Steven's Own Words

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,...

Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable: Chris Rock At The Oscars

Did any of you catch the Oscars a few weeks ago? I wrote about it in my newsletter, but I want to share my thoughts here! There were some upsets (Spotlight beat The Revenant for Best Picture!) and some moments of pure joy (Leo finally got his Oscar…) as well as some serious moments of… well, I was going to say awkwardness, but in the end I’m not sure that’s what I mean. Host for the night Chris Rock did not pull any punches, and I have to say — I admire him for that. It seems to me there is a brilliant leadership lesson in Mr. Rock’s courage and his willingness to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and to hold the audience in that space longer than many thought necessary. Our job as leaders is not to make ourselves or everyone else feel comfy; it’s to hold the mirror up so people can see the truth, and to hold it up long enough that we feel the pain and understand where it’s coming from. That’s what spurs people to action to make real change. But the truth is hard. And people feel…awkward. It’s at about that time, the awkward time, that leaders too often back down to make it easier and safer for themselves or those they are leading. So when your listeners become uncomfortable, that is not the time to stop.  For real change to happen, for real truth to be seen, we have to hold that mirror up for longer than our viewers would like. But where’s the line? Where’s the line between holding the mirror up long enough...

Raising Children To Be Leaders: Key Action Steps

We’ve talked about what we as parents can do and the theory behind the whole thing, but what real, daily activities actually help children grow into leaders? For the third and final installment of this month’s series, Raising Children to be Leaders, I put together a list of five key action steps — activities you can encourage your children to do which will, when practiced regularly, develop major leadership qualities. 1. Communication! Ask your child to speak their thoughts out loud. The core foundation of leadership is communication and the ability to open one’s mouth and have intelligent language come out.  The ability to hear themselves think, to have to articulate a position or opinion and to provide more than a one-word response starts to exercise their cognitive muscle.  This isn’t about being right, it’s about practicing the art of forming thoughts and ideas into words with tone, inflection and intonation.  It’s amazing what happens when a kid hears themselves say something profound and intelligent. 2. Make Decisions! Encourage your child to make their own decisions at every opportunity, and have the patience for them to do so. This can be hard for adults because it takes time.  Kids can be very slow at making decisions and need time to discern options, figure out how they feel about those options, and then actually make the choice. As a result, too many adults are impatient and end up either making the decision for the kid, or giving them such simple options that no real learning occurs. 3. Read Up! Encourage reading at a very young age. Study after study touts the benefits of reading for...

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