Dealing With The Problem: Part 2 – Our Part of the Trustworthy Process (or not)


Have you been watching this whole Ryan Lochte thing?  You know – the Olympic medal winning swimmer and his team mates who were robbed at gunpoint in Rio?  Wait…not exactly.  Actually, the police in Rio say something different happened.  Wait…there’s video – and the video seems to show Ryan and his somewhat inebriated compatriots vandalizing a gas station bathroom.  Hmmm.  And some of the data has revealed testimony that they were asked to pay for what they broke.  Although Ryan’s interpretation might leave room for the possibility that they were being extorted – depending on how you want to interpret it.  And then the police show up – to which Ryan adds that they pulled a gun on him, pointed it at his face and cocked it.  Which in a recent interview with Matt Lauer he clarifies that he might have gotten some of the details wrong – or left some out – or something like that.

Wait a minute…what?  What’s going on here?  Am I the only one who’s wondering what’s really going on here?

What’s even more perplexing to me (in a rather disheartening way) is that it is my understanding that the interview with Matt Lauer was supposed to be Lochte’s coming clean interview.  His – “you know what – I made a mistake”.  Did I misunderstand?  It sure didn’t feel that way to me.  It felt more like the – “okay – so there is video that I can’t dispute – so here is kind of my new story – yes, I got drunk – but kids make mistakes and yes, it wasn’t exactly how I said it happened – but I’m not sure that I’m going to totally own my part of the problem” —  yada, yada, yada.  Full disclosure – about the time the tears started flowing in Lochte’s interview I felt like I was being played.  I looked at my wife and said – “I think I’ve had enough of this…how about you?”  She agreed.  We changed the channel.

It boggles my mind how we can convince ourselves that we can spin our way out of our ownership of the problem.  It simply confounds reason to me.  But I don’t know why it should.  As a child I totally adopted the “spin the truth” philosophy in an effort to minimize punishment from the establishment (i.e. my parents).  Truth be told – there was a time or two that it actually worked.  There was just enough truth – just enough possible alternative interpretation to the events that I was able to create reasonable doubt.  You could see the skepticism in my parent’s faces (like they were pretty sure something was up) but I was able to create enough fogginess to the issues that they didn’t feel confident in bringing decisive disciplinary action.

I was listening to one of my favorite weekly shows…CBS Sunday Morning.  They actually had a little commentary piece that began with the Lochte story.  The commentator was unpacking the details of the swimmers lies over last week and then sarcastically questioned of the Olympian, “Are you six?”  The commentator went on to give a litany on how lies (i.e. differing interpretations of the facts) of this magnitude and bigger are actually quite common place — beginning as far back as Adam and Eve.

So then…is this us?  And if so…what does any of this have to do with leadership?

In my recent learnings from the Kansas Leadership Center I have found (and embraced) that an essential part of helping progress happen is the ability to create a trustworthy process.  I don’t think it is craziness to think that when there are individuals or factions in any group whose interpretations don’t just push the edges of an appropriate understanding of the data but seem to blur them that it can create the same response in us as that of my parents toward me when I was a trying to create reasonable doubt.

I don’t know if I have a solution for the general propensity of the human race toward the deflection of blame and responsibility but I do have a sense for the fall out of such actions – distrust.  When distrust is in the system it is very hard to work on the building blocks that are required for progress to occur.  If bringing leadership to the table today doesn’t really matter to you then this may feel like a meaningless point.  But if we ignore this idea we do so at our own peril.  In other words, if we live this way and there is a moment in the future that we feel that people should take us seriously and respond to our ideas and they don’t – we shouldn’t be surprised.

Maybe I’m odd (and that I do not dispute) but in my life if feels like the times I owned my screw ups – really owned them – that I was able to recover more quickly in the system – and the whole system with me.  The reason?  There wasn’t this diverted energy toward trying pin blame on someone.  There was no one else to blame.  I did it.  It’s on me.  Now that doesn’t mean that there weren’t those in the system that wanted to keep reminding me of how I screwed up.  That’s a topic for another blog.  But as it related to my ownership of the issues at play – the speed at which I stopped trying to make my wrong look right tended to be the speed at which we could move on.

There are those who like being the fall guy.  “Just blame me for all this” – even if it really isn’t my blame to take.  The idea is that then we can all just begin feeling better.  In my opinion this doesn’t really help.  Why?  Because, as it relates to progress, the goal isn’t to feel better – it’s to create a trustworthy process.  In order for that to happen all of us – and I do mean all of us – need to own our own business – and that may mean to stop taking the blame for others who need to own their part of the mess.

But how do you know the difference?  Surely if someone is taking the blame – then they are to blame – right?  Or if someone is not taking the blame then they are not to blame – right?

Wouldn’t that make life so much easier?

But we all know better.  This human condition is a lot messier than that.  So what now?

To the extent which we are willing to wrestle with a few personal questions I offer all of us the following…

  • Is there trust in the system I’m currently wanting to make progress in?
  • If not, how do people view me in the system? What are they saying about me?
  • Is there anything I need to own that is creating a wrench in the system?
  • Who could I trust to give me good feedback on myself and the system?
  • Are the issues at play with me something I need bigger help with? (a counselor or therapist)?
  • What is one way that I might experiment so as to help build trust in the system?

More to come.

Dealing With the Problem: The Link Between Personal and Organizational Development, Part 1 – Triggers



So my wife and I are having a conversation with our grown kids the other day.  I can’t even remember what we were talking about.  I do remember that I was in the middle of giving what was obviously some sage advice on something important and my wife chimes in – and what she said just struck me the wrong way – I actually can’t remember even what she said – but I remember how I felt.  I felt like she was trying to muscle in on my sage advice.  I thought – I’m not going to let her take credit for my sage advice so I spoke up and said something that I’m sure was in the maturity category of “That’s my toy, you can’t have it!”.  Whatever I said – I can tell you that, at that moment, I felt very justified in my tone and choice of words (which were harsh) and was very confident that she had it coming to her.  It feels kind of hollow to say that I accomplished what I wanted – but I did.  I wanted her to let me have the stage – she did.  She got quiet – and as I remember it – so did everyone else.  I finished the proclamation of my sage advice and the world was a better place – right?

It took me some time on the backside of that event to get far enough away from it to process it a bit – but when I did – these are some of the questions I began to ask myself…

  • So how do you feel about how that went?
  • What do you think your wife really meant by the words she shared? It is possible that she was not meaning them the way you thought they were meant?  How can you find out?
  • What are you teaching your kids about how they should treat their spouse? How did this event affirm that?
  • What were you feeling at the moment you responded harshly? Where do you think those feelings came from?
  • As much as you would like for this to be about your wife…how much of this is really about you? Your insecurities?  Your need to be right?  Other things that you haven’t even discovered yet?

Now – before you say “Wow – this guy needs therapy” (and I won’t argue with that) I’m convinced that this stuff is everywhere.  It’s in every home, every business, every church, every community, and every life.  I just believe that it feels awkward to look at it because it demands that we ask questions of ourselves that make us very uncomfortable.  Let’s just say it – the challenges we face in life are easier to take if we can blame them on someone else.  Even the challenge of our own behavior.  “You make me so mad.”  “I wouldn’t act this way if you would behave yourself.”  “They drove me to it!”

I was never a great reader of comic books but back in the 70’s there was a television show based off of the Incredible Hulk comic.  For those who may not know – the entire story line revolves around Dr. Bruce Banner who, when he gets angry, turns into a green Lou Ferrigno – extremely muscular and destructive.  I still remember the quote that Bruce would use on people when he suspicioned he was about to get triggered, “Don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Let’s face it – sometimes people do behave in ways that stir us up and this little writing is in no way an attempt to let everyone off the hook for their choice of words and actions.  But todays rant isn’t about them – it’s about us – you and me.

Several years ago I was invited into the idea that a significant part of healthy leadership was the ability to “manage self.”*  And the person who was most responsible for that work was me.  Other people are going to be what they are going to be.  I can’t fix that.  There will always be challenging personalities around me who are inviting me to join in their emotions and justifications.  That doesn’t mean that I have to join them.  As a matter of fact – it is my premise that those who are growing in the act of leadership are building the tools to not only recognize when others are “making us crazy” but to also recognize when my reactions to that “craziness” are actually making me a part of the mess myself.

Some might say – “well some situations call for someone to get good and angry.”  Maybe.  But if you are determining that sharp words or edgy actions are your best response to a situation – then take responsibility for what you choose to bring to the moment because they are yours and yours alone.  I call it “owning your business.”

I’ve seen, more than once, a basketball coach lose their cool on the court because they felt that something important needed to happen to impact the game.  Some of those coaches have gotten technical fouls.  Some were even ejected from the game.  Is that good or bad?  There are all kinds of interpretations for each of those moments I’m sure.  But one thing is for sure – there is a byproduct to their actions.  In some cases their players may get inspired.  In others they may be branded as a “hot head”.  And amazingly, both may be the result.  Bottom line – there is a residual to our choices.

So how do we better manage these choices?  How do we make progress?   Here are some tools I use…

  1. Start recognizing and owning your triggers.  Triggers are things that set you and me off.  I may not know exactly why I’m being triggered but I usually know when I am.  My heart rate goes up, I begin to feel warm/hot, my thinking gets myopic and I begin to judge others declaring them and their actions as bad (and my actions as noble and good).  Again, I’m not saying that the other person isn’t part of the problem – they may be.  But if we are getting triggered by their choice– it seems like it would be important to recognize that.
  2. Stay curious. If you recognize yourself as being triggered – ask yourself “why?”  What is it about what is going on right now that is making me feel this way?  I may be justified in my feelings – but the work of leadership always invites me to be informed – especially about myself.  One tool that has been offered to me is called “getting on the balcony.”  When you notice triggers happening in yourself – try to get distant from the moment – up high – and ask what is happening from a higher perspective.  Trust me – this is counter intuitive stuff.  For me – the default is to laser in – and to laser in quickly.  My advice is to resist that as a first response.  Only laser in when you feel that your response is founded in some bit of solid data.  (We can talk more about data at another time).
  3. Resist the need to hurry up with a response. In my world – I was always impressed by the quick witted.  Those who were able to pop in with a zinger and kind of put people in their place.  But what if the goal of good leadership isn’t necessarily to “put people in their place?”  What if it is to discover what is at play (seen and unseen) and to invite others to own their business as we work together to make progress on it?

The work I’m inviting us in to here is a lifelong work.  Just about the time I feel that I have this figured out I find myself in a situation where I get that “triggered” feeling again – and I fall back into those old behaviors – “I’ll show you!!”  When that happens it usually isn’t long, if I am smart, that I will get distant from the situation and begin wondering “Where did that come from?”  “Is that really who I want to be?”  “Did I screw up?”  And “Even though I feel that someone else has some issues they may need to take care of – am I a part of the problem too?”

Let the learning continue.

*This and several of the ideas in this blog post are built from the curriculum of the Kansas Leadership Center, Wichita, KS.  Thank you KLC.