Authenticity – A Ron Fisher Core Value

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In my season of VALUES discovery the first value that emerged was Authenticity.  Honestly, it was no surprise.  This word has felt descriptive of me through all of my memorable life.  The more I held this value up to the light the more it continued to show itself as one of my CORE values.

As an exercise I decided to write a short treatise on what I meant when I said “I value authenticity.”  Below is that treatise.  This is nothing scientific.  It is merely a gathering of ideas that live inside of me around this value.  It’s my best attempt to spell out what I think and feel when I say “Authenticity matters to me.”  If you choose to read further please keep that in mind.

What is Authenticity to me? – A vulnerable candidness with myself.  Appropriate, humble self-transparency.  Based in the belief that my honesty with others begins with an honesty with myself.  Authenticity is about clarity with MY purpose – primarily for MY sake.  It is as much about acknowledging what I don’t know as it is about affirming what (I think) I do know.  Doing this requires being candid with my own confusion and self-doubt which is always with me.

Authenticity is not about self-criticism.  If I find myself here I have gone too far.  Neither is it about self-pity.  It is, however, about giving myself a break.  At the core of my authentic self is the declaration that I’m not all that…but neither am I nothing.  Therefore my higher invitation is to self-balance.

Authenticity is about ME being real with ME.  The end is a better self-diagnosis which puts me (and all of us) on a healthier path to progress.

Supporting Values:  Candid, Transparency, Forthright, Honest

A few lessons I’ve found helpful while living with this value that seem important to note…

  • Not everyone values authenticity as you do – deal with it. There will be moments when you find individuals (or groups) that do not value authenticity as you do.  No matter how much you think they should – check yourself.  You will have a tendency to get triggered when that happens.  Resist proclamations about their rightness or wrongness.  It is seldom helpful.  Instead, invite others (via curious questions) to explore their stance.  But realize that they may refuse to take that trip – and that may just be the way it’s going to be.
  • Definitions differ. Even though someone declares themselves as authentic – their definition of authenticity may not be (and probably won’t be) the same as yours.  Stay curious.
  • Don’t mistake authenticity for composure. Some may be significantly authentic in the midst of their lack of composure. Others may be significantly inauthentic in the midst of their composure.  How each of us choose to flesh out our authenticity in a given moment is our decision.  It is our act of leadership.  I can’t control how other people will choose to present themselves – but I CAN choose how I will present myself.  It is for that reason that being clear on my purpose, before I bring an intervention, is critical.
  • Protect yourself. As much as you would like to believe that deep and vulnerable authenticity is appropriate in every situation – it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean that some level of that authenticity can’t help many situations.  Find the balance.  Be purposeful about what should be revealed and what should not.  When trust is low take it slow.
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In the Beginning…Collaboration is Fueled by Individual Acts

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In my short season of research I’ve found this to be true…effective collaboration tends to start with the more effective leadership of one (or a very few).

It just does.

Consider these quotes from people smarter than me.

First, Harlan Cleveland, American diplomat, educator and author.

Individuals make things happen.  In the early stages of each of these success stories, a crucial role was played by a few key individuals who acted (whatever payroll they were on) as international people in leading, pushing, insisting, inspiring, sharing knowledge, and generating a climate of trust that brushed off the distrust still prevailing in other domains.  On the World Weather Watch these were mostly scientific statesmen; on small pox eradication, public health officers; on the Law of the Sea, visionary lawyers, including key players from the developing world; on outer space cooperation, lawyers and later some of the space travelers themselves with their visions on an undivided earth; on the frequency spectrum, a few telecommunications experts who saw an interconnected world that cooperation could create and conflict could destroy.  (Harland Cleveland; 1990)

Now from David Chrislip and Carl Larson, authors of the book “Collaborative Leadership.”

In every example of successful collaboration we encountered, there were people who served as catalysts – one or more people who had the clear vision, or the energy to get people moving, or the words to inspire imagination, or the influence to marshal the resources, or simply the nerve to call the meeting.  In the beginning, collaboration is fueled by individual acts.  (David Chrislip, Carl Larson; 1994)

My friends, in the work of creating transformational collaboration, the more effective leadership of a single individual still makes the difference.

It just does.

My Personal Values Journey, Part 1

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I’ve decided to use the holidays for my own, personal season of values clarification.  It’s sad to admit, but I’ve been helping clients for some time now to get clear on their values and have yet to do the hard work myself.  Those days are over.  As part of my work I’ve decided to chronicle my own personal journey here.  My hope is that it might serve as an invitation for you to join me – and/or some encouragement along the way should you decide to take the trip.

As a starting point it seemed appropriate that I would begin the work by discovering what my values possibilities were.  This isn’t rocket science…but neither is it a cake walk.  It takes effort to brainstorm value possibilities.  So I pulled up a tool from Brené Brown called “List of Values”.*  This is from her recent Dare to Lead book.  There’s no magic to this list.  It’s simply a way to get the juices flowing.

So this is how I used this tool.

First, I read through the list slowly – every value.  My agenda was to mark all the ones that seemed to resonate with me (no matter how long my initial list became).  The goal wasn’t to get a quick final list – it was to get curious.  Which of these apply (in any way) to me?

Let me just say that this took concentration and effort.  It required me to be thoughtful…and being thoughtful requires me to slow down.  Granted, overthinking wasn’t productive either.  But my edge during this exercise was to give myself the challenge to slow down.  This is not a race.  I looked at each word on the list with this question, “is this me?”

Once my initial run through was done I laid my first list down for a day or two letting it cook in the crock pot of my soul.  When I came back to the list, I looked over my picks and whittled them down some more allowing a day or two of cook between each shorter list…until there were two.

Once I got to two I put them to a final test.  The test was to look back at every value that had made my original list.  I asked, “Did each original value marked now seem to bow down to these two?”  If the answer was “yes” (and it was) I knew I had landed on a value.

It was pretty exhilarating when I realized I had hit pay dirt.  These were my core values.

Stay tuned for my discovery and what I decided to do next.

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*This was available online at her website.

Lasting Learning Requires Some Discomfort – It just does

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Friends, meaningful, lasting learning and growth requires some discomfort.  It just does.  As a person who makes his living coaching and training those who are hungry for change I would love to tell you otherwise.  But I would be wrong.

Unfortunately, the trend in many organizations is to design learning to be as easy as possible. Aiming to respect their employees’ busy lives, companies build training programs that can be done at any time, with no prerequisites, and often on a mobile device. The result is fun and easy training programs that employees rave about (making them easier for developers to sell) but don’t actually instill lasting learning.

Worse still, programs like these may lead employers to optimize for misleading metrics, like  maximizing for “likes” or “shares” or high “net promoter scores,” which are easy to earn when programs are fun and fluent but not when they’re demanding. Instead of designing for recall or behavior change, we risk designing for popularity.

The reality is that to be effective, learning needs to be effortful. That’s not to say that anything that makes learning easier is counterproductive–or that all unpleasant learning is effective. The key here is desirable difficulty. The same way you feel a muscle “burn” when it’s being strengthened, the brain needs to feel some discomfort when it’s learning. Your mind might hurt for a while–but that’s a good thing.

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Mary Slaughter and David Rock/No Pain, No Brain Gain: Why Learning Demands (A Little) Discomfort/Fast Company

 

 

 

If You Don’t Have to Collaborate – Don’t…but if you do…

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If you don’t have to collaborate – my advice is to skip it.  But if it is essential – don’t let the hunger to hurry up with the next great activity seduce you away from the process work.

In their book Collaborative Leadership, David Chrislip and Carl Larson offer this…

…the primary focus of leadership when people have to collaborate needs to be on the “process” of how people work together to solve problems, not on the ‘content’ of the problem itself.  If the relevant community of interests is brought together in constructive ways (process) with good information, they will come up with appropriate responses (content). 

Friends, as it relates to collaboration, coming up with ideas of what to DO (content) is almost never the hard work.

It is the HOW (process).

  • How do we create an environment to not only survive but thrive in the hard questions that need to be asked?
  • How do we clarify and hold to our purpose when there are so many differing opinions about what we should be and do?
  • How do we build and foster trust when there is so much baggage between us?
  • How do we value of the work of process (unseen by the public) when the prevailing worldview of success is to hurry up and be seen (by the public)?

Leadership Thoughts on Bombs

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Written Sunday (10/28/2018)

Pipe bombs are in the news this morning.

What are we to make of this?

Although I’m sure there is some civil disagreement out there…it feels to me that the uncivil have the microphone these days.  So much so that I actually find myself feeling unsurprised by just about anything that’s connected with the vehement angst pulsating around our current political system.

I heard a Republican Senator say, after the news of Cavanagh’s confirmation that maybe this will draw an end to the partisan fighting.

Really?

Do we really think that this (or that) particular moment is the one that’s going to make everyone hug and be friends?  Granted, that would be great, but with all due respect, while the “winners” play another round of Queens, We are the Champions in their headsets let me offer a conflictual interpretation – I predict very little hugging and making up around this issue or any other in the near future.

Lest I come off too one sided, let me offer the same pushback to all the political sides of today’s current arena.  Today’s pipe bombs could just as easily have found themselves being mailed by someone else to houses on the other side of the political spectrum.  No doubt, justice is needed around this particular incident.  But in the larger picture, these pipe bombs are symbols of a much bigger issue.

It would seem to me that anytime the champion of a moment creates a culture of condescension toward their opponents they are stirring a rivalry cauldron.  And to the extent that those on the other end of that rivalry feel continually cooked in the disdain and disrespect of their opponents there can be great justification around the idea that when the day comes that the tables turn – those currently cooking are going to be the cooked…

…and no one will get a pass.

During the Supreme Court confirmation process Bret Cavanagh had a moment in which he chose to tell his senatorial questioners (with quite a bit of passion) that he was disappointed with how it had all been handled.  If I might say, he has some pretty direct things to say to those who aligned themselves with what might be considered the political opponents of his blessing party.

Was he justified in feeling that he had been unfairly targeted?  I wouldn’t doubt it a bit.

Yet I have to ask, Bret – you look surprised.  Are you really surprised?  Did you not see this coming?  Granted, some of this IS about you.  But surely you know that this is not ALL about you.  This is about something (many things) that are so much bigger than you.  You just happen to be standing in the middle of how we do business these days.

So now pipe bombs are a part of the story.

What’s next?

Where is all this going?

I’m not sure…but I remain hopeful.

Let me tell you why.

Recently, while meeting with a group from my community I sat across from what I believed to be a devout Catholic woman who was a few years my senior.  As the larger group continued to talk a question emerged.  “What might look like if this group encouraged more intentional relationships between one another and those in our community?”

As the group pondered in silence, I looked at the Catholic woman and said, “You know, the faith of my youth believed that you were going to hell.”  She looked back and me and quickly said, “We thought the same thing about you.”  There was some laughter…but we both know it was true.  I responded, “I want you to know, I don’t believe that anymore.”

Amazing, isn’t it?  I once believed that my faith had a corner on the truth.  As a result I felt empowered to look condescendingly on her beliefs, her tribe and her.

That was then.  Now is now.

I want to thank her publicly for joining me in a heartfelt embrace before we left the meeting that night.  Not because a hug made everything better.  Far from it.  But because “We are the Champions” was only going to take us so far.

Cinnamon Roll Whisperer – In Celebration of My Wife

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This morning my house is filled with the aroma of cinnamon.  Cinnamon rolls to be exact.  Homemade cinnamon rolls are a tradition that my wife has carried with grace and elegance through most of our married life.  These rolls have found themselves a staple during seasons of celebration (birthdays, Christmas, special guests and random festive occasions).  To our family – these rolls are morsels of gold.  They represent much more than wonderful smell and taste.  These rolls, I believe, are my wife’s way of saying to their recipients – I love you.

Lest you think this is easy work – it’s not.  The best I can tell the making of these rolls requires real planning.  The whole process begins with something called a “starter.”  Best I can tell, this starter is the magical formula from which the entire process gets its mojo.  The “feeding” of it is required days before the actual baking.  In addition, the dough that is birthed from it begins a day before the actual baking of the rolls.  This work, my friends, requires forethought and effort.  It is no can of “Pillsbury.”  Just sayin.

For the record, let me add that my wife is a busy woman.  She has always been a busy woman.  That’s how she rolls (no pun intended).  In addition to activities like these she has a full time job as Principal of a local elementary school.  I don’t think I need to say more.

As a “producer” Darla is quite a marvel.  She tends not to be in want for things to fill her time.  Her “to-do” list far outstretches her time to do them.  This can make the work of taking care of herself a challenge.  But that isn’t the focus of this writing.  Suffice it to say – my wife doesn’t have a lot of excess time on her hands.

That brings me back to the smell of cinnamon rolls.

This morning, with a new baby in our neighborhood, my wife is on agenda to deliver rolls to that family.  She has been in touch with them and they know she is coming.  She is on mission to be at their doorstep at 8AM with hot, fresh made cinnamon rolls in hand – and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

As if that weren’t enough, our youngest daughter lives just down the street and recently had a baby herself.  Guess who else is getting cinnamon rolls this morning?  …and right to her door.

Standing in the kitchen, with coffee cup in hand, I told my wife, as she was finishing up her baking this morning, that “it is at times like these that I live in the shadow of your awesomeness.”  You see, Darla has always valued people.  That is one of the things that attracted me to her.  I believe it is one of the things that attracts many to her.  I am in wonder, and sometimes confusion, over her uncanny ability to authentically reach and care for people.  And – if I am totally honest – I’m intimidated by it as well – because she is so damn good at it.

But not this morning.  This morning I am basking in the wonderful smell, deliciousness and message behind the plate upon which a delightful cinnamon roll sits and waits for me.

So this morning I say “congratulations world.”  Congratulations that Darla is here among us.  Not as savior.  Not as the infallible one.  But as someone who has a bias toward valuing people.  I’m quite confident that cinnamon rolls will not save the world.  But as one of their recipients this morning I offer this heartfelt response to their maker, “I love you too.”

What is Relevant? An Excerpt from Robert Fritz

 

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Sometimes books and life circumstances just line up.  For some reason – Robert Fritz’s book* is doing that for me this week.  It is stirring my curiosity – like in this passage…

What are our limits?  The truth is we do not know. The fact is that so many individuals have created what they wanted in the face of presumed limitations, that it seems unrealistic to impose limitations on ourselves before testing the waters, experimenting with, and engaging in the creative process.

This is not to say you must believe everything is possible.  One of the sillier mottoes of the New Age movement is “you can have it all.”  Creators do not make slogans the centerpiece of their creative life.  Creators understand that you cannot have it all.  You cannot be physically in two places at once; for example, you cannot physically be in London and Mexico City at the same time.  You cannot reverse time; you cannot hold on to anything forever, because anything that has a beginning will eventually have an ending.

If you cannot have it all, the relevant question is, what matters enough for you to create?

It is not relevant to “have it all.”

It is relevant to have what most matters to you.

___________

*The Path of Least Resistance, Robert Fritz, 1989, p. 118

My Hidden Commitments: Processing on Immunity to Change

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My fears are raw material for generating my deepest hidden competing commitments.  They are what thwart most of the meaningful change I wish to make.  I do not merely have these fears; over time I sensibly, even artfully, create deep justifications in order to protect myself from them.  As a result, these fears become so deep seated and illusive that no matter how hard I try – they always stand mightily in the way of meaningful change.

Vulnerability is among the most powerful tools available to confront my hidden fears – but deep vulnerability is terrifying to me.  As a result I protect myself from it.  I even defend my actions in order to stand apart from it.

I tell myself that this is logical.  Doesn’t everyone want to protect themselves from what terrifies them?  I have no interest in standing on the edge of what I view as my own personal abyss of anxiety and danger.  I am fully committed to keeping myself comfortably far away from that – far enough that I don’t even have to be aware of the abyss I’ve unconsciously created.

This logic compels me to stay deeply chained to my hidden commitments.  As I do that they continue to serve me well.  They keep me far away from the abyss.  And over time they become so imbedded in my behavior that I don’t even realize they are there.

I don’t even realize that they are the very thing that is standing between me and meaningful change.

NOTE:  I offer this self-reflection, giving credit to Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change research.

Lessons On Culture from Elementary School

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My wife is an elementary school principal.  She has been doing this for years and has, in my estimation, done a remarkable job at taking a challenging environment and making it into a culture where learning, encouragement and support can take place.  She guides a school that provides 100% free breakfast and lunch for all of its kids.  In her hallways poverty is the rule – not the exception.  And along with poverty comes a myriad of other challenges that spring from young lives touched by trauma – of which poverty is only one.  All of these stories are walking into her school every morning – some with manageable challenges — others with more unmanageable ones.  In tow with each child are family systems that are diverse and sometimes untenable.  And to her and her team is given the challenge – teach our kids.

With school starting I asked about her protocol for getting the year started right.  She told me that part of the formula for a great school year is the work of creating the vision and boundaries that will inform the school culture for the upcoming year.  When I asked her how this was done she said that every staff member in her school is strongly encouraged to give the first two weeks of school to teaching the culture.

Before any significant work is done with reading, writing and arithmetic – before any projects are assigned – before any tests are given – before any significant academia is undertaken – culture is taught.

Culture is the platform upon which all other meaningful things are accomplished.  I heard one writer say that culture is like unto the computer operations language of a computer.  Once that language is in place an unlimited amount of apps and programs can be written on top of it.  But without it – confusion reigns.  Why?  Because the culture defines the language and boundaries of how life is to be lived.

When I probed further about the culture work at school my wife went further to say that the day after every vacation or extended holiday culture retraining is always necessary.  When kids are out of the routine – upon returning there has to be a reinforcement of the culture fundamentals.

When I first heard this I thought – wow, that feels like a long time to not be teaching the things that will help them on the “test”.  But she assured me – if you don’t take the time to build and keep reinforcing the culture you will pay the price the entire year.  Simply put, either the leader makes clear how we will do our work together or everyone else will be jockeying to make it their way.  This includes every staff member, every student and every parent.  Without a clear culture the system suffers.

Imagine the time lost in an environment where the culture is not clear.  It’s a never ending drain of lost time and effort.  In environments like this the entire system has at least two jobs.  Not only are they trying to teach the curriculum (get the obvious job done) but they are trying to figure out how to create the environment to do it in when everyone has their own opinion about not only what learning should look like – but whether they even want to be a part of any constructive learning.

Early in my life I believed that culture should be assumed.  Teachers should just know how to do that.  Children should just know that they are there to learn.  Parents should just be supportive of the work of learning.

I laugh when I think of that now.

If I’ve learned anything in my years of navigating this life it’s that culture should never – never be assumed.  When the challenges get tough – really tough — how we do it is as important as what we are doing.  Taking the time to define and clarify culture is not the work nobody has time for – it is the non-negotiable for actually being able to be productive.

Culture matters – everywhere.