The Art of the ANTI-WOW

It’s a by-product of getting older, I think.

I try less hard. I care a lot less about what you think of me. And I truly do not wish to wow you with anything I do. I mean, anything.

I contemplate this as I flip through an old issue of the monthly Wall Street Journal Magazine. I sprawl in my sofa and settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.

“Anti-Wow”

That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.

“Anti-Wow”

Love this term. It has instant meaning for me. Not trying to show off. Not intent on dazzling. Trusts simplicity. Doesn’t put on a show.

Let’s relate this to how we humans show up in the world. The choices you and I make, intentional or not, in every social interaction we have.

From the sea of effortlessness, let your great uncaused compassion shine forth.” 

Hakuin Ekaku, Japanese Zen Buddhist Master

I want this program to be a WOW, John, a VP of Learning and Development, says to me as we discuss an upcoming training event.

Sparkle, impress, be memorable. That’s how I hear his request for the Wow.

We love Gina but she just needs to be a little more polished, Miriam, a VP of HR says to me as we discuss a coaching opportunity.

I coach folks on Executive Presence, and in my conversations around presence the word polished is often thrown into the mix. It makes me squeamish, every time. Many of us are too polished. We work for the Wow. Sometimes consciously, more often not. Usually, we work for it just a little too hard.

I un-polish folks, that’s my private little joke. With a little bit of craft thrown in.

“Yes, Anti-Wow”

A conversation with a cab driver in Chicago. I used to be a housing inspector, he says to me. I have inspected hundreds of houses. And then he adds: Don’t let anyone tell you that houses don’t have energy.

The house in Morocco. It makes an impression without going for the dazzle. It trusts simplicity. Easy energy. That’s the anti-Wow. How do you and I do the same thing in our everyday interactions? With a client, a boss, a peer, a friend?

Consider the following Do’s and Don’ts as you contemplate your very own Anti-Wow:

The Don’ts:

The Do’s:

You are the house. I am the house. We are vessels of energy. Pure, unfettered energy is the anti-Wow. It’s the real deal

The “Anti-Wow” is a quiet Wow. It’s an honest, effortless Wow.

It wows by not trying to wow. It wows by trusting itself. It wows by not rushing, not trying too hard.

And it leaves a lasting impression. Always does.

Will You Please Just RELAX?

Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself as you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

Before I begin a coaching engagement with a client, I invariably have two key conversations. One with the individual I am about to coach, another with that individual’s boss. These are the conversations where we articulate the goals for the coaching journey.

I had one such conversation last week. Arturo is a boss, and our chat was reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had. We spoke of Stephanie, the individual I am about to support. After praising the many things Stephanie does well, Arturo recounted some of the scenarios where he felt Stephanie’s behavior had gotten her into trouble. Then, after a bit of a pause, Arturo ended with this statement: I think I just want her to relax.

You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer

I ponder Arturo’s words as I sit in my car that evening, driving to Miami, tuning my radio to NPR. A certain radio program host is on. I have always enjoyed this host’s keen mind and rich, sonorous voice. And I have always been a little distracted by his slight over-articulation of words. Clipped. Arch. Trying a little too hard. This evening, the archness in the voice is gone. My host sounds less announcer-ey, more conversational.

He has learned to relax, I think to myself.

It often is such a fine line, isn’t it, between relaxed and not? I don’t wish to review basics like taking a breath, meditating, slowing down with you here. Practicing mindfulness.

Yes, DO those things.

Here, however, are some additional behaviors you may wish to consider when the stakes are high, time is tight, you have an agenda and want to get stuff done. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to fly out the window.

Stop forcing.

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal time-frame. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.

Notice, and pull back.

Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. For me, that’s when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap-swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember, and drop into that state.

Allow for silence.

 Some folks go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is likely to become repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment, and settle into silence.

Make it about them.

 An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. I, I, I. Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others, and feel your body unwind.

Have faith. 

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax.

This, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation consciousness here, and we’re talking relaxation practices. They’re intertwined. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self. This remembering will require a mental prompt.

Yes, connected. Consciousness and action. Such fun to play with.

And choose to relax as you play.

Here’s How You Have CHEMISTRY With More Folks

Personal chemistry is a wonderful thing, isn’t It?

Conversation flows. I feel at ease with you. We effortlessly pick up on each other’s cues. There is a shared sense of enthusiasm. We’re in sync.

And yes, we don’t have chemistry with everyone. That’s the part that sucks. But of this I am certain – successful individuals have more chemistry with more folks.

I want to back this assertion with irrefutable research. Truth is, there is shockingly little research on the matter. Do a google search on personal chemistry, and you will find heaps of dating advice. Mention personal chemistry in the workplace, and here is the sort of platitude you’re likely to hear about why you and I lack chemistry. Well, I’m an ENTJ and you’re an ISFP, so of course we don’t have chemistry. Our personalities just don’t match.

Hooey. Let’s leave psychological profiling – or shall I say brainwashing - out of it, please. We can have flawless chemistry with people whose personality traits are different from ours.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. If there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

Carl Jung

Let’s also dispense with the overly-easy NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) recipes for personal chemistry. If they use visual cues, answer with visual cues. If they use auditory cues, respond in kind. This sort of matching can, indeed, foster connection. It does no, however, guarantee chemistry.

We cannot force chemistry. Chemistry is especially elusive with relentlessly negative people. If someone doesn’t want to play, s/he just doesn’t want to play.

But your and my behavior have the power to facilitate chemistry beyond an easy personality match. Here are some things that folks who are more frequently “in chemistry” do better than those who aren’t. Implement these behaviors.

How We Foster Greater Personal Chemistry

Switch between driving and being driven.

There are individuals who just like to drive the car. Hard. All the time. Chemistry with someone like that can be tough. Try to match a hard-charging driver, and the conversational verve will soon end up in a ditch.

Chemistry is much more likely when the role of conversational driver shifts back and forth between two individuals. The shift happens regardless of institutional authority. It happens organically, without pre-meditated cues. It happens in the moment because the moment suggests who will drive.

I call this co-driving. Not backseat driving. No, co-driving. The intuitive sharing of the driver role.

Genuinely appreciate the other.

I sometimes watch CNN in the morning. John Berman and Brianna Keilar. They have chemistry. I see no ego that needs to be smarter, right, have the final word, trump the other conversation partner. No dominance over appreciation.

What makes the dynamic between Keilar and Berman compelling is that they seem rather unlike each other. They’re not the two “made of the same cloth” best buds from the sports team that like to get drunk together after the game. No - they are two individuals who display distinctly different personas. Chemistry in the face of personality difference is possible because the difference is acknowledged and appreciated. Genuinely so.

Sense energy.

Ideas are energy. Emotions are energy. This energy can be harnessed or squelched. Folks who are more readily “in chemistry” with others sense this energy. They know how to ride it and expand it. They know how to sink into it. They’re also keenly aware when a communication is about to die. They sense this before it is blatantly obvious to everyone else. They choose to shift energy with a light touch, when needed.

Light touch does not mean “kill a conversation” or trivialize a tough topic or avoid conflict. Yes, there is that word again, shift. And because they do the shifting with a light touch the other person happily follows.

They are, in the best sense of the phrase, energy workers.

Be curious.

In a professional setting, true chemistry is impossible if we’re not curious about another person. Curious about what animates that person. Curious about the ideas being expressed, even when we disagree with them. When another person is primarily a transactional necessity or a barrier that I need to overcome (or more specifically, get what I want!), chemistry will not happen.

Genuine curiosity cannot be faked. I can tell, on the unspoken soul- or spirit-plane, whether you’re interested in anything that emanates from me. When you’re not, it registers. You will receive transactional behavior, in turn. We may have a perfectly pleasant, productive and professional conversation. Chemistry won’t happen.

I don’t require a neuroscientific explanation for everything. But if you long for a deeper scientific exploration of this mysterious dynamic we call chemistry, check out the research by Uri Hasson at Princeton. Hasson researches how people get into sync. He calls this process neural coupling. A fine entry point to Hasson’s work is this TED blog that elaborates on Hasson’s 2016 TED talk:

https://blog.ted.com/what-happens-in-the-brain-when-we-hear-stories-uri-hasson-at-ted2016/

Chemistry will NOT happen with everyone. It’s a relief to know that. But your and my behaviors will facilitate chemistry or deny it. So GO, be a chemistry facilitator. More chemistry invokes more enjoyable human encounters.

What a cool thing that is.

My Un-Resolution Manifesto

It was 2 weeks after my 60th birthday.

I had just handed the manuscript for my third book, “The Moment,” over to my publisher. I was only a week late – in book-publishing-life, that’s on time. I had been razor-focused on this book for the preceding 5 months. And I felt great about what I had handed in.

Whew. What a relief.

Here is the 2-weeks-after-moment. I was sharing some idea or other with my good friend and colleague Eve Simon. Eve got excited about our conversation.

Maybe that could be the topic of your next book, Eve said enthusiastically.

Eve meant well. But something snapped inside my brain when I heard those words. Who says I want to write another book? Should write another book? What if I never wrote another book? Aren’t 3 books enough?

I was exhausted. And the idea of doing more of what I had just done for 5 months landed with me at the wrong time.

I just completed the first season of a podcast I launched last year. The MY FOURTH ACT Podcast. 43 conversations with brilliant humans who have created bold and unexpected lives. Some of my 43 guests are world-renowned thinkers, bestselling authors, motivational speakers, brand gurus. Others are folks you have likely never heard of before. Folks I had encountered in my travels through life whose personal choices intrigued me.

There’s one question I asked every podcast guest: If you could whisper some words of wisdom into the ears of your younger self, based on what you know now, what would you want her of him to know?

The answers were all the same. They went something like this: Everything will be fine. Enjoy yourself. Have some fun. Listen and follow your heart.

And simmering right beneath these sentiments. Don’t try so hard. You’re ENOUGH.

Eve’s innocent suggestion of a topic for my next book, coupled with the passing of a milestone birthday, got me thinking: Yes, I was successful in my career, and I loved the work that I was privileged to do with my clients. I was proud of being an entrepreneur who had created an international brand. I would never ever admit to this being an explicit or primary personal motivator – but if I were to dig deep and be fully honest with myself, beyond the smart and well managed veneer, this was the question: How much of what I was doing was animated by a deep-rooted desire to win approval, to make mommy and daddy happy, to show the world that I was worthy and lovable?

That I was enough.

Being good enough never is, says Debbi Fields, Founder of Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Well, that motto may be true for baking cookies, but what about our innermost beliefs about ourselves? What if we took no action whatsoever, chased no dreams, made no New Year’s resolutions, were fine with what is? Would we deep down – spirit, soul - be good enough?

Tom Asacker is one of my favorite business - and life - thinkers on the planet. Bestselling author, brand guru, relentless out-of-the-box thinker. If you held a gun to my head and made me to mention my favorite inspirational book of all time, it would be Tom’s “The Business of Belief.”

Tom was my very first guest on the MY FOURTH ACT Podcast. It still is my most-listened-to podcast episode. In our conversation, Tom poses the provocative question: What if the stories you tell yourself are all wrong?

The stories that are fueled, perhaps, by an unwavering sense that what is, isn’t enough.

Or that you are not enough.

Eve Simon got me thinking about all of this. It prompted me to do an entire TEDx talk on the topic, “Enough Already.”

I believe in taking action. I believe in setting goals. I have learned that action and goals change once I come to fully believe that nothing about me needs to change. 

That I am enough.

Different story. Different actions.

The notion of coming up with resolutions and goals because it’s a New Year feels at best arbitrary, at worst insane. I am more interested in emergent insight and the courage to notice and follow-through.

I invite you to set goals, and I invite you take action. Not because a New Year has begun. No, because you know that you are enough if you do nothing whatsoever.

I AM working on a new book. It has nothing to do with the ideas Eve and I bantered about. Go figure.

Best wishes for a healthy and peaceful 2022, filled with possibility and grace.

My 3 Favorite HOLIDAY Questions

What are you doing over the holidays? I ask Mitch, an Executive in a Dallas Engineering firm as we ponder our holiday plans. Are you going to have a traditional Christmas?

Well, my wife’s parents were going to come down from Arkansas but they just canceled, Mitch sighs. It will be just the 2 of us and the 2 young ones. It will be quiet, he adds.

Quiet. That sounds wonderful to me.

Quiet can also feel a little scary after a challenging year. It can bring up a whole lot of not so pleasant memories.

Consider this: In case you’re Netflixed-out or obsessing about the new omicron variant, why not sneak in a bit of intentional quiet time! Quiet time with a PURPOSE.

Reflection time. Thinking time. Feeling time.

Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the moon’s reflection.”

Rumi

The benefits of reflection time are endless. Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers, for example, demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect (Harvard Business School, 4/2014). Powerful, right?

In my experience as an Executive Coach, a lack of self-awareness is THE #1 career derailer. Always. Self-awareness is enhanced through acts of intentional self-reflection. Self-reflection time leads us to examine beliefs and values that may not serve us. It makes us conscious.

If self-reflection time is so beneficial, why do many of us avoid it? Well, it can feel uncomfortable. YES. We confound reflection time with dreaded workplace performance reviews. EEEK. We prefer doing to stopping and not doing. YES – and so what? Perhaps we don’t know how to get started, and so we settle for accidental self-awareness.

Self-reflection is easily started by asking helpful questions. Questions that are not about “beating yourself up.” I urge you to start here.

REFLECTION #1: What am I grateful for?

Gratitude questions are a perennial favorite - and they can feel like a bit of a cliché. Yeah, I know how to do that! you may think to yourself. Yes, I have no doubt you do – and how often do you actually “go there?” Thinking gratitude is one thing. Even when it is heartfelt, it tends to be fast and fleeting. Writing down what we’re grateful for takes us to the well. The more things we write down, the more spring forth. Especially in a year as slippery and volatole as 2021, when it is so much easier to focus on everything that went wrong, jotting down what we’re grateful for will yield heaps of surprises.

A bonus: Writing down what we’re grateful for delivers many ancillary insights. About our behavior in situations that “worked.” How we enabled good outcomes. How we allowed the easy wins and quick successes. And how we at times, perhaps, didn’t.

REFLECTION #2: What have I done that worked well?

This question goes to THE basic strengths-based principle: Focus on what you do well and do more of that instead of constantly trying to fix things that you don’t do so well. We don’t have to be good at everything. It is hugely liberating to own that and let it be. There is little joy in constantly “fixing” the things we “should” be good at but are not. By amplifying what we do well, we energize ourselves. When we energize ourselves, we energize everyone else in our orbit. Good begets more good. Success begets more success.

Let your reflection time be joyous. Give yourself permission to reflect with genuine curiosity. You will, of course, stumble on things that you did not do well, wished you had done better, wished you could do over again. Good. There are insights to be found here. These insights have a different flavor when we’re not on a Let me Beat Myself Up Mission.

REFLECTION #3: What has “touched” me recently?

The word touched is not meant to signify touchy-feely. Not fluffy, superficial, lack of substance. Think of things, situations, people, causes, moments, movements that have stirred you deeply this year. Moved your heart and soul. Ignited your humanity. Know what these things were and are. They are the things that connect you with who you are at your finest. They activate your deepest beliefs and values. They link to your spiritual core, even if it is a core that operates in deep hiding behind your rational mind.

Knowing what touches us is a rich gateway to a more authentic expression of ourselves. It is a guidepost to a more impactful way if being and engaging in the world. Self-reflection opens that door. Walk in.

Here are some additional self-reflectional questions that you may find helpful:

If lots of writing is not your thing, find a regular reflection partner. Most importantly - don’t turn self-reflection time into a chore. Another thing that you check off your to-do list in an overly busy week.

Instead, trust that self-reflection time will help you to continuously find your spirit and strengthen your character. Know that self-reflection is part of every spiritual practice on our planet. Find your inner thirst and quench it.

Go, drink the moon’s reflection over the holidays. Do it with joy.

Do You Have Seahorse Moments?

Between the ages of 6 and 9, I spent every summer in a little beach town an hour outside of Lisbon/Portugal. Ericeira. While mom and her friend Claire sat in the shade of the cloth cabana that we rented on the beach, my brother Thomas and I would eagerly wade into the shallow water of the Atlantic and walk out to the rock formations just beyond the beach.

Amid the nooks and crevices of these rocks a secret world of underwater flora and fauna awaited us. Of all the delights and discoveries in the universe right around these rocks, nothing was more thrilling to me than the moment when I would find a seahorse.

I loved the shape of the seahorses. Their salty smell. Their slippery grace. Their mystical and primal beauty.

Finding a seahorse was a moment of indescribable joy.

Holiday season is upon us. While you and I may long for moments of such simple childlike delight, truth is holiday time often becomes the very opposite of this longing. We rush to meet end-of-year work deadlines. Hustle to buy the perfect gifts. Go overboard in decorating the house. Stand in long lines at a bursting-at-the-seams airport.

Hustle. Rush. Hustle some more. And much of our frenzied activity is driven by the belief that our life is not enough as is.

Wonder is the singular experience that, for a fleeting moment, disrupts our awareness and dissolves our biases so we may see again what is real and true, beautiful and possible.”

Jeffrey Davis, Author of Tracking Wonder

If everything is mindset, why not cultivate a seahorse mindset? And why not use the seductions of the season to do so? I don’t suggest you run off to Ericeira or your beach of choice to invoke such moments. No, find them in the places where you spent most of your time. At work. At home. In your community. Every day. Right in front of you.

Because seahorses are everywhere.

Here are a few primers to help us cultivate a seahorse mindset and capture more seahorse moments.

Create some disruption.

I have had a house guest staying with me for the week. And Rachel will stay for one more week. Rachel is a marvelously thoughtful guest. And yet there are moments when I resent that she’s here. Rachel is staying in the guest house which I also use as my place to lounge, read, write and do a bit of work. I don’t do those things in the guest house while she’s here. Every time I look from my kitchen counter out to the pool deck there Rachel is – lounging in a chaise, reading a book, galivanting in the pool.

I have to chuckle as I jot down these words. The moment I release these thoughts I find delight in the fact that Rachel is around and in full view of me. I get to have a spontaneous conversation with someone I like, anytime I want. I receive genuine joy from watching Rachel enjoy the pool. I, the committed lap swimmer, get to experience the pool in an entirely new way. I catch the appreciative smiles Rachel sends in my direction as I work at the kitchen counter. Yup, seahorse moments. 

Choose to linger.

Easy to jot down here. I notice how I fight my very own advice. Even though I am my own boss and have more wiggle room in my schedule than most, I have my to-do lists, my client calls, my Mastermind sessions. I like to dash from item to item, commitment to commitment. Untethered action mode.

Linger means I show up with the intention to NOT rush. Notice. Linger. Notice. Linger. And linger some more. Just for a second or two. In conversation with a colleague. In observing something that’s going on right in front of me. Or in reflecting on a thought that just showed up in my brain. Uhuh. Linger with myself. Delight and discovery are much more likely to occur when I give myself permission to linger.

Expand your vision.

Our vision tends to be narrowly focused on a task we’re performing or a specific quest we’re on. When we’re not looking for something particular, we’re likely looking out at the world and not seeing anything at all. Or at best, a blur of what’s actually there. Our preoccupation with the thoughts that float through our brain overrides any visual or auditory evidence that’s right in front of us. The seahorse is there. We simply don’t see it.

I can’t engage with the seahorse if I don’t notice it. How do we enhance our likelihood of seeing the seahorse? Command-switch from IN to OUT. That means switch from preoccupation with your thoughts to the sensory evidence in front of you. And when you’re in OUT mode, think OUT far and wide. Peripheral vision. Wide lens. Scan the big picture. Catch the unexpected. Notice the detail. Be willing to be surprised.

Anticipate the delight.

The beauty of my beach days in Ericeira? I looked forward to wading out to the rocks every single morning in anticipation of the delights I might find. I had a seahorse mindset, based on lots of empirical evidence. I knew magical moments were waiting for me out there by the rocks. This anticipatory joy alone invoked more delightful discoveries.

Now, there may be a lot of things about the holidays or your work that you don’t look forward to in the morning. Focusing on those will not get you closer to delight. Instead, do a little inventory of the little things that DO give you pleasure. At work. During the holidays. In life. Pleasure may come in fleeting moments. Informal ones. The verbal banter with a certain colleague. A neighbor’s greeting. A quick meal shared with your boss. The satisfaction of solving a problem. Choose to wholeheartedly feel the delight in such moments. Anticipate the possibility of more such moments. That anticipation in itself is magical, isn’t it!

Can I ever experience the world again as I did as that little boy who climbed the rocks just beyond the beach in Ericeira? My experience of life is, after all, colored by many more life experiences. Some of those experiences may have made me a little tougher, a bit more jaded.

We are told to connect with our inner child, Jeffrey Davis, author of the marvelous book “Tracking Wonder,” says to me as I interview him for the MY FOURTH ACT Podcast. I prefer the term ‘young genius.’ Reconnect with him.

Just a little mindset shift. Young genius. I like that. Thank you, Jeffrey.

Mindset. Permission. Notice. Linger. And linger some more.

It’s seahorse season. My young genius is ready.

Be IMPATIENT. Do It Well.

It was Art Basel week in Miami.

The New York Times headline aptly described it as follows: The Art Basel Circus Comes to Town (12/1/21).

The largest A-List art event in the world. There is lots and lots of art, yes. Then there are the parties. Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn at a 175-person dinner benefit. Serena Williams and Marc Anthony at the same event. Alicia Keys leading a guided meditation before performing a 75-minute set in front of 600 art-world insiders in a warehouse. Ricky Martin roaming the halls of Miami Beach’s only gay bar, Twist, at a party thrown by a Spanish fashion house.

And that was just opening night.

Never fear, I am not about to describe my Art Basel adventures. Didn’t have tickets to any of the A-List parties. For a South Florida local like me, Art Basel week means days of traffic gridlock. Inflated prices. A buzzy sense of chaos.

More aptly, an exercise in navigating patience and impatience.

Common wisdom is that patience is a virtue, impatience an Ego run amok.

Impatience is the mark of independence, not of bondage.” 

poet Marianne Moore

Patience can be hard. Impatience is harder.

Not the self-righteous, I want it right-here-right-now impatience. That’s the easy kind, the one that may have gotten us what we wanted when we were a toddler.

No, I’m thinking of the sort of repetitive impatience that gets triggered in places of work. Impatience with the slow pace of change in your organization. Impatience with processes that don’t work. Impatience with colleagues who never get their stuff done in time. Impatience with questionable ethics. Impatience with glaring incompetence and the same tired excuses for why something cannot be done.

Our daily frustration with individual and systemic mediocrity.

I get it. You’re impatient for change. Impatience with the status quo is the hallmark of an inspired leader. You sometimes feel like you will burst out screaming if things don’t change fast.  

Scream at home. When you want to get things done in business, however, focus your impatience.

5 Ways Of Deploying Your Impatience Well

1. Open the Door of Possibility – with Finesse

NOT: What we’re doing right now sucks. I know what will work better.

You may like the language of bluster and bravado. It may feel authentic to you. It really DOES capture exactly how you feel. Dump authentic for a moment and opt for skill and finesse. Invite folks into your point of view – don’t hit them over the head with it.

BUT: It seems we have been struggling with this same dilemma for a while now. I have a few ideas that we may wish to consider.

2. Respect Tradition

NOT: Really, I can’t believe we’re still doing this the way we did it 30 years ago.

Most of us have worked in situations where processes feel arcane. Like, really, who ever thought THIS was a good way of doing business! Work flows inhabit progress. Rituals seem rigid, not nimble, don’t make any sense. Truth is, they likely made sense to someone at some point. Especially when rituals are tied to a company’s core values. If core values and tradition matter where you work, find a way to publicly honor them before you go on the attack!

BUT: I can see why this way of doing things contributed to so many of our early successes. There are some very impressive companies who have found ways of improving how they do things. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

3. Test Your Ideas – BEHIND the Scenes First

NOT: I will bring this up at our next Executive Meeting to make sure everybody is in the same room and hears the same message from me.

Yes, you will have a captive audience. You also run the risk of being labeled a loose cannon or a troublemaker. Before you bring up a potentially explosive topic in a large forum, test it in private 1-1 conversations. Float an idea by a colleague or two. Think of these as casual, low-risk lobbying conversations. Instead of forcing your idea on these colleagues, invite their honest reactions. Pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say. Truly listen. Then decide what to do with your idea.

BUT: I will test my ideas in informal 1-1 conversations to hear what others think and discover if my ideas resonate before I take a bold stand in the “big” meeting.

4. Forge Alliances

NOT: I will take this on as my pet project because nobody here is as passionate about this as I am.

Don’t be a martyr. Don’t assume that you’re the only one, or the most qualified one, to take on a cause. You may, in fact, be the most qualified. You will, however, have a lot more impact if you have allies. Your effort will be harder to dismiss. Take your lobbying conversations to the second level – that’s the level where you switch from testing an idea to getting a commitment of support from your conversation partners. That’s how allies are born.

BUT: I will work to make sure that at least 3 other key influencers are as fired up about making this change as I am. We will be a rebel tribe. Together, we will have a powerful voice.

5. Accelerate the Process

NOT: Great conversation. Let’s revisit this at our next monthly staff meeting.

We know that when we desire change and momentum, this is not a compelling way to end a meeting. We’ve all been in meetings, especially those where new ideas were proffered, that end in deferment. Don’t accept deferment. Ask for more. Suggest next-step commitments. And make them time-bound.

BUT: Great conversation. Let’s commit to the following three actions! Can we get this done by the end of next week? Who will take on which item? Awesome.

Successful impatience is strategic, it is persistent, and it pushes the proverbial envelope while playing successfully with others.

Celebrate your impatience. Impatience with the status quo is a powerful incubator for new ideas and new ways of doing/being. Season your impatience with your ability to be patient. They are flip sides of the same coin.

Hard? Perhaps. Not harnessing your impatience is harder.

I DID attend one event at Art Basel. The Design Miami exhibit. Showed up with a good attitude. Dodged traffic nightmares by parking at a friend’s house the night before. A little bit of strategy to harness my impatience.

I had a great time.

Hands-Off Is NEVER a Helpful Leadership Style

Joan is a flawless boss. Chief Medical Officer at a highly regarded Biotech firm, Joan is a seasoned pro who knows her stuff. She leads her team with a compelling strategic vision, clear directives, and then she lets them run with it.

It’s a gorgeously mature leadership style.

It works beautifully. Until it doesn’t.

Her style implodes when members of her team fail to execute.

I don’t like to hover over them, Joan explains to me. I would hate to be the micromanager from hell.

There is a boundless playground between being the leader who nurtures and the micromanager from the dark side. The leader who nurtures helps, coaches, guides, sets her team members up for success.

Taking a completely laissez-faire approach, on the other hand, doesn’t serve anyone. It will likely keep you anxious and wondering. And you will quickly become the leader who isn’t actually leading.

I hire professional staff and then micromanage them until they walk out the door."

Anonymous

An article in Harvard Business Review, earlier this year - How to Help (Without Micromanaging) by Colin M. Fisher, Teresa M. Amabile and Julianna Pillemer (HBR January/February 2021) – got me thinking about this perennial dilemma. The authors hail from University College London’s School of Management, Harvard Business School and NYU’s Stern School of Business. They spent the last 10 years studying how effective leaders offer help without micromanaging.

Their research suggests 3 specific strategies that will help you to be a hands-on boss who doesn’t micromanage:

  • Time your help so it comes when people are ready for it.
  • Clarify that your role is to be a helper.
  • Align the rhythm of your involvement – its intensity and frequency – with people’s specific needs.

In my experience as an Executive Coach, this is not as easy as it sounds. Joan, well-intended as she is, is the leader who eschews the subtleties of helping. Helping well requires, as the authors suggest, situational astuteness and finesse. And the ability to slip in and out of different ways of inhabiting your leadership role.

Make HELPING Part of Your Culture

Talk about the notion of helping others to be successful. Make it explicit. Explain that help comes in many forms and moves in many different directions. Demonstrate that you are not a know-it-all boss or the smartest person in the room. Talk about how you receive help – from your own boss, from a coach or an advisory team. Show how asking for help and receiving help are not a sign of weakness.

Approach your team members for help when they may be able to do so. Live the famous Steve Jobs quote: It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. These are all ways in which you create a culture of help where you helping your team is just that – HELP, not micromanagement.

Relate Beyond the 1:1

Think of venturing beyond the traditional “standing 1:1 meeting” with a member of your team. You run the danger of having a predictable work cadence with this team member - and then you suddenly swoop in and hover in the midst of a perceived crisis. Anxiety levels rise, as do the endless possibilities for micromanagement.

Most of the executives I support opt for a different engagement style with their team members. More frequent short calls. Impromptu, unscheduled. Texting. Just to say hi. The chat can be about work or personal matters. 10 minutes or less. The intent is not to check up on your team member. No, you choose to stay in relationship. The relationship is informal and unforced. Needs for help and support have a forum to easily emerge.

Do NOT Help Preemptively

You mean well. Your team is about to embark on a critical project, and you want them to be prepared for everything that might derail things. You gather for a meeting, and you “lay it all on them” in this meeting. Cover all potential scenarios. You let the team know what you have done in the past when “things went wrong." You shower your team members with tips and advice. You’re proud of how pro-active you are.

You think you’re helping. Please note: You’re helping when no help is needed yet. You have created alarm when no alarm has sounded yet. You’re micromanaging before any of this micromanagement is possibly warranted. Thinking of potential challenges can be helpful, of course. Let you team drive this conversation, not you. Otherwise, it is more likely a case of your Ego running amok. Stop yourself, please.

Contract Your HELP with your Team

If you notice that in the midst of a project one or several team members are struggling, resist the urge to swoop in and take over. Consider a more collaborative approach. Tell your team members what you observe and brainstorm possible ways of addressing a challenge or bottleneck. Make it a “together” conversation.

If you have an idea for getting involved in a hands-on way, propose it. Be clear about the depth of the involvement you propose and the length of it. Test to see if the idea of your help resonates. Chances are, your team members will feel a bit of inner pressure to accept your help. Understood. When they do, however, you have established explicit boundaries for your help. You have consciously contracted. And you have not become the jerk-boss who took over because, well, you could.

The urge to help is primal. Honor it. Being the boss who disappears buries this very primal part of you.

But please get your Ego out of the way. Be clear that, at times, helping might mean you allow the other person to learn from making a mistake. At other times it might mean some in-the-moment coaching. Or sending a team member to a training class. Hovering is NOT help. Constant correction is NOT helping.

If you have any inclinations toward micromanagement, notice how much more enjoyable it is for you to lead without micromanaging. Notice what a relief it actually is. And how much more appreciated your leadership is.

Go and help well. And feel the relief.

The Beauty of a Swift Amends

Carl Ficks tells a great story. I was reminded of this again last Friday as we sat at the counter at Java & Jam in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale, having a mid-morning breakfast.

I remember checking into a hotel, says Carl, a former trial lawyer turned fitness mentor to stressed executives, and I didn’t behave very well toward the young lady behind the counter.

Carl pauses and elaborates. As I left that conversation, I thought to myself, ‘wait a minute, I wouldn’t want anyone to act toward my two daughters the way I behaved right now.’

Another pause. So I went to a nearby Starbucks and got a $ 25 gift card. Went back to the hotel and gave it to the young lady behind the check-in counter.

She thanked me, explains Carl, and saidbut you didn’t have to do that.’

Of course, not. Carl didn’t have to do anything.

Especially when we have authority or power, or the illusion of both, as might be the case in an exchange between a guest and a hotel employee.

Carl’s amends was a choice. The beauty was that it came swiftly.

And Carl, of course, made the amends for himself.

Karma means that all actions have consequences. Grace means that in a moment of atonement – taking responsibility, making amends, asking for forgiveness – all karma is burned.”

Marianne Williamson

Carl’s tale may read like a feel-good story. Please think of it as a story of ultimate self-leadership.

In our stressed and over-extended lives, we all have moments when we mis-speak or act in a manner that we later regret. When, at its core, how we show up in the world does not match our deepest values and beliefs.

We all do it. We often don’t actually notice that we do. And even when we notice, we are slow to make an amends. Worse yet, we are tempted to minimize the disconnect between our public behavior and our inner values, and talk ourselves out of an amends.

Carl noticed. And he acted. Quickly.

The rewards of a swift amends are endless. I trust this is inherently clear. Here’s how you get to a quick amends, well, a little more quickly.

Deepen your self-awareness

Self-awareness sometimes sounds like just another leadership buzz word, doesn’t it! What do I actually mean by that phrase? For one, self-awareness is more than an inside job.

Let’s begin with the externals of self-awareness: I notice the impact my words and actions have on another person or group of people, in the moment. I especially notice if my words or actions create discomfort or withdrawal in the other party. Discomfort is not inherently a bad thing - unless discomfort is not the impact I wish to have.

The internals of self-awareness? Something “doesn’t feel right.” I’m in the middle of a situation and it “doesn’t feel good.” I have a queasy feeling in my stomach – and not because I ate something bad over lunch. I stress the word feel because that really is what it is. My gut, my intuition, my sixth sense – call it what you will – tells me that something is not right in a situation.

I have learned to receive such signals. And I do a quick gut-check – what is causing this discomfort? Is it anything I am saying or doing?

Notice a mis-step.

The above is the pre-requisite. Without it, noticing a mis-step becomes a lot tougher, unless our actions are so egregious, and their impact on others so blatantly evident, that ignoring what’s wrong is near impossible. At it’s worst, we become conscious of a mis-step when another person “calls us out.”

That “call-out” clarity can be helpful. True self-leadership, however, does not wait to be called out. It notices a signal, external or internal. It inherently knows the nature of the mis-step. And it is animated by a willingness to assume responsibility.

It notices, not in hindsight or upon reflection. It notices in the moment. It trusts what it notices. It doesn’t shun the mis-step. Doesn’t wish it away.

It notices expeditiously.

It accepts.

Act quickly.

This is the gift of Carl’s story: Once Carl sensed that his behavior toward the hotel clerk had been “off,” that he had not shown up as the best version of himself, Carl took action.

He did not second-guess himself. Didn’t try to analyze his way out of his behavior. Like, you know, perhaps the hotel clerk is having a bad day. What I did wasn’t so bad. I mean, I would apologize if this relationship mattered, but the woman is a complete stranger to me.

No, none of that. Carl assumed responsibility.

And acting quickly wasn’t about the gift card, of course. It was about accepting his behavior. And getting to the amends at once.

Let it go.

The rewards of a quick amends are endless. I can stop ruminating about my mis-step. I can stop agonizing about whether I should engage in a corrective action. I can discard the temptation to ceaselessly find ways of justifying my mis-step. I hadn’t slept well. I am under a lot of pressure. I never had good customer service at this hotel. I really hate this hotel, anyway.

When I don’t act quickly, I become my own energy vampire. The energy vampire tortures me by replaying a past moment that I have not cleaned up. The energy vampire also seeps into my sub-conscious with a leering sense that I am one of those people who doesn’t act in line with his purported beliefs or values. Someone who is, at her best, a bit of a fraud. At his worst, a jerk.

All of this will simmer right below the surface because I have not let the moment go. The amends is, in fact, my letting-go-valve.

It purifies my polluted psychic realm.

It allows me to show up fully present for my next social encounter.

It sets me free from the baggage of my past mis-deeds.

If the notion of self-leadership and a higher degree of personal mastery is of interest to you, swifter amends will be one of your great personal accelerators.

It starts with a heightened self-awareness.

This heightened awareness invites me to quickly sense when I have mis-stepped.

When I mis-step, I have the courage to make a swift amends.

And I am willing to let it go.

In the end, so simple, isn’t it? Do more of it, please.

You Manage Your Boss, Don’t You?

My friend Sheila hates the phrase. Managing UP.

Patriarchal power nonsense, Sheila likes to fume. Corporate-speak for sucking up to people with authority.

I get Sheila’s frustration with the phrase. Stripped down to its essence, each social interaction, professional or personal, is an encounter between 2 human beings. None of this managing UP, managing DOWN, managing LATERALLY stuff.

Reality check, Sheila. Most corporate CEOs are themselves beholden to a Board. Their ability to manage this Board is pivotal to their success. Yup, even CEOs have to manage UP.

These are the sort of prompts I regularly receive from CHRO’s and Heads of HR in my Executive Coaching practice.

  • Joe manages UP really well. He is, however, too careless in how he relates to his peers.
  • Fran manages her direct reports magnificently. She is timid on the Executive Team and ineffective at managing UP.
  • Ignacio manages UP really well. He manages DOWN well. He needs to do better with LATERAL relationships.

“I respect those who tell me the truth, no matter how hard it is.” 

Michael Corleone, The Godfather

Like it or not, even in very “flat” organizations we work within social power dynamics. These power dynamics never, ever go away. It behooves us to see them for what they are. And manage them. Well.

Here is an example of how these dynamics play out on the Executive Team of a global manufacturing enterprise. Mitch, the CEO, has an immediate team of 8. Some of the 8 are CEOs of their own multi-billion-dollar enterprises that fold into this larger organization. Because of the size of the team, the quarterly team meetings last 2 full days. Miriam is one of the mini-CEOs on Mitch’s Executive Team. This is her stream-of-consciousness rant about the dynamics on the team:

These meetings suck. Everyone does a 30-minute update. I have lots of thoughts about some of the other businesses and their strategies but I have decided to keep my mouth shut when they present. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers (managing LATERALLY).

I wish Mitch would challenge my colleagues a little more aggressively when they present unconvincing data. I have given him this feedback privately (managing UP).

I’m not sure it had any impact, so in the Executive Meetings I just make a strong effort to agree with Mitch when he presents a new idea (more managing UP). I do this because don’t want to be branded a trouble-maker.

Miriam describes a few of the choices she makes to manage a complex set of relationships. Let us focus very specifically on 4 key Managing UP behaviors. These behaviors will strengthen our relationship with any boss or authority figure.

Understand What Makes Your Boss(es) Tick.

This transcends knowing their strategic goals and priorities. You DO want to know those. But understand your boss’ innermost drivers. What makes her get out of bed in the morning? Winning? Stability? Experimentation? Radical honesty? Civility?

How does he like to feel when he engages with you? Have fun? Provoked? Reassured? Energized? Validated? And what are some of the wounds that s/he carries? A marriage perhaps that has failed. Persistent health concerns. Disloyal employees. How have these wounds shaped his world view or her sense of herself?

The phrase it’s lonely at the top is both a cliche and true. Chances are, your boss doesn’t like to feel lonely. Be one of the trusted advisors your boss likes to confide in. Make sure you respect her preferred communication cadences. Know his ideal communication channels. Quick emails? Texts? Scheduled mini-meetings? Spontaneous calls? Co-create a helpful communication eco-system that supports your boss’ needs and desires.

Be 3 Steps Ahead of Your Boss(es).

Don’t “make” your boss pepper you with Are you doing this? or Have you thought of that? questions. BE the one who is already doing that and has already thought of this. Don’t have them manage YOU. Manage THEM

Being 3 Steps Ahead starts with what you know from item #1. So, vault into action. Anticipate challenges. Work to prevent them. Find potential solutions and view yourself as a solution-provider. Offering a solution does not mean getting fixated on the one PERFECT solution. Remember, most bosses tend to be super-smart. They want to respond to your ideas. They itch to contribute. Present your potential solutions – and then co-create,

Take the notion of being ahead a step further – mind you, not easy – and become the one who surprises a boss with growth ideas s/he hasn’t considered. Not easy because your super-smart boss is already spending a lot of time on strategic thought. Show YOUR strategic prowess. Exercise that muscle. Go there.

Instill Confidence.

My Boss Self longs to believe that you know what you’re doing. Don’t wish to wake up in the middle of the night and worry about your business. Want to have faith in your ability to get it done. It’s the biggest gift you can give me.

Please be clear: You don’t instill confidence by giving me “happy talk” or telling me what you think I want to hear. You don’t do it by sugar-coating things to make yourself look good. Don’t bullshit me.

My confidence is strengthened when I know that you have assembled a top-notch team. When I have faith that you don’t have blind spots about this team. When you bring major business challenges to my attention quickly instead of shielding me from unpleasant news. Most importantly, my confidence grows when I hear your problem-solving ideas. Bring them, please.

Last but never least: Share your successes with me. Don’t retreat into being the worker-bee who doesn’t take credit for accomplishments but resents those colleagues who DO. Success begets more success. Success stories bolster my confidence. Do not withhold them.

Hold Your Boss(es) Accountable.

You have had meetings with bosses where you left feeling great – and then nothing much happened afterwards. Ideas got kicked around, and no follow-up occurred. You had a momentary “boss-high” – only to feel deflated within days.

Chances are, you settled for the feel-good. You didn’t contract UP. Especially if you have a boss who is also willing to settle for the feel-good, you two just wasted a heck of a lot of get-something-done time.

Contracting UP sounds something like this: As the meeting nears its end, take charge by saying Hey, Marge – based on what we just talked about, here are 3 things I will take care off within the next 24 hours. And if I understood you correctly, here are the 2 things you will look into after this chat. Will you have time to get to it next week? Is it Ok if I loop back to you on Friday?

Clear. Reasonable. Your boss will appreciate the fact that you mean business. She is likely to hold up her end of the bargain. You just contracted UP. It’s a win for you AND your boss.

Social and positional power dynamics are real. We will never, ever be able to manage UP successfully if we have either too much reverence for these powers or approach them with undue fear.

Don’t show up at work as the little boy or little girl who is afraid of authority. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is – and it is not easy to do. Our childhood conditioning can be infantilizing and runs deep.

In the end, my friend Sheila is right, of course. In the end, it’s always just one human speaking with another.

Understand power. Manage UP. Do it well.

It begins with managing ourselves.