Episode 75: Stomping the Blues, Reimagining American Identity with Greg Thomas [The Amiel Show]

Fasten your seatbelts. This week, we’re going on a rollicking, rhythmic, high-minded, and heartfelt ride through the core of the American experience.

Greg Thomas, our guide through the True but Partial Challenge on race, joins me again to steer us through this week’s journey.

Or should I say: journeys?

That’s how much territory we cover. Greg even coaxes me to steer out of my “interviewer lane” and riff on my own experience stomping the blues.

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The focus of our conversation is Albert Murray, the great 20th century American writer and close colleague of Ralph Ellison.

Haven’t heard of him? Neither had I until a few months ago.

But since when did lack of fame mean anything about a person’s wisdom?

Like me, you will learn to take Albert Murray seriously. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison does. She wrote, “Murray’s perceptions are firmly based in the blues idiom, and it is black music no less than literary criticism and historical analysis that gives his work its authenticity, its emotional vigor, and its tenacious hold on the intellect.”

Like me, you will get mesmerized by the ideas in Murray’s first book, The Omni-Americans. Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates wrote in his New Yorker profile of Murray (“The King of Cats”) that the book was “so pissed-off, jaw-jutting, and unapologetic that it demanded to be taken seriously.”

Highlights

  • 6:00 Albert Murray’s influence on American culture and art
  • 13:30 American identity synthesizes multiple roots
  • 20:00 Murray’s devastating critique of “ghettoologists” and “safari technicians”
  • 35:00 Decoding ancient fairy tales and applying them to life today
  • 39:00 The blues idiom as life compass
  • 43:00 The hero’s journey in American cultures, e.g. Harriet Tubman
  • 46:00 Hero’s journey is an alternative orientation from Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Baldwin
  • 55:30 We fear difference and are attracted to it. Can we integrate this into ourselves?
  • 59:00 The Jazz Leadership Project
  • 1:10:00 Apprentice, journeyman, and master

 

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The Year Ahead [New Post]

Thank you all for listening to my podcast, reading my posts, and sending kudos, queries, and quirky questions. As we close out 2017 and step into 2018, I want to share a few words about what you can expect from staying in conversation with me.

  • Growing as a leader and human being in organizations. This remains the primary focus of my podcast, blog, and client work. What can we learn about this process from different teachers, studies, experts, traditions, and organizations?
  • In-depth interviews. I’m committed to providing high-quality, in-depth interviews that make you think. I pick guests whose work I admire and ask them to dive deeply. These folks have a lot to say, so I give them the spotlight and challenge them to stretch their own thinking an extra inch.
  • Accomplishing work together by managing promises. My clients are reporting a great deal of benefit from an approach to collaborative work that I call “managing promises.” I’m using it with teams and individuals to produce better results with fewer headaches. (If you’d like to talk about using this with your team, send me a note). You may recognize this theme from past interviews with Elizabeth Doty about making only promises you can keep, Bob Dunham on listening for commitment and executives’ new promises, and Chris Chittenden on real accountability. Why do so many handoffs between people go awry? Why is it frustrating when people don’t give you what you ask for and yet so challenging to talk with them about this in a way that improves future results? What happens when you make more powerful offers in your organization, and what specific steps are needed to do this? How can you raise the performance of your entire team by learning the real anatomy of action? I’ve taken many of these ideas (originally from Fernando Flores’s “conversation for action”) and fleshed them out into a comprehensive model called the “promise cycle”. I’ve written a short yet fairly technical playbook about this called Reliable Results. In the coming year, I’ll be doing more interviews and Jedi Leadership Tricks on this topic, posting more diagrams like Fuzzy Promises, Fuzzy Mittens, and continuing to share it with teams. I think there is great potential to do for managing promises with others what David Allen has done with managing agreements with yourself.
  • The American experience with race—a new series. Most conversation about race in the United States is simplistic, polemical, and poorly grounded in history. We are arguing past each other rather than listening to each other, focusing only on the latest outrages, and not sufficiently integrating different perspectives. To me, it’s a huge leadership topic, something that can inform how we understand ourselves and the people we work with even when the topic at hand is not about race. That’s because to talk with wisdom about race is to talk about what it means to be human beings in all our beautiful complexity. I’ll be asking podcast guests to explore this topic with me in an integral way. We’ll delve into individual beliefs and behaviors, culture, and societal structures.
  • Synthesizing key concepts. Several listeners have recently challenged me to share my own understanding on the many ideas I explore with guests. To synthesize and illuminate what I’ve been learning. Expect to see at least a couple forays in this direction in the coming year.

Once again, thank you for walking with me on this journey. Anything in this note strike you as particularly important? Have any other suggestions for me. I welcome your emails!

 

Episode 71: Biology of Power & Sexual Harassment With Janet Crawford [The Amiel Show]

This week on the podcast, I welcome back Janet Crawford to discuss sexual harassment as an expression of high and low power tactics rooted in human biology. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and experimental psychology and her own professional and personal experience, Janet brings to light many subtle dynamics overlooked in the public debate about this charged topic.

Janet is a highly regarded executive coach and public speaker based in the Bay Area.

Janet and I previously spoke about leaders’ brains, emotional literacy and power and, more recently, about being a good guy and breaking with the Bro Code.

Highlights

  • 3:00 Biology of power. High and low power tactics.
  • 9:00 Why do many high power men not harass?
  • 16:00 Why women wait to come forward—a big list
  • 22:00 Why are women coming forward now?
  • 30:00 Professional harm versus sexual harm
  • 37:00 Women walk a tightrope based on how high power people will evaluate them
  • 40:00 Women’s backlash against women. Men’s backlash against men
  • 52:00 Men get an “aha” when they see how power works
  • 1:00:00 A young Janet’s harrowing episode—and how she grew from it
  • 1:18:00 How to stop harassment at low level insinuations
  • 1:26:00 Janet uses humor to respond to a power challenge

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Episode 69: Executives’ New Promises With Bob Dunham [The Amiel Show]

Bob-Dunham

This week on the podcast, I welcome back Bob Dunham to discuss the transition from manager to executive.

Bob heads up the Institute for Generative Leadership, where for three decades he has developed leaders and coaches.

In episode 7, he described how to make reliable promises and the importance of listening for commitment.

This time, we explored how becoming an executive involves a new category of promises. Skillfully managing these promises requires new conversations, skills, and presence. Why do many people fail in transitioning to the executive role? What does it take to cross this chasm successfully? How can you prepare yourself for the transition?

Join Bob and me as we delve into these questions and more.

And, as always, share with friends who might enjoy these insights.

Highlights

  • 9:00 People are often blind to the outcome
  • 17:00 When you have plans but no promises
  • 21:30 Not having honest conversations is a setup for failure
  • 28:30 Blind spot: the learning path for new managers
  • 40:00 Good managers assess their direct reports’ assessments
  • 42:00 Executives’ new promises and conversations
  • 53:00 It’s all about what we listen for

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That time he didn’t cancel his request [New Post]

When historians look back at my son’s outburst after I wiped his nose with a Kleenex (described last week), they will highlight his rage and my awkward response. A classic case of resenting unwanted help.

But what if things had turned out differently? What if I had found a way to put the mucus back in his nose—and keep it there? (You managerial experts know why: first attract, then retain). And what if, during the time I was prototyping this innovation, my son had changed his mind yet not informed me?

“Daddy, I don’t want the mucus in my nose!”

History books would have recorded this incident differently. Chapter 7: An Uncanceled Request Starts a War. In this rendering, my son would be the villain, and I would be the furious one.

Sound familiar? It’s the most frustrating thing. You get something done for another person. You take care to deliver “to spec.” Then, when you give it to them, they say, “Thanks, but I didn’t need that after all.”

People give this different names: “He’s jerking me around.” “She’s doesn’t care.” “I don’t trust him.” “She is oblivious.”

Or simply WTF!

These responses are understandable yet unproductive.

Ascribing motivation to the other person in this situation has two flaws:

  1. You don’t know their intent, only what they did.
  2. It’s not actionable. What are you going to do, say to them “Stop jerking me around?” How’s that going to turn out?

I prefer to call their behavior failing to cancel a request. It’s both more accurate and more actionable.

Here’s what I mean by canceling a request: They ask you to do something, then change their mind. The responsible thing for them to do is immediately reach out to you and say, “You know that thing I asked you to do? I just learned that I don’t need it any more. I’m canceling my request.” They can apologize, add a bunch of niceties, and so on, but the key is to say “request cancelled!”

Benefits

Canceling a request has three benefits:

  1. You can redirect your energies to other commitments.
  2. You know they respect your time so you feel better—maybe not happy, but also not resentful.
  3. They don’t have to avoid you in the hallway.

The same holds true if you are the one canceling the request.

Upshot

  1. If people fail to cancel a request to you, don’t call them names. Ask them to cancel their requests in the future.
  2. If you do this to others, stop. Instead, as soon as you know you don’t need something, let them know.

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. 😉