Permission to try and fall short

2015 gritty goalWe all should have the optimism and determination of a dog. My daughter’s dog, Zoe, is a case in point.

Zoe.jpegWhen I visit, Zoe is the first to greet me at the door, and I can’t go any farther into the house until I kneel and hug and pet her. She has at least learned to sit and wait instead of jumping on me, but there’s no denying her the front of the line.

I have strict instructions not to give her people food, but Zoe is ever present when I’m snacking. She takes her post at the corner of the dinner table at meal time just in case a morsel escapes from someone’s plate and lands on the floor. Some mishaps do occur, much to Zoe’s delight.

She makes herself available for a tummy rub, because she knows when I get to scratch her tummy or stroke the short hair on the top of her head and back, it makes me feel better too. It’s a win-win.

If one person is too busy to show her the attention she wants, she just goes to the next available person. The persistence eventually pays off.

There’s a lesson here: keep trying until you get what you want.

I think we could to be more dogged when it comes to our New Year’s resolutions.

Truthfully, we are easily discouraged when we don’t get immediate results, or when the journey that goes with accomplishing goals is more arduous than first expected.

I’ve lapsed on goals just like everyone else. Looking back, I’ll have to say the goals I gave up on the quickest were the ones I really didn’t care about that much to begin with.

The goals and resolutions I’ve accomplished are the ones that obsessed me. Looking back, the accomplishments I’m the most proud of are the ones I was the most passionate about, such as working for myself, writing books, and helping others find the creative energy to live the INPowered lives they desire. (By the way, I’m still working on them . . . doggedly.)

So, I’m going to repeat a question I’ve asked in previous posts, “How bad do you want it?” (See What Turns You On? and Resolve to be INPowered.)

The things Zoe wants badly enough she stays with; she even gets a little pushy.

Show some true grit.

We will persist at the things we want badly enough. It’s called grit–the determination to do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes, to reach our goal. Research into success in all areas of endeavor–be it business, education, athletics, or anything else–shows that grit is the chief determinant of success more so than intelligence, economic status, or privilege of any kind.

Even when we fall a little short, we keep trying. We might have to find more resources, learn new skills, involve others, trade favors, give up unimportant distractions, and take risks we would otherwise avoid.

Those are resolutions that are worth failing at over and over until we get it right.

This year, focus on that kind of resolution. The one, and I mean only one, that is your absolute obsession. Make THAT RESOLUTION, and get doggedly persistent and optimistic about it.

Grit is the stuff of inspiring success and optimism in others who need your example of doing whatever it takes.

You have permission to try and fall short.
You have permission to become
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 the life of your passion.

The 3 R-s of forgiveness–a leadership trait

The 3 R-s of forgiveness–a leadership trait

ForgiveHow many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget”? True; we can learn from it when someone wrongs us. Forgetting, however, is part of the forgiveness.

Indignation and retribution are easy; forgiveness is difficult.

Our natural inclination is to lash out against those who we think have wronged or cheated us. We want the wrong doers to get what’s coming to them. We want justice.

I’ve often wondered what the actual difference is between justice and revenge. My conclusion: justice is revenge codified and restrained. Justice seems more civilized, more rational, because it keeps us from going too far and unleashing our rage and wrath.

Instead, why don’t we rise to a higher level and just, “Fuhgeddaboudit”?

I believe forgiving is righteous because of the 3 R’s involved: Restraint, Reframing, and Reconciliation.

Restraint keeps us from making bad matters worse.

The inclination toward wrath and rage might make us feel better in the short run, but the retribution usually has collateral damage. In the end, the escalation spills over onto others who enlist in the cause of one side or the other. When we step back from the edge and lower our weapons–whether they be words, blades, bullets, or bombs–we can find the frame of mind to understand what is happening and why.

Reframing looks past the surface wrong and seeks to understand both the heat of the moment and heart of the matter.

Viewing the situation from all points of view leads to a deeper understanding of the real and imagined intentions of those involved. More often than not, we find those whom we swear intended us ill, had no such intention. Although they were acting according to their selfish interests, they were not specifically trying to harm us. Reframing is a time to learn, understand, and grow, and it leads directly to the third R.

Reconciliation is complete and absolute forgiveness because it brings the offending party back into full relationship.

Reconciliation calls upon our highest goodness to rebuild relationships instead of building higher walls. Reconciliation is the ultimate, “Fuhgeddaboudit,” and only the offended party can grant that.

If our best effort is to settle for justice, then we have to settle for something less than our best selves.

The INPowered leader shows the way to reconciliation–ultimate forgiveness.

This holiday season give the gift that keeps on giving back. Reach out to someone with whom you are estranged because of unforgotten wrongs and tell them, “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

Doing so is in the spirit of righteousness and being
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4 Habits of Elite Performers

Pole vault girlThe Olympic motto is, “Faster-Higher-Stronger.” Those three words embody a spirit that all athletes understand: there is always a new personal best to be accomplished.

When I watch elite athletes play an NFL football game or a NBA basketball game or a World Cup soccer match, it’s easy to misperceive how talented and exceptional they are–the best in the world competing with and against each other. They make excellence look easier than it is.

When I hear their personal stories, I appreciate how many hours they put into their skills and conditioning to have the opportunity to compete among the elite in their sport.

The same is true of anyone pushing her or his personal limits. Actors, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, writers, scientists, teachers, the aspiring student, any and everyone with a dream, or even a flicker of a notion, that they can be better at something they love to do.

One thing that strikes me about athletes is how obsessed they are at measuring their performance–how fast they can go, how high they can jump, how strong they can become. They never stop striving for reaching just beyond their limits.

All these achievers have several things in common. Here are four that are immediately obvious to me.

1. They specialize. Top performers devote their energy to exceling in one field. Depending on their field, they often further specialize within it.

2. They set and measure goals. Long-range goals are specific, and they break the long-range goals into intermediate goals to motivate themselves to the next level. They write the goals and post them so they can see what they are striving for. They visualize what it will be like to accomplish that goal.

3. They are disciplined. They commit to the process, the daily mundane routines that make them better. This is where pushing the limits happens, one day at a time, a little at a time. They do the work over and over again, avoiding the distractions and temptations that lure them off point.

4. They seek a coach. Top performers know they need objective feedback so they can find the areas for improvement they cannot see for themselves. This is where most of us fall short. We don’t like others telling us we can do better. That’s the difference between a coach and a critic: the coach shows you how to be better and stays around to help.

These achievers are highly INPowered. They have this internal drive to make things better and to be better. That internal drive is available to everyone–even to you and me.

But here’s the thing: most of us have never pushed ourselves hard enough or far enough to know how good we can be. We’re satisfied with fast enough–high enough–strong enough. So, let’s take it to the next level.

Pick a goal you are truly passionate about and apply the four principles mentioned above. Be your personal best at that one thing, and you’ll probably realize you are not satisfied with your best because you know you can be even better.

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Why compromise rarely solves anything

Team hands teachersCompromise should be a resolution strategy of last resort, after everything else fails. But our so-called congressional leaders speak as if it were the gold standard of political skill.

INPowered leaders have a higher standard: collaboration.

Some don’t realize there is fundamental difference between the two. I recently heard one politician say that more collaboration was needed so a compromise could be reached. Right then I knew from the semantic garble that the outcome was in trouble.

Let me explain.

Earlier in my career I was on the administrative team at a large school district. Our teachers and support staff were affiliated with a union. Each year we negotiated the contract for the next school year. Since I was not in one of the represented groups, I served on the negotiating team for our board of education.

The first day of the negotiations the teachers’ team came in and laid their demands on the table that included a 30 percent across-the-board raise in salary. We asked why they thought they deserved such an increase. They replied indignantly, “Because we’re professionals.” Then they left the table in a huff.

The next session we asked them what they meant by, “professional.” They became even more indignant that we would even ask, and commented that they were the lowest paid teachers in the region and deserved to be treated more fairly. Then they left the table in a huff again.

If these negotiations followed the compromise trajectory, we would have offered a 5 percent raise; they would counter with 25 percent. Then we would have offered 7 percent; they would counter with 23 percent, and so on and so on, until we either compromised on a number or reached impasse and risked a strike.

Compromise is rooted in competition and debate in which the parties take a firm stand and duke it out until one or both relent and settle. Nothing really gets resolved. They just quit at some point, and live to fight another day. No one ever feels good about the result, or even hopeful that any effective solution will ever be reached. (Sound like our Congress?)

In the case of our contract negotiation with the teachers, we realized what the teachers were really saying was they did not feel respected as professionals and they saw the low salary as a reflection of the board’s attitude.

We realized we wanted the same thing as the teachers, professionalism and excellence in the classrooms. We studied what other professional organizations did to strive for excellence among their members. From that study, we fashioned an approach and presented our idea to the teachers to offer an excellence incentive for professional development outside their contracted work schedule, coupled with a modest across-the-board salary increase.

This approach got us into a collaborative discussion about their experiences, hopes, and dreams with the district. We opened the range of discussion and discovered several other issues relevant to the teachers that we could resolve without the need to negotiate them. We came up with creative approaches that would have never been possible had we resorted to the traditional offer-counter offer scenario of compromise.

The result was a successful settlement and a process that began to heal several years of wounds that had been inflicted during the negotiation process itself. In fact, the collaborative attitude carried forward outside the negotiation environment.

Collaboration begins with the attitude that win-win outcomes are possible if the parties take time to listen and understand from the other party’s perspective.

Collaboration involves revisiting the questions surrounding the core issues. It might be that we are debating the wrong question for the wrong reason.

Collaboration requires putting aside petty egos, power plays, and posturing to score political points with the core constituency.

Collaboration is about doing the real, hard, and gratifying work of making things better for everyone.

The real standard of leadership is one’s skill in collaborating. Collaborative leaders help us get places we cannot go by ourselves.

When I see someone reaching beyond the barriers of ideology and demagoguery to solve important problems, even risking personal popularity, I know I’m seeing someone who is
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Leading in “context”–the second glance

Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems at first glance. There is always a rest of the story. The context is larger than the event itself.

“The first to put forth his case seems right, until someone else steps forward and cross-examines him.”
Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)

One of the leadership principles I teach is that everything happens in a larger context. No single event can be separated from the circumstances that preceded it or the environment in which it happened. Leaders must be able to rise above the fray and take a 360-degree look at the situation before deciding what to do next.

Such is the difference between reacting and responding.

Reacting is a passionate, thoughtless reflex driven by the unconscious mind in extreme states. Most often, reacting is fear induced, but it can well up from a sense of euphoria or joy.

Responding is a function of the conscious mental processing driven by our brain’s analytical and rational executive center. Responding is more dispassionate, requiring some emotional distance from the event.

It’s a tough balance. Leadership lives at the intersection of the two.

Leaders have to be the cross-examiner to get to the true facts in context as they seek first to understand before taking action. They also must be sensitive to the emotional temperature of those involved, including their own.

Seeking context requires extensive questioning beyond the obvious, because the solutions often are found on the fringes and beneath the surface of the event itself.

Take the recent St. Louis County grand jury investigation of police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Ferguson, MO, teenager Michael Brown. The grand jury limited its investigation to the event itself and information relating directly to it. However, the national question is broader and goes to the context of policing, training, perceptions of white men about black men, and vice versa, laws allowing deadly force by police officers, distribution of population by race, parenting, on going racial mistrust and misunderstanding, and on and on.

In the larger context, both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson are victims of a larger context, a systemic issue that is at the heart of the event.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones discuss contextual leadership in their book, Why Should Anyone Be Led by YOU? They state:

“(L)eaders are not passive recipients of the context . . . they work with their followers to socially construct an alternative reality. This capacity is what differentiates those who merely react to situations from those who have the capacity to transform them,” (2006, 89).

Who will be those transformative leaders?

Who will step above the fray instead of wallowing in it?

Who will contribute to the healing instead of further inflaming the wounds?

Who will seek to understand and help us to understand more completely?

Who will help us construct the alternative reality?

Who will step up and show us they are
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