Bonsai Learning


People who come together consistently to explore ideas, share inspirations, encourage grand endeavors and re-examine goals are called a team.

People who come together periodically to mend bridges, fill potholes and put out fires are individuals on collective emergency life support.

Spring has sprung and I am tending to my gardens. It got me thinking, a team is much like a garden. Unattended it can grow wild and quickly get itself into an unwieldy mess. Cared for, managed, loved, trimmed, fed and shaped, it can be a thing of beauty that yields a bountiful harvest.

Like a team. Yes?

Out in my garden I have a beautiful Agave plant that I am training to grow toward the light.

It was crowded into an unhealthy space and position by some invasive plants. I removed the unwanted influences, but that wasn’t enough to redirect the Agave to move toward the newly opened space. It had developed some bad growing habits. It needed support and guidance to move it in a new direction. Continue reading

Living your life or GIVING your life?


Last night in our Men’s Group a powerful question was asked.

“What would you give your life for?”

The question took us all by surprise and we had to get a hold of just what was being asked. “What would you die for?” No, we recognized that that is a different question entirely. What would you GIVE your life for? It was tied more closely to the question, “What do you live for?” There was a nuance to “give your life for” that we couldn’t quite articulate. But each of us felt the question pierce directly to the heart and linger there with a poignant patience, knowing that if we dared to answer, it would be a powerful discovery.

The question brought us all to a very powerful edge of personal inquiry. That’s what I love about our monthly men’s group gathering, we create sacred space where there is time, space and a longing for just such types of exploration and discovery.  We like exploring life’s edges.  That’s where life really happens.

What would I give my life for? To allow the question to plant itself a bit deeper I swapped the word “for” to “to.” What would I give my life to? Ahhhhhhhh there it was, what indeed would I, with no restrictions, limitations, concerns of practicality or “reality” checks  dedicate my life to? And why?

As the ah-ha moments came we each shared the deeply held belief or value that spoke most robustly from within us when prompted in such an intriguing way. What core and intimate connection did we each feel with life that would inspire us to dive in, full commitment, no hesitation, all consequences be damned, if we had to make the decision right here, right now and live with it the rest of our lives?

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Team Viscosity

The true depth of connection between team members is an invisible quality that is only seen when it is reflected in the actions of the team under the most challenging of circumstances.

Don’t look up ‘Viscosity’ in the dictionary if you want a good description of highly effective teams.  I don’t assume you want your team to be “gooey.” And yet I can’t imagine any other term that so effectively describes that “stuff” that flows throughout a highly cohesive team and keeps them smoothly humming along under the greatest of stress.

What is that mysterious quality that truly connects team members, lubricates difficult situations and keeps friction from building to a point where parts and systems begin to break down?  I call it Viscosity.  It’s not quite invisible.  And yet it’s also not a team component that’s easily held up for examination.  It tends to slip through the fingers of those trying to mold it into an easily recognizable and tangible shape that can be examined, probed, prodded and dissected for clear and perfect understanding.

It is the truly ineffable.  And yet, as my colleague Jeff Salz states, it’s the only thing that really eff-ing matters.

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Inviting Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a hot topic these days. And well it should be. I’ve been speaking to the power of vulnerability with my clients for a long time. It is an absolute foundational core to building any trusting relationship, whether that be in business or in our personal lives.

I’m a strong advocate of creating environments where people feel safe to tell their stories. It is through the sharing of the nuances of our lives that we connect, bond and relate to others. Telling your story, and telling it true, requires a great degree of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the other half of truth.
All too often the unspoken half that waits in the wings yearning for it’s moment in the light.
Without the opportunity to honestly express where and how we feel vulnerable, we’re only having half the conversation, which never really gets to the heart of the matter.

Recently Brené Brown showed up on Ted Talks with a brilliant talk about how vulnerability is a keystone to developing deeper connections with others. I was so glad to see the topic get such resounding support as people clearly resonated with the truth of her message.

Yes!  We’re coming to understand the power of being more vulnerable.  Fantastic.

Now, I want to speak about something that can often be even more difficult to pull off…..

Beyond being vulnerable ourselves
and accepting others when they’re vulnerable.
What’s really important is….

Inviting Vulnerability From Others.

Here’s what got me thinking about that and why it’s important.

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Setting a North Star Vision for Navigating Stormy Organizational Seas

As a leader, one of your key roles is to help transform confusing complexity into elegant and powerful simplicity.

Arguably the most complex component of a leader’s world is the diverse mix of people they lead.

Organizational cultures can be a minefield of complex and intricate relationships. You already know how even a very small handful of intimate relationships at home can be challenging enough to manage. At work, the complexity of multiple relationship dynamics multiplies exponentially. Add to that the pressures of stress, speed, ego, career advancement, the ever shifting landscape of office politics, perceived status, financial security and working with people who you didn’t necessarily choose to have in your life – and you’ve got a pretty complex situation to manage.

 As a leader, you need to do everything you can to add clarity, inspiration, encouragement and well defined purpose to this wildly flavored soup of relationships and often conflicting goals.

Rewards – Seeking the simple solution first

So, yes, people are complicated. But we are also quite simple in that we typically do more of what we are rewarded for and do less of those things that yield no rewards or have negative consequences.

It is through this particular simplicity of human nature that a purposeful leader can realize their best leverage for shaping a stellar team.

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Building Solid Foundations – The Power of Commitments

Our commitments are not for the easy days when we “feel” like meditating, working out, doing yoga, writing our book, eating well, etc…

Our 100% commitments are for the days when we don’t feel inspired to do what it takes to stay healthy and balanced. These are the days when our commitments might be the only thing that keep us in the flow.

Every time I stray from my commitments, daily rituals and practices of self care, I find myself less balanced, less focused, less powerful and less clear. EVERY TIME. Not sometimes or occasionally. ALWAYS.

The extent of our success is directly related to the strength of our foundation.

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Leadership from the Mountaintop Perspective

A Leader’s most critical role is ensuring that those they lead are having the most courageous conversations possible.

One of the core guiding principles of courageous leadership is that you are always evolving the team. No matter what problems you are trying to solve or goals you are attempting to reach, there is ALWAYS a parallel agenda of building, strengthening and supporting a highly productive and creative team culture.

Confident leaders don’t concern themselves with being the smartest person in the room, just the most present and attentive.

It is not the leader’s primary function to generate the best ideas. A leader’s most important role is to create the culture and environment where courageous conversations, daring ideas, ingenious collaborations, healthy conflicts and bold actions can take root, grow and thrive.

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The Reciprocity of Right Action

~ Building Courageous Communities

“Be generous & prolific in your own self care and acts of courage. Those who your heroic choices inspire today, might well be your own inspiration tomorrow.”

The communities in which we live and work are the communities that we help build, create and evolve through our own actions and deeds. If we choose actions and behaviors which are inspiring, healthy and courageous then those qualities will be reflected in the world around us. Choose wisely and you will find yourself surrounded by healthy, courageous and inspired people who will be there when you need them most. It is a self sustaining and self promulgating course of positive action that inspires more positive action.

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Succeed, Explore, Discover, Repeat.

Examining your wins and applying the lessons learned is a winning success strategy all too rarely practiced in time-stressed organizations.

Most organizations I work with have learned to take the time to examine the particular circumstances that contribute to failure or significant problems. This is often called a ‘Post Mortem.’ It’s a great idea and companies that don’t learn from their mistakes in a systematic way often make the same or similar mistakes again and again.

But here is the real game changer….

Don’t just celebrate your successes;
Study your successes and let your discoveries lead to more big wins to come.

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Let it Go and Let it Flow.

When Leaders let go, energy flows and people grow.

There’s not a person that I know, including myself, who couldn’t stand a little softening around the edges or wouldn’t benefit greatly from a bit of letting go.

Think about your friends, family and co-workers. I’d wager that when you consider how they might be a bit more graceful in the world, you most likely see where they might soften an edge, ease a tightness, loosen a clenched grip or let go of some need to control.

Of course, this applies to you too, you being human after all.

And if you’re in a leadership position, then the areas where you hold on the most fervently might very well be inhibiting the growth and potential of those you lead.

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