Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unpacking Boxes

My back hurts. At this point in life, I would not have expected the script to read “moving into a leased condo…” At once I am frustrated that the place I was buying fell out of escrow after 6 months at the seller’s initiative… and sad that my “place” in life is not more settled. The script was supposed to read… “work your career, pay off your home, ride off into the sunset…” But sometimes the script doesn’t turn as I expect. My sense of place is all haywire. In the work I do, home is defined by the location of my toothbrush and IPod. My relationships are scattered across the globe. There is very little “grounding” my life.

So, what am I holding on to?

Well first I am holding onto a story of what life was supposed to be. I’ve always aimed at doing what I was supposed to do. Hmm. Maybe that’s an issue. Perhaps, we are meant to follow our desire, our bigger wants, our vision, our unique gifts… and not so much follow the path of “supposed to.” So, in a sense, this time might be about letting go of “supposed to” and embracing the more mature “want to.” Hmm.

Another is a story that “place” is grounding. Everyone tells me I need a base camp, a home, a man cave in order to be grounded and at peace. I’m beginning to think that maybe that’s their story and perhaps not mine. Maybe there is another story.

In any event, I’ve moved to a new town (10 miles from where I’ve lived for 25 years…not a big jump). Nice ocean view. 10-minute walk to a new coffee spot. Big garage. And, as my friend Michael McGinnis wrote… It’s All Good.

So, what story are you holding on to?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I’ve had the good fortune of travelling around much of the world and, like Dorothy, always conclude that there is “no place like home.” Southern California and the 16,000,000 other folks all huddled on the edge of the mighty blue pacific is home. I love it here.

One of my favorite things is to meet up with a friend at the beach for a walk, run, paddle, or surf. I love the ocean. I love the rhythm, the ebb and flow, the depth, the mystery.

Sometimes when I’m at the beach though I find myself focusing on the big bazillion dollar McMansions stacked next to each other on the bluffs and the fancy cars lined up at the Ritz Carlton valet and the exclusive beach club and all the things that money buys and I notice that my mind has wandered to all that I don’t have. And then, when I become conscious of it, I’ll shift my focus onto what I do have… the beauty of creation, a good friend to walk, run, paddle, or surf with, the good fortune to live in a country where I can think and speak and pray and go about life as I choose to… and I move to a place of appreciation and gratitude and thanks.

What about you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

What's the Risk?

"I've never been much of a leader. I'm more of a follower," he said.

"Huh. What might happen if you stepped into leading here?"

"I'd make a mistake. I'd waste time. I'd lose money."

"Huh. What else might happen... what might you get?"

"Some freedom. Doing what I want to do... something I'm passionate about."

"Huh. So, it sounds like you've set your life up so that by not taking the risk of a mistake or wasting time you don't ever lead and get what you really want... freedom and passion."


"How's that working for you?"

"It's not."

"So, are you willing to take the risk of leading, of making a mistake or wasting time or losing money to get what you really want?"

"Well, yeah. I think so."

"I'll take that as a no. You'll know it's a yes when it comes clearly as "YES" from your gut and your heart. Anything else is a no."

"Thanks. Yes. I'm willing to take the risk."

"Great. What would support for you look like?"

And, on it goes...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy All The Time

I own my judgment around those who pursue happiness… to me it seems hedonistic, narcissistic, and addictive… take a happy pill, get an adrenaline rush, live like it’s forever Saturday night and life is a party. So, when a friend suggested I read a book titled, “What Happy People Know”* I scoffed. He laughed. And then I read it.

My cynical critic was online as I cracked the first chapters. The author talked about evolution like it was scientific fact and made all kinds of unsupported assertions about the human condition... it was easy to put the book into the category of “feel good fluff.” I kept reading.

And then he began to explore the biological and biochemical realities of our brain structure and system, quoting legitimate research on emotional responses and brain chemistry. I was hooked.

Two quotes resonated:

“Contemporary fear almost always fits into one of two categories: fear of not having enough and fear of not being enough. Having enough and being enough are the two factors that best ensure survival in the modern world, so fears about them are rooted to the core of the neurological fear system. They’re as deep as the fear of death...”

“…The antidote for fear is love… And the purest form of love is appreciation.”

So, he had me. He scientifically described a condition that I have long suspected… that fear and love cannot occur simultaneously. And that the surest way to move from fear is to appreciate. And when we appreciate, we are tapping into the joy of who we are and who we were created to be. And that makes me happy.

*Dan Baker, PhD, “What Happy People Know” New York: St. Martins Press. 2003

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You Did What?

So, my mom calls the other day to share her latest adventure. Turns out there was a little party store in her town in the desert that was for sale. She had known about it for months and it had been like a little a pot of soup cooking... she'd been playing with the idea, adding a little salt, pondering on how it might fit into her life and what she wanted, letting it simmer. And then, she bought it.


Now, I won't give you my mom's age, but you can approximate based on the fact that I'm 50. So, what is she doing buying a store?!? That rents bounce houses and sells pinatas?!?

Well, maybe she's acting on purpose. She knows who she is and who she's not. She's not the grandma ready to sit in the rocking chair. She's vibrant, alive. She desires to be connected with people. And who better to connect with than people throwing a party?

Recently she was reminiscing about the parties we used to throw when I was a kid. Fourth of July was the big event, but there were also halloween parties and pool parties, political parties, and just about any other excuse for a party... even the "Wizard of Oz on our new Color TV Party". I wonder now if she was thinking of the party store when she was reminiscing?

In any event, it's worthy of a post because it begs the question...

How are you acting... and living... on purpose?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I can't see it

"But I can't see what that would look like!"

You're right! You can't see the future. All you can do is make up a story of what you think the future will hold. And, in my case, I often make up the wrong story.

I've had the pleasure of climbing some big mountains over the years. One of the things I've come to appreciate is that while you can often see the summit from the trailhead, you can NEVER see the whole trail. And, there is almost always a surprise. I'm thinking of the keyhole on Long's Peak... the hidden notch on Mount Powell... the needles on Whitney... a moment that can't be seen from the trailhead and the only way to experience it is to get your feet on the trail!

So, I'm with a guy the other day and he says "I can't see what it will look like 6 months from now." And, I said, "Of course! All you can do is put your foot on the trail today. What would that look like? What is the risk of stepping forward?"



Monday, June 29, 2009

The View from Down Under

In coaching we invite you to "step outside of yourself" and take a detached viewpoint on your life. It's usually an effective way to gain clarity on what's really going on.

Flying halfway around the planet is another way to step out. The view from 7,500 miles looking back on my world is quite different than when I am living in it. I saw a billboard that says... "No leave. No life." So, perhaps this is what "leave"... or vacation... is about: stepping out and giving space to become an observer of my own life.

So, what am I seeing?

Well, it's a mixed bag. I see lots of gratitude, and some sadness. Gratitude for the opportunity to travel, to engage with friends in different cultures, to be alive and able to play and enjoy life. And, sadness... that life hasn't turned out according to the script that was written many years ago... looking at the ways "playing it safe" has trumped exposing a vulnerability or deeper truth. I see a guy with a strong inner critical voice that says "quit feeling so much and just live..." I see a guy that wants to connect in meaningful ways.

So, step out, friends. What would an observer see in your life?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

G'Day Mate

It's true that I can be a surly traveller. First to put on headsets and open a book when I sit down on an airplane. Don't get me wrong here... I'm appropriately polite to all service staff... flight attendants, desk clerks and the like... but don't expect to see me chattin up the folks in the bar.

So, I'm in Australia and everyone knows that Australian's are nice. So, I've decided to try something different. Being nice. Hmm. It works out okay. A friendly chat with an old local and a kid from Jersey (a sovereign island in the English Channel.. who knew?)in the bar last night. Friendly banter in the water surfing this morning.

I'm wondering if we were told that the French were nice would we be nicer when in Paris? I'm wondering how the world would be different if we were just pleasant with one another... less concerned with how someone might talk my ear off on an airplane, or challenge me with differing thoughts or perspectives, or?

What will choosing authentic pleasantness look like today?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who has the power here?

Like many others, I sometimes “give away power” in my life. I give away the power to approve me, to validate or affirm my skills, ambitions, desires, dreams. I give away the power to define who I am and what it is that I will do with this life.

Over the years, I have cast different players into the power position. Who they are is less important to me than recognizing that they exist. So, the question for me is often, “who has the power here?”

When I am holding the power, I live in a place of self-definition, of being true to who I was created and wired to be, to the gifts and talents I’ve been given and that have been nurtured through years of success and challenge. When I give away the power, my gaze is on someone else, some other person that I have granted an extraordinary power to define me. Hmm.

The other day, I was speaking with a person I respect about an opportunity that is in front of me. My radar was on high alert because the conversation was invariably going to open up an old wound and remind me of a season in my life where I gave away much of the power to define myself. I asked the guy if he thought the events of that time would preclude me from consideration in this new opportunity. His response puzzled me.

“Well, that’s up to you,” he said.

I didn’t challenge him in the moment, but I listened carefully to his words. “It’s up to me?” It didn't make sense. Hmm.

After a couple days of reflection I began to understand. You see, the deal with giving away power is that it’s all going on inside of me. Not those I’ve given the power to. So, taking back the power to stand and live in the truth of being me is simply a choice that I alone can make. “It’s up to you” makes all the sense in the world.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Act 2 Scene 42: VP from Corporate

The characters: Business unit executive with direct reports and the VP from corporate…

The scene: VP requests meeting with detailed progress reports from executive and the individual team members. At the meeting, VP is holding a report that no members of the team have seen, asking pointed and specific questions about data that the team was not prepared to answer. One team member admits that they have not focused on the area that the VP is drilling on. Meeting ends silently.

How might they have handled the situation differently?

In the debrief, we laid out the data above plus the story and emotions. The Team sensed that the VP was on a hunt and they were trapped. It was apparent that the VP was acting out of his own stress behaviors… someone had apparently hammered on him about an unrealistic new revenue target to which he had committed, and he was hammering on the team. Fear and anger were rising. Team members were fearful of where it was headed as other layoffs have occurred. Executive was angry that the team was blindsided. The meeting ended with unresolved direction and high tension.

"Huh. Isn’t that interesting?” So, when the group noticed their own emotions coming up… both fear and anger… they might have said…

“I notice that you seem to be focusing on an area that we are unprepared for, and that you don’t really want to talk about the prepared progress reports. What is it that you really want to talk about? What is it that you really want?"

By refocusing the discussion on what it is the VP really wanted, the team may have been able to give the VP a win without losing much. The win would have been getting him the space to clearly state what he wanted and to be heard by the team. My guess is the “real want” in this was some assurances around an unrealistic target. In the process, he may have owned his own fear or anger and gotten to the truth of his own concern that the unrealistic revenue target was indeed unrealistic.

What do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where are the Dolphins?

What is it about dolphins playing near the shore that lifts our spirits? I don’t care how bad it is, seeing the dolphins ALWAYS makes things a bit better. My sense is that it is impossible to see the dolphins and not feel joy. And, when we’re feeling joy, we’re not feeling anger, sadness, or fear!

Being confronted with the beauty of nature… the simple pleasure of three dolphins surfing a wave, or playfully breaching, or just slowly cruising by in their daily food run… somehow resets the system for me. It puts me in right relationship with everything. It reconnects me and lifts me out of the morass and says all is well… even when it is difficult.

The dolphins remind me that joy comes when we look outside ourselves and become appreciative. It’s the simple gesture of reaching out to comfort or celebrate another person, reflecting on the divine, taking a deep breath and saying “thanks!’.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What is the Fear?

Let’s face it: Hidden fear is more powerful than disclosed fear. Pastor Rick Warren, the king of acronyms and alliterations, cites fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” And, it’s scary stuff.

So, what resonates for you in this picture? The shark cruising the neighborhood looking for a tasty treat… or the surfer who thought he was simply out for an afternoon of fun? Are you more likely to play a role of villain, or victim? Or, would you be the lifeguard hero on the beach coming to save the day?

The interesting thing about fear is what happens to us when we’re gripped by it. Often, we slip into characters… call them dramatic roles … and play out these scripts that we’ve been playing our whole lives… the man afraid of conflict who “goes small”… the woman afraid of being betrayed who turns into an icy cold emotionless villain… the office manager afraid of losing her sense of worth who saves the day by staying until all hours of the night.

The antidote for hidden fear is to bring it into the light. Disclose it. Own it. Step outside of it and ask, “What’s really going on here?”

So, who are you playing right now?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Advice Do You Have For Them?

We were about to wrap up for the day. It had been a tough morning with difficult issues. Out of left field, one of the members said, “Could we spend a few minutes talking about some tactical steps that we need to figure out? Frankly, we don’t know what we should do!”

We didn't have much time, so I invited the whole group to stand up from the couch and come across to the other side of the room for a huddle and then whispered something like…

“So, there’s this group sitting over there on the couch and they don’t know what to do. What advice do you have for them?”

And, guess what? Immediately, ideas began coming forth. Things began to get un-stuck. “Well, they could just…” and pretty soon everyone was building off of the other ideas. When they wound down, I invited them to take a few steps further away and said…

“Okay, now it’s six months from now. The issue that group on the couch was facing has successfully resolved. Where do you think they are now? What have they learned?”

And we talked some more. More ideas. More creativity. And then, I asked, “So, from this place of successful resolution, what words of encouragement do you have for that group on the couch?”

And, out came the most positive, upbeat, “take no prisoners”, “go get ‘em” remarks imaginable!

Will they be successful? I don’t know. But, they sure got some great support from that group standing on the other side of the room!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Within my circle of friends tomorrow is somewhat late in coming. I’ve been “young” most of my life… graduated from high school at 17, college at 21, married young, executive at 26, CEO at 35, youngest member of my longtime Friday Forum, youngest member of cabinets, boards of directors, and on and on. It’s been easy to play the “young” card most of my life.

And, the calendar pages keep turning! I’m still the youngest in my Friday morning group, still one of the youngest “old men” at the surf point by that name. And yet…

50 may be the new 40… and it is still a worthy benchmark. A moment in time to reflect and recollect.

Thomas Merton, the great contemplative theologian, pondered on “recollecting” ourselves… the time we take to step back, re-group, and re-connect to our greater purposes. Time to get quiet. To grieve that which wants to be grieved and celebrate that which wants to be celebrated. To be present in this moment and all that it has to bring.

As the page turns, I feel content. A few months ago I was sensing a bit of thickness in the waist and put a scale next to the refrigerator… happy to say that it’s holding at 180. I did laps on Mammoth Mountain's Chair 23 the other day and felt playful and alive… back pain is in check. My sense of purpose… what I was created for… has never been more clear. Relationships with my daughters, family, and friends are vibrant, clean. Work is interesting and sometimes surprising.

My desire is to live in the midst of connected family relationships and a worldwide circle of friends… and to fully experience the joys and pain that life brings. To act decisively in alignment with the man I was created to be and the principles and values I hold.

So, that's my check in at 50. What's your check-in today?



Thursday, March 19, 2009

Difficult Conversations

So, I get asked “How do I approach this difficult conversation?” all the time. Might be about…

…reconciling an estranged relationship…
…broaching a taboo or sensitive subject…
…bringing “bad news”…
…confronting toxic behavior…

Yuck. Wouldn’t it be nice if things just worked out? Well, they do. But, not without some effort. Here’s the structure that I have found works well.

The underlying principle here is to honor your own emotions without being driven by them. In other words, if you’re angry, go beat up a pillow or run some stairs before engaging in the conversation. If you’re fearful, step into a detached position and ask yourself, “what’s really going on here?” and get clean with the fear. And if you’re sad then cry, and then go do something nice for yourself. Once your own emotional wave has begun to subside, you are ready to engage. And, it’s always respectful to ask for permission… “I’d like to bring up a difficult topic. Is now a good time for you?”

Data: Start with the facts in a very “matter of fact” way. Facts are those things that a video camera could record. It’s evidence in the courtroom. And, data is the only thing where agreement is necessary in a difficult conversation.

Story: Figure out the “story you make up” from the relevant set of facts. We all do this, so just own it. For example, “When you show up late, I make up a story that you think I am un-important.”

Emotion: Share your emotional experience, remembering it is best to be able to talk about your emotions as opposed to being driven by them. “I felt angry, and a little afraid.”

Your Part: Consider how you have contributed to the issue and own it too. For example, “I recognize that I could have been clearer about our expected start time.”

Want: Ask yourself what it is you really want for yourself in this conversation. If you are trying to control someone else, you might first want to consider what fear is driving you into a control position and then consider what it is you really want. Often times, what we really want is to just get something off our chest, or to clear the air because our desire is for a clean and authentic relationship.

No matter how someone receives all of this, it’s all your stuff. You are owning yourself and taking 100% responsibility for your emotions, what you make a set of facts mean, your part in the issue, and what you want. All of those are inarguable. No one can tell you “you don’t feel that way”. Sometimes we call these inarguable truths.

So, this is more than a simple post. Frankly, getting clear on this structure and making it a part of my ongoing communication style has changed my life. If you’d like more writing on the topic, post a comment or send me a note ( asking for “Staying the Course when Things Get Tough.”



Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Warrior Move

It’s one thing to miss a summit due to altitude sickness, or not eating well, or dehydration, or suffering mishap and injury, or being turned back by weather. And, it’s another thing to get back on the trail to do it again.

So, when I wrote about altitude sickness and weather turning me back the first two times on Whitney, and only mentioned actually summiting on the third attempt as a passing remark in the post, I took some heat. John wrote,

“…Trying again for the third time when you knew it would be difficult. Overcoming fear when something had already happened twice. Pushing through in a physically painful state but mentally determined to summit. That was the real story. Was it worth it? What did it mean to you personally to be there at that survey cap? More than the one line you gave it. The three of us knew the risk that any one of us could falter and that the success of the group making the summit could be compromised. Each of us was willing to give up the personal achievement goal for the health and safety of the other two. There was a huge dynamic taking place that day among us…”


From a mythical or archetypal viewpoint, summiting with a team is a warrior move. It’s not the sovereign king, or the mystical magician, or the heartbroken lover that stands at the survey cap. It’s the warrior. Clean action deployed with competence and confidence.

Warrior energy brings together skill, desire, passion, and resolve. Clear goals are accepted. Boundaries and rules are honored. Loyalty is given. The clean warrior is neither savage nor victim. The clean warrior is emotionally aware, efficient, effective... and gets the job done.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness doesn’t have a linear cause. You can’t say “ah, he was dehydrated and that’s why he got sick…” Altitude sickness hits when the systems are out of whack. It can hit when you’ve climbed too high too fast. It can hit when you haven’t eaten well. Or slept well. Or hydrated well. Or been too stressed leading into the trip. Or “d”, all of the above, or “e” any of the above. That’s just the way of it.

I’ve been hit with it twice. Once on Colorado’s Longs Peak and once on Mount Whitney a few years ago. Both times, I can see the string of reasons behind it. Stress. Insufficient water. Questionable food choices. Didn’t sleep well the night before. Not enough acclimation. On Longs Peak it didn’t hit until the way back down. On Whitney, it hit fast and hard on the way up and forced me to turn back before reaching the summit.

The only cure for altitude sickness is to drop in elevation. In both cases, once I descended below 12,000 feet I lost symptoms within a few minutes. In both cases, I felt like a new man. On Whitney, if the clock hadn’t been against me I would have resumed the upward march.

What I learned after the Whitney hike is that I had suffered a lower back compression fracture in a surfing accident two weeks before. So, not only were my “systems” out of whack, my structure was compromised. My physical body was not able to perform up to expectations. Two little disks that should have been more or less square on the x-ray were somewhat squashed on one side.

The surfing accident is a whole story in itself. I was at an unfamiliar break- Pacific Beach in San Diego- and while paddling into a wave became concerned that it was too big and that I didn’t have the capability to ride it well. By the time I made the decision to pull back I was too far in and ended up getting “sucked over the falls” and slammed on to the shallow sandy bottom. I knew immediately that things weren’t right and managed to get myself out of the water. I was stunned and disoriented but not enough to warrant medical attention on the spot.

The funny thing with that wave was that I would have likely gone uninjured if I had stayed the course and gone with it- another life lesson. Sometimes the risk or downside of pulling back is more then the downside of riding it out.

In any event, I was injured. I spent a few days recuperating, went to the chiropractor (but didn’t get x-rayed), and took it easy. I had already purchased the permits for Whitney and was organizing about ten other guys for the trip and felt obligated to go ahead with it. By the time hike day came around I was still stiff, had a hard time lifting my right leg, and was in varying degrees of pain most of the time. Off I went.

I did complete the Whitney trip this last year with two good friends. It felt good to close that loop.

When things at home or work start to unravel, systems are out of whack, structure is compromised, perhaps it's time to step back and take stock... "What are the contributing factors here?"



Thursday, February 26, 2009


I’ve had a couple of great conversations lately on the subject of accountability and am curious.

To many … “accountability” is something that “I” hold “you” to. In other words, I hold you accountable… for some action or agreement.

Another way to look at accountability is to ask, “Who is it that I hold myself accountable to?” which seems far more accountable!

The idea of accountability is “to account for”… so, as a supervisor or a leader, I might do better to inspire others to hold themselves accountable to me. To account for their actions, their performance, their successes and struggles.

Often times, when we’re talking about new commitments or agreements, we talk about “who will you ask to hold you accountable?” I think the better question is, “who will you hold yourself accountable to?”

What do you think?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's Showing Up?

Maybe I am unusual, but there are times when I get really curious about how others perceive me, or what they value about me, or what I bring into their life.

I was skiing a while back with a guy and on the chairlift he shared two great questions that he had asked people within his circle as part of an exercise to gain greater understanding of himself. Here they are:

1. What shows up when I come into the room?
2. What was I doing when you have noticed me most energized, or “in the zone”?

I like both of these because they call me as the answerer into a level of observation that is both unusual and profoundly illuminating! Give it a whirl.



Monday, February 16, 2009

Get your OARRs in the water

20 years ago I attended a course on “graphic facilitation”. What stuck for me was the idea of “OARRs”… as in, the things that need to get back in the water when group performance flags. I’d give credit to the instructors of the course, but I have no idea 20 years later who they are… so please forgive me. Pressing on…

All relationships and all groups have issues. We can hide, ignore, or deny it. Or, we can address them. An issue is anything that drains energy from the relationship or the group. The OARRs acronym provides a simple tool for where to look FIRST to plug the drain and get back on track.

Outcomes: Are we clear on the desired outcomes in this relationship? For this group? Where are we headed? What’s important here? Why are we together? How does this current behavior move us toward our desires?

Agenda: Is there clarity on what we are doing and when? Is the calendar a moving target or an agreed upon plan? How are we doing? Are there competing or unstated agendas?

Rules: Have we clarified guidelines and expected behaviors with one another? For example, have we defined what “on time” looks like? Have we defined “confidentiality”? Are we clear on how we expect to treat one another?

Roles: Is this a one-person-does-all group or relationship? What other roles are defined? What agreements are in place? How are we each taking 100% responsibility for our part in the relationship? Our role in the group?

I could come up with a dozen more questions. The Big Idea here is that too often when groups start to disintegrate we want to find a villain or a scapegoat or someone to blame. Getting our OARRs back in the water gives us a tool to look at the systems and structure that might be contributing to our downfall.



NOTE: Within 8 hours of posting this, I learned that Dave Sibbett of Grove Consultants International in San Francisco ( was the originator of the OARRs idea. So, thanks Dave!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What's Really Going on Here?

Several weeks ago a friend electronically introduced me to a woman and suggested that we meet for coffee. I called her and left a message. She called me back and left a message. I sent her a note asking if it would be okay to just use email to schedule. She said yes and after a couple rounds we agreed on a date, time, and place. Her confirming note said “let’s remind each other the day before…” which was about two weeks from then.

So, the day before, in between a flight and a dinner meeting, I dropped her a quick note confirming the meeting time for the next day.

I arrived home at midnight to a blistering email from her that my lack of communication in the intervening 10 days was unacceptable and offensive, cold, business like and well short of the target if I was hoping to meet the “woman of my dreams”. Yikes!

Two old tapes immediately began to roll… “Vince, you don’t love well,” and “If a woman is upset, you must have done something wrong.” But then, I stopped. And took a breath.

“What’s really going on here?”

And then, some new tapes began to roll… “Huh. Isn’t it interesting that she has found that my way of communicating doesn’t work for her. Certainly happy to discover that sooner than later!” It was one of those “just because she has said I screwed up doesn’t mean I screwed up…” moments.

The long and short of it is that I sent her a brief note back affirming her desire to connect with a guy who communicates in a certain way, and that my choice was to pass on any effort to “make it right” as she had offered. It wasn’t about her being right and me being wrong, or vice versa.

What’s the learning?

When we notice that the old tapes are beginning to roll… for whatever reason… it’s almost always a good opportunity to stop and take a look at the data. To move from the story we start to make up and the emotion of the moment and instead look at the recordable facts and the inarguable truths. To look for our part in the dynamic. To discover the interesting nugget. To get curious and load up a new tape grounded in maturity and choice.



Thursday, February 12, 2009


Yikes. I just finished 7 back to back retreats and 1:1 coaching visits in 7 days, including three full days of Colorado bumps, groomers and a little powder. I’m whupped.

“So, Vince, what would rest look like?”

A late morning and coffee in my jammies. Wander a bit on the keyboard. Workout later... perhaps a run on the beach if the weather cooperates. Clean out the moldy fridge and restock. Dinner tonight with a good friend to unpack and debrief.

Thanks for asking!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Appreciation

I just finished an Executive Team Retreat. I love this group and have been walking with them for a couple of years. I was asking myself, “What is it that I appreciate about this team?”

I appreciate their willingness to go personal. The team has adopted the notion that we’re all just folks and there just isn’t any shame in the rough and tumble realities of life.

I appreciate their willingness to go vulnerable. It’s okay to acknowledge a weakness. It’s okay to say that something isn’t “great”. It’s okay because they are willing to hold themselves accountable- which is far more effective than being held accountable. You know what I mean?

I appreciate their willingness to appreciate. It happens spontaneously.

They’ve done the heavy lifting of building authentic relationships. They know that the sun comes up tomorrow even if an agreement has been broken or results are disappointing. They know that the road to success has setbacks and challenges. They know what they want and are getting it.



Monday, February 2, 2009

It's Just Dinner

My dad just checked in to a Skilled Nursing Facility last week. He’s been on the decline for about five years. It's a nice place. New. Clean. Engaged staff.

There’s a new facility manager that started the same day. On Friday, I got there while they were serving dinner and the staff member put a typical hospital tray on the table with a "here's your dinner!" and then she went to the next person. On Saturday, I also got there while they were serving dinner and instead of dropping the tray, she unloaded the plates and glasses on to the table and said “they want us to lay everything out now…”

So, the story I’m making up is that the new manager had come forth with a new edict and the frontline was going to (somewhat begrudgingly) comply. They were told what they were to do and they were doing it.

My desire as a leader is to build ownership over compliance. Better that the staff had spent the few minutes to talk about… “What is the atmosphere we desire in the dining room?” “How might we create that?” "What are some other options?" “Are we in agreement?”

When I tell someone what to DO, I might get compliance. When I invite someone to provide leadership toward an agreed upon outcome, a new owner is born.



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Top Ten Most Annoying Things CEOs Say

I’ve interviewed and coached hundreds of people who don’t sit in the CEO chair. And here are the completely un-scientific results of the CEO behaviors that annoy them most.

1. “It’s true because I said it’s true.” (Sometimes called the “unsupported assertion”)
2. “That sounds just like what we did in 1970…let me tell you about it…” (yawn.)
3. “I am the best damn ____ there ever was!” (Who cares?)
4. “Why don’t you do it this way…” (best way to promote either defensive behavior or employee mindlessness)
5. “I always invite discussion… after I’ve offered my thoughts.” (Everyone knows that discussion ends when the CEO opens their mouth… except CEO’s).
6. “Let’s go to lunch.” (Isn’t it interesting that it’s the same people that go every time?)
7. “I’m sure you meant well, but…” (Just say what’s on your mind)
8. “Hey, got a minute?” (Actually no, because I’m working on an impossible deadline…”)
9. “Wouldn’t it be great if…” (I’m still working on your last great idea…)
10. “So, I think so-and-so is upset about something… could you do a little digging for me…” (Great. Now I get to be the rat. Deal with your own issues!).

I can poke at the CEO underbelly because I’ve been one. And, I also believe that we are all CEO’s of our own lives and within our own circle of influence… so the list really applies to all. What would you add?

And, a good question for all of us might be… “What would a wise CEO say (or do) in this situation?”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Like many families, we are navigating the transitions that come with aging parents.

Last week, several of us gathered for a family meeting to discuss my dad’s transition from home into a care center.
He has been on an Alzheimer-like slide for several years and today is almost fully dependent on others for routine care. It isn’t an easy discussion.

My young-adult daughters and their 16-month old cousin were both there, along with my dad’s wife and two of my brothers, plus my younger brother’s wife. I liked the generational involvement. This isn’t something to be kept hushed up for just the “adults”. It’s a family thing.

It’s no surprise that I am sensitive to the emotional experience for each of us. In turns, I felt sad and tender. I felt compassion toward my dad’s wife of 23 years. I felt a certain joy that my daughters were able to contribute and participate. I felt proud of my older brother taking a mature leader posture. I was struck by the lack of discord and the abundance of care and concern.

On the drive home, my daughters and I processed things a bit more. I asked “what came up for you?” in the discussion and was impressed by their awareness and thoughtfulness.

It’s an unfolding story.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I’m Fine

A friend just landed in Mumbai for a month of training to fly for their national airline. He’s been a pilot his whole career but for a technical rule around age he can no longer fly for an American company. But that’s not the story here.

We’re chatting on Skype like we were across town. He’s talking about the masses of humanity living in squalor… like scenes from the current sleeper hit “Slumdog Millionaire…” and about his hotel being in the middle of nowhere, and the company being somewhat less than efficient, and the omnipresent layer of dirt. So, how’s it going? “Fine…” he says.

Well, in my world, “fine” is about as bad as it gets. It’s one of those words that if it means anything, it’s bad. Kind of like “good”... it’s a word that communicates nothing. So, I shifted gears…

“How’s your state of mind right now?”

“Ha! So, you just clicked into work mode!”

Accusation accepted. And, I really wanted to know. I could sense his discomfort.

“Well, I’m apprehensive. I’m unsettled. I don’t know how this is all going to work out.”

Now we’re getting somewhere!

It’s too bad that we’re so conditioned to answer with words that mean nothing. “Good”, “Fine”, “Great”, “Better”, and a dozen others are simply throwaways if you ask me. They’re only worthwhile when you run into someone at the grocery store and don’t want to engage.

If my desire is authenticity in relationships (and it is), perhaps then it is useful to come up with words that actually mean something... “Apprehensive.” “Unsettled.” “Afraid.” “Tender.” “Excited.”

So, How’s it going?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Our deepest Fear

Change is a tricky thing. We say we want it, but there is something that keeps us from doing it.

I was with a management team doing a workshop on change and commitment. Someone said they would like to shed a few pounds (30% of all people in all groups I work with say this, so no one’s identity is at risk here) but haven’t been able to do it.
As we worked through the change process questions, this individual gave me a gem.

When I asked, “What’s at risk for you to change and make a new commitment?”, they said…

“Because if I really made that change, it would shake my belief that I can never change. It would mean that I am better than I think I am. It would mean I wouldn’t be able to use “I can’t change” as an excuse in anything anymore.”

WOW! I was stunned. What a wonderful piece of awareness. It reminded me of the very famous Nelson Mandela quote… “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” Indeed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Did You Do That?

"Because I thought it would work"
"Because I’m an idiot!"
"Because you didn’t give me the tools I needed to do it differently!"

Defend, defend, defend. That’s what happens when we ask someone… “Why?” And, defending ourselves, or our actions, is good for a low-learning trip into the rat hole. So, what’s the option? How about any of these…

“What did you learn?”
“What options did you consider?
“How might you do it differently next time?”
“How’s that working for you?”

I’m with a CEO these days who is entrenched in the “why?” question.

“Why don’t you work harder?”
“Why didn’t you do it this way?”
“Why are you so emotional?”

In observing his behavior, my sense is that some of the “why?” questions come from the critical voices firing off in his own head. But, I’ll save that for another day.

Suffice it to say that “What?” and “How?” questions tend to lead us to a place of high-learning curiosity. And, that’s good for a trip out of the rat hole.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

What Do You See?

A friend met up with a group of young people who lived in a densely populated urban area and joined them on a visit to a nearby undeveloped island... where grasses and trees and dirt and rocks dotted the landscape.

On their visit, they came upon a small beach area that had been formed where a creek came from the mountain top through the canyons and met the ocean. The beach was littered with driftwood, rocks, some branches and twigs that had been carried down by the seasonal flow of the creek. There were also the remnants from other visitors who had been to the same spot- empty soft drink bottles, food wrappers, a cracked Frisbee and some other man-made debris.

“Do you see this?” my friend asked. “Would you be willing to help clean up this area?” The group willingly complied and set out to the task.

A few minutes later, my friend returned to see what the group had accomplished. There, in the middle of the beach was a growing pile of driftwood, rocks, branches and twigs. And, remaining scattered throughout the area were empty soft drink bottles, food wrappers, and the cracked Frisbee.

Perhaps, a better question may have been, “What do you see?”

It’s interesting to me that two people can witness the same car accident and give different versions of the facts. When I invite someone to share “what do you see?” I am living in a place of curiosity and wonder. I am living in a place of adventure… because you might see things differently than me. And, that’s cool!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Monuments and Stepping Stones

The other day a friend was lamenting the loss of his company three years ago. He had been "#1" in his field and was very well respected. The problem was that the landscape changed, the needs of the marketplace changed, and the need for what his company provided changed.

Things change. We lose things that are dear to us.

He went on to ponder… “It seems to me that sometimes we can use an experience as a stepping stone to something new and better, and other times we make experiences- both good and bad- into monuments that hold our gaze and keep us trapped in “what was...”

After chewing on it a bit more, it became clear that my desire is to create more stepping stones... “What did I learn?” “What worked well?” “What might I do different next time?” Celebrate the accomplishment and grieve the loss if that’s what it was... and move on.

We all get stuck at times gazing at our monuments. I get stuck. “None of us are as good or as bad as our reputations suggest…” comes to mind. And, when we’re stuck, we can ponder on "How might I turn that monument into a stepping stone?".

What do you think?

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 ...