After 15 years, this I've learned.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

Earlier this week, I quietly celebrated the 15th anniversary of the beginning my consulting business, Community of Leadership, LLC. There was no time for celebration or fanfare, just another day of trying to make a difference that matters.  However, a road trip this week gave me time to reflect on the past 15 years.

Here's some of what I've learned.

1. You don't know what you don't know, and if you did, you'd be so overwhelmed by it, you'd never act.

I was young and naive when I began my consulting practice in 1995. I started with a desire to help leaders develop their organizations and communities. That purpose still remains. What I didn't know then is just how ill-prepared I was to go into business on my own. If you remain open to learning, to trying new things and fixing what is broken, you can make it. But it isn't necessarily easy. The Five Questions That Everyone Must Ask that is a part of my Circle of Impact model developed from my experience and that of others, especially #5.

2. What you THINK you are doing, and what you ARE doing aren't always the same. The difference you think you are making, and the actual difference you are making are not always the same either.

Focus is a good thing. However, if it is practiced too rigidly, you can miss what is right in front of you. While relationships have always been important and central to what I do, I'm not really selling a relationship. Instead it is a process of discovery and development where the relationship is integral to that process. At the end of the day, real progress often comes from the conversation that takes place within relationship.

The actual project, while beneficial, is often a secondary benefit compared to what happens in the relationship. The project deals with an immediate or current need. The development of the relationship prepares us for the future. The lesson, therefore, is to realize that nothing is ever exactly like you think it is or want it to be. The task for us is to be aware of the peripheral or ancillary processes that are taking place, recognize their value and give them attention.

3. Work is a context for personal growth. As a result, everyday we can afflict ourselves on our loved ones because we are not the person whom we or they think we are, not always living up to what we say we believe or are committed to doing.

My family has lived through my many personal transitions over the past 25 years. It has not always been easy for them. The old joke of asking "... when is Dad going to grow up and get a real job" is a familiar refrain in many homes. There are two sides to this situation which are important to address with our loved ones.

If you remain the same person over the course of your lifetime, you may never reach your potential. Growth has it price, and often that price is in our relationships. If your family expects you to remain the same person you were when you married or before you began a dramatic growth curve, then there can be conflict.

What I've seen in too many situations are families where the structure of the family is what is important, and not the actual relationships. And when Dad or Mom begins to change, it creates conflict, because what we are used to, what is comfortable, secure and predictable, is no longer there. Ambiguity and change get thrust into an already volatile cultural social environment.  As a result, families grow apart, members go looking for support and intimacy in other places. So, if you are growing into being a new person with a new focus and purpose for your life, then know that it has its effects upon your loved ones and you need to address it openly and with genuine humility.

One of the ways that I've seen these situations addressed is an appeal to balance between life and work. I'm not sure that balance is achievable. It assumes that we can compartmentalize our lives into the personal and public or work and measure out our time and attention in proportion to our priorities. I've concluded that alignment is a better approach. We create alignment by elevating the importance of living out our purpose and values, and allowing for the social settings and organizational environments where we live and work to adapt to our core beliefs. In other words, be willing to change what you do so that you can become the person you are destined to be.  Again, this is not necessarily an easy path to take.

If your life's trajectory is taking you through many stages of personal growth so that you are becoming a different person at 40 than you were at 25, or different person at 55 than you were at 40, then it is very important that your family grow with you, and you with them. If your growth happens too dramatically, too radically, over too short of time, without their input or support, you'll find yourself becoming estranged from them. The lesson is that every transition we go through in our lives is filled with opportunity and challenge. How we meet both determines what comes next. As you change, care for the people who matter most to you. Keep them close, so they understand and can support you as change happens. If they genuinely love you, then you'll make it through the hardships of change.

4. After 15 years, my original purpose and the values that sustain the vision for my work remain the same. The structure of my work has constantly changed.

This is not just a good lesson for personal growth. It is a lesson for businesses and organizations develop. I find the reverse to be often the case, where the social and organizational structures dictate to us what our purpose and values are. Purpose and values are internal strengths. Structure is an external form that provides a context for living out our purpose and values. People whose security is in the external world of things and order, often find themselves frustrated because it is impossible to control their social and organizational contexts. Those who rely on the internal world of their purpose, values and a vision for impact, find these ideas provide them the strength to manage the chaos of change in the external world. As a result, when your personal strength is internal, you can move into a wide variety of contexts and make a difference that matters. You remain the same person regardless of who you are with, and what you are doing. This is what we mean by integrity and authenticity. This is why it so important to know what you purpose is and what you value. They are foundation of sustainability and opportunity in life and work.

5. Opportunities may abound. However, not all opportunities are equal. We usually don't know this until we are half way into the project. Then, we realize that it isn't going to work out or there is something better that we didn't initially see.

While I'm not an advocate for quitting, I have learned that ending something sooner than later is usually better. Know what you want from life and work. Know what you are committed to giving to a particular situation, and don't forget it. Often the reason why these opportunities don't work is that there is not sufficient follow through and effective execution of the plan. In addition, I've learned that what someone says is the opportunity or the problem is probably only part of the story. You'll find it out soon enough, and that is when you'll know whether you should increase your participation or quit.

Life will teach you lessons that you can then turn into growth and benefit for yourself and others. If you let it. Personally, I'm looking to another 15 years of work before I retire. I feel that everything up to this point is just preparing me for the main act which is coming. In other words, if you have a plan for your whole life, make sure that you leave open the possibilities of changing your plan so that at the end of your life your legacy is clear and secure. Your legacy may come in the last half of the last chapter. So, be committed to staying true to your purpose and values through the end of your life.

I look forward to collaborating with many of you in the future. All the best.  Thank you very much.

The Influence Landscape

Everyone of us has a network of relationships. The question is what is the impact of that network upon our life and work.

Here are three questions to guide you through this diagram.

1. What am I currently using or am involved in, and how do I measure its effectiveness in helping me be a person of influence in my life and work?

Create a list. You'll know your effectiveness because you'll be able to identify what has changed over the past 12-18 months.

The list forms the basis for this year's plan for expanding your influence. You want to maintain and develop.

2. What am I not using and how can I begin to use it to expand my influence?

Create a second list of the areas that you are not using. Then answer, if I was to begin to do something in this area, how will this make a difference?

The key to planning is identifying the changes or difference you want to make. If you want to be a person of influence, define what this means.

3. What is the impact upon other people and groups that you'll have if you were to grow your influence?

Clarify the impact you want to have, and you'll more easily know how to get there.

Finally, here are three keys to your planning for 2010.

Do it in conversation with others.

Write it down.

Execute and review your progress regularly.

Circle of Impact 2010 Planning Guide update

Recently, I posted a two part 2010 planning series at Weekly Leader. A suggestion was made that I state the questions differently. Here they are.

What matters to me?

1. What does it mean for my life and work to be personally meaningful? What values and/or activities give meaning to my life and work?

2. What does it mean for my life and work to have socially fulfilling relationships?

3. What does it mean for me to make a difference in the world that matters?

Reviewing 2009.

1. What has changed in my life and work this year? How are these changes a transition from one stage of my life to the next?

2. What difference have my Ideas made over the past year?

3. What difference have I made in my Relationships over the past year?

4. What difference have I made in the Social and Organizational Settings where I am involved?

5. Whose life or work have I made a difference in over the past year?

6. What opportunities have I had this year that made a difference in my life and work?

7. What problems did I create that I resolved during the past year?

Planning for 2010.

1. What changes are taking place in my life and work during the next year?

2. What is the difference I want to make in 2010? What are my Impact Goals?

3. Who do I want to impact in 2010?

4. What opportunities do I have now that I’d like to fulfill in 2010?

5. What problems have I created that remain to be resolved in 2010?

Three Keys for Effective Planning:

Do it in Conversation with Others

Write it down

Execute and Review Consistently

The Price of Arrival

Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads, posts in his weekly memo, a  provocative IMG_3886 comparison between goals and plans.

“Goal,” in my experience, is a favorite word of people who talk and dream and dream and talk. And then they get together to “network” with other talkers. There’s always a lot of noise in these meetings but it’s unlikely than anything of consequence is going to happen. People who chatter about goals are rarely willing to die on that mountain.

I have no goals. But I do have plans.

A plan puts you in motion toward a destination. The destination you choose is irrelevant. It is (1.) motion, (2.) determination and (3.) commitment that separate destination-reaching explorers from goal-setting chipmunks.

Count the cost, explorer. “Am I willing to die on this mountain?”

The Wizard is wise.

A goal is a marker along a trail. If you know orienteering practice, that goal could be only ten yards ahead of you. It is never a destination, but a point along the way.

The sign in the picture above could be in my front yard. Instead it is on top of Mt. Phillips in New Mexico. The arrival at this sign was not the point. Arrival at the top of Mt. Phillips was. The plan to arrive at this destination required lots of planning and execution. It was not achieved on a whim or sitting in my kitchen writing on a notepad my goals.

There were times when climbing this mountain my lungs burned, my legs shook, and IMG_4017my head was dizzy. I was not as young as my fellow climbers. I did my part for the team holding up the back of the line. They did their part by giving me encouragement and the honor of being the first to arrive at our destination.

The arrival at the top of Mt. Phillips was a goal, a marker along a much longer, more ambitious path, and not the end of the journey. It continued on with other mountains to climb. And that holds true to today.

There are three questions that should be asked by us.

1. Do I have a destination?

2. Do I have fellow travelers who want to go with me to that destination?

3. Am I willing to pay the price to arrive?

If you answer no to any of these questions, you are not ready to embark on your journey.