Steven's Own Words

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...

Striving For Second Place

“I’m #2!!!”  he announced with great pride and excitement. “Awesome,” I replied.  “Is that good?” “Fabulous.” You see, most people as competitive as this client of mine tend not to stop until they hit #1.  Anything less is usually viewed as a failure, or at least, less than a success.  And that’s certainly what he thought earlier last year. But as we began exploring the question of success and whether he could be happy with the #2 position, something began to shift.   Perhaps you’ve heard of The Wheel of Life? It’s a popular coaching toolencompassing eight important segments of life and measuring your overall “balance” between them as you strive for a well-balanced existence. While there are many segments in the “Wheel of Life” that are important, and others that aren’t even listed, there are three that seem to trump or make all the others possible. If the WoL were a color wheel, these three would be its primary colors.  They are Career, Family, & Health.  Without them, little else is possible or matters much. As Count Rugen so famously said in The Princess Bride, “Get some rest! If you haven’t got your health then you haven’t got anything.” Health is paramount. Even spirituality for all its significance and value can’t be upheld or fulfilled if your health can’t sustain you. Then there’s your career. Career provides a sense of purpose at one level, but more rudimentary than that, it provides the income to feed, cloth, and shelter ourselves and our family. Without it, or some version of it, we can’t satisfy Maslow’s most primal needs. As for your family, well, let’s...

Leadership Junk Food: Sound Bites

Do you remember that confounding answer to Life, The Universe & Everything that floated around for decades?  According to the supercomputer Deep Thought*, after 7.5 million years of consideration, it turns out the answer was…42. Of course, Deep Thought did go on to point out that the answer was meaningless because he wasn’t so sure we were clear on the question. Isn’t that a major problem with our culture today? We are afraid to ask the real questions, and want simple answers to complex problems. Does anyone else get frustrated at the constant use of the ‘sound bite’ in our culture? Especially during such a politically charged time as the presidential race! I mean, we try to encapsulate gigantic problems from terrorism, to the economy, to healthcare – which have complicated elements and solutions – into a tiny few seconds of sound and the smallest number of words. But that’s crap! Such reduction renders the answers meaningless, just like the number 42 with regards to Life, The Universe and Everything. And yet we buy into it. We seem to think a sound bite really does have enough info. And then it gets repeated so frequently and so loudly that it becomes accepted as truth; accepted that such complicated issues can actually be reduced to such simplistic opinions. As many politicians well know, “If you speak a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”  With the lack of substantive background, sound bites become lies via the omission of facts, details, plans and stated consequences of choice. And we end up basing our entire judgement of someone, our plans for the...

A Leader’s Most Powerful Tool

Note to self: Words are powerful things.   We want to believe that old saying about “sticks and stones…” But is it true, that words can never hurt me? No. Words matter. They can inspire and they can destroy.   They can change the course of history and stop progress in its tracks, all in mere moments with a scant few syllables. We have all felt the power of words inspire or frighten us, excite or depress us, bore us or move us, bring us to tears of joy or of sorrow. All to often words are treated casually, as if meaningless, no matter how sharp– so long as our intentions are good (or at least not bad). Or we think we’re being funny. But, like a knife wielded carelessly, they can cut, whether you mean them to or not. So what are you doing with your words? Are you creating scars, or cooking a gourmet meal that nourishes the body and soul of you and those you serve? Words are powerful things, aren’t they? Please, use them...

The HARDEST Leadership Lesson

Brace yourself. This may not be easy.  Where do I start? Hmmm…Oh! I know. Let’s start here: They’re lazy! They don’t want to work! They think they’re entitled!  They have no work ethic! They won’t ‘pay their dues!’ They’ve got no loyalty! Sound familiar? That’s the popular mantra about the millennials these days, and I hear it CONSTANTLY.  Now, to be fair, there is some truth in these complaints;the millennial generation is made up of humans, and humans are notoriously diverse, ranging from monomaniacal tyrants to heroes to stoners. The fact is, however, that you’ll easily find that range in all generations (including, by the way, The Greatest Generation). But what is so often ignored, and here is where the lesson begins, is the fact that millennials didn’t spring up out of nowhere. What’s more, those who usually complain about millennials almost always fail to take responsibility for creating them. We act as if the millennials just showed up one day with zero experience of the world they were born into and chose in isolation their collective behavior. But they didn’t just show up; they are a product of the world that came before them. (And for the record, as hard as it may seem to believe, I am a boomer myself!) One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is recognizing the role we play in the challenges we face. It is a sign of great weakness to simply blame circumstances, or the environment you’re in, or other people, for whatever you’re facing — as though nothing comes from you at all. The generation that raised millennials, Gens X&Y,...

What Leadership ISN’T: Clarity of Vision

I heard a quote that’s been attributed to anonymous (the coward :-)), but it’s been really plaguing me lately. It goes like this: “If you can clearly see your own path, you can be sure it’s someone else’s.”  Wait!  What?! I thought the whole idea of great leadership was clarity of vision, seeing the outcome–you know, that whole “If you can see it you can be it” thing. Now Mr/s Anonymous is telling me that if I see it, it’s actually someone else’s path?!  Crap!  Now where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where. It leaves us in the bold, scary, exhilarating place of not knowing, right smack dab in the intersection of courage and possibility. There’s power in this quote, and the more I sit with it, the more powerful it gets. It’s the idea that you can’t clearly see what doesn’t exist. Our future doesn’t exist. And if you think you know exactly where your path is heading, in every excruciating detail, as if it’s already occurred, chances are it has–and you’re actually looking at someone else’s vision. Someone else’s path that’s already happened. How else could you see it so clearly?  Though it may feel otherwise, this inherent uncertainty is a blessing, a prompt, if you will, a nagging spark of insatiable curiosity.  Feed the flame. Discover what it will...

A Tale Of Two Kitties

Here at the Fulmer house we have two very different cats. I have to be honest, I’m not a cat person, but one of these cats in particular really irks me. Can you guess which one? The first is Kiwi. Kiwi’s is the picture in the dictionary next to the phrase ‘scaredy-cat.’He is extremely skittish, easily frightened, hates being picked up, and has one squinty eye that flinches at you when you look at him. If you walk towards him, he walks away. If you catch him doing something wrong, he runs away to cower and hide.  And while he generally puts up with my girls’ antics fairly patiently, he is pretty shy towards everyone else. The second is Lucy. She’s mischievous, fearless and does what she darn well pleases. She’s also smart and has actually figured out how to open doors, drawers and cupboards! She will wake my daughters up at night by getting into their rooms. I had to literally saw off the lever-style door handle to our laundry room just so we could have somewhere to put her and her accomplice at night so she wouldn’t keep waking up the house! She is sneaky, rambunctious, opinionated (yes! Cats can be opinionated!), and if there is cat trouble going on in our house, you can bet Lucy is at the root of it. So there you have it. Kiwi, the timid scaredy-cat, and Lucy, the bratty rule-breaker.Have you figured out which one irks me?   Before you guess, I did forget to mention something. Kiwi won’t give me the time of day — he loves my daughters, but for whatever reason,...

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