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.