reasons for all of this. First, like I wrote last week, we can set ourselves up for failure when we misunderstand balance, thinking it is one specific way of being and not letting ourselves flow with the changes of life. Second, sometimes we aren’t clear about what is important to us, so our decisions take us all over the place. As a result we end up saying ‘yes’ to too many opportunities or to the wrong ones and all of the sudden we find ourselves spending our time on things that aren’t really important to us, though they may look great to others.

Maybe we bought a big house and now find ourselves spending all our time cleaning it and all our money on mortgage and upkeep. If we love everything about home ownership, that will be fine. But what if we don’t? Or you might think that volunteering for a board of a non-profit looks like a good way to give back to the community and find out it’s not at all what you thought and it be comes a burden, just one more thing on the to-do list.

Clarity about our wants and our needs is a first step toward finding true balance. Then you can say ‘no’ to the opportunities that may sound worthwhile but are not where you need to spend your time and energy. That allows you to give your full energy and attention when you say ‘yes’.

And of course, there are always things we need to do that aren’t our favorite – the house has to be cleaned some time, at work things have to be filed or whatever routine tasks come with the job. But, when we are clear about what is important to the job and to ourselves, we make better decisions about the use of our time. We make decisions that help us get the routine done routinely, say ‘no’ appropriately, and, as a result, have time and energy for the things we really love. Now that’s a balanced life in the heart of the liver, not just the eye.

Take care,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Balancing Act

Balance – it’s an interesting concept and one that we use in a wide variety of ways. As I write this, there’s a cat balanced on my shoulder because she wants to be out and about with us, but she doesn’t wants to play with the dogs. So, I’m trying to balance my need to get this done with her need for companionship in a way that makes her feel safe and secure – hence the sitting on my shoulder.

Bear-Bear, the cat, is 15 years old. For most of her life she was mothered by a large golden retriever, but later she was shaken by a dog and since then she has become more fearful. Some of our five dogs don’t even know she’s out, but a couple of them, one in particular, find her fascinating and their style of play doesn’t work well for this old cat. So we spend our lives trying to meet our responsibilities to them by finding a balance for their respective, mostly incompatible, needs.

Balancing incompatible needs and meeting differing responsibilities – we hear a lot about that these days. It seems to be an unreachable goal and just adds to our feeling that we can’t quite manage it all, because we haven’t found Balance – with that capital B! But in my yoga practice, I’ve learned something important about the concept of balance. To illustrate it, I’ll ask you to take off your shoes and ‘balance’ on one foot. Try to stand there for a while – if you have to rest your hand on something or put your foot down, do, no one is watching. Now pay attention to your standing foot. You’ll begin to notice that your foot isn’t still, the muscles are making constant tiny adjustments, and you can feel yourself shifting slightly to be able to stand on that one foot. Add a heavy wind or minor earthquake and you’d start to feel your entire body adjusting. Balance isn’t static. Balance isn’t a goal I achieve and then I have it forever. Balance is a process. Even when we use it that way calling something a ‘balancing act’ we still think of it as something to achieve not something that is on-going. But keeping our balance is an on-going process.

This week as the holiday season draws to a close and we start the New Year, especially if you have a list of resolutions, perhaps it’s a good time to give ourselves a break and not try to find THE perfect balance point among all the demands in our lives. Remember that standing up takes all sorts of muscles let alone balancing on one foot. So maybe we can be okay with finding a sort of balance today and we’ll work on tomorrow’s balance tomorrow, if we even need to. Maybe we can even be okay with reaching a hand out for help or putting our foot down.

Have fun!