Sunday, December 8, 2013

Am I Clear?

Sticky situations. Difficult conversations. We avoid. We build walls. Make up stories. We form opinions and build alliances with others that share our opinion. Such drama! And, almost always, there is some fear at the root of it. Some future possibility that we are making real.

Sometimes in life we get to hear about the difference we're making. This one goes in the "win" column for me. Grateful for the opportunity.

"Your tool of “issue clearing” truly changed the course of my family. We have been using it all weekend and arrived at a place of open and authentic communication (can you believe I am saying this?). My future daughter-in-law felt safe enough to open up and truly tell us her story. We have completely changed our opinion of her and we are actually talking and sharing. She said she has never seen such an open family in terms of communication. Hard to believe!  Thanks."
What is the conversation you are avoiding? What is it costing you? What would you do if you had no fear? What might be the benefit of getting clear?  All good questions.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The New Red Shiny! (My Idealized Perfect Future Reality Has Finally Arrived!!!)

We've all had it.  That moment when the new thing captures our attention.  A new model car.  A second glance by an attractive man or woman.  The possibility of a new VP of Sales.  An old flame entering from stage right.  It really doesn't matter what "it" is.  It's a new red shiny.

And, all of a sudden!  That new red shiny begins to represent a perfect future reality of our life as it was meant to be!  A new beginning!  A fresh start!  Coffee in bed every morning.  Beautiful sunsets.  Off the chart sales.  Prestige and Power.  No more laundry.  No more diapers.  No more disappointing sales reports.  Doesn't matter!  The future has arrived and it's perfect!  The new red shiny can wipe away years and years of un-expressed emotions, disappointments, shortfalls, neglect, guilt... all of it!  Go!  Jump!  Take the leap and you will learn to fly!!!

And what about the old car?  That piece of trash?  Lousy mileage.  20 pounds overweight.  Lazy and stuck in a rut of low production.  Heading nowhere.  At least, no where good.  Or, worth going.  Dump it.  Who needs it?  I've put up with it long enough.  There is nothing new, red, or shiny there.  In fact, it's old, black, and tarnished.  Dead end.  Might as well go die a lonely death in a gutter in Central Park before living with that.  I deserve better.  In fact, it's their fault.  They've caused me to be miserable.  The new red shiny "gets me" and this old black tarnished thing... well...  Whatever.

Sound familiar?  Well, I've heard it all.  And, I've done most of it.

So, what to do?  How about a few good questions?

It doesn't really matter which train I am on, the questions are pretty much the same.  Whether I'm heading down the track to the perfect future reality or imagining the cliff at the end of the track of despair and worst possible outcome... the truth is that I am making up a story.  And, I'm damn good at making up stories.  We all are.

So, when I catch myself on either train, I can always stop and separate the FACT from the FICTION.  What's really happening here?  What might a video camera record?  What would an observer see here?  What are the triggering events?

And then, separate the FICTION from the FEELING.  What am I feeling right now?  Is it anger?  If so, what boundary has been crossed?  How have I given myself away?  What disappointments have been left un-expressed?  Is it Sadness?  If so, what has been lost?  What am I grieving?  Who am I feeling sorry for?  Or, Fear?  What's the bad thing I am trying to avoid?  How am I trying to protect myself?  From what?  What's the deeper fear?  What am I FEELING in my body right now? What does it FEEL like?  Is there any Joy?  What might be appreciated?  What am I learning?

Sometimes, when that new red shiny is right in front of me, I can make it a sign from God.  Yes!  It's not ME going for the new red shiny, it's God opening a door!  It's a spiritual awakening!  I must follow His leading in my life.  Another opportunity to stop.  Take a breath.  And, another breath.   And then, inquire within... How has God revealed Himself to me before?  Is this consistent with His voice?  What is God's posture toward me right now?  What is he thinking about my life and what I've made of it?  If this new red shiny is good for me, is it good for all concerned?  Am I only seeing God on one path?  Hmm.  (That one almost always stops me in my tracks).  If the divine is showing up in a critical, defensive, one-sided, never-been-this-way-before kind of way I know I might need to stop and ask myself... "What is the story I am I making up about God here?"

I could go on and on.  The big idea (I think) is to stop.  Breathe.  Let it land.  Seek wisdom from both my most mature self and my most mature others.  The new red shiny will still be there.  And if it won't be there, then maybe it isn't as red and shiny as I hope.

Monday, September 30, 2013


Dumbledore, Gandalf, Merlin, and the Wizard of Oz all play a special role in my life.  They represent wisdom and perspective.  It's like they can see around the corner in a way that I cannot see.  I love the way they rarely answer a question straight on and when they do answer it almost always opens up a new way of thinking or looking at things. 

The thing I'm learning from all of them is the idea of detachment, or being able to separate myself from a situation to become an observer of the situation.  It's like being able to get in a hot air balloon and rise up just enough to be able to see a broader landscape, a bigger idea, to get things into right relationship.  I love it when I'm able to notice things. 

And often, I notice that there is some fear that might be driving me in any moment.  Sometimes, I'm able to ask myself what I would do in a situation if fear was not in play.  Fear lives in my mind and is all about the uncertain future or the bad thing that might happen.  So, when I can detach and become an observer I can sometimes see the fear in a way that isn't so bad.  I can even laugh about it.  Remember "Riddikulus!" in Harry Potter?  In the Wizard world, the spell for destroying a fearful "Boggart" is to laugh at it.  I think that works in our world to.

Today is the six-month mark between birthdays for me.  My next birthday is 55 and I have piled all kinds of meaning on to that milestone.  And, much of the meaning is based on some fears!  A good time to detach, ask myself what's really going on, name the fear, laugh about it, and step forward with wisdom and perspective.

So, a good question might be:  What would Dumbledore Say?


Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Restores You?

The idea of "restoration" keeps coming up this week.

We had a fire that darkened the afternoon sky and left a coating of soot and ash on our town.  Outdoor activities came to a halt.  By the second night, the smoke cloud extended in every direction and the pungent smell was inescapable.  Our entire valley was under a blanket.  And then, the wind brought some moisture from the coast a hundred miles away.  It blew through the night, and we awoke to this:

The valley sky completely restored.  A deep blue that us in the desert come to expect and appreciate.  A new day.

And then, I dropped my laptop in just the right way to break the case and the screen.  A trip to Staples for a new laptop and a click on the "emergency restore" button on my cloud-based back up service and all is well. Fully restored, with an updated look and some new features.  A new day.

And finally, a friend was feeling a little down and lonely during the dog days of summer.  "Everyone" was out of town doing really fun things, vacations, travel, connecting with family.

It made me think that August is a great time for restoration.  It's a pause between the travel, work, and celebrations of summer and the launch of fall.  It's a great time to do nothing.  To rest.  To allow a little boredom even.  Even without flying to some exotic venue, restoration can occur by simply changing up the things I do and recognizing that the routines can be put on hold for a time.  September will be here.  School will start.  Work will crank up. And for today, I will rest.  A new day approaches.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

You’re Picking on Me!

I recently re-viewed Bruce Tulgan’s 2-minute V-log entry on how to respond to an employee saying something like “You’re picking on me…” or “You’re favoring Mary…” or “You’re micro-managing me…” I liked Bruce’s response, and I think there is a deeper issue to question.

When accused of something, I consider "over-owning” the accusation... "You're right! I am picking on you. In fact there's a part of me that wants to take you out at the knees right now because I am feeling frustrated with the situation and what I see of you not doing the job that I believe you can do..." I like amplifying the accusation because it tells the individual that I know what I am about and what I am doing. In a weird way, it brings comfort. When I say something like... "No... I'm not picking on you. I'm so sorry you feel picked on... blah blah blah" the person isn't likely to believe me anyway... because I'm not speaking my truth!

It's also like the wife that accuses the husband of letting his glance linger a bit too long on... whatever. "No honey, I wasn't looking!" BS. How about... "You're right. I was looking and in fact I had launched off on a whole bunch of thoughts that aren't where I want to go. Thanks for the tug back to this moment..."

What blocks you from speaking clearly and with candor?

For me, it's fear. Fear that I'll be exposed, called out, wrong, judged inadequate. Yuck. So... when I can recognize and own the fear, I can choose to accept the risk of all those bad things happening, because in the end I want the good thing that happens when I speak my truth... alive and authentic relationships.

Onward! V

The Soft Stuff is Hardest

So, besides an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation for the chance to sail in the Whitsunday Islands a few years ago, I also remember observing a wonderful leadership dynamic play out.

Remember learning the difference between “hard skills” and “soft skills”?  The hard skills are the techniques, tactical steps, protocols, procedures, and other action steps required to get a task completed.  The soft skills are the relational tools employed along the way.

There were two crew on the boat and fifteen guests.  The skipper had just completed his sailing certification after many years of captaining his own commercial fishing boat.  The “hostie”  (everything in Oz ends in “ie” by the way) was a certified dive instructor, first aid instructor, graduate of a prestigious US east coast university and probably three other certificates.  If I were to rate “hard skills”, the skipper was on the low side of competent (as evidenced by the sail not being quite “up” on our departure and the funny 360 degree jibe turn he tried to complete) and the hostie was (at least on paper) well certified.

My observation though was that the hostie was a train wreck.  Zero social skills.  She got the meals out on time but couldn’t be bothered with engaging with the guests… and when she did it was to regale her exploits on various boats and adventures around the world.  There were no introductions, no “breaking the ice”, no space to create any sort of community on the small boat.  After a few hours the guests all pretty much left her alone.  The skipper however was an affable kiwi who quickly dispensed with the “do’s and don’ts” and had a keen interest in whatever it was you were interested in.  He had a short story for every topic and would skillfully open the door for the guest to share more.  And, they did.
It’s a balance isn’t it?  The hard skills have to be solid.  Safety first.  We have to know what we’re doing.  But it’s the soft skills that make the world work.  It’s how we connect as people. 

In the bar after the trip, I asked the skipper if he was open to some feedback.  He said “sure, mate!” and I invited his curiosity about gaining even greater value out his natural relational skills with a few good questions along the way… he was enthralled… and we came up with a list:
  • How about inviting some basic introductions?  Name, hometown, how long you’ve been walking about?
  • Perhaps a little pre-thinking of hopes for the trip… “So, what’s going to make this trip a win for you?” 
  • Conversation starters like… “The scariest place you’ve ever been…” or “The story behind your favorite bodily scar…” 
  • And at the end of the day, perhaps “what worked well today?  What could have been better?”
I’ll own that I am biased toward the power of a good question.  And, they are powerful at reminding us that we are people first with a hard-wired desire to connect.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Should I Do?

"Frankly, I'd be happy if you all just told me what to do here.  I'm tired, frustrated, and just want it fixed," she said.

And my 100% guaranteed response when someone asks me to tell them what to do... "Okay.  But first, what is it you really want?"

"I already told you I want the situation fixed!"

"And, if the situation is fixed, what will you have?"

"Well, I'll have peace of mind!  I'll know that things are going to be okay!  I'll know that I can be the leader I need to be!!!"

"Ah.  So that's what you really want.  Peace of mind.  Knowing things are going to be okay.  Affirming your beliefs as a leader.  Is there more?"

"Well, I also just want to have a team that I can work with.  I want a team that I trust."

"Yeah.  I get that.  And to have a team that you can trust, what level of trust do you want in yourself?"

"Ha!  You're tricky.  You're suggesting that what I really want is to trust myself."

"Did I say that? It does sound though like that is what you really want... to trust yourself to make good  decisions and take appropriate action.  Is that accurate?"

"Yes. I'm just not sure how to do that in this case."

"Okay.  So it sounds like you want to build trust in yourself.  So, why don't you ask the forum for advice on how to build trust in yourself to make your own decisions about how to fix your  situation.  How does that land for you?"

"Like work."

"Yep."  And, on it goes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Who has room to lead?

Oh, the stories I hear.... in just the past week...

..."My team frustrates me.  I always let them know what I would do if I were them, but then they don't ever do it!" (Business CEO).

.."I have nine security cameras in place so that I can keep an eye on all my employees.  If I notice one of them not following my best practices, I just give them a call and let them know how I would like them to do it.  And, I always compliment them on something when I call."  (Retail Store owner).

..."I keep my phone on 24/7 so that my team always has access to me.  I think it's what they expect of me.  And, frankly, when I come here and you make me turn off my phone for three hours it's like a gift to myself." (School Administrator)

What's going on here?

Friday, March 29, 2013

When Do We Go "Deep"?

"That was a pretty lightweight start to the retreat last night," said the moderator.  "One of the other members came up and told me it was "forum-lite."

"Really!"  as I noticed my defensiveness wanting to come out.

"Well, we just talked about ourselves and our stories.  We didn't really go deep."

My defenses relaxed.  I knew how to guide this one.

"So, what does "deep" look like to you"? I asked.

"Vulnerable.  Talking about real stuff.  Speaking our truth.  Challenging ourselves to take off our masks.  We rarely get there.  We need your help."

"Perfect.  Because my belief is that until we determine that it is safe here, we will stay on the surface.  Only when we judge that it is safe to really show up will we expose ourselves.  So, what makes this a safe place?"

"Well... okay.  Maybe it's not so safe.  I get it.  We tend to fix each other.  That's not safe.  We also tend to use humor if anything gets uncomfortable.  So, if someone cracks a joke, vulnerability stops."

"That pretty well sums it up," I said.  "What are you willing to let go of in order to get what you want here?"

And on it goes!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Is it Fair to All Concerned?

Been reading quite a bit lately on the history of sexuality and how various societies have treated gender and orientation differences.  Turns out that prior to the last couple hundred years or so, there was far less angst about who slept together.  Native American societies had the “berdache” who were generally men who had a spiritual awakening to their gender bender-ness and often lived as women, including marrying masculine men.  Some societies have believed that ingesting male semen was right up there with mother’s milk as a vital ingredient for healthy development.  And, the all-male societies throughout history have accepted the reality of male sex... pirates, cowboys, war parties in all their forms all have stories.  Not too many women around.  Fascinating.   Virtually every early society has evidence of gender and sexual diversity beyond the polarized "straight or gay" labels we find ourselves with today. And, in many cases those men who identified as homosexual or similarly oriented were given high status as mediators, educators, shamans, and damn good homemakers.  It’s also interesting to look at societal laws around homosexuality… sodomy laws put in place in times where population increase was desired and eliminated when population decrease was desired.

I'm also intrigued by the general absence of sexual instruction in the Bible.  Makes me think that maybe it just isn't the big deal.  The sexual references in the Bible seem to have more to do with rampant sexual debauchery (right up there with drunkenness) and rejecting pedophilia than the acceptance or rejection of homosexual orientation.  It was only a thousand years or so after the Bible was written that some Europeans decided to use their religion as a way of rejecting those who were different.
So, here we are today.  I’ve got to hand it to the smart folks who shifted the argument from the moral question of “legalizing gay marriage” to simply “promoting marriage equality.”  Brilliant move.   One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  Tough to argue against that.
More?  "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, and "The Spirit and the Flesh" by Walter Williams.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What do you mean?

A friend came to me after his 14 year old son asked him… “Dad, am I gay?”    To which I asked, "What do you think "being gay" means to your son?"

"Well, I don't really know, now that you ask it that way," said my friend. 

So, he went back to his son and asked him “What does it mean to be gay?” to which I learned later the son answered… “I don’t really know.  Just some guys said that I was gay because I don’t do all the things they do.”  My friend took a deep breath, and realized that the meaning his son was attaching to being gay was very different from the meaning he was attaching. 

Which, I find quite often to be the case.  What I make something mean and what you make something mean aren’t necessarily the same thing.  So, before jumping to conclusions, it’s almost always a good idea to ask… “What do you mean by that?”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lunch with Mel

My favorite was a simple turkey sandwich with cream cheese and cranberry sauce at a funky little shop in old town Tustin.  Over the course of ten or eleven years that's what I had when Mel and I met for lunch.

Mel owned a machinery business in Santa Ana and I loved watching it work.  They made small parts for airplanes I think.  I remember he offered math and english classes for his employees which was an unnecessary yet meaningul thing to do back in the day.  At lunch we would talk about his business and how it differed from the work I did.  He impressed upon me the importance of meeting market demand... "if you turn someone away you create competition for yourself because someone else will meet the need".  Funny the things we remember. 

He was a dad in the Y's Indian Guides and Indian Princesses program.  As a young buck program director I remember more than a few enjoyable moments around the campfire.  Mel was part of a group of dads who played a subtle yet extremely competitive game of "one-up" when it came to camp cooking.  Some of the best steaks and shrimp came off their BBQs accompanied perhaps by a fine glass of Zinfandel.  Or two.

Mel took it upon himself to stay in touch even after his official role as the Y Board chair was completed.  He reached out and found me at odd intervals, always making it seem like the most natural thing in the world.  He showed me a respect that was not deserved at 25 and 30 years old.  Somehow, I always had the sense that Mel "got me."  Along with a handful of others, he was instrumental in my early successes not so much by what he did, but how he was.  He never took it all too seriously.  He held things with a lite grip.  He would come with Cheryl to whatever events we cooked up and was a steadfast supporter.

And, like many mentoring relationships, my time with Mel came to a close as I moved to a new position in a new city.  Life moved on.  And, but for a chance meeting at the car wash along the way, I haven't connected with Mel in nearly 20 years.  But his presence in my life lives on.

And now, this.  Mel's life was taken yesterday by a young man on a rampage.  The young man later took his own life as well.  Mel was simply on his way to work early, like always.  We will certainly learn more about the young man's life through the lens of his death.  And, we'll be shocked and saddened.  My guess is we will hear a story of isolation.  A young man in turmoil.  No one to turn to.  A young man not truly known by anyone.

And the irony of it is that Mel was the kind of guy that reached out to ensure that young people were known.  That young people were welcomed into community.  Given respect they didn't deserve.  He did it with me.  He made it happen for thousands through his support of our work.

My hope is that the story of Melvin Lee Edwards life will be remembered as a guy who knew people.  A guy who cared.  And, my hope is that Mel's life becomes even more instructive to me on the importance of reaching out.  Of connecting.  Of giving respect to those who may not deserve it.

He wasn't perfect.  None are.  I'll forgive him for that just as I forgive myself when I fall short.  And, I'll remember Mel as a man deserving of my respect.

(From Left:  Sharon and George Peters, Cheryl and Mel Edwards, Leo Connolly)

Friday, February 1, 2013

What's my 100%?

For years, I lived multiple lives... I had my work life and my home life.  My inner life and my public life.  I spent a great deal of energy managing all my lives and ensuring that I showed up just right in each one.  People that knew me twenty and thirty years ago have told me that they never really knew me... that they always sensed they were getting just a part of me... and they were right!

For several years now I have been shifting to a "whole-life" view of things.  It seems that I really am just one person and the more I can look at myself as an integrated whole the more energy I have to simply be me... as opposed to managing the story of me.

One tool I use at the beginning of every meeting or retreat that I facilitate is called the "Whole Life Check In". At first some are reluctant to peel back and reveal the layers of their life but in the end almost everyone appreciates the few moments of permission to reflect on themselves.  No one ever shares more than they want to share and I have found that in even the most task-oriented business setting that starting this way focuses first on "who we are" so that "what we might do together" becomes stronger and more effective.

Click on the Whole Life Check In link here to download the one-page handout.  In some ways I use this every day.  What do you think?



Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is it okay to push?

And then he said, "Sometimes I just want to call them out on their s**t, you know?  Isn't it okay to push a little?"

"So, whose s**t is it?" I asked.

"It's theirs!  I can see it!"

"Hmm. Some might say that we can only see what it is that we have... or think that we have.  Smarter people than I call those "projections".  We project what we inwardly believe to be true about ourselves on to others."

"That sucks."

"Well, maybe.  And it's pretty valuable. Because when I see something in someone else it's an opportunity to get curious about what I see and perhaps really want in my own life."

"You're doing it again.  You're "vince-ing" me."

"I'll take that as a compliment. And, when it comes to pushing... here's my thought.  Check in with yourself first.  Is the "push" coming from your own projection?  Your own fear?  Or is the "push" coming from your solution for their life?  If so, stop.  Take a breath."

"Okay.  I can see that."

"Great.  And then... when you're clear with yourself, consider "pushing" by asking a tough question.. one that invites a different perspective or a gut level response."

He paused.  "Someone stopped me in my tracks the other day with "what's stopping you from action?"  It helped me realize that there was nothing stopping me except myself."

"Exactly.  Sounds like the push you needed."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How Old is that Picture?

Years ago I was sharing a story about some angst I was having in navigating a delicate situation.  I wasn't believing that I would handle things well.  My confidence was low as I shared my concerns.

"It sounds like you're carrying a pretty old picture of yourself," said a friendly colleague.

"Huh?  I asked."

"Well, as I've gotten to know you and seen your work and the way you've managed yourself, I'd say you have what it takes to handle this.  It's just you're carrying that old picture of yourself that comes with an old script for how you used to react in this kind of situation."


This past week I invited a friend/photographer over to update some of my profile shots.  My first thought was... "now that's an old picture!"  Aside from exposing a few more wrinkles and gray hair though, I think it's good to update our pictures now and then.  We've grown.  Changed. There's new story that likely defies some of the old story... and the new picture wants to be anchored in who we are today.

So, "How old is that picture you are carrying of you?"



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 ...