Archive for the ‘learning’ Category
Nelson Mandela is a hero to me. He embodied core qualities of a beautifully, fully-lived life: courage, hope, compassion, and clarity. And I’ve often thought that the essence of his power as a human being lay in his ability to be totally present: to take each day, each moment, as something new to be experienced, to be fully understood and turned to best advantage. In other words, Mandela was a great learner. Then, recently, I read a quote of his:
“I never lose. I win or learn.”
– Nelson Mandela
Such simple, universal advice. Let yourself reflect on this for a moment. Think about the last time you “lost.” That you didn’t win something professional you really wanted, like a promotion or a new job. Or something personal – a sports competition or someone’s agreement or support.
To be able to learn rather than lose in these situations is real learning, learning that can change your life. Too often, when we talk about learning, we mean something pale and insubstantial: “I read lots of articles,” “I took a class that was interesting.” But real learning is muscular and vital – it comes right up to your inability, your mistake, or your failure and looks it in the face and says: What did I not know here? Why didn’t that work? How do I need to change? Real learning is courageous and hopeful. Real learning requires being compassionate toward yourself and clear about both your strengths and weaknesses.
When we lose something we really want, at work or at play, our immediate tendency is to look away – to avoid really seeing our “defeat,” because we think it will be too demoralizing or embarrassing. I learned this 40 years ago from Tim Gallwey of Inner Game fame: when most people hit a bad shot in tennis, they don’t stay focused on what actually happened, so they can correct it next time. They literally look away, and either start making mental excuses for themselves (“my racket needs restringing,” “the sun was in my eyes”) or mentally beating themselves up (“I’m an idiot to have missed that shot,” “I’ll never be any good”).
This is losing vs. learning.
So. Next time something doesn’t go well for you: a client declines your proposal; your best friend thinks your new idea is crazy; you don’t get that job you really wanted…
Instead of looking away and losing, be courageous and clear. Look at the situation, look at yourself. Ask, What could I have done differently? or What can I learn to do differently going forward? And be compassionate and hopeful, too – don’t berate yourself, don’t predict permanent failure. Really try to understand what you can take away from this situation that will help you succeed the next time a similar situation arises. And then figure out how to make those changes in your behavior or your mindset, or both.
The power of poetry is to use regular words to capture something rare. My son has always been a poet in that way, even as a little kid. Once, when he was about five and we we were driving past a neighborhood of brand new, cheaply-built, all-the-same-except-for-color houses, thrown up quickly to respond to the ’90s Colorado housing boom, he said, “Those houses are so empty it makes me want to cry.”
He’s still doing it: framing insight as poetry. Just the other day, he told me that he, his wife, and a friend are thinking about going into business together. And one of the reasons he thinks it will work well is because “they believe in each other’s magic.”
It resonated so deeply for me. I knew exactly what he meant, because my business partner Jeff and I also believe in each others’ magic, as do my husband Patrick and I. In fact, in all my best personal and professional relationships, there’s an element of believing in each other’s magic.
To believe in someone else’s magic is to know that things that person wants do are possible, even if you don’t understand them and couldn’t do them yourself – and that the person will accomplish those things, even if you don’t understand how that will happen.
A small example: a couple of years ago, my husband said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a built-in TV on the screen porch? It wouldn’t get in the way of the view.” I said yes, with complete faith that he would make that happen, even though I didn’t have the faintest idea how such a thing could be done. And – voilá – now we have a flat-screen TV that hangs down from the ceiling of the screen porch, at exactly the right height for viewing, but without compromising in the least our beautiful Hudson River views. I still don’t really understand how he did it.
This has also happened countless times with me and my business partner Jeff. Twelve years ago, I said to him “I’m going to get this book published,” and he completely believed me, even though I had never done it before and the odds were long. Two years ago, he said “We should create a partnership with this start-up virtual reality company,” and I completely believed him, even though I didn’t really understand why that was a good idea, or how we would do it. Both things happened, and turned out to be truly beneficial for our business.
Believing in someone’s magic isn’t blind faith. It’s faith based on practical experience: you observe the other person has skills, experience and insight that you lack, and can apply those assets in ways that seem mysterious to you because you don’t share them. And so when he or she says “I can do this” or “We should do this,” you take that leap of faith, based on what you know and have experienced of that person.
I love this idea so much, because it captures one of the most powerful elements of good leadership, good partnership, and real innovation: believing that others can and will do things that you yourself are not capable of doing – and, sometimes, that are beyond your understanding. Believing in others’ magic allows us to combine our individual powers to reach new heights, to do things that none of us could have done by ourselves. It’s why diversity – of all kinds – is so critical to success. Through working with others who are not like us and believing in their magic, we can leapfrog our own limitations to solve our most intractable problems together.
It requires real humility, though. The essence of believing in someone else’s magic is being willing to acknowledge that you don’t know it all; that other people understand things that you don’t – and perhaps never will. For lots of us, that’s especially difficult when the other person is younger, less educated, a different gender, race, or religion than we are. Believing in the magic of someone we see – consciously or unconsciously – as being “less” than we are is both particularly challenging and particularly valuable. When you truly believe in someone’s magic, it’s virtually impossible to hold on to dismissive prejudices about that person.
Next time someone in your personal or professional life suggests a way to move forward or solve a problem that you don’t understand, or can’t quite see: before you say no, take a moment. Ask yourself, “Do we believe in each others’ magic?”
I’m shocked to be having to say this in the United States in 2017. But sadly, this statement now seems to be in question, most disturbingly from the White House.
Racism is evil. And just to be completely clear, I use the word evil as it’s defined in Merriam-Webster: “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” Hating people, inciting violence toward people, committing violence against people because of the color of their skin, because of their religion, because of their place of origin, is completely evil and unjustifiable. It has no place in the America I believe we can be. No place in the hearts and actions of good and moral people.
I am profoundly ashamed that the person speaking to all of us as the president does not acknowledge the difference between those who incite and commit violence in support of their beliefs that America should be a “white nation,” and those who resist and reject those beliefs. That he doesn’t acknowledge a difference between Robert E. Lee and George Washington. That he believes white men who march with lit torches – long a symbol of black oppression of the most horrific kind – shouting “Blood and Soil,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us” are, or could be, “very fine people.”
We must fight against the darkness, and we must not be darkened by it. If we hate racism, we must offer an alternative to it in how we live every day, and we must call out when those who govern us condone or support it. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
To support you in your personal stand against racist hatred, here from the Southern Poverty Law Center is Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.
And here’s an excellent article from The Nation about what you can do to fight against hatred.
And always, feel and share as much joy, hope, clarity and love as you possibly can.
Ever since 1934, when the Social Security administration established 65 as the “official” national retirement age, most of us have assumed that at somewhere around 65, we’d stop doing paid work. And even though the average 65-year-old these days has both a considerably greater life expectancy and much improved health compared to his or her 1934 counterpart, our association with 65 as the age of retirement remains. And that’s true even though we baby boomers aren’t adhering to it: only 1 in 4 boomers are fully retiring from paid work by 65. As has often been the case with us as a generation, we’re trying to figure out a different way to do things.
When I turned 65 recently, I didn’t expect it would have much impact on me, since I generally don’t think of myself as being any particular age. So I was surprised to find myself thinking a lot about working and not working, and how I intended to approach the next phase of my life. Even though I knew I didn’t want to stop working any time soon, I noticed that I also didn’t want to keep working at the same pace I’d been working for the last 45 years. I had already decided to work somewhat less starting this year – I had told people that I was “cutting back to full time.” They’d laugh, but it was pretty accurate: I’m experimenting with working around 40-45 hours a week, rather than 50-60 hours a week.
But I could feel there was some deeper issue not being addressed by that decision, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I called Lorie, a wonderful therapist and all-around wise person who has helped me enormously through times of major change over the past ten years, and told her what I was feeling and thinking. In a series of conversations, she helped me see that I was wanting to carve a new path for myself: that I felt constrained by what I saw as the limited and limiting expectations for women at 65 relative to work. I believe that society expects that women, if they do keep working after 65, will do it in a kind of invisible and genteel old-ladyish way: part-time, in a situation that doesn’t require or afford a lot of responsibility or power. (As an example, when I told a 30-something friend that I was struggling to figure out my work path for the next decade, she suggested that perhaps I could teach classes at our local library.) And the general expectation for us as retirees is that we will focus on taking care of our families, on our old-lady hobbies, or on doing good works.
Neither of those paths appealed to me. In my conversations with Lorie, I realized that I needed to “go off road,” to carve out a personal post-65 career path that works for me and those I love, and that may not fulfill any of those expectations.
And, as it turns out, what works for me is a life that includes the best of both worlds. In the world of work, I’ve realized that I’m doing the best work of my life, and I want to keep doing that. I’m braver, wiser, clearer, more experienced, and at the same time more flexible, compassionate and patient than ever before, and I intend for my clients and my colleagues to get the benefit of that. And in the world of retirement, I find I’m cherishing time with my husband, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones in a new and deeper way, knowing that my remaining time on earth is less than the time already passed. At the same time, I find that I need more time for reflection and recuperation in order to be at my best – and that I’m able to appreciate those resting periods more than I ever have before.
So I’m working and retiring simultaneously. When I’m working, it’s full-on, all-in: offering the best of who I am in deep and powerful partnership with my clients and colleagues. When I’m retiring, it’s full-on, all-in: 100% luxuriating in play, rest, travel, the love of those I love. I suspect the proportions of the two will continue to shift as I age: more time retired, less time working. But the depth of commitment to each will remain. That sense of doing whatever I’m doing with full joy and commitment is what resonates for me.
If you find yourself asking these kinds of questions – as I assume you might be, having read this far – my advice to you is not to adopt my solution or anyone else’s, but to find your own. Your life is precious, and it’s a great gift to have arrived in your 60s with your health and spirit intact. Be conscious in deciding how to take advantage of this gift you’ve been given, so that at the end of your days you feel satisfied that you’ve lived the life you most wanted to live.
You know those TV ads that feature rugged guys and pretty women exploring the wilderness in their shiny new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, or Subaru Outback?
Back here in the real world, I suspect that the vast majority of people who buy those vehicles never take them off-road. It’s just that the idea of heading out on our own, beyond where the pavement stops, is so appealing to most of us that automakers have been milking those fantasies for years in hopes of driving more car sales. They believe people will watch those ads and think, If only I drove a ___________, then I’d have the freedom to live life on my own terms, not following society’s rules.
The off-road fantasy resonates because most of us often feel hemmed in by our responsibilities, by others’ expectations of us, by the rules and constraints of society. Buying a heavy-duty car and day-dreaming about driving it right off the edge of the highway provides us an illusion of freedom with a soupcón of ballsiness.
The ironic thing, though is that even though most of us will never go off-road physically, more of us are having to go off-road psychologically and emotionally than ever before. Think of our internal “highway” as the assumptions we make about what our role in society “should” be – those assumptions are fraying and falling apart in a way they never have before. And, more and more, we’re having to find our own path through this 21st century cultural landscape.
For example, sixty years ago, if I were a married woman of 65 with grown children and grandchildren (as I am), my “highway” would be pretty clear. I would be expected to be retired from whatever job I might have had (most likely as a teacher, nurse, clerk, factory or office worker). Though I might have gone back to work after my kids were out of the house, in my 60s I would be expected to stop working and spend my time taking care of the house, my husband, and perhaps the grandkids; to do age-appropriate activities (crafts, gardening, church or charity work); and perhaps – if we had some savings – to travel.
Today that very defined “road” is still being followed by many women in their sixties – but a big percentage of us are truly going “off-road” and hacking very different lives out of the wilderness: continuing to work while re-thinking the idea of retirement; using the expertise gained throughout our careers to start new businesses, either for-profit or not-for-profit; beginning new relationships; doing bucket-list things our moms and grandmas would never have considered. And some of us are even doing traditional things in new ways. I just read about a company called Rent A Grandma – basically, a service that matches “grandmas” (mature women with a love of children and lots of experience raising kids and running a household) with families who need them, since their own grandmas might be off doing something else and not available to them.
And all these possibilities for mental and cultural off-roading don’t just exist for people my age. Another example: sixty years ago, a young man of 22 would probably already be doing the job that he’d have for the rest of his working life (only about 1 in 10 men had college degrees in the US in 1957), saving money to get married, and preparing to be the sole – or at least major – support of his wife and children. His path was laid out.
Now, that young man can take any of a variety of paths – or make up his own. He could go to college, get a job, join a commune, travel the world with a backpack tending bar. He could get married (though most 22-year-olds don’t, these days), or he could live alone, with roommates or a girlfriend (or boyfriend) – or at home with his parents. He might use his twenties to decide what career path to follow, and that path could be something that didn’t exist before he started doing it.
So what does this imply, this new ability to blaze our own trail through life? First, it means we’re all going to have to get much better at learning and doing new things. If you’re interested in that topic and new to this blog, I wrote a book last year, Be Bad First, that’s all about how to be great at being a novice. Which, if you’re mentally off-roading, inventing your life as you go, is a critical capability.
The other thing, I’m finding, is that mental off-roading requires tremendous independence and courage. I feel as though I’ve definitely driven off the regular highway and am now officially in uncharted territory; my life at 65 certainly doesn’t look like my mom’s life did at this age, or my dad’s. It’s different in many ways from the lives most of my friends have created, or those my sister and brothers are living. I’m still working, building the business I started almost thirty years ago – but my role is changing in the company, as is the kind of work I want to do. I find myself more politically active than I’ve ever been. My marriage is amazing – and doesn’t feel anything like what I expected would be happening at this point in my life. My relationships with my kids and grandkids are rich and fun for all of us – but not what I think of as grandmotherly. Every day I find myself thinking some version of, Is this OK? I don’t see others my age doing/feeling/thinking this. OR Wow, this is very different from how my life was just a few years ago…what’s happening? And then I just have to check in with whether “this”, whatever it is, seems to be supporting me in creating the kind of life, relationships and results I want. And if so, I just have to take a deep breath and…keep driving.
I’d love to hear about your adventures in mental off-roading, too….
I was talking to someone the other day about the willingness of many millenials to leave jobs where the culture is bad or the expectations are unrealistic or confusing. We both agreed that, in general, we find it refreshing – and that we believe it will force many companies to think more deeply about how they operate and the cultures they create.
At one point, though, my colleague said, “But it can go too far. Sometimes you have to suffer – there can be a purpose to pain.”
I watched my immediate mental response: That’s not true – thinking that we have to suffer condemns us to suffering. But instead of saying that out loud, I kept listening and asking questions. After a few minutes, I thought I understood what she was really saying, and so took a stab at summarizing. “You’re talking about pain on the way to improvement, vs. just submitting yourself to ongoing suffering.”
“Exactly,” she responded.
Then she told me a great story about two senior executives she knew, both of whom had reputations as tough, sometimes difficult and demanding bosses. However, she went on to note that many people she knew felt their time working for boss A was very valuable, and said they’d work for him in the future, if they had a chance – while most people had really disliked working for boss B, and would never want to work for him again.
The difference? Boss A, while tough, demanding and undiplomatic (to put it mildly) really focused on developing his folks. His toughness was in the service of their getting better, thinking more deeply, being able and willing to embrace new possibilities. Under boss A, people grew. In contrast, boss B was tough because he could be; he was just mis-using his boss power. There was no gain from the pain.
And I think this is a lesson millenials need to learn (and one I see my millenial children and colleagues learning as they get older and work longer). Sometimes, you have to do things that aren’t very comfortable, in order to get what you really want. And if you bail at the first sign of discomfort – whether you’re by yourself, trying to learn something; or in an organization, having to put up with some company BS; or dealing with a boss who may not be the most skilled or emotionally intelligent, but is genuinely trying to help you improve – you’re never going to get very far.
It’s analogous to trying to get in better physical shape, where the price is the bodily discomfort of sore muscles and the mental discomfort of feeling like a klutz. If you really want to get in better professional shape – to find out what you can love and be great at doing, and then to become excellent at doing it – the price is always some degree of mental, emotional, and even physical discomfort.
In other words: if you’re entirely comfortable, you’re probably not learning anything. And if you want to become world-class at doing anything, you’ll have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Read Be Bad First – Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future for more insights about being usefully uncomfortable.
I know I’m dating myself by using that title. It became known as the signature line of Sgt. Joe Friday, the hero in a cop show called Dragnet that was popular when I was a kid. Whenever Joe was questioning witnesses, and they would start wandering off into how they felt, and what they feared, and sharing their biases and prejudices, Joe would stop them and say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am (or sir). ”
As we’re all living through this endless and somewhat depressing election season, I find myself in complete sympathy with Sergeant Friday. My craving for facts is completely justified, given that, according to Politifact, only 30% of what Donald Trump says publicly is even partly true, with 19% of his untruths being of the “pants on fire” variety (“not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim,” according to Politifact) and even Hillary, the most truthful of all the current politicians, only tells the truth 72% of the time. Fortunately, only 2% of her statement are “pants on fire” lies – but still, that’s too much. (I’ll out myself now; I’m a Clinton fan, and think she’ll make a very good president.)
What’s even more frustrating to me is that Americans believe Trump and Hillary are equally dishonest and untrustworthy – even though, on a factual basis, Trump lies about 2.5 times as much as she does. And it doesn’t stop with the candidates themselves, unfortunately. Shortly after the Republican convention, I listened to a Trump supporter, a former soap actor named Anthony Sabato, Jr., say that he believes President Obama is “…on the other side. Oh, the Middle East. He’s with the bad guys. He’s not with us. He’s not with this country.” And when asked to back up his assertion with facts, he responded, “I believe it.”
The most disturbing thing about this whole mess, for me, is the contention that believing something is true, or feeling that it’s true, is just as valid as having the facts about whether or not it’s true. It’s why too many people think that someone “believing”or “feeling” that Obama is in league with terrorists is just as valid as 7+ years of daily evidence to the contrary.
It’s why national figures can say “global warming is a hoax,” or “Obama founded ISIS,” or “immigrants destroy our economy” — and those things are repeated as truth, even though there is no evidence to support their validity, and – in fact – mountains of factual evidence to disprove them.
I believe the best we can do, in these crazy times, is try to be guardians of the truth in our own thinking. Whenever someone asserts that something is true – especially something important to our well-being or our future – I suggest that, rather than either immediately believing or disbelieving it, you do your best to find out the facts. I’d suggest you apply the scientific method: take what you hear as a hypothesis (“Is global warming a hoax?”) then gather the available data about the hypothesis without assuming that it’s true or false. (As opposed to cherry-picking the data to support your existing bias, which is what we too often do.) Finally, decide the validity of the hypothesis based on the data you’ve collected.
If we all did that, we would come to better, more reasoned decisions, and be less susceptible to the lies and half-truths of those in positions of power.
And here’s what Joe Friday thinks about all this (from episode 60: “Internal Affairs DR-20”):
“Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I’ll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they’re somehow right–and justified–in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody…and you’ll just about put this place here out of business!”
I’m with Joe.
I’m excited. For the past four or five years, my partner Jeff and I have been acknowledging to each other (and to anyone who cares to have the conversation with us) our need to have an online/mobile aspect of what we do available to our clients. We recognized that if our core focus is, as we say, leader readiness, we needed to support leaders to be ready 24/7, not just when they’re with us in a coaching, training, or facilitated session.
We’ve been able to create some very good audio and video “nuggets” over the years, and we have lots of useful written material to offer (between this blog, my Forbes blog, other articles, and my books.)
But now….drum roll, please…we’re in the process of putting bite-size pieces of our existing audio, video and written content – plus a lot more great stuff that we’re now creating – into our new online/mobile learning resource, ProteusLeader.com. It will be going live in October – so I’m giving you, dear reader, a heads-up now. Partly because I just want to share it with you (as I said, I’m excited), but partly because I’d love your input if you’d care to weigh in. If you have suggestions for stuff you’d particularly like to see, or topics you’d like added, that would be hugely valuable for us.
Here’s how we’re envisioning it. There will be 16 topic areas – the main areas we focus on in our work with leaders. Those topics are:
- Accepted Leader
- Be Bad First
- Being Strategic
- Company Culture
- Giving Feedback
- High Performance Team
- Leading Change
- Making Agreements
- Managing People
- Managing Your Career
- Social Style
- Tough Conversations
You can go straight to this list of topics from the home page (and then select one you’re interested in), or you can get to groups of related topics by selecting one of four “interest areas.” Under each of the 16 topics, we’ll have resources in three “buckets”:
- See It/Hear It – video and audio nuggets focusing on that topic, offering models, tools, insights, or skill demonstrations.
- Try It – video, audio, and written activities to help you assess yourself, prepare for, and practice the skills in that topic.
- Read About it – quick, practical articles about the topic that offer insight and recommendations.
So, what do you think? Anything you’d like that you don’t see listed? Any ideas for specific support in these topics?
I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to launch – but for now, I’d love to know what you’d find useful and interesting…
Thanks, as always, for being here.
My husband and I just spent a few days in Reykjavik, and once again, I was astonished at how relatively little information I have about the world around me, and how many completely unwarranted assumptions I make, based on the limited and limiting information that’s been passed on to me from others. For example, outside a soaring modern church in the center of Reykjavil is a statue of Leifr Eiricsson, with this inscription on the back:
Wait – I had some vague factoid in my head about somebody named Leif Erikson sailing west from Scandinavia…but discovering the US? And wait – the one thousandth anniversary of the…Althing?
So I bought a little book of Icelandic history, written by an Icelandic historian, and it seems as though there’s a good deal of evidence that a guy named Leifr Eiricsson sailed from Iceland around 1000 AD and established a settlement near what is now Newfoundland. There is some indication that he may have also sailed as far south as present-day New York.
And yet, every child in the US still learns that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and became the first European to set foot in North America. Well, except for that other guy who showed up 500 years earlier. Ironically, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9th “Leif Erikson Day”, so you can actually decide whether to celebrate Columbus Day or Erikson Day during the second week of October. That is, if you know that Leif Erikson existed and that he has a national holiday dedicated to him.
And as for the Althing – that’s the Icelandic parliament, which has met regularly since the year 930. It’s one of the two “oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world,” according to Wikipedia.
I love finding out new stuff…I get excited to realize that as long as I live, there will be new and fascinating things to discover every moment of every day.
I got an email last week from Kathryn Cramer, who wrote a book that I like, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do. She was writing to let me know about a new campaign she’s launching, focusing on what she terms the Leader’s Heroic Journey. Those of you who have read my book Leading So People Will Follow know how fascinated I am by storytelling, and by leader stories in particular, so it’s not surprising that I quickly went to check it out.
Kathryn has created something very cool; a modern and resonant series of six infographics that take you through the steps of the Hero’s Journey (as defined by Joseph Campbell). But she’s reframed for today’s leaders – those of us who are trying to lead through a time characterized by more and faster change than at any other time in history.
She’s offering one of the six steps in the journey each week on her website, or you can download the full ebook, also on her site. With this series, Kathryn has teed up some of the most critical inflection points we all face as leaders, and provided simple, practical insights and ideas for navigating those passages.
It’s a wild time to be a leader – we all need help. Kathryn’s campaign is food for the journey.