Archive for February, 2015

This morning, gentle reader, we will continue our brief exploration of four ‘Vision’ considerations.

2.) With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in our country there emerged a new social contract: long-term loyalty. The person (and in many cases the person’s son or daughter) would work in the same organization until retirement and the organization would, like a benevolent patriarch, take care of the employee. A brief study of organizational life today confirms that this social contract is no longer operative. Industry is no longer the back-bone of our economy – it has gone the route of the farm – some industries still exist here but they are no long near the norm.

The social contract is not ‘dead’ however. There are folks who enter and remain for years in an organization. Why? It appears for two reasons: Commitment and Emotional-Ownership of the Vision. Commitment is rooted in ‘Caring.’ I care about the people I work with, about the service we provide, about those who benefit from our service, and I care about high achievement. I care enough to freely give my discretionary energy to my work; this is the energy that money cannot buy. In addition to ‘commitment’ I also freely choose to emotionally own the Vision. The Vision stimulates my spirit and passion for who we are as an organization. I have helped emerge the Vision and so I claim ownership of the Vision. Commitment and Emotional-Ownership are integral to one another; in order to thrive they need one another.

Commitment is an act, not a word. –Sartre

3.) W. Edwards Deming’s quality movement in Japan dramatically changed the meaning of ‘quality’ for organizations. Today ‘quality’ continues to be a word that is espoused, if not lived out, by many, if not all, organizations. A ‘compelling Vision’ and a ‘Commitment to Quality’ helps engender emotional ownership. In the early 1980’s Harley Davidson had gone from making the best motorcycle in the world to making the worst. The Board of Directors decided to purchase HD back from Brunswick (who had expanded from bowling balls to motorcycles – not a good fit) and then to emerge a new, compelling vision and then to hire someone from outside of the industry to lead HD. The new president met with the employees in Milwaukee and told them that they, not he, knew how to make the best motorcycle in the world. Their task was to design the processes that would enable them to do so; his job was to listen to them and to ensure they would receive the resources they needed. The Vision, plus the challenge, plus the belief in others, plus the commitment to them and to quality resulted in HD once again producing the best motorcycle in the world.

Quality is not an act, it is a habit. –Aristotle

4.) Because our culture is rooted in a war metaphor, we value ‘strategic planning.’ I cannot begin to count the number of organizations that have developed a strategic plan, bound it nicely and put it on the shelf. I have experienced that organizations that emerge a ‘Developmental Plan’ are more likely to actually use the plan. A Developmental Plan is rooted in the Purpose, Vision, and Mission. Some guiding questions might be helpful: ‘Who are we?’ ‘Why do we exist?’ ‘What needs do we meet?’ ‘What do we truly seek to accomplish – and Why?’ ‘What is the path we are following – Why this path?’ (or ‘What is the story that we are writing – Why this story?’). ‘To what extent are we living out the Purpose, the Vision and the Mission that we espouse?’ ‘How many of us emotionally-own the Purpose, the Vision and the Mission – How do we know?’

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. –Helen Keller

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We humans have been having visions for thousands of years. Some visions emerge from within individuals, some emerge from within dyadic relationships, and some emerge from within any organized group of three or more folks. There is an ancient belief that ‘where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Another ancient version of this is that ‘where there is no vision, the people cast off self-restraint.’ Given its historical staying power ‘vision’ must be, it seems to me anyway, essential to life itself. Could it be that without vision individuals, relationships and groups (communities, organizations, institutions, etc.) would not be able to survive – literally survive?

This morning, gentle reader, I invite you to explore with me ‘Vision’ as expressed by organized groups of three or more folks. In our culture ‘Vision’ has become one of those concepts that has become common to nearly all organized groups of three or more folks. The question is not ‘Does your organization have a stated Vision?’ The question is: ‘To what extent does your organization actually live into and out of your stated Vision?’ I have a hunch that for nearly all organizations there exists a gap between the Vision-Espoused and the Vision-Lived. Why? Simply because we humans are imperfect beings; we can become more consistent – we can never become perfect. But this gap and how we might close it is not my focus this morning. This morning I invite us to explore four ‘Vision’ considerations.

Before we continue a definition or two of ‘Vision’ might be helpful. I define ‘Vision’ simply as ‘the Big Dream.’ Here is a definition of ‘Vision’ that my friend and colleague, Richard Broholm, emerged: Vision = ‘a valued image of the future which connects to our sense of purpose and draws forth the commitment of our energy.’

1.) In our culture, which is an entrepreneurial culture, a vision emerges from the organization’s Founder(s). If it is compelling enough others join up. If the organization is ‘successful’ then the vision is integrated and becomes part of the culture. Initially it is passed on to the next generation and yet within three or four generations the vision has moved to the back-ground. For the most part, the third and fourth generations are removed from the Founder(s) and more often than not the ‘new leader’ at the top will seek to bring his/her vision to the organization. Sometimes the new vision is a compelling one and folks are moved to embrace it; sometimes the vision is not compelling at all and folks ignore the vision (they might well give lip-service to the vision – they will espouse it – too often they will not embrace it). A vision emanating from the leader-at-the-top might engender compliance or adaptation; if the leader is ‘charismatic’ and persuasive (emotionally and/or logically) people might buy-in to the vision (consider that they are actually buying into the leader). They will not emotionally-own the vision.

Consider that ‘emotional-ownership’ is more likely to occur if the vision is emerged by the collective; it becomes what we call ‘a shared vision.’ The significance of emerging a ‘shared vision’ is that the organization benefits from all four responses: compliance, adaptation, buy-in, and emotional-ownership. Any organization that has attempted to emerge a shared vision knows how daunting a challenge this is. Unfortunately, too many organizations are not willing to invest the time, energy and resources that are required in order to emerge a ‘shared vison.’

I invite you, gentle reader, to pause and reflect: ‘How healthy is your organization’s vision?’ What are the gaps between the ‘vision-espoused’ and the ‘vision-lived’?

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This morning I had a topic in mind for today’s posting and as I was searching in my little black books for a particular quotation I decided to share with you, gentle reader, something else. I decided to share with you a few ‘observations’ from two of my little black books. The following are not listed in any order of importance. One or two of them might resonate with you or challenge you or stimulate your own thinking. Then, again, who knows. . .

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ –Annie Dillard

The rain cloud of adversity is spreading over their heads. Calamity is showing itself. . . From left and right is coming the cry; ‘Who were you yesterday, and what have you become today! Just now you were awake, and now you have gone to sleep!’ –Hali, 1879 (Muslim Poet)

You are given three names in life. The one you inherit. The one your parents give you and the name you make for yourself. –Abraham Lincoln

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. –Carl Jung

You can’t kill yourself and deprive your children the opportunity to reject you. –My Therapist, 1965

Being incapable of thought, he tinkered with actions.

The problem: We continue to create God in our image. –Rabbi Abraham

It’s better to be convinced than correct! –Pro Golfer

Three Questions regarding your life’s purpose: (1) What were you trying to achieve? (2) Did you succeed? (3) Was it worth doing? –Henry James

Two fears I hold: (1) fears about myself prevents me from doing my best work; (2) fears about my reception by others prevents me from doing my own work.

Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate in retail and then kills us wholesale in war; but only wisdom – desire coordinated with the light of all experience – can tell us when to heal and when to kill. –Will Durant

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. –Walt Whitman

The whole crux of life…is that it constantly requires the living reconciliation of opposites which in strict logic are irreconcilable. –E.F. Schumacher

You have to separate in order to unite, because unity means two unique things that meet, not two fuzzy things that merge. –Helen M. Luke

Know that every deed counts, that every word is power…above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art…–Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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I opened my eyes. The room was dark, my soul was darker still – darker than the dark night of the soul. I could not see my hand nor my future. I paused. I turned on the lamp that was on the table next to my bed. I looked at the alarm clock – 1:30am on 21 February, 1965.

I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at the university. I had just switched majors for the third time; it was a symbol of my wandering around in the darkness. I was beyond depression; I was numb.

During the winter months, one of the favorite ways for students to kill themselves at this university was to over-dress, walk to one end of the two lakes on campus (the one that always had a small part open due to the water being piped into it from the student laundry) and then to step into the water and allow the weight of the clothes to help drag you to the bottom.

I dressed slowly. I layered two pair of pants and covered these with a pair of sweat pants. I put on my heaviest winter boots. I covered my upper body in four layers of shirts and sweat shirts and topped it all off with my heavy winter coat, fur lined gloves and covered my head with a hat which was covered with a ski cap.

I slowly waddled my way down the steps; I opened the door. I paused. I stepped into the darkness. I had to walk around the first lake – the frozen lake – in order to reach the small opening at the end of the other lake.

On 21 February, 2010 I wrote a poem that captured what followed once I reached the opening in the lake. The poem follows. Following the poem is a photo of that lake.


I stood in the dark night of winter
peering into the water that seemed
so inviting. Like a polar bear, I
was covered in layers of warm clothing.
Like a polar bear I was there to take a swim
in the cold winter water. Unlike the polar
bear I was not there to seek nourishment but

The dark night of my own winter had
become unbearable and so I stood
contemplating one final step into the deep
that would provide relief. One step.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

In the wintery silence of my soul I heard a
whisper; a tiny voice struggled to be heard
amidst the noise of my silence.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The whisper grew in intensity
and clarity. I listened. Why don’t you
go and talk with somebody?

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The question held a bit of
light in the form of a small hope.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I turned, I took the One Step, not into
the water of relief but into the dark
that held out a small light of hope. –Richard W Smith, 21 February 2010

The Lake where I paused – then took that one step.

The Lake Where I Paused

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This morning we will conclude our brief exploration of the ‘Five Levels’ by exploring Level Four and Level Five. As I mentioned earlier, for the Leader-Led relationship (i.e. ‘leadership’) the most daunting challenges manifest themselves in Levels Two and Five. Consequently, the Leader-Led relationship prefers to frame too many issues as Level One or Level Three rather than engage the more complex Level Two and Level Five issues.

Level Four Issues involve issues dealing with ‘Purpose,’ Vision,’ and/or ‘Mission.’ How often does your organization ask: ‘What is our Purpose?’ ‘Why do we exist?’ My experience is that an organization cannot ask these questions often enough. A common response I receive when I suggest that this is so is: ‘Everybody knows why we exist.’ Then when I wander around an organization and ask folks these two questions I learn that the reason for the organization’s existence is legion. In 1946 the founder of a construction company (that is alive and well today) declared that the purpose for their existence was to help all grow and develop – personally and professionally. What the founder knew as construction and so that was the vehicle used to help folks grow and develop. Twenty-seven years ago I spent some time with the members of a medical practice – the docs were surgeons, specialists. Their espoused Purpose, which was literally carved in stone, read: ‘To serve all those who come through our doors.’ Nice. However, their lived Purpose, which the docs had put in writing and which they all had signed, read: ‘To maximize profits for each of us.’ They could not understand why they were not able to have it both ways.

Vision (the Big Dream) and Mission (what we do every day to live out our Purpose and live into the Big Dream) are rooted in Purpose. When all three are in alignment then great things can happen for an organization. When there is dissonance there is confusion, if not conflict. A few guiding questions: ‘What is the Purpose, Vision and Mission we espouse?’ ‘What is the Purpose, Vision, Mission that we actually live out?’ ‘What is the gap between what we espouse and what we live out?’ ‘What are we doing to close the gap?’

Level Five Issues are inherently complicated simply because of the number of elements that constitute the make-up for Level Five. Here are some of the elements (a less than complete list): Core Values, Core Guiding Principles, Core Deep Assumptions, Core Beliefs, prejudices, perceptions, stereotypes, and attitudes. These are powerful tap roots that frame and influence, if not directly determine, the other four levels. The sheer number of them complicates things; the other dynamic that complicates things is that each operates at the Personal, the Relational and the Organizational levels.

‘Core’ means that to the best of my ability I will never compromise the Value, the Guiding Principle, the Deep Assumption or the Belief. We all have integrated many of these (at all three levels – P.R.O.) and then there are 2-4 of them that are so important – they are ‘Core’ to defining who we are – that we will do our best not to compromise them. Now it is important to understand that those that are ‘Core’ are not inherently ‘virtues’ – they could be ‘vices.’ For example, ‘Greed is Good’ was ‘Core’ to a number of financial folks many years ago.

The challenge for the P.R.O. levels is to explicitly name and define each – especially the ones that are ‘Core’ and then to respond to a question or two: ‘Does this (Value, Belief, etc.) get me-us what ‘I-We’ want? What do ‘I-We’ want? There are additional steps, but this first one is perhaps the most important one.

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Thus far we have briefly explored ‘Level One Issues’ and ‘Level Two Issues.’ This morning we continue our brief ‘Five Level’ explorations.

Level Three Issues focus on ‘Structures’ and ‘Systems’. How do the organizational structures and systems generate, stimulate, enhance, support, exacerbate, deny, reframe, define, and/or affect the issues? Structures and Systems also generate, stimulate, and/or enhance, etc. certain Policies and Procedures – ‘How’ and ‘Why’ certain policies and procedures are defined and employed is directly influenced by the structures and systems.

Here are two examples: All organized groups of three or more persons emerge ‘reporting’ structures – Who reports to Who? The reporting structures are supported by a number of policies and procedures. All organized groups of three or more persons also emerge a ‘communication’ system – How do we effectively communicate with one another? The communication system is also supported by a number of policies and procedures.

‘How’ and ‘Why’ these structures and systems emerge and are integrated is directly influenced by the ‘founders’. Initially there might well be a great deal of experimentation when it comes to discerning the structures and systems that will best serve the infant organization. Over time, what proves to be ‘successful’ is integrated and over time becomes ‘This is how we do things around here’ – an organizational culture is grown. Once mature, this culture is almost impossible to change (as anyone who has attempted to change an organization’s structure or system – the resistance to this type of change is deeply rooted in the culture and the sub-cultures).

At times, the structure and/or system ‘fails.’ When this occurs, anxiety rises. A goal becomes to reduce the anxiety (not to change the structure or the system). Generally, anxiety reduction is sought via developing a new procedure or a new policy (this is why some organizations have developed massive tomes containing innumerable policies and procedures). An organizational crisis might stimulate the necessity for a change in structure or system; generally, organizations that are maintaining (think ‘surviving’) will not change their structure or systems.

Consider that structures and systems (and policies and procedures) will only support certain Level One interventions (that is, certain physical and/or social maneuvers). They will also only support certain intra-personal and/or inter-personal interventions. For certain organizations, rigidity more than flexibility is the norm. For certain organizations, maintenance rather than experimentation is the norm. Think about this: Members of an organization that have not been ‘fully integrated’ into the culture are more likely to be flexible and are more likely to be open to experimenting than those who have been fully integrated into the culture. We are familiar with the mantras of the folks who have been fully integrated: ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’ ‘We tried that once and it didn’t work!’ ‘New people should be seen and not heard!’

Organized groups of three or more will develop certain structures and systems and these will be supported by certain policies and procedures. These are necessary for the well-being of the organization. The challenge is to embrace a paradox: ‘being flexible-being rigid’ or ‘maintaining-experimenting’ or ‘to sustain-to evolve’. Both poles are necessary.

Level Three Issues are supported by both Level Four and Level Five Issues. Next time, we will briefly explore ‘Level Four Issues.’

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In Part I we briefly explored ‘Level One Issues.’ Level One Issues are resolved, primarily, by employing physical and/or social maneuvers. When physical and/or social maneuvers do not result in resolution then it is likely that the issue is, at minimum, a ‘Level Two Issue’ and these will not be resolved by physical and/or social maneuvers only.

Level Two Issues are quite common and are considerably more complex than Level One Issues. Anyone who has been part of an organization, a community or a relationship has directly experienced a Level Two Issue (as far as I can determine this means ALL OF US).

So, ‘Fred’ (a fictional character) who had always come to work on time all of a sudden developed a pattern of coming to work 40 minutes late on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You mentioned noticing this to Fred and he said he would ‘do better,’ but the pattern continued. As you reflected on Fred’s new pattern you noticed that the only thing that had changed was that a ‘begin-the-day’ meeting had been implemented on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and by coming to work 40 minutes late, Fred missed this meeting. Given this you concluded that this was not a Level One Issue (Fred had ‘tried to do better’ and nothing changed). Your intuition suggested that the Issue was a Level Two Issue and trusting your intuition you invited Fred into a searching conversation. In this case your intuition proved to be spot-on and you and Fred spent time clarifying the issue and then addressing it. Over time the issue was resolved (here, ‘over time’ meant months).

Level Two Issues are intra-personal and/or inter-personal in nature. That is, there is something going on within Fred and/or between Fred and another (or between Fred and several ‘others’). It might be that in that setting Fred felt inferior or incompetent or ignored or marginalized or inadequate. It might be that in that setting Fred had to interact with ‘Joe’ and Fred and Joe did not have a good working relationship – Fred did not trust Joe. It might be that the meeting involved the formation of a new team and Fred was anxious because he had never been on a team before – and he had internalized a self-image that was ‘poor’ at best. Fred successfully managed his high anxiety by missing the meeting (his goal was a short term ‘fix’ – he had not thought about the longer term ramifications; this is not unusual for folks who are highly anxious).

It takes great skill and capacity to help folks successfully engage Level Two Issues. As I have observed myself and others for fifty years I continue to believe that Level Two Issues are – along with Level Five Issues – the most challenging. Successfully engaging Level Two Issues is at best an art that challenges all of us – Level One interventions will not ‘fix’ a Level Two Issue (it might well exacerbate it). I also continue to observe that most organizations do not prepare folks to engage Level Two Issues (or they prepare them by training them to use Level One interventions – for example, Fred or Joe is removed from the Team). Relationships (intra-personal and inter-personal) are the tap roots that nurture the health of an organization and so Level Two Issues significantly determine the health or dis-ease of an organization.

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