What Does it Mean to Be an Effective Leader?

Everyone fills the leader role at some point in their lives, and how we operate in that role is greatly impacted by the kind of spiritual work we've committed ourselves to. This video is from a presentation I gave to a room full of leaders in Toastmasters, but the leadership lessons are universal. 

When No Proper Word Will Do

fbomb.jpg

The F-Bomb … and Other Heresies

My life is lived in conflicting spaces. On the one hand, I am a professional facilitator, consultant, speaker and coach with a full complement of approaches, language, and attire. On the other, as a social worker by heart and sometimes by practice, I am often in settings with people that are torn and troubled, which in all honesty often requires an entirely unprofessional touch. And in yet one more environment, the recovering world, I am constantly amid people who are just plain real, and who say it like it is without adornment and with a full command of every curse word ever created.

I am also a member in good standing of Toastmasters International where I hold a distinguished designation as one of only sixty-nine Accredited Speakers worldwide in more than thirty-five years. And in that esteemed organization, which strives to support people in learning to overcome their fears and develop skills for public speaking, there is a large premium placed on propriety. In short, the ethic is that we need to sound and look impeccable, above reproach.

I’ll never forget the day when my own inner wires got crossed and I F-bombed a professional audience. It got very quiet. I blushed and stammered for just a moment. Then I laughed and said simply, “Wrong audience.” They laughed with me. I learned later that a few were offended, but a much larger number appreciated that I was utterly human. For me it was proof of the humanity in me, as well as in my audience.

Recently my daughter, Natalie Gallagher, delivered a presentation proposing that the use of the F-bomb and other so called “blue words” is essential if we are to treat others authentically. She says sometimes there is no other word that will carry the message than one that is inherently risky. That in order to relate, or make an essential point, or shake a complacent listener, or compel action, we must be willing to step outside propriety, to expose ourselves. To push. Because in some cases, the ends really do justify the means.

Of course, the challenge is always in confronting our fears, isn’t it? Fear that we’ll offend someone, or lose their approval, or fall in the esteem of others. Or in some cases, we fear we will be punished for stepping outside the bounds.

Tom Peters, the much renowned leadership and organizational expert, said if we have not been fired from something as a result of pushing the limits, we are not being sufficiently accountable for ourselves, our lives, or our world. My friend Lydia Ashanin would quote her favorite bumper sticker, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” My own mentor, affectionately known as Master Samwise, began telling me years ago that if I could not overcome the need for the approval of others, I would be unable to fulfill my potential. Even Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged that his commitment to the truth would necessarily force him outside the bounds of conventionality. In my practice, I have seen that nothing of significance ever emerges within our comfort zones.

So there is strong indication that where our language and actions are concerned, sometimes it is necessary to push the limits and cross boundaries. In order to do so, we’ll need the courage of our convictions. We’ll also need to be willing and able to roll with what may come. Sometimes, the ends really do justify the means.

Seeing True™

In contemplating the power and effectiveness of forgiveness, it is clear we need to reawaken to it. While not one of us is likely to disagree with the idea of forgiving, many of us live with brokenness because we have been unwilling or unable to forgive others or ourselves.

Seeing True™ in Action

Let’s shake it up and see what happens!

Forgiveness is my second favorite F-word!

Where does that take you in your practice?

p.s. If you just can’t resist having your own provocative F-word tee shirt, click here.

The Fruits of Coaching

coaching.jpg

Why Aren't Feedback and Guidance Embraced?

Of all the interesting things in the world of consultation and coaching, the one that intrigues me the most is the resistance to receiving feedback. Almost everywhere I have provided such services, the norm is not only inadequate feedback, but great reluctance on the part of many to be provided with feedback.

Now, let’s think this through. If parents, relatives, neighbors, coaches, ministers, counselors, police, friends, and countless others had failed to give you feedback, you would not be functional as an adult in the world. Everything from someone teaching you to stay out of the street, to letting you know when your behavior was offensive, to guiding you toward the best possible realization of your potential has had an impact on who you are today.

And yet, we become adults and professionals who are often resistant to getting further feedback. How ridiculous! We should all be clamoring for guidance. It is a magic elixir for all of us, even if it is not done as effectively as we might like. Poorly conceived feedback is better than none. And effective feedback is best of all.

I often tell people I owe a great debt to my first employer, GE, who hired me right out of college, trained me extensively for nearly four years as a future leader, then provided me with steady, progressive positions to increase my portfolio of skills and experience until I left at the ten-year mark. Nearly weekly, and formally about once a quarter for those first four years, then twice a year thereafter, I was the beneficiary of an incredibly valuable array of feedback. It was never comfortable, even when it was delivered effectively, but they were more committed to my growth and development than they were to my comfort. And besides that, I am convinced nothing of notable value will be learned in our comfort zones.

Today, I am extremely aware that who I am is the product of a huge investment in me that spans six decades and continues to this day from my mentors and coaches, clients via evaluations of services and deliverables, and some of the groups to which I belong. I remain a work in progress. Thankfully and gratefully.

I had a chance to gain a different vantage on this in the past few weeks as I have met with several of the people for whom I have been a mentor, advisor and coach for as much as ten years. For whatever reason, each of these sessions resulted in feedback to me about what they have learned as a result of my investment in them. They thanked me for “being one of the best teachers in my life”, “willingness to talk me through things over and over again until I learn”, “helping me to get unstuck,” and so forth.

I am profoundly humbled. It is not easy to see and experience the good that comes from our work in the world. To deny it is just as dishonest as to overly indulge it.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The gift of my time and attention was nothing more than reciprocity, for it was the same gift that had been invested in me. And it is already clear to me each of these marvelous people is already paying it forward.

"All my life's a circle..." sang Harry Chapin. What a beautiful and elegant design.

Seeing True™

The product of investing ourselves in people, things, and the creation itself is love. We come to appreciate that in which we are invested. And that love and appreciation always comes back around because it is a reciprocating universe.

Seeing True™ in Action

Pema Chodron says we should lean into the sharp points. Feedback is inevitably sharp. It is also incredibly valuable.

What are you seeking out today that will make you feel uncomfortable, and through that discomfort cause you to learn and grow?

What Romantic Relationships Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Being Mercurial

It began with a strange but lucid dream. I was in the middle of a relationship that was unraveling, that slow, grinding and uncomfortable time when you really should be able to see the proverbial handwriting on the wall, but are too much in denial or delusion to understand. The dream seemed to be a very long one where I wandered through a library making comparisons between novels and short story collections, with the latter always falling short.

For once, I understood a dream. It was clearly a reference to relationships. I have a really marvelous collection of relationships that are akin to short stories with the occasional novella. And they really are lovely, except when compared to the cultural gold standard, the long-enduring marriage.

It was an epiphany to see I was making this invalid and unhelpful comparison, but the real traction came when I asked, “How can I not see such things about myself? I wonder who I really am? And I wonder what kinds of women or relationships actually suit me?”

So let me tell you the first truth I learned. Most of us never actually try to answer such questions as these. We accept the first or most available love relationship, get locked down in it, then proceed to find challenges and faults of all kinds. So we exit the unsatisfying relationship, and promptly find another, still without any exploration of who we are and what we desire. That’s not a criticism, simply an acknowledgment of how it seems to work for the vast majority. I guess many of us are simply lonely in some way or another.

Regardless, my epiphany launched me on a course of exploration. It sounds rather foolish as I type these words, but it was quite revealing. There are any number of things I simply did not know about myself and relationships. It turns out the most important thing for me is rich conversation, which matters more than most everything else. Then a love of the arts and beauty, and a sense of adventure. Plus, I discovered that I only do well if someone is reasonably self-sufficient. I don't want to be anyone’s solution to their own life or life problems.

It seemed so selfish at first until someone pointed out that it’s kind of like how we like our foods. If you like your steak cooked rare, why should you try to like it well done? If a vegetarian lifestyle works for you, trying to be a carnivore is just foolish. We are who we are. And it’s useful to know that. And far more effective when in the process of trying to find someone with whom to spend time, or invest your life.

That brings me to the greatest revelation. Somehow I came across a book, True Loves: Finding the Soul in Love Relationships, by a husband and wife team who are both Jungian psychologists, Alex and Naomi Quenk. They proposed that each of us has a love archetype, a kind of master imprint for how we experience and express love, that we are the way we are and the great mischief comes in trying to be something other than that.

It turns out that my archetype is “mercurial.” While I care deeply and am fiercely loyal, I become easily bored. I’m just not steady the way many people think one ought to be in relationship. I can commit, but wilt when overly confined. I need a steady stream of experiences that constantly renew my attention and my passions. Paraphrasing the Quenks, I am not fulfilled by relationship, but use relating and love as a way to express my fulfillment. It turns out I simply do not fit the standard, expected model for relationship.

Seeing True™

Seeing who we are at our core in relationship relieves countless stresses. We only need be true to these most fundamental identities. The mistake is in trying to be or do otherwise.

“I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.” -Popeye

Seeing True™ in Action

Are you unfulfilled in love? It is extremely likely that discontent belies some kind of misfit between who you are, your understanding of who you are, and how you play it out in love. Until you understand the nature of what fits, it is nothing but a guessing game.

Are you willing enough to try something new? To explore the truth of you?

 

 

Where Is Your Source of Energy?

A Long and Winding Road to Understanding

“Where do you get the time for all your creative endeavors ? Or the energy? Do you ever sleep?”

*****

People have been asking me such questions for some time now, and I must admit to some reluctance about answering them, because it's not a simple answer. For that matter, I'm just suspicious enough about myself to wonder if I'm not just talking nonsense.

I want to first note I’ve been trying to explain this for a number of years. In fact a lot of this foundation was laid in 2004 when I first released an audio set, Seeing True – The Way of Spirit, through my private publishing company. That material has now been released commercially in 2016 by Ozark Mountain Publishing.

That said, let me try to explain.

There is only energy, or spiritual energy if you prefer. All matter and all action are nothing but expressions of energy. Furthermore, there is an infinite quantity of energy in the creation, and movement seems to be its nature.

Quantum mechanics has determined that all energy is subtly affected by all the rest of the energy. It’s all connected through some pretty strange physics, which I’ve come to think of as responsiveness. So infinite variations of energy are constantly in motion and partly influenced by all the rest of the energy and movement.

The question then is, how is that energy being used by, and through us?

The first use of that energy is by our unconscious selves, for example bodily functioning and innate survival. The second use is based on our sensory perception, which is observable though not necessarily controllable. I’m referring to the energy needed to step out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, or to attend to a crying baby, or for the many things that seem to require our attention and effort.

But what happens when through spiritual or psychological development, some of these actions and behaviors become more conscious to us? Or when we deliberately devote energies to meditation or mindfulness? What happens when awareness increases?

Interestingly enough, the Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous presents a conclusion. “We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly...”

As our underlying motivations are brought into our awareness, as we become more enlightened, more energy is freed up. Abraham Maslow saw this to be true when he showed that as our most basic needs for safety and security are met, more attention can be devoted to self-actualization. It may seem like we have more energy, and perhaps we do, but some part of that new energy is the result of decreasing the ways that it is diverted or used ineffectively.

I’d go so far as to say that Buddha himself told us this would be the outcome he called the Eightfold Path. That as we dealt with our attachments (the distracting or inefficient use of energy) we would find our way to right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

It turns out that like so many things, gaining greater energy is also an inside job.

Seeing True

While the reality is not simple, perhaps it can be summarized simply: The secret to finding greater energy is through discovering and addressing the ways that drain away energy.

Interestingly enough, today I think of this as forgiveness work. A practice of continuously releasing the things that bind us, over and over again. With practice and some success, more energy is available for higher purpose.

Seeing True in Action

Every path to greater effectiveness begins with awareness. And while these writings may have been a good beginning, each of us can look to where our energy is going by taking stock of any given day, or any given week. Then as we begin to see ourselves more clearly, the shift of energy begins, away from distractions and more toward our heart’s desire…and the realm of Spirit.