Springtime is about embracing new life, renewal, transformation, new growth. It's the perfect opportunity to reflect on what's happening inside us and what wants to emerge in powerful new ways.
Research on Effective Leadership Styles Important research these days is revealing some significant trends in how people are thinking about leadership, the style they want to see in their leaders, and what style is proving to be the most effective in solving today's complex global problems.
Gone are the days where the macho approach is looked up to as the savior of our problems. That current track record speaks for itself.
Qualities to Move Away From. "Everywhere, people are frustrated by a world long dominated by codes of male thinking and behavior: Codes of control, aggression and black- and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal."*
Qualities to Embody More of. Instead, says a growing body of academic and industry research, "senior executives around the world and across industries put qualities such as collaboration, creativity, flexibility, empathy, patience, humility and balance right at the top of the list of crucial leadership characteristics for the future."**
Soft Vs. Hard. There are those in our culture who still choose to see these qualities as "soft" versus "hard" - they can't embrace them as truly significant to the bottom line of productivity and financial sustainability and growth - they see these qualities as luxuries at best, and perhaps curriculum to be relegated to Human Resources department if at all.
This leads to a tragic sidelining of what is increasingly showing to be more effective in the long run in addressing the fundamental needs of our organizations and markets with their complex, global, and interconnected challenges. This short-sighted and biased view continues to do damage on multiple layers of our human systems and organizations. Productivity and engagement are at all-time lows in our country.
In contrast, natural biologists are providing us with powerful examples of how the more relational and collaborative qualities are in fact hard-wired in the natural world to powerful effect. My last blog post described birch trees and rhododendrons in a symbiotic relationship.
Here's another: take the barheaded geese, for example.
Learning From Barheaded Geese
It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India. And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia. What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest. What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent. And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth. Imagine it!
Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain. One of the remarkable resources they choose instead to rely upon is teamwork---collaboration.
Drafting. Geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%. Professional cyclists use the same principle that empowers them to sustain high energy and power for endurance races like the Tour de France (over 2000 miles in 21 days). Drafting.
The whole flock of geese gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo. When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead. As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind. These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon.
And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies. Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.
Clearly, there is no physical way these birds could soar over Mt. Everest without this kind of drafting, teamwork, and collaboration. Forget it!
And yet so many of us individuals, including many organizations that insist on a few at the top within hierarchical structures possessing all the power, continue to assault our Everests ineffectively.
The Qualities That Make A Difference
What social science and organizational effectiveness research is telling us these days is that similarly there is no way we can scale the Mt. Everest-sized global challenges we face without prioritizing and valuing these same qualities: teamwork, collaboration, empathy, nurturing, loyalty.
The days of the solo leader (or small group of men who conduct the business war games and deals in the backroom), projecting an omnicompetent ability, standing at the top of the hierarchy of power, position, and status, omniscient in wisdom, who has only to speak and command the vision, strategy, and way forward, are gone (or should be gone).
"In the new economy ‘winning’ is becoming a group construct: Masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which points to being devoted to the cause rather than one’s self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive—(also feminine)—speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view."*
We have to intentionalize systems and structures that help us rely on each other, where everyone is empowered to contribute their best strengths, where organizational and team health is seen to be as important as ROI and the financial bottomline, where we mentor others and stand beside them to support their growing development, where we manifest patience and empathy instead of "get it or leave here" attitude, where we employ technicolor instead of black-or-white thinking to our problems.
If we want to soar over our Mt. Everests, we will choose to be more like the barheaded geese.
* The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, Michael D'Antonio & John Gerzema.
** Gayle Peterson, associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program, "We Don't Need A Hero, We Just Need More Women At the Top" (The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2013)
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
"Wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade."
Have you ever tried reading time from a sundial in the shade? Hard to do it, isn't it. For a sundial to work, it needs to be--go figure--in the sun.
I walked into one of the parks in Golden Gate Park and got all excited when I saw an old sundial. I couldn't wait to figure out the time with this ancient instrument.
And then, when I got closer, I noticed that tree branches had grown out and over the sundial essentially putting it in perpetual shade. The sundial was worthless other than as an ancient artifact.
Truth is, wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade.
For you to be able to shine with the brightness you were made for, for you to be able to point accurately to your true timing so that you give maximum benefit to others, you must be in "your sun"---you must know and use your strengths. No one else can do it for you. You are the steward of your strengths. Don't waste them. They're some of the best, most effective resources you have.
Here's how it can look when you choose to wisely steward your strengths. Let's see what lessons we can learn from one highly successful person.
Warren Buffett's Strengths Stewardship
Marcus Buckingham, in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, talks about Warren Buffett. He's one of the richest people in the world who comes from such humble beginnings in Omaha, Nebraska. What a life he's lived.
Speaking to a roomful of students at the University of Nebraska, he said, "I may have more money than you do, but money doesn't make the difference."
To the students, many of whom could barely pay their phone bills each month, his observation seemed a bit glib.
But he continued: "If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you."
Though on the surface this appears to be the typical throwaway line from someone who's already banked their first billion, it's actually quite profound.
Turns out, Buffett is very sincere when he says this. He loves what he does and genuinely believes that his reputation as the world's greatest investor is due in large part to his ability to carve out a role that plays to his strengths.
And his strengths as an investor actually are quite nontraditional and unexpected for high-powered successful investors these days.
Here's how it worked for him. First, he is a very patient man, as opposed to the stereotypical impatient, high-speed, uber-active investor. So he has turned his natural patience into his now famous "twenty-year perspective" that leads him to invest only in those companies whose trajectory he can forecast with some level of confidence for the next twenty years.
Second, his mind is more practical than conceptual. So his practical mind made him suspicious of investing "theories" and broad market trends. He once wrote in his Berkshire Hathaway annual report, "The only role of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good." So he made the commitment to only invest in those companies whose products and services he could intuitively understand (e.g. Dairy Queen, Coca Cola, The Washington Post), the latest MBA theories and predictions be damned.
And third, he is inclined to be trusting of people's motives, not skeptical. So he has put his trusting nature to good use by carefully vetting the senior managers of the companies in which he invested and then stepping back and away, letting them engage in their day-to-day operations without his interference.
Turns out, he's a world class investor because he deliberately and persistently plays to his strengths (his innate wiring and talents that he has honed with increased knowledge and skill through the years).
Buckingham makes this observation: "The way he handles risk, the way he connects with other people, the way he makes his decisions, the way he derives satisfaction---not one of these is random. They all form part of a unique pattern that is so stable his family and closest friends are able to recall its early tracings in the schoolyard in Omaha, Nebraska, half a century ago." (p. 21)
Four Ways to Steward Your Strengths
So what lessons can we learn from Warren Buffett about how to effectively steward our best resources and strengths, about how we can be sundials in the sun not the shade? What did he figure out that can serve as a practical guide for all of us?
"One, look inside yourself; Two, try to identify your strongest threads; Three, reinforce them with practice and learning; and Four, either find or carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. When you do these regularly, intentionally, and persistently, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful." (p. 21)
These are exactly the four steps that comprise the outline of what I work on with all my coaching clients---and I do this work for myself, regularly and persistently. In essence, I am helping myself and my clients to become wise and effective stewards of our best personal and professional resources---our God-given strengths.
I want for myself and for everyone else to be sundials that tell accurate time---and that are useful to others---because they're in the sun not the shade. This is authenticity.
The Power of Sacred Space One of the things I love about coaching is the opportunity to give people valuable space in time to think deeply about themselves and their lives, to reflect and evaluate and consider how life is going for them. I find in every conversation that the person, given this intentional time for themselves, relishes the conversation and deeply values the privilege of having their lives witnessed by a trusted other. After all, how often do we experience the affirmation and validation of being witnessed by someone else in a spirit of honor, respect, and caring?
I find this to be greatly true for myself. For the last sixteen years I've had regular (almost weekly) conversations with my prayer partner and wonderful friend Paul. In every phone call or at times in person when see each other, we listen deeply to each other as each one talks about what matters most these days. There's incredible empowerment in having someone who cares bear witness to your life and express support, acceptance, and validation, including questions that stretch each other and clarify the struggles, questions, and life issues we're facing.
Life is Dynamic
Life is a dynamic organism. It's not static or staid or one dimensional. Life grows, morphs, evolves, changes, moves, stretches, transitions in multiple ways and directions. As people we change and grow and develop.
Spirituality is no different. In a book I'm reading, that's exactly the way the author, Dr. David Benner, describes it:
"Any genuinely soulful or healthy spirituality cannot simply be adopted from your family or acquired from your community or culture. It must arise as a personal response to your deepest longings and help you make sense of your actual life experiences. It will, therefore, be dynamic--evolving and changing. To turn it into something rigid and fixed is always to render it soulless, for that which is no longer evolving is either devolving or dead." Soulful Spirituality, pp. 76-77.
Spirituality is an Organism that Living or Dying
Spirituality is an organism, too. It's dynamic and evolving. That's because spirituality is at the heart of what it means to be fully human (as Christian theology states, we're made in the image of God--so to center in that image is to step fully into our God-created humanity). And since we humans change and morph and grow and evolve, so must our spirituality.
Which is why I'm more and more recognizing the absolute importance of carving out intentional time to do reflecting and evaluating of our spiritual lives and journeys. It's far to easy for people to simply float along, staying in a default mode of habit and routine, never thinking about how it's going or where it needs to go or even how to grow more deeply and spiritually.
The Pitfall of Autopilot
For those of us who are attached to a regular church experience, this is a particular pitfall. We never really evaluate our spiritual lives because we think that simply going to church as often as we do is enough. We might engage in a few spiritual practices like prayer (at least at meals or bedtime). But we never stop to reflect and evaluate: am I growing more fully human, becoming a person of greater love and compassion? Am I showing up in my life with more confidence and contentment? Am I manifesting more regularly the attributes of the highest and strongest form of life (Christian theology: the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control)? What is working in our spiritual lives and what isn't? What is meaningful and empowering us to live with greater purpose, and what isn't? Where are we in the stages of faith and spirituality? What kind of spirituality fits us in the stage we're in? How can we continue developing into the higher stages of spiritual growth?
As Dr. Benner reminds us, we can't simply inherit our spirituality from our family or community or culture. It doesn't work that way! The very nature of the spiritual life is that it comes from the deepest place inside each of us where God meets us and whispers to us and speaks truth to our souls and hearts. If we're simply too busy and preoccupied to listen or hear those whispers, then we too easily remain on autopilot, thinking that we're doing all we need to do.
But truth is, we are either evolving and growing and transforming spiritually, or we're dying, and we'll ultimately pay the price in lack of meaningful living.
Just like plants have to be watered and nurtured to keep growing or they wilt and eventually die, so does our spiritual and personal life. Development and growth must be carefully nurtured and intentionally paid attention to.
This is why I feel so passionate about offering spiritual retreats--a day and a half of sacred space and time for people to reflect upon and think deeply about life and the spiritual journey. There's no substitute for it.
Here's a short video I made today about what I'm doing and why I'm doing this:
I want to invite you to seriously consider this opportunity. Two locations: Walla Walla, WA (March 22-23) and San Francisco, CA (April 5-6). Click on either name to go to the web site for more details and registration information, including the significant Early Bird discounts available until March 10.
WHEN: Beginning Sunday, November 6, 5:30 p.m. PST WHY: As the Indy formula race cars show us, the more high performance, "thoroughbred" a machine is, the more strategic pit stops they need--to refuel, retread, restore, and restreamline.
Look at the picture at the right. Notice how many things are happening to this Indy car during the race. Notice how the entire crew is servicing driver and car.
Here's the way an article about pitstops describes the significance of this activity: "By making pit stops cars can carry less fuel, and therefore be lighter and faster, and use softer tires that wear faster but provide more grip. Teams usually plan for each of their cars to pit following a planned schedule, the number of stops determined by the fuel capacity of the car, tire lifespan, and tradeoff of time lost in the pits versus how much time may be gained on the race track through the benefits of pit stops. Choosing the optimum pit strategy of how many stops to make and when to make them is crucial in having a successful race."
Beyond the most visible services performed during a pitstop, such as refueling the car and changing tires, other important services include removing debris from radiator air intakes; cleaning the windshield; and making adjustments to tire pressure, suspension settings, and aerodynamic devices to optimize the car's performance for the current conditions. In endurance racing, scheduled driver changes and brake pad replacements are also considered "routine" service when done as part of a scheduled pit stop.
All of these activities are considered vital to achieving maximum effectiveness and necessary endurance in the race. If you want to race, you have to have pitstops.
We are not designed to engage in the race of life without regular pitstops, without developing practices that refuel and retread our souls, hearts, minds, and bodies, that clean the radiators and windshields of our lives so we can have maximum oxygen ("Spirit Wind") intake to our souls & hearts! If you find yourself in an endless cycle of giving, giving, giving to all the worlds in your life, where are you going to stop and receive, refuel, refresh yourself?? If you want to finish the race well, you must learn the art of strategic pitstops.
WHAT: This is a specialized curriculum on how to develop a deeper, more meaningful, personalized spiritual path. It's all about building specific intentional ways to experience the benefits of daily "sabbathing" your week. People have found this to be very transformational in establishing regularity to their creation of a meaningful spiritual practice.
Over a two week process, I help unpack this experience by providing daily journaling/reflection assignments, and, depending upon which program you choose, I bring personalized guidance, support, and encouraging accountability to shaping a deeper spiritual journey.
HOW: The format will include you receiving, via email, your daily assignments every day Monday through Friday (and two of the options will include live phone coaching). You will have the weekend to catch up or do additional reflection on your daily assignments. You will want to carve out at least 15 minutes every day for your commitment to step into the daily journaling and reflection exercises. These are deep, insightful, meaningful and soul expanding exercises. The Journey will last for 14 days.
- Option 1: Email curriculum only. You will join the first group phone call for an introduction and best practice suggestions. Then you will be emailed your daily reflection assignment Monday through Friday for the two weeks. $45.
- Option 2: Group Coaching with the daily email curriculum. There will 3 group phone calls: Sunday, November 6, 5:30 p.m. PST, Sunday, November 13, 5:30 p.m. PST (as a mid-curriculum check in), and Sunday, November 20, 5:30 p.m. PST as a final wrap up. Greg will be giving coaching feedback to help you shape your spiritual journey during this time, responding to questions, going over the curriculum and providing guidance. $125.
- Option 3: Individualized coaching with curriculum. This will include the 3 group phone calls plus another 2 phone calls individually with Greg (as follow up to the 14 day curriculum), helping you to shape a very personalized spiritual path, with opportunity to receive guidance on specific difficulties, challenges, questions. $275.
WHEN YOU SIGN UP, you will receive via email the phone call-in instructions. The three group coaching phone calls will be recorded so those who sign up can access them at any time afterwards.
Why should you sign up? You were not designed to zoom through life nonstop, 24/7. Like a finely tuned, high performance Indy race car, you need regular pit stops for refueling and refreshing and retreading. This is called Soul Care.
So you are invited to step into this process wherever you are, with all that you bring, and all that you want. Whatever language is meaningful to you: you are carving out the space to attract more Soul into your life, you are re-calibrating the vibrations and the energy you have around spirituality and life, you are stepping into this with faith for more, you are seeking alignment between what you hope for and your reality, you are fostering the framework that works for you and you are creating the soul art that will move you.
DEADLINE TO RSVP: To get in on this 14 day spiritual experience, you must sign up by Friday, November 4. After you RSVP, you will receive information on how to access the first phone call and materials.
FOR MORE INFORMATION & TO RSVP GO TO Breathing More Soul.
46th Session This week I had the 46th session with a coaching client. We started our journey together a year ago. This is the longest I've coached a client - 46 sessions! What has impressed me with this client's experience has been that it's only been in the last month that more visible break-throughs have been taking place. I have seen profound transformation in his way of thinking about himself and life and how he's showing up in the world. He has much more clarity as well as fulfillment these days.
My typical coaching approach has involved working with clients sometimes for a month, most often for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months (all involving weekly sessions). I've helped people through life transitions, establishing personal dreams, developing strategic plans for business or personal issues, helping them achieve clarity about their strengths and life purpose, defining a new personal faith. All very helpful journeys, according to their personal testimonies.
But in this case, we've continued for 46 sessions - mostly at his request - and certainly I've agreed with the value. But significant change has happened lately that has caused me to realize some very significant realities about life growth as it relates to this lengthier journey. Thought I'd share three of them with you in this week's blog post.
Regardless of your view of God and how God operates in the messy human process of growth, God rarely seems to simply "snap his finger" to transform people. Pray as hard as you might, growth isn't based upon a magical formula that occurs in the "twinkling of an eye." Genuine change takes time - it doesn't matter what the personal or relational issue, meaningful transformation simply takes time.
There's a reason why so many spiritual wisdom traditions call spirituality a "journey." Personal growth is a process, a path. Even Jesus called himself "the way." Notice he didn't say "the point" or "the moment." He's the way. He's describing the process of spiritual growth - becoming a follower on a path which involves a journey that takes place over time, in fact over one's entire lifetime. It's as though he's saying, "Follow me. Watch me. Consider me, what I do and how I do it. Walk with me and observe, reflect upon, question, weigh, and wrestle with it all. Practice what you observe with me. Learn how to lean into it. Be a follower on the journey." Those kinds of experiences don't happen over night. There's no simple formula. Personal growth takes time.
Two, personal growth involves developing new ways of thinking.
No wonder it takes time. Our thoughts create our realities. In fact, some experts say there is no difference between cause and effect - our thoughts produce our experiences (and vice versa) simultaneously. What we think, is. So if we want to change our experiences, we have to change our thoughts. Our thoughts are the fabric of all the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves, about others, about all of life, even about God. Our stories (what we think and say about all of this) are the sum total of the thoughts we string together to describe what we think we're seeing and observing. Our thoughts create the lens through which we see life. So if something isn't working well or serving us well in our lives, we have to evaluate carefully and honestly our lens (what thoughts we're stringing together to describe what we think is reality).
And if that lens is hazy or dirty or smudged or cracked, that impacts what we see. This is why spiritual traditions describe the journey of spirituality as the process of cleaning the lens or even changing the lens through which we look.
St. Paul described this process: "11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13)
He likens seeing through a cloudy lens as being a child. When we're kids, our ability to see and understand the realities of life are limited. Kids have nightmares or bad dreams about things that aren't real. And many of us adults still have that limitation. :)
I remember having nightmares as a kid about gorillas. I would wake up scared to death that the gorilla was in my room ready to eat me up. My mom says she would often awaken in the middle of the night feeling this "presence" beside the bed and when she opened her eyes she would see me standing there (still asleep) but white as a ghost. Rather unnerving for a parent (not to mention this little child). A child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is not well developed. Kids are seeing imperfectly through "a cloudy mirror," as St. Paul put it.
As I've grown up, I don't have nightmares about gorillas anymore (thank goodness!). But I do have more sophisticated fears that can equally incapacitate me at times and which sometimes prove to be equally fantastical (not based on reality, not true). My gorillas have turned into fears about my worthiness, my ability to succeed, whether people will accept me or admire me, etc., etc. I've at times gone into situations with other people completely sure that they would judge me or criticize me because of my past, only to end up experiencing just the opposite from them. I almost allowed my "seeing through the cloudy mirror" to keep me from showing up in that group which would have caused me to miss out on a wonderful experience.
Kids don't understand the nuances in human relationships - life tends to be more black and white. Maturation, human development and growth, is about learning the process of seeing more clearly, and sometimes of even having to change the lens because the lens is simply not true.
Notice that St. Paul describes his current knowing as "impartial and incomplete." But he looks to that time when he will know everything "completely" (fully, accurately, wisely, without limitations that are self-imposed or otherwise), which he describes as the way God sees us. The point he's making is that that path between those two times (from unknowing to knowing) isn't bridged instantaneously. Personal growth takes time because it involves learning how to think more maturely and wisely, more divinely. We have to grow up, to develop. "By beholding, we become changed." Are we beholding truth and reality or old "truth" and unreality? Change the lens to behold clearly.
Three, personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance. I'm getting better at giving myself some slack for the lack of perfection in my life. That doesn't mean I'm choosing not to take self responsibility. In fact, I'm taking more ownership for my life with all its foibles and dirty lens and my determined responsibility to make necessary changes then ever before. But I'm learning to give myself more patience and self-acceptance along the way.
One author I was reading this week said that the most important gift we can give ourselves and others is acceptance. It's a counter-intuitive choice. Contrary to popular opinion, accepting doesn't prohibit or stifle growth, it actually fosters it. "Accepting people as they are has the miraculous affect of helping them improve" (Marianne Williamson, Return To Love, p. 162). In fact, this kind of acceptance is the most divine act we can engage in. That's what Paul was saying earlier - God knows us completely - and as the next verse says, God loves us just as completely. "13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
The power of divine grace is that God considers us perfectly acceptable every step along the way of our journey into greater wholeness and maturity and development (take a look at one of my favorite bible texts, Hebrews 10:14): Perfectly acceptable to God while we're in the process of becoming more and more whole.
That attitude of profound acceptance toward us is what empowers us with the courage to continue the journey of growth, to keep learning and struggling and becoming, to changing the lens so that we see ourselves-others-and God more clearly and perfectly, to being courageous enough to let go of the old stories we almost immediately tell ourselves when something negative happens to us, to changing our "childish" thoughts into more mature and loving ones. We end up showing up with way more love in all our relationships and life experiences.
Personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.
My forty-six client sessions have been such an amazing learning experience for me. My client is not at the same place where he was a year ago. His old paralyzing stories - his cloudy mirror - are changing and being replaced with the truth about himself and the promise of his profound potential. There is tremendous value in allowing someone else into your life for such a long, specifically directed period of time. That's the power of having a coach or other trusted person to help guide the journey.
And the journey has helped to change me, too. Forty-six sessions!