Saturday, August 27, 2011

Narcissism, the Mirror thing again

I'm an "Old Guy" officially a Senior Citizen and a man of infinite opinion. That's as introduction to what's coming…a diatribe on what's wrong with America today. Let's harken back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when cowboys on white horses with white hats and teeth that sparkled rode in to solve all our problems. Usually to rescue the fair maiden.

Okay that's old movies and TV. It never was like that, but the fantasy attached to it lingers in our consciousness. It seems that I have this belief that I can find the answer to all I struggle with by getting the right answer. I am confusing entertainment with life. And it has taken me a long time to figure that out. Now we don't have that old hero model so much in front of us anymore, but we have one that seems to have replaced it. People in my age group and a little after grew up in this "Leave It To Beaver" world and we knew it wasn't our experience. I though it was the other kids who had those lives, but I have lived long enough to find out that isn't true. But it has been replaced with another. It's called New Age. The basis of this is "The Power Of Positive Thinking" which basically states that if I focus on the positive around me I will achieve positive results.

While this makes a certain amount of sense it fails by not including anyone else in my world, let alone that bigger world outside my direct contact. But of course there's no need to consider their thoughts or feelings because, after all I am just going for the positive. And that's good. Right? And as long as I remain positive and move in a positive direction for positive things then everyone will be happy. Right? And isn't that everyone's goal?

When I was younger I thought that everyone I liked believed and thought the same way I did. Well maybe they thought the same way, but they came up with surprisingly different conclusions than I did. This can mess with a young boy;s mind. Even a not so young boy. Everyone is subject to over generalization. Even me in this piece. But I know this about myself and I am constantly looking for and engaging with people of different approaches to situations than mine.

I know this doesn't make me a saint or anything like it. I hope what it does for me is keep me curious and teachable. It seems to me that so many of us have lots of education under our belts and think we know things that perhaps we don't. As I described above, we tend to think we know how others think or what's best for them. But the truth of that thinking is that it is just a defense against being found out.I don't want anyone to think I don't know. I have done this. And when I do, I have discovered I am a narcissist. I seem to have lots of company. Lots of people seem to have this behavior. As a professional coach I run into this all the time. People have a hard time seeing outside of themselves. This isn't some horrible dysfunction requiring institutionalization or anything like that. But it does require getting into it with other people. And ideally not just the people we are most intimate with. Our attitude about them is part of the problem. I want them to think I am the greatest. I want to be the man they want me to be. The trouble is I think that means perfect. If I'm actually perfect, how will they ever be able to be less than perfect with me. Which is what they know they are.

Hard as it is, I am ever on the lookout for the person in the mirror. When he looks too bright and shiny, I know the Narcissist is back and it's time for a reality check.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Look in the mirror

Robert Steven Kaplan of the Harvard Business School has just published a book titled "What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential"

We need to be clear about a couple of things at the outset. One is that I have not read the book. Another is that I am not saying this is a bad book or that what is suggested here is behavior we at Paeon are opposed to. This is an effort to look at a model which comes from a different perspective.

The issue here is that Leadership has always been seen as a personal competency, which is fine. I need to be and act as a Leader in my own life. It is important to engage my values in my behavior.

Here at Paeon, we want to look at Leadership as a group competency. As we continue to mature and as the machines we create help us change our relationship to work, our jobs are increasingly joined to the jobs of others and we function as collaborators much more of our time than in the past. In a way we are cogs in a machine just like we have always been, but the functions we perform are much less individual and complete. Further the function I perform doesn't necessarily complete something to be handed off to another worker like it does on an assembly line. Our collaborations are often ore complex than that.

So the actual functions of leadership are as much about give and take, communication and trust than at any time in the past. We are often engaged in work that is completely out of our hands for the moment, but rely on us in the next. And our collaborators may need our input at any time, then our disconnection. This requires that our Leadership is more about sharing than directing, more asking than telling, more stepping back than getting in front.

Let's look at Mr. Kaplan's four questions as a point of departure here. The first is, "
Do I clearly articulate my vision and top priorities?" This is an excellent question in my opinion. It is also one that is best answered by others. When I ask these kinds of questions of myself, the deluded part of me gives me a BS answer. And, that is the very part of me I am trying to uncover with the question. So if I want the best results from the examination of me, I am well served to ask this question in company.

Mr. Kapla's second question is "Does the way I spend my time enable me to achieve my top priorities?" Now that I have examined my priorities and communication effectiveness in company, it seems they are the best people to help me understand if they see me using my time effectively in their eyes. And assuming these are the people I am working with, if there is a disagreement, who better to help me see the truth as it impacts others. It also allows them to get some insight into activities of mine that don't involve them or our mutual work directly. I think I want them to know I am not squandering my time at their expense, but spending it on other important activities. This is a perfect opportunity to check my actual priorities against the story I make up in my head to suit my agendas Both the conscious and the unconscious.

Question #3 is really two questions, " Do I give subordinates timely and direct feedback they can act on? Have I developed a succession roadmap?"
I don'tknow about anyone else, but I do not trust myself to answer this question honestly. Further, why wouldn't I want to ask the people I'm working with? Even if they're subordinates? If I couldn't ask them it would be because I don't trust them. If that's the case I need to ask myself how I can change that.

The last question for Mr. Kaplan is actually the best one for me to answer. And then check it out with my responses and my people. "Is my leadership style still effective, and does it reflect who I truly am?"

At this point I can readily ask myself if I am satisfied with the results of my Leadership? Are my goals and expectations being met? Are we making the progress I want us to make? When I ask myself how I am feeling about our work and the achievements that are happening, is the feeling Anger? Sadness? Fear? Joy? My answer is the answer I need to share with the team. And ask for their feedback. What do they see? How stisfied are they? What's next for them? What do they nee from me?

All these are worthy questions which will provide valuable answers if the team is willing to face them and learn their own truth.

Our judgement about Leadership and the practice in the workplace is there is too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the team. The team isn't just for team meetings and beatings. The team is for everything, because the team is responsible. And probably quite capable. It can certainly always do things I can't do alone.

That's the Paeon view, how about you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Peony & Paeon

I have been pretty scattered this week and then today, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, author of "The Invitation" and other incredible thing posted a comment on the "Peonies" poem by Mary Oliver. I was planning to insert it into this post, but my grasp of the technology left me with a post of a link only. Sorry.

I quote the poem because it is beautiful and timeless. And so is the story of Paeon, the character from "The Iliad." As you probably know, "The Iliad" is one of the oldest and greatest stories about human conflict we have. It is the epic retelling of the Trojan War, actually a minor skirmish that took place around 1225 BCE between the Greeks, headed by Agamemnon and the Trojans whose prince, Paris, has stolen the Greek beauty Helen.

The tale is told as the struggle between heroes on either side, and the gods tht championed some of them against others. Paeon's role is as healer of the gods. Specifically he came to the aid of Ares, the god of conflict and Hades, the god of the underworld, or The Shadow. He did this with an extract from the peony, which is how he got his name. And how it is that we adopted the peony for our logo. Any of you who have received a business card from us have seen it.

We see the role of Paeon Partners as parallel to that of our namesake. The workplace is certainly the source of trial and struggle between people and these conflicts usually work out based on power. The person with the most power wins and the other(s) lose. Unfortunately this outcome may or may not serve the enterprise, which is the purpose for these people to be together in the first place.

We don't have any floral extracts or other potions to work with, we have coaching principles which always call for building two things: communication and trust. This is nothing simple or easy, and it takes time and commitment. But we believe that we can help find common ground and real community with each other when they stay focused on principles, without denying their feelings or judgements. We observe that most means of gaining skill at being good team members requires people to check the most fundamental parts of themselves at the door.

This is not a convenient or clean way to solve a problem. When I cut out the part of me I don't want, let's say my ego, the offensive (?) part of me may go but what goes with it? Probably the most creative and imaginative part of me. How else could I have created this overblown image I have of myself? And it's the same part of me that solves real problems and sees the path to clarity. My fellows need these things just as I need the offensive parts of them. Because that is how we are different. And how we add up to more than the sum of our numbers.

We think that the goal is to bring all parts of everyone into the room and give them the chance to be shown. Then they aren't hidden under some cover that slides away when the wind shifts and no one knows how to deal with it then.

We weren't taught to act this way. Therefore we don't know how and we don't trust it will work. Okay, tht's the truth. And we aren't afraid of it anymore. We have taken the risk to look at this way. And, as messy as it is, we have come to love the results.

What scary things have you tried that fooled you into seeing things in a new way?

YouTube - "Peonies" by Mary Oliver

YouTube - "Peonies" by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Blame Game

For some reason I am continually irritated by people in the public and in my personal life who indulge in finding out whom to blame and making sure that everyone knows their identity. I have learned that my irritation is an indicator that the trouble is mine. So I am looking for someone to take the blame. And the only reason I need someone to take the blame is to avoid responsibility myself. If I can blame you or Sister Mary Holy Water from the 3rd grade or my ex-wife, then I am off the hook. I don't need to change or look for an alternative which might be helpful.

What I've been trying to do here for the past couple of weeks is get my thinking down so I can get a clearer look at it. Maybe others will share their thoughts and experiences and help me learn how to see the issue more clearly. I had scheduled this entry for Monday but for some reason couldn't decide what to write about. This is not for shortage of opinions, which those of you who know me will identify. It was just that nothing was actually calling my name. So I check my New Youk Times email today and the top 5 stories of the week and here it is. The very issue that has had me talking to client after client. And, as usual, they are presenting me the very things that are bugging me.

How do I get a better world to live in and a better life to live in it without doing anything difficult or uncomfortable?

Wrong question. Not because it wouldn't be great for that to be the way. It's the wrong question because there is the answer to that is what some of you may remember from the "New Math". It's the null set, the empty void that collection of things which do not exist.

Paul Krugman, columnist from the Times has some thoughtful commentary from his column of Sunday, which I just got around to reading today, which really makes the point well for me. Check it out here

So what have I learned?

The answers to my dilemmas is always to do four things. First, listen to someone share their life experiences. When I do that I get to learn what kind of thing works and doesn't work. The second is to get in touch with my feelings about the issue. Am I mad, glad, sad or afraid about what's in from of me. Third is to identify that I am correct in my thinking about the past (recent) and that I know where I am stuck. I am also clear that I can create a set of tactics with the information available if I am willing to think in light of the evidence present.

Finally and most importantly for me is that I can't get anywhere if I believe that I must figure this out for myself. I need to engage and have conversations with other people who can challenge my thinking and the beliefs behind that. This is the service I provide to others as a coach. It is the raison d'etre for the existence of Paeon Partners. And it is the lesson I most need to learn.

I look forward to your comments and I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear that I believe one of the most destructive forces in the business world today is the idea of Control. You will also not be surprised to hear that Management is based on successful control of people and things. What I believe is that people have some ability to control things, but very little ability to control people.

I also really love it when people like The Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business School publish results that indicate some agreement with these principles. Take yesterday's HBS Working Knowledge report on a study of casinos and the way they manage their hosts. I needn't give all the details, but you may see the entire article here

The thrust of the study's conclusions is that while there is more risk in giving employees more flexibility in deciding how to do their jobs, there is also more reward.The study does not suggest that employees have no guidelines or monitoring, but it does suggest that trusting employees to make good decisions and make better ones as they have more experience is very beneficial. The downside of course, is that the employer might become dependent on those employees and their performance. If that occurs, then when it's time to improve profitability it won't be such a good idea to cut those employees.

The big question here is about recognizing the thinking that goes into the actual structure of the business activity. The questions about what the employer is looking for are not as simple as they may seem. What is the value of an existing customer? Am I willing to go a little out of my way to satisfy a customer, or is it better to go find a new one? Can management best make that decision, or is it the person facing the customer the one to make that decision? And you can imagine the series of questions that follow.

The main issue for us is that none of these can be answered in a subjective manner. These are all issues that lend themselves best to a considered plan of action or manner of behavior. In order to do this, I/we believe the way to do this is to create an on-going discussion with all the players and decision makers in order to uncover the greatest wisdom availability. It really isn't about any one person's knowledge or opinion. the most powerful results come out of powerful communication in a mutually trusting environment.

As coaches, we at Paeon understand the ways and means of creating those environments and look forward to continuing the conversation with you.

Monday, April 25, 2011


There's a short article in today's Wall Street Journal describing how American management practices haven't succeeded in improving education. Actually, the results indicate that these practices prove worse more often than better.

I actually haven't earned my living as a scientist, but that part of my education taught me about designing experiments that can shed light on a situation. Those are all based on having a belief and then challenging that belief with as powerful a situation as one can come up with to try to disprove the theory. What most people do, even well meaning ones, is design experiments which confirm their expectations.

My observations of our world is that we are operating on some shaky beliefs, in my opinion. The first is that capitalism is innately good, therefore it produces good results. Even if we don't challenge the value of "good" we are in trouble, because that is a judgment which can only be imposed after the fact. And capitalism is something one starts with; it doesn't show up after something has been done. So, since we believe capitalism is good and therefore it produces good stuff, if we want something good, then apply capitalist tenets.

This leads us back in time actually, to Octavian, the son of Julius Caesar, who assumed the throne of Emperor after his father's assassination. He is the one who first figured out how to make the Roman army scalable. The Regimental system which builds everything as a series of units. This is extremely valuable as a tool to accomplish greater efficiency. This is the prime capability of management. Let's look at what we're doing and figure out how to do it with less material, fewer people and more focus. It is also predicated on measurement. I know I am more efficient when my measurements tell me I am getting equal or better results using the same or less resources. The problem in education is the assumption that I know how to evaluate my objectives. I'm reminded of the old dodge about art. I don't know much bout art, but I know what I like. It's much the same in education. I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.

Of course, that isn't true either. Education looks different today than it did when we all went to school, whenever that was. The importance of things change over time. And today everyone has more education than ever. So the accumulated information I have isn't as valuable as it used to be. What's more valuable today is my ability to collaborate with other educated people to pool our knowledge and experience and produce some thing that's more than twice what one of us could have done. But how can that be measured?

It appears that the new education needs to be based more on social intelligence and our ability to work together than how much each of us knows individually. That's how people work today. It's also helpful to think along those lines to be a partner, parent, spouse, lover, sibling , friend.

We are social animals and we need to become better at that. Life isn't really any easier, but in today's America, survival isn't the primary issue for most of us. We need to think and act like people who are already survivors.