Monday, November 24, 2008

My Story and I’m Sticking To it

I recently presented the results of an Employee Satisfaction Survey to a 75 member leadership team. 50% of the Managers themselves had responded to the survey. Before presenting any results from the survey, I asked… “What does it mean that 50% of you in this room completed the survey?”

“Those who didn’t respond didn’t think it would make a difference.”
“They were busy with other duties.”
“They didn’t think anything would change as a result.”
“They didn’t care.”

In truth, we don’t know what it means. All we really know... from the data… is that 50% responded. Everything else is only what it means to me! And, that’s my story… or my opinion, my assessment, my judgment.

Important? I think so. The ability to recognize and articulate the difference between DATA… “50% responded”… and STORY… “The others were busy” is the mark of a clean and clear communicator.

You see, data is just data. It’s what a video camera can record. Dragnet’s Joe Friday “Just the facts Ma’am”. It’s the only thing we need agree on in most discussions. And, everything else is my story, my feelings, my desires… my stuff. I can own all my stuff. I can’t own data. So, the mature, effective, clear communicating leader separates data from everything else.

“The facts are that 50% responded. The story I make up from that data is that others didn’t respond for a number of reasons… competing priorities, lack of care, apathy. What are your thoughts?”

What is the story you’re making up from the data in your life?

This Has No Place in the Work Place

Early in a recent retreat, while teaching Clear Talk and Issues Clearing…two tools that are part and parcel of virtually everything I do… a high-powered CEO stated “This is all well and good here at this retreat, but it has no place in the work place.”

My response… “Interesting comment. Are you willing to own that as your opinion… your judgment?”

Ha! “If I were an employee of his, I would have just been fired…” was the story I started to make up. It was clear that he was unaccustomed to being challenged in this way.

Unfortunately, my experience with too many CEO’s is that the “un-owned assertion” is to be viewed as Truth (with a capital “T”) if it comes from their position at the top of the food chain. Hmm. I don’t buy it.

In truth, it was his opinion. And, I respect it as such. Just his opinion at that moment in time. After an initial sputter, he came back with a clear “yes” to my question. We moved on.

Interestingly, he called me three days after the conclusion of the retreat. “I was wrong”, he said. “I came back and first thing Monday morning shared the Issues Clearing Model with my team. It was a hit. Thanks for pushing back and asking me to own my judgment. It gave me the space to become curious and consider a different point of view.”

“I was wrong…” Maybe that’s one reason he’s worth millions.

What judgments do you make that you might want to own as simply your judgments?

Surf's Up, Dude

At the conclusion of a Forum retreat, the Moderator offered to give me a ride to the airport. It gave us a few minutes to casually debrief.

“You know,” he said, “you wear your laid back southern California surfer persona pretty well.”

Yikes! My surfer persona?!? Pray tell.

“It comes up when you feel pressured to perform, perhaps because we were a new group with you, or perhaps because you were afraid we were going somewhere you didn’t want to go. It’s a cool character.”

Now, I teach that mature leaders treasure feedback whenever and wherever they can get it, regardless of how it is delivered. But, this was a challenge. I guess I really am subject to the same stuff as everyone else! When I begin to feel afraid of something, my personas show up. I step into drama. I just hadn’t been introduced quite so clearly to my “surf dude.”

Thanks, I said. I appreciate you noticing that, and more than just noticing, I appreciate you sharing it with me. I began to wonder about what was really going on when surf dude shows up. And with that curiosity I began to step out of drama and into the maturity of simply being me.

Who is showing up on your stage?

The Emotional Journey

My journey these days is often about being quiet, listening in the stillness, and becoming more and more aware of the emotions inside of me. And, sometimes I’m explosive and angry, or playful, and sometimes I am in the pure joy of the moment. A great friend once tried to explain to me that “emotions aren’t linear and will not be figured out…” It’s taken a while for that one to sink in. There is no such thing as a “bad” emotion. I celebrate anytime I feel anything- because it means I’m not severed off at the neck. It means I’m alive.

It’s interesting to me how many people struggle over feeling emotion- and especially feeling anger. We’re taught to be nice, and dutiful, and civil, and all the rest but not really taught how to be angry. And for those who work in ministry or other service the challenge is great- the challenge to find appropriate places and ways to explode and blow off steam. Over the years, I’ve taken to the batting cages as a physical expression of explosion. It’s pretty clean- no one gets hurt. It’s was a necessary starting point for me to connect with what was going on inside amidst all the chaos. Getting in touch with the anger inside and working it out was important to me- because it came out one way or another anyway. My goal now is to stay in touch with however I feel. If I’m down today, then I’ll feel down. If I’m up today, then I’ll feel up. Either way, my desire is to celebrate the moment, feel it, surrender it, and know that I won’t always feel this way.

What emotions do you allow in your life? What emotions do you avoid?

Holding Rope

My good friend Jake knows that the worst moment for me rock climbing is the rappel down. He knows I turn in to a whimpering baby when faced with inching out to the edge of the precipice and resting into the rope. He always set up our climbs so the first thing I had to do was rappel.

So, there I was not too long ago. Playing out my ritual of hugging rock, clinging to the edge, breaking into a sweat trying to take deep breaths and be calm, looking desperately for a way down that would allow me to hold on to control a little bit longer. My hands sweat just thinking about it.

Eventually, the moment came where I eased into the rope, transferring the weight from my control. And, with each step down the side of the rock, my confidence grew, the calm became real. The beauty of the setting became more apparent.

A few minutes later, I was back on the rock, only going up this time. The climb was pretty interesting. A few little surprises, a couple of cool moves. A Holiday Inn ledge halfway up.

But then it was time to release the rock and let Jake lower me down. Another moment to release control. Give up the security of my hold to the insecurity of a rope. Let go of control and place my life in the hands of a friend to hold the rope and lower me down safely to terra firma.

Trusting the rope holder. How thankful I am to have a friend to hold the rope. How thankful I am that we are designed to connect and hold the rope for one another. To live in fellowship, in community. Not in isolation.

Whose rope are you holding today? Who is holding your rope?

Am I Listening?

A while back, someone said to me, “Wow, Vince, you’re such a good listener!”  It made me wonder what it’s like to be a bad listener!  So, I ...