No sales pitches and no fluff. Just a thought-provoking dialog with Karla that will help you solve a challenge you're having right now.

If you haven't watched Karla's introductory video, explaining her philosophy and techniques, you may watch it here:


We The People

(Reposted from November 8: Correction in 3rd paragraph from end and last paragraph. Corrections shown in bold)

I voted. I feel proud but heartbroken. No matter who I voted for, I would have felt that way. But my dad and many others fought and suffered and many still do to protect our right to vote so somehow I had to suck it up and vote. One candidate will win the election but no matter who that is, we the people are the losers. We deserved better choices than who we got. Thing is, we’re the ones that put them there. We as Americans have to own a part of this nightmare we call a Presidential race.

If you’re like me, you were inundated with links to videos, articles and recaps from pundits, journalists and people “who were there”. You engaged in debates with friends and perhaps strangers as you were buying a bagel or waiting for a bus. You were assaulted by the candidates’ carefully crafted messages in the media. The real assault, however, was on our country, our culture, our young people and our future. Never have I felt so demoralized by the choices for President and the behavior of the candidates as I have been in this election season. Even after investing a good portion of time running down articles sources, trying to find the truth or at least accuracy, it still gave me no clarity or relief. Trying to validate the inundation of information is a job in and of itself. I think the candidates always have and always will rely on that fact and our lack of will to make that investment. Even with the effort I put in, I still came up with no clear winner. Because there is none. There is only a clear loser…us…and by extension the world.

No matter where your leanings are, both candidates wreak of corruption, lack of moral and ethical fortitude and have demonstrated a clear sense of self-servitude. People have suffered under both of them. Can all the people who have written, reported and detailed their “the facts” on either candidate  be wrong? Are there no shreds of truth (good and bad) about both of them? Come on, we can’t be that naïve.

It is easy to dismiss anything that would threaten one’s certainty. Our brains our wired for that. It’s called “cognitive dissonance”. It is a scientific term I’ve spoken about in prior blog posts. It is that deflector shield that we engage that allows us to block any differing incoming information so that we can be certain about something and thus can act. Our brain does this by invoking the neuro equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la-la-la-la” so you can’t hear the other person. People (their brain) hate to be challenged with the facts once they’ve made up their mind. By reopening our mind for new incoming information, we are also shoving our brains into a territory of uncertainty again. We don’t generally like that.  There are 3 ways cognitive dissonance shows up and voices its power:

  • ·        Your facts must be wrong – “My kid couldn’t have beaten up your kid. Your kid must have provoked him.”
  • ·        I didn’t want it anyway – This is the story we tell ourselves when we realize something we want badly is not attainable for us. Think Aesop’s fable, The Fox and the Grapes. (sour grapes)
  • ·        I’m a good person. How could I make a decision that hurts others?– this happens when leaders or anyone has to make a decision that can/will have a negative impact on others. Think workforce reductions, closing of site locations, etc.

If you’ve noticed when you talk to your friends, colleagues or even strangers, most will have a very strong opinion one way or another… even those who agreed that both candidates were less than what we deserve. (With rare exception everyone I talked to across the country this year felt this way more and more as the campaign went on.) Still people will end up landing to the left or right for the most part, with a few saying they’ll vote for the independent. They will make up stories or cling to certain pieces of information that allow them to become DECIDED, marginalizing or ignoring contrary data presented to them. This will relieve the tension in their brain so they can act and move on.

So how do you manage to lift your arm to pull the lever or write a check mark when you go (or went) to the polls today? How can you walk away still feeling like there is hope and a chance for our country’s democracy to rise above what is dragging us down and dividing us daily?

I go back to our Constitution which begins with these words in its Preamble:

We the People of the United States…

It seems that in all the fracas we forget that we have a voice. A very strong and powerful voice that is backed by a mind that has become distracted, lulled into a false sense of security and entitlement. I think it is a very dangerous road to go down to silence your voice in favor of someone giving you what you believe you’re owed. Our country was created on the backs and lives of people who believed in something bigger than them. They walked off their farms, left their businesses and families to fight for our freedoms. Those who stayed at home kept families together and kept life going and did their part to aid the effort in so many ways. They had a voice and they acted. I am not implying we go to war; I am saying we need to fight for what we love about America and being an American. To become more engaged than ever writing, talking, taking action that keeps our elected officials focused on delivering on what they promise.  We need to do OUR part in being good citizens of this country upholding values in the face of fads and what is trendy. Honor, integrity, trustworthiness, respect, and the pursuit to be better and create something better for our current and future generations never goes out of style. These qualities have no party line to tow. This is a human obligation. We the people must not settle and think someone else will take care of us. Let someone else fight for our rights. Especially those who have proven they are out for their own self-interests and love of power. We need to keep our eye on the ball no matter who sits in the Oval Office and we need to do our part each day to be the best citizen of this great country that we each can be…even when it is uncomfortable or requires more of our time.

Is this hard? Yes, it can be hard. But you have to pick your hard in life and if you’re going to go through hard you might as well do so in a direction that’s going to put you in a better place when you get through it.

How can we begin to create a true UNITED States? Let’s begin by suspending judgement and increasing curiosity. We need to understand before we judge. We also need to find the courage to be decisive risking popularity in favor of moving forward to a better outcome. Let’s get real. No leader is ever going to please everyone however leaders need to have the courage to gather the best intelligence around them, process it and then decide and act knowing there will be a backlash and harsh judgement from some segment of the population to deal with. The truth is you cannot please everyone and trying to do so misses the mark all around.

Let’s not idolize celebrity and crass; let’s seek to emulate and demand integrity, courageousness, wisdom. Let our maximum effort be our minimum standard. Let us forgive for we all will need mercy at some point in our lives. Let us hold ourselves accountable as fervently as we talk about holding others accountable. Let us not trade off our principals for popularity. Let us ask ourselves inconvenient questions that may lead to inconvenient truths so that we can stay connected to our emerging world while preserving these timely and timeless values that have no expiration date, no party line, no boundary of any kind.

Let us not abuse the rights of the constitution and use its words and vision as an excuse not to care about how we apply those rights. Our rights as Americans should never supersede our obligations to each other as humans. We need to become more evolved as to how these two concepts intersect: What is our right and what is right. We need to do the moral gut check more often before we invoke “it is my right” to do this, to say this, to behave this way.

I want to be better in all the ways I’ve described and in ways I’ve yet to discover. That is my commitment and my expectation of myself going forward as well as that of our leaders. I hope you will join me and make your own commitments to be better at serving our country as one of its citizens and holding our elected officials to the same. We the people can do this. The question is will we? The best is yet to come. Let’s all do our part to make it happen.


Cheer Leaders: Are You One for Your Team? 

It was the last leg of a high school relay race. I was in our team’s anchor position. Our team’s 3rd position runner had a slight lead and was approaching the zone where the baton would be handed off to me. I was in position with my hand back, getting ready to explode around the track and suddenly, I hear a groan and gasp from the crowd. I whipped around. Our runner had dropped her baton! After I joined in the group groan, I quickly called to her and chanted, “Forget that! Pick it up! Go girl go! You’re ok!”  All the other anchor runners had dashed off flying toward the finish line when I felt the slap of the baton in my hand. I bolted. Nearing the first corner, I began gaining on the pack of 7. I calculated that there was a huge gap between me and the first place runner, let alone the last person in the pack. I went for it anyway. I passed the back of the pack, then, the middle with a shrinking amount of track left before the tape. The back of the first place runner was still way ahead of me, I thought. Some doubt began to take up residency in my head. That’s when I heard it. My parents’ voices above the din cheering me on. “Come on Karla! Go! You can do it! They kept shouting it. I remember hearing it and being fueled with something I can’t explain. Then, like the famous racehorse, Seabiscuit, coming from behind, I found another gear. The tape at the finish line was a few strides away as I pulled up beside the runner in first place. Blazing across the finish line I raised my arms in victory.
Cheerleaders. We had them in high school. We saw them during March Madness. Break down the word and take a look—Cheer Leaders. It’s someone we all need at some point in our lives. Someone who steps up to lead the charge in the supreme belief that we will succeed and most importantly, that they believe we have the power to do so. What does it mean to have someone be our cheer leader? What does it do for us to have someone believe in us and our pursuit, our quest, our challenge that we are engaged in to win, to vanquish, or to survive?
Cheer Leaders are more than just providers of a surface level, positive-thinking lift. True cheer leaders are those who see more in us than we see in ourselves sometimes. They aren’t listening to those saboteurs that are trying to shred our self confidence. You know, those voices in our head, that keep us from taking risks and pressing on through the tough stretches in a play to “save us from being humiliated” if we fall short. That’s where the Cheer Leaders come in if you’re lucky enough to have them and invite them into your life. They turn up their volume to drown out the mental “you’re not good enough” and other negative chatter. Cheer Leaders drive us to do our best. They hang in there with us to the end.
Lest you believe that Cheer Leading is only considered useful if a win results, let me be clear: I did not win that race. I came in 2nd. A very, very close 2nd. That was my victory. Could I have blamed the girl that dropped the baton? Could I have just given up and achieved less? Yes, I could have but I didn’t. She picked up the baton and drove it into my hand as fast as she could with me cheering her on. She kept going. I was responsible for my own leg of the race to make the best of what I was handed. And I believe to this day, that part of why I showed as well as I did was because my folks and others were there cheering me on in that moment when I felt doubt. The other part? It was finding the cheer leader within me. That part of me that spoke up and chose to believe and join in the shout: “Go Karla go! You can do it!”
When we find the cheer leader in us - that part of us that believes we can and we will go for it - no matter how it turns out in the end, we can exhale knowing we dared to get in the ring. We hung in there and gave it our best thinking and our best self so that, as President Theodore Roosevelt said, “our place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Who have you been a Cheer Leader for lately?


"Going Out of Your Mind"

I was listening recently to a TEDtalk where the person who had done research on the subject of happiness, creativity and human fulfillment shared an interesting piece of his findings: The human brain can only take in about 110 bits of information/second. Only? That still sounds like a lot to me.  He went on further to say that if we really want to understand what is said or being presented to us, the number goes down to 60 bits of information/second.

Now imagine that you're trying to work a problem through. You're sitting in your office, trying to come up with a solution, writing up a plan that you have to deliver to the board of directors, etc.  Phone rings and someone has a problem they need your input on. You hang up and try to get back to where you were. Someone knocks on your door and discusses something else. More information taking up prime RAM in your working memory. The truth about our brains is that we actually have a shockingly short amount of time each day (about 1-2 hours) to focus enough do the very analytical heavy lifting performed by the prefrontal cortex. You have all sorts of incoming information that is battling for a piece of this real estate. It tires easily. So you sit there and you realize, you're stuck. You keep looping back through the same thoughts or you don't have any good thoughts at all that propel you forward. Then, as deadlines approach and you still have nothing, something else begins to happen in your brain that works against you...a triggered threat response which releases chemicals like cortisol. This interloper begins to wash over your brain and your ability to learn as well as solve complex problems starts to take a nose-dive. It is scientifically known in neuroscience circles that intuition and low-level cognition are involved in complex problem-solving and innovation. Focus too much in the conscious areas and you are "over-thinking" and going nowhere fast which again amps up your cortisol. There's only one thing to do: Get out of your head.

When I get calls from people who are just so flustered and frustrated with all the plates they have spinning and all the information and tasks they have to deal with, they'll often say to me, "I'm going out of my mind here!" To which I reply, "Good. Keep going." The best way to lower the cortisol, activate the dopamine (good chemical associated with pleasure and one of the chemicals that helps with problem solving) is to stop overtaxing the conscious brain activity. The idea here is to lower the neural activity that's working against us. The best way to do this is to do something novel, creative, physical or meditative. Anything to get out of our prefrontal cortex and into other areas of our brain and subconscious. Studies indicate that we solve 60% of the problems we face without knowing how we solved them. We claim, "it just came to me." Often answers and solutions come to us after a good sleep, physical exercise, engaging in artistic expression or observation or even meditation. The unconscious is a powerful ally. It accesses various areas of our brain and memory and pieces things together in a way that bubbles up to our conscious and that's how we have our Aha! moments. As it turns out, very few of our problems get resolved in our prefrontal cortex.

So, what can you do as a leader to get through problem solving yourself and with your team? Is your office building on expansive property, close to a park, a museum? One exercise is to go to a museum and find a painting or sculpture and just observe it and notice what you're observing, feeling, experiencing. Don't be surprised if it connects to your issue and ideas start to flow. Play a game, take a walk in a park. The point is get yourself and your team out of the office and out of your minds. You will engage your people and their minds in a very powerful way that may just shift the way you think about thinking!


Leading in the "Age of And"

Cirque de Soleil - entertainment
Apple's iPhone – communication/connectedness
Southwest Airlines - transportation
What do these three consumer services/products have in common? They represent what emerges from what I call And-type thinking as opposed to Either/Or. Let's take a closer look…
Cirque de Soleil. In a nutshell, back in mid 1980s the entertainment industry was going from simmer to rapid boil and the circus…well, it was dying. Electronic games were capturing the minds and hearts of children (and the wallets of their parents). Additionally, more noise was being made about the use of animals in circus acts by the animal rights movement. At this time, a man named Guy Laliberté decided to combine two worlds: The Circus and The Theater. He then took the key/best elements of the circus: The excitement of daring acts, the tent-like environment and the clowns and combined them with the engaging aspects of Theater: story lines, visual artistry, multiple productions. It masterfully blends and plays to the entertainment level for children and the intellectual artistry and themed storytelling for adults.
Apple's iPhone. Steve Jobs is the master of integrative thinking that has lead to historical innovation that has changed the way we interact, purchase, communicate…and dare I say, to some extent, live. He took the technology of cell phones and iPods and PCs and combined it in the palm of our hand making any information, music and communication only a few taps away. This kind of thinking isn't what he does; it's part of who he is and what drives the thinking of his employees and the extraordinary results they produce.
Southwest Airlines. The great minds at this company decided that the current playbook and business models for the airlines wasn't working. So they decided to look outside the industry for inspiration. They combined the low cost of car transportation which doesn't offer meals, lounges, seating class choices or hub connectivity (all of which contribute to higher airfares) and the speed, friendly service and frequent departures of airlines. Southwest achieved a giant hike in value with a low cost model by thinking AND; not either/or.

Either we do this my way or your way.
Either close down this business unit to save money or keep it open and save jobs
Either take a cut in pay or leave
Either/Or...We've heard them since we were kids...
"Either eat your vegetables or go to your room!"
"Either do your homework now or you can't watch TV!"
When you say it and hear it, doesn't it sound like a door slamming shut? Well, it is. It's the door to our minds closing out the possibilities of finding common ground, creating better solutions, exploring new and better options, bridging formerly insurmountable differences and ultimately making better choices.
What would it be like if we evolved from the Era of Either/Or and advanced into the Age of And? What would that sound like? What kind of leader would that make you? What kind of engagement would you get from your staff? How could that make life different for you right now?


The Boiled Frog

You may have heard of this term. I know it conjures up an image you might find on a menu in a strange land but it is actually a well known analogy having to do with how small gradual changes can accumulate and sneak up on us. Before we know it we're asking ourselves, "How did I get here?" The lesson of the Boiled Frog is this: If you put a frog in warm water it will jump out because it still has the strength in its legs to do so. If, however, you put the frog in warm water and s-l-o-w-l-y turn up the heat, its leg muscles will grow too weak to save itself.

In their book, Executive Stamina, father and son team Marty and Joshua Seldman discuss the traps, and ways to avoid or get out of them, that face executives. Many of them echo the theme of my past articles in that it is about how executives think about their responsibilities, their priorities, their values, etc. that drives them to make choices that can slowly over time boil their strength and endurance until they can no longer get themselves out of that state let alone deal effectively while in it.
But where does one begin when you feel the heat rising? When you don't feel like you have the strength to jump out of the boiling water? You begin where it always begins...with your values. What do you care about? The idea here is to achieve alignment and congruency between your personal values and life and your professional values and life. When there is a disconnect, priorities of family, relationships and commitments start to slide off the plate and you find yourself apologizing more and more and the receivers of your apologies find that it means less and less.
Pick up this book and do yourself, your family, your career, your team and your organization a favor and go through it. Don't wait until you are feeling the temperature rising...get ahead of it. Take the time to reflect on what your priorities are in all facets of your life and how you can give appropriate time to them by thinking differently about how to do so. For example, how about bundling them together? Do you wish you exercised more, hung out with your kids and your spouse, spent more time in that beautiful park down the street? Grab your bikes and make a family outing--exercise, family time and seeing the park all in one shot. They also address how to advance your career, protect your calendar and how important it is to get clarity around what is expected of you in all areas of your life. This helps you with the "I can do that" syndrome which can end up as "How am I gonna do that?"
One of the walls executives also run into is taking on more than they can do. This requires a reality check. One thing humans are very poor at doing is accurately assessing how much time something they say yes to is going to take. "Could you please be a coach of the soccer team?" Sure! "We would love to have you serve on our board of directors?" Would love to! Couple that with not knowing how to say a positive no or delegate and you are on your way to creating a span of time during which your kids will have no recollection of you in their lives when they think back. Blank. Nada. Zip.  I know. This happened with my father and I. (I am glad to report that he made a massive career change in his mid-40's because of this growing chasm in our family, and was able to be more present as well as more satisfied in his job. Today, we have a very close and abiding relationship.) You don't have to leave your job, but you do have to get your priorities straight, know when and how to say no and make definitive decisions you stick to.
Another area that the Seldmans talk about how to get from where you are to a better place. They talk about setting minimums. These are goals that you know you can commit to and meet. Many people, and you know who you are, set these fantastic goals and expect to go from never doing something to doing it 4 times a week. Take getting home on time, for example. You make a bold statement and drive a stake in the ground declaring, "I'm going to be home and eat with my family 4 nights a week and turn my blackberry off." Right, how many times have you done that in the last year? Uh, zero? Let's get real. Start small. You can always do more but seek to consistently meet your minimums first for 30 consecutive days. Then adjust up. Remember you're going to be setting minimums in several areas of your life so make sure you can follow through. This teaches the brain to build new neural connections as you make decisions throughout the day that will support your ability to keep to your commitments. Most importantly, it will make you (and others) feel good that you are keeping your commitments.
At this point, you also need to be aware of what Joshua and Marty call "shifts and drifts". These are flags that tell you when you're slowly moving away from your goals (drifts-think boiled frog) and when things around you-events, relationships, industry- shift. This requires you to respond and think about how these changes are potentially going to impact your values and priorities and what you choose to do about them.
The idea behind what I'm saying here, and so are the Seldmans, is to build a reliable framework to use to help you sort out life and all the things that come with it. To help you maintain that alignment, authenticity and quality. It's not a one and done thing either. Just like business owners must create a business plan that doesn't mean they don't keep revisiting it to see if it's still relevant and working for them or if it require some tweaks. Our external world and internal experiences of dealing with that world are always in flux and therefore it is a great idea to have a way to pull off the road once in a while and see if all systems are still functioning well or are we beginning to overheat. Check out this book and let me know what you think.