Don’t Focus on Breaking Old Habits.


thumbs down up fullFor the most part, our habits are more visible to others than they are to ourselves. They are, by definition, “routine.” We don’t think about them before we do them; we aren’t aware that we are doing them; and too often we don’t notice that we have done them. Others may anticipate them… “This is when she always turns her notepad over and looks with disdain across her desk.” They certainly recognize them… “Here he goes again. One. Two. Three. Beet red and now the fist pounds the table.” But, for the most part it is only afterwards that we think, “I need to stop doing that,” if we even know that we just did it.

The problem is, stopping doing that, whatever that is, can be extremely difficult. Breaking a habit means Continue reading

“No Time Outs, No Substitutions”


Daryl PhotoIf you know Daryl Conner, you’ve heard this before. Daryl was my first true change mentor; I am 99.9% sure I heard “No time outs, no substitutions” in my first class with him in 1988. I still “hear” it in his writings and hear it in his speeches and conversations with clients on a regular basis.

No time outs, no substitutions.

It’s a great sound byte. it conveys at least two important messages in five simple words. But, when it comes to change, what does it really mean? And, is it true?

No Time Outs

I interpret this part of the statement in two different, and complementary, ways.

First, you can’t take a time out from change…Many changes that affect you will continue to move forward, whether you engage with them or not. Social change–while it often feels like it is crawling for those engaged with it–is ongoing. Change in our organizations is a constant; this means for most of us who are other than self-employed, unemployed, or retired, we need to change to align with what our organizations are expecting of us, or we need to change the organization we are aligned with. Likewise, we experience some level of change in our personal lives, if only to keep up with those social and organizational changes that are shifting the world in which we live.

Then there are changes in our personal lives that we drive, or that others are driving but which affect us. Our children grow up, go away to school, move home again after graduation (or not) and start their own families. Divorce. Remarriage. New leisure activities, and/or major changes in the ones that we have engaged in for decades due to new technologies, new tools, and/or the demise of the old. A new home, or remodeling and renovation of the old one. The changes that pervade our personal lives are endless, leaving virtually every one of us, at some time or another, wishing we could just “close the door and hide from the world.”

This leads to my second interpretation of “No time outs.” We all know someone who has, at least to a significant degree, “closed the door and hid from the world.” The problem with doing so for any period of time is that you end up causing yourself major change and stress in a totally unanticipated way…as you remain relatively static, the world around you continues to change. Inevitably, you become more and more isolated from that world as it becomes more and more distant to you.

It’s true. When it comes to change, there are no time outs. 

No Substitutions

If you are touched by a change, you have one or more roles in it. Your role, or roles, are determined by the change and your relationship to it. While different change methodologies use different labels (and sometimes different definitions), there are two broadly defined change roles–“target” and “sponsor”–that I will briefly address here; the role labels and definitions come from the Conner Partners change methodology, but are found in many other approaches as well. As you will see, these roles are independent of the scope of the change (personal, organization, or societal).

The role that you will have, regardless of any other, is that of “target.” Every change requires shifts in thinking and/or behavior for one or more individuals, the “targets” of the change. Whether you are initiating the change, advocating for it, or supporting its execution, it is likely that you will have to make changes in your own thinking and/or behavior for the change to be successful. There is no substitution; if you step away from the change–refuse to be a target–we are back to the second part of the “no time outs” conversation above; you are becoming the target of a different change.

“Sponsors” of change are those responsible for communicating the change, and for holding people accountable–through consequences–for its execution. All too often, especially in organizations, people will try to substitute sponsors. The chief technology officer is called the sponsor of the new human resources system, even though she has no authority to administer consequences (positive or negative) beyond her own department; a chief medical officer is called the sponsor of the hospital merger, even though he has consequence control over only some of the medical staff and employees of the two institutions.  In neither of these cases is the change likely to deliver its desired results.

At the personal level, parents are often sponsors of change in their children’s lives; you can’t delegate parenting. Sometimes you are the target to yourself as a sponsor. For example, when you make the decision to change careers and return to school, others can cheer you on, or support you by taking over household chores and not disrupting you while you study…but you are the one that holds yourself accountable for whether or not you do study. No one can substitute for you in this sponsor role.

We often talk about change advocates and agents, along with targets and sponsors. To the degree that these individuals are outside of the change, they are replaceable. However, to the degree that they are themselves targets and/or sponsors of the change, there are no substitutions.

It’s true. When it comes to change, there are no substitutions.

Have you found a way to take a time out, or make a substitution during change?





What’s Self-Care Got to Do With It?


gym weightsIt’s amazing how often our misconceptions take us down the wrong path.

  • We think that the way to get ahead is to work harder than anyone else.
  • The path to professional success is personal sacrifice.
  • Sleeping less will give us more time for productive work.
  • Daydreaming is a waste of time.
  • We can just “push through it,” whatever it is.
  • Work is work, and our personal lives are our personal lives.


The truth is, we know that getting ahead isn’t about working harder than anyone else. Personal sacrifice can be taken to extremes, damaging or destroying our relationships and our support networks. Sleeping less not only leaves us tired; it can leave us with the same functional ability as if we were intoxicated. Allowing ourselves to daydream can open the door to creative, innovative solutions to problems that hours of holding our heads in our hands while staring at a blank page (or screen) failed to yield. Pushing through may work sometimes; it is far from a strategy for success. And, as much as some of us would like it to be the case, we are not separate people at work and at home. What happens at work doesn’t stay at work any more than what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, and vice versa.

All of this is to say that, whether you are engaged in a change in your personal life or at work, self-care is critical to your success. Quite simply, when properly practiced, self-care allows our bodies and our minds to perform at their peak. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, won’t get tired, won’t ever be angered, or disappointed, or feeling down. It does mean that we will experience these things less often, and recover from them more quickly.

There is no “one size fits all” guide book for self-care, though many authors have become rich promoting their own versions of it. What I can offer you is guidance on things to consider as possible elements of your self-care regimen. (Note that many of these topics have been addressed in the context of other posts to my blog.)

Find–and Maintain–Your  Balance: as I once read from a fortune cookie, “balance is more than not falling down.” There are many aspects of balance to work on: personal and professional; alone time and time with others; working and relaxing; sleep and awake; physical vs. mental activity; etc. Maintaining balance is a dynamic process. Not every workday is eight hours; not every weekend is entirely under your control. For this reason, it is important to be mindful of when you are in, and out of, balance. Its all too easy to slide more and more out of balance until all aspects of your balance are askew.

Know Your Stressors, and How to Counteract Them: Some of the things that cause me tremendous stress might be invisible to you, and vice versa. Being aware of what causes you stress, and acting to reduce it, are critical components of self-care.

Eat, Sleep, and Exercise: While these elements of daily living also fall into the “find your balance” description above, it is worth calling them out on their own. Healthy eating, proper sleep patterns, and judicious exercise all contribute to developing and maintaining your well-being.

Develop a Routine: Routines are important contributors to self-care in numerous ways. They free up mental energy; they allow you to ensure that critical elements of care (e.g. eating, sleeping, and exercise) are taken care of; overall, they allow your day-to-day to be less demanding and stressing. Contrary to what some people think, a routine doesn’t have to make life boring; I have one client who sets aside time regularly by holding it on her calendar as “WFIFL” (Whatever Fun I Feel Like). One time it may be a movie, another a nap with a book or a walk in the park; once it was a trapeze lesson!

“Take a Break:” Big changes are tough. No matter how much self-care you put into it, they still wear us down. Just like athletes allow themselves time for recovery, we need to take a break from time to time to re-energize ourselves. This can be a good time to reflect on where we have been and the journey we’ve traveled; to laugh at some of what has happened along the way; to celebrate our achievements; and to prepare for the next part of the journey.

Don’t Walk Alone: Too many of us–especially men–pass judgment on ourselves, fostering the unrealistic belief that we should be able to handle anything and everything ourselves. We see asking for help, or sharing our challenges with others, as a sign of weakness or incompetence. I, for one, see it as a sign of strength, of maturity, and of honesty. Even the gods of ancient Greece had flaws and weaknesses. None of us is super-human. If your change journey is big, find someone to walk it with you. Look for someone who is objectively invested in your success; who will speak clearly, directly, and truthfully to you; and whom you respect.

Have a Sanctuary: Each of us needs a sanctuary for our self-care. For some people, this is a place of religious worship: a temple, a mosque, and church. Others find it in nature. Mine is on my yoga mat and prayer bench; my son’s is at the gym. Finding and staying connected to the spiritual side of yourself is an important element of self-care.

Laugh: Really laugh. Belly laugh. Startle the people down the hall laugh. If you don’t believe that “laughter is the best medicine,” read Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins. Laughter is healing. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Don’t hold in the laughter. Laugh.

How do you take care of yourself when journeying through major change? Comment below.




Dream the Impossible.


iStock_000004817114verysmallI spent this weekend fostering dreams. No, I wasn’t working in a sleep-deprivation lab… I was facilitating an intent workshop for a client. They are a small nonprofit, founded to memorialize and honor the victim of a hate crime. In their early years, they focused on creating a physical memorial (a bench with a plaque) in his name, and provided victim services. They testified on behalf of hate crime legislation. Everything was done by volunteers. Most of them moved on. The organization languished.

However, one person kept the spark alive. He knew the work wasn’t done. He wasn’t ready to let the memory fade, or the underlying causes of the attack be left unchallenged. He still feels the pain of loss, the shock of a friend dead because of who he was.

He struck on an idea: produce children’s videos that address issues of difference and acceptance. He found a college teacher who was willing to make this a class assignment. An educator offered insights into key elements of the content. Students storyboarded, presented, and produced two videos.

Now, where do they go from here?

The typical response would be to “grow bigger.” Establish a funding stream. Find money to hire a staff. Produce more videos. Market them. In fact, this was the approach a graduate student in nonprofit management recommended as he helped them to produce a strategic plan. The plan is sound. It highlights many of the challenges that the organization faces, and provides practical guidance for addressing them. In fact, we will be drawing from the plan as we move forward with the process that started this weekend. But, we are not moving forward by figuring out how they “grow bigger” and produce more videos. Instead, we started off by dreaming. We took to heart the counsel provided by George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” We became unreasonable.

It is 2020. We are fostering social change in thinking and action, moving beyond tolerance to embrace diversity, empathy, acceptance, and non-judgement. What are we delivering to children, to their parents, to teachers, to learning systems (schools, youth groups, etc.), to our funders, and to the organization itself? What do we need to put in place to produce the outcomes that we are seeking to achieve?

We spent two solid days in the world of the future.

(Sometimes, when I am working with individual clients, I will ask them to not only visualize the future, but to describe what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, tastes like, feels like. It’s the difference between saying, “I plan to move to the beach in three years,” and saying, “Here I am…my first morning waking up in my beach house. The sound of the surf guided me to sleep last night; as I wake up, I can smell the ocean on the breeze that is blowing across my bed…”)

We clarified the organizational intent. We defined, at a high level, how they will deliver on that intent. We developed principles for decision-making and design as they move forward. We validated our work.

We have a lot of work ahead of us before they “begin building the organization.” We need to figure out all of the pieces that need to be put in place to actually deliver on the intent we have shaped. We need to determine which ones they can hope to achieve, and what it means if they don’t achieve the others. We need a roadmap forward. We need the story of how they get from here to there, and what life will be like when they do.

But what we have put in place is the foundation for a “there” that is much different than a video library. It is a future that focuses on results, not actions or products. It is a future that builds strength through diversity. It is a future in which the organization is an exemplar of its own message, and is a leader in helping us as a society move toward oneness: not a oneness of homogeneity, but one of an integrated and diverse community.

How far will they get in four years? That remains to be seen. What I do know is that it is infinitely further than if they hadn’t dreamed of living in that 2020 world, if they sat down and began by planning to move forward from 2016 rather than dreaming the impossible, if they hadn’t had the courage to be unreasonable.

Your comments are welcome below.



Listen to Henry Ford…


untitledToday’s post is more personal than most. It is a story about my son, Brandon, and holds an important lesson for each of us.

As you may recall from an audio post I made to my blog last year, Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge, Brandon is adopted. I first met Brandon when he was 15 years old. He reached out to request an interview for a photography project he was doing in school. He had to write the biography of his favorite photographer and, he told me, “I Googled gay photographers, and you’re my favorite.”

During the course of the interview Brandon learned a bit about me, and I learned a bit about him. Most importantly, I learned that he was living in an abusive home environment, and attending a school where he was getting assaulted on a regular basis. Moreover, he didn’t have an adult figure in his life that he could turn to for guidance, and whom he could trust. I offered him the opportunity to stay in touch, and he accepted.

As time went on, I learned that at home Brandon was told that because he is gay, he would never amount to anything, that he would end up living on the streets. School was not much better. Students would stand outside in the morning, praying for him. A teacher once asked whether he was ever going to “get better.” And he was told he would end up as a hairdresser or florist.

When I first began talking with Brandon about his future, he was already committed to moving beyond the “guidance” he was receiving from others; he had identified a one-year photography trade school that he hoped to attend. As a sometime photographer who knows how difficult it is to make a living that way, I encouraged him to think in terms of “both/and.” What would he like to study in addition to photography?

By the time Brandon graduated high school, he had been thrown out of his home, and I had taken him in. He had been accepted into a five year BA/BFA program at The New School in New York City, with plans to major in psychology (BA) and photography (BFA). Midway through his sophomore year, he made the decision to discontinue the photography major, and focus fully on psychology.

The next year he applied for, and was admitted to, a BA/MA program. This program allowed him to take graduate-level courses his junior and senior years, and granted him provisional admission to continue on for his masters degree without going through the traditional GRE and admissions process. His senior year courses would also be credited toward his MA. This fall, Brandon was notified that he was admitted to graduate school at The New School. Last month he completed his BA; while he doesn’t yet have all of his grades for the semester, his final undergraduate GPA will be in the vicinity of 3.9. At the end of this month he begins his final year of the MA program, majoring in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling. And, over the winter break, he has begun training as a professional mediator.

The journey has not been easy for Brandon. If he had believed in the future that others predicted for him, he may never have even reached out to me. But he shut out those voices in favor of his own. And, despite the negativity of so many people in the first eighteen years of his life, Brandon is creating a positive future for himself…one in which he will be helping others to believe in themselves as well.

Brandon hadn’t heard this quote of Henry Ford’s until well along in his journey. Nonetheless, he has shown us all how true it is. “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t, you are right.”

As you move through the challenges of the new year, think you can!

Comment below.

What Are You Giving Yourself for the Holidays?


bags 3 whiteWith the holiday season upon us, what gifts are you giving yourself?

No, I am not talking about a new car, the getaway vacation, or that piece of expensive jewelry you have been craving. I am talking about something you so much more deserve, and that is available to you no matter what is in your bank account.

In my work with clients, both at the personal and at the organizational level, there are a number of gifts that I encourage them to give themselves. Consider this a gift list from which to choose for yourself.

Passion: Today I was speaking with someone about my long-term engagement with photography. It will most likely never pay the bills for me. But when I pick up the camera, I am “in the zone.” The images that I produce receive critical acclaim; they are selected for juried exhibitions and museum collections; and they sometimes cause people to see the world around them–and even themselves–differently. I get the same feeling when I am working with people facing, and moving through, difficult change.

What are you passionate about? Where and how are you expressing that passion in your life today? If you don’t know what it is, give yourself the gift of Exploration…discover it. If you know it, but aren’t expressing it, give yourself the gift of Next Steps. Don’t spend another year regretting that you haven’t done what you could about whatever is really important to you.

Exploration: Discover your passion. What is your “why?” What touches your heart, your soul, your very being. For some people, the answer becomes obvious quickly; for others, it requires reflection. Allow yourself that time and space. Make that a gift to yourself.

Next Steps: If you know your passion, don’t save it for retirement, or “until things slow down.” Even if it is something that requires a considerable investment of time, money, energy, etc., there is something that you can be doing about it now.

I recently spoke with someone whose work options are constrained by the visa that he has. It is work that he is good at, but it is very different than his passion for a more creative writing career. My encouragement was to write, to take courses at the local community college, and/or participate in weekend workshops.

Starting to build that platform now will allow you to launch more fully into the passion when circumstances allow. What is that first, or next, step that you can take to pursue your passion? It is most likely a better investment than the ring you were considering buying for yourself.

Patience: Sometimes I hear, “Why start now? It is so long before I can really make this work.” That may be true. But if you wait until that “so long” has passed in order to get started, it will be an even longer time before you are making it work.

If making a new passion a more integral part of your life is a big change, it isn’t going to happen over night. It is going to require patience. Having a clear picture of what it will be like once you have achieved it, and knowing that you are taking concrete steps to do so, will keep you motivated. Being patient with yourself and with the journey is a great gift to give yourself.

Being Human: We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all hear things wrong. We all see things wrong. We all read things wrong. We all misinterpret things. We all make bad choices. We all take the wrong turn sometimes. Allow yourself to be human. Acknowledge what went wrong; if at all possible figure out why and learn from it. Then move on.

Love and Acceptance: Most of us do the best we know how. Sometimes it is good enough, sometimes it is great, and sometimes no matter how hard we try, we can’t pull it off. Sometimes we make great progress in what seems an impossibly short period of time; sometimes we seem to be going nowhere, sitting in neutral. At the end of the day, give yourself love and acceptance. This is where you are now; this is who you are now. Tomorrow you have the opportunity to pursue your passion, explore, take next steps, be patient, and be human all over again.

What gifts are you giving yourself this holiday season? Comment below.

NOTE: On Tuesday, December 29 I will be republishing “New Year’s Resolutions: Resolve for Results, Not Just Action.” Many people have found this post a useful guide for helping them establish more meaningful New Year’s resolutions.


“What Does Mary Think?”


iStock_000000227687_SmallWhether asked aloud or not, all too often the opinions of others are an important consideration when thinking about and executing change. As we have discussed in earlier blogs, it is important to get input from a range of people who will be affected by the change. It can inform decisions about what to change, when to change, and how to execute the change. So, asking, What does Mary think? makes sense when done at the right time, and in the right way. But, all too often, how we respond to the answer does not.

I had just begun grad school in September 1971 when I received my draft notice. In order to complete the semester, I enrolled “delayed enlistment” in the US Air Force; I began basic training in early 1972. Among the 48 men in our training group was “Airman Jones.” Airman Jones was from a rural part of the country, not highly educated, and not very coordinated. At the same time, he was good humored, and was one of the most hard-working people I have ever known. Everyone was willing to put in an extra effort to make sure that he was able to keep up with the rest of us in meeting our academic and physical requirements. What we never were able to do, however, was to train him to stay in step when marching. Sometimes he would step off with the wrong foot, sometimes not. It really didn’t matter; either way, he would regularly drift in and out of step with the other 47 of us.

There is a marching command, “Change Step, March.” On the word “March,” everyone does a quick “step-step” within a single beat of the cadence. The result is that you essentially are marching “Left. Right. Left. Right-Right. Left. Right.” We became very skilled at executing this command, which was given with one slight modification… “With the exception of Airman Jones, Change Step, March.” The result, 47 of us were regularly adjusting our pace to be in step with the one person who could not stay in step with us.

I tell this story because it is much like asking, “What does Mary think?” and then adjusting to align with the answer, regardless of what it is. And, when it comes to change, in one way or another this happens all too often. The top salesperson is allowed to maintain an administrative assistant and call his orders in rather than moving to filing them digitally on a tablet because “Tom isn’t technically savvy and he is too important to lose.” The CIO agrees to keep shadow systems running for the CFO because she doesn’t like “making all that information so readily available to others.” Joe’s newspaper continues to get delivered to the apartment door even though he has long-since moved out because “What would the neighbors think if they find out we are getting a divorce?” If Tom doesn’t need to become digitally savvy, the word soon spreads that you are not really serious about the change. If the CFO can run shadow systems to continue to maintain control over information, the purchasing department in Des Moines will be doing the same thing soon enough. And, sooner or later, the neighbor will know Joe is no longer living there, and why…and will most likely just shrug and go about her own business.

If the change is big, it’s tough. And when you are executing tough change, people are not going to be happy. If it is really okay to adapt the change when it makes Mary, or Tom, or you uncomfortable, then how important is it?

If it’s that big and that unimportant, why are you doing it? If it’s that big and that important, then be respectful of the discomfort it is causing. And continue to move forward.

What do you think? Comments and your own related stories are welcomed below.