Turning Pro

In my creatives workshop class, we discussed the difference between being a professional (consistently producing market desired content), an amateur (producing whatever and whenever I am called), and a hack (producing for the sake of being paid).

As I think about it …

I like being an amateur creative. I can show up when I want, give as much energy as I want, and check out whenever I want. Nobody expects greatness, so I won’t let anyone down.

When people ask what I do, I say “I manage my family office (as a professional) and I coach leadership on the side (as an amateur).” Because I’m passionate about coaching, I often do it without pay; and justify that it is my calling. (Literally, the definition of an amateur!)

My passion, purpose, meaning, talents, skills have all grown around coaching, teaching, consulting leadership (and leading of course). It is what my soul wants to do!

Seth Godwin asks “When are you going to turn from being an amateur to a professional?”

And I remember my commitment to flying jets. From about freshman year in college until I retired, every action thought, and feeling was about advancing my capacity as a military officer and fighter pilot. I was inspired and dedicated to fly, fight, and win. I was in Flow. I was a Professional.

So, my answer to Seth? “I will turn pro when I stop playing from comfort and create like my life depends upon it.”

And, my life depends on it!

It is time to turn Pro again!

Leadership is Dangerous

11 Jun 2021

Although this topic is not aligned or timed with my blog series; I had a coaching call with a friend who had just received painful feedback regarding his leadership style. He had been driving a transformation change, set extremely high and impacting goals, and making progress on the issue. He thought he had done a good job collaborating and listening to all the stakeholders involved.

However, constituents started expressing their concerns about his “style” and spreading discontent. They didn’t feel heard or supported. I can’t comment on this, since I am two degrees removed, but I do take the information as important data. And the data reminds us that:

Leadership is dangerous.

If leadership is about realigning that which isn’t working; and if a system is currently in status quo, then introducing change is most-often received negatively; especially for each constituent who has something to lose (which is probably all of them, even if they agree with its need). We also know that some form of disequilibrium or pain always precedes meaningful change. Psychologists show that fear and loss are three times stronger a motivational force than the promise of gain.

Understanding these realities requires leaders to be careful and they should pay attention to “political” discontent, maneuvering or subterfuge. A good stakeholder review, from a place of empathy and curiosity could be accomplished, mapping each member’s values, loyalties and losses.

If not done quickly, this discontent may grow; ultimately subverting the leader’s agenda, and potentially assassinating the leader altogether (metaphorically we hope).

Stakeholders of the work might remove the leader through firing, moving, or even promoting them away. They may undercut them with gossip or by growing false truths. Many times, the constituents might even believe in the change; but undercut it nonetheless. Generating too much pain and discomfort might push the system to actually assassinate the leader; as we’ve seen in the case of Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy.

So, I wonder, what is happening with my client? Does he have a personality conflict or challenge with some of the stakeholders? Or, more insidiously, is the constituents feeling the heat of his transformational agenda and are fearful of its impact on them? Regardless, he must pay attention to the data and honor this potential political maneuvering if he wants to really make progress on the issue. And, in his case, the stakes are really high; people’s economic futures are at risk.

Bottom Line: “Leadership is Dangerous!”

The Work

10 Jun 2021 – The Work

Yesterday, I discussed a potential definition of leadership “Influencing people to do the work.” Although it is a little direct and a little short, I do think it covers the bases. Although I hope to amplify it to eventually encompass a more complete definition of “Mobilizing people to make progress and difficult challenges”. Because, as we know, leadership is really complex.

I was offered a simple example of a leadership challenge many of us have experienced…

“I clean and clean my house, and my spouse and kids don’t seem to care. I did an experiment where I stopped cleaning, but the only one that was really bothered was me.”

Our human instinct is to focus on the lazy spouse and kids; of perhaps the frustrated “cleaner.”

Heifetz reminds us that 90% or so of people really want to do have good intentions; so creating blame toward others might not be a great place to start. In the Air Force, we would say 80% of the issue is the process, not the people. Yet, we tend to spend 80% of our time blaming the people.”

That is not to discount the monumental psychological truth and resistance that makes human organizations difficult and unwieldy!

And, to top it off, we must recognize that there is a reason that a system is in the status quo, and its are stakeholders often have more to lose than to gain by the change. Change requires loss and pain, but I will discuss that later.

So, what is our work?

I think “the work” can be identified as the gap. The gap between where we are doing and what we aspire to be doing. This could be our espoused values versus our actual values. This could be how we are playing Tennis and how we wish we were playing Tennis (personal challenge). Thus, identifying the work requires acknowledging and understanding three things.

  • Where are we? – Do we know the truth or just our own perspective and bias. I have often experienced company authorities that have no idea in what is actually happening in their company. They think they know, but they do not. As a commander, I found that “leadership by walking around” and having difficult and “crucial” conversations with stakeholders provided insights to what we were actually doing. There are many other creative ways and recognized ways to understand our current position(ing).
  • What is our aspiration? – Is there an agreed-upon set of values, vision, or a mission statement generated by our board or CEO? Have all the stakeholders participated in the development, acknowledgment, and acceptance of this vision? Does the vision align with the current and future organizational environment? If any of these answers are no, then there may be a significant challenge in making progress toward this aspiration.
  • The Work – the work is the activities of change necessary to realign what we are doing with our agreed aspiration. Because of the enormous Resistance from any of us leaving the status quo or our comfort zone, this is incredibly difficult (and risky for the leader). Compounding the challenge is the environmental needs are also evolving, changing or adapting. The work is most successfully executed through a series of experiments and learning; and implemented through small micro-compounding steps.

Once the initial work is understood, taking action begins the activity of leadership.

Tomorrow – Types of Problems