Questions about friendship, parenting, and anxiety [new post]

Last week, I shared questions I’ve been wrestling/playing with as I coach executives, consult to organizations, and consider my impact on the larger world.

This week, I share questions I’m exploring in three other domains: friendship, parenting, and anxiety.

Friendship. What makes a friendship worth pursuing, and how can I recognize the presence or absence of these conditions?

Life offers a big spectrum of relationships. Between casual acquaintances on one end and best friends on the other is a wide variety of ways of relating. Since I was a kid, I’ve had at least one best friend and a variety of buddies. These friendships have offered me companionship, joy, learning, and solace—and occasionally disappointment and pain. In recent years, I’ve been noticing what makes a friendship worth pursuing or sustaining and how to recognize when these conditions are present or missing.

With this clarity has come greater boldness. I’ve started speaking up about what I need in friendship and to a lesser extent what I can offer. I’ve thanked some friends for what I appreciate about our friendship and told others what is lacking. These are hard things to describe, and society provides few teachings or role models, so I stumble along. I tend to overestimate others’ awareness of my needs and underestimate the level of specificity I need to give them. For each friend who has appreciated my candor and vulnerability is another who’s felt confused or hurt. All of these friends are men, so that adds another wrinkle. For many men, friendship is something you do after you’ve finished everything else, if at all. We are stumbling along together.

Parenting. What nourishments do my children need right now, and what can I do to provide them?

My five-year-old son, because of his stage of development, needs loving touch, a safe environment for sensory exploration, and a sense of rightful place. He is a snuggly little guy, so the loving touch comes easily. Due to his temperament and Montessori education, he’s good at playing on his own and with others, and takes delight in kinesthetic explorations.

Rightful place is a bit harder to provide. What boundaries, created with love and held with power, will help him feel like he is right where he belongs? How can I be “the mountain” for him, equal parts compassionate and firm?  Asking these questions matters most at the very moments I’m least likely to consider them: when he’s complaining I’ve made his oatmeal the wrong way, clamoring to go outside when it’s time for bed, or angry at his brother, my wife, or me.

My first instinct at these times is to do whatever most quickly quells the disturbance and pacifies the belligerent. These quick fixes may or may not create a short-term solution, but they are unlikely to foster his long-term development. So I catch myself, take a breath, and ask: what does he need right now?

Anxiety. Who am I when I’m not having anxious thoughts?

It’s no secret that my peers and I have our own “stuff.” Even the most mature leadership coaches have blind spots that, if unilluminated, can erode their clients’ trust in them and their ability to grow.  Even the most seasoned consultants have idiosyncrasies that, if unattended, can thwart their best designed interventions.

Earlier in my career, I assumed that if I hid my flaws from clients, they would trust me more. Needless to say, that didn’t work out well. It’s hard to trust someone who is hiding themselves from you, especially in a field like leadership development.

These days, I don’t spend a lot of time with leaders talking about myself, but I also don’t avoid it. One thing that I’ve begun speaking about is my own anxiety. No, I don’t tell long stories about my childhood or give detailed descriptions of how my mind catastrophizes. But I do mention, particularly when helping people understand themselves through the Enneagram, that my mind reflexively imagines worst case scenarios (Type Six), and that it takes presence and practice to tame this habit. On rarer occasions I reveal that I take medicine for anxiety; I do this to destigmatize mental illness.

My psychiatrist told me last year that of all of his patients, I’m the one he worries about the least. So he only needs to see me once a year. I told him that of all of his patients, I’m the one I worry about the most.

That’s the thing about anxiety—or any other condition or quality that can trip us up. When it is a subject of our awareness, when we cannot see it, it literally holds us in its grasp. Thus, we can see only what it lets us see, both about others and about ourselves. Nothing else.

What happens when anxiety becomes an object of my awareness, when I can recognize its presence, shape, and form? Instead of it holding me, I hold it. Who is this “I” that is big enough to hold anxiety?

That’s one heck of a fascinating question. I would tell you my latest answers, but I fear what you would think of them. 😉

 

Three questions on my mind today [new post]

It’s been over a month since I’ve shared a podcast episode or blog post. How are you doing? What questions are on your mind?

Here are three questions that I’ve been wrestling/playing with in different domains of my life:

Executive coaching. How can I support and challenge leaders to practice new conversations on the job?

For the past fifteen years, my work has been guided by a simple premise: all the leadership wisdom in the world matters little unless it shows up in how leaders speak and listen on the job.

How do you know you are a better leader? By shifting the conversations you have and quality of presence you bring to them.

The challenge is how to do this in organizations that devalue preparation, reflection, and feedback (three phases of what I call the “on-the-job practice cycle,” the fourth phase being action); with bosses who rarely had role models for this themselves; and in a culture that squeezes out the inner life.

It’s a big hairy challenge!

Here’s one experiment I’ve been inviting leaders to try:

  • Designate a specific meeting each day as a practice field. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Start that meeting by quickly grounding in the body.
  • Look for opportunities in that meeting to practice specific words, body movement, and breath.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback shortly after the meeting about the specific actions you want them to observe. Ideally, ask them in advance so they are prepared.
  • Briefly reflect in writing after the meeting—or at the next brief break—about what happened and what you can learn from it.

What can I do to increase the frequency and quality of this practice? What visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues could help? Is there an iPhone app for this?

Organizational consulting. In working with an entire organization, where do my interventions have the greatest impact?

During my first ten professional years, I exclusively consulted. During the second ten years, I did mostly one-on-one executive coaching. The past few years have seen a mix of the two. I’ve worked with entire leadership teams, advised executives and HR about system-wide succession planning and leadership development, shadow coached teams in action, and simply hung around waiting for people to pull me over for a question or request.

I think of these less as services than as experiments in having impact.

Where is my time best spent—and who gets to decide this? How do I assess requests coming my way, and what guides me in making counteroffers and new offers? Since I have to make a living and like being respected, how do money and public identity play into all of this?

Public Calling. In the age of DJT (my abbreviation for the current U.S. president’s name), how might I redirect my energy toward a better global future?

I’ve made no secret of my opinion of the current President and the grave threat he brings each day he remains in office. A lot of my writing and podcasting has been devoted to this topic. And for years, I’ve felt dedicated to promoting clean energy, slowing global warming, and supporting community resilience. Yet with a few notable exceptions, these commitments have shown up more in my public voice than in my day-to-day client work, and my public participation itself has been sporadic and, by my assessment, of negligible impact.

So, looking at the next six months—and, beyond that, the next few years—what’s possible? How might these commitments find expression in my coaching and consulting? If I were to invest more time on my public voice, what forms might this take? How about a daily podcast devoted to high-quality interviews on topics of broad public interest (likely at the intersection of politics and leadership) to attract listeners and sponsors?

These are three questions on my mind today.

Next week: questions about three other domains: friendship, parenting, and presence

 

Episode 68: Timeless Wisdom For Men With Sean LeClaire [The Amiel Show]

Men, this episode is for you.

Executive coach and author Sean Casey LeClaire joins me to describe his remarkable journey from a rough-and-tumble working poor hometown through flirtation with a professional sports career toward early success as an advertising executive and then discovery of what he calls “timeless wisdom.” This interview is filled with heartfelt stories about aspiration, loss, anger, challenge, and the still, graceful space within each of us.

Sean’s autobiographical tale provides the emotional core of my emerging series on Men in Leadership. It joins past conversations with Robert Augustus Masters about true masculine power, Janet Crawford on being a good guy and breaking with the bro code, and Keith Witt on men’s sexual shadow at work, as well as a Jedi Leadership Trick I call The Manly Apology.

Listen in, and send me an email to tell me which story resonated with you the most.

Highlights

  • 9:00 Growing up with sports, violence, and poetry
  • 14:00 Putting on a mask to stay alive
  • 16:00 Rick, Jim, and the power of a gentle challenge
  • 24:00 Anger and archetypal gestures
  • 27:30 The story of hugging an angry man
  • 34:30 A friend’s suicide and discovering yoga
  • 37:00 Sean reads his poem “If I stopped”
  • 45:30 When people think Sean is crazy or arrogant
  • 49:00 When coaches get co-opted by sickness in corporations
  • 53:30 Sean reads his poem “Parts”
  • 58:00 Sean’s son champions him through the frustrating construction of a Darth Vader scooter

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Stop Agreeing To Unclear Requests [New Post]

Unclear requests wreak havoc in organizations, families, friendships, and civic life.

This is particularly true when the one receiving the request blindly says “yes.”

What is an unclear request? It’s when you ask me to do something but are vague about what you want.

Scenario A: Omission of the “What.”

Imagine that you are the design manager for a team creating a new product for the home refrigerator. When attached to the fridge, it senses when the door isn’t closed all the way and emits a sound. When Henry Homeowner hears this sound, he knows to go back and find out what’s blocking the door.

I’m your lead designer, and we have a preliminary conversation about the product and what it will do. You close by saying to me, “Give me something by Thursday at 5pm.”

I think to myself, Hmm, I don’t really know what “something” means, but that’s what they pay me to do, and I don’t want to look stupid by asking a question. So I say, “You got it, boss.”

I work hard on this for three days, and on Thursday afternoon give you what you asked for. Ten minutes later, the phone rings. “That is not what I asked for” you say with audible frustration. I feel dejected and angry. What a waste of time!

Scenario B: Omission of the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. But this time, you say, “Give me a 3D prototype with basic specs next week.”

When I hear this, I understand what will satisfy you and know that it’s urgent. So I shift my schedule around to allow me to get you the prototype by next Friday at noon, five hours before your deadline.

On Wednesday morning, you knock on my door. “Where’s the prototype?” you ask.

My throat tightens, and pressure mounts in my forehead. In a low apologetic voice, I reply, “I’m working on it.”

The frown on your face tells me that this isn’t the answer you were looking for. “I told you I needed it this week. We’re already halfway through the week.”

Oops.

Scenario C: Omission of the “What” and the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. This time, you say, “Give me something ASAP.”

Although I don’t know what will satisfy you or when you want it, I agree to the request.

What happens next: as the saying goes, I get my just dessert.

Who messed up? 

When it’s time for the team’s annual Broken Trust Awards, which one of us gets to walk away with a medal?

The answer, of course, is both. You receive the Fuzzy Duddy Award for making the unclear request. I get the Dummy Award for accepting it.

What can I do differently?

The obvious answer is to resent you for being so unclear. You’re the manager. You’re supposed to know what you’re talking about. Stop jerking me around!

Or, I can own up to my part of the situation. The next time you make an unclear request, I choose to do one of the following:

  • Ask for clarification. “I get what you’re looking for and want to make sure I understand when exactly you want it. You said ‘next week.’ When during the week did you have in mind?”
  • Propose something more specific. “OK, so you want something by Thursday at 5pm. I want to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of what you want. If I gave you a table of features and benefits, will this work for you, or did you have something else in mind?”
  • Promise to propose something more specific. “I’ve got the timeframe and understand that it may not be clear exactly what you’re looking for. What I’d like to do is take two hours and come back to you with a proposal for what I’ll have for you by Thursday at 5pm. Will this work for you?”

 

The Five Reasons You Became A Manager [New Post]

There are five reasons you became a manager.

The first reason is that you’d rather be a boss than have a boss. More power!

Exactly seven minutes after your promotion, you get a call from the person who hired you for the new job. The one who wooed you. This person, you realize, is your new boss. Part of your job is to keep this person happy. That will take real effort.

There is an exception: when your new boss is the same as your old boss. Whatever you did before to keep her happy, you can keep doing. Easy peasy.

Alas, either way, you don’t get what you wanted: freedom from a boss.

The second reason you became a manager was to get a bigger office. Bigger offices are nice because they create more distance between you and your boss—either your new boss or your old boss with the new title. Space is freedom, so it feels great.

Exactly seven minutes after you move into your new office, you realize that the room is full of people who want things from you. It’s a bigger office, so there are more people.

So you bring in bookcases (even though you don’t have time to read) and file cabinets (even though all your files are electronic). These protect you from people who want things from you.

Unfortunately, when people who want things from you can’t find you—or need to lift heavy bookcases and file cabinets to see you—they become unhappy. Your engagement scores plummet. This makes your boss—either your new boss or the old boss with the new title—very anxious.

The third reason you became a manager was to increase your influence. Instead of looking up at other managers, you get to call many of them your peers. And by persuading them, you indirectly impact all of the people who report to them. The other good news: directors and vice presidents now want to talk with you.

Exactly seven minutes after feeling excited about this, you realize that your calendar is now filled with back-to-back meetings. These may be great opportunities to influence people, but you won’t have time to prepare for them. So it dawns on you that the purpose of these meetings is actually for other people to influence you.

The fourth reason you became a manager was to impress your friends, family, and the three high school classmates you bump into over the holidays.

Exactly seven minutes after telling them about your promotion, they ask you what you do as a manager, and you realize that you don’t know how to answer. You’ve spent all of your time so far figuring out how to make your new boss happy, filling your bigger office with furniture, and going to meetings that you haven’t had time to manage.

So you tell them that your new job positions you really well for the promotion to director.

The fifth and least conscious reason you became a manager was to get things done through others rather than yourself. You hear about this strange explanation 18 months after your promotion during your second performance review with your boss—either the new boss, the old boss with the new title, or the brand new boss who replaced the first new boss because the first new boss was trying to get everything done herself.

By the end of the performance review, you finally get it. Getting things done through others rather than yourself is what managing is all about. Of course!

You are so excited to figure this out that you give your boss a big warm hug and announce that you are now ready to give yourself fully to the organization, just as soon as you switch back to being an individual contributor.

***********************************************************************************

If you know anyone who is a manager, was a manager, or would like to become a manager, think hard for 10 seconds before forwarding this to them.

Episode 67: Lies, Authority, And Assessments With Chris Chittenden [The Amiel Show]

How is a lie different from an ungrounded assessment, and why does this matter in leadership? Where does a leader’s authority come from? What happens when you provide a well-grounded assessment that doesn’t matter to anyone listening?

I have a hunch that your answers to these questions will help you understand the peculiar and disturbing state of politics in the United States today.

This week on the podcast, Chris Chittenden joins me to make sense of these questions. Chris and I previously spoke about real accountability. This time, he helps me use his powerful ontological lens to understand the age of Trump and simultaneously provide clarity about leadership in organizations.

Highlights

  • 12:00 It’s easy to mix up assertions and assessments. Don’t do it!
  • 17:00 Assessments help us see what’s good or bad for us
  • 20:00 Five steps to grounding an assessment
  • 30:00 Obamacare, shifting standards, and the meaning of words
  • 43:00 Certainty, autonomy and the fall of empires
  • 50:00 The President’s conditional promises
  • 1:00:00 Who actually gives the President authority?
  • 1:05:00 The role of “fake news” in shaping assertions and assessments
  • 1:25:00 When a country’s executive function has a damaged prefrontal cortex

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