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Loving Learning. Or… Learning, Like It or Not

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The new school year is well underway. Midterms to take, papers to write, projects to complete.

School is the realm of learning, standards, and grades. The place where improving is the name of the game.

For those of us not in a structured learning environment like a school, we need a way to keep learning: improve, deepen, and broaden ourselves, our capabilities, and our relationships.

There’s a myth out there in our culture of the strong competent leader. This myth would have us believe that to be effective and/or in charge we need to be (or pretend to be) beyond learning and training.

We know everything we need to know already. We can do everything we need to do already. We teach, evaluate and correct others. We don’t have anything else (more…)

If You Could Change One Thing About Yourself

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Given our focus here on Working Matters, let’s forego the things that are not related to work like our appearance; things that are beyond our scope like our personality; or things that our out of our control like our popularity.

I know, I just eliminated the best categories. I’m sorry.

I realize there are many good reasons to avoid change. I realize that muddling through with the status quo is often preferable to risking the unknowns that come with change.

But, for the sake of argument, let me ask again… If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Is there a skill you want to learn? A capacity you would like to develop? An aspect of your working style that you would like to expand? An unhelpful (more…)

Life is a Casserole… Still a Feast, Just Not Very Pretty

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

I begin with an apology to those for whom work and life come easy. To those for whose priorities sort themselves out before any difficult choice needs to be made, this article may seem so much wasted breath.

We tend to think about the various contexts of life separately. Work, family, friends, politics, sports, religion, hobbies, etc.

We then proceed to burden ourselves with the task of achieving a mythical ideal of “balance” between them all. As if there existed some ideal slicing of the pie, so to speak, by which we would be appropriately invested in each compartment in such a way that we were neither overwhelmed by any one of them.

Better than slices of pie, though, is the analogy of the seven-course meal. Each course in its time, each course serving its culinary purpose, each course designed to delight all of the senses. So we think about our various contexts of life. Each should have its time, accomplish its purpose, and result in its benefits.

Reality, though, rarely (I’m dying to say “never”) works out so neatly. Reality is messy. Reality consists of the unexpected, the complex, much that is broken, and much that does not fit very well.

Instead of embracing the messiness of reality, we launch on our various heroic quests for the holy grail of “balance.”

Maybe the casserole would be a yet better analogy for life than the seven-course meal. All the same ingredients are present, but the presentation isn’t as beautiful and the components aren’t artificially kept separate.

The task of building a meaningful and rewarding life feels differently to me when my goal is to simply concoct the most delicious casserole I can. Instead of chasing some mythical ideal of the perfectly balanced seven-course meal, I am working with who I currently am and with what and whom I currently have in the pantry.

What have you got in the pantry? Instead of stressing about what’s not there, how about taking stock of what is there. Instead of viewing what is there through the eyes of the seven-course meal and how far short it falls of that ideal, view it through the eyes of the casserole and what delicious combinations can be created by you.

The gourmet sausage industry did not grow out of trying to figure out what to do with the best cuts of meat.

Work, family, friends, politics, sports, religion and hobbies don’t need to be artificially isolated from each other and set at odds with each other. We don’t need to argue about whether the main course should be work or family or religion.

If I can be ok with the harsh reality that casseroles will never look as beautiful, organized or balanced as a meal with courses, then I can relax and enjoy how delightfully yummy it is.

I have, in essence, traded the unattainable and mythical ideal of balance for the always available if messy reality of flavor.

Still a feast, just not very pretty.

On your side,

- Karl Edwards

Shooting Oneself in the Foot… Again?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Most of us can relate to the idiom about “shooting oneself in the foot.”

We are painfully aware of those times when our efforts work against us instead of for us. Or we watch others in disbelief as they sabotage their own best plans and intentions.

Ideally we would serve as our own best friend. We naturally feel regret, embarrassment, and confusion when we find ourselves to be our own worst enemy.

Imagine being betrayed by the one who should be our most trusted advocate. How do we build trust with ourselves again? Or do we slowly spiral downward in a cycle of mistakes, eroding self-confidence and further mistakes?

Instead of focusing on eliminating mistakes (an unrealistic and futile goal), what if we worked on becoming better advocates for ourselves?

What if, instead of interpreting errors as failure events, we viewed them as learning processes?

1. What if you viewed your mistakes as the beginning of something constructive instead of the end of something disastrous? What might you learn from the situation? What might you do differently going forward? What needs to improve in your own thinking, your team’s communication, or your organization’s processes? What benefit going forward can you construct from this unfortunate situation?

Mistakes can become new beginnings.

2. What if you viewed errors as learning in motion instead of static grades on a report card. It’s the difference between a motion picture and a photograph. If you take an uncomplimentary driver’s license photo, that’s the image (more…)

The Visionary Leader: Captain or Mid-Wife?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

I find myself rethinking vision and leadership.

Who do you know who seems to see what no one else sees? Not because no one else has eyes, but because no one else is looking.

Visionary leadership is not about seeing something entirely new as much as it is about seeing what is already there unfolding in a way no one else yet expects. Just as our brains filter out most of the visual data in our field of vision so that we can pay attention to what is most important, so in our busy and complex lives many of us may not be able to see what is unfolding right in front of us.

The visionary leader is more rarely the source of brand new ideas. She or he is rather the highly aware and deeply reflective one for whom all persons, events, stories, dynamics, and trends are precious and meaning-laden data.

What distinguishes the visionary is the capacity to interpret this flood of information from a variety of vantage points. It is as if he or she is rearranging the tiles in a mosaic so that entirely different pictures emerge than the otherwise obvious one that everyone up until that point had been convinced was the only one.

What we encounter in many hierarchical organizations are positional leaders who aspire to be perceived as visionaries. (A common cultural bias.) They consequently “do vision” out of their hierarchical frame of reference, which is to act as the primary idea generator, strategy definer, and program creator.

The significance of distinguishing the personal skill from the organizational position lies in the very real possibility that the visionary leaders in your organization may not be the positional leaders. They may not even be on your radar screen. But they are there. Observant, reflective and influential.

Think about it. Think through the people on your team. Think through people in other departments. What if someone in the accounting department could see in the numbers new possibilities for how you went about your work which you couldn’t see from your vantage point in operations? What if your receptionist understood your clients’ needs better from his or her perspective of helping than your marketing team could from their perspective of selling?

And who has eyes and ears integrated enough with their heart and mind to watch these dynamics on a number of fronts and across a spectrum of personalities, roles, functions and processes? What kind of person does it take to see what ideas, directions and connections might be unfolding in enough time to participate in their emergence?

Maybe “mid-wife” would serve as a better metaphor for visionary leader than “captain.” I wonder.

What do you think?

I think the emerging mosaic deepens and sharpens a bit more.

This article flows out of recent conversations with Marion Skeete of LegacyMakers International. (These recordings are available on our web site and on iTunes.)
As conversation always enriches and challenges, I find myself here needing to pause, reflect and adjust my conceptions of visionary leadership in light of my discussions with Marion.

On your side

- Karl Edwards

Choosing to Show Up… Showing Up Engaged

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

bored-at-workNo matter how powerless you feel at work. No matter how little power you actually wield. You always have control over how you show up.

You can wield this “power” in a childish manner. Resentfully drag your feet and do the bare minimum at the last minute and only when asked for the umpteenth time. In other words, barely show up at all. As powerful as it feels to “stick it to the man” in this way, you end up diminished as a result as well. In other words, you’re only hurting yourself.

Do yourself a favor and choose to show up engaged no matter what’s going on at work. Even for the most ungrateful supervisor, show up engaged. Even for the most uncooperative team members, show up engaged. Even for the most toxic of work cultures, show up engaged.

You don’t have to keep working here—in fact, you should probably be looking for a change if you’re in an unhealthy situation—but while you are here, (more…)

Stepping Into the Coffin and Closing the Lid on Yourself?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

coffinWe have a tendency to swing between extremes.

At one extreme, we beat ourselves up. Call ourselves diminishing names. We are unrelenting and unforgiving toward our own failures.

At the other extreme we let ourselves off the hook. We understand and make allowance for every misstep we make or shortcoming we exhibit along the way.

Either way we let ourselves down. Either way we participate in our own lack of progress or stunted growth. At either extreme we refuse to mature and then, ironically enough, pat ourselves on the back for being so harsh or so lenient.

What we need, though, is the capacity (maybe even courage) to 1.) identify what we’re doing that’s not serving us well, 2.) take responsibility for those actions, and then 3.) experiment with alternatives.

To beat ourselves up is self-diminishing. To let ourselves off the hook is dis-empowering.

To accept responsibility and experiment with alternatives, on the other hand, is both edifying and empowering.

Let’s revisit our three tasks:

  1. Identify what we’re doing that’s not serving us well.

    How self-reflective and/or honest would you consider yourself to be in matters related to your own performance? What outcomes might serve as objective points of self-evaluation?

  2. Take responsibility for those actions.

    Which extreme do you tend toward? Beat yourself up or let yourself off the hook? Both are deflections from a simple statement of factual ownership.

  3. Experiment with alternatives.

    I don’t mean, ask others to do things differently. I mean, you choose to do things differently. You change how you show up and do work. Become a lifelong and active learner.

Don’t participate in your own diminishment another day. Life is challenging enough without stepping into the coffin and closing the lid on ourselves.

On your side,


When Crisis Presents Opportunity #2: ReConnecting With The People In Your Life

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

people-connectIn our last newsletter I posed the question, what if the current financial crisis were to present an opportunity?

We first looked at the opportunity that may lie in some creative re-visioning of ourselves and our professional contribution. (Read the previous article here.)

We turn our attention secondly to what opportunity might lie in doing some relational research. We do not need to find our way through this financial morass alone. While not every acquaintance, friend or family member can be the source of your next job, these connections can be more valuable than you think.

When we place too much pressure on relationships at time of need, networking can feel contrived and manipulative. Where have we been all this time?

But if in the course of life we stay in touch with people on a casual, personal, yet (more…)

When Crisis Presents Opportunity

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

No doubt the news of 700,000 lost jobs can be nerve-wracking. Of course stress levels increase and worries of job security can fill our horizon.

Maybe you have already lost your job. Maybe your nightmare has become your reality.

But what if the current crisis were to present an opportunity? What if that opportunity outweighs the trouble and trauma experienced on the way to it? What if something far better lies on the other side of the muck and mire in which we currently find ourselves?

Do we risk proceeding through the muck, knowing neither its extent nor its resolution? Or do we scramble back to where we were before, reverting to what we knew as safe and secure, (however much we hated our job at the time.)

What if making our way forward involved three components: some creative re-visioning, some relational research and some intensive effort on our part? Would you choose to go forward? Or back?

This month we look at the opportunity that may lie in some creative re-visioning of ourselves and our professional contribution.

The creative re-visioning might be in any of three areas: your role at work, the professional field within which you exercise your role, or you may have an idea that changes how we view or use a product or service altogether.

Maybe your role needs to change. Expand, focus, involve new skills or new responsibilities. Are you learning continually? Always challenging yourself? Do you try to add value to your role each year?

Look around the office and ask yourself which roles and/or tasks are attractive to you. Do you admire Mark’s ability to work with others? Do you come up with ideas that you wish you could implement? Is Sarah overwhelmed by a project with which you could help?

Maybe your skills would be better suited in another professional field. Which of your skills are task-specific and related to your particular job description, and which skills are transferable and applicable anywhere? Knowing how to use a particular contact management/calendar computer program would be an example of the first. Knowing how to make plans, organize events and stay in touch with people is an example of the second.

Make a list of your transferable skills. Get people who know you to help. Transferable skills are the keys to expanding your opportunities to fields outside your own.

Finally, maybe you don’t see the world the way others do. Maybe the source of your frustration is at a deeper, more fundamental, even structural level. A more radical change may be in store for you.

Who would have imagined listening to music in random play lists? Who would have foreseen using a phone for multiple communication and organizational purposes? Maybe you’re like us at Bold Enterprises and foresee a working world where people design for themselves working environments that are worth getting up for and pouring oneself into.

Maybe this economic crisis is your opportunity to take a step forward.

Don’t Let Their Meltdown Become Your Meltdown

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

It’s certainly not fun to watch the stock market fall, taking your long term savings and possibly a dream or two with it.

It’s certainly not comforting to watch entire companies close their doors, creating instant unemployment for not just a few skilled workers.

And no one likes hearing about anyone losing their home, even in the maddening case when the initial mortgage commitment was irresponsible.

My question for you is, “Are you letting their meltdown become your meltdown?”

It’s easy to start worrying about our own job security, financial well-being, and credit issues. But there is a big difference between the sort of reality check some of us need to make us face the facts about our money practices and the sort of shared anxiety based, not on facts, but on the broader climate of uneasiness, fear and panic.

One question you might want to ask yourself is, “Am I making this decision to make myself feel less anxious today, or is this the best possible choice to help me achieve my short and long term financial goals and commitments?”

In times of economic stress, it is easy to slip into making decisions in order to make us feel better. This is where we risk allowing their meltdown to become our meltdown.

What we are looking for is a sense of poise instead of panic. Perspective instead of overwhelm. Strategy instead of fear.

Poise is both an interior and exterior posture that is steady, balanced and paying attention. Poise is not easily knocked over or thrown off course by the unexpected earthquakes and/or hurricanes of life. Poise involves maintaining one’s composure to better assess the situation, distinguish between fact and fear, and think more clearly.

Perspective is a vantage point. Perspective involves being able to step back and look at issues from more than one angle. Perspective rejects isolation and consults with safe and experienced friends, associates and professionals.

Strategy is wisdom committed to action. Strategy discerns urgent issues requiring immediate decisions. Strategy recognizes longer term possibilities and holds or adjusts course accordingly. Strategy does not recoil from difficult decisions, because its validation does not come from needing to feel better right away.

Validation is the peace that is available from a posture of poise, a vantage point with perspective, and a thoughtful strategy of next steps.

What are you doing to prevent their meltdown from becoming your meltdown?