Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge.


This is a personal story.

In 2009 I began mentoring a high school student. The initial connection was our shared interest in photography, but a large part of the mentoring grew out of the abuse Brandon was experiencing at home, and the assaults he, as a gay man, was suffering at school. Two years later I took him in when his family threw him out of his home. Today Brandon is my son, legally as well as emotionally.

This week we were interviewed by Dr. Linda Hoopes on her program, Resilience Radio. Listen to our story, and the role that resilience played, using the link below.

Resilience Radio Interview with Dr. Linda Hoopes

Speaking of Communicating…


iStock_000005470737SmallIn earlier posts we talked about how to create and tell your change story. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a broader look at communicating your change. In particular, I want to address: one-way communication; two-way communication; enlisting; and aligning words and actions. Each has its place when used effectively, and when used in balance. There are blogs, books, videos, guides, and research articles on all of these topics, so we aren’t going into any of them in depth… I am, however, going to provide a few key points on each one that can make a significant difference in the success of your change journey, whether personal or organizational.

In this week’s post we look at one-way communication. This one can be–and very often is–used way too much.

There is a time and a place for the “rally to the cause speech.” Certainly Martin Luther King knew this, as did President Kennedy when he launched the mission to “land a man on the moon and bring him safely home.”  In many ways, each was telling their version of the change story. Perhaps you’ll be telling your story at a town hall meeting for an organizational change. For a personal change, you may do your telling at the dinner table, or gathered together in the living room. And, whether telling the story in a small gathering or large, it is important that you be fully present with your audience, that you interact with them, respond to them and the ways in which they are responding to you, even as you communicate to them.

Most often, one-way communication takes the form of directives. Sometimes they are straight-forward (Get everything on the punch list completed this week), and sometimes they are cloaked in more polite terms (I would really appreciate it if you would get everything on the punch list completed this week). In either case, there is no uncertainty about the expectation: complete the work on the punch list. Directives will often get you compliance; they don’t generally do much in terms of building commitment.

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 50, the owner of a small business, or driving your own personal transformational change, there is one critically important time when one-way communication–as a precursor to two-way communication–is essential.

Ultimately, in each of these circumstances, you are the person accountable for the success (or failure) of the change. You have listened to others, reflected on what is in your heart, and have made the decision to move forward. That decision has to be communicated clearly and unequivocally. This isn’t the time for I’ve been thinking about… or I was wondering, what if… It is time for, I have decided…

You may want to keep the door open for discussion on how to execute the change; in fact, this is something I would recommend and we will explore more in the next post. But, once the decision has been made, you don’t want to open it up to question and challenge.

Share you experience with one-way communication during change.

Track Your Path to Success (Personal Change)


All Hands Picture OnlyHow do you measure success? What are the milestones along the way that let you know that you are–or are not–making progress? In today’s blog I offer some guidance when facing a change that is personally oriented; next week we will look at the same question through the lens of an organizational change.

In What’s Your Story? (Part 2, Guidelines 1-5 for Writing Your Story) I spoke briefly about the distinction between “installation” and “realization.” Let’s briefly revisit those distinctions first. Throughout this post I will use the example of a major career change. You are leaving your financial services career on Wall Street to become an actor; it is a passion that has burned inside you as long as you remember, and you are going to make your dream come true.

Installation is achieved when things are put in place. Installation metrics may include getting accepted to acting school; submitting your resignation; commencing training; completing your training; being selected for your first part; and completing your first acting assignment.

Realization is achieved when the promise of the change is fully delivered. perhaps, for you, realization will be when you feel secure in your ability to support yourself as an actor…no more waiting tables, valet parking cars, or serving hors d’oeuvres at catered parties.

All too often, when we plan a major change for ourselves, we start with the passion that is in our heart as our desired future state, and then we plan as if installation will get us there. Unfortunately, installation only gets us installation; it doesn’t get us realization. Nor can you start thinking about “what else do I need to do” once you have achieved installation. It is important to plan on, and move toward, realization from the outset.

If it is a big change, start by thinking through and listing out all of the major adjustments you are going to have to make not only in what you do, but in how you think. Perhaps while on Wall Street the thinking was “eating out is convenient, and I can afford it.” It may still be just as convenient, but may be much less affordable as you work your way through acting school, auditions, and your early parts as an extra or a member of the chorus. So, not only will you have to change how you spend money, you most likely have to change how you think about money. You will also probably need to make changes in where you live; your wardrobe will most likely be different; how you spend your time–including both working and non-working time–will probably change, as might when you get up and when you go to bed. They call it “major change” for a reason!

What about the people in your life? The colleagues who used to drink martinis with you before dining may be less excited about downing a shot after the final curtain call. The friends who loved getting invited to your beach house may find they have less excitement about a picnic in the park. And the family that worked and sacrificed to help you and your siblings through college so you could have a better life…perhaps they will be less than enamored with your new-found enthusiasm for what they see as a less professional, less lucrative, and less secure career path.

We touched on this briefly in the post Anchors, Aweigh, but it bears repeating here. In planning a major change, you are going to have to consider those around you. What role do they play in your life now? What role do they need to play in the transition? What role will they need to play when you achieve your desired future state? Which ones will be the same, which ones will be different, and which people will you need to end your relationship with in order to succeed?

Once you’ve listed all of the changes in thinking and behavior you can come up with, grab some sticky notes and a pen or pencil. Put each one on a separate piece of paper, and put it up on the wall (or white board, or closet door, or window). You may want to use different colors for mindsets and behaviors, or for different aspects of the change (e.g. leaving the old job; redefining relationships with people).

Now you can begin to group these together. Use your story to help you think this part through.

Let’s go back to your intent. I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor! 

Begin by defining your realization indicators. What will make you feel secure? Be specific; be sure it is measurable. You may already have some among the sticky notes you have posted; you might need to develop others.

These may be some of your metrics.

  • I have $X in the bank, of which $Y has been made as an actor.
  • For the past 18 months I have had a positive cash flow, all of it as an actor.
  • I have re-framed my lifestyle so that I am comfortable, in fact feel like I belong, in my one bedroom apartment.
  • I am entertaining family and/or friends at home at least once a month.
  • Etc.

Once you have your realization indicators (on sticky notes on the wall), think through how they might group together. Perhaps you will end up with some that have to do with financial management, others with career development, and others with lifestyle.

Next, position them in a relative sequence. The first two of the bulleted indicators may be targeted for attainment near the end of the change, as you approach full realization. The third one you might decide to position earlier in the process.

Now think through your installation indicators. Again, many of these may come from the sticky notes you have already developed.  What do you have to put in place in order to achieve each of the realization indicators? For example, what will it take for you to move out of your three bedroom and feel comfortable in a one bedroom apartment?

  • I have identified the characteristics of a living space in which I can be comfortable (a more open plan vs. individual rooms, whether a view is needed, etc.).
  • I have pared down my positions so that I have what I can comfortably live with inside the new apartment.
  • I have a plan in place for ensuring that I don’t begin to clutter my space.
  • I have defined the type of neighborhood in which I will be comfortable.
  • I have found, leased, and moved into my new apartment.
  • Etc.

    Look at the sticky notes that you first put on the wall, and that have not become either realization or installation indicators. Ask yourself two questions.

  • Have I identified an indicator that this contributes to achieving?
  • If not, am I missing an indicator, or is this unnecessary?

You should end up with a series of “work streams” made up of installation and realization indicators.

Finally, review your work streams. If you achieve all of the indicators in each of the work streams, will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor. 

Keep a record of what you have on the wall. It will change over time. You don’t have all the answers now; you don’t even know all the questions. Things will change around you. So, your indicators will have to change as well. Nonetheless, you are well on your way to planning, and preparing to launch, a very big, and important, change in your life.

Have you ever planned a big change in your life? Do you use milestones to track your progress? Share your thoughts, experiences, and insights in the comments.

New Year’s Resolutions: Resolve for Results, Not Just Action.


happy_new_year_2015_vector_greeting_card_design_by_123freevectors-d89bgdfAre you one of those who steadfastly makes New Year’s resolutions each January 1, only to see them evaporate into good intentions more quickly than the winter snow? Or, do you just not bother any more? Or, perhaps you are one of the few who make–and keep–their resolutions each year.

With this last post of 2014 (I am taking next week off to work on my resolutions), I thought it might be useful to think back on the posts of the past few months, and see how they can guide you through making  New Year’s resolutions that stick.

Start with what’s in your heart. If it is something that you “really should” or “need to” do, you may start down the road, but the journey is likely to stop far short of the destination. Eating healthier, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, sleeping 6-8 hours a night…these are all worthy resolutions. And, if you are making one or more of them your resolutions, it is because doing so will be a big–and tough–change for you.

Big, tough changes don’t succeed because they are the right things to do; they succeed because in our hearts (not in our minds) we cannot imagine them failing. They succeed because they are rooted in our hearts, not our heads.

What change, or changes, have roots in your heart? That is where your New Year’s resolution needs to begin. Don’t start with “what” you are going to do. A resolution that you will fulfill is not about going to the gym more often; there is something deeper. Start with what is in your heart. Start with Why.(See the post, Don’t Start With a Plan!)

Write your change story. Reflect on your “why.” Envision achieving it. You have just crossed the finish line of your first marathon. You are standing on the stage, mid-career, receiving your college degree in the field you have wanted as your career your entire life. You have woken up in your new home in Costa Rica for the first time. You have come out as gay, or bi, or trans, and you know what it means to live as who you truly are–without fear or hesitation or regret–for the first time in your life.

Write your change story from where it is rooted. It is a story that is driven by your passion to make it true; let that passion flow into the story. Yes, there will be some talk about the “how’s” and the “what’s.” But if the change is that deep and important, many of those things will be mysteries now. Think about a few signals that you are on the right track. Using one of the examples above…it is not that you have registered for college, but that you have begun studies in the career of your choice.

There is much more to writing your change story. How will you know when you get there? Who is in your story? What is your time frame? Why is it important to honor the past, and to respect and believe in yourself? What is the flow “sparkline”? (See the posts What’s Your Story? Parts 1-3 for more guidance on writing your story.)

Tell your story. First, tell it to yourself. Stand in front of the mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Speak your truth. Yes, really! It may be difficult, or even impossible, at first. But if you can’t stand up to witnessing your own story it is unlikely that you will be able to live it. Tell it again, and again, and again. And tell it to others.

(For more, see the post Telling Your Personal Change Story.)

Anchors, aweigh. We each have our own anchors. They help to keep us in place in our lives, and provide stability when things get tough. They may be other people, our beliefs and practices, possessions, a job…

What are your anchors? Will they help keep you faced into your New Year’s resolution? Will they weigh you down until you cut yourself free from the resolution? Do you need to cut yourself free from (or in some other way redefine your relationship to) them?

Our anchors are critical in times of change. So is maintaining the relationship with them (including no relationship at all) that will enable us to succeed. (Learn more about working with your anchors in Anchors, Aweigh!.)

When the going gets tough… If your resolution has its roots in your heart, the only reason it might seem easy right now is because you really don’t know what it will take to succeed (think “honeymoon”). It isn’t a matter of “if the going gets tough.” It is “when the going gets tough.”

Yes, when the going gets tough, you need to be tough as well. But, unfortunately, too often we think that we can tough it out alone when we can’t. And, if it is a tough change, chances are, we can’t tough it out alone. The twelve step programs are a great reminder of this. No one thinks that alcohol, or substance use, or sex, or gambling addictions are healthy choices in life. Twelve step programs are there to help people move through, and beyond, these addictions. And, each of them uses some form of an accountability buddy (think “sponsor”) to do so.

We need discipline if we are to realize the promise of our New Year’s resolution. And with the discipline, we may well also need an accountability buddy. (See Discipline 2.0 to learn more about the discipline needed to achieve your resolution goals.)

Welcome to the season in which many of us promise to make positive change for ourselves, and perhaps the world. These resolutions require resolve. My wish for you this holiday season is that however you may celebrate it, may it be a celebration of joy and wonder. I also wish that as you face the New Year, you find the resolve deep in your heart to continue on a journey of growth, health, healing, and happiness. And, finally, I wish for you a joyous, wondrous, and heart-felt fulfilling New Year!

Intuition? You can’t always trust it!


iStock_000005164183SmallDo you rely on your intuition? For those of us who do, the reason is simple… Most of the time it serves us well.

However, if you are facing (or in the midst of) a really big change, intuition is one of those things that can all too easily lead you astray.

In this post I will briefly describe some of the ways in which difficult change calls for counter-intuitive action.

If you have a “Type A” approach to life, you may well find yourself in a leadership position when faced with change, whether at the personal or organizational level. Among the characteristics often seen in Type A’s are: rigidly organized, impatient, and avoidance of mistakes (or at least an avoidance of admitting to them). Day-to-day, these characteristics might serve you well; if the change you are facing is highly disruptive they can do just the opposite.

By definition, the really big changes we face come with surprises, unexpected twists and turns, unanticipated challenges. Yes, being organized helps prepare you, and allows you to move through the change in a more certain way. The caveat is “a more certain way,” not a certain way. Being too rigidly organized, having an expectation that things will all go the way they are planned planned, will test your patience…certainly not healthy if you are impatient to start with.

Impatience, the swift move from decision to action, is a risk from the outset of large-scale change. Remember “uninformed optimism” [see What’s Your Story? (Part 1)]. Impatience can easily get you on the wrong path forward if you have not clearly articulated your story. In addition, it will put distance between you and others whose understanding, commitment, and alignment are essential to the success of the change.

As for mistakes…they are part of the territory. You will make them. if you don’t acknowledge and own them, you are not going to be able to correct them, make the needed adjustments, and get back on the path to success.

“Don’t worry. Be happy!”

This may be  a useful lens for seeing things during relative calm. Whether at home or at work, lower stress and satisfaction lead to higher productivity and a better quality of life. But, the disruption of change brings with it worry; frowns are liable to replace the smiles at times. If you want to keep people happy, lessen the change. if you want the change to deliver on its promise, find ways to help them be successful despite their discomfort. (And remember, the same holds true for you as you move through the change… you won’t always be comfortable; you can be successful.)

Big change requires decisive leadership!

There are times when building consensus is important. When engaging in a major change, however, consensus is not going to determine the path forward. Some people are less comfortable with change than others; some are more secure in trusting fate or sticking with the status quo. Some people will see the future through a lens closely aligned to your own; others will have a widely divergent view.

Listen to those voices that are important to hear. Encourage them to challenge you, to disagree, to offer alternative perspectives. But be clear as to how (and by whom) decisions will be made. When the time comes for decisions to be made, if you are the decision maker, make and own the decisions.

There are many other ways the intuition and other “steady state” ways of doing things can trip you up during major change. What has your experience taught you? Please post it below.

Telling Your Organization’s Change Story…


iStock_000007755704iconIt seems self-evident, but is so often forgotten. And, the larger your organization, the easier it is to forget… Organizations don’t change; change occurs through shifts in the way that people think and behave. Your organization–large or small, public or private, for profit or nonprofit–succeeds, or fails, through the people inside of it and their interactions with both one another and with those you intend to serve. This is why writing your change story is fundamentally no different for your organization than it would be for a personal change. Depending on the nature of your change and of your organization, you may need the press releases, the media announcements, the calls with investors. You do need your organization’s change story. It is the story of people changing. It is a personal story for everyone in the organization.

Not unlike last week’s post (Telling Your Personal Change Story), the first person you need to tell your organization’s change story to is yourself. Quite simply, if you don’t feel it and believe it, neither will anyone else. If you are not going to take the change to heart, neither will anyone else. If you believe “they have to change,” or “the organization has to change,” but you don’t, you–and your change–will fail. If this is a really big change for the organization, it means it is a big change for you as well.

Whether you are the person who is ultimately responsible for the change, have a position of authority elsewhere in the organization, or are someone with informal influence, you next need to tell the story to those who are in a position to drive the story throughout the organization. This will include, but should not be limited to, your direct reports. It should also include others who are highly influential even though they may not be part of the formal hierarchy.

Each of these people needs to feel and believe the story as fully as you do. They need to make it their own, and to tell it in their own words. And, they need to keep it whole. All of the guidelines for writing the story (What’s Your Story? Parts 1 and 2) hold equally true in its telling. Let’s take a look at the guidelines as they apply to telling your organization’s change story.

  1. Start with your “why.” Why the change is important to the organization should be a constant, regardless of who is telling the story. But it is also important to tell why it is important to you. As Simon Sinek tells us, your why is in your heart. With this is mind, don’t try to tell others why it is important to them. Each person needs to determine that for himself or herself.
  2. Write from the future. Tell the story from the future.
  3. Identify how you will know when you have arrived at your destination. What are the indicators that tell you that progress is being made, not just in putting things in place, but in actually shifting the thinking and behaviors that need to change? The story identifies indicators at the organizational level; you need to tell people what these indicators mean to them.
  4. Establish your time frame. The time frame in the story is the time frame. However, it will also be important to tell people (when it is known) what the time frame means for them.
  5. Create a “sparkline.” Nancy Duarte describes the sparkline as the constant flow in the story between “what is” and “what could be.” The story has a sparkline, and it is there for a purpose. Use it. The sparkline helps people let go of the current state, and find hope in the future.
  6. Determine who the participants in your story will be, and their roles. You may not know who will elect to make the journey, and who will opt out. You may not know the job titles, or the names, of those who will complete the journey. When you know these things, they should be addressed. In the meantime, you do know the attributes of those who will succeed in the future state. Be clear in articulating them as part of the story. For example, Today we celebrate individual achievement. As we move into the future, our focus is shifting to acknowledge how much we need every person to achieve, and how much we are dependent on one another. This time next year, the individual who positions himself or herself as the star will be the outlier. Those teams that are strong contributors to our success are the ones we will be acknowledging.
  7. Honor the past. There is an organizational past to be honored. And, there is a personal past, both for you, and for those to whom you are telling the story.
  8. Respect and believe in yourself. As you tell the story, if you do not respect and believe in yourself, those who are listening won’t respect and believe in you.

During change people need to hear what it means to the organization. They may need the  data, the number of projects or initiatives, the revenue projections, and all of those things that are a part of “the rationale” for initiating such a major initiative. The “big announcement,” whatever form it may take, will be enough to excite some (or even many) to begin the change journey.

But if the journey is long, if it is difficult, they need more. They need a consistent story across the organization, but not the same story. They need to know what the journey means to them, and what is required for them to succeed in the future that your organization is creating. They need to know that you believe in that future, not just in your head, but in your heart as well. They need to hear the story and make it their own.

Telling Your Personal Change Story…


iStock_000015090448_SmallFor the past three weeks we have been focusing on your change story, why it is important, and guidelines for writing it. While those posts apply to both personal and organizational change, today’s post is different; it is only about your personal change story. In my next post I will focus on telling the story of an organizational change.

If your story is about a personal change, who do you tell it to?

Look in the mirror. You are your first audience. And, you will be your most frequent audience going forward. Why? Quoting Henry Ford, “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t, you are right.” Wherever your thinking is today, it will shift. Some days you will have a greater belief in your ability to succeed than you do today. Other days, you will have less. That is why you write your story from the future. It speaks to having succeeded, to achieving what you have set out to attain. You need to believe that it can–and will–happen, or you will never get there. The larger, more disruptive the change is, the truer this is.

A few years ago I was on a spiritual retreat. One of my personal stories surfaced in a group session. It was a painful one, but one that I believed was true. The facilitator worked with me to write a new story, one filled with promise and positive outcomes. That was the easy part!

He then brought me in front of a full-length mirror, and had me look myself in the eye. He asked me to tell myself the new story. Hesitantly, with uncertainty, I struggled through it. For weeks after, every morning in front of the mirror I struggled to tell myself my new story. Sometimes I was eye-to-eye with me; sometimes my eyes were averted. Then, one day, I stood there, told my story, and started smiling. A laugh erupted. It was clear that I believed the story, and was on my journey to achieving it.

That story is still alive today. It is becoming more and more fully realized. And, each morning I stand in front of the mirror, and I tell myself the story once again, from my heart.

Tell it to your personal anchors who are, or will be, taking the journey with you. Perhaps they helped to write the story. Perhaps they will help you to edit it as you move forward, to adjust to the shifting environment, the unexpected obstacles, the unanticipated encounters. What you want most is for them to anchor you in the story; to hold you accountable for living into it.

In my “Anchors, Aweigh” post I also talked about the anchors that you need to let go of, and those which will require a different relationship in the future if you are to succeed. Those anchors, if they are people in your life, need to hear the story as well. Ideally, they should hear it directly from you.

  • Stand in front of the mirror, story in hand,
  • Look yourself in the eye, and
  • Start telling yourself of your future life, and how you will get there.
  • As you talk, also listen, and feel it in your heart.