Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Check Out The Strengths Company

After my recent posting on Tantalus and the value of focusing on our strengths, I exchanged emails with a gentleman named Mike Pegg who is based in the United Kingdom. Mike, through his group The Strengths Company, has been coaching and consulting on strengths for the past 40 years. He was kind enough to send me three of his books, and it has been exciting for me to glean a new perspective on this revolutionary way of looking at people, organizations...and what type of creative, excellent work truly matters to each of us as unique individuals. Take a look at Mike's organization and resources.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Speaking in Frisco This November

In the middle of November I will be making my first trip to California, conducting a workshop in San Francisco at Linkage Inc.'s Best of Talent Management Summit. My topic will be "Empowering the Emerging Organizational Heroes," focused on how to synergize mentoring and coaching of promising young leaders in order to get them ready to succeed the current leadership of their organizations.

As usual, I will be tapping into images and metaphors from mythology and the humanities to emphasize my points of teaching and facilitation. I hope to help my Organizational Development colleagues from across the country create a sense of story and passion, around the manner and methods in which we partner with leaders at all levels.

So I have heard wonderful things about San Francisco's culinary delights, architecture, and arts. Does anyone with experience in this great city have any suggestions for places to visit in between sessions? Thanks in advance.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Liberating Tantalus

Greek mythology brings us the unfortunate character of Tantalus, whose name serves as the foundation for our modern use of the word “tantalize.” Punished for an egregious misdeed, Tantalus was forced by the gods to stand in a pool of water that disappeared whenever he was tempted to stoop down for a drink. Furthermore, branches of fruit grew just above his head; but whenever he reached up to grab hold of something to eat, the wind would sweep the fruit away from him.

The eternal frustration felt by Tantalus of seeing something so close but beyond out his grasp has been felt—albeit, to a far less extreme level—by anyone who has allowed themselves to remain stuck in the wrong fit when it comes to their vocation. Far too many persons settle for less than what their hard-wired talents call them toward, never allowing this latent potential to develop into strengths. Stuck in a tepid pool of mediocrity, these individuals catch glimpses of passion and excellence but can never quite get their arms around the opportunities to unleash them.

Strengths movement luminary Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Now Discover Your Strengths, offers some wise counsel and strategy in his latest book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work. Buckingham encourages each of us to take a week’s worth of work-related activities and put them through the “love” and “loathe” tests. Essentially, go back through your week and jot down the activities that you loved and then the ones that you loathed. Take the ones that you loved and pick your top three, and then specifically translate each of those top three into a statement of personal strength that you can begin to more intentionally apply every single week.

Here’s an example. I perused back through last week’s calendar and noted that one of the activities I had loved doing was facilitating a very productive brainstorming session with a group of managers gathered around a conference room table. A key aspect of the group was their engagement to their work and their desire to raise the bar toward excellence. The experience energized me, and as I used Buckingham’s method I refined the activity into an ongoing, specific strength that would be applicable for numerous future circumstances:

I feel strong when I facilitate a brainstorming session among engaged leaders who are striving toward excellence.

Again, the specificity is important. I facilitate the session; I’m not just a spectator or another participant. It is not a gripe session, but a time to explore and synergize ideas. The participants are leaders, whether formally or informally; they don’t have worker-bee mentalities. They are engaged; that is, they have psychological ownership concerning their work. They are striving toward excellence, toward going from good to great. They aren’t settled into mediocrity, like too much of the workforce seems to be. They are raising the bar, and I am helping them get there.

And I love it when I get to do that.

Check out Buckingham’s books, and put yourself through the rigorous examination of understanding your key talents and how to leverage them into strengths. Be willing to take the sometimes painful but extremely liberating step of repositioning your present career, so that it flows from your strengths rather than feeling hijacked by the frustration of never getting your hands on what you would love to do the most.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

You Are the Rain King!

A great parable of the power of embracing change is found with the lead character of Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King, published in 1959 at the height of the post-war period. A millionaire pig farmer who from a materialistic perspective “has it all,” Henderson feels a lack of any meaningful connection or passion in his life. Hoping for a change of pace and a fresh perspective or epiphany, he heads to Africa—where a series of events lead to the locals declaring him to be their Rain King, the one who will bring about an end to the oppressive drought plaguing their village.

Henderson engages in numerous philosophical discussions with the village’s king, Dahfu, and through this relationship gradually begins to see that life is more than just the slow wasting away to which he has reduced it. Instead, each person has the opportunity to embrace a succession of rebirths, or transformations, through engaging their imagination. Life, Henderson learns, can be a journey of ongoing spiritual growth, ultimately geared toward seeking to love others well.

The protagonist leaves the village with the intent of becoming a doctor when he returns to his home. Before his departure the long-awaited rain falls down, symbolizing how the parched landscape of Henderson’s own soul has at last been nurtured.

As I look back and examine my own seasons of “drought,” they have been windows when I was learning and growing the least—times when I had resigned myself to things as they were without seeking to elicit meaningful change. Organizations and companies, too, hit these patches when leaders or employees are looking to the corporate skies for some evidence of impending showers—perhaps hoping a “Rain King” in the form of the latest innovation, maverick executive or other quick-fix will show up.

And yet, as Henderson found, both individually and organizationally the imagination to give us birth anew is right at hand. What is holding us back from daring to dream and achieve?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Stop Waiting for Godot

A famous 20th Century play by the Irishman Samuel Beckett was Waiting for Godot. The entire story concerns two tramps literally waiting by the side of a road for the arrival of someone named Godot, with whom they have an appointment. Two others show up at some point to taunt the waiters. Eventually a boy comes along and declares that Godot will not arrive that day, but is coming the next day. The play ends with the tramps deciding that Godot will never show up, and that they should move on. But they don’t. They just stay there.

Beckett’s entire play is a study in futility, a window into inertia. And it holds a mirror up to much of the excuses-making that disguises itself as productivity in modern organizational society. How much energy do we spend ruminating over who might arrive at any moment with the answers, over who might be the one to fix something….especially concerning the persons or groups we feel are to blame for our problems, etc.?

We may not be waiting for Godot in particular, but too often we are waiting for some stimulus or event beyond ourselves rather than taking the simple step of moving on. Moving on toward creativity and proactively sowing the seeds of unleashing our best potential, deliberating our sharpest ideas, reaching beyond comfort zones to collaborate with those we might otherwise underestimate or misunderstand because of a passive ignorance.

Personal accountability is about moving from waiting to acting. Much of the marketing culture would prefer that we wait for it to redefine us, remake us, rethink us. Unleashing authenticity demands that we build relationships with those who can partner with us in moving forward, rather than the easier path of surrendering to inertia with those content to simply whine, watch and wait…and wait.

Who is the person you need to partner with today? Someone has been on your mind, someone whose best thinking can collide with yours for groundbreaking change. Drop them a line. Don't wait.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What is worth doing?

Peter Block, one of the most respected names in the field of organizational development, poses this provoking idea in his book The Answer to How Is Yes:

We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going straight to the question "How do we do it?" In fact, when we believe that something is definitely not worth doing, we are particularly eager to start asking How?...Too often when a discussion is dominated by questions of How? we risk overvaluing what is practical and doable and postpone the questions of larger purpose and collective well-being. With the question How? we risk aspiring to goals that are defined for us by the culture and our institution, at the expense of pursuing purposes and intentions that arise from within ourselves.

Do you generally find this to be true, or do you have a different take on the usefulness or danger of the "How?" questions that permeate our interactions as organized people? For myself, Block's words bring to mind many occasions when I've seen potential ideas or great brainstorming derailed by premature "How?s" from those in government, the church, business, family, friends...and from myself...

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