Year-end Reflections

As it is my custom, I thought we should take the time to reflect on our leadership style and effectiveness in 2016 and make commitments in 2017.  To facilitate the process, I list what I believe are 7 fundamental principles of great leadership. (There are several more but the human mind is easily overwhelmed and I believe these to be foundational).

  1. Who do you serve? When you examine your thoughts, decisions, and actions over the past year, to what extent do you believe they were fueled to enhance the welfare of those that entrusted their careers, hopes, and aspirations to you? To what extent were you driven by measuring your performance against organizational outcomes? What percentage of your thoughts are focused on creating greater wealth for you/your family, gaining more power/fame, managing the perceptions of senior management or boards or Wall Street versus thoughts focused on your followers, employees, and customers?  If you are not focused at least 3 to 5 times more on the latter you are not fulfilling your leadership destiny.
  1. How connected are you to your followers? How many of your followers do you really know? Can you anticipate the conversation at their family dinner tables? Can you feel their hopes, anxieties, fears, and excitement? What do they really need from you? How comfortable are they in talking to you and sharing their thoughts?  If you sense that there is a distance between you and your followers, resolve to break the barriers.  Let go of the ego and the false sense of professionalism that tries to distance the leader from his/her followers, and the mistaken assumption that the emotional and human side of leadership is somehow “soft” and not business-like.  Over and over again it has been shown that organizations led by leaders who can connect and motivate their followers outperform others over the longer term.
  2. How present are you? Are you really curious the way you were when you were a child? Can you set aside preconceived, and therefore self-limiting, assumptions to really hear and feel the nuances of the moment? What is really being said and not said in the room? What new information is in play that may not have been present the last time? How are you feeling inside of your own body at this particular moment?  Are you centered? Are you calm? Are you engaged? In what part of your body are you feeling what you are feeling?  Great leaders have the ability to take a seat in the balcony.  They are at once in the arena and in an outer body manner observing the goings on from the balcony.  By being present and curious they can orchestrate their thoughts to focus on the here and now.  Each occurrence has its nuance.  The wise leader does not allow the past or the future to dilute the opportunities and gifts the present bears.
  1. How reflective are you? Are you in constant motion? Going from one meeting to another? Obsessively checking your smart device? Taking pride in the speed in which you move, make decisions, and multi-task?  Or do you take time before and after important decisions and actions to reflect on the process through which you got there? How well it worked or not work? What did you learn from the experience? What would you do next time?  Are you reflective and therefore use judgment in making decisions? Or are you reflexive and therefore, more often than not, in judgment.  The greatest leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Richard Branson made/make reflections a regular practice.  They believed/believe that an unexamined life is inconsistent with leading others.  That every experience is an opportunity for learning and growth.
  1. How balanced are you? Do you have a life outside of work? Before you answer this question please take the time to check in with those who experience you. Can you turn it off? How connected are you to your values and how do you practice them?  Are you hiding under work because you feel incompetent or incomplete in your personal life?  What do you really know or feel about your family? Do you know important facts and detail about their lives? Names of your children friends? How they are doing in school? What is really important to your spouse? How many of your old friends are you in touch with? When was the last time you called friends and family or wrote them a note?  How are you fulfilling and recharging yourself so that you can show up at work and lead others?  Akin to the oxygen mask analogy in airplanes that dictates you put the mask on you first, research on leadership shows that leaders that are fulfilled, recharged, and at peace with who they are more resonant and therefore can more effectively lead and motivate others.
  1. How do you interact with vulnerability? Do you run away from it or do you embrace it as an old friend that teaches you and helps you grow?  Are you of the mindset that leaders don’t show weakness, should know all, call the shots, and are in a winner take all contest?  Or have you finally come to the realization that the collective intelligence around you often results in better decisions than decisions you make on your own.  Furthermore, when you engage others, they are more energized to carry them out?  Are you comfortable saying I don’t know?  I will find out?  Or please share your knowledge with me?  Can you stand up in front of your team and share your fears and anxieties and ask for help?  Can you say I am worried about hitting our numbers this quarter and I really need your help?  Warren Buffet is the first to admit his shortcomings and acknowledge that without Bill Gates, their non-profit causes would not be as successful.
  1. How authentic are you? Would you believe, trust, and put your heart and soul into someone like you? What are the values beyond which you will not be pushed around at any price?  Why would your followers believe what you say?  Are your actions consistent with your words?  Do you treat people fairly based on their potential and contributions, or do you reward and glorify your friends and inner circle akin to what is going on in Washington D.C.?  Nelson Mandela asked the Afrikaans who jailed him for 27 years to help form his rainbow coalition and build South Africa.  How far are you from that vision?

Question for Online Conversations

  1. Which of the above guidelines struck a chord with you? Why?
  2. How did the gap develop?
  3. What will you do?

Leadership Lessons from The U.S. Elections

Let me start by saying that what is to follow is in no way intended to be a political statement.  The lessons referred to in the posting apply equally to the Republican and Democratic parties.

What the recent elections demonstrated is that great leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis instinctually knew/know:  leaders have to stay connected to their followers.  They have to be able to walk a mile in their shoes, to feel their pain and suffering and to understand how to restore dignity and self-worth to their followers.  This is how leaders can motivate their followers.

The GOP leadership from the onset did not demonstrate the proper level of understanding for the deep anger and resentment that the populace felt towards the establishment politics of Washington D.C.  While a large segment of the population looked to a candidate that would restore higher paying jobs and reverse the trend of a shrinking middle class, the GOP leadership and the presumptive candidates focused on attacking President Obama; they took positions on policies such as free trade or immigration reform that fueled the anger and passion of their base pushing them further towards the populist messages of Donald Trump. To make matters worse they did not take Donald Trump, his message and the passion that it was evoking in the working class seriously until it was much too late.  Then, rather than connecting personally with this important segment of the population the candidates went after Donald Trump which simply bolstered his status as the “outsider” looking out for the “forgotten America”.  On the other side of the political divide the Democrats failed to read and connect with constituencies that had traditionally voted for them:  rust belt workers, disenfranchised by job loss or lower pay, felt humiliated and unable to hold their heads up with dignity as providers for their families.  Party strategists focused the campaign on “toss up” states and erroneously assumed that Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (to name but a few) would vote along traditional Democratic lines.  In addition, the party did not fully learn from the lessons that the candidacy of Bernie Sanders had crystalized: that white working class and younger voters had overwhelmingly voted for the insurgent Sanders over the establishment Hillary Clinton.  In the end the lower than expected turnout of traditional Democratic leaning voters sealed the day.

In contrast, Nelson Mandela lived, breathed and personified the hopes, frustrations and resolve of segregated and persecuted black South Africans.  He had walked in their shoes and paid the price through 27 long years of prison.  When he was freed he never forgot his roots and lived amongst his constituents.  Remarkably, he also knew that greatness for South Africa travelled through the expertise and gifts of the white Afrikaners. He took it upon himself to study their ways, culture and emotional fiber.  In doing so, he convinced his rainbow coalition that he stood for all South Africans, a feat that would have been impossible absent his ability to connect with his followers.

Pope Francis declared that he stands for the oppressed and poor.  Many others have declared the same.  However Pope Francis has chosen to live amongst ordinary people, shunning the trappings of the Vatican. He lives simply; walking, touching and bowing before the poor.  His priority, when he visits other lands, is to champion the poor and the oppressed. When he visits political leaders of foreign countries his priority is to bring the power of his position to influence them to abandon corruption, brutality and violence in favor of caring for their constituents.

Which brings me to you, my audience.  Many of you hold leadership positions that touch the lives of your followers and their families.  So how connected are you? And before you answer with the text-book answer “Well, look…I am taking care of business, and by doing that, I am maximizing our shareholder value which means we can employ people who can take care of their families…”, let me point out again that is not how great leaders stay connected.  If you have doubts, watch a few episodes of the TV show “Undercover Boss”.  Many of the CEOs who go undercover on the show start out thinking that they are connected to their followers. They point out that they visit and shake hands with their employees.  They say they have really good benefit plans and that their compensation is competitive in their industries.  It is only when they actually show up incognito as an equal or subordinate colleague that they begin to understand the personal stories, challenges, and hardships of their followers.  This is where they learn about the heroism, dedication, hope, and courage of working people.  They are often truly humbled, and begin to understand their own limitations and to develop respect and admiration for those who serve them.  At the end of each episode, when they assume the role of CEO again and come face to face with their employees, they often become emotional and profess their profound gratitude for those who were so invisible to them. Of course by getting connected to their base these CEOs also experience those who are damaging their organization and can quickly remove the toxins.  Now, the cynics reading this will naturally say “This is a TV show and not reality”. To which I reply, these realities are occurring in each of your organizations as you are reading this blog. When was the last time you walked a mile in an employee’s shoes? How much do you know about their families? Their personal hopes and aspirations? When was the last time they told you anything sensitive or real?  What are they not telling you? Can you anticipate the conversation around their dinner tables?

There are many leaders who are connected with their followers.  But some are not, and here is what I have found:

  1. With ascent, many lose their roots and values. Whereas once they championed their team and were proud providers for their families they create environments populated by those who won’t tell them the truth, give them honest feedback or hold a mirror.  In his book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Clayton Christensen describes the demise of Jeff Skilling, the CEO of Enron.  Christensen describes Skilling as a contemporary of his at the Harvard Business School, as an outstanding young man. A Rhodes Scholar, he was well liked by everyone, with strong values and a natural leader.  However, as Skilling climbed the corporate ladder, he lost his roots, his values and his connection to those he served.  So we learn that with loss of connectivity to family and friends who can provide anchors, leaders begin to confuse the organizations and cultures they work in as their new roots and values.  And of course, for profit organizations were never designed for this purpose.
  2. Some have never developed the ability for empathy and deeper connectivity with others. Rather than working hard to develop these neuro pathways they prefer to hide behind data and technical/business speak. One senior pharmaceutical oncologist told me he wished the people he managed were more like a scientific experiment with control groups, reliability and validity safeguards rather than, as he put it, “a bunch of unpredictable and volatile people who take me away from my work and passion…”.  Luckily he finally realized that connecting with those who followed him was his work and not a distraction.
  3. Some develop a self-centered view which preaches the mindset of competition and survival at any expense. These leaders carry a zero sum mentality where the spoils are scarce and the strongest and most competitive win the hand-to-hand combat.  There is no time in their world view to think of others, with the exception, perhaps, of immediate family.   They believe that spending time and energy on others slows them down and that it is the aggressive and competitive warrior who will conquer and walk off with the prize.

Resolve this week to examine how connected you are to those you are responsible to lead.

Questions for Online Conversation

  1. How connected are you to your followers?
  2. If there is room for improvement? What is in your way?
  3. How will you know if you make progress?

When It Is Time…

Have you made enough money by now to see you through retirement and beyond? Are you hanging onto to your position mostly to increase your net worth in hopes of bigger houses, faster sports cars, more expensive ways to look and feel younger?  When you are no longer motivated to lead, you just don’t feel it anymore. You feel increasingly disconnected and isolated from those you are leading.  Your prime interest is to meet and socialize with people at least at your level or those that in your view are even richer and more powerful than you.  Gone are the days when you were out there amongst your team, circulating, answering their questions, rolling up your sleeves and pitching in, and connecting personally with each of them to know their motivations.  Now you are focused on how Wall Street views you.  You are used to the attention you get from the outside when you attend events where people point to you and want to get next to you, to elevate your ego even higher.

If you are relating to this narrative, it might be time to consider handing the baton to someone else.  Remember, that used to be you waiting.  You were hoping for the opportunity to show where you could take the organization. You had a vision, you were motivated, and you could not wait to get to work to execute your vision.   You thought, given the chance, you could personify the voice, aspirations and dreams of your team.  Your team, in turn, was elated to see you elevated.  They knew you, trusted you, believed in you, and thought you were their best hope.  It was the perfect opportunity.

But now it’s time to honor your intuition.  To be present to your feelings and thoughts.  Your destiny is calling to you to enter the next phase where you will again bring vision, passion and your best self.  To cling on to power in your current position is to break your vow of leadership.  You will block another who is ready to run the next lap with vision and passion.

It takes courage authenticity and ethics to relinquish the throne, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s how you will want to be remembered.  Your legacy could be that of an authentic leader.  One that tells his team that he has moved on and is being pulled by other interests in his/her life.  A leader who recognizes the talent and potential of her successor and will do all she can to enable it… Or your legacy could be one of a leader who clings to power for personal wealth or power at any cost.  One who lives in his own world rather than focusing on what is best for those who have entrusted their careers and aspirations to him.

Here is how one leader made the right decision.  She had accomplished and exceeded all expectations.  Raised in a male-dominated family in a country where women were expected to marry, raise children and be financially dependent on their husbands she worked her way up to become the CEO of  a global organization.  Through reflection and self-discovery she realized that her passion had become to start a foundation in her home country dedicated to helping outstanding young women to achieve their leadership potential.  She convened the organization and told them that she was being pulled by a powerful and undeniable higher power.  She told them she felt as if the vision was vicariously passing through her and destiny was calling on her to do this work for others who found themselves in the same predicament she once did.  One that she was prepared and motivated to change for other young women.  She told them no human being should experience the humiliation and frustration she once felt.  She thanked her team whole heartedly for their part in the organization and her success.  She told them she would never forget them, that they would always be in her thoughts, and that she would do whatever she could to support them.  She then introduced her successor by saying that he personifies everything she had ever hoped for in a successor.  She provided specific examples and then turned over the microphone to him.

So, which legacy do you chose?

Questions for Online Conversation

  • Do you relate to this dilemma? Do you know leaders that do?
  • What will you do? What did they do?
  • If you are not there yet, what will you do when you get there? Be honest.

The Power Game

You must notice when you get into those mind games with yourself and others. It’s the warrior you. The one that won’t let the bully win in the schoolyard. The one that wants to show the world that you have backbone and courage. So you start to plan the war. At night when everyone else is asleep. At work, pretending to listen. But all the while planning your next move. With friends asking their help and advice. This is war, you say, and I am doing it not for me but for my people. For my organization. For humanity. For the betterment of mankind. For my family. Oh really? Seriously? Is that where your obsession comes from? Or is it yet some unresolved issue dating way back to those other days that have little to do with current realities?


If you think that this scenario is rare or not your issue, think again. In my work with leaders, it is the rare leader that does not carry this cross on his or her back. More typically, leaders routinely confuse the realities of the current situation with dated occurrences or with surface-level resemblances to the here and now.


A senior woman leader who had to survive the male-dominated family and societal culture she was reared in, reacted with disbelief when other women in her organization gave her developmental upward feedback. Her reaction was “how can a sister say that about another sister…”


Another leader, shaped by his training and experience by the SEAL Special Forces, dismissed a coach assigned to him, even prior to giving his coach a chance to work with him, on the premise that no civilian can ever understand him or help him. Even though the challenge he wanted to work on was how to best transition from military life to a civilian career.


The inner voice is shaped by years of habitual behavior, and unsupervised, it can wreak havoc. The consequences are more significant when leaders exhibit this mindset. Their decisions affect many with devastating consequences.


So here is what you ask when we talk about this.  “Look, I am xx years old. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  Or, “I am not aware when I go into autopilot. So what can I do?” When you took the mantle of leadership, you promised all of your followers that you will never stop growing. You pledged that their interest will come before yours and you will do what it takes. You committed to changing your stance with new information and checking your ego at the door. And, you took a stance for role modeling behavior that others should emulate. Step into your promise or hand over the mantle to someone else. If you commit and need support to get there you will be amazed at what the universe will unleash.


Questions for Online Conversation

  1. Can you see your self-deceptive self?
  2. What is it whispering?
  3. What can you do?

When It Ends

When you pack your office and look back for the last time, what will you think?  What will you feel?  What did you leave behind? What do you want to take with you? What will you miss? What part of yourself will you leave behind?  Which will you take with you?  Who will be part of you forever?  How will you say your last goodbyes?  What will you thoughts be when you look back at your office and the building you worked in for so many years and when you inadvertently start the next day habitually going back there until you stop yourself?  What expression will you be wearing as you reflect on the places and times you invested so much in?  Will it be one of fulfillment and satisfaction or will it be bittersweet?

All of us will most certainly experience this at a certain point in our lives. Why not start to vision that day today.  How would you choreograph your last day at work?  How can you live your life today and manage your thoughts and actions in line with that vision?

Start by paying attention to those things now.  If you will miss someone terribly after you leave, start spending quality time with them.  Get to know them and let them fulfill their role in your life.  If you want to be remembered for the culture of your workplace, start to personify it through your actions.   If you want your legacy to be that of a leader who thought about the organization first, make the difficult decisions now.  If you are not sure how you are being perceived or what others think of you, start asking them.  Then you will know what you have to do.

Are you taking time to think about these questions?  If you are not, towards what purpose are you expending your time and energy?  Time is the most precious commodity.  On average, you are spending 75% to 80% of your lives at work. What are you chasing?

The room is full and your colleagues have just toasted you.  What would you want to hear?  How genuine will it sound?  What will you say in your last speech?  Will it bring tears of genuine love? Or will they clap their hands politely?

And what of your home life?  When that day comes, will start to spend more time at home with your spouse?  Are you building the foundation for that today?   Or will your spouse feel intruded on and wanting to create space away from you?  Do you look forward to that day when you can spend more time with her/him, or are you thinking of ways to devote yourself to other ventures that will avoid that possibility?

How are you leading at home? Does your family respect you and look up to you? Or do they tolerate you or are nice to you because you provide financial security?  It is never too late to own up and ask them to help you be the kind of person that your spouse thought you were when she/he committed to share her/his life with you.  And your children want a mom/dad who is present.  Who knows the names of their friends? Who hears them with empathy and care and exudes the feeling of “I got your back and will be there for you…” Your family wants you to remember the special days and family rituals and lower your stance to be at eye level with them (literally and figuratively).

I think you can answers many of these questions.  If you think that there are gaps in your vision, commit and make time today to address them.

My hope and wish for you is that you make mindful and reflective decisions now – before the opportunities vanish and you have to face that bittersweet last day.

Questions for Online Conversation

  1. What are the three most important things you want to be remembered for at work and by your family?
  2. How close are you to that vision?
  3. What is missing? What can you do?

At What Cost?


So many of the driven leaders I coach are on what I call “the performance treadmill”.  Running ever faster to catch elusive, constantly changing destinations where the incline angle keeps getting steeper.  Every time they think they are close to their goals, they change and/or new ones are imposed.

The gadgets and devices that have mushroomed and taken over our lives ensure that they are constantly “connected”:  they are “on” all the time.  They barely have time to talk, to really listen or to take in their spouses and children.  The distances they travel regularly have their bodies in states of continuous stress and adjustment to the point where they surrender to states of sleep deprivation, stress induced anxiety, mild to noticeable depression, changes in appetite and even eating disorders. Over the longer term this is unsustainable and leads to physical and psychological breakdown. The effects are noticeable and increasingly the focus of my coaching conversations.

For many, relationships that once nourished and sustained them have become all but mindless routines akin to a living with a roommate.  Days and years pass with each going through the motions of life with the other; falling into bed, and either tuning out the other with an electronic device or passing out in exhaustion.  Many of them have gone through divorce or are in the process or trying to rescue their personal lives.  Frequently they are out of touch with their families; they can hardly tell you the names of their children’s friends, their favorite foods or books, or the names of their teachers.  In turn their spouses and children tolerate them as bread winners and go through the obligatory rituals of Thanksgiving, Father’s/Mother’s Day and birthdays, collecting the material spoils as each side goes off into their own separate worlds.  Some of these symptoms were wonderfully brought to life by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in the 2012 movie “Hope Springs”.

Unfortunately for many, reality starts to set in once the spouse or the child can no longer tolerate the situation and moves on to a life that is more fulfilling.  At that moment these leaders finally experience a eureka moments of “Oh my god I did not know what I had until I lost it….” and then the same driven, ‘only-business-and-facts-please’ leaders go into a vortex of guilt, sadness and depression which significantly affects their performance at home and work.

What if these leaders could be facilitated through a process of backward visioning?  What if they could visualize, live and breathe their own divorces or separations? What if they could recognize the fatigue, anxiety and stress? What if they could anticipate the breakdown and from that place they started to prioritize and live their present lives?  It is astonishing how many do reprioritize once they are able to visualize the pain and suffering that awaits them.  Like those who were working at or near the World Trade Center during 9/11 and who fundamentally changed their lives and priorities afterwards.

It is not necessary to await catastrophe to make the necessary changes.  It can be simulated and prepared for.  One of the executives that I work with had an emerging disaster of this nature.  As part of my interviews he asked that I also talk with his wife.  As expected his wife shared that “..he might as well stay at work as all his talk and passion about is about work”.  She felt no connection with him and that he has basically missed the life of their children.  As we started to talk about what could be done to change the situation she asked me an interesting question,  “Do you think the culture of his organization would ever let him change…even if he wanted to?”   I answered “How useful would he be to them if you and the children left him?”  She told me he would be lost and his productivity and focus would be affected for a long time.  As we looked at each other, our silence signaled complete agreement.  The culture of his organization had to change or some of its most talented and highest performing stars would risk losing their families, the most important motivators in their lives.  We have since convinced her husband to take matters into his own hands and lead a cultural change in the broader organization that ensures “Whole Hearted” leadership and life.

Questions for Online Conversations

  1. How are you balancing your life?
  2. How is it working?
  3. What changes, if any, would you want to make?

What Do You See?  

This posting is dedicated to my dear friend, John Craig

When you close your eyes and think about how things should be, what do you see? Who is there? What are you doing? Where are you? What is a standing ovation, what is average, what is sub-optimal? Why?  Why are you positioned where you are at exactly this time in your life? What are you meant to do? What will you regret if you don’t do?

These and many other questions like them are the types of questions that great leaders ask themselves.  They seem to have the ability to vision how things should be. They have a special ability to see themselves in scenes, much like actors visualize the scenes in which they act. And because they can so clearly see the differing circumstances that they will be engaged and their role when those situations come to pass, they have an uncanny ability to respond naturally, authentically, and effectively.

Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Tim Cook of Apple share this in common. They all had a vision of what they wanted to become. They clearly saw themselves in those roles, what they would do, and who surrounded them. Viktor Frankl in his seminal book “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning” mentions the numerous hours of picturing himself lecturing to a class at a prestigious university like Harvard in elegant settings during the worst days of his captivity at Nazi concentration camps.  Tim Cook did not say much while Steve Jobs was leading Apple, but now that it is his turn to lead, he has made his views known. Many of his views, including his more recent stance at protecting the privacy of apple iPhone users, are long-held values.  Nelson Mandela shared his vision of how he would lead South Africa with a number of people while he was in captivity and actively prepared himself for it, including familiarizing himself with the culture and language of his captors.

Sadly, there are many leaders who do not seem to be able to rise above the day-to-day challenges of managing the shorter-term business issues to place themselves in their dreams. Often, they no longer even dream. They are so swamped with work, emails, meetings, travel, and personal obligations that they have lost their God-given gifts of imagination and seeing themselves in dreams that cast them playing their highest selves. When these leaders finally are blessed with special opportunities that place them at junctures that can give life to their God-given talents and potential, they are not able to recognize them. Since they have not played scenes of their greatness in their heads they squander these moments.  Since they don’t recognize the higher purpose nature has bestowed them and they have not practiced their role and lines in the story, they behave in ways that sabotage their potential.

On the other hand, there are leaders such as my good friend John Craig, who knows his life purpose and prepared himself for just such a moment. When it came he recognized it, and knew how to take advantage of the bounty. John was a successful senior executive at Kraft Foods, Warner Lambert, and Pfizer.  However, from the very first time I met him I knew there was something different about him.  He seemed to have a higher purpose in life.  Even when he wrestled with the day-to-day business issues that all leaders at his level have to address, he always seemed to have a higher purpose for his work.  He cared about the people he led and their welfare.  He knew them by name and asked about their families. He was unpretentious and people could see that he was authentic. He wanted to manufacture and sell products that were good for people and made them healthier and whole.  Since he had experimented with many different types of work, taken sabbatical leave from work, travelled the world and seen the ups and downs of life, he had ample opportunity to know what resonated with his values and what did not.  With the combination of the discovery of Lipitor and the hostile take over battle of Warner Lambert by Pfizer, John found himself in a situation where he had the means to make a real difference in the world.  He took advantage of the opportunity and, together with his wife Judy, started a non-profit organization called Eliminate Poverty NOW (EPN).

The mission of EPN is to empower the extreme poor in Africa to lift themselves out of poverty. John and Judy have dedicated themselves to eliminating poverty through modern agricultural know how, educating children, and giving people the knowledge and opportunity to build a better life.  You can read about their amazing initiatives at their website

When John speaks of his work in Africa I get the sense that I am in the company of a man who has prepared himself for the greatest chapter of his life.  One that comes from his soul and fulfills him.  One that does not feel like working to pay the bills. Mondays don’t bring gloom and Fridays exhilaration.  In this place, every day is a great day.  But before John was blessed with this opportunity, he spent a lifetime preparing himself and imagining himself in it.  When he found himself in that place of potential and possibilities it was a homecoming that he could not pass up.  And thousands are thankful that he did.

Interestingly, as children, most of us were able to see ourselves in future scenes and dreamed of our greatest moments.  Somewhere along our journeys we started to say to ourselves things like “come on, that is not realistic”, “they don’t pay me for day dreaming”, “I don’t see anyone else doing that…” and a host of other self-limiting narratives. Time is the most precious commodity.   It is time for us to vision our greatness and recognize the opportunities that are bestowed on us to get there.


Questions for online conversations

  1. When was the last time you visualized yourself in your greatest scenes?
  2. What gets in the way of your dreams?
  3. What can you do?



What Would It Be Like?

What would it be like if you were starting fresh and looked at things with a beginner’s mind? Would you notice new and important information?  Or would you see things the same way?  If you did perceive things differently, would you act differently with the new information?

These are some of the questions that I have been introducing to some of the leaders that I am working with.  My most important criterion for who I engage in this conversation is the extent to which I feel they carry a learning mindset.  One that is fueled by deep curiosity, reflection, and growth.

The results have been shocking.  Over 80% of these leaders, once they truly reach a state of detachment and wonderment, admit to new ways of perceiving, processing, deciding, and acting on the same information.  The significance of this finding cannot be underestimated since many of them carry substantial power and influence in their organizations.  The decisions they make have significant and at times disruptive consequences.  Yet, many have not gone through a reflective exercise of suspending embedded, habitual, and often self-limiting assumptions.

Imagine if the great innovators such as Edison, Einstein, Jobs, and Martin Luther King had carried with them the same assumptions and interpretations that had gotten them to where they were when they initiated their most innovative accomplishments.  What if Edison had applied his knowledge of lighting a room using a kerosene powered light to inventing electric powered light? What if Martin Luther King had assumed that it would not be politically advantageous for Lyndon Johnson to interfere in the civil rights movements or the right to vote for African Americans.  After all, that was the politically expedient reality at the time.

How does one suspend judgement and be present to the here and now? In my experience, the journey to enlightenment travels through the following stages:

  1. Awareness – It starts with the ability to separate one’s consciousness or the true self from the events and thoughts that are constantly speaking of the past or future. It is the ability to assume an observer stance and notice what is happening inside one’s mind and body and in the outside world.  Once this state is achieved, the gripping power of habitual thoughts begins to loosen.  The cracks start to appear.  One starts to notice the trends and the cause and effect patterns that are triggered by past events are simply habits and therefore can be changed or controlled.  One leader recounted that he was staged once more to give the inspirational message at a town hall meeting.  But this time there was a camera on him which projected him to the room while he was being introduced.  As he studied himself he could not recognize the person who was about to make the speech.  He told me “I looked and felt like a windup toy.  I felt at odds with what I had to say.  I felt like I was living someone else’s life…”
  2. Separation – Becoming aware is an important first step in the journey. The observer self now needs to open itself to other possibilities and perspectives that the habitual mindset had suppressed.  This requires one to develop a higher order vision and outcome.  For example, if the leader’s true North Star is to serve the organization, she may come away with a different way of assessing the value and impact of her colleagues.  She may start to distinguish between those she personally gravitates to and enjoys versus who brings optimal value to the broader organization
  3. Surrender – Gaining the insight is very important. However, the impetus for breaking old habits is strengthened if the leader surrenders publically.  He says “I have for years assumed that…. Stepping back from it and looking at it from the perspective of… (for example servant leadership) I am not sure anymore.  I’d like to assume a more inquisitive mindset.  I am open to new possibilities.  For example….”  The leader asks for others to hold her accountable if she wonders back into mindless habitual thinking
  4. Experimentation – The leader mindfully exhibits new behaviors and actions. For example, “The here and now is about making personal connections.  I will commit to getting to know my colleagues as people”
  5. Reflection – The leader keeps track of the effect of the new thinking and behavior on herself and on others
  6. Feedback – The leader receives feedback from others on how they experience and perceive her
  7. Calibration – Useful and new thoughts and behaviors are integrated for future use


Questions for online conversation

  1. When was the last time you stepped back and reexamined your assumptions?
  2. How difficult or easy was it to let go?
  3. Were you able to use your insights and push yourself into new decisions and actions?

New Year Reflections

Happy new year to all of you and heartfelt gratitude for your interest, engagement, and contributions to this blog.  Your participation has made it what it is today.   As is my custom, I like to share reflections for the New Year.  This posting is meant as thought provoking and an invitation for a conversation across the community.  So please feel free to contribute your thoughts, hopes, and insights.

2015 was one of the most challenging years of my life.  Foundational assumptions and principles that had motivated my decisions and actions were challenged and tested through a series of events.  Like many of you, I also have a leadership role and therefore am accountable and responsible for the welfare of others including my family, work colleagues, and clients.  It is in those dark hours, in those valleys, and in those moments of uncertainty and loneliness that leaders must find their calling and voice.  It is when everyone around you is wondering how you can hold it together that you must find a way. It is when you feel the world is closing in on you that clear mindedness and equanimity must rule.  Your highest form is the only thing that stands between survival and disintegration and collapse.  What will you do in those hours? How will you push through the dark night to wake up to the inevitable rays of sunshine? In those dark places when you are groping to find the light switch, what faculties will you trust?  And what will you do when some of your actions backfire? How will you pull yourself out of the downward spiral?  Each of you will find your own way.  My journey is not complete.  However, it is starting to feel like dawn and the kaleidoscope of magical colors are in the horizon.  I thought I would share some of the lifelines that I clutched.  My journey would not have been possible without friends and family that showered me with unconditional love and support, and mental health professionals and coaches whose artistry steered me towards hope not despair.  In my journey, numerous questions and challenges remain.  However, the strategies I am using to address these issues will remain intact.

I Found a North Star

The North Star is perpendicular to the North Pole and therefore accessible from any earthly rotation.  One of the most precious gifts I have received is a painting of Nelson Mandela given to me by my colleagues and it is a centerpiece in my office.  In those dark hours and moments of indecision I look at that portrait and ask “what would he do…”   In my view, Mandela is the personification of a servant leader who places the interest of the cause and people he is serving first.  Like us, he was human and he sensed his fear, hurt, anxiety, and despair.  However, he was guided by a higher vision. One that guided him to the right choice and in the midst of conflicting voices inside him and from others.  In periods of despair, one’s North Star acts as the ultimate arbitrator of actions.  It helps one to talk back to the inner voices that are each shouting and competing in our minds for attention.

I Forced the “Now”

The mind was doing all it could to highjack me into endless and obsessive preoccupation with “could of”, “should have”, “what if”, or “what will happen”.  These thoughts, which are often anchored in the past or the future, take away from the power and possibilities that the present offers.  I decided to practice techniques to notice when I was not present to bring me back to the here and now.  I asked my support system to point it I out, I placed reminders in noticeable locations, and I started reading great books on the topic such as The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

 I Focused On Wellness.

I became keenly aware of the effect the stress had on my physical and mental health.  Under stress, Cortisol generated by the “fight or flight” response has devastating effects on numerous aspects of health.  My sleep, eating, and general health was deteriorating.  My motivation and focus was being compromised.   I made a declaration to combat the effects of stress through rigorous exercise and meditation.  These practices centered me, and over time, the adverse effects of stress induced Cortisol were countered with the uplifting symptoms of Serotonin and other hormones associated with exercise and mindful meditation.

I Cleansed My Environment

I decided that the dark place I was in was an opportunity to cleanse my environment of people and things that were not healthy for me.  I reallocated my time and attention to those that brought me joy and positivity.  It was a great time to see the true colors of people and to see who would invest and engage with me.  Those that did will forever be my sisters and brothers and I am so grateful that I had the chance to truly understand who they are and to make them the focus of my emotional life in the future.  Making deep and meaningful connections is a basic human need.  I will remember this period for giving me the insights to know in whom to invest my time and energy.

I Surrendered

We live in a culture that stresses control.  However, so many of the twists and turns in life are outside of our control.  Yet we obsessively try and hang on to the notion that we are in charge of the events that occur in our lives.  Once I let go and surrendered to a higher power I started to gain peace of mind and balance.  I began to appreciate how blessed I truly am to have my health, people who love me unconditionally, and so much more…   The idea that what is happening is part of a bigger plan, and as one door closes others will open was no longer a theory.  I started to witness it and experience the wonder and joy of the journey and to start to make connections with fellow travelers who found themselves in dark valleys groping to find the road to the mountain top.  The   connections I made will fuel my journey.


Questions for Online Conversations

  1. When was the last time you found yourself in those dark places?
  2. What did you reach for? How did it work?
  3. What did you learn? What will you do the next time?





Who Will You Stand For


 “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Aristotle

Leaders are easy targets.  They are overworked, held accountable, and often have unfulfilled personal and emotional needs which are put on hold for work-related priorities.  They are easily influenced in particular by those whose style and mannerism is closer to their own.  She may self-select, listen to, and be influenced by those who make her feel all powerful, warm, and supported.  Great leaders pursue and make time for those who don’t agree with them, those whose style is different than theirs but their thinking maybe less unbiased, or those who have wisdom and have experienced the ups and downs of life.  It was easy for Mandela to take revenge on the Afrikaans who prisoned and took his life away, but he recognized their importance in rebuilding South Africa and invited them into his coalition.  It would have been convenient for Walter Wriston, the ex-chairman of Citicorp, to fire John Reed his successor at a time when Reed was an early advocate of electronic banking and his colleagues, including some of Wriston’s advisors, had started a movement to have him disenfranchised.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, initiates personal attacks and law suits against those who disagree with him. His attack on John McCain calling him a dummy, then claiming he was no war hero because he had been captured by the enemy, was caused by McCain’s disagreement of his positions.

The one that turns heads is the one that can see her thoughts, emotions, and actions from an outer body perspective.  She can separate the currents of energies in her body from her consciousness or her true self.  He says “I will stand above the currents, above the fray, above my insecurities, outside my day to day emotional needs.  I look at each event on its own merits and endeavor to keep in check the meanings and assumptions that naturally attach themselves to events because of my background and history”.. The great ones say “Look at me, I am just like you and I carry with me the same human frailties and insecurities.  With one exception—-for this cause, at this time in my life, in the service of these people and because of my values and beliefs, something bigger passes through me.  The message is passing through me vicariously and it dwarfs any select group of people who I naturally connect with and like.  I carry all of my followers with me and they have entrusted me with their journey.  On my own time, I will take care of my friends.  But my friends and close companions know better than to expect me to make exceptions, look the other way or treat others unfairly when I lead this organization.  I am not sure if I will ever be able to disenfranchise a wife that stood by me through thick and thin as Nelson Mandela did  when he found out that Winnie was abusing her power, but those are the types of examples that I will aspire to “

It is easy to spot the followers of leaders like these.  They are the ones that will push through amazing hurdles and challenges.  They do so willingly and with little fanfare.  They believe in their leader.  She has infused them with a sense of purpose that supersedes their own needs and wants.  Like their leader, they carry the message in their blood and new team members immediately notice it.  They know that there is only one choice.  Join this team and I serve something bigger than me and my friends. Join this team and if I let the ball drop, I have to answer to the whole team, not just the boss.  Join this team and as the saying goes in family farms, “no one goes for dinner until all the chores are done…”   


Questions for Online Conversation

  1. Which type of leaders have you been associated with?
  2. Do you know any that took you and your team to amazing places?
  3. What was special about them?