The Story We Tell Ourselves


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"


"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.


I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.


I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.


I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.


I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

Gaining Perspective

Over the past three years, the ground upon which we stand has been rolling like the ground underneath this Vermont house after Hurricane Irene came through.

If you are still standing, congratulations. If you don't know which direction you are facing, welcome to the club.

If you have fallen, and are trying to pick yourself up, don't quit. What you've been through, in retrospect, can provide valuable lessons for the future. If you need a hand, just ask. It is how we stand together.

My Experience

Like many people, my last three years have been the hardest that I've ever faced. From losing all my clients within a six week period in the spring of 2009, to 2011 becoming the busiest, most productive year that I've had in the past decade, there are lessons I'm learning that each one of us can apply.

One of things I learned is that I was not as well prepared for the storm of the recession as I should have been. Like many people, I assumed that what I was doing was enough. It wasn't. As a result the process of the past three years has been a process of personal development that enables me to see what I need to do to make the next three years the best that I've ever had.

There are three things I did that have been infinitely beneficial. I want to share those with you in this post as a guide for how to look at the next year.  I suggest that you download my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference. Print them off, and use them for taking notes to your self. Keep them handy. They will help you gain and maintain perspective on what you are headed.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides

I'll give you a quick overview of each guide, and then speak to the three things to do that will help develop the impact in our life and work that we desire.



Creating Impact In Times of Transition-TP

The first thing to know is that we are all in transition. If you think, maybe, you are just in a disruptive time, and, that things will return to where they were. Look at this list of 12 transition points. This is a random list I wrote down one afternoon. I'm certain that another dozen could be identified. The point is not to be overwhelmed with the sense of disconnection, but rather to see that change is normal. 

Change is happening to us all the time. We each need to make the mental shift from seeing change as random, disruptive chaos to a pattern of change that has a logic that we can tap into and take advantage of. Once we start thinking in terms of transition, we begin to see how a process of development can unfold to our benefit. This is where we start because with a transition mindset, we begin think more opportunistically about the future.

To see our life and work this way is to see how it is a system or a network of connections between various aspects of what we do where we do it.

Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching
From this perspective, we can see three broad areas that every leader faces:

The Three Dimensions of Ideas, Relationships, and, Social & Organizational Structures.

The problem is learning how to align them so that they work together. Our experience tends to be more fragmented, which is where our experience of the ground never being stable under our feet is found.

The key to pulling all of this together is being intentional about the ideas that link the dimensions together. These ideas are:

The Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose, Vision and Impact.

Each one of these ideas needs to be clearly defined so that they can be effectively applied.

For example: You are building your team to start a new venture. You want to select or hire people who not only share similar values, but, are also committed to the purpose of the endeavor. Bring these two ideas together in the selection of a team, and, a vision for what is possible will emerge. As a result, instead of never getting by the team formation stage, your team comes together quickly, and, moves well into the process of creating the impact that you desire.

The Circle of Impact perspective provides a way to see the whole of an organization. But just seeing it doesn't mean we know how to apply it.


The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
The Five Questions guide is the tool that helps us clarify, focus and move more quickly into action. Ask them continually over time, and we begin to see a pattern that helps to make better decisions. This is just a tool. It isn't a magic wand to wave over a problem and it goes away. It is a tool that must be applied and acted upon. So, when you have answered the five questions, make sure that you do something specific in response, and then come back and ask the questions again.

I created the My 5 Questions template to make it easy for me to quickly answer the questions whenever the need arises. The purpose is to clarify, focus and move me to action. There is no limitation on where you can use these questions. Use the personally, professionally, with your team, your family, with clients, or with someone you meet over lunch. The questions work very well in conversation.

Three Things that Mattered the Past Three Years (2012)

It is simple. Just three things to do.

1. Care for people. Regardless of who they are. Whomever you meet each day, care for them. Treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion. I don't mean take over their lives. I mean provide them a relationship that enables them to become a better person.

2. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself who you are going to be. Act with integrity towards your own values and goals, so you can help others do the same.

3. Live opportunistically in the moment. As a planner, I can confidently say that a long-range plan is more often a closed door than open path. The best plan is knowing who you are, what values matter, and the impact that you want to achieve. The process is discovered daily in the moment to moment interaction that we have with people. This is where real freedom is found.

Afterword Three Years Later (2015)

The years 2012 to 2014, for me, were ones of dramatic change. When I wrote the above post, I was optimistic about the future. Instead, within the first year, the non-profit that I had been hired to lead failed and closed. The recession's effect upon my consulting work lingered. And my marriage ended. Hard year, but still a year of transition.

I realized, as everything was ending, that something new was beginning. I had to get to that point so that I could begin. I took the time to reflect, to heal, and, begin to set my sights forward. I found myself working an hour a week with a group of women in an addiction recovery program. A totally new and different experience for me. And, then, I came to see that I need to relocated my life and work to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides serve as a check point to connect perceptions that I had three years ago with those that I have now.

My Values have not so much changed, but have become clearer, more definitive, and, more focused on putting them into action.

My Purpose has changed. Instead of focused on businesses in a consulting context, I am redirecting my energies towards the personal leadership of individuals.

My Vision has yet to become clear. The reason is that Vision functions in the context of relationship, in a social context of collaboration and community. I have only move to Jackson within the past month, so time for visioning with others will come.

My Impact for the future will emerge as I go through the process of aligning my life and work with The Four Connecting Ideas.

 Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region

Fragmented and Compartmentalized or Connected and Aligned for Impact?

Circle of Impact

The Circle of Impact is designed to show how the Three Dimensions of Leadership work together.  It is a picture of connection and alignment that leads to impact.

Unfortunately, most of us don't think this way.

Our thinking is often fragmented, compartmentalize, lacking in meaningful connection and alignment. 

It was only through conversations with people where we were trying to sort through this fragmented, compartmentalized picture that the Circle of Impact came into being.

It could have been a long or brief conversation about a specific problem or something quite general and obscure, regardless, the issue had one of three origins.

Either it was an Idea problem, which could either be characterized as a thinking problem or a communication one.

Or, it was a Relationship problem, due to either a personality conflict, a difference in values or the lack of personal engagement.

Or it was an Organizational Structure problem, related to issues of governance, program, operations or resources. Later, it became clear that the Social Structure of an organization also can be setting for these kinds of problems.

In this week's Weekly Leader column - The Subversiveness of Gratitude, I write about the importance of connection.

What we are discovering, and the practice of gratitude is showing, is that truth is not in the discrete, isolated parts, but in their connection to one another. On a human scale, this means that our identity is not our position, title or place in a system, but rather the function that we have in connection. Collaboration and shared responsibility is the ground for understanding who I am within any social and organizational setting. The connection between the parts is where the action is, and the organization lives.

What is the connection between the Three Dimensions?

Ideas are the tools for connection.

Social and Organizational Structures are the settings.

Relationships are where connections are made, and the action is.

The Ideas that matter in helping people make connections are Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. If there is a hierarchy of importance, it is found with Values. Our conception (Idea) of our Purpose or Mission, our Vision and definition of Impact are formed by our Values.

For example, my Mission is to help individuals discover and act upon a purpose for their life and work. The ideas that give meaning to my purpose are values centered in human purpose, potential and impact.

It is also true that social and organization structures are tangible expressions of the values that are either intentionally determined or become the default values through inattention. Those values maybe about order, productivity, respect, trust or integrity. Or they may focused on wealth creation or personal freedom. Whatever the values are, they are the ideological foundation for these structures. They are seen in the effect or impact of the structure on the people who work wihtin the organization.

The three dimensions are not equal, but complementary. Look again at the Circle of Impact picture.

Purpose is an idea that is connected to Structure. The key focus here is to align the structure with the purpose of the organization. Without that alignment, the organization works a cross-purposes with itself.

Vision is an idea that is connected to both Relationships and Structure.  The focus here is a picture of activity showing what it is like for people working within the structure of the organization to achieve the desire impact. 

Ultimately, what this means is that leaders are not interested in ideas just for the sake of the ideas themselves. They aren't interested in having healthy relationships just because their values say they should. And, they aren't interested in structure just because it is needed for a business to function. 

Instead, leaders are looking for ways to utilize Ideas to strengthen Relationships and inform how the Structure of the organization can be aligned with the company's Mission or Purpose.

The Impact of the Three Dimensions of Leadership should be better communication, collaboration and coordination.

The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.

Gratitude: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is the last in a series of post describing the message and use of my Circle of Impact Guides.

Five Actions Gratitude

This guide developed out of a desire to identify how a person and an organization should act when gratitude is the motivation. Gratitude, I've discovered, is a response to another person's kindness.

Aristotle wrote,

Kindness is …
”helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”

I have written about this idea both here and here.

The purpose behind this guide is a belief that gratitude is not just a feeling, but a way we should live. Therefore, the Five Actions can be described in the following way.

We Say Thanks in Gratefulness.

We Give Back in Service.

We Make Welcome in Hospitality.

We Honor Others in Recognition

We Create Goodness through Personal Leadership that Makes a Difference That Matters

How To Use This Guide:

As a team, talk through each of the actions and identify specific steps that you can take to make each one a part of your team's experience.  It is important to understand that at some level each one of these actions is a gracious response to some person or situation.

For example, to Say Thanks Every Day is to recognize the kindness and generosity of others who have made a difference in your life and work. This is true even of your team who may be the beneficiaries of other teams or individuals.

One of the simplest practices is to write a note of thanks. It is better than an email, a tweet or a text message. It is a sign of effort to write a note and send it by mail.

Another example is how we practice hospitality. (I wrote about this in my review of Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Bloehm's marvelous little book, Hostmanship.) Making people Welcome is not just for when they come by for a visit. It is how new people join, and become full participants and contributors. The fewer the barriers to leadership, the higher the level of hospitality that is practiced. Hospitality is concerned with creating an open and opportunity rich environment for people. This is an action of gratitude because we are creating an environment that anticipates reasons to say thanks and offer recognition for the contributions of people.

It is in this kind of environment that people find the opportunity to Create Goodness out of their own sense of purpose or call to take initiative to make a difference.  When a person discovers and fulfills their purpose, that discover that without the assistance from others, some known and others unknown, that this fulfillment is possible. A result of this response in gratitude is that people find that their lives are Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilled, and the are Making a Difference that Matters.

When your team can identify how to develop your practices based on the Five Actions of Gratitude, you'll begin to see that many of the issues that formerly inhibited your work together begin to be resolved.

This is a conversation guide not a prescriptive formula. You and your team must decide what each of these actions mean in your context. The conversation will lead to a serious consideration of the importance of your relationships with one another, and how to make them work better.

The Stuff in Your Head

Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg wrote to several of us who are in an online community asking for feedback on a blog post.  He wanted some help to get the stuff in his head on to paper.

Here's  some of what I wrote.

1. The stuff in your head is your voice.

The more you write, the more you'll find what you really need to be saying. I started in blogging in 2004 at the same time I began writing a twice-monthly column for my local paper. The columns weren't bad, though not great. The blog posts were unexceptional until about a year and a half ago when I began to discover what I really wanted to say. What I discovered, in addition, is that I began to spend more time writing than reading. All my life I had been a consumer of other peoples' ideas, and through constant attention to writing, I am becoming a producer of ideas.  So, write, write, write and write some more.  As you do, you'll find yourself waking up at 3am, getting up, going to the computer, and spending five hours producing something that is personally meaningful, and takes you one step farther down the road of discovery and excellence.

2. Create a structure on which to hang your thoughts.

The easiest way to do this is write series of posts. Typically, in odd lots, of 3 or 5, or maybe even 31. Several years ago, when I knew I'd be traveling for most of the month of July, I wrote a series on questions that could be posted each day for the month. It became the 31 Questions ebook later. As I read through it today, I'm amazed a how much further my thinking has gone.

The basic idea is to create an ideological system for your ideas. It allows not only for people to follow your train of thought, but also for you to build an ideological system for influencing people in a sustainable way.  And if you are a very complex thinker like me, meaning your ideas tend to confuse people more than enlighten them, then you need ways to make it simple. That is why I started creating my one page conversation guides. The personal result is that I have a system for addressing a wider range of issues than I did before. I'm not suggesting you create diagrammatic charts. I am suggesting that you systematize your thinking so that people can get it easily, and you have an ideological platform for expressing the stuff in your head.

3. Write for yourself, your audience will follow.

The tyranny of the marketplace is that it is fickle and doesn't pay close attention. It does not follow but constantly finds you. The loyal audience will give you good feedback, but for the most part, if you try to build your writing around what you think other people are looking for, you'll not find joy and fulfillment in the process of writing. 

Writing begins as self-expression, and leads to connection and influence with others. We must not see it as a means to aggrandize ourselves with the public, but rather how we give to them in service and contribution.

Writing is a painful experience because it attacks us at our most vulnerable points. My suggestion for those who feel that they must get the stuff in their heads out on paper is to write. You can find support in the thoughts of writers like Seth Godin, especially his chapter called The Resistance in his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, and Stephen Pressfield's Writing Wednesdays posts and his essential, The War of Art.

Lastly, while you may be writing for yourself, it isn't always about you. It is about expressing yourself in a manner that provides a context for connecting with the world outside your head. Write for yourself, but write to be read, so that the influence of your ideas may make a difference that matters.

7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization

7VIRTUES image

My current Weekly Leader series is on the 7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization. Check here, here and here

The 7 Virtues are a system of values that can be used to improve the functioning of an organization.

7 Virtues 21stOrg

In this post, I look at the 7 Virtues through the lens of the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides. The Circle of Impact is built around two sets of ideas. The first is that all leaders must address themselves to the Three Dimensions of Leadership: Ideas, Relationships and Structure. The key is to align the three so that they work together. The way this alignment is achieved is by being absolutely clear about the Four Connecting Ideas: Values, Purpose, Vision, and Impact. The key here is that every facet of the organization is focused on Impact, which is defined as change or a difference that matters.

Impact as change or the difference that matters is a very general definition. This means that each organization, and each division within it must define for their own purposes what impact means. As a function of leadership, this requires each person within the organization to be able to state the impact that they seek to create by their work within the system. This is how leadership becomes a shared responsibility, and not simply a positional one.

Circle of Impact- simple

The 7 Virtues

 1. Collaboratively-led:

This idea encompasses the other six virtues into a singular perspective that defines what it means to be collaborative. It means that a collaborative leader will focus on aligning the three dimensions and the four connecting ideas so that the people who are a part of the social and organization structures may have relationships that enable them to fulfill their shared vision for impact. This is what a collaborative leader does.

2. Decentralized, local control:

This function of the structure of the organization, created by policy governance and design, establishes a system of communication and accountability, built around collaboration.

3. Long tail internal operational structures:

This is a function of the alignment of structure with relationships. This means that the people who are bound to one another by a clear purpose and set of values have the freedom and may take the initiative to organize how they work together.

4. Purpose-driven organic adaptability:

This is also a function of the alignment of structure and relationships. In this context, the group or team adapts freely and with great agility to changing circumstances in order to keep their purpose foremost in their relationships.

5. Relational-asset based:

It may seem that this is a function of the relationships, and at one level it is, but the importance to treating the group or company's network of relationships as a relational asset is that these connections bring value that does not exist when the people of an organization are viewed as human resources. Relational resources are the assets to come from having a large, diverse, and widely dispersed network of relationships that feed information, insight, talent and business to the organization. From a structural point of view this is a fourth classification of resources, along side the financial, material, and human. The higher level of collaboration that takes place through these relational assets, the great value they bring to the company. These assets are what are commonly understood as social capital.

6. Values that are operational:

This a function of the alignment of the Ideas and Relationships dimensions with the Structural. Values, which inform an organization's purpose, is the core strength of a business. It is the only thing that is unchangeable. An organization's purpose can change as circumstances change. The structure can change to remained aligned with a vision that is constantly adapting to the current context of business. But the values of a company remain constant, though not necessarily acknowledged or practiced. This virtue, therefore, focuses on applying the company's values operationally. This done by asking the question how are our values represented in this decision or this policy? The greater alignment between values and practice, the greater the integrity, confidence and impact from the collaborative work of the people of the company.

7. Ownership culture of giving:

This virtue is a function of the whole community of the company.  It is the responsibility of the company's leadership to foster a culture of giving. The aim is to encourage people create a culture of giving through their own initiative and expression of gratitude. This is the kind of culture that is represented in the Five Actions of Gratitude (Say Thanks Every Day).

The complaint that I've heard over the years about a more relationally oriented business structure is that these are soft skills, not the hard skills of finance. True they aren't the same, but they are also not contradictory either. Create a culture of the 7 Virtues, and you'll see not only a transformed workforce, but a transformed business environment. If you do it sooner than later, you'll be ahead of the curve, and be recognized for leading rather than following.

Starting with a client's perceived need

Transition Point - no title

Where do you begin with clients?

Are you selling them a product?

Do you begin with what they want?

Do you explore what they perceive their need to be?

I start with a transition question. 

What's a transition question?

It is a question about what they perceive as having changed. It isn't just that it has changed, but change in some relatively permanent way, as if there is no going back.

Most people have a sense that something has changed, is changing or needs to change, but don’t have a way to see it very clearly or completely.

That is where I begin.

Once they see this transition, they are more motivated to make changes that take advantage of the transition they are in.

People see problems.

They know when things are not right or in decline.

They know it intuitively, even though that can't describe it precisely.

Once they begin to see the transition they are in, I begin to talk with them about the dynamic of the Circle of Impact.

Circle of Impact- simple

This dynamic is an interplay between our ideas, relationships and the contexts where we are involved. They are always touching one another.

I have found that when I begin to talk with someone about a project, that their perception of need is often different from their actual need.

A person's perception of transition is not just an idea. It is also a product of the interaction that they have with people, as well as their involvement as participants and contributors in the social and work contexts where they are involved. These contexts are impacted by the quality of relationships and by the ideas that govern how the structure and relationships function.

If your client's group is in transition, meaning that change is happening to them, and it isn't clear where it is going, then a lack of clarity (Ideas) about policy and procedures may be affecting the comfort and security that people feel in their relationships with each other. If there is a lack of trust then the group has less capacity to manage well the transition they are in.

See how this dynamic is played out? Try this exercise.

Make a list of your clients and ask the following three questions about their situation.

1. Is my client clear about who they are and what they stand for?

2. Do they trust the people with whom they are involved?

3. Do they feel that they have an opportunity to contribute their best?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then there is a breakdown in the dynamic of the Circle of Impact.

Helping people move from a vague sense of change to a clearer one provides a foundation for addressing the deeper issues of their mission, vision and values. I call them the deeper issues because these are not simply ideas, but are the ways we connect the dimensions of the Circle of Impact together.

Look at the above illustration.

A mission is an idea that connects a social or organizational context not only to its purpose, but also how it is organized to achieve its mission.

If your client's stated mission and the organization of their life and work are not in agreement or alignment, then you know there is an issue to address.

How will they see this disconnect between mission and structure?

One way is that no one takes their stated mission seriously. They are simply empty words.

A vision is a word-picture of the effect of a group's mission. It captures the impact that people create through the social or organizational context where they participate?

If there is no actual impact, then you know that there is a breakdown in the Circle of Impact.

Is the breakdown an Idea, Relationship or Structure problem?

Until you look closely at the dynamic you don't know. However, it is less important where the problem is than realizing that the solution comes from all three dimensions.

My experience is that all people have values, but often don't know what they are.

They need help in identifying them.

We need a real world impact picture in order to identify them.

Values function in two ways.

1. Values unify relationships. They are the bond that unites people within a social or organizational context together.

2. Values also create the strength that everything else is dependent upon. A mission is simple a statement of identity and purpose. A vision is a statement of the results of that mission. Underlying both ideas are values, and the values really are used to create the strength that we see in collaboration.

Real strength comes from our interaction with people, whether as partners, employer/employees or with clients. 

Ideas and the structure of social and organizational contexts are the tools that we use in our relationship to make a difference that matters.

The problem for most of us, including our clients, is that we have not been taught how to see this dynamic between our ideas, structure and relationships.

Helping your clients clarify the perception of their problems and the transition they are in is the first step toward bringing significant, sustainable solutions to their situations.

Conducting your own 2009 review

We are all approaching our end of a year of many transitions.Four Questsions - Life-Work Coaching  

In the past I've written about using my Four Questions that Every Leader Must Ask as a guide for an end-of-the-year review and a way to plan for the next. 

This year, I have been impacted by people who have helped me see beyond the organizational leadership work that I have been doing for a decade and a half.  The result is a reframing of this material for individuals who living on the thinning line of life and work, and the expansion of my consulting work to include a new coaching program. 

While we do look at the change of the year as a time of reflection and new beginnings, the reality is that we can do this year round. However, if you have not, then there is now time like the present to begin to think differently about yourself as the new year approaches.

Today, in my Weekly Leader column - Reviewing Your 2009 Impact - I present the first step in a process of review and planning that will conclude in next week's column. I've prepared an one page listing of the questions that I ask in the column. I suggest that you print the list and the column and spend a few moments over the next week reflecting on the past year to 18 months.

I've said many times over the past couple years that I believe we are in the midst of one of the most significant transitions in all of human history. This is bigger than President Obama, the IPhone, the recession and the combine effects of 9/11, Katrina and the Iraq/Afghanistan war. The transition is, regardless of what you see happening in Washington, is a shift towards individual responsibility and collaborative relationships that transcend the old bureaucratic structures that are no longer able to manage the complexity of life today.

In order to be at our best, for ourselves, our families, our co-workers, our communities and for the world at large, we each need to thinking clearly about what we believe and the difference we are committed to making today. A starting place is gaining perspective and understanding about where we are and what we need to focus on next year.

I invite you to read today's column and begin to answer for yourself the Life / Work planning questions and if you are so inclined, share them with me. I believe that as you go through this process of reflection, that you'll begin to discuss opportunities that were always there, but that the lack of clarity of insight blocked your vision of them. It is my hope that from this exercise you'll find new opportunities in life and work that will enable you to have an impact that is far beyond what you would have imagine a year ago, or even yesterday.

Resolving Complex Issues Simply

  Hierarchy of Connection

I'm involved in a process of listening and learning about a local organization that is very complex. As I've talked with a wide cross section of people, and this conversation has been going on for over a decade, there is one theme that continues to resonate.

Working within this complex organization are a group of professionals who provide their services on a contractual basis. Over the years, I've been told that the relationship between the organization and these professionals is not healthy. Based on what I've seen, heard and encountered, this a well-functioning organization at the top of its class in its industry. I'm very impressed with the people whom I've met who work there. They are big picture people who see how it impacts their daily work as leaders. That is a rare commodity in today's business world.

I'd like to use this scenario about relationships of professional service providers working within a larger complex organizational system to make a point about how to resolve complex  issues simply.

Circle of Impact-Life&WorkLet's use my Circle of Impact diagram as a guide to understanding the real nature of the problem and its solution.

The problem as it continually gets portrayed to me is a Relationship problem. However, if you really listen to what they are saying, two other perceptions emerge.

The organization and the professional group do not share the same perception of what their mission is. A Mission is an Idea that becomes the rationale for how we organize our businesses. If we have competing conceptions of what our mission is then we are going to have conflict about how we Structure our organization.

The Relationship problem, therefore, is also an Idea and an Organizational Structure problem.

Within our scenario, the group of professional service providers work within the structure of the larger organization. The issue is not simply, what should our financial and operational agreement be. Those issues are more easily resolved.

The deeper issues are ones of Values and Mission (Purpose).

Based on what I've learned, their differences in perception become less distinct when viewed from the perspective of what their shared Impact should be. Ultimately, they both want high quality service provided to their clients.  If this Idea is too general a Vision, or not clear in terms of how they organize their work and relationships to achieve it, then the problems will persist.

How do you resolve such a complicated scenario?

It starts with their Relationships.

The organization and the professional service providers must establish mutual respect and trust, and work from there.

If there is no respect, then mistrust grows. If there is no trust, then division also grows.

If respect and trust are missing, then the shared values that matter will erode.

While every issue has a relational, conceptual and organizational component to it, resolution begins with resolving the relationship question.

Leadership in a Relational Context?

There are many levels to the relational context of an organization.

Hierarchies Three

There are three types of relationships in an organization. 

The Traditional Hierarchy of Accountability.

The Collaborative Relationship of Work Teams.

The Social Network of Friends and Co-workers.

Each type of relationship needs respect, trust and share values to function well.

It is important, then, that leaders who are responsible for developing the structure of the organizations do so in such a way that issues can get resolved at the point where the problem occurs. 

A clear measure of the relational strength of an organization is the degree to which persons, at the farthest removed from the executive suite, feel free to build collaborative relationships to address and resolve conflicts and organizational structure problems.

When issues get passed up the chain of command, that should be resolved by the parties at the point of the problem, it is a sign that there is a problem in how each level of the organization is relating and communicating with one another.

When managers and supervisors are trained and equipped to develop the problem solving capacity of the people who are accountable to them, then relational strength of the organization grows. With that development, obstacles and inefficiencies are removed.

All leadership begins with the individual initiative.

Developing this capacity in the various relationships of people within the organization will bring strength to the organization that has been missing.

To achieve this two strategic realities need to be recognized.

Leadership from the bottom of the organizational chart starts at the top.

Leadership initiative is led by middle managers and supervisors who become leadership developers through their relationship with those with whom they share responsibility.

This is the future of organizational leadership in the 21st. Century.