Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, March 25, 2011

“The Value of Doing Nothing” by Rian Peeperkorn, Amsterdam

"The pleasant spring weather in Holland invites me to do nothing. The loveliness of doing nothing. Yet, doing nothing isn’t easy. Sometimes you have that feeling that you’ve been busy and yet have done nothing – have accomplished nothing, which of course isn’t the case. When you’re busy, you are obviously doing something. Something isn’t nothing. My doing-nothing often constitutes enjoying quiet time, listening to music, being able to breathe. Some might call this meditating. These moments of doing-nothing often bring me great things. I can let go of something that keeps me trapped. I find answers to my questions. I gain wonderful insights into life and why I am who I am and do what I do. Or I discover what I really want and my creative brain runs overtime, filled with ideas and  images that constantly run by behind my closed eyes. So my doing-nothing is not really nothing.
When I feel that I’m doing nothing, it really tells me about my expectations about what I would have liked to do. The tangible result is not yet achieved and I can’t offer any proof of my ‘doing’.
All this provides me with the valuable insight that it’s not the result that counts, but the value that I assign to my actions, in this case my doing-nothing. I cannot achieve any results without my doing-nothing. If I would, I would just be running and racing without knowing where I am heading. If I would – and believe me, I often have – I can feel very disappointed to suddenly find myself in a place I really didn’t want to be. That’s when I really feel that all I did was in vain.
My doing-nothing is of incredible value, and boy, am I happy I can do this wonderful nothing in the gentle spring sun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The power and wisdom of water

No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it's not the same river and he's not the same man”.

Taoist saying

The symbolism of water has a universal undertone of purity and fertility. Symbolically, water is often viewed as the source of life itself as you can see in countless creation myths in which life emerges from primordial waters. About seventy percent of our bodies is water and the same amount of the earth is covered by water. Water has been the cause of many wars and too many human tragedies, whether it be the recent floods in Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Australia, the tsunami in Japan, or the numerous people ailing and dying due to a lack of clean drinking water. According to a BBC report of March 2011 only one in five people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have access to drinking water.
In Taoist tradition, water is considered an aspect of wisdom –water takes on the form in which it is held and it moves in the path of least resistance. As those familiar with Chinese art and philosophy know all too well, water is the symbol of the Tao. It is fluid, nurturing, ministering to all, yet possesses great strength, able to cut through the hardest rock. The Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River, drop by drop.

”Nothing on earth
Is more gentle and yielding than water,
Yet nothing is stronger.
When it confronts a wall of stone
Gentleness overcomes hardness
The power of water prevails”.

Tao 78

The ever-observant ancient Greeks understood the power of transition that water holds. From liquid, to solid, to vapor - water is the absolute symbol for metamorphosis. Everywhere around the globe, water is a valuable commodity. As water is essential to our very existence, it is no wonder that the symbolism of water is so far-reaching, profoundly deep and found in all civilizations.

I am currently based in Minneapolis, where the beloved Mississippi River and water power and water management techniques have always played an important role in everyday life. I am also Dutch - you know those people who built dams (The Delta Works) to prevent another major flood after the disaster of 1953 in which more than 1800 people drowned, 72.000 houses were lost, and in which thousands of horses, cows, and pigs suffered. It took many years before farmers could again use their lands, because the salty sea water that flooded our lands ruined the farmland. The Dutch are world known for insights and techniques in dam building, our port Rotterdam and much of our economy is dependent  on water, and our future King, Prince Willem-Alexander is known to be specialized in water management.
But enough about the Dutch and their relationship with water. There are different visions on water in the twenty-first century and too many people around the world have no access to clean water or adequate sanitation. Millions of people - many of them children - die each year of water-related diseases that could easily be cured. Water resources are in danger of drying up thereby endangering food production and sustainable livelihoods. Half of our wetlands were destroyed in the last century and half of the world's rivers are polluted – their ecosystems dead before they reach the sea. So what’s all this talk about water on a blog on Change, Leadership, and Personal Development? First, I would be thrilled if your leadership inspires wise usage of this precious and crucial resource, in your company and at home.  Second, water relates to management and leadership. How to translate the characteristics of water to effectiveness, inspirational leadership and resilience? Water turned managerial – here we go:
è  “No man ever steps in the same river twice…”, likewise, no situation is ever the same as any situation before or after. Every person, challenge, situation, target is unique. Look at them with new eyes, from a different perspective, see and work with polarities. 

è  “… taking on the form in which it is held”, demonstrating a tremendous amount of flexibility that many of us lack and, worse, we try to hide this lack by covering up our weaknesses and mistakes rather than surrounding us with people who complement us and owning up to decisions or actions turned bad. We are all limited and fallible, never able to attain the qualities and wisdom of water, but we can sure get closer by increasing our flexibility.

è  Accomplishing amazing results like the Grand Canyon, “drop by drop” or accomplishing results by rushing from one new invention, marketing tool, and deadline to another no matter what it takes from us and others? It depends on your business, the market, the economy, and more, but don’t just assume that invention upon invention and change upon change is the way to deal with the 21st. century.

è  “The path of least resistance” or going through thick walls and pushing and forcing, ignoring signs of potentially information laden resistance?

I hope this post contains nothing new for you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Managing mindfully

Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis as opposed to rushing from one meeting to the next while handling an ‘urgent’ matter on your cell phone and forgetting documents you will need at the meeting while rushing into the room without noticing the people around you, let alone sensing the atmosphere in the room. Guilty?
Mindfulness refers to purposefully paying attention in a particular way: in the present moment but also non-judgmentally. It can be described as an attitude, a frame of mind, a way of seeing and being. For a person to be mindful he needs full awareness, a concept from the Gestalt Psychology about which I wrote in a previous post.
Mindfulness not only results in noticing details. It simultaneously assists in seeing the bigger picture and connecting issues and solutions. Who wouldn’t want this?
Some key factors in managing mindfully are awareness, authenticity, presence, making good judgment calls and passion and purpose. I’ll discuss these three key factors of mindfulness briefly.

Awareness refers to awareness of self, awareness of others and context, and awareness of the relationship between self and the context. In “Organizational Consulting – a Gestalt Approach” Nevis extensively discusses the importance of becoming aware and turning this awareness into useful action. Awareness and self awareness of a leader form the basis for the use of self as an instrument of change – the most important instrument of change! Awareness provides the potential for one’s presence to have a high impact. It is a growing consciousness or comprehension stemming from use of the senses like sight and hearing. Awareness is a basic process that goes on continually and it includes choosing what to focus on and with your full person.
On a different note, your awareness of your values and how these values are aligned with your strategy, choices, actions, and style is crucial for inspiring, effective leadership.  Values are critical because they define you. To know you and to follow you, someone must know what’s important to you.  Another area of awareness you want to master deals with awareness of your own state of mind and your own feelings and intuition, for example when you enter a board meeting: what do you see and feel when you enter the room, to what extent are you at ease, but also: awareness of what might be going on in your surroundings: how are others walking, sitting, interacting. You can use all this information and turn it into action. Does this meeting need strong leadership, attention to present tensions – what does it need?

Authentic leaders learn from their own life story and they know and live their values and their passion. Authentic leaders lead with their hearts as well as their heads and maintain meaningful long-term relationships. To get results they demonstrate the three “self”: self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-discipline. As an authentic leader you see yourself as incomplete, as having strengths and weaknesses, and you make up for your missing skills by relying on others rather than denying, covering up, or trying against all odds. This relates to resilience and to your willingness to own your vulnerability and to confess your failures.

As Rebecca Shambaugh discusses in “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton” (2010), authenticity is acting in alignment with your values and core beliefs. It involves knowing what is really important to you, what you are committed to, and what your priorities are in both the short and the long term. This gives you a true sense of direction and a clear purpose and vision of yourself.

The main elements of authenticity are:
1.    Accept who you are as a leader instead of how you would like to be or how others see you or want you to be. Show your true self to others, again, including your weaknesses, and act in ways that are true to yourself as a leader.
2.    Walk the talk. With everything that goes on within your company and all that is thrown on your plate, it’s easy as a leader to become distracted from the things you believe in and care about. To be inspiring, effective, and followed it is of crucial importance that you maintain your focus and continue to act in accordance with your values and goals. Resist the temptation to say or do things to please others or to look good in front of board members and business partners. This touches upon the characteristic ‘courage’: daring to be different if need be, daring to speak the unspeakable, daring to go against the stream if this is what your values, goals, and insights tell you to do.
3.    Create your personal brand. The perception that others have of you plays a large role in the opportunities and results you create. Your core strengths play a vital role in your personal branding. Rather than operating in a vacuum which so often is the case with leaders, solicit feedback on the perception that people have of you now and on what you have done to create those impressions. This will assist you in determining what you will need to do to change these perceptions, if desired and in accordance with your values.
4.    Focus on significance rather than just success. Make a contribution and leave a mark on the people around you.


As Halpern and Lubar discuss in “Leadership Presence” (2003), presence is a distinguishing feature between great leaders and leaders, between great actors and actors, between great pizza men and pizza men. Presence is connected to inspiring, motivating, commanding, energizing, compelling, but also to credibility, focus, and confidence. Presence is much more than the ability to command the attention of others. Presence is the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others, but first, I’d like to add, the connection with your own thoughts, feelings, and motivations for which awareness is needed. Presence is not something you have to be born with. Presence is the result of a set of skills, both internal and external, that virtually anyone can develop and improve.
Leaders in particular need presence, since at the core of leadership is interaction, the connection, the relationship between a leader and his followers. Leadership is also about results and outcomes, and so leaders want the hearts and minds of others directed toward some purpose, some result desirable for the group or organization. Presence is the fundamental way a leader can engage the full energies and dedication of others to a common end. In their book, Halpern and Lubar provide numerous ideas to enhance your presence.

Making good judgment calls
Tichy and Bennis (“Making Judgment Calls – The Ultimate Act of Leadership” Harvard Business Review, October 2007) state that one of a leader’s most important roles in any organization and situation is making good judgments which they describe as well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. Most of a leader’s important calls reside in one of three domains: people, strategy, or crisis and for all three awareness, authenticity, and presence are crucial.
Of course, elements like critical thinking, passion, and the notion of subjectivity play into making the right judgment calls. Briefly, critical thinking as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. It is based on universal intellectual values like clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness”. I might have lost you by now, but remember this: as an inspiring, effective leader you not only apply your own critical thinking skills, you also stimulate the act of critical thinking among your employees, on the processes within your organization as well as on your leadership and everything else that affects your organization, it’s culture, and its results. To prevent any possible misconception, critical thinking is more than just the gathering of information. It has two components: 1) a set of skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. Critical thinking, unfortunately as we know from history and from current affairs, is only possible, or better yet, safe to be put into practice in a free environment with freedom of speech. Just one of many examples: anyone who has seen the movie “The Dead Poets Society” by Peter Weir starring Robin Williams knows what critical thinking can lead to in a constrained environment.

Passion and purpose

Passion and purpose are concepts that have gained a lot of attention in the last few decades. Passion refers to doing what you love, which leads to purposeful living. How to get as close to your passion – finding it and living it – as you can, despite limitations you might be facing due to family circumstances, the state of the economy, or other reasons. Passion is sometimes referred to as a calling, with Mother Teresa being one of the better known examples. For inspiring reading about purpose and passion you can turn to top executive coach, educator, international speaker, and author Richard Leider (“Claiming Your Place at the Fire”), founder and chairman of the Minneapolis based Inventure Group, a well respected coaching and consulting firm.

Last but certainly not least, a brief note on subjectivity. Know that everything is subjective, something we seem to understand when valuing art, but which is greatly overlooked in most other areas of our lives and especially in business. The mindful manager and leader is aware of his own subjectivity and of that of others, and furthermore he is able to value subjectivity by valuing differences between people.

To sum it all up: To manage mindfully is not to have but to be. To be fully present, to be aware, to be authentic, to be honest, to be open-minded, to be fallible, and to be connected to yourself, to others and to your purpose in business and in life. It’s not a dream, it’s a reality if you decide to learn to live it.

On Mr. Strategic

I am not sure whether I am seriously violating copyright law with below text, but I fully and totally credit Mr. Strategic himself for what’s to come. My passion is to share wisdom, ideas, energy, creativity, confidence, and passion. I don’t see much harm in doing just that.

Kenichi Ohmae, also known as Mr. Strategic, management guru, author, speaker, and previously partner in McKinsey & Company is a classic, as is his book “The Mind of the Strategist – The Art of Japanese Business”, first published in 1982, right when I was crawling out of puberty.

Beside the habit of rigorous analysis, this is what’s characteristic for the mind of the strategist:
-       A sense of mission
-       A constant drive for achievement
-       With a creative and an intuitive thought process rather than a rational one
-       And an intellectual elasticity or flexibility that enables the strategist to come up with realistic responses to changing situations, not simply to discriminate with great precision among different shades of gray.

In strategic thinking you solve problems by formulating the question in a way that will facilitate the discovery of a solution. In the case of chronic overtime, don’t ask: “What should be done to reduce overtime?”. The answers will likely be to work harder, shorten breaks during and the like.
The intrinsic limitation to this approach is that the question is not framed to point toward a solution – it is directed toward finding remedies to symptoms. Better questions to ask would be:
·         Is this company’s workforce large enough to all the work required?
·         Do the capabilities of the employees match the nature of the work?
Bottom line: you cannot overstate the importance of formulating the question correctly which leads to concrete, practical ideas rather than vague proposals for ‘improvements’ like the ones seen in many suggestion boxes.

Business strategy is about competitive advantage. ‘Strategy’ should be used for actions aimed at directly altering the strength of the enterprise relative to that of its competitors. The principal concern is avoiding doing the same thing, on the same battleground, as the competition.

Identifying the key factors for success: discover what distinguishes winners from losers and why. In some industries production technology is the key factor to success (e.g. soda industry), in others it’s the distribution network (e.g. truck sales), so it differs greatly.

Challenge the business and the strategic thinking by confronting what’s taken for granted in an industry or business by asking the simple question ‘why’. Instead of accepting the first answer you should insist on asking why until you get to the guts of the issue and to possible fundamental bottlenecks.

Strategic tunnel vision. The more severe the pressure on business executives and the more urgently a broader view is needed, the more dangerously their mental vision seems to narrow down. This is especially likely to be true of a businessman who is obsessed with the idea of winning and sees everything in terms of success or failure. Such an executive may be unable to perceive that there is any room for intelligent choice among various courses of action.

What is needed, and what is to be avoided according to the master?
1.    Flexible thinking – Understand the full range of alternatives that lie before you and constantly weigh the costs and benefits of each one. Considering alternatives requires you to pose “What if” questions. If the situation were such-and-such what would be our best course of action?
2.    Perils of perfection – In competing for market share there is no sense in trying to draw up a “perfect” strategy. What is vital is timing. The most brilliant strategy will be useless if it fails to take account of the ever changing market and the ever changing technological possibilities.
3.    Keeping details in perspective – A related vice is timidity. All too many people in responsible management positions seem unable to make well-timed decisions on their own. There may be too much reliance on third party judgments or there may be a lack of information or an incapability to analyze the information correctly. Intellectual timidity is a distrust of all definite answers, a hopeless feeling that problems are too complex and many-sided to yield to clear-cut solutions – a classic incidence of self-fulfilling defeatism. Having once chosen their direction many successful Japanese companies obstinately persisted with execution of their plans regardless of minor shifts in circumstances. Many large, western counterparts insist on getting everything exactly right when it comes to working out the details of a plan.
4.    Focus on key factors – obsessive thoroughness to the point of perfection has its place. In the pursuit of the key factors, the strategic thinker cannot afford to be anything less than a perfectionist.
5.    Challenging the constraints: find out how the managers responsible for a problem area see the problem and what proposals they have in mind for solving it. Usually the response will be something like “There is not much we can do”. Questions to be asked:
a.    Tell me precisely what are the limiting factors that have convinced you that nothing can be done?
b.    What alternatives would be open to you if all these constraints were removed?
If there is no common recognition within an organization of the ideal goal and the obstacles to its attainment, managers’ energies are all aimed in different directions and progress towards remedying the problem is all but impossible.

I like to conclude with Thomas Alva Edison’s recipe for inventive genius: 1% of inspiration and 99% of perspiration. Sensitivity, will, and receptiveness are necessary ingredients for creativity.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Leadership abilities - the other six

The following abilities of a leader are not the usual ones like ‘excelling in communication’, ‘seeing the big picture’, ‘putting vision and values into practice’, or ‘demonstrating astuteness and competence’. These are certainly important abilities, and there are many extensive lists to which I do not wish to add yet another one. I merely wish to highlight a certain category of abilities that is too often underrepresented. I’d like to focus your attention to the following six abilities which I believe to be self-explanatory, needing no further elaboration.  You can use them to reflect upon your own abilities and choices, to evaluate your leadership and its outcomes, and to pinpoint areas for improvement for yourself and for other leaders.

§  The ability to admit misjudgments, mistakes, and wrongdoing.

§  The ability to forgive others’ misjudgments, mistakes, and failure.

§  The ability to see and help others prosper and grow - possibly outgrowing you.

§  The ability to put ‘me’ after ‘we’ and ‘it’.

§  The ability to be constructively critical, downward, upward and towards peers.

§  The ability to sincerely give credit and let others shine.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are your thoughts in line with reality?

You suffer most whenever you believe a thought that contradicts with ‘what really is’. As Byron Katie states in her book “Loving What Is” (2002), “If you want reality to be different than ‘what is’, you might as well try to have a cat bark”. To want reality to be different than it is, is beyond useless and hopeless. But this doesn’t seem to keep us from doing this many times a day. How often do you have thoughts like “My boss shouldn’t act like that, it’s ridiculous!”, and “I should have done this, that, and the other”, or this one: “My son should show me more respect”, or “My spouse should know what I need by now”. This ‘shouldisme’ is keeping you from dealing with the world as it is with all its different perspectives and realities and with all its imperfections. It hampers your creativity in finding ways to deal with whatever you are presented with, including disappointments caused by self and others. It imprisons you in a private world of so-called logic and truth that is not universal and it keeps you from seeing your own role in what is going on within and around you.

After my first education in the Rational Effectiveness Training for Trainers and Coaches (stemming directly from the Rational Emotive Therapy by Albert Ellis), I put up a sign at home with the message: “I will not ‘should’ on myself today”. I still remind myself regularly, that imposing ‘shoulds’ on myself, and imposing my demands, my rules, and my ‘shoulds’ on others is not a guarantee for making myself or people around me believe, think, and act differently.  It’s more a guarantee for personal and interpersonal tensions to mount. In the best case scenario, it is a guarantee for short term compliance rather than for long term and authentic changes in perspectives, thinking, and acting.

You may ask yourself: What creates more energy, strength, and ideas? “I wish I hadn’t lost that project” or  “I lost that project, now what can I do?” Accepting what happened doesn’t mean you have to feel happy about it or approve of it. It merely means you can see things as they are, feel the loss, anger, or disappointment without resistance, and see things as they are without the confusion of an inner struggle but with the determination to move on. This should not have happened, this is unfair, I shouldn’t have had to experience this” can sure feel good at times, but it is victim behaviour that allows you to wallow in self-pity and, more importantly, that keeps you from turning your attention and energy to your strengths, opportunities, and possibilities. Is your cat barking yet?

Leadership: Realism, Courage, and Plain Hard Work

There is an interesting new study out by Development Dimension International, a global talent management organization working with organizations worldwide. DDI has a history of research into best practices and trends in talent management and their new study finds that managers don’t know what it takes to succeed and they aren’t ready for what the job throws at them. Hard to believe? Not applicable to your situation? Could it be that these findings relate to leadership, to your organization, to you? I might be stirring up a hornet’s nest here, but I believe there is still too much not-knowing, not-realizing, and blind spots to be looked at by leaders, and I’m not referring to blindness in regards to content expertise. Hornet nest or not, read on and draw your own conclusions.
For the full report and all their findings you can visit DDI’s website. I’d like to mention the last of their four major findings: 87% of leaders rate their leadership skills highly, but nearly the same number, 89%, have at least one leadership “blind spot,” an area where they think they are better than they actually are. I’m sure you’ve met these people, whether leaders or not.
The blind-spot finding reminds me of a book I read several years ago called “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute. It covers the related and interesting topic of self-deception: how people, including (or especially?)  managers and leaders, have a problem – the biggest one being that they are not aware they have a problem which leaves them clueless, just like the managers in the DDI study can be labeled clueless.
An example of self-deception: You might feel that no one is in a tougher situation than you are right now with tight budgets, struggling new products, dwindling markets, and crazy competition.  But you work long hours and you deny yourself the necessary time with your family. You tolerate short nights and bad meals and you do the very best you can, or so you think. You might interpret all this as showing commitment and the closest thing to excellence under difficult circumstances. You might not realize that you’re distracted by how great you (think you) are or by how much you sacrifice for your boss and for the company. You might not be aware that you are demonstrating a significantly decreased amount of spirit, energy, and effectiveness. So what’s the biggest problem of it all? You don’t see it, so you don’t know what the problem really is let alone that you can start tackling the problem. Your vision is blurred. You are capable of seeing things only or predominantly from your own limited perspective. You might feel sorry for yourself as well as underappreciated. You might be putting the blame for disappointing results on other people or circumstances thereby putting your accountability and ownership up for sale. This consistent and persistent blurred vision and blindness is called self-deception.

I like to relate this self-deception to three theories. First the theory of Argyris and Schon who talk about the split between what a person does and what she or he says to do. There seem to be two ‘theories’ involved. The one is a theory that reflects what we people, managers, leaders say we do when we speak of our actions to others. This they call the Espoused Theory: the words we use to convey what we do, or what we would like others to think we do. The second one is the theory that is implicit in what we actually do – the Theory in Use. It governs actual behavior. The main point of it all: too often there’s a huge gap between what we say (and generally believe) we do and what we actually do. No small problem if you ask me, considering the fact that we’d like leaders to be truthful, to be leading by example and  all the other expectations we have of leaders.  

Second, I like to bring in attribution theory, described as the explanations that people tend to make to explain success or failure. These attributions can be analyzed in terms of three sets of characteristics:
1.      The cause of the success or failure may be internal or external: we may succeed or fail because of factors that we believe have their origin within us or because of factors that originate in our environment.
  1. The cause of the success or failure may be either stable or unstable. If we believe the cause is stable, then the outcome is likely to be the same if we perform the same behavior on another occasion. If it is unstable, the outcome is likely to be different on another occasion.
  2. The cause of the success or failure may be either controllable or uncontrollable. A controllable factor is one which we believe we ourselves can alter if we wish to do so. An uncontrollable factor is one that we do not believe we can easily alter.
An important assumption of attribution theory is that people will interpret their environment and thereby attribute their successes and failures in such a way as to maintain a positive self-image. In general, this means that you are likely to attribute your success to your own efforts or abilities, but when you fail you will want to attribute that failure to factors over which you have no control, such as bad luck, unpredictable developments in the market etc. Basically, in this line of thinking success is due to effort and ability and failure is due to bad luck and circumstances. So much for accountability and ownership so valued at all levels in the organization, not less at the leadership level.  
Third and last: the workings of perception, one of the oldest fields in psychology and a topic much discussed within philosophy. There is much to say about perception but I’ll keep it limited to the following: all perception is subjective and at the same time perception is reality (and appears as objective) for the person holding the perception. How does it work? You see what you want to see and what is already familiar to you. You interpret whatever you see in a way that it fits your previously held beliefs and your self-image, at least most of the time. Your overall goal is to support your beliefs and vision, to justify your thinking and actions, and to support your self-image or the image that you are trying so hard to build. In this process, it’s both your perception and interpretation that is subjective as a well as what you decide to devote your attention to. We tend to see what fits in with what we already believe, think, feel, that’s what we focus on. Could inventors be one example of a group that diverts from this process, since they see what’s generally overlooked? They actively seek for new perspectives, new ways, new combinations. They take the path that no one has walked yet or they walk the well trodden path in a totally different way. Just one more perspective, related to perception and our brain. Antonio Damasio, professor and internationally recognized leader in neuroscience, states that the left part of our brain has the tendency to create verbal stories that do not necessarily agree with reality.
Seems to me that it’s all coming together. In earlier posts on this blog I wrote about leadership and courage, about the crucial process of awareness which relates directly to perception.  I wrote about the importance of authenticity, perseverance and resilience in leaders, and about the powerful tool of reflection. I believe these ingredients to be crucial in preventing or at least decreasing self-deception and a blurred, limited vision.
So I’d like to ask my readers, especially (aspiring) leaders, just like I ask myself: How courageous are you as a leader when it comes to actively seeking ways to decrease your self-deception? Do you solicit peer feedback from other leaders about how they perceive you? Do you really listen to what they have to say and do you ask questions about views that are not exactly flattering for you? Do you contemplate what’s being presented to you? At the same time, how often is it that you candidly provide a peer leader with feedback on how you perceive her or his beliefs, actions, results, and attitude? And how often is it that you actively seek the opinion and vision of someone who is not in your “inner circle” of likeminded leaders with similar beliefs and style? If we actively solicit feedback from others at all, we generally tend to seek out likeminded souls, again, to see our beliefs confirmed and to maintain a positive self-image – which leaves our blind spots untouched.
I do not wish to add to the many lists with qualities that a great leader should possess. Many of these lists hold truths, I, however, merely advocate for leaders to develop personal and interpersonal awareness and courage. A gutsy leader in the not so traditional sense of the word. And I’m happy to know there are such leaders. I just wished there were more of them because it is my belief that there is an emergency exit out of self-deception traps, out of limited and boxed-in thinking, and out of single-lane perspectives: looking with new eyes, having honest conversations, approaching people who seem to think and act differently, and asking and providing candid feedback on issues that really matter even if it results in information that you’d rather not hear or provide. Even if it leads to difficult conversations. And that’s what I call realism, courage, and plain hard work. It is not complicated but it can be challenging.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thought leaders in management and leadership

Out of the many in the field I have chosen five thought leaders and some of their beliefs that provide me with food for thought and with inspiration. I hope they have a similar effect on you.
Peter Drucker

-          Listen first, speak last.
-          To ask “What can I contribute” is to look for the unused potential.
-          Inspiring and successful leaders are curious folks and lifelong learners. They pay attention to people and focus on opportunities, possibilities, and strengths.

Peter Senge
-          Reality is made up of circles, but we see straight lines.
-          In the new view of leadership and in a learning organization leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers as opposed to the traditional view of leaders as special people who set the direction, make the key decisions, and energize the troops, based on the assumption of the powerlessness of people, their lack of personal vision, and their inability to master the forces of change.
-          The essence of mastering systems thinking as a management discipline lies in seeing patterns where others only see events and forces to react to.

Kenichi Ohmae
-          Successful businesses strategies result not from rigorous analysis but from a particular state of mind, with a sense of mission and a constant drive for achievement with a creative and an intuitive thought process rather than a rational one.
-          Analyses done for the sake of vindicating one’s own preconceived notions do not lead to creative solutions.
-          Sensitivity, will, and receptiveness are necessary ingredients for creativity.

Tom Peters
-          Excellence is the result of many small tasks, all of which can be practiced and mastered.
-          The key to leadership is the effective communication of a story. Looking for things that went right, and building on them, as opposed to looking for things that went wrong and trying to fix them.

Stephen Covey
-          Start with researching you own character, your beliefs and thoughts, and your motives rather than focusing on the ‘problems’ as they present themselves, or seem to present themselves.
-          Seek to understand first, then to be understood.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Gestalt Approach to Organizational Consulting and Personal Development

If you have heard of the Gestalt Approach or Gestalt Psychology at all, it might be because of the expression “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”. The Gestalt Approach is indeed a holistic and system approach. Originally a psychological school and therapy, gestalt thinking is increasingly finding its way into the corporate world through consulting, training, and coaching from a gestalt perspective.  
During my training as a psychologist I first encountered the gestalt principles and approach, but my interest and use of this approach were reignited five years ago during a one year course in Coaching of Organizational Change through a Gestalt Approach at a renowned Gestalt Institute in Belgium.

Whether you visit this blog out of interest in change, in leadership, in personal development or all of the above, gestalt thinking and acting can bring you great benefits. I will start out providing you with twelve principles of the gestalt approach continued with practical applications and advantages while concluding with some questions for you to contemplate.

Twelve Principles of the Gestalt Approach

1.       The gestalt approach is a holistic and system approach. Everything and everyone is considered in its context and through its relationships. The consultant or coach looks at the total situation (person, family, work, personal life) rather than to compartmentalize and to analyze everything in an orderly manner and step by step.
2.       Any individual, group, or organization is doing the best possible at any given moment. We all have the potential to do more, do better, or to be creative if we decrease the obstacles or blocks inside us or in the external environment. The means by which to accomplish this is awareness.
3.       Awareness is central to the Gestalt Approach and can be described as a ‘knowing and being’ in the ‘here-and-now’, as being aware (referring to sensations and feelings through the senses) of what is going on in and around you – an intuitive knowing and being as opposed to thinking and theorizing about it.
4.       Three forms of awareness are to be considered: awareness of yourself, awareness of others, and awareness of what’s going on between you and the other/ the context.
5.       Many personal and organizational problems are linked to our tendency to fill the present with limited and distorted beliefs about our past and our future and to our belief that our ‘fantasies’ are realities.
6.       According to gestalt thinking, the main force driving a person and influencing his or her behavior is self-realization as opposed to, for example, Freud’s instinct.
7.       A client never speaks about his or her work environment or manager as that work environment or boss actually ‘is’, but rather how this environment or boss appear to the client: perception and interpretation are subjective.
8.       The Gestalt Approach does not aim to explain or analyze, but to describe and to let things speak for themselves in a non-judgmental manner. Behavior often doesn’t have to be explained but understood. In most cases, multiple explanations can be found for each problematic situation. A mere intellectual knowing of the ‘why’ of the situation usually does not contribute enough to a change in behavior or dynamics.
9.       In addition to awareness there is a second key factor to the Gestalt Approach: responsibility.  Responsibility is the free will and the existential choice that lets you choose at any time who you are and how you think, feel, choose, and act. You are responsible for everything in your life, which diverts from determinism which ignores free will. Responsibility is not some kind of duty, something that is imposed from outside by an authority. Responsibility is the ability to respond, the ability to recognize and be responsible and accountable for your own thoughts, feelings, needs, attitudes, actions, and norms in a given situation and for their consequences or results, also when your responses seemed spontaneous, unconscious, unintentional and resulted in undesired consequences.
10.   The gestalt coach and consultant uses his own person and being rather than techniques to help increase awareness and growth. When people and organizations are ‘stuck’ they generally see only one perspective. It is the consultant’s task to assist in exploring other perspectives. All awareness arises from comparison with opposites. Everything that exists or shows itself is the result of two forces that present themselves through their differences.
11.   In the Gestalt Approach conflicts, tensions, and resistance are appreciated as vitalizing forces and as energy that can be used once felt, known, and, where necessary, redirected. This more often than not implies first emphasizing differences rather than shoving them under the carpet.
12.   A gestalt consultant encourages a different use of language, supporting awareness and responsibility by changing ‘it’ to ‘I’ and ‘we’ to ‘I’, by turning ‘have to’ into ‘choose to’, by changing ‘knowing’ to ‘assuming’, by replacing ‘but’ by ‘and’ and by asking ‘what for and how’ rather than ‘what and when’.  

Practical Applications for Intervention and Change

Intervention means to enter into an ongoing system for the purpose of helping it in some way. To consult or to intervene places the consultant in the position of being a disturber of boundaries and of set ways, even if these set ways are not working out well. The Gestalt Orientation is a process oriented consultation, with the consultant focusing on client energy, on its functioning, and on the way the system approaches its problems. The consultant helps to unblock the system and mobilize its energy to define and solve its own problems rather than making detailed analytical investigations, diagnosing the problem and recommending and implementing preferred solutions. With this the Gestalt approach diverts from the deterministic medical model with an emphasis on what happened in the past and on cause-and-effect relationships and striving for intellectual understanding. The focus is on what is happening in the here-and-now and the focus is on the health rather than the illness or weaknesses of the system, thereby aligning the Gestalt Approach with Seligman’s Positive Psychology.

You might wonder what to make of all this and how to put these principles into practice. The most important goal of consultancy is, again, teaching the client system how to enhance the awareness of its own functioning and how to mobilize energy: becoming aware and turning this awareness into useful action. In order to accomplish increased awareness, useful action, and thereby growth and change, you can ask yourself, or if you’re a consultant you ask your client five questions:

1.       What am I doing right now, in the here-and-now? Am I putting demands on the table, am I fantasizing, am I telling a story, am I complaining, am I dealing with issues constructively etc.
2.       What do I experience and feel right now? This question refers to specific physical experiencing, like the mounting tensions in your shoulders, your shaky voice, or overactive sweat glands. This question also includes inquiry into your emotions: fearful, joyous, curious, hurt, bored etc.
  1. What do I want right now, not to be confused with the “I want it now” attitude of 2 year-olds, teenagers, and too many other human beings. This question makes you consider your upcoming needs. What do you need in this situation right now? Are you looking for attention, approval, engagement, solitude, support, respect etc.? You are asked to choose your position, to identify with your needs and to show the courage to face the reality that you might aspire something that does not fit your environment, or the reality that others might disapprove of you or your needs.
  2. What do I expect? What ideas do I hold about the near future? What do I anticipate? Expectation management would be a good phrase to represent this question. It also inquires into the ‘catastrophe’ that you might fear. This way you ‘map’ what is still uncertain. If you know what you expect you can verify your views and ideas and ask yourself whether your views and expectations are realistic. Think of the saying: “People suffer most from the suffering they fear”.
  3. What am I avoiding? In every situation there is always a ‘background’ that receives little attention. This could imply you’re avoiding something that others should not discover. Or it could be that something should be avoided because you fear you won’t be able to handle it. You might avoid providing your opinion out of fear of being ridiculed or dominated. It is often true that by merely facing your fear you decrease your fear rather than feeling overwhelmed by it.

These five questions contribute to increasing your awareness about yourself, about others, and about what takes place between you and your environment including your responses to other people and your understanding of their possible motives and of your own needs. This in turn results in:

è More energy and creativity.
è Less fear and distorted beliefs and thoughts.
è Stronger focus on competencies and success.
è Optimal use of differences, tensions, and resistance.
è Increased individual autonomy and competency.
è More effective personal and interpersonal behavior patterns.
è Stronger personal and team responsibility and accountability.

Some Questions to Contemplate

There is so much more to say about the Gestalt Approach and its benefits for personal development and for organizational consulting and change management. I will leave it at this, however, and conclude with some questions for you to contemplate in your role as a consultant or as a person looking for perspectives on growth and change:

-          Do I actively seek opposing perspectives from my own, especially in times of urgency or tensions?
-          Am I aware of the differences between perception, interpretation, judgment, appearance?
-          Do I prefer analysis of the past and of cause-effect patterns or do I prefer awareness in the ‘now’?
-          Am I aware of my often limited and distorted beliefs, thoughts, and conclusions?
-          Do I know how to confront my realistic or not so realistic expectations and fears?
-          Am I aware of what I tend to avoid and of which needs I am serving with this avoidance?

I salute you and your journey towards awareness, health, and growth!