Sunday, March 23, 2008

Of Light and Resurrection

I've noticed it's easier to stay present on a boat at sea. A lot harder when in port. Today is day 83 of our one year voyage together and I want to focus on the joy of staying present.

To my neighbor's child, Joey, there are only the ducks in front of him. He's not worried about anything else. He is not into making meaning yet. He is at peace! He is where most of us aspire to return.

We sailors (we are all sailors if you consider we are sailing through space at 67,000miles per hour on a planet that rotates at something like 1038 miles an hour), think in terms of past, present and future. It's a convenient construct to help us make sense of things and give us hope. But, truth be told, there is no past and there is no future, except in our egoic mind. There is only this present moment and who we choose to be and what we choose to do in each one.

I am writing and you are reading this post in its own time and that's all that matters in this moment. Unless, of course, your ego self interrupts you with some concern from the past, which you cannot change, or the future, which hasn't happened yet.

But in this moment you are only reading this. There is nothing wrong. You are breathing so you are still alive. You are present. All is well.

Since we began this journey I have been doggedly focused on being present. It hasn't always been easy. Yes, I know where I am going and where I want to end up, but have come to know that creation only happens in the moment. When I take advantage of it, two things occur.

The first is that there is quiet in my head. I am not thinking. I am only Being. The second is I am at peace with myself. I am being authentically me. This is a powerful place to engage life from. For when you know who you really are there is peace and strength and acceptance.

Like I said, much easier on a boat away from everyday life.

Today is Easter Sunday for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, day 83, and life calls upon us yet again to be our next greatest version of our ever evolving selves.

I was looking forward to church all week, looking forward to celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of life itself. This day always fills me with joy and hope.

Sitting in my usual seat in the last center row waiting for the service to begin, I couldn't help but notice that Dr. Jim, our co-pastor with Dr. Sue, was not yet there. As the service began, Dr. Sue looked shaken. She walked up on the stage and began to pace back and forth, her head down. Then she spoke.

"Dr. Jim called me this morning and told me he cannot be with us this morning," she said. "His beloved daughter, Caitlyn, was killed last night in an automobile accident. He is on his way to Florida to be with his family."

In that moment the entire community, many of whom knew Caitlyn through her participation in the youth ministry, was called upon to be present. And so was Dr. Sue. What can you possibly say when a parent loses a child?

What Dr. Sue, and the very day we were there to celebrate, reminded us of, was that there is no death, only the celebration of life continued. And that while there is no earthly reason for Caitlyn's passing that we will ever fully understand, we are called upon to have faith in the unfolding miracle called life. And in this moment, question what it may mean to each one of us.

What it means to me is that Caitlyn is present with God with no earthly distractions. She is at Peace in the presence of Unconditional Love and Acceptance.

We are, each of us, on our own journey. We will all experience what we are meant to experience if we can be present to each and every sacred moment we are given. Because, as Dr. Sue so profoundly reminded us, it is all sacred. Even Caitlyn's passing.

May God give us the grace and the wisdom to be the light we are here to be in the time we are given. To not wait for next week or next year. To be the Light we are meant to be right now. At home. At work. At Sea.

Sail On.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Built to Last

Sea Fever is 46 years old this year. She was designed for the late Alex Houghwout by famed naval architect Bill Tripp in 1958 and built by Mercer Boat Works in 1962. By every standard, Sea Fever was deliberately built to last. Her hull, for example is 4 inches thick to the water line and she is fitted with a 4 inch solid bronze cap that runs the entire length of her keel and rudder. I once hit a reef at 6 knots that took her right out of the water as we rode up and over it and she didn't even have a scratch! In addition to her rock solid hull, Sea Fever was given an expensive (at the time) 1958 Fresh water cooled Mercedes diesel, that, even after all this time, still starts on the very first try every time. Yes, Sea Fever was built to last. But that doesn't mean she hasn't needed a lot of tender loving care along the way. Sails, rigging, paint, varnish, and electronics have all been replaced at one time or another and that's to be expected, but pound for pound, Sea Fever is in many ways stronger than many of her modern counterparts. It also helps that she had two dedicated Captains that not only understood her pedigree but were concerned with her legacy as well.

As often happens on a long cruise, we were sitting in the cockpit comparing life and sailing when my first mate, Brett Modesti, took our Sea Fever conversation to the next level. "Tom," he asked, "can you point to an existing organization that was built to last and has a sustainable culture?"

This was a great question. Even when something is built to last, it will still need to be sustained by people who care about her pedigree and legacy.

Building a sustainable organization requires that its leader truly engage people to the point where they (the crew - employees and other stakeholders) take full responsibility for the ship's continued well being. The ship (organization), after all, is the vehicle that carries us all into the future.

In my work, I have asked over 3000 employees and managers what being "engaged" looks like and they have all described it more as a feeling.

1. Feeling Part of something meaningful, not just profitable
2. Feeling Challenged, not overwhelmed
3. Feeling Appreciated, not patronized
4. Feeling Responsible for the outcome, not a scapegoat

No one goes to work to do a bad job, but few get inspired about exit strategies designed to make owners and investors rich at their expense. It's interesting that a current best practice in engaging employees is to fire the bottom 10% every year. Good luck engaging people with that one! Just ask former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

So my pick for a company that was built to last and has a sustainable culture is General Electric. But not for the reason you may think. GE has a deeply rooted management culture and a rich tradition of guiding and mentoring future leaders through its ranks. Remember, there are tens of thousands of GE executives and managers besides the ones that make the pages of Newsweek. GE grows their own at every level. And they do it very well.

"During the 20 plus years that Jack Welch ran GE, it became the most valuable corporation in the world, increased in value over thirty times and under his leadership turned out more Fortune 500 CEOs than any other company in history." - Steven Bryce, Journalst

What most don't know is that this culture of grooming future corporate leaders was there long before Jack Welch took the helm, in fact he was a product of it, and as long as the commitment to sustainability remains, it will be there for a long time to come.

One of Mr. Walch's many contributions to the GE legacy was leveraging GEs wealth to pay off a market domination strategy: be the top two players or get out. Impressive use of power and resources. Fortunatly for Neutron Jack, as Welch was affectionately called at GE, the "father of fire the bottom 10%" had a deep, battle tested management corps to pull it off.

I believe that sustainability and succession planning is imperative for founders if their vision involves the long-term survival of the organization. The founders of GE set a standard and created a tradition much like the framers of the U.S. Constitution did. Those men, as described in Jim Collins' books "Built to Last" and "Good to Great" had what I call "Character", something few have a clue about today. In fact character is what we revered in those leaders. And in my view, the organizational legacies that men of character build take lot to destroy.

So, what is Character, exactly? Well, I define Character not simply as strong ego and personality, although they had those as well, but rather, men who "knew themselves at a deeper level". They were clear about their:

1. Passion - they knew what they were giving their lives for; their passion had to do with contributing to society, not creating an exit strategy.

2. Purpose - they knew how they affected the world around them, they were fearless in doing the right thing rather than the politically correct thing.

3. Values - they had a set of personal values that they thought about and accepted as core to their being. They were able to remain true to themselves.

4. Unique Abilities - they knew what their strengths were and focused on them, empowering others "with character" to employ their different and complementary unique abilities.

In short, they made their people feel part of something meaningful, challenged, appreciated, and responsible for the outcome.

I work with some amazing CEOs. And yet, there are many others who are just run by the "seat" they occupy and bring nothing to it whatsoever. These are not bad people. On the contrary, they are really hard working individuals, but they are, in my experience, unconscious to their own Purpose and Passion. Fortunately, in a company like GE, their vast management corps still seems to carry the tradition forward.

By the way. What works for GE will not necessarily work, as we have all seen, for Home Depot. And I suspect it may not work for Chrysler either. But that's another conversation.

This is day 74. Sail On

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shackelton and the Third Law of Leadership

How exactly did Shackleton get 32 men to go where no man had gone before? And once there, how did he keep them aligned and engaged during all the unexpected changes and disappointments? Well, this is where my Third Law of Leadership comes in.

To Be Powerful in the World, You Must Learn to
Co-Create and Master a Game Worth Playing.

While Shackleton held the Vision, he engaged others in making it possible. In other words, he co-created each step of the journey, from raising the money, to recruiting the men, to surviving the adventure. And he did so by painting a vivid picture and focusing not on wealth or riches, but rather on something else entirely. He focused on something bigger than himself. He focused on the challenge. Something that would make a difference in the world. That 5000 men put their hands up was certainly proof that his Vision sparked the imagination of many.

Now the amazing thing was that as circumstances changed Shackleton simply repeated a specific process again and again and again. Establish the Mission, align, engage, fail, create a new Mission, align, engage, fail, create yet another Mission, align, engage, succeed. It wasn't just his Mission, but theirs, too, and in every case he succeeded at doing what many contemporary business executives fail to do. He was able to align and engage each and every one of his people in an ever changing hostile environment. The result was one of the greatest adventures stories of all time.

"In the face of changing circumstances and constant danger, Shackleton remained positive and decisive, which buoyed his crew. Further, throughout the 22-month Endurance expedition, Shackleton was able to bring out the best in each of his men. Each crew member contributed to the team's survival, from Captain Frank Worsley, whose exceptional navigation guided the men to both Elephant and South Georgia Islands; to carpenter Chippy McNeish, who reinforced the lifeboats; to cook Charles Green, who created meals day after day with limited resources; to Alexander Macklin and James McIlroy, the two doctors, who saved steward Perce Blackborow from gangrene resulting from frostbite; to second-in-command Frank Wild, who served as leader of the 21 men on Elephant Island after the departure of Shackleton and companions for South Georgia...Shackleton also encouraged esprit de corps by dissolving traditional hierarchies. For example, all men were required to take shifts on watch and scrubbing the deck." (Source Shackleton's Arctic Adventure, WBGH Educational Foundation)

Engaging people requires a Leader who authentically knows himself (Law I), who understands humanity and is able to master multiple relationships (Law 2) and Co-create a Game Worth Playing (Law 3) where each member of the crew feels:

1. Part of something meaningful
2. Challenged
3. Appreciated
4. Responsible for the outcome

That "Twenty-eight ordinary-turned-extraordinary men, led by Shackleton's example, survived nearly two years of unimaginable hardship at the end of the Earth," is a testament to how authentic leadership can interface with ordinary people and create extraordinary results.

Thanks to Wikipedia and WGBH for their engaging material. If you’d like to read the entire riveting story of Shackleton’s greatest adventure, I recommend that you read The Endurance, by Caroline Alexander. Knopf Press ©1998.

Sail on.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Shackelton and the Second Law of Leadership

"Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." – Sir Ernest Shackleton.

My Second Law of Leadership states: To be Powerful with others, you must first understand humanity and master relationships.

Right from the start, Shackleton was up front with what it would take to join him on his expedition to the Antarctic. Anyone interested would share his Vision and know what was expected. Yet, as a leader, Shackleton also understood that the men drawn to his adventure would be motivated by many different reasons. It was reported that he received over 5000 replies to his call to adventure and only chose the toughest and most reliable of men. He knew that what made some of them rugged also made them dangerous in the wrong circumstances, as the following Wikipedia account demonstrates.

"Elephant Island was an inhospitable place...and...Shackleton felt it essential that he set out to find help immediately upon arrival, and to him, it was obvious that he must head back to South Georgia, even if it meant traversing 1,287 kilometres (800 mi) of open ocean in one of the lifeboats. The lifeboat James Caird was chosen for the trip. To prepare for the journey, Shackleton chose his strongest sailors to accompany him, John Vincent and Timothy McCarthy, as well as experienced officer Thomas Crean. Shackleton also selected the expedition's carpenter, Harry McNish, who immediately made improvements to the open lifeboat. Morrell argues that Shackleton chose McNish and Vincent to accompany him not only for their talent and toughness, but also because they were noted malcontents. He did not want the atmosphere on Elephant Island to be disrupted. Shackleton had frequently chosen to have the most rebellious crew members close to him, in order to quell discontent amongst the party. [my emphasis] The difficult task of navigating the crossing was left to Frank Worsley. Ensuring they were on the correct course was of utmost importance as missing their target would certainly have doomed the team."

At every step along the journey, Shackleton practiced not only the Second Law of Leadership with an uncanny ability to create relatioships that worked no matter what, but he made sure everyone understood the Vision and Mission of the expedition, even when circumstances drastically changed. He also made sure each of his crew understood what was expected and he wasn't afraid to let them know when they needed to change. Put into a formula, this is what gave him unusual success among his crew.

1. He always provided a compelling Vision of the future
2. He was fair and above-board in being clear on what was expected of the relationship
3. He employed each individual’s strengths and natural talents, and neutralized their weaknesses
4. He rewarded positive behavior and was quick to give constructive feedback if his expectations were not met
5. He walked his talk, demonstrated the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to engage

Understanding what drives men (and women) is important, understanding how to authentically engage them makes you an effective leader.

Next week: Shackleton and the Third Law — Engaging People in a Game Worth Playing.

Sail on.