Will We Live Large?

We are not here to fit in. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange. James Hollis in What Matters Most.

Feeling alive came natural as a kid—a time when we live a life of learning, adventure and imagination as we explore and master our worlds. We venture out bravely, don’t know the rules, adapt as we go, and have fun living out our fantasies of being courageous heroes and heroines who do good for others. Childhood may be our last time of authenticity for a long time—maybe forever.

Somewhere along the way conformity and compliance become the rules–about the time we go to school, I imagine. Peers, parents and teachers mold us to be clones of one another. From then on most of us sacrifice our courage and authenticity as we try to fit in to be accepted by others in order to “succeed.”

When we begin our young adult lives—perhaps smart but unwise, inexperienced and full of ourselves–we think ourselves free and in charge. But the pressures to conform continue, often below the surface of our awareness. The unwritten rules of corporations and institutions replace our parents as the paternalistic voices in our lives and demand obedience and submission as the price of a job. Their message is, “Don’t think, do what we tell you and don’t rock the boat.”

And we don’t.

Gradually we often suffer a loss of nerve and live small lives. We seek to please others and forget to please ourselves. We feel obligated to be responsible for others but are not responsible for ourselves. One by one we make decisions that diminish us. Choice by choice we lose ourselves and sleepwalk through life. We cannot answer the questions, “Why am I here? What do I want?”

Around the middle of our lives, something might cause us to wake up. We realize that our lives are half over and that we only have one life and it is running out of time fast. We give ourselves permission and ask some important questions: Who am I apart from my roles? What do I want for my life? What does life ask of me? Can I live a larger life? We ask, “Do my choices enlarge me or make me smaller?” James Hollis wrote, “…we all have to grow up, become wholly responsible for our lives, relinquish the search for the good parent in others and stop whining.”

When we take responsibility for our lives, we can, if we want, live the larger, more authentic lives that were always meant for us.

Will we?

Leadership & Training Costs: A Huge Waste?

$70 billion a year for corporate training in the U.S. (Forbes)?

Much of that obscene amount is spent on leadership development and mostly failed efforts to transform corporations.

I had nine promotions over 16 years at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. When I left the company the CEO of Cowles Media said my leadership had changed the company forever.

In each job I led groups of people from mediocrity to excellence in value-driven ways. In eight of those positions, I didn’t have consultants or training programs to help me. I simply did what made sense to me and acted according to my values.

Each time I left a group, it regressed to previous levels of mediocrity or worse. This pattern cuts across all levels of leadership in all industries.

I left the Star Tribune and completed a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change. I wanted to help leaders develop the talents needed to lead organizations through transformational change. In 13 years of consulting, I met two leaders I thought were great. One was fired (guess what happened to the company he led) and the other was promoted.

I met many executives who claimed they wanted to transform the cultures of their organizations as one way to improve the bottom line. None had the insight they needed to change how they thought about leadership and organizations and undergo a personal transformation as or before they led their organizations through transformation. All resisted doing the difficult personal work to grow as leaders. All proved to lack the skills, talents, courage, and commitment to lead difficult change. They wanted cosmetic quick-fixes: fast, easy, cheap and painless and from the outside with no demands for them to learn new things or manage difficult conflict. They didn’t want to lead people; they wanted to fix machines.

Quick fixes endure because they ask so little of us.

I interviewed a front-line supervisor in the power industry. He was upset.

He said, “A consultant sat with me every minute for two weeks and told me how to do my job. I thought I was going crazy. I had to go to a psychiatrist.”

I asked, “What happened after the consultant left?” He smiled and said, “Everything went back to the way it had been.”

That outcome happens in a high percentage of training and change efforts that try to mechanically fix organizations from the top utilizing outside experts who get a significant percentage of the $70 billion spent on “corporate training.”

James Hollis, Ph.D. wrote in “What Really Matters”:

Further, I have come to consider most of what passes for “self-help” literature today as obscene because it ignores the complexities of life, glosses over the ardor and commitment required for change, and promises panaceas not likely to happen.

I could say the same about leaders, academics and consultants. Our enterprises have a dearth of quality leaders. Too many leaders, consultants and authors of books about life in organizations ignore or deny the dark side of life in organizations. Real leaders in organizations often get marginalized. People try to transform organizations from a world view that guarantees a reinvention of what already exists. Too many lie about how hard change can be. Billions of dollars are, I believe, wasted year after year.

Those few genuinely talented and value-driven senior leaders in our organizations should save much of the money spent on corporate training, identify the gifted leaders in their companies (at all levels) who get marginalized because their abilities frighten others, and elevate them to positions of power in their enterprises. Then involve them and engage them with you to create vision, values and purpose and send them out to engage and involve employees and make the vision real.

These leaders will do the rest including making decisions on the books they will read, consultants they will hire and training programs they will use.