Of Men and Mice

Lance Simplicity Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 1 minute

You finally land your first role as a project manager, and trapping mice is the name of the game. Which approach to take really depends on your objective:

  • Impress your boss
  • Catch mice

Or, put another way:

  • Something created
  • Problem solved

Focus on doing both and you’ll probably do neither. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: which objective are we really trying to achieve?

How Sad

Lance Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Color_icon_redAristotle taught that how we talk about things shapes how we think about them. Words matter, which is why the control of language itself was a centerpiece of Orwell’s 1984. It’s all well and good to be able to see many shades of red, but without a rich language that provides different names for them, what difference does it make? Brick, Pink, Scarlet, Rose, Salmon, Cherry … the differences cease to matter if all are simply called “red.”

The same holds true when the opposite occurs: when the subtle differences between the meanings of words get washed away as they become thought of and used as mere synonyms for each other. For example, ever notice how Congress doesn’t “spend” much anymore? Instead, they “invest.” #FunWithFakeSynonyms (They also “invest” in the actual sense of the term, and seem to be abnormally successful at it. But that’s a post blog for another time person.) Even worse, Leaders regularly use words like “resources” and “FTE’s” and “headcount” as synonyms for their own people.

“Integrity” is too often used as another, more sophisticated word for Honesty. It isn’t. More than just honesty, Integrity is about being whole in nature. (Dr. Henry Cloud has an excellent book on the subject.) Think of the integrity of the hull of a ship: no holes, no leaks, no places for the water to pour in, which is contrary to the whole concept of a boat. To be a person — a Leader — of Integrity demands far more than just being truthful. Integrity requires a wholeness of character.

Which brings me to Disney-Pixar’s latest and greatest piece of art: Inside Out. Life isn’t about always being HAPPY!!!, and Leading isn’t about always WINNING!!! Leading and living with Integrity means not trying to hide things we are uncomfortable with by overcompensating on the things that feel better. Often, that does mean facing hard truths when comforting lies are a breath away, but it also means:

  • being Disgusted by the way team members pursue their own self-interest at the expense of others;
  • feeling Fear at the specter of going out on the limb and leading into the unknown (but doing it anyway! You can’t dance with the Fear you pretend doesn’t exist.);
  •  stopping to soak in the Joy of what was accomplished, even if it wasn’t exactly the outcome that lines up with your goal perfectly;
  • experiencing Sadness when bad things happen (yes, this is actually good for you! [movie spoiler at the link]);
  • harnessing and directing Anger into effective ways for facing danger and Evil, rather than bottling it up and setting a timer.

The binary choices to be honest or not can be some of the hardest moves in the game of Life. The pursuit of Integrity, however, is a game on a whole other level. It is 3-dimensional chess compared to Honesty’s Checkers. If you’re a Leader reading this, it’s your move … but are you playing the right game?

Shallow Hal

Lance Ideas, Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

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Today is the release date for Terminator Genisys — which apparently is Hollywood-speak for “Yeah, it’s pretty much the same storyline as the 1984 original.” But long before “Skynet” was the cultural synonym for computer artificial intelligence run amok, a soothingly spoken apology was THE image of mankind’s fear of the rise of the Machine:

While the specter of machines achieving self-awareness marches ever closer to reality, and the debate over whether that is something to fear continues, there is a much more pressing problem: human beings who lack self-awareness. So many of us are moving through life really unaware of why we do the things we do:

  • Why am I afraid of …?
  • Why does that make me angry?
  • Why am I drawn to the same kinds of unhealthy people?
  • Why do I get so frustrated when things aren’t how I think they should be?
  • Why do I put things off and only react to crisis?
  • Why am I uncomfortable — more than just in disagreement — with discussing certain things?
  • Why am I not bothered so much by risk?
  • Why am I afraid to speak up and say what I think in the group?
  • Why am I uncomfortable being alone or in silence?

The same is true for organizations: far too many are so focused on what they do with little to no formulated thought about why they exist to do it at all. These questions are too easily dismissed as ineffective navel-gazing and idealism detached from pragmatic reality, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because it is rarer than not, the ability to understand oneself and one’s own organization on this level is an immediate advantage. It is the stuff of game-changing success:

Constrain Yourself!

Lance Discipline, Simplicity Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So you’ve got this aspiration — to create/build/fix/write/paint/draft/deliver that THING that will solve the problem, generate the opportunity, earn the promotion, win the account. But you haven’t done it yet, and the reasons why all point in the same general direction. If only you had more

  • time
  • money
  • resources
  • staff
  • freedom
  • inspiration
  • support
  • tools

But if creating something of value — something truly unique, innovative, and worthwhile — is what you are aiming for, chasing the Mirage of More will not only postpone your work from getting done, but it will doom you to mediocrity should you actually get ahold of it. This is because creativity flourishes within constraints. It is Necessity, and not Abundance, that is the mother of Invention. If it is creativity, innovation, and inspiration you are after, which is the better model? — a bomb-diffusing robot, or Angus MacGyver?

Great art and great ideas are not the product of boundless horizons and limitless freedom of resources. It is the rigorous discipline of working within defined constraints that forms the crucible in which great ideas are forged. For Shakespeare, it was the boundaries of the sonnet; for Harry Houdini, the restraint of the straight jacket and handcuffs; for Erik Wahl, it is the constraints of time. By artificially limiting himself to the 3 minutes it takes for a song to play, Erik forces himself to exchange Perfection for Creativity. The results are something else to see:


For me, the constraints of this effort are built into identity of this blog itself. This isn’t an open platform for me to say whatever I have to say about whatever crosses my mind. This isn’t the place you will find my thoughts on current events, news, sports, or matters of faith. Items from each of those aspects of my life may show up here, but only if they are part of advancing the defined purpose of this blog: the task of Leadership, the ideas that support it, and what I believe are five essentials to effective leadership. If you want to know what I think about the general state of affairs, go find me on Twitter (hint: Western Civ – we had a good run).

Quit trying to get more to do something. Find a way to give yourself less to work with. Write that mission statement in 140 characters or less. (That’s right: 140 characters, not words!) Aim for Excellence with what you’ve got.