Steven's Own Words

Getting Rid of The Peter Principle

According to the Peter Principle, in any given hierarchy an individual will rise to the level of their own incompetence. If promotion is the only way to receive reward, people are likely to step on this land mine of incompetence, even if the promotion is for a job they don’t love or even want! For instance, you might reward an amazing salesperson by making them manager, then regional manager, and eventually VP — but just as the character Michael Scott from The Office taught us, an outstanding sales person doesn’t necessarily  make an outstanding manager. I see two important lessons to learn from this. The first is for current managers/leaders: If you are running an organization where the only way to reward a person is to promote them away from their area of success, ask yourself: is that really the best structure for your company? Be willing to consider how you might create an environment that rewards good work without falling into this trap. You might have to face certain fears around losing talent, because everyone thinks promotion is the badge of success. So what would have to happen in your organization to change that mindset?  What risks might you take? What traditional structure might you have to disassemble? If we look at the Peter Principle as a wake-up call to capitalize on and honor human talent, create loyalty, increase engagement and promote joy for each individual, what’s the first step you can take to achieve that goal today? PS: Wondering what the second lesson is? We’ll be talking about that next...

Where Does Power Come From?

I wrote this article a few days before the Orlando shooting and it seems more apropos than ever. At a time when I, and so many of us, feel helpless, powerless and at the mercy of so much hate, violence, and fear, it’s a fair question to ask: Where does power come from?  Does it come from within? “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~ Alice Walker Most people think power is something you acquire — when actually they have it all along. It’s just that most people fail to see it and therefore fail to use it. Don’t feel too badly; after all, we live in a society that rewards following. Questioners are seen as the oddballs and trouble-makers, or simply naive, and as we get punished, insulted and intimidated for stepping outside the box, too many of us begin the slow decent into forgetting that we all inherently had power to begin with. Let us remember:  “We are powerful beyond measure.” ~ Marianne Williamson But as long as our culture brain washes us into believing that power, authority, and leadership is bestowed upon us by someone else – by position or title or might – we will continue to seek it outside of ourselves. “Please sir, may I have another promotion? I’ve worked really hard, sir, I’ve done as I have been told.”  And if you are lucky, your boss might promote you.  But that isn’t your power nor is it your leadership. It’s theirs: the role they want you to fill. No one has the authority to give you your power. It is already inside of you...

Do You Have A Beginner’s Mind?

Many of us in positions of leadership often feel it comes accompanied by an expectation to be right all of the time. But that’s a feeling founded in fear. Leaders who are afraid of being wrong or vulnerable are afraid of losing their power and appearing weak. In other words, they believe confidence is synonymous with omniscience.  But being wrong isn’t what cause leaders to appear weak.  Being bothered by, ashamed of or upset with being wrong – THAT’s what causes leaders to appear weak! Leaders strong enough to admit error, courageous enough to apologize without justifying themselves, and insatiably curious enough to seek more and more information come across as anything but weak. In fact, the rest of us admire those people immensely! So here’s my invitation to you:  Let your Leadership inform you through a “Beginner’s Mind.”  A Beginner’s Mind is the ability to seek insight and understanding from people other than yourself. It’s the wisdom to recognize that some of the greatest insights come from some of the most unlikely sources. It’s the courage to say “I don’t know” with enthusiasm, opening up the opportunity for others to help and serve you....

Leaders Face People’s Fear

It’s been said that courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of the fear.  This being the week of Memorial Day, such words take on many different meanings. All weekend, perhaps because of the holiday, I’ve had the 70’s song from Paper Lace running through my head: “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Don’t take a risk, the song basically says.  Play it safe, come back and make me your wife, sings the words of the narrator. There something I’ve noticed lately about leadership, one responsibility that Leadership has which sets it apart from management. If we manage tasks and we lead people, then leadership has a responsibility to face and address fear. If we want people to join us, if we want to scale new mountains, discover new worlds, to Boldy Go… it can’t happen without paying due respect to fears, both ours as a leader and those of whom we lead. All the great leaders, whether world-renowned, office-renowned, community renowned or family renowned, have something in common. They face fear head on. Mind you: This doesn’t mean that they’re not afraid. We all feel fear, but a leader faces it. And the beautiful thing is that in facing our fear and in being willing to face other people’s fear with them, we can give them the courage to do the same. So how do you do this?  You name it and in doing so, you take its power away. There is Chinese story about a young boy who wakes up from a bad dream night after night, where a frightening and mysterious something chases him through the dark woods. Each night it gets closer,...

The Sunlight Theory

Do you know how long it takes for sunlight to reach the planet Earth?  Even traveling at the remarkable speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second,it takes more than 8 minutes from the time light is released from the sun’s surface to reach our humble planet, power our solar panels, nourish our plants, or tan our skin. What really blows my mind about this is the realization that when we look out and see the sun, we’re not actually looking at the latest and greatest version of the sun.We’re looking at sunlight that’s 8+ minutes old! You know what that means, right? The sun could have literally exploded -Boom! – and we wouldn’t know about it for 8 solid minutes. Last week we established that every business problem is a people problem and I elaborated on The Horizon Theory, the first of two theories to explain why people problems are so challenging. The Horizon Theory established we can’t really know as much as we think we do and new information requires action and movement. The second theory I call the Sunlight Theory. We want to believe that we are masterful creatures, so conscious and aware and present in the moment.  Many of us even pride ourselves on our ability to read people and think and act on the fly. While there is certainly truth in those gifts, the fact remains that we are so often reacting in the present to the past.  Consider this.  It’s one of those ‘bad days’ — you know the one. You sleep through your alarm.  You wake up on the wrong side of the...

Every Business Problem is a People Problem

Technology, systems, processes, administration — they all go through people.And all people come with emotions, with baggage, with reactions and inconsistencies. Put simply, Business is People. Without people, there would be no business and no one for your business to serve! But wait a minute…if we are all people, as a person, don’t we each have insider information? Shouldn’t we know how to deal with these human creatures effectively?  If only! People problems are the most difficult kind! So what is it that makes people so dang challenging? Here is the first of two theories I have on the subject: “The Horizon Theory.” Imagine you’re standing on the edge of the shore, feet in the sand, waves lapping at your toes, looking out through the crystal clear air and over a calm, still sea, gazing at that line where the earth meets the sky–the horizon. Now imagine a sailboat gliding majestically along that line into the evening headwinds when suddenly it tacks away from you and visually falls off the face of the earth. So here’s the question: before it disappears from sight, how far away is that boat? When I ask this in groups, I get guesses ranging from one mile to a hundred, sometimes even a thousand! But the truth is, if you’re 5’8” and standing on the edge of the shore, that boat is 3.1 miles away. 3.1 miles, and yet some people think it’s 100 miles or more?!  What does that tell us? That we think we can see and know more than we really can.   Let’s not confuse this simple distance test with our vision. You can see the moon and the stars millions...

The Problem With Sports Analogies

Aren’t sports analogies great? They’re always available–no matter what situation you find yourself in, there’s a sports analogy for that. Plus, even if you’re not a sports aficionado, you can usually follow along. And it’s true, they are particularly useful for examples of teamwork, discipline and working through pain to achieve your ultimate goal. But they also have a weakness.  Sports analogies will most likely let you down at some point in business and in life. Why? Because nowhere else in the expanse of human existence are we governed by such clear, strict rules and protected by refs, flags and such a uniformed acceptance of consequence and retribution.  We may argue with refs, but they have the final word and in the end we follow those rulings.  In business and in life, things aren’t so clear cut in such immediate and ‘in the moment’ ways — and when we think they are, there’s rarely, if ever, a whistle-blowing, flag-ready ref on hand to make sure we know the second we’ve stepped out of bounds, gone off-sides or fouled an opponent in unsportsmanlike conduct. Such guardians in business, politics, and life would sure come in handy now and again. Don’t you...

Divine Dissatisfaction

Note to self: there is a certain beauty, a certain nobility, a certain…“something” in the Divine Dissatisfaction one can find in their work or life. In my striving for perfection and infallibility (is that just me?), it is all too easy to doubt myself when I compare myself to the greatness, to the “divinity,” if you will, of the works of others.Someone will always be better, always be smarter, funnier, stronger, wiser than me. But that’s not really my measure, is it? If my purpose is simply to win, to be the best for the sake of being “the best,”anything less is simply a disappointment and ultimately a weapon to be used against me: “I’m a failure, dammit!”  “Work harder!!!” “Give it up!”  “What the hell is the matter with me?” But when the goal is perfection in the pursuit of service, not for the winning but for the benefits derived from the pursuit and the realization that every lesson makes me better, stronger, faster, wiser, than disappointment turns to dissatisfaction. It is no longer a weapon to be used against me, but an energy, a source of inspirationthat begs the eternal questions:  “How great can I stand it?!”  And “what can I do next?” Divine Dissatisfaction is a power that drives us forward. Doubt, worry, frustration, even disappointment aren’t necessarily the problem–the problem comes when I see those feelings as evidence against me, rather the insights and opportunities wrapped in the lens of Divine Dissatisfaction.  Just something I’ve been thinking about. Does anyone else ever feel this...

The Dangers & Fallacies of “Going It Alone”

I recently met a woman just out of college — one of those “millennials”, I suppose, who was struggling to find a job. She was struggling, but she didn’t want any help — she wanted to do it all on her own. I asked, but she couldn’t really articulate why. Was it some kind of noble American ideal? Did she feel she had something to prove? Was asking for help a sign of weakness? I don’t know. All I know is, it broke my heart. The more I thought about it, the more it confused me. After all, do we really do anything “on our own?”Heck, we rely on the roads other people built to get to our destinations, the tools others created to develop our art, the wisdom others taught us in order to form our thoughts and opinions…we’re never alone. Not really. And to isolate ourselves in that way runs the risk of cultivating misinformation, isolation and the inability to build trust and relationships with others. Our culture always says ‘follow your heart’ or ‘be true to yourself’ and we too often end up going on these lifelong quests to ‘discover’ ourselves. But learning our own voice, discovering who we are in the world — that doesn’t only come from within. Part of growing up is learning to ask powerful, positive, insatiably curious questions; to accept help; and learn about who you are in the reflection and support of others. Ironically, we sometimes can’t get a clear and authentic view of ourselves until we have the courage and willingness to see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of others....

How to Make Boomers AND Millennials Uncomfortable

How?  Turns out they both get it wrong.  Ouch! A couple weeks ago, I pointed out some common misconceptions about millennials that drive me crazy. Turns out there’s evidence for that opinion –revealed research backs up my claims that millennials aren’t the genetically lazy, entitled bunch so many think they are.  Turns out those folks span ALL generations. Hey!  And guess what?!  Apparently, millennials have this whole ‘how old is old?’ thing completely screwed up as well. Imagine the possibilities if all generations were to stop putting people in a box in an attempt to “easily understand them” (the human version of a news story’s sound-bite) or predict them. Imagine the possibilities if we focused less on what’s wrong with each other and more on what’s right with each other. Leadership and engagement isn’t rocket science, it just feels that way sometimes. And if it still feels that way, here’s a few simple, but painfully obvious, tips: Start with a smile. Move gently into a handshake. Try a kind greeting such as “Hello.” Then move smoothly into an open ended question of sincere curiosity designed to do nothing more than get to know a person, perhaps something like this: “Tell me about yourself,” or “Hey, cool hair, how do you think that would look on me?”  🙂 Anything, really, so long as it’s kind, and void of pre-judgment! Remember, we’re all weird, ain’t no age got a monopoly on that. But below every weird, below every pre-defined box, below every snap judgement, is a pretty awesome person waiting to be discovered.  Go...

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