Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Much Bigger Story

I just LOVE history professor Heather Cox Richardson’s daily “Letters from an American.” Today’s reflection on the Civil War roots of the US Thanksgiving Holiday inspired me. 

Heather reminds us that today is ALWAYS lived in the context of a much bigger story.  We didn't get here in a day.  And, so far, we've lived through every single day, good or tough, and we're still here to tell about it.  Sometimes, I like to reflect on the question, "Is there a bigger story here?" and see if there is a nugget of wisdom I might give myself from a learning or moment in a past experience.  I do believe that it is in reflecting on and anchoring our learnings that we will break the adage of "history repeating itself."

We are a resilient and scrappy bunch, and I’m hopeful each of us will emerge from this season a bit kinder, more generous, and full of a love that spreads beyond any border we might create. 

Onward, one and all!

V

Saturday, October 17, 2020

What is “Help”?

I don’t really know who suggested I read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” when I was a teenager.  It might have been my Dad.  I do remember conversations with him about the book.  My sister Kitty was also a fan.

One of my key takeaways from Rand’s writing was the idea of “self-care” being branded as “selfish”.  That somehow, those who had pursued a creative vision and amassed a certain success owed something to those who had sat back, not pursued their best, or made excuses with all the reasons that they were hobbled or victimized and therefore unable to advance themselves.  The rejection of this notion is what led Galt and his compadres to Colorado to create a community of creatives who pulled back from allowing society to be vampires of their work, effort, and contribution.  It was an extreme story line with all kinds of gaps, frankly.  The underlying message though rings true for me today and contributes to my desire to take 100% responsibility for the circumstances of my life and my part in all relationships, as well as to enjoy a life of good self-care, and to pursue creativity and adventure. 

And, it leaves me with a question… “What responsibility do I choose to take for those in need?”

Pondering this has led me to think about the idea of help and “What is helpful?”  I realize now that I have stepped in to help many people and groups in my life.  And, many times, they had not asked me for help.  Or, they didn’t ask for the help that I perceived they needed.  A story from 2006 sticks with me.

I’m in a village about 25 miles from Tamale, Ghana, which was a three day drive from the capital City of Accra on the south-facing coast of Western Africa.  I had met up with a friend from Los Angeles who was visiting a Peace Corps volunteer and looking at possibly funding an eco-tourism project in the region.

We stayed in a small compound with three mud huts.  Electricity service was on about 50% of the time, however cell phone reception was perfect.  There was no running water, but each compound had a 55-gallon drum that was filled each morning from the village well by the youngest members of the household.  Life was simple, pleasant, clean.

One morning, I asked Rahim (the teenaged houseboy for the Peace Corps volunteer) if I could accompany him to the well.  While at first he was reluctant, I persisted, and he agreed to have me tag along to observe the daily ritual.

What I saw was beautiful.

The young people of the community each carried containers to the well and while there played a dance of roles and connection.  The youngest of the young manned the manual pumps.  The older ones flirted with one another.  Everyone contributed in the end, and disbanded after a time to carry their containers back to their respective families.

While we were walking back, I noticed a standard American-Style water spigot sticking out of the ground beside the road.  “Rahim,” I asked, “What is that about?”

“Oh, that’s been there for 20 or 30 years.  Someone from America put in a water line from Tamale.”

“Wow,” I said with a puzzled expression.  He could sense my confusion and went on to say, “Oh, it doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for years.  We really never needed it, so no one cared about fixing it.”

Later, I connected some of the dots of Rahim’s explanation with others in the village.  And, it shifted the story in my mind of what communities on the African continent are really about, what is really needed, and the Western story of “help” that I had been exposed to throughout my life.  I realized that my perception of “help” often comes from my perceived solution for someone else’s life.  And, when I step in to provide my version of help, I often rob the individual or group involved of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own circumstances.  And that is 180 degrees opposite the desire in my own life and the lives of others.  Yikes!

So, how then shall I live? 

My posture today is to pull back a bit from those who in my perception are not “all in” in their own lives.  By “all in”, I mean, taking responsibility for their lives and their current circumstances, pursuing their best, seeking and creating stability and peace, before stirring up chaos and confusion.  This posture may put me at odds with some of the systemic cultural issues of our time and the long-term victimization of certain groups.  It may also put me at odds with those who have accepted or become dependent on my “help”.

And, it’s a place to start.  “What are your thoughts on Help?”

Onward!

V

 

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Finding Joy

A good friend shared an article the other day on the absent imagery of our US President and his family at ease and at play.  The article reflected back on Ronald Reagan on his horse or chopping wood, the Kennedy's frolicking on the sea shore, W at his ranch, his Dad out fishing with the grandkids, and other scenes.  This is important imagery for all of us.  It shows balance.  Humanity.  Connection.  Joy.

To me, it highlighted the importance of play.  Especially when life sucks.  And more so when we're leading the charge.  Play unlocks the joy of simply being alive.  Even when we have very little, or are oppressed, depressed, or stressed, play works wonders.  Play draws us to our center.

A walk to nowhere in particular.  A morning coffee basking in the rising sun.  A hike to a high spot with a view.  A downhill mountain bike ride.  A paintbrush and a blank canvas.  Getting a sweat on not because you need a sculpted body but because you simply love getting a sweat on! Creating movement or art.  Finding the "yahoo!"

The second part of play (and equally as important!) for me is to reflect on how I've played.  To remember it.  To hold an image of what it means to play.  To feel joy.  Because, according to the neuroscience folks, simply remembering a playful or joyful time lets your brain chemistry re-live it again!*  Even listening (or viewing, in the case of our previous Presidents) to someone else's story of play gives us the same neuro transmitter boost.  We 

all feel better.

I've written about play before.  So, consider this is a gentle reminder in the midst of a remarkable year.

Yesterday, along with two buddies, I wrapped up "The Seven Summit County Summits in One Summer Season."  Of the 54 or so 14,000 foot high peaks in Colorado, seven of them are in my county and I got on top of them all this year.  I love the views connecting the dots between the different mountain ranges.  The lung pain and light headedness on the ascent.  The sore feet and knees on the descent.  I love it all.  I'm stiff today and I love that too.  I feel alive.  And, that's how I find joy.  How about you?

Onward!

V

(*Cue up Simon Sinek's "Leaders Eat Last")


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What is Enough?

In the midst of world turmoil, uncertainty, and chaos, what is enough?  Enough love and belonging? Enough creativity?  Enough money?  Enough friends?  Enough fun? Enough challenge, difficulty, or struggle?  What is enough?

I find the question difficult to answer.  I've lived in a "more" culture.  More is almost always better.  I think about conversations with friends though in others cultures and parts of the world and realize that "more" is kind of a US thing.  Hmm.

I'm sitting at my home in Colorado looking out on the Blue River.  It's beautiful as it makes the 37 mile run to the Colorado River and then westward to California.  When I got here in June it was running at 1,000 CFS (cubic feet per second).  Now it's running at about 200.  Is that enough?  Was it beautiful at 1,000?  Yes.  Is it beautiful at 200?  Yes.  Is it fulfilling its "responsibility" to supply water to the western states when running at 200?  Ah.  That's a different question!  

When I think of "enough" it brings up the difference between "needs" and "wants".  I need air, and the millions of people in the west (including me!) need water.  Beyond that, it seems like an awful lot of wants begin to surface.  I need "shelter" but is that a tent or a single family residence?  Perhaps I need a functional car to reasonably live, but do I need a new car?  Is my 26" wheel mountain bike "enough" or do I need to upgrade to the 29" technology?

During this pandemic, and like most everyone else, my circle of friends has shrunk considerably in terms of the people I've actually seen, shared meals, or played with.  At the same time, I've connected virtually in meaningful ways with a whole host of folks around the world like I've never done before.  What is enough connection?  

Perhaps there is a values question buried beneath the "enough" question.  "What is it I value in life?"  I value connection.  I value freedom.  I value integrity and self-responsibility.  Can I value those in my current "enough" place?

What is enough for you?

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Where is Reverse?

"Chris, I'm stoked you want the Van at your house by the beach.  It makes a lot more sense than having it bake in the desert.  I'm going to miss it."

"Absolutely.  What all do I need to know about it?" he asked.

"Well, the rebuilt engine is perfect.  Everything works on the interior.  The A/C blows cold which is a treat with these old Vanagons.  But Chris, I have to tell you, there is no reverse."

"No reverse?  What do you mean?"

"Just that.  There is no reverse.  You can only go forward, so be careful where you park and think first before going anywhere that you might need to back up, because you can't.  There is no going back."

"Well, isn't that interesting..."

Is there a metaphor for life in there?  Can we ever go back?   I'm reminded of the quote that is attributed equally to Emerson, Holmes, and Einstein... "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."  How will your life move forward from this worldwide shared experience?

Onward!

V

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Can I Commit without Certainty?


Find me anyone who could have predicted this current reality four months ago.  Go ahead.  And yet, here we are. It matters not whether you are a front line worker, an executive, an urban dweller or a rural rancher. I defy you to find anyone who would have said this was the way 2020 was going to play.  Okay, so what can we learn?

The future is uncertain.  In fact, it is always uncertain.  There is no such thing as certainty when we are predicting a future.  And, at this stage of life, I tend to go the other direction when anyone comes at me with certainty.  After this year, even Annie singing "the sun will come up, tomorrow..." has a very small question mark built in!  So, how then shall we live?

In 2019, when I was writing "Waking Up:  8 Questions That Will Shift Your Life (Or Help You Do Nothing)" I was not contemplating the sort of plate scraping that was going to come this year.  If you've read the intro to the book, you'll know that much of what had driven my adult life came to a screeching halt in 2006.  What I thought was a fairly predictable trajectory became a minefield of confusion and uncertainty.  So, back in the day, I started asking myself some good questions, lived through all kinds of transitions, and took about 13 years to put pen to paper.  And then 2020 hit.  And my plate is scraped clean in a whole new way.

The details at this point are less important to me than recognizing the difference between what I can do today versus what I cannot do.  There is a lot I can do.  And there is much that I cannot do.  This is true for most of us.  So, while my commitment to Good Self-Care remains, I'm not doing yoga classes at the gym or swimming laps at the pool.  I'm walking (a lot!) and getting on my mountain bike.  I tried video yoga classes but soon realized that a big draw to yoga for me was the social interaction with the familiar faces that go to my gym.  So, my commitment remains, but the actions change.  And, that's the beauty of commitments!  When I commit to a path, or a way of living, or a certain strategy, I don't need to know exactly how the action steps are going to line up.  I can trust that the answers will arrive as I stay true to the commitment.

Do Good Work is a commitment that falls under "Good Self Care" in my life.  Instead of creating flashy websites, podcasts, or selling products in my field, I've chosen to follow the path of good work.  Show up.  Do the gig.  Give clients the best I've got.  Move on.   I've believed that when I do good work, more work shows up.  And it's worked.  And then, the world paused.  All of my work went virtual.  I'm living in front of a Zoom screen supporting folks I've worked with over the past four decades.  Paid gigs have come to a virtual halt.  While not the ideal for me, it's not bad, and I'm giving it the best I've got.

One of the questions I've been asking a lot lately is, "What is the decision to be made today?"  Because, for many of us, there are precious few decisions that can be made in this moment.  We're on pause.  We've "eddied out" to use a rafting term.  We're in a Neutral Zone, to use William Bridge's "Managing Transitions" language.

The idle time might be a perfect time to become curious about my commitments.  New information (a worldwide pandemic!) has shown up.  How might my commitments change?  What commitments remain?  It's an opportunity to update the picture of myself and try out some new things without making big sweeping long-term decisions.  The world will evolve forward.  It always does.  There is no "Reverse".

So, even in this time of uncertainty, I am finding that I remain committed to be a man of curiosity, with a spirit of adventure and creativity.  I remain committed to a life of good self care and authentic connection with myself and others.  I don't need to know how it will all play out (But, damn, I wish I did sometimes!) and I do know that I will continue to choose my next steps in alignment with those commitments.  How about you?

Onward!

V

Friday, April 17, 2020

Are We People First?

My good friend Dave Gilbert asked if we could talk about maximizing the way we meet in virtual space, so he turned on the camera and this is what you get!  A Big Idea right now is to remember that we are all in a shit show.  And, importantly, we are people first and then leaders, parents, or whatever.  We're human.  When I'm wanting to react to someone in a critical or judgmental way, I can stop and ask myself, "What would a more generous response be?" 

Another Big Idea that flows from a "People First" commitment is to shift my focus to not just the content of what we're working on, but the context, or how we're working on it.  Let's be kind.

Onward!  V

(This was my first ever podcast and I've since improved my lighting and camera angles. 😀 )

Friday, March 13, 2020

Is it time to go virtual?

Did my first virtual offsite yesterday with everyone on screen in their own homes . Everyone gave a quick visual walk around their space and I drew a circle with everyone's names on a sheet and held it up to my screen so they could "see" who was on their left and right. Did a breakout session in pairs and was in jammies the whole time. 

I’ve done plenty of virtual meetings but this was unique because it was focused on the connecting conversations as opposed to business content.  It's one thing to talk about spreadsheets and strategies, but another thing to create a safe space to clear the air, get to know one another as people first, and share courageous truths.  I'm very open to hearing thoughts, ideas, and stories about how you are maximizing virtual space.  Here are some thoughts compiled from friends and colleagues who work in this area:  Ten Tips for Awesome Virtual Meetings

Not ready to call it the new normal but it just might be that for a while.

Onward!

V


Saturday, February 15, 2020

How are You Showing up Right Now?

My goal as a facilitator is to meet the group where they are at and create a space for them to get what they want. Simple. And, I like simple.

There is a subtle complexity though which is interesting and challenging. How much structure should I bring? Should I bring a “hard edge” style or a softer, more welcoming and accepting edge? I can do the hard edge… short abbreviated sentences, clear instructions, little story or emotion, just the facts. And, I can do the soft edge… let the stories unfold a bit, embrace emotion, lead from a step behind yet still lead, keep a light grip on what is coming up and where the group wants to go.

I am noticing that many groups today are desiring the softer edge. In a rapidly changing and unsettled world environment, the soft edge seems to provide a refuge, a place of comfort, a sense of support. Not a free-for-all touchy feely love fest, yet a space that says “come inside for a time… it’s pretty tough out there right now.”

It makes me wonder about how this might translate to leadership in the workplace. Is it time for the kick-ass hard edge… or is it time to take a breath and recognize that we are people first and we all have fears about what’s lurking just over the horizon?

How are you showing up with your people right now? What would support look like… for them? Have you asked recently?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Coffee? Grab your IPad!

One of the challenges of living alone is there is typically no one to sit around in the morning with a cup of coffee.  I have to get dressed and make my way to Koffi (really, that's the name of my local) to meet up with someone, but that kind of misses the joy of those groggy first sips in my boxers and someone to share it with.

What to do?

It started years ago when a friend and I wanted to have coffee but lived on opposite sides of the country.  So, we set up a time, each went to our coffee spot, put on our headsets and talked.

Now, it's so much easier!  And, I don't have to get dressed!  Grab your iPad and pour a cup!  Pick your video platform and enjoy!

Yesterday, it was a virtual coffee with a colleague in Germany.  Last week coffee with a friend in Virginia.  It's the easiest thing to do.  No real agenda.  Just like we're sitting at Koffi or in my kitchen.  Next week, it will be a "virtual happy hour" with a group of international friends.  Skip the coffee and pour a glass of prosecco.

Try it.

Onward!

V

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Speaking your Courageous Truth?

The other day I asked a group, "share a moment where you learned something meaningful about yourself or the way the world works."  For some reason, all of the stories that followed had something to do with what happened both before and after the person shared a courageous truth.  Perhaps they spoke truth to bullshit.  Truth to power.  It wasn't exactly where I expected the conversation to go, but hey, I can make soup out of just about anything.

And we did.  What came out of the conversation was a great deal of clarity on what it is that creates space for learning.  A yearning for learning.  A desire to chase learning.  And it almost always came down to some dissatisfaction with the status quo or challenge to our integrity.  But that wasn't the end.  Dissatisfaction wasn't enough.  It took speaking up.  Showing up.  Taking the shot.  And then, living through the chaos that followed!  

My story in this was an event that preceded me getting fired many years ago.  I was young and let the person in charge know what I thought about her way of doing things.  Perhaps I wasn't elegant in my presentation.  She took exception to my thoughts and suggested I might be happier working elsewhere.  And I was!  Speaking my courageous truth to her and getting fired opened up the door to another opportunity which propelled me into a wonderful career that re-shaped my life.  And, that's another story.

So, what is the courageous truth you might speak today?  

Onward!

V


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What's Your Story?

All of us have a story.  Some of it is fun and interesting, rich and full.  Some of it is hard or challenging.  I have a thing for stories.

So, what's your story?  Not the timeline of your life or the dates, names, and places, but the story.  All that you have made your life mean.  That's your story.  I love the way Brene' Brown puts it: "Stories are data with a soul."

If you've never considered the fullness of your story, or are just waking up to the idea that you even have a story, or might want to spend a few minutes doing nothing but reflecting on your story, I can help!

Last year, I signed up for a writing boot camp and spent four months getting "from dream to draft".  The coaches were tough and we had to post a picture of our word count every week.  And, we got there.  In the end, 40,000 words got plotted down, sorted, edited, and compiled into what just might be a resource you can use for a long time.  A bunch of good questions.  And, a whole lot of my story woven in and around along with conversations that I've had with hundreds of people over the last many years in my practice of executive coaching and leadership development.

You can purchase a copy in print or e-reader format, spend a couple hours perusing, and then decide to do nothing!  Or, perhaps you will decide to go on the journey of a lifetime.

Onward!

V

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What if you do nothing?

She had laid out her whole story... all the background data, her assessment of the issues and how she perceived them, and how her emotions were in play.  She was beginning to develop some action-step options for moving forward.

And then, one of the other forum members asked, "What if you do nothing?"

Silence. Quiet filled the room.

After a pause and a slight bit of knowing laughter, she said “Well, it might just work itself out. We're doing a lot of the right things. Maybe it just needs a little time.”

Sometimes we get caught up in being "action-oriented.”  We fix things by doing a bunch of stuff.  And, sometimes we forget that "doing nothing" is a viable option!

Reflecting on the "do nothing trail" helps me separate the facts from the fiction in any area of my life.  It helps me become an observer and lifts me out of my desire for action.  Reflecting on the idea of doing nothing different from what I’m already doing helps me take stock from a different perspective.

And, doing nothing is sometimes the very best thing to do.

Onward!

V

Friday, March 29, 2019

What’s Your Cause? A Birthday Challenge


I shared with Paul Warner that for my 60th birthday I wanted to do a vertical ski challenge.   He said, “Great! Let’s do 60,000 vertical in a day!”

Yikes! So I did a little research and math and wouldn’t you know, it is actually possible! It’ll be about 30 big mountain laps over 6-7 hours.  So we rallied his family and a few others and will be on the first chair at Beaver Creek Saturday morning. It’s a totally arbitrary target, and has been fun to prep for. “60 for 60!”

The valuable part for me is simply the process of joining together with some good friends to see if we can rise to the physical and mental challenge. But is there a greater purpose or cause? Should we be “skiing to end hunger” or raising $60,000 for some other charitable effort? We could do that, and certainly have at other times. But no, this time the cause is friendship. I believe in the value and importance of meaningful, authentic, intimate, and treasured friends... and am committed in my life to make the world a friendlier place for all. So, here’s to good friends. May we each value what we have over what we don’t, and connect well with ourselves and a few others along the way.

Onward!

V

Sunday, March 10, 2019

It’s Not Safe Here!

I was debriefing a meeting that I had attended with another guy and he made the comment, “That meeting was totally unsafe.”

Really? I felt very comfortable in my skin, knew what I was about, had clear boundaries. Wouldn’t have judged it “totally unsafe” as he had. But, it was his judgment. His experience. His emotional response, perhaps. And, he didn’t own it that way. To him, “that meeting was totally unsafe.”

Well, there’s a lot of talk about safe and unsafe people. Or, places where you feel safe. Or groups that are safe. “I don’t feel safe with you” is a common statement in relationship.

But then, is “safe” really a feeling, an emotion? Is it Anger? Sadness? Fear? Joy? Huh. Maybe “safe” isn’t so much an emotion as it is a judgment or an observation about what is going on inside of you. So, a good question to get to the root of it would be, “when I judge that I am unsafe, how am I feeling?”

My guess is that the emotion most often connected to safety is fear. I feel fear when I judge that I am at risk of getting hurt- hurt emotionally or hurt physically. So, the clear statement about the meeting might be, “I felt some fear around the possibility of betrayal or loss at that meeting…” or something like that.

And, if “I am feeling unsafe with you”, I might want to own it as, “When I am with you, I feel fear. I make up a story that I might be betrayed in some way because that has happened before. I know it’s just my story, and it’s my feeling of fear…”

When I can own my emotion… in this case fear… I become empowered then to take action, to set a boundary, to take 100% responsibility for what is happening in my life, to step from victim into maturity and to clarify my want… in short, to be me.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Letting Go

I have this great poem called “Transitions” that talks about how the trapezist must let go of the one trapeze in order to grab onto the next. And, in between, there is a moment where they are holding onto neither but instead flying through air. It’s the same in rock climbing. Often, you have to let go of one hand or foothold and commit to the forward movement in order to reach the next. There’s also the story of the Spanish Explorer who burnt the ships in the harbor once they reached the new world. There was no going back… only forward.

What is it about letting go?

Long held beliefs or desires
Vigorously staked out positions on an issue
What I wanted it to be and not what it is. 

Perhaps it is about grieving what isn’t, or hasn’t, or didn’t, or couldn’t. It’s not about fixing a blame or needing to be right.  For me, it’s about accepting what is and then choosing my next step wisely. Because, in the end, every step we take is a choice. And, that choice can be driven by the past or the things we haven’t yet let go of, or it can be driven by the present, and the maturity in which we live in this moment.

So, what do you want to let go of, or accept today?

Monday, December 3, 2018

BUSTED

A while ago I was speaking at a retreat for couples, sharing some clean communication skills and how to clear issues. Only, the issues they were bringing up in practice were, well, bland at best. Nothing juicy. And, I like juicy. I mean, if we’re going to work, let’s WORK!

So, I asked if one of the women would come up front and role play with me. I’ll be the husband coming in from work and have an issue, I said. She said, okay.

And, off I went. Only, I kept going. What was supposed to be a role play all of a sudden was waaaaay tooooo real. I was having a ball! My dark little internal predator was out to play and we were letting this poor woman have it!

She was a little shocked. And then, the other women in the audience came to her defense. “What was that?!?” they cried. I took a step back and breathed.

“You weren’t clearing an issue… you were on the attack!”

The men came to my defense. “What’s the problem?” they said. And the room erupted.

Finally, I was able to restore order and get a word in. “Okay. I’ll own that I was on an emotional roll. There was more going on than just this moment. And, I’ll ask everyone to own your judgments of the scene as just your judgments. I’ll own my part. You own your part, okay? And now... everyone breathe.”

So, here’s the deal. In a nano-second, some old emotional baggage found a crack and leaked out. My internal predator was driving my bus. So, instead of clearing an issue and talking about the emotions involved, my emotions were driving the bus in that moment. It's the difference between "being in" my emotions versus "talking about" my emotional experience.

When I stepped back to breathe, I was able to ask myself “What’s really going on here?” and own it and bring it out into the light. No defensiveness, just curiosity.

Later in the session, we all had a good laugh about how our emotions can sometimes drive the bus. A teachable moment indeed.

Monday, November 5, 2018

What is the Best Question?

And then he offered, "The value people like you bring to our table is not only asking good questions, but helping us ask the right questions. And, I've noticed that the questions I want to ask as CEO of a big organization are quite different then the questions I asked as I was moving up through the ranks. And sometimes, I forget that and fall into old scripts."

"Give me an example", I asked.

"Well, when I check in with a tactical question... "is the report completed?" for example, I get a tactical response- yes or no. Not very high value. If I ask a strategic question... "how will this report move us toward our desired outcomes?" I get a higher level response. And the home run is when I ask a generative question... "what's the story we're making up about the data in this report?" That's when I get the best from my people."

So, what's the best question for you to be asking today?

Onward!

V

Monday, October 1, 2018

First to Fall

A while back I was having a conversation with a young man attending a conference with his dad. Over the course of the two or three days, I noticed a certain discomfort or awkwardness between the two.

I began to craft the story that both the father and son were waiting for something to happen in their relationship. Perhaps they were waiting for the other to do something, to take some sort of step forward toward the other. It was like I was watching this unspoken game of “who will be the first to fall?” being played out.

“First to fall?” You know, the first to go vulnerable. To speak their truth. To state a desire in the relationship. Without a stated desire on the table it was just a game of wait and see. Of looking to the other person to take responsibility for the relationship.

“What would it look like for you to take 100% responsibility for your part in this relationship? “ I asked him.

“Well, I’d have to get clear on what I want first. Then I suppose I could take responsibility for that.”

Huh.

It seems to me that there is 200% responsibility in every relationship. I own 100% responsibility for my part and you own 100% responsibility for your part. I can’t own your part and I can’t control you… all I can do is own 100% of my part in the relationship.

When I look to someone else to define or create the relationship I desire, I give up the power to own and define my own life. Better to get clear and ask for what I want… recognizing that I don’t always get what I want. And, sometimes, I do.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

What Really Happened? (Or, Love Wins, Again)


Sometimes it is helpful to take a step back and ask myself, “what really happened?”  What I mean by “really” is… what was the visible, verifiable, observable, recordable by a drone flying overhead thing that occurred in real time?  

Because, my mind is very good at making up stories.  I can take a set of facts and have a field day writing a story of what I wanted to make whatever happen mean.

So, on August 23, I was with my Dad when he stopped breathing.  For several hours before, I had been quietly saying to him in his un-responsive place, “Dad, your job here is to breathe.  Just breathe.  And, you’re almost there.  You can do it.”  At 9:15pm he was breathing.  At 9:20pm he was not breathing.  A few minutes later, two nurses came into his room in the Care Center and declared that he was no longer alive.  Those were the verifiable and visible facts.

And...

I have a belief that there is an invisible realm.  We can see neither our “mind” nor our “spirit.”  They are invisible and non-locatable.  So, while my Dad’s physical, observable, body was no longer judged to be alive, I make up a story that his invisible parts are very much still alive and well.  Actually, in my story, my Dad’s invisible parts are better off than they have been since he started slipping into dementia years ago.  And further, like many many people before me who have reported similar experiences, there was the briefest moment in my dad’s passing where I believe (and, beliefs are just another story I make up) that the invisible realm became visible to him.  I saw it in his eyes.  I saw it in the smile that spread across his face like the one that always followed that first bite of the McDonald’s ice cream sundaes I used to sneak in for him.  “That’s goooooood” he would say in his gravely voice.  He was seeing beyond what I or any of us on this side of the line can see.  There was no fear.  Only love.  And, it was good.

Love Wins.  It’s the title of Rob Bell’s groundbreaking book.  And, it’s a theme for my life.  After 9 ½ years in the care center and perhaps a decade of decline before, Love won with my Dad.  The visible gave way to the invisible and it was good.  Many raised in the Christian tradition are a bit sheepish about suggesting that God might win the day with every single life that transitions out of the physical and visible realm.  It got Rob fired as a megachurch pastor.  I know I was skeptical.  It’s a scandalous idea when you’ve been taught to think in terms of eternal heaven and eternal hell.  And today, I’m here to say, Love Wins.  Every time.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Who Was He?

He was a little league coach, a volunteer ski instructor for the elementary school, a Gra-Y Club leader, and gave the daily business report on the local TV channel. He took us into the outdoors in blue jeans and cotton shirts, got us lost, soaked us to the skin, and reminded us that even with all the mishaps, “I brought everyone home”. He was a regular fixture on the sidelines of his kids and grandkids soccer, baseball, football, basketball, water polo, and roller hockey games. He supplied 6oz Coors beers at teenager parties so “everyone could look cool but no one got drunk.” He made world-class French Toast and spaghetti feeds for the masses. When asked for permission to do just about anything, he was quick with “do whatever you think is best.” He was kicked out of USC for running a panty raid and landing on the cover of Life Magazine. He knew how to throw a party, twirl a girl on the dance floor, and to the end loved the attention of a pretty woman. And, to him, all women were pretty. If he walked into a room of strangers he saw a hundred people who wanted to talk to him. He could have a pair hanging around his neck and another on his head and still toss out a string of curses for whoever had taken his glasses. Those who cared for him the last 9 ½ years knew his smile, wit, and charm were just waiting for the right moment to pounce, and even when he couldn’t string a sentence together he would laugh at exactly the right moment in the story you were telling and do a little jig in his wheelchair to Darktown Strutters Ball. He was Joey, Dad, Uncle Joe, Grandpa and Great Grandpa. He was Joe Corsaro. Born in Redondo Beach on March 29, 1931 and peacefully left us for the adventure beyond on August 23, 2018.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

You've Got a Friend


Mo and I went to see James Taylor last night at the Hollywood Bowl after seeing him together in 1988 or so.  I first hired Mo when I was 23.  She was 18 and we’ve remained friends through the years.  It was a stellar evening in our box seats with a little café table where we enjoyed an awesome picnic and a nice bottle of Petite Syrah.  I cried through most of the concert.  Tears of joy as the songs opened-up a vault of memories… appreciating all the moments which form the fabric of life and stitch together to form the person I am today.


On the way driving from Palm Springs to LA, I also had a chance to catch up with Marcia on the phone.  When I was 15, 16, 17, Marcia would put a stack of records on the turntable… James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, others of that era… and we’d lie around on the white shag carpeting listening in her living room.  Her home was a place of refuge away from the chaos across the street at my house.  It was safe.  Peaceful.  Dinner on the dot at 6.   I’d often eat there before going home to eat again with my family.  Appreciative memories.  Her mom took me to the DMV to get my license on my 16th birthday.  They were my village.  

Memories of 17 anchor for me.  It’s when I was the youth director for our Countywide 4-H summer camp playing guitar in front of 300 campers and adult leaders.  It’s when I drove away in my green Chevy Vega to attend school at Cal Poly, SLO, full of myself as I jumped into the world.  

Life is full of moments.  Some I’m proud of, some bring me shame and heartache.  And as I rolled through the “tapes” in my mind last night the tears flowed.  And this morning, sipping a cup of coffee alone in my backyard, the tears continue to flow as James plays on Pandora. 

Today, I’m appreciating Mo and Marcia.  To both of you… just call out my name, and wherever I am I’ll come running.  You’ve got a friend. 

Onward!

V







Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What is Your Choice?

When I hear a similar story three times in as many days, I get curious!

The western world of medicine has an amazing ability to prolong life these days.  So, when is it okay to choose not to?  When is it okay to say "I choose not to treat."  Perhaps, it's okay at the moment of mature clarity that says  "I see my choices and I choose to not treat."

The three stories this week came from widely diverse circumstances across the age spectrum.  To me, the details are less important than the personal resolve.  The utmost clarity.  Acceptance and appreciation flowing freely.

What do you think?

Onward!

V

Monday, April 16, 2018

What have we learned?

Is there ever a bad time to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What have we learned?"  I don't think so.  And, how often is the crazy thing we are doing right now directly in conflict with a "lesson learned" from the past!  Capturing and anchoring learnings seems to me an important part of living in my maturity while aspiring to be an effective and inspirational leader.

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of a terrible atrocity in what is now Turkey against some 1.5 million Armenians.  The Armenians were living in their homeland (it was Armenia!) but their land was arbitrarily given to the Turks as the Ottoman Empire unfolded.  The Armenians were then systematically exterminated.  Many of the survivors of the genocide escaped to Syria... and have now been displaced over the past five years by the civil unrest in their adopted country.

And, while I can't solve the complex geo-political issues of our time, I can always look at myself and stay curious about...
  • "How are my actions imposing my will on someone else?" 
  • "How am I taking 100% responsibility for my part in this mess?"
  • "How might I create a win-win solution in this issue?"
And the list goes on.  My desire is to remember the lessons learned and in order to do so, I do well to stop, reflect, and anchor what it is I've learned, every day.

Onward!

V

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Just for Grins...

In the first ten minutes of a conversation, the CEO said,
    “I make really good decisions.”
“I am good at keeping emotion out of my decision making.”

“I do things right.”

I stopped the conversation.  “So, just for grins are you open to not being right about any of that?  Are you open to an opposite point of view?”
“What do you mean”, he asked.
 
“Just try any of these on…”
  • “Sometimes, I make poor decisions.”
  • “Sometimes, my emotions effect my decision making.”
  • “Sometimes, I don’t do things right.”
“I don’t like those,” he said.
 
“I know.  But, how does it change the way you might act in the situation?  How might you shift your perspective?”
 
“Well if I was concerned about a poor decision being made or my emotions were driving the bus, I might engage some people smarter than me in the conversation.  I might not assert my opinion so forcefully.  I might be more open.”
 
“And, what might happen with your team in that case?”
 
“Okay.  I get it.  They’d buy in.  They’d have a chance to weigh in.  I’d be getting the best from the people I’ve hired to bring their best.”
 
“So, both can be true? You can believe you make good decisions and you can also derive value by approaching a situation as if you believed you might make a poor decision?”
 
“Yes, Vince.”
  
Cool.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Curious or Critical?

A million years ago I was coming off a successful operating executive experience and landed the CEO job I had always wanted.  I was 35 years young and eager to make my mark.

As you do at the beginning of a new job, I was meeting with people at all levels, key stakeholders, long-term employees and new ones alike.  The Board gave me great freedom to move about and explore the landscape.  In my enthusiastic self, everyone seemed happy to hear what I had to say and seemed ready to march to the new beat that I brought.  Perhaps.

Within a few weeks, I began to notice that while people were happy to talk, they really weren't all that interested in changing anything.  They were committed to the way they had always done things.  "But, where do I get to leave my mark?" I began to lament to myself.  "These people are stuck in an old mindset,  they have no plan, they are entrenched and all the power is being held by the wrong people.  Can't they see it?"  I became more and more critical.  Disillusioned.

About 90 days in, the HR Manager came into my office and shut the door.  Rarely is it a good thing when the HR Manager shuts the door.  So, I braced myself.

"You know Vince," she said, "This place has somehow managed to survive for almost 100 years before you got here.  From your questions and the way you are moving about, it sounds like you don't think we've ever done anything right.  You might get a better response if you showed up with a little more curiosity."

Hmm.  Her 2x4 upside my head hurt.

And, I heard her. I had been coming from a place of criticism.  I saw problems with the way things were being done and my questions were digging in to clarify and confirm that my criticisms were correct and that things needed to change.  Instead of appreciating what was going right, I had been on a hunt to verify what was wrong.  And, the troops were pushing back against me, defending themselves, and drawing the battle lines.  Yikes!

So, did I make a course correction?  I like to think so!  Within a year or so I looked around the room and realized that more people were paddling with me than against me.  I noticed that we were aspiring to a vision that seemed to be embraced by all.  A few people had left and I had made a couple of key hires which had helped solidify the team.  Appreciation and curiosity seemed to be more the norm than criticism and defense.

My sense is that over time, curiosity wins the day over criticism.  Not a big surprise, but sometimes surprising that I need to learn it over and over again.

As I look at my life today, am I coming from a place of curiosity or criticism?

Onward!

V

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Coffee?

For nearly twenty years I have had a regular Friday morning coffee group.  First in south Orange County and then Palm Springs, these guys have become some of my closest confidantes and friends.  Someone asked me the other day, "How does it work?"
  1. Find four to six people.  Commit with one another. 
  2. Pick a spot.  I like public coffee shops with dispersed seating or a little privacy. 
  3. Pick a regular meeting time.  Usually 60-90 minutes.  I like mornings.
  4. Show up.  Even if only one of you is in town/available that week, still show up.  You'll enjoy coffee by yourself thinking about your friends.
  5. Agree on a little structure.
    • Quick Check In:  "What are three words that describe you today?"
    • Conversation Question:  Whoever is moderating today picks a good question and answers it first.  An example:  "If you could be world-class in anything, what would it be?"  No long conversation.  Just a way to engage.
    • Brief Personal Updates:  4-5 minutes per person, uninterrupted, no questions.  I like giving "three headlines" or quick summaries and then unpack one in more detail:  "Here are the facts... the stories I make up... how I feel... and what I want.  My next steps are..."
    • After everyone has a turn, close with appreciations and action commitments. 
The Big Idea is to create a space to give the story of your life some airtime, without being fixed, analyzed, solved, or judged.  Keep it safe and confidential.  Try it.  And, reach out if I can help you set it up.  Super easy.  Very powerful.

Onward!

V

Monday, September 25, 2017

Where is the King?

Facilitating a team retreat the other day and I shared, "The King has every right to leave the castle and head off into battle. But when they do, they put the kingdom at risk."

"That's cool Vince.  What are you talking about?" the group asked.

Let's unpack this a bit.  When I think of all the great stories of knights and castles and courts and ladies, there are always certain characters that show up.  The King... The Warrior... The Lover... the Wizard... and what I've learned is that these characters (or archetypes) have a certain place in each of us right here right now.  We each have an "Inner King" and an "Inner Warrior" and I believe it serves us well to get to know these parts. 

So, when I think about the "King" in me (or the "Sovereign"), I am thinking about that part of me that holds, comforts, initiates, and decides things.  That's what Kings do!  I need my "Inner Sovereign" to be online and not get too caught up in the day to day grind of what's in front of me at this moment.  I need my Inner King to hold the balance between protecting and expanding my life.

And so, going back into many of the ancient stories, when the King leaves the castle bad stuff happens.  Evil wizards take over.  Lovers swoop in and wreak havoc.  Warriors raid and take their plunder.  Things run amok. 

"Okay.  Keep going," they said.  "And help us see what this has to do with our CEO?"

Think about the role of the CEO.  The CEO's role is to initiate, decide, align with purpose, comfort and celebrate... in short... a lot like the sovereign of days gone by.  But, before you go bowing and scraping to your CEO, let the metaphor just land on the governance role of the King... not the royal pomp bit.

Often, the CEO was the best damn Sales Manager this company ever knew.  Or the best CFO.  Or, the best COO back in the day.  So, it is no surprise that the CEO might have something to say about those roles now.  About how things should be done.  But, the CEO's job is not to direct activity.  It is to define outcomes.  It's up to today's hot shot Sales Manager to figure out the way to hit the outcome.  That's why he or she is the hot shot sales manager.  If the CEO defines the activity for the hot shot, well, the hot shot likely isn't all that hot.  He or she is just creating a dependency on the CEO... which drains energy and risks keeping the CEO from focusing on the more important issues of stewarding, protecting and advancing the broader work of the enterprise.

"Wow.  We get it.  But really, there will be no bowing to the CEO, correct?"

Correct.

Onward!

V

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Do I Do Now?

"For the first time in my career I now report directly to the CEO."
"Cool", I said.  "What are you noticing different?"
"It's weird.  The CEO doesn't expect me to really DO anything.  But I better be able to communicate what is going on in my area in just a few words and speak clearly to the end results."
"It sounds like you're being pushed a bit?"
"Well yeah.  I've always been measured by what I personally got done.  Now, I just make sure that an awful lot is accomplished, and more importantly I've got to be able to wrap it all up in a sound bite!"
"So, how's it working for you?"
"At first it was very uncomfortable.  Now, I'm learning that my job is really more about listening and asking good questions.  I used to think I had to answer all the questions to be valuable.  It's a shift."
And that's the difference between a producer (or an "operator", or "the front end") and an executive.  Producers get things gone.  Executives hold all the tension in an organization, all the risk, the biggest picture.  Executives ask good questions, communicate clearly, and make things happen.


Onward!
V

Friday, February 3, 2017

How is that Working for You?

When I first headed out to build a leadership development practice ten years ago, everyone said, "Vince, you need to come up with a catchy name, create a website, write a book, get some products to sell in order to be successful!"  None of that sounded interesting to me so I decided instead to "do good work".  And, it works for me.

"If it works for you, keep it," I say!

So for now, this blog and simple introduction works for me!  My practice is full and vibrant and flexible and I love it!  Could I do more?  Probably.  And, I enjoy the life balance of time in the mountains, at the beach, and in the desert.  I enjoy coming alongside an eclectic group of clients who all want to dig-in and grow as people and leaders.  I'm also enjoying the process of welcoming others into this work and supporting their development as strategic accompanists, guides, and facilitators.

At some point, I may decide that "it's not working for me!" And at that moment, the possibility of change will arrive and I will assess the risks and benefits of moving forward in a new way. 

Until then, I'm off to the mountain.  2" of fresh snow last night.

Onward!

V

Monday, October 31, 2016

What has changed?

One of my favorite pastimes is sharing stories of "benchmark moments"... the turning points, or directional shifts in our lives. I am always surprised at the granular nature of the stories.
  • A singular event on a school playground where someone learned they could stand up for themselves.
  • A moment a parent or loved one said "you've got this", and the success that followed.
  • A moment of decision to step into something we've always been passionate about as opposed to simply following a pre-determined script for our lives.
  • The birth of a child.  Becoming a parent. 
  • The birth of a grandchild.  Becoming a grandparent.
Moments are important. 

Last week I met my first grandchild.  In a moment following a warm welcoming hug, my daughter introduced me to her newborn daughter.  My son-in-law handed me his precious little girl to hold.  In a moment, they became parents.  I became a grandfather.  Life changed.

Mature leaders are always open to changing their viewpoint or position when new information arrives.  Well... new information arrived last week in the form of a baby!  So, what changes?  What long-held beliefs come into play?  How does this re-order relationships?  What are the deeper desires here?

My sense is the answers have less importance than the curious questions. 

Onward!

V

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Who do you want to be?

Ten years ago today I was released from the executive cabinet at Y-USA and handed a severance check. It was 2006, I was 47, my youngest daughter Janelle had just left for college, and our divorce had been final for about 6 months. The plate of my life had been scraped clean.
Two phone calls came soon after which set the course for the next ten years. One was from Paul Andresen, a good YMCA CEO friend, who asked if I would do some consulting work for him. The other was from Jim Warner, a Boulder-friend and mentor who asked if I would come co-facilitate an executive retreat with him. I said yes to both. And, while I applied for a couple YMCA positions early on, I haven't looked back. My long-time strategy has been "do good work" and follow the thread of opportunity from one gig to the next. I've always believed that good work leads to good work. Take care of the people and the rest tends to sort out. It worked for 26 years in the Y and still works today.
Relationally, the ten years could not have been more unexpected. In 2006 I was committed to the single life. Connections with a few good friends along the way helped me open up my thinking and accept myself in a whole new way. Coming out and the resulting shift in energy and focus in my life propelled me in ways I never expected. Six years with Rocky was a learning experience I've written about before. Being single again at 57 is unexpected, and I'm okay.
Going forward, I've been asked something like "What do you want to be doing in ten years?" and I tend to shift the question to "Who do I want to be in 10 years?"  At this stage, it's a bit less about the doing, and more about the being. And, I want to be a man of curiosity, with a spirit of adventure and creativity. I want to live a life of good self-care and create a positive environment around me wherever I go. I want to connect to my deeper self and be with others as they connect with themselves. There's always more to do.
 
Onward!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why Don't They Call?

She was a popular Hollywood celebrity.  Perhaps not A-list, but certainly recognizable after many years in the business.

"And, the hardest thing is this.  No one ever calls me to just have coffee, or to do the things that friends do.  We don't get invited to informal dinners, to just hang out.  No one just stops by.  Everything is fabulous and formal or nothing at all.  Sometimes I feel like the only reason anyone wants to be with me is to get something from me. I think people just assume I'm busy.  It's exhausting."

"Wow," I said.  "How would you like it to be?"

"I'd like to have people who feel comfortable just hanging out.  No agendas.  People who know I'll say 'yes' if it is possible.  People who know that if I say 'no' it's an authentic no, meaning I've already got something booked."

"So, what you really want are friends who are authentic with you."

"Not just authentic, but who are okay with me saying no three times without it counting against me!"

"Okay."  And then, I got quiet.  You see, I get in this same pickle.  My schedule is erratic, un-structured, and un-predictable.  I can be anywhere or nowhere anytime.  I fall off the radar screen regularly and rarely get casual invitations from friends.  I had no solution to offer.  Which is perfect, because I'm in the business of helping people find their own solutions.  So, back to it, Vince.

"I wonder how you might be creating the very results you're complaining about?"

She looked at me quizzically.  "Are you playing one of your mind tricks on me?"
 
"Well, perhaps.  And, perhaps I'm playing it on both of us.  But, really, what are the things you do that create the exact results you're getting?"

"Let's see.  I tend to only talk about the projects I'm on, or the places I've been lately.  I rarely talk about the mundane and normal things in life.  I don't tend to talk about the supermarket having a special on tomatoes this week."  She gazed off in the distance a bit.

"So, what do you think others make that mean?"

"I suppose it makes me seem above the mundane.  Maybe others are intimidated to talk about tomatoes when I've just gotten back from a month-long location shoot. Maybe I put people off a bit."

"Keep going," I prodded.

"Do I really want to talk about tomatoes?"

My sense was that there was a part of her that precisely wanted to talk about the mundane and normal things of life, like tomatoes at the local market.  I also sensed there was another part of her that had absolutely no interest in talking about tomatoes and only wanted to talk about the exciting and interesting bits.  Perhaps there was a path...  "It sounds like we have competing voices here.  On the one side we have..."

"Be normal!  Enjoy and appreciate the mundane and simple life!  It's about connection, not about amazement!  You are okay when you're ordinary!" 
 
"And on the other side?"
 
"You have to shine.  You have to be entertaining!  Everyone expects you to be interesting!  They will leave you in the dust if you're not!"

 
I could tell something was landing for her.  She fell silent.  "That's exactly what my dad used to say to me."  And then, tears.  "My Dad always wanted me to perform.  He'd have me sing at family events.  He only seemed to notice me if I was performing.  I think he was afraid I would disappear or be a nobody if I didn't entertain well."
 
"So, it sounds like you keep performing even when the cameras are off.  Tell me what the tears have to say right now."
 
"My tears like the other voice.  My whole body just wants to let down my guard.  To just be normal, ordinary, mundane.  To just connect.  I can breathe when I think about that."
 
"Okay.  What would that look like," I asked.
 
"Well, maybe I can be more conscious of what I share and engage with others about.  Maybe I can talk about tomatoes now and then.  And, not how fabulous my homegrown crop is.  You know what I mean.  Just, ask others about the simple pleasures of their lives.  Share the ordinary.  It doesn't need to be fabulous."
 
"And if you did that, what might you get?"
 
"Well, I think it would just be more authentic.  And, frankly, that's worth it, regardless if anyone ever calls me for coffee."
 
Indeed.