How Sad

Lance Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

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

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

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.


Ten Years of Fear

Lance Discipline, Leadership Leave a Comment

Ten years ago today I was fired.

Ten years ago today a chain of events unfolded so rapidly, I didn’t realize the stakes of the game I was in until all my chips were gone.

Ten years ago today the journey through the hardest year of our lives began, all because of something I did – because of something I wrote on my blog.

I haven’t written a blog since 9/22/05 because of the fear of what happened on 6/29/05. I had planned on starting this effort this morning by reprinting something from my old blog — not the post that got me fired, but my first post after getting fired. I remember the pain, the fear, the humility that swirled around me in that moment 10 years ago. I thought: “What better way to kick off this endeavor by starting with the fear I felt that day and tracing how that fear has kept me from doing something like this for a decade?”

Then last night I went back and read what I wrote on that awful day, and was horrified. Gone was the myth of who I thought I had been in that moment, and in its place was the reality — what a proud, young fool I was! Far from fearful and humble, I was so full of pride and so ready for the fight against any and all comers. No, reprinting that post from that day was most definitely not the way to start here.

So, why am I here now? Simply put, because Fear tells me not to. Recently I was listening to the podcast of a friend of mine: The Learning Leader Show (It’s an excellent project Ryan’s put together. Well worth your time to check it out!). While listening to Ryan put the effort and discipline into something he’s passionate about in a manner designed to serve others in the process, I was inspired to do the same.

That’s when a decade-old fear double-coughed in my head to remind me of its presence. Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain. Author Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. But at that moment, I realized a couple of things:

  1. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago (thank God in Heaven!);
  2. I’m doing all kinds of things in my life that Fear voted against.

Given these two things, I decided to quit running from the Fear and to start dancing with it instead.

To be clear: the Fear isn’t just about 6/29/05 happening all over again. It’s the fear of —

  • failing
  • running out of ideas
  • becoming too consumed by this
  • being distracted
  • losing my sense of priority
  • embarrassing people I care about

It is all of these fears and more that must be faced and pushed past for anything worthwhile to get done in this world. Leadership is inspiring others to find the things that trigger these fears and begin dancing with them to risk doing something great. (Thanks @RyanHawk12 for doing that for me!)