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"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us."
Jerry Garcia

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As is often the case, I was inspired for today's article by a conversation. Talking about the issues facing a work team, a leader was concerned about how the common ground between issues was being missed, and as such resources were being used to "fix" one issue, and just as that was dealt with, another issue popped up.

This reminded me of a most interesting biological piece of trivia. The largest living thing in the world is not a blue whale or an elephant, but is most likely a mushroom. Living in eastern Oregon the mushroom covers some 2,200 acres underground. (I appreciate the Great Barrier Reef in Australia may be larger, but this is a single organism). The mushroom, called, Armillaria ostoyae, maybe over 7000 years old. And it's only visible parts are small shoots, mushrooms, that break through the surface.

The thinking point is clear, when as a leader we look at a particular issue, it often helps to go below the surface, what is feeding the issue? There may be a deep and wide ranging common issue to a number of smaller frustrations you and your team face. And if you can identify the underlying mushroom, you may well find it has been living in your organization for a very long time.

Keep this huge mushroom in mind as you face your day to day problems. It may well be where you need to address some resources.

Hope this week gives you an opportunity to unearth something in your organization.
Last week, I came upon a remarkable quote, attributed to Tina Turner:
 
 "Inside yourself, you shouldn't be running all the time."
 
 And it strikes me that the initial send of this edition of Leadership Notes was done in error, because I was running inside, trying to do too many things at once!

Stillness and contemplation are important for us as leaders, as they lead to calmness, quiet strength and gaining wisdom. Most importantly, the stillness inside is about being comfortable in our own skin, caring for and honouring ourselves as human beings, not just as consultants, CEO's, partners, lovers, parents, or the multitude of roles we take on.
 
An old rabbinic adage holds that a person who does not have an hour for him/herself everyday, is a slave.

How do you find time to be with yourself? Be careful of thinking that driving, listening to music or exercising listening to your ipod are being with yourself. To be truly with yourself requires silence and attention to yourself. Go for a walk by yourself, sit for a half hour in a quiet space in your home. See what comes into your mind in that time. You'll be surprised!
 
My hope for all of us this week is that we each find time for ourselves, to be alone with ourselves, and to plant and nurture the seeds we find there.
I've just run the sea wall here in Vancouver for the first time in 5 weeks, due to inclement weather and the closure of the wall due to landslides. As I ran, I was reflecting on how important practice is for our work.

As good as it felt to be out there running, and it was beautiful, the sea calm and the sun warm, I was feeling muscles that hadn't been working for that length of run in a while. I did it, but I was very conscious of the muscles working.

The same is true of our work with people. Staying looped in, coaching, listening, guiding and mentoring, to name only a few, are practices, not simply tasks. If we don't get to practice, or we let up on ourselves and find other tasks to do, we fall out of our game, even just a bit.

Now, recall I ran the sea wall, and I wasn't much slower than I was 5 weeks ago, so obviously I wasn't too much off my game. But I was aware nonetheless of being out of practice.

In my coaching practice, I've realized a similar process, the first meeting or call after I've been doing other things for a week or two, goes well, but I realize I'm out of practice.

It may help for you to think of your role as coach, guide or mentor as a practice that requires attention. Perhaps its a commitment to yourself that you'll have a conscious coaching, guiding or mentoring conversation everyday, or that you'll get out from behind your desk, everyday and find one person in your organization to engage with that you haven't spoken with in the last week.

I hope that you'll find a way to make a positive difference in another's life this week.

My brother, a very wise man indeed, tells of a lesson he learned from a mentor about the juggling act that many leaders engage with everyday. The lesson adds an important twist to the image of juggling many balls. It asks, simply, which of the balls you are juggling is glass?

Which of these balls then would you never allow to drop? Which one is so precious that you would drop every other ball but this one?

This is an important question for all of us in these trying and challenging times, what, when all is said and done, is most important for me? And with all due respect, it more than likely won't be your job. I'm reminded of Tom Peters' line that you can scour the graveyards of the world and you'll never see an epitaph that reads, "s/he made budget."

In your journey, keep juggling those balls, but be very clear in your own mind, which one is glass.

Have a wonderful week, and I hope you change your mind at least once.
There is an almost palpable feeling this evening, as so many friends and colleagues of mine join in anticipation of tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of The United States.

I urge you to find a way of watching his speech tomorrow, not only to hear the good news (hopefully) of the closure of the Gauntanamo Bay prison camp, and the end of torture as means of gaining information in US facilities. His speech will be an important lesson for those of us who need to inspire people in difficult times.

I anticipate a speech about vision, about mission, values, and a deeper purpose. I also expect a speech that describes the current reality, and then proposes a new possible reality, a dream for Americans to live and work towards. It is vital for the American people that this speech provide hope and possibility, especially after so much fear and sadness.

I also urge us all to then pay attention to this new president's next steps, his first hundred days, as the small victories he can earn will be extremely important. Leadership is not just being able to communicate, although that it is important, it is about implementation, getting things done.

Watch this man work, and consider what you might learn from him for your own leadership skills. And keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he embarks on a journey that will impact us all.
A new year dawns, and many of you I'm sure, have been reflective over the past few days. I had a wonderful family holiday in San Francisco and came home to news of the surprise marriage of two dear friends, the full recovery of a friend in hospital and some new ideas for gigs this year. It's all good!

I also heard, through Peter Elliott, of the thinking of Rachel Remen. (You'll find the reference in Peter's sermon of the 4th of January at www.cathedral.vancouver.bc.ca) Dr. Remen asks a number of very important questions, to which Peter alludes, and one in particular struck me. She asks us to consider which star do we steer our boats by -- what star do we follow? I submit this is a critical question for leaders.

Related questions are where are we going? What is our deeper purpose? Dr. Remen would ask us if the star we are following is one of greed and fear? Or are we following a star of wholeness, of creativity, of compassion, of justice? These questions then are not just about us, but about the organizations for which we work and lead. Is our corporate vision one that inspires positive change, and brings about a healthy planet and communities?

This question, what star do we follow, is reflected too, in the Christian traditions. This week, tomorrow in fact, is the Feast of the Epiphany, where tradition holds the celebration of the gifts of the Magi, the kings from "the east," who followed a star to the birthplace of Jesus.

What is the star that will guide you this coming year? Will it bring about new ways of being for you personally and as a leader? Will it challenge you to make a difference in your life, in your family and in you community. I hope that it does.