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Archive for January, 2009

Here’s one interpretation of what a moment of courage feels like and the choice our courage provides.

Of one thing I am certain: anyone reading this has already had moments like this. May you have many more in your lifetime. In fact, there’s probably a lot of people who are counting on it!

Photo by ©Henie

Photo by Henie

A MOMENT OF COURAGE

Your heart beats,
louder and louder, faster and faster.
You feel its echo as if it were the hammer
beating the drum in your ears.
The moment is seemingly endless.
You’ve been here before.
This is the moment when
courage meets reasonability;
When it takes courage
to bring commitment to life
lest it be snuffed out.
Perhaps it’s courage that brings forth these moments,
the power that propels us past the edge of what we know,
and the source of our choice to stay there
moment by moment.

P.S Thank you Henie for the great picture to go with the poem! Visit Henie’s blog for more wonderful photos and words of inspiration and wisdom at http://www.HennArtOnline.com

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True courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to proceed in spite of it.–Unknown

Leading can be simple. And it is not always easy. Sometimes just the thought of doing something as simple as raising your hand can make your heart race uncontrollably. It did for me back in school and at times it still does. What do we fear? After all, raising your hand is not usually a matter of life or death. Mostly I think we fear being embarrassed or even humiliated. What if I say the wrong thing? What if people laugh at me? What if my boss doesn’t like what I said? We fear losing our jobs. We fear being alienated from the group in some way. Perhaps the reason more people cite their fear of public speaking as stronger than their fear of death is because we actually have to live with what comes next.

We’ve all had those moments, which is probably why the fear can be so intense now. Some of us have had more of them than others. Yet it only takes one experience to embed the memory of how awful it feels deep into our souls. We need not feel bad about our fear though. Believe it or not there was a time in human history when being shunned from your group meant almost certain death. In today’s technology driven world we forget that we are social creatures who depend on each other for our survival. So perhaps there is more to this fear we think. It may even be coded into our DNA. Of one thing I am certain; it is real and it stops us.

TAKING ACTION IN SPITE OF OUR FEAR

The question is not “how can you eliminate the fear?” We can’t. The question is “what will it take for me to transcend my fear, to be willing to take the risk despite how scary it feels right now?” True, embarrassing moments, even bad things, might happen if we were to speak up, step up or stand up. Yet it is also true that the most amazing things could happen. We often think that the people who are willing to take that risk can take it because they have more confidence, they have more power or authority, they have less to lose, etc. Essentially we believe they must have something we do not. Hence they can and we cannot. I believe the only thing that separates the people who choose to lead from the people who do not is this: a reason that makes taking that risk far more compelling than their fear.

So what do you care about enough that could be more compelling than your fear?
What difference do you want to make that could transform that moment of fear into a moment of exhilaration? It is not the enormity of the risk that matters. It is the willingness to take a risk, even a small one, to step outside your comfort zone for the sake of something that really matters to you. We all have fear, but will we let fear have us? Will we let that feeling of fear prevent us from creating the community, the workplace, the life or even the world we want?

I call those moments when your commitment to something inspires you to transcend your fear a “moment of courage”. You’ve already had these moments in your life. Many of them were probably unexpected. You don’t have to plan for them. Simply be on the lookout for an opportunity to act from your commitments in spite of your fear. Just remember to breathe…

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When something goes wrong we were trained to ask the question “Who is responsible?”. As a kid we learned to either run and hide when we heard that phrase or respond quickly with “It wasn’t me, it was _____” to save ourselves from punishment. Our parents and teachers worked hard to help us learn to take responsibility rather than run and hide or blame others, but didn’t that usually mean owning up to having done something wrong or taking the blame?

So is it any wonder we still react in similar ways with similar feelings when something isn’t going the way we planned? What about when our boss (or anyone we perceive as having power over us) is unhappy with what’s going on? Perhaps it’s not unlike how we feel when we see a cop in the rear view mirror even if we are not speeding. Somehow we still get that pit in our stomachs!

On the other side of this conversation are those who have actually done harm to us and really are to blame for it. There is not a person alive who has not been victimized in some way small or big in their lifetime. By victimized I mean being harmed by another. We have learned to defend ourselves and perhaps even seek to bring the guilty parties to justice in some way.

WHY DO I SAY “IT’S THEM” IS THE COSTLIEST CONVERSATION IN BUSINESS AND IN LIFE?

Unfortunately over time we have turned the reaction of “it’s them” into a practice of looking for who is to blame whenever the going gets tough. It’s not just a personal practice, it has become a cultural one. And it is costing us all in a big way.

When we ask the question “who is responsible/to blame?” we are talking about the past. We cannot change what happened and spending too time and energy on that conversation is a waste of time unless of course your purpose is to bring someone to justice. And we do waste a lot of time, not to mention energy, in that conversation. Sure it can be helpful to understand what went wrong, what mistakes we made, etc. so we can learn and perhaps prevent the problem from happening again. The key word here is “perhaps” because the complexity of our problems and speed of change today have reduced the value of analysis in many cases. There is a really good reason why the phrase “analysis paralysis” emerged in business conversation. Besides, fixing one problem often just illuminates another one. It’s a never ending cycle that doesn’t necessarily move us forward.

Yet there is a better far more empowering way to relate to the world, to our world, with all of its warts and problems. We can stop asking the question “who is to blame” and start asking the question “what could I/we do now?”. We can start thinking from a context of it is up to me, whatever “it” may be, rather than it is up to them. In doing so we take our focus off of the past we cannot change and put in on the future where we can actually make a difference. We also take our power back as individuals who can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters when it comes to our future.

SO WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH LEADERSHIP?

“It’s up to me” is the fundamental context for leadership. One very simple way to identify possible acts of leadership you could take in any situation is to ask yourself the question “what could I do now to make a difference?” Leaders take personal responsibility for themselves and the world around them.

A key message from President Obama’s Inaugural Address yesterday was taking back responsibility for ourselves and for our country. This is our country and its future is up to us. But whether it is about your country, your company, your work group, your family or even yourself, it has to be even more personal than that for us to act. It must be up to me, the person who I see when I look in the mirror. So this is one case where taking things personally is highly recommended and empowering!

If I told you to go commit a “Random Act of Kindness” today you would likely immediately sense the kind of opportunities to look for. It would be simple and easy. Consider you can do the same thing when it comes to leadership. Committing an “Act of Leadership” can be just as simple as committing an act of kindness. It may take a bit more courage, but I assure you it can be just as satisfying.

YOUR MISSION FOR TODAY… should you choose to accept it is to commit a Random Act of Leadership. And don’t forget to tell us about it so we can all learn and encourage each other to keep going.

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“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”
Warren Bennis

Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of definitions this one resonates the most with me. You may like another definition better or may have even crafted your own. But the notion of leaders having a vision is pretty universal one.

So if you are interested in leading or supporting others in developing their leadership creating a vision is a great place to start. Yet where I see many people get tripped up when it comes to leadership actually begins with their interpretation of “vision”. The typical “automatic” interpretation is that a vision is about something monumental like creating world peace. Not true.

A vision can be any possibility you want to make a reality. For example, it could be to have great meetings in your department. It could be to get all of your neighbors to know each other. Of course, it could be loftier than either of those. The important thing is that it must be your vision and you must be inspired enough by it to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Now some of you may be thinking my examples are not “visions”, they’re just goals. Well maybe they are both. Either way I say who cares which it is if it actually gets you to take new actions? We are going for progress here not perfection. Nonetheless to help you choose (or invent) a vision to use as the source for committing Acts of Leadership here’s the criteria I use for a vision.

3 Basic Criteria for a Vision

1. A vision is something that has never been accomplished, at least not in the way you imagine it;
2. It’s not just about you, it makes a difference for others; and
3. You can’t accomplish without enrolling others to participate in some way with you to make it happen.

So where do you start (or help someone else start)?

I suggest picking something you really want to make happen. Don’t get caught up in whether it is too small or too big, or whether it is a vision or “just a goal”. Choose something and write it down in one sentence. Keep it simple.

Then write down 10 things you could do to move one step closer to making that vision real. (By the way, this is a good thing to do even if you already see yourself as a leader. If that’s you try picking something you want to make happen, but you either haven’t taken it on yet or you are stuck.)

Now here’s the really important part…choose one action and do it. Do no be concerned with whether the action you choose is actually an “act of leadership” or not. We’ll be talking about that a lot more.

What is a vision you are going to work on and what is one action you are going to take? Please share your stories of what you did and what happened so we can all learn from them.

Whatever your vision and whatever your action one thing I can promise – we will all learn from it. So please do share. And if you’re stuck share that, too. You are probably not the only one. I look forward to hearing from you.

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