The Owl's Perch


Sunday, May 15, 2016

One of the most needed elements in effective leadership and resolving conflict is self-compassion. This defies what we think makes leaders successful: an endless supply drive and ambition. For most of my life, I’ve taken great pride in how “hard” on myself I am. I used to see my drive as a part of maintaining high standards, moral excellence and a rigidly defined sense of integrity. But my biggest failures taught me those are neither enough nor sustainable.

Having focus and determination are great qualities when aimed in the right direction. But resilience is even better. It allows the failure to be a teacher. Recovery is the ability to get back up more times than getting knocked down.

So what I’m learning is that the most needed quality that gives drive and determination a competitive advantage – is self-compassion. It’s like they say in the practice of Tai Chi: become like a needle wrapped in cotton. Solid core, gentle packaging. Self-compassion notices when judgment and criticism are present. It takes a warrior’s bravery to deny the inner critic a voice. But it takes his courageous heart to make friends with it. Self-compassion becomes an ally once it’s a habit.

Now, I still get to be ambitious, resilient and recover quickly. Because I’m learning to not be so hard on myself, my recoveries are quicker. What’s next? Learning how to extend that level of compassion to those closest to me. I think it can only happen after I’m truly kind to myself. I’ll let you know how it goes. Read More >

The Modern Day Warrior

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Can there be more than one warrior in the room at the same time? This question came up recently in a conversation with a dear friend and colleague – what happens when two “warriors” show up at the same time? Who gets to be the dominant one? And this question got me thinking about what the modern day warrior is up to.

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Notes for Those Who Serve Others

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Last weekend I attended a conference in Los Angeles for my fellow Vistage Chairs around the world. 730 of us gathered to learn, build our skills and connect with our community. I’ve been facilitating a CEO roundtable for 6 years now and am just beginning to feel adept at leading our group. What struck me most about my time with so many other more tenured Chairs is that everyone showed up eager to learn, including many of the “experts” who taught some of the breakout sessions.

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Raising the Bar

Sunday, January 10, 2016

As I thought about my “one word” theme for this new year, this quote got me thinking in a different direction: “A funny thing happens when you raise the bar. People find a way to get over it, once they realize it's expected. Human beings can do amazing things - if they're asked to,” from John Powers, American playwright best know for his work Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? I labeled this year, “BIGGER” as a reminder to me that one of the ways I can raise the bar is to expand the horizons in which I live, work and play.

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Lessons from the Chickadees and English Sparrows

Sunday, December 06, 2015

I have a bird feeder just outside my window and, as an amateur bird-watcher I love noticing how different species interact while jostling for the sunflower seeds I put out. This winter I’ve been fascinated by the two most frequent visitors, the solitary Black-Capped Chickadees and the prolific flocks of English Sparrows. Both had lessons waiting in the wings.

First, the amiable Chickadee dips from a nearby branch to my feeder and selects one special seed in its beak. Flitting back to the branch, it holds the seed between its feet, cracks open the shell and enjoys a bite-sized snack. This process is repeated many times, often attracting attention from other Chickadees nearby and then they move on all at once. A renowned birding expert commented to me that scientists are beginning to notice that some migrating species may actually look to the Chickadees as local hosts, suggesting the best places to eat in town. Warblers, finches and nuthatches follow them to my feeder and grab a quick snack in a similar format. These species are all native to Illinois.

Then the ubiquitous flocks of non-native English Sparrows swoosh in and sit on the feeder for hours rummaging through the seeds, spilling most of them on the ground and emptying my feeder in less than a day. When close by, I angrily shoo them away so the Chickadees can come back to eat in a less piggish, more conserving way.

If you noticed, I’m biased – I admire the way the Chickadee mindfully eats its fill and critique the fat little Sparrow’s gluttonous behavior.  And so I began to notice my quick judgments that Chickadees are good and English Sparrows are bad. [In fact, most non-native, introduced species of plant and animals do serious harm to native populations and as a conservationist I’m interested in reversing that trend.] But it was my harsh judgment that was most fascinating. Where else was I being quick to judge? Just when I started questioning my assumptions and checking my judgments, I noticed all the seeds on the ground were being enjoyed by ground feeding species like Juncos, Mourning Doves and squirrels who certainly appreciated the fallen bounty.

The lesson for me was this: I have thought patterns that I deem educated, correct and even enlightened but they don’t always serve me with the whole truth. There are always hundreds of different perspectives that offer something I hadn’t thought of or considered and always suggest something to learn.

While I still shoo away the English Sparrows now and then because I can’t keep the feeder filled frequently enough, I smile when they arrive and ask myself, “what judgments are keeping you from seeing life in a different way?” What might you notice if you considered things from a different angle today?
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Tolerant vs. Intolerant - Mutually Exclusive?

Sunday, November 01, 2015
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The Power of Noticing

Sunday, October 04, 2015

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Living in Life's Beautiful Question

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Taking most of August off this year to drive west was an incredible gift as it gave me time to dream into what the next chapter of my life might hold, especially if it includes a move to another place. After returning I was reminded of a concept credited to David Whyte about life’s beautiful question. As I understand the idea, a beautiful question is one that inspires and scares us at the same time. In my case, it’s something like, “where would I live if I could go anywhere?” which intrigues me and I wonder if I could ever really just pick up and go.

The most important aspect of this beautiful question is in not answering too quickly but letting yourself just live into the question. Then instead of an answer, we receive an invitation to get curious and notice what arises within us. Often overlooked because our mind is so busy thinking up various answers, is how our body responds to the question – and in those responses there is deep wisdom. David Whyte phrases this question as, “What do I already know that I haven’t let myself overhear?”

Back to my 4300 mile, 2 ½ week trip: what I learned was that it was both daunting to consider moving anywhere else but my hometown since 1971, and a breath-taking opportunity to consider other landscapes, grocery stores and communities. In my body I noticed that my feet became very heavy, which I read as a reluctance to move – as if playing it safe was going to be much more satisfying. At the same time I noticed an ease of breathing in my chest and shoulders, which I read as a comfort with the adventure of letting many places call me.

For now I’m letting both responses live in me and am giving myself the gift of living into the beautiful question and refusing to make a decision just yet. What I know is that there isn’t an urgency to decide right now, and even though my mind for plans and details isn’t too crazy about this I’m learning to stretch into the discomfort of not knowing rather quickly trying to come up with an answer. Being ok with this paradox is, in fact, right where I need to be living right now and until my body shares some other wisdom with me I’m fine staying here and being content with what I do know – that living in life’s beautiful question is a gift.
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Sunday, July 05, 2015

W.A.I.T. stands for “Why Am I Talking?” A close colleague of mine shared this acronym with me many years ago as a simple gauge to better listening. Deciding whether speaking is really important, helpful, kind or necessary at any given moment isn’t always easy. But with this simple question – to myself – before continuing or opening my mouth I’ve found that my ability to listen with more focus has increased.

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The Need for Better Conflicts

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Recently, I listened with great interest to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” program aired on PBS. She interviewed two people on opposite sides of the gay marriage debate who are proud of their ability to “achieve disagreement.” While still advocates for their side of the debate their willingness to stay in conversation with each other inspired me.

For years I’ve wrestled with the positional nature of conflict. A dozen years ago, after a falling out with my business partner I began studying conflict resolution and got trained as a mediator to learn a different approach than walking away to resolve my conflicts – a strategy that never really resolves anything but rather breeds resentment, anger and mistrust. As I started seeing the value of “getting to yes” type conversations (for more on this see Fisher and Ury’s book by the same title) I found more and more opportunities to practice a new craft.

But what stood out to me in the On Being conversation was the idea that CIVILITY and DOUBT need each other for true discourse to take place. Civility was defined as the treatment of another person the way you want to be treated by them and doubt was defined as the belief that you may not be right. Imagine in the most heated disagreement– in a marriage, a business partnership or a political divide – if both sides agreed to the need for both civility and doubt to be acceptable. How might that affect not only the outcome but the relationship itself?

I recall attending a marriage celebration years ago in which the parents of the groom, in their speech to the couple said that the most important three words in marriage were “maybe you’re right.” That recommendation stays with me and resurfaces when, in a moment of mindfulness amidst a heated disagreement, I see the positions taking hold and moving me farther away from the person with whom I disagree. I can now see that mindful moment as the healthy presence of doubt.

It still takes two people to have a disagreement. But here’s the rub… it only takes one to start moving toward resolution – one who is willing to say, even if only internally, “maybe you’re right and I want to start treating you like I want to be treated.” It’s important to recognize that resolution doesn’t have to mean agreement. Like the two men interviewed above, whose goal was “achieving disagreement” both sides can find alignment on some neutral ground like values or purpose.

This isn’t an easy topic, nor can it be easily addressed with platitudes. Still, I’m fascinated by what might be possible if I really understood how crucial civility and doubt are to each other. What do you think?
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Assoc Conflict Res Bosi Certified Partner Center for Right Relation Coaches Training Institute ICF Leadership Circle Team Coaching Int Vistage Chair