The Owl's Perch
I’m in the midst of a deep and thorough internal re-wiring process. For most of my life I was proud of how hard I drove myself, the high standards to which I held myself and others, and my ability to get through just about anything. Alone these aren’t good or bad traits. What’s being rewired is the force with which I push myself. I’m giving gentleness a try and finding some pretty incredible results.
My internal conversation used to sound something like this: “Well, that was a mistake! Now, what caused it to happen, how did I contribute and what did I learn?” With a very subtle “you dummy” in the background after each question, I’d dig into the answers. What usually happened is I’d never find a real solution, meaning or lesson because the harsh judgment made me keep digging and digging – often starting around 3am every night. Read More >
You may notice that I didn't publish my monthly blog in June or July this year. It's been a very full summer! And, it's disappointing not to get to the things that mean the most. I have a story (see last month's post) that I lose credibility, lose readership and appear checked out. On the contrary, I'm fully engaged in my professional growth, most especially with a "Warriors for the Human Spirit" tribe I'm learning with over an 18 month period. Lots to learn!
This month I’m reposting an excellent article that was also a key part of my bi-monthly newsletter, “News Thought Leaders Can Use” in August. That article received so many thoughtful responses, it deserves to be read again. The article is about being okay with (mindfully) disappointing people by practicing generous self-care (yes, that's what I've been up to this summer!).
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Typically, facts are things I see with my own eyes or can externally verify as true. Often confused with those facts are my interpretations of them. Recently, several members of an executive team I started working with started a sentence in our meeting with, “The story I tell myself is…” I quickly realized they had learned an important lesson between facts and stories.
As a conflict resolution tool, I often encourage people to discuss the differences between their perspectives. Beyond a “he said, she said” exchange, I’m looking for a willingness to understand there may be nuances or variations on what is “true.” While helpful, the dialogue often becomes a frustrating battle to see who can prove their version of the truth to be more worthy. So now I’m trying something new with the hint from the new executive team.
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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 >
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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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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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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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? Read More >