Tag Archives: ability

As the ice melts

Glass Ice & WaterThere I was watching ice melt in a glass of water. I noticed something. As the ice melts the level of the water didn’t really change. I guess I knew this already. I mean this seems like something from middle school science as we talk about displacement. Or maybe it was from the “Eureka!” story about some naked guy jumping out of a bathtub in ancient Greece (Archimedes the mathematician).

But I digress…but what doesn’t catch your attention in a story more than seeing how the word naked is being used to teach something, eh?

Back to water, and ice and the like. I was driving down Lakeshore Drive in Chicago yesterday and there was this lake (Michigan to be exact) and ice. It gets cold here. The level of the lake doesn’t change much either from the summer to the winter. That frozen lake I was walking on in Wisconsin on New Year’s Day was the same way. The level in the glass or these lakes with or without ice was the same.

So what?

I have been working on my resume and helping a few people with their resumes lately. This task is tedious. It is hard to say what you need to say to show how you know what you are doing, and that you have accomplished. BUT…we are so conditioned to not be too boastful. However, we don’t do a little boasting who will? I wasn’t looked at for one job because I wasn’t explicit enough about my experience in business and on-campus (with students). I assumed the people on the committee would look at my resume and see both types of activities together and make the connection that I could combine them; bad assumption on my part.

Lesson one in job search. Help connect those dots, create a nice picture of you, and not worry about the boastful part. I think we can call this confidence – he says in an almost confident manner J.

Another thought about the experience timeline and all of the jobs that we have completed in the past may at some point look completely disassociated. Or maybe after writing and revising so much we forget what attracted us to a position and how it fits in with our talents, strengths, expertise, and follows some line of reason. It must work this way though; the common denominator would be us… right?

Back to this glass of water thing, I started with. There is a method to my madness here; it wasn’t just to get your attention. Think for a minute that each one of us is the glass of water. It can be half full, half empty, or fully full…or something we just need some water in there to start. The half-full/empty thing is a whole other blog post all together. Into this glass put some ice. You can use cubes, ellipses, half moons, crescents, or even crushed for this example.

The water (in the glass) is you. The ice in the water in the glass is your experience or the different jobs that you have completed in your life. The ice is suspended in the water. At first, we can see the ice in the water. We notice there are some experiences floating around in the water. We can see some shape. We can see the edges. Perhaps those edges show some limits to our experience. I mean, as good as we are there hopefully is some limit to what we know (or what we are willing to admit we don’t know) and time and experience helps us expand our knowledge and our edges might get soften a bit as we build more capacity.

Ice melts

Melting might seem like a bad thing. But in my example, and story here, ice melting IS the example. When the ice is melted it is all water. We are still us, but now we have new experience that has become us. We have grown in our ability and how we approach things. We look the same – water is still water – but we are different. We have experience. When we add more ice (more experience or a new job) we can see those chunks of experience again. Now we also have the addition of a new understanding. Our water is different, but we may not look any different.


This is a German word for form or structure. It is the whole. A gestalt is the summation of its component parts. It is impossible for us to refreeze the chunks of ice in our class in the exact way that we added them to the water. It is a little different from a similar word, synergy. With synergy, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Meaning together we can accomplish even more. Gestalt is a whole it is a unified whole – like our resume. I mean like our glass of water.

Why water?

You might be thinking WATER?! I want to be juice or something (did someone say gin and tonic?) a little more spicy than water. I use water for a reason. Ice in water is more water. Ice in any other beverage will dilute the experience. Our resume and our experience aren’t diluted over time in any way. Even experiences that weren’t perfect help us grow in a positive direction. We know what we don’t want to do, or how to not do that again. Besides, water is in everything. H2O makes up so much of us, the earth, the atmosphere, everything. It just makes sense to use water in the example.


When we have ice in water a lot of the time, we get some condensation on the outside of the glass. This happens in learning, experiences, and jobs too. There are things that we don’t need from many of our experiences. We can just let those go. We can shed those – if you will.

Leadership is about the accumulation of abilities and the derivation of learning from our experiences. Our leadership can be tied back to our chunks of ice in the water. Our leadership insight (or one of my favorite words – acumen) comes from the experience of being a leader and even of being a follower and participating in some way in the leadership experience. It might be vicarious, but we can still learn from the experience.

Think about your chunks of experience. Can you pull out the direct lessons from those chunks? Are you a different person now after having been exposed to the new ice chunks floating around in your glass of water?

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The Nesbitts – A tale of cause and effect

Everyone that hears this story says, “That is so mean…you were picking on your Grandma…How cruel to you guys were to that sweet little lady.” But we weren’t making fun of her or teasing her…well ok maybe a little, but she always loved a good story; she always told a great story. This woman was a fun in a skirt – she personified a good joke. By this time, you have to be wondering what the heck this is all about. My family has an “imaginary family”. Yep you read that correctly an imaginary family, just like the invisible friends of your childhood. We have a whole family that is always around; well we think they are there. Sit back little ones and let me tell you a story.

In a land not so far away…actually it was just Nevada…

At Christmas about 1992, we were all together for dinner and gift exchange when my uncle started talking about Nesbitt’s Orange soda. Gram was listening and asked, “Who are the Nesbitt’s?”

“You remember the Nesbitt’s Gram they lived next door on Airport Road. Sure… remember they had that little black dog.” My cousin quickly replied before anyone could answer her simple question.

“Oh yeah, the Nesbitts… they were such nice people.” Gram said. Voila! The Nesbitts were born. We all started to laugh and joke about our new family. The conversation was about orange soda, not a household with a little black dog. It was just a quick smart-aleck response from my cousin that started the whole thing. For the rest of that evening we laughed about these Nesbitt people.

To some this may seem cruel, but you have to understand she taught us to be like this. Her sense of humor, her cute sayings, and those fun grandma attributes were successfully transferred to all of us. This is the lady that would put salt in the sugar bowl on April Fools Day. She would wrap up a rubber chicken for Christmas and pass it around. She was always ready with a little song, a tongue twister, some saying from the old country, or a story. On trips with friends, she would replace the toilet paper in the hotel with crinoline. This stuff presents as toilet paper, but it is a stiff material used in drapery making that doesn’t tear very easily. She was famous for putting dummies on the toilet for unsuspecting newlyweds to find upon returning from their honeymoon. So, this kind of teasing and joking was par for the course when it comes to Gram.

Very soon, these Nesbitts seemed to come up in conversation every now and then, usually as a comical scapegoat. “Those darn Nesbitts were in charge of that and they flaked.” And the blame would fall on them. When one of the cousins got married, a present from the Nesbitts appeared at the reception. The family of the groom was trying to figure out the story and find out who these people were, but to no avail. And when the newest member to our family tried to explain it to his family what the scoop was they only answered with, “…they have a what? …An imaginary family? Scott do you know what you are marrying into here? These people are crazy.” Well we really aren’t we just know how to have a good time and enjoy the fun the Nesbitts have created for us.

As a joke, I sent out Christmas cards (that I had purchased) to everyone in the family from the Nesbitts. This first mailing was to eight homes. My sister-in-law called my mom to ask, “Do we really know someone named Nesbitt?” Everyone had a great laugh at Christmas. The list grew by two or three over the next few years. These store bought Christmas cards got boring so one year I wrote a Nesbitt Family Christmas letter that told everything about the Nesbitts over the previous year. This was based on some exaggerated events that happened in our family and some things that were just made up to add to the levity. Everyone loved the letter. That year also debuted the Nesbitts return address stamp. The mailing list has increased to about 80 people.

One year we found a bunch of old family pictures in Grandma’s stuff, but we could only identify about half of the people. So we started joking that those mystery people were obviously…who else but …the Nesbitts. We pasted these into an album and created stories about each one to keep the “posterity” of the Nesbitt family intact. Those Nesbitts are such nice people.

A friend of the family was driving through Kansas where some of our relatives live (real ones this time). So, we asked her to deliver the photo album to them as a joke. A friend, Jolene, took the album and walked into Bill’s office. As he looked up she asked, “Are you Bill?” His affirmative answer prompted the response, “Well I am Sara Lee Nesbitt and I this is for you.” She dropped the album on his desk and turned to walk out.

“Wait! What? Where? Who? Who gave you this book?” Bill said as he sat there with a surprised look on his face. Jolene told him she was asked to deliver it and that he would know what it was all about. Bill called us shortly after that to tell us the story and laugh about the Nesbitts.

The crazy part (as if something this crazy can get any nuttier) is that now the Nesbitts are getting return mail from other families at Christmas. And they have received a few postcards from as far away as Spain and London from friends (real ones) who have gone on vacation. Thankfully, the IRS has not tried to levy any taxes yet, but who knows what could happen.

Our Grandma, a lady who loved fun, inspired this nutty Nesbitt family. She didn’t know about her creation at the time, but I am sure she is there now with us every time we speak of the Nesbitts. In many ways, this has kept her memories alive and very active in our family life. That little bit of teasing has become a fond and funny was of memorializing a very funny lady.

We learned many things from my grandma – caring for each other, how to love and be loved, and how to “make fun out of your work” or most things. Along our journey, each of us will create an identity for ourselves throughout life. That little dash between the date of birth and the date of death packs quite a wallop, there’s a whole lot of stuff wrapped up in that tiny mark. Our identity, and the stories of our ability, can last long after we are gone. Think about those people in your life that have passed on, they still have an energy that survives on in perpetuity.

The person may be gone, but what they created and how they are remembered will last for much longer. The same, obviously, is true for all of us. We have the ability to use our powers for good and create a legacy. In addition to honing our own brand, others may attach their perspective to our actions, ability, and leadership. The trick is to maintain the projection of our brand, our message, and our image.

This is the time of year to remember traditions and prepare resolutions for the future. Think for a moment about your inner Nesbitt, the combination of what you think you are, what others think you are, and how the stories come together. This inner Nesbitt relates to who we want to be (cause) and who we are (effect).

What are your abilities? What are your strengths? From whence did they come? This raw ability, or the multiplicity of abilities, is up to each of us to mold and form. 2015 will be here soon…lean in, lead on, and develop your abilities.


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We have always done it that way

It is holiday time. This time of year is ripe for various rituals and traditions among the best of us. I am Swedish and in my family we have all grown up with my grandma’s Swedish rye bread at every holiday… if we were lucky, it would just appear at other times of the year. The traditions had to be passed on through the years. My mom also made it and passed it on to a few cousins and me. We compare notes and techniques with every baking.

The secret recipe

It isn’t really a “secret.” The recipe is available to anyone who has a Garden Club cookbook (page 71 to be exact). Actually, my Gram didn’t create the original recipe. We recently found Esther Hideen’s recipe from back in the day, Gram just made it long enough to make it her own. It probably helped that Esther was a long time ago, and somewhere in the Midwest. My grandma did add a few distinct nuances to the bread that don’t show up in the old recipe. Her various variations (I meant to write that) were the addition of anise extract or caraway seeds in some batches. The most distinct thing about Ruby’s bread was the cylindrical shape to the bread. She used old juice cans (the tall tomato or grapefruit juice cans). You see she would make about 5 loaves in a batch. I would guess that she didn’t have enough loaf pans, and juice cans were cheaper to buy. Recycle, reuse, repurpose…or just plain economics. So to keep the tradition you HAVE to make it in juice cans.

That aint right

Recently my cousin made a batch and her “yeast went crazy.” She ran out of juice cans and had to put the extra into a loaf pan, she text me a picture of the final product. I text back, “nice! But that one isn’t going to taste right.” She text back, “I know right! I thought of that too!:)” We have friendly disagreements that it aint right if you don’t mix the dough by hand. You cannot use an electric mixer. To be true SRB you have to follow the recipe to the letter and method. That is just crazy right?

Don’t get all-wild and change anything

Change is a scary thing. It creates a new process. It modernizes things. It questions the status quo…it just…well…it just changes things. Why is it that as people, systems and organizations we have a problem changing things? I mean, if it aint broke don’t break it, but there are times when we might want to question, improve and change things. There are times we might just want to break it too.

What is change?

The word change comes from an Old French word changier that means alter, exchange, or switch. I also found the Latin word, transformare, which is to change the shape. In theory, the idea of change seems to be a natural go-to when we are looking at strategic planning or long-term goals. Change is something that an organization wants to happen. The people in the organization might agree that the new person, or the leader (sometimes called a manager, and vice versa) should instigate a change process. How will we change as an organization and/or as a person? Or better yet, how do you envision change and approach the management of change? It is a great interview question, eh?

“We do not describe the world we see, we see the world we can describe”

That heading is a quote by Rene Descartes. It make sense right? We see the world we can describe. Our description has some limits – our worldview, our experience, and the vocabulary words. This change concept can meet some dissent, at times A LOT of opposition. It is something we (the collective) might agree should happen; in fact, evidence may provide some metrics to say it has to happen. The how, when, why might come from different points of view. But, how do we move the CHANGE concept into a world we can see from a unified front? I have been involved with, or watched a few strategic planning processes as they unfold. They seem to follow a typical pattern. Definition about the overall goals followed by a schedule of events to gather data, analyze and present the plan. Some participate in the process, some ignore it, and some miss the message. Regardless, the plan is in motion.

Stop – Wait for it – Start

I have written before about Bridges and his comments on change – (1) you have to stop the old first. (2) Then, outlast the confusion and neutral zone before you can (3) Re-start and re-establish the change. Another guy, Kurt Lewin, has three similar phases. He says you have to UNFREEZE, then TRANSITION, and finally (RE)FREEZE. It is that big thaw at the start that seems to start the slippery slope (pun intended…of course). Then the transition time can be more like whitewater and the rapids in a river, depending of course on the amount of change. And then we refreeze, re norm, or we find a new normal. After a while, the refrozen becomes the glacier of “it has always been that way.” Just ask Esther Hideen about that little phenomenon. J

Change and Change Management are connected to leadership and the act of being a leader. To change a company, a department or a system really has to start with the people within. To guide this process we often look to the leader of the group as the change agent, instigator, and project manager. The rate at which this process occurs is how we rate or evaluate that person’s effectiveness. Every journey is a series of small steps and incremental change. Every journey! If the scenery isn’t changing you probably are not moving. There is a foundational book, Leading Change, by Harvard Management professor John Kotter. He presents his eight steps that include some sense of urgency, proper communication, celebrating the small steps, and establishing anchors.

The leadership is about HOW we approach the changes. Leadership is what we do WITH people to create or recreate. Management is keeping the steps in order, maintaining the communications, planning the work, and working the plan. We have the ability to change, it just takes a little bit to understand the WHY we need change, WHAT the change will provide, and HOW to approach the changes.

Really?! Does practice make really make perfect? Or is that line of reasoning just something we have come to say/accept rather than question its use? Let’s think for a minute if our practice has a flaw or we don’t have the correct form, then our results will be perfectly flawed rather than miraculously perfect.

Now, you do not have to change your holiday traditions. Those are like comfort food and memories. But what could you change to make things a little easier for yourself, your team, or your company? What could you UNFREEZE?

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Emotional Milkshakes

Over the last few months, my family has had some difficult things happening in our lives. I spent some time with each of my nieces and nephews during the events of our summer. My niece is nine years old and we were hanging out. Our conversation turned to some of the events of the summer and how we were each handling them. Some of her fourth grade angst was about being separated from her mom, dad, and brothers. There was a little bit of anxiety about being away from the others at different times and having to face life on her own. A lot of stuff was happening all at one time and most of us were a bit overwhelmed so it made sense that her little world was being rocked a bit. I have a special nickname for her, for now we will just say “roo.” I made a deal with her that I would get her a necklace with a purple stone (that is a special color for the two of us) and when she was feeling a little nervous she could just hold it and think about her Roo Powers. We talked about how her name is a combination of people in our family that are special to us and we went through each of her initials to show how the foundation of who she is comes from all of these amazing people in her name…and our family. She was special because she gets to carry on the name and the power of ALL of those people – those are roo powers.

Brain freeze

She brought up being scared about not with family all of the time. We decided that being scared was really a kind of an emotion. We talked about how emotions can get a little overwhelming and it gets hard to think, and to breathe when we get emotional and nervous.

Hmmmm…. here’s me trying to think about how we are going to approach this little dilemma. I was getting a little nervous about how I could help a nine year old with some big concepts of separation, being anxious, scared, and that it is really ok. We have to feel some of this stuff to help us get through life. These emotions and fears hit us all from time to time. How to approach this existential angst and emotions and pull them back to Roo Powers? We were having milkshakes.

Ah ha!

Uncle: What happens when you drink your milkshake too fast?
Roo: You get a brain freeze.
U: Does that hurt?
R: Yeah (the look she gave me was more of the DUH answer than the word)
U: So what do you do then?
R: You stop drinking your milkshake.
U: All of it? You just throw it away?
R: No, you just wait a minute.
U: Oh, so you just wait for the headache to go away? To take a rest?
R: Yeah
U: Then do you drink the rest of it a little slower so you don’t get another brain freeze?
R: Yeah you have to slow down.

Wait for it…

So emotions feel like a brain freeze from drinking your milkshake too fast. The milk shake tastes good and you want to finish it, but drinking it too fast didn’t feel so good. That’s what emotions and fear feels like, it is a big brain freeze. So maybe what we should do when we start to feel scared or anxious is just stop for a minute. Wait. Think about our Roo Powers and that we are pretty strong on the inside. I talked to her about just holding her necklace while she waited for the metaphorical brain freeze to go way (I did not use the word metaphorical, by the way). She thought about it for a little bit and decided that she could buy this. This might just work.

Slow Down

Then after the brain freeze goes away we just slow down a little and know that our emotions are just getting in our way. Our mom, dad, and family have always been there for us in the morning, after school, when we get home from our friends’ house. It is ok to miss them. You are supposed to miss them, that’s how we know that we love them and want to be with them. A little bit of missing them helps us realize they are important to us. So that emotion of missing those people (not really an emotion…but just go with me here) helps us know things are normal. She told me it made sense and that she thought she could try all of this. I checked in with her after the next day, and she told me her roo powers were helping and she had a better day.

What’s your Roo?

As leaders, there are times that we are tested and all sorts of emotions and anxiety can sneak up on us. We might have times when the imposter syndrome sneaks in and we are just wondering when “these people will figure out that we don’t really deserve this position.” Ethical dilemmas and times when we are tested to do the right thing, be consistent, and maintain our credibility and consistency will push your roo all over the ROOm.

When we get a bit overwhelmed, we have to stop and wait for a minute. We have to let the brain freeze pass by and allow us to think clearly again. We have to take some deep breaths and step away from the milkshake and get some perspective. Calling on our own internal fortitude is how we can realize our own potential and ability. The ability to make a decision – Perhaps the decision is to change course or to explain our approach with a bit more clarity. But, the ability is there. Emotions, anxiety and fear can get the best of all of us from time to time. Fear can be a good thing, it might cause you to hesitate and rethink your work. It might cause you to re-evaluate your values and how those are helping or hurting your work.

What are your ROO POWERS? Whose name do you carry? What do you do when you get a brain freeze? And finally…what is your favorite milkshake flavor?

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What I did on my summer vacation

The cycle continues this week with the autumnal equinox marking the end of the summer season. My summer plans started out fairly consistent with previous summers – teaching summer school, hitting selected Chicago street festivals, a trip or 2, and hanging out with friends. I headed west to Reno for some family time and a couple of weddings. What I did on my summer vacation turn out much different than anticipated, it lasted 54 days in total.

Wedding plans were right on schedule. Those ‘save the date’ cards actually work. I even went to a bonus wedding for a high school friend. I celebrated a few birthdays out west as well, mine included. There was a great reunion with some friends that included a going away party for their daughter as she moved to Portland, OR. And, the unexpected…I attended two funerals while I was home. The first was for my aunt’s sister. Finally, the biggest event of my whole summer was the funeral for my mom.

Yeah, how is that for a speed bump? This was moving along so smoothly too. When last we met I told a couple of stories about being with my mom over the summer. However, the fog from her Alzheimer’s disease turned from her state of confusion and a stunted life trajectory to mine. But, I don’t want to go there, at the moment. I want to wander through a few things I realized about my mom, my family, and me over the summer. It has been a month since we were surrounding her with love and support as she made her final transition. I have to believe she is in a better “frame of mind” now than she had been in for the last few years of her life, and definitely her last month.

Let’s start with gratitude. Speed bump number two, or yet another 90-degree turn on this little journey I am leading you through. It gives me extreme peace to know that she is not struggling anymore. Her final words to me were “Good night, Rich.” This didn’t occur on the night she died, but it was this summer. Nevertheless, she told me good night AND she said my name. Metaphorically I look at this interaction as her goodbye and a verbal hug acknowledging our relationship. The more heartbreaking of our visits was just after that good night during some alone time between us. I was talking; she was nonverbal for the last month. THEN… she looked at me with a smile in her eyes, she was smiling, her energy was just like so many of the great times we had throughout my life – we were together and we were smiling. That 3-seconds was fleeting. She started to cry. It wasn’t just tears, it was a sad upset crying. It was an “I think I am leaving,” crying. Thankfully that turned quickly to blank again and then I was the one crying. When I think of her death, those 6-seconds help to remind me she is not hurting. Back to gratitude – I spent most of the summer with her and working on her behalf. I got to be there to do my part to help my dad and brothers as the family administrator guy. I got to spend time with mom. I had 3 amazing (all things are relative) moments with my mom. I miss her so damn much. I am not sure how or when this “fog” I am in will lift…but they tell me it gets easier.

There are many great stories I could share. These help us remember what the treasure my Mom is…I guess I should say was now, but I think I’ll keep the present tense for now. In my world she is a treasure. One I will treasure in real time forever. Over the summer I had many conversations with people about her. I started to keep a list of what was said. In a quick, quasi qualitative research approach I noticed themes – kindest, sweetest, nicest, a lovely lady, a special bond between us, warm, talented, classical grandma, loving, laughing, patient, special lady, the word favorite is often attributed to her… Someone told me that she was a gentle giant, the person that never really jumped to the lead role (although she could do it, and she did lead) she was always the one you could count on to be there and provide support. Her Karma bank was always overflowing with simplicity, love and a smile. There are a couple of books, Quiet and Quiet Influence, about the leadership qualities of the introvert. My mom was in her own class. She was an extroverted Introvert or the introverted Extrovert; loved to be with people and part of the action. She was on the quiet side. In Emergenetics© terms (I never tested her, damn!) she had to be a second third Expressive and a first third Assertive. I am sure she was a third third flexible, holy decisions batman. Her leadership style was that of an influencer with a quiet determination.

In my earlier research on leadership one of the themes we found was – Legacy/Lasting Difference. The interviewed leaders said this legacy piece was something that one didn’t set out to do, but it was nice when you are remembered for something. When I stood at the funeral to give the eulogy I looked at the church. It was packed, people were standing in the back, and they were in the entryway. Through tears I said my mom was such an understated woman that she would be surprised that so many turned out to honor and celebrate her life and legacy. It was overwhelming and comforting. A recent daily encouragement from my Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhist practice said this: “Ultimately, people only die as they have lived.” To die happily is therefore extremely difficult. And since death is the final settlement of accounts for one’s life, it is when our true self comes to the fore…” (Daisaku Ikeda). A packed house honoring her true self seemed appropriate. She was the gentle, quiet leader that was there to provide giant support for others. A legacy of love, support, and care among those she touched in her 70 short (too short) years.

Ability: “Talents, skills, Power or capacity to do.” We all have the ability to lead from the front, the middle, or behind. We all have the ability to leave a legacy and to make a difference for someone/everyone. I knew my mom was an amazing woman that made great (quiet) contributions for the good. What I did on my summer vacation was be there for her, with her, and to see life and purpose through her. Even in her final days and hours she taught me the power of connections and community. Hmmmmm…when the student is ready the teacher arrives. Thanks mom!


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Linchpins & Lemonade

It has been an interesting summer for me. I have been “out west” visiting family for some weddings and my annual summer trip. All of that was great, everything happened as planned. Part of the trip was to see and spend time with my parents. I had prepared myself for my mom’s declining state that has been the case for a number of years – she has Alzheimer’s. I knew she was declining. I had been told by my dad and other family members to prepare for what I would encounter. I haven’t been home since Christmas. When I first arrived she didn’t even look up. I could tell she didn’t know, couldn’t know, or didn’t have the ability to “see” me or to let me know that she “knew” me. In my guarded analytical, intellectual way of being, I took that in stride. People have to ask her if she knows me, or ask her my name. That actually irritates me. No, I think it hurts. It is how I protect myself. I don’t want to acknowledge that loss of recognition. Nobody wants to be forgotten. But, somehow I think that act of, “do you know who this is?” helps the questioner. It helps to normalize the situation. And, we don’t know what to say so we default to the “how are you doing” or, the situational equivalent. Maybe the question is just embedded with HOPE she will blurt out your name. She did not.

I have had some moments with her during this trip. One night she looked at me and said, “Hey, it’s you!” She went on to say, “You’re here.” Then the funny, “Do you have a job?” I responded somewhat shocked and a little taken aback. We all laughed. My mom even laughed. It was a real laugh. It was a laugh from the depth of who she is. It was from her core. It was HER.

My aunt said, “There she is! That’s her!”
And then…she was off again with foggy eyes to some far away world locked deep in the confines of her deteriorating brain.
My aunt and I just smiled…and cried, and she said to me, “Remember this forever. There she was, just for you.”

Two nights later, I was putting her to bed again. She was quiet but quasi-alert. I looked at her and had a short talk with her telling her that it was OK for her to make the transition and move on to see everyone who was waiting for her.

I said, “There are so many that you haven’t been with for so long. It is really ok with us if you are ready to make that trip and move on. We will always remember you and love you. We will take care of dad. But, there are hugs to be had, a pot of tea waiting for you, and I am sure the Garden Club Alumna Association is ready for their next new/old member.”

I stood up and said, “Good night, Mom.” She looked at me with the clearest smiling eyes and plainly said, “Good night Rich.” I dropped to her beside. I hugged her. I wept. I pulled back to look at her and she said quizzically, “Do you have a problem?” I replied, “No, no problem. I am just happy.”

She is still with us. Holding on for something, I think it has to be her decision to leave. The other day my dad, my cousin and I were chatting with the hospital chaplain. He was asking about all of us and how we were coping. Then my cousin started to speak. She reflected that mom has always been the person in our family to make things happen, have a party, host holidays, umpteen weddings, graduations, and mini reunions. She is the one that has been the “go to” in the family (on all sides) for years. She was the person everyone would call when we needed to access the family hard drive for an address, a memory, and questions. I had thought this was the case and all this was true, but was I just biased because she is my mom?

It was nice to hear my cousin say this. She continued to reflect that it is hard for all of us to understand what will be a new way of being in our family. My cousin said, “When our roles change, it throws people off for a little bit. I don’t think we are really ready for that.”

There’s a little gadget that keeps the wheels from falling off the axle, it is called a linchpin. Marketing wizard and writer Seth Godin wrote a book, Linchpins. His definition of a linchpin is someone who is indispensible, someone vital to the organization. That’s my mom. I have been cleaning things at my parents house to stay busy and help my dad with that unbearable task. Finding treasures, and lots of what the hell did she keep that for?, I have been trying to understand life without our linchpin. It has been scary, sad, and a little lonely. But in all honesty, life goes on. It has to. It’s how the world works. Linchpins wear out and they go on to other places and become the omnipresent teacher and guide. They were here for a reason and they prepare us for this point in our lives. The linchpin becomes indispensible in a realm of our psychic force that whispers in our ear when we need it the most. These linchpins are that “gut feeling” and the invisible force that we just know “would want that.” And sometimes that slap of reality that we know would not want/like that.

In leadership roles, we have linchpins and we are linchpins. We learned to assume such a role passed down from someone before us. We have the ability to take those lessons and transform our linchpin energy into something of value for others. It’s important that we slow down on occasion to notice the lesson, feel the energy, and soak in the moment. We can take those opportunities to learn and grow from our sage teachers as they share with us out of love and care. They are just preparing us for the time they can’t be here any longer to do it for us. As leaders we have the ability to do the same.

We have to take those lemons add some sugar and make lemonade. Things get tough. Struggles happen. They make us strong and resilient. Take hold of those times that seem a little sour, that sting a bit on the open wound. Learn the lesson. Grab the gifts when they are offered. Like my aunt said, “Remember this forever. That was her.” Mom served me a little cup of lemonade…a couple of ‘em. And as usual – everything tastes better when mom makes it.

“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy

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Uncle Rich’s Secret For Doing Math

So let me start by saying what I have probably said sometime before – my all time favorite title in the world is Uncle. There are a number of kids who refer to me as uncle – actual nieces and nephews, second/third/something-removed cousins, kids of friends, Godsons and Goddaughters…I have quite a few “kids”. When you are a teacher, and/or someone that has been in school for a long time you get to be the homework go to. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like to help with homework. I love to sit with someone and help him or her find some secret to learning the material. It is fun to see the proverbial light bulb go off when they get it. It is also fun to watch the parents look on and try to figure out exactly how I am going to pull all of this together into something useful. If you have read some of my stuff before you saw a little about a learning cycle and about thinking and behaviors based on neuroscience (Emergenetics). I ask my “student” to show me how they approach their homework. We talk a little about the process of doing homework. It helps to see what they are doing and how they approach the whole thing.

Homework…homework everywhere

Some of the homework cases I have been summons to help with range from math, English, history, and Spanish. I told a friend once that I had to go help my niece with her Spanish and his comment was, “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish, or knew enough to help with Spanish homework.” My response was, “Well I haven’t had it since high school, but I am sure she has a textbook we can work from.” She did. I think I helped. She said I did. Hmmmm… maybe she was just tired of my help. ¿No se? I love when they call me to help with math. My procedure is the same as I described. I have them walk me through a couple of problems or how they start their homework. From there I tell give them the secret to doing math (or really any homework). Here is the secret:
When you start write the letters E S F at the top of the paper.
Then follow that rule until you get to the end.
As you approach each problem or questions say to yourself, “this is easy, I got this…”
Glance at E S F and begin.
If the first one is a little tougher, move to the next one and repeat – eyes on ESF, “I got this”…and begin.


You are thinking, what is E S F? You are trying to make out some words for the acronym here. Ok, ok here you go – when you are doing your “homework” do all of the Easy Sh*t First. It makes them laugh. It doesn’t matter if you are helping a six year old or a college student (or an adult for that matter) it always gets a laugh. Come on, no matter how old we get when in doubt a butt joke or fart noise will make almost anyone laugh. I fully admit it; this is a cheesy way out. But, I don’t care. They laugh. If they relax a little then we are a little further down the completed homework path. Sometimes they are laughing in disbelief that a secret so simple is ONE something that will work and TWO really a secret. My answer is – it works and did you know the secret before I told you? Then it is a secret.

Think about it. When you are doing math is it easier to add or subtract? Would you rather add or do long division? Isn’t multiplication really just a shortcut for a bunch of addition problems? For algebra, don’t you convert subtraction into addition of a negative number? Don’t you add the numbers in the parentheses first? Reduce the fractions so they aren’t some big crazy intimidating number. Common denominators…duh. You do all the easy stuff first. When you look at the total homework assignment, go through and do the easy ones first. It gets your brain all warmed up and synapses start firing all over the place. A lot of times the answers, or hints to some problems are hidden in other problems. And even if the answers aren’t hiding later in the homework, you have at least half of the stuff done before you know it.

Writing homework like an essay or a report is similar process. The easy stuff (after the research) is to just start typing and getting the stuff down on paper. You really should be going back over it to proof read it and revise it before you submit it anyhow…so just get the fingers to dance over the keyboard and get all that brilliance down on paper and then go back and edit. Have ya ever noticed it is so much easier (ESF) to edit someone else’s work than a doing some cold writing of your own? If you write one day, wait, and edit the next, then it is almost like someone else wrote it. You might even think, “what were they (i.e., I) thinking.

One of my friends was listening to my ESF lesson with her daughter. My friend was also taking classes. She had a test later that week. I got a text a few days later that said, “hmmm Easy Sh*t First, Works…who knew.” I do tell my nieces and nephews that when their teacher asks what ESF mean they should say, “It’s my uncle’s secret and it means Easy Stuff First.” They all report that they are going to tell the teacher what it really means. Ok by me, I am the uncle. I don’t have to go to the Parent-Teacher conference. Another reason that Uncle is my favorite title.

Leadership and ability

Our ability to help those we work with and those that we lead is the same approach. When we have a task group where do we start? How do we approach the committee charge? We have to start somewhere; we start with the E S F. We start at the beginning. We define the project and determine things like a time line for completion. We start with the budget. We brainstorm some ideas. Most important, in my opinion, we understand the strengths and talents within our team and encourage those with that thinking preference or strength to spearhead the part of the project under their bailiwick, their expertise. If we let them show their natural ability and what they enjoy doing the most, then the whole group prospers.

So in the words of my friend, “hmmm E S F works, who knew.” You can…

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Healing from the inside out

When I was in high school, my friends’ dad had his appendix removed. I was working at the hospital at the time so I stopped by his room. I asked him how he was doing and how he was feeling, the typical hospital conversation. We have all been in that situation in the hospital where the person is in their bed in that gown with the slit up the back. We try to maintain eye contact and not look anywhere else. So, I continue the small talk. I asked about the surgery. He says look at this and raises the gown to reveal the surgery site. There it was. The operation site was still open and you could see the cut flesh. I looked. I panicked. Looked away, but I couldn’t help myself and looked again. Now admittedly it was a couple of decades ago (or so) but I remember seeing the surgery site wasn’t stitched. It was mostly open. He told me that since the wound, surgery site, hole, access point to the appendix…whatever you call it was deep they had to let it heal from the inside out. I had heard that puncture wounds were a bit tricky because the surface would have access to the air and heal a bit faster, but the depth of the wound would not have that ability. Hence, puncture wounds are trickier. But, as I remember, the appendix site was a little more than a puncture.

Time and healing
How does that quote go? Time heals all wounds. It is probably more of a cliché at this point but there must be some validity to this. Maybe time heals all because it just starts to fade away and we seem to turn the metaphorical corner. The wound doesn’t heal at all; it is just hiding around the bend or over that ridge. Maybe more stuff happens or we have a new shiny object to turn our attention. The optimist would say, “tomorrow is a new day” or “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” While both of those are true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything healed. The pessimist might say, “Oh what next,” “with my luck,” “things always happen in threes.” In short, wounds happen.

We have been, and will be, the recipient of some hurtful things. Some by accident, some through misunderstanding, some through politics, timing…oh the list could go on. Ignoring these and just relying on that time adage could result in unfinished business. Similar to that puncture wound that seems to heal at the surface but the underlying problem is still there. The process of living, interacting with others, and taking risks in life will create success and things we could have probably done better.

We may be the instigator of some wounds for others, unintentional things of course (well hopefully they are unintentional). Actually, I take that back. In anger, or a fit of misjudgment, we might have intended some wounds to occur. How we recover and fix our malfeasances is probably related to Karma…Buddha-ly speaking of course. Not attending to those well-aimed wounds inflicted on others is a completely different category of unfinished business. Karma – Party of ONE your table is now ready.

I found a quote by Rose Kennedy, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” That scar tissue in life manifests as hate, unaccountability, apathy, avoidance, becoming jaded, and cynicism (again the list is endless).

Inside out
The wounds to our ego are like that appendix wound. We have to heal these from the inside out. Over the last 1.5 weeks, I have been with many different groups of people. I work on the national tournament staff for a big sporting association. Many days of working long hours, under stressful conditions, new procedures, and little sleep creates interpersonal struggles. People get edgy. Nothing some distance (oh, and probably some time) won’t fix. I moved on to a conference. I had the opportunity to see a longtime colleague. I was nervous to tell her some things that have recently happened within my career. I took the plunge, took a deep breath and told her about my situation. She was the most gracious, understanding, comforting friend I could ask for. She said all the right things. And, why wouldn’t she be that person at that time…in my interactions with her she has always been supportive and helpful. What got in my way? My ego. My unfinished business of things I have not let heal from the inside out. The many layers of scar tissue that I have let seal over things in my past altered my perception. In my mind the story was debilitating rather than merely a situation I could/can deal with.

All of these thoughts of appendix surgeries, unfinished business and healing from the inside out came from the final stop on my trip. I was chatting with my cousin about some things that she was dealing with. I told her the conference story. She is the brilliant one that connected some of my unfinished business (that I really thought I HAD dealt with) and how recent things are all part of the healing process. It was more like reconstructive surgery for my psyche and my ego. Sure, wounds hurt. Let them. Sit with them. See if you can notice the lesson, the pattern, the connections, and our ability to heal from the inside out.

Leadership is what we do with people. Unfortunately, in that process, we may have some wounds happen. Some to us. Some by us. Some are even self-inflicted. What can we learn? How can we take our innate ability to heal from the inside out? How can we help those we love, like, trust, and work with to see their ability to heal from the inside out? And yep, sometimes it does take some time.

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Too much or too little – who knows?

A waiter walks up to your table with a tray loaded with beverages. You watch as she labors under the tray resting on her shoulder and upward palm. She whips the tray around and distributes the glasses in a way that doesn’t disrupt the balance of order. Someone at the table is eager and sees his drink on the tray. He removes it. One helpful bloke tries to assist and starts taking the closest glass to pass to someone. However, this disrupts the balance and the tray tips…drinks spill, glasses break. Someone jumps out of the way. This metaphorical tray and glasses are filled with doses of challenge and support. Hmmmmm, what does challenge and support taste like? What kind of beverages might those be?

This concept of challenge and support is a popular theory among those of us who study and use college student development theories. This professor, Dr. Nevitt Sanford, wrote a book in 1967 about Why Colleges Fail, in which he outlines his precept of challenge and support. He offered that challenge provides an opportunity to stretch and grow. The student tries to reduce the tension and restore balance. Good challenge is helpful and creates a will to accomplish, even through a bit of discomfort. The rewards of that “a ha” moment of understanding is the payoff. However, too much challenge may set the bar artificially high and make it impossible. This could be overwhelming and the person opts to quit. Support has similar conditions to consider. No support, or too little support, risks sending a message of a lack of respect and or little concern. Too much support means we have just done it for them, and could stifle creativity (or challenge). Being afraid to challenge is like stealing the opportunity to overcome an obstacle and learn. We steal the victory. Therefore, using a challenge and support framework relies on timing, magnitude, and application. Interesting note here, we interviewed a group of students and they brought up making mistakes and the adviser/teacher/leader should let them fail on occasion. “How else will we learn?” They asked with poignant clarity.

Now serving
That tray with drinks is balanced with precision that is somehow understood by the waiter holding the tray. If we deliver challenge or support at the wrong time, or to the wrong person, it could have ramifications for those involved. We have to quickly weigh the benefits of the use and how much (or how little) we deliver based on experience, relationships, and timing. What is also at play are the nonverbal and emotional content that accompany every single interaction with another person. What seems to be trivial comments, unrealized sighs, or unintentional nonverbal moments could be misinterpreted and hinder mutual transformation. We might not even realize those little shot glasses were even on the tray to begin with. These talents contribute to our ability to provide leadership when it is our time to step into the foreground.

While this challenge and support theory is presented as a student development thing it also has leadership implications. Management is what we do TO things, situations, and things. It is managing to get the right tray to the right table. Leadership is what we do WITH people. What we deliver is important, but HOW and WHEN we deliver our tray of refreshment is so very important.

Ready and Wait
It seems as if the only one participating in the delivery of challenge and/or support is the teacher or leader. There is a bit of a power differential at play here. The responsibility for thinking about how to use challenge and support is more leader dependent than recipient. However, this timing concept could be more a mutual thing. We have heard that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Interesting note, I found that the Buddha did not say this. A woman in 1875 (Helena Blavansky) combined some eastern and western religious works and wrote versions of this saying proverb. But I digress (again), Sanford presented this idea of readiness and said that the student needs to be ready for the situation as well. We could get a little existential about readiness for lessons or teaching. Let’s just know that any time is not always a perfect time.   This brings us to what I think is also an important part of challenge and support — WAIT. No, not the wait staff….just, wait! We need to wait to see if our glass of challenge/support worked. We need to wait to see if it was appreciated. We need to wait to see if the person will acknowledge our part in their development. That could take 5 minutes….and we could wait forever. We can’t control that part. Really, at this point it isn’t about us. It is about the student.

Numerator or denominator
The reciprocal of challenge and support is probably…well support and challenge. Those students, followers, mutual leaders in the group will be teaching us things as well. It is ok to be the student who is ready when your teacher appears. This leadership thing has something to do with having the ability to accept the mutual experience of learning together. Our process as a leader is a constant experience of practice. Support comes from those we work with – which may be too much or too little. And the same is true with how others challenge us. Accept both as times to learn and grow. Don’t discount personal challenge and support either – we do tend to be our harshest critic. What have you challenged yourself to do or learn? How do you support your mental health and celebrate your wins? Avoid being that irrational number or the improper fraction – for others, from others, for yourself.

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Death cards & stoplights

ChangeStoplight Games of Chance
I grew up in Nevada. Gaming was all around me – casinos, supermarkets, airports, convenience stores, many would think this is gambling (which it really is, I am not pretending it isn’t). But, a teaching point here – In Nevada it is referred to as gaming. (This portends a level playing field and sports like doesn’t it? See previous post on Perception is Everything, case in point here.) For now, let’s stick with gambling which is wagering money/stakes on games of chance. We also gamble if we take a chance with something in life. Writing this without saving my work along the way is gambling that the computer may freeze, or something could happen that I lose all of this good stuff. It has happened. I obsessively include keystrokes to save my work as I type along, <control-S>ing as we speak. Think about poker, there are many different ways to play, amounts we can bet, strategies to win. We learn to have a poker face. We play our cards close to the vest to protect our hand. I think the great philosopher had it right when he reminds us –

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser…
Thank you Kenny Rogers.

It’s true that every hand is a winner and/or a loser. There is simultaneity in these games of chance, whether they are poker or the game of life. We all have decisions to make at every turn of the hour, day, month, year, career and beyond. How we play these games is probably related to how we make decisions and approach our work with others. There are times to stay in the game and other times we move to another table and try our luck again. Every gambler knows…right?

I played poker with the tarot and four people died. Actually, that is a line from the monotone comic Steven Wright. I love his deadpan delivery. Of course, dry humor IS the highest form of comedy. Now speaking of dead I was recently thinking about the meaning of the death card in the tarot deck. Yep, I was just sitting there standing there one day and something made me think of this card and its interpretation.

Death card the big change
I was thinking about this card and what it means within a reading. I did not know there are stories associated with each of the cards. This death card is about CHANGE, EXPOSURE, TERMINATION, INEVITABILITY, and TRANSITION. Death provides a metaphor for transition. Whoa, that could be the understatement of the year, eh? Many groups and religions explain death and see it as someone making their transition somehow whether to heaven or somehow changing form and being. I love how Nichiren Buddhism explains death as a part of life, rather an extension of life itself. This concept of the self continues after our death. Think about loved ones who have transitioned and how you talk about them. We tell stories. We carry their legacy. The legacy of who they were, and what they did. The essence of their self continues forever. This forever makes it pretty important to BE while we’re alive.

If you look into dictionary about the symbolism of dreams the meaning of death, have very similar change or transition meanings. Some counseling theories/therapies make use of asking what one is dreaming about. Carl Jung discusses the meaning and uses of dreams within his writings.

The ONE thing that we can count on is change. I am not claiming that phrase as my own, but I couldn’t find anyone to credit. Whether we are moving from one grade to another, getting to graduation day, weddings, or closing out the budget year we are in a constant cycle of change and closure. While we are growing up we are transitioning (remember puberty? holy change batman).

Relationships, friendships, vacations, living spaces, jobs …Lions, tigers and bears….things end. Things change. Things die. Careers shift and things change at work and we find ourselves in transition. Some of the time we control and cause the transition and in some cases, the circumstances force our hand to move to the next chapter. In either situation, we can look at the change as a curse or a victory. The final death card is indeed pretty final. But the intermediary death cards, these are transition points and times to refocus.

Dr. Nikki Giovanni is a poet and professor. She was at Virginia Tech when the campus shooting occurred there (2007). I first noticed her work during that news coverage. Recently, I found her quote, “A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.” Read it again and emphasize the E-words: Enjoy and Embrace.

Bridges’ Model
Dr. William Bridges, Change Consultant, has a transition model. Its simplicity is beautiful: Ending, Neutral Zone, New Beginning. You have to end something, go through some time of uncertainty, then begin something new. Think of a standard stoplight at the intersection – red, yellow, green.

RED – Stop. Things end. There has to be an ending. If we don’t have some termination then things are unclear, it is uncomfortable, we have unfinished business. It is like rolling through the stop sign, we know we shouldn’t and sometimes it works. BUT at some point “breaking the law” will catch up with you. Ticket.

Yellow– This is the neutral zone of what do we do now? There are no set rules. We need to get our wits about us. New normal has to be established and this time-period can be tough. When the light turns yellow there’s quick glance at the intersection, glace to the mirrors and that split second decision weighing the odds of stopping or the gun-it gamble flashes through our minds.

Green – Enthusiasm. Why didn’t I do this sooner thoughts. There is more hope than fear. We can now move on and head toward the next intersection with some confidence. We have established a new beginning. Pass Go. Collect $200.

There is life after death (um, maybe that is another blog post all together)…metaphorically speaking of course. Transitions, change, and movement are the ingredients of an exciting and adventurous process and life. We love the changes and the transitions that happen. Letting go of the control of some of these is within all of our ability. How we handle the transitions and changes is probably more of an indicator of leadership than many other things. What was your last intersection? How long did the light stay yellow? How bright was the green light in the end?

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