"I am human, only because you are human."
African Proverb/Allan Boesak

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Flying home from Toronto last night I watched “Clash of the Titans.” Not a great movie by any metric, but, given where my brain has been in recent weeks, it served it’s purpose. You see I was reminded of the great lessons we humans, and especially leaders, can gain from myth. Importantly, myths are not fiction, although they are not factually or scientifically accurate, they are stories about how we connect with ourselves, the world, and our place in it and in that sense their meaning is true. Myth is a fundamental way to connect with our own great life journeys.
Virtually every great myth involves the following process;
1. The hero/heroine’s world is good and ‘normal’ and a dramatic change or force appears that s/he must face. (In ancient myth and modern film these are often monsters human or otherwise, but in truth they are external repesenations of forces that lurk within each of us.) If the hero/heroine do not face the monster, they die, or it will return to challenge them time and again, until they do face it.
2. In facing the change or force, the hero/heroine faces darkness, despair, pain and anguish. (The monster appears at first to be winning) They can stay in this place and die, (and sometimes do) or through learning the lessons of the suffering, they slowly gain wisdom.
3. They relish and enjoy the wisdom, and are excited about the possibilities and power they have gained after the ‘defeat’ of the monster or bad people). Another decision point however, if they stay here, they will wither and die. (It’s why in so many movies, the hero leaves town afterwards, s/he must continue their journey).
4. The last stage is when the hero/herione takes their new found widsom and brings it back into their life, and makes a difference in their world with it.
In any dramatic change in your life this same process repeats itself, time and time again. A challenge for us as humans, and especially as leaders, is to recognize the process, and to face the change or force (monster) face on, knowing that at first it will cause pain and anguish, and knowing that this is part of the journey. In the midst of that pain, ask yourself, what am I learning, who am I becoming, what is being strengthened, what is being purged? (And I know from my own journey that sometimes you’ll ask yourself those kinds of questions, and then simply reply “shut up, can’t you see I’m in pain here?” That’s ok too, but keep asking.) As you realize you’re learning and gaining wisdom, enjoy the experience of your new found clarity and wisdom. Relish in it, and then keep moving, and ask, how am I going to apply this? What good can I do with this new strength?
And then know, that these particular monsters may have been beaten, or beaten back, but they will return, to help us grow again, to help us gain new strength and new wisdom. And it is going on and returning from such journeys that our real strength and power as leaders will be found and cultivated. May each of us face a monster soon.
One of the joys of my job these days is research, largely because, as much as I love libraires and bookstores, the internet is just so much more fun! Case in point, sent to my facebook account by a friend, this Youtube video caught my eye:
You may or may not be a fan of Lady Gaga, but this young man singing a cover version of her song, “Paparazi” can belt out a song. And that’s what got me thinking. Have a look at the video (even for a few seconds) and ask yourself, at aged 12 or so would you have gone onto a stage and sang a song on your own in front of the whole school? I certainly would have thought more than twice about it!
As I’ve mentioned before, thinker Peter Block argues that until your voice has been heard in a meeting, you aren’t really there. And as much as I might quibble with some of that thinking, how often have you self-edited or stayed silent to protect your ego? Or conversely, have you ever thought a question or comment brought up in the group was ‘stupid’ or ‘silly,’ and then said so, or ‘rolled your eyes’, or sighed with impatience? Our job as leaders is to advocate our ideas/perspectives/observations and to inquire of the ideas/perspectives/observations of others. Next time you find yourself sefl-editing, or editing someone else, consider this young man’s courage in using his voice in front of his peers, and know that like you, for most of us, speaking up in a group can require great bravery.
Well, technically there are still a couple of days left in the 12 days of Christmas, but most of us are back at work, and hopefully rested and refreshed. I trust that your holiday season was filled with love and laughter. At the gym this morning I happened upon a neighbour who looked at me and said, “do you train here? I’ve never seen you here?” I replied, “I haven’t seen you either!” We shared a laugh then about how busy the gym was this morning. In contrast, my visits during the holiday break were quiet, as just a few of us were there. And moments later I overheard another guy say to his buddy, “oh, you’ll see a lot of me here this year!” I hope so, and yet a part of me recognizes that by mid February, the gym will be back to it’s regular ebb and flow of people.
I hold this gym moment up, in relation to a conversation with a family member over the break. We were talking about dreams, goals and plans. I told her of my dream, and she said, “that’s great, but I’m far more interested in hearing about the action plan to get you there.”
Let’s consider this challenge in the simple and complex issue of losing weight. She is right, simply dreaming, simply doing some magical thinking about how great it would be to lose weight is nice, but you need a focus, a plan, a series of steps to get you there. For instance, eating fresh food only, and going for a walk for half an hour every day. Those are clear and attainable goals; they are an action plan. But how do we keep at it? Why is it that the gym is back to normal by mid February? I suggest it’s because we lose the dream. And the dream isn’t dare I say, as mundane as fitting into a smaller size; the dream is that I want to run around and play hide and seek with my grandchild, or I want to have my partner flirt with me again. The dream is always about a positive change for me and/or for those that are important to me. The dream has to have a tangible, value based result. So, we need to have the dream, and we need to have the action plan, and the two work together to make a new reality.
In our organizations, we see the same mechanism at play. A vision (dream) that we want to “get better” is not going to help us move forward, even if we have an action plan to get us there. Nor will having a vision (dream) of being the “Number 1 in our market place” be useful if we don’t have a realistic action plan laying out the steps of our journey. So as we look forward to a successful and fun 2011, remember to dream, and to build those action plans to make the dream a reality.
Good afternoon, from a cold but sunny Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. There really is nothing lke a Canadian prairie sunny, winter day. I’m here teaching, and working on a couple of projects between classes.
I’ve found myself working recently mediating conflicts, guised often as “teambuilding” workshops. A colleague from church land, The Rev. Dixie Black was preaching a couple of weeks ago about being more ‘awake.’ Dixie is, besides being a great spiritual director, a psychologist with a thriving practice.  One facet of being more ‘awake’ according to Dixie really struck a chord with me, given the work on conflict I’ve been doing.  She explained that being awake meant disconnecting with my own emotional noise, saying, “I have feelings of anger, grief, sadness, contentment, joy and love but I am not those feelings.  I allow myself to feel whatever I feel and remember that I am so much more than those feelings.”
One of the challenges we face as leaders, especially when faced with conflict, is to be awake and attentive to our emotional noise. The next time your nemesis at the office, or the partner who you don’t really get along with, or whomever frustrates you the most in your work, says something that triggers you, stop and remember, I can feel whatever I want, but I am so much more than those feelings. Or, ask yourself, I may fell angry right now, but what are we trying to do here, what is the bigger picture we’re working towards. We are not bound by the emotion driven roles we have chosen; we are so much more than that. By being more awake to our emotional noise we can make real differences in resolving conflicts, and making our workplaces better places.
Good morning and I trust this edition of Leadership Notes finds you well. I’ve been reading blogs recently and have found a couple of most interesting terms around innovation. They are; ‘contestification’, and ‘WWWabs.’ ‘Contestification’ refers to the idea that innovation can be inside and outside an organization, and one way to drive innovation is to set up a contest. Consider for example, Toyota asking aspiring innovators how the company’s technology can be used for good in unexpected ways, see toyota.com/ideasforgood, or Facebook, just today announcing the 2011 Facebook Hackers Cup. So, the question then is, if you are seeking innovative ideas, why not set up a contest, and invite people from all over the world to contribute their ideas to make your business more successful? Secondly and more internally focused, is the idea of WWWabs. Used in the business of “apps”, WWWabs take an app out into the market while still alpha or beta versions, to be used in “the playground” and ask for feedback and suggestions. (Consider a WWWab and a contest, for example.) In your organization, what might it look like to take alpha and beta versions out of the lab, and put them into the playgound of the market place? Micheal Schrage, writing in an HBR blog, writes, “instead of R & D, what matters is E & S – Experiment and Scale.”
What ever happens, stand by for a huge blast of innovation as global contests and experimentation offer new ways of touching our customers.
This will be the last Leadership Notes of 2010, as I’ll be taking a Christmas break with family and friends. Thank you for your engagement with the process, your patience with spelling mistakes, and your much appreciated feedback and encouragement for Leadership Notes. Happy Holidays to each and every one of you.

I was asked recently to contribute to a still to be published on line conversation about ‘humanitarian values in the workplace” The conversation really got me thinking. Those of you who work with me in credit unions will know my perhaps infamous line; ‘one of the great things about working in credit unions is how nice we are to our people, and one of the most frustrating things about working in credit unions is how nice we are to our people.’ Unfortunately I believe that when we talk about incorporating humanitarian values into our businesses, we fall into hierarchical and paternalistic traps that ignore the importance of learning and growth for everyone in the organization. We are often too nice, and then, when behaviours or actions don’t change we become “the boss”   We often miss the point that we are all human beings, not employees, not consumers, not economic beings. We are best served in business relationships by mutual transparency, respect and integrity. And I think the foundation of such mutual work comes from a focus on mutual learning and development. In short, if someone is not working at an acceptable standard, don’t be ‘nice’, hold them accountable. That simple change in our behaviour as leaders will add more humanitarian values in the long run than hundreds of “respect in the workplace” training sessions.

Philosophers Hannah Arendt and Grace Jantzen note that the western world uses a strange word in English to describe ourselves; mortals. Yes, we will all die, and in that sense we are mortal. But, more importantly, we are all born, and thus are all “natals.” Natals have life, possibilities, hope, creativity and we are always growing. And it is here that I think we are being too ‘nice’ to people when we talk about “humanitarian values.” Learning requires mistakes; learning requires courage to make intrinsic changes. If I’m your manager, and I fail to hold you accountable, you will likely not grow and learn. If I am your manager and you fail to hold me accountable for a commitment I made to you, I will not grow and learn. Learning requires that I be held accountable, that is part of being a human. Humanitarian values then are not simply making sure that I am ‘happy.’ Humanitarian values must include that part of being human that is growth and learning.

Now of course, bullying, force, and anger are the antithesis of learning and holding each other accountable. In order to make mistakes, we need security and safety. We need to improve the level of emotional, spiritual and physical safety in many organizations, but that should not be done at the expense of mutual accountability, growth, challenge and learning.