How to Show you Care

Four Suggestions on Caring for Others in Crisis

When my Uncle Pete was sick with brain cancer in the early 90’s, I was scared to see him. I was not sure who he would be. I knew he would not be the same. I didn’t want him to see the response on my face that told him I knew he was different. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. I didn’t want to cause harm.

When my friend was involved in a climbing accident where one person died. Again, I was uncertain how to be in that relationship. Should I make myself scarce or show up every day? Or somewhere in between. I baked cookies.

When my partner was in a climbing accident recently, I had the first-hand experience of what it is like to be on the receiving end of others generosity with time, food, and skills.

Some dropped everything in their lives to tend to ours – showing up at the trauma hospital, flying – or offering to fly across the country, making us food, building wheel chair ramps and moving computers, and sitting with me as I cried. Others were afraid to visit – these were mostly children – who struggled to see him transformed from an active, competent athlete to a guy in a hospital bed with a neck brace. They echo what most adults feel but don’t say.

It is hard to see real time the fragility of this human body. Hard to acknowledge we can break.

As a caring human, wanting to do the right thing, I am writing this to all the other caring humans out there as a short guide on how to show you care. As I get older the likelihood of these incidents happening more frequently – cancer, accidents, deaths – is high. Here are my suggestions on how to respond in these situations. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

  1. Let the person know you know they are laid up.
    • The cards to my partner, the emails, letters, and texts are all welcome. They extend the love in perpetuity!
    • These days, at least for the caregiver, phone calls are tough to make or answer – time is condensed between care for the injured, kids, dog, and oh yeah, a bit of self-care!
    • Phone calls for the injured are welcome depending on their situation – cancer, maybe not, brain injury probably not, but just laid up with two broken legs – a phone call is just the thing to cheer him up.
    • And call or text more than once – continued care is needed even when the immediate trauma is over.
    • Check out this Parker Palmer article on being present for people.
  2. Ask before you bring or send food.
    • Food is how people show their love. Food is amazing. We have had some delicious food.
    • Call, text, or email to see if food or shopping is needed before you bring or send food. Sometimes, especially at first, I found myself managing the beautiful food arriving from our community. With no time, I felt overwhelmed. I was appreciative, but had to work overtime to eat the food that arrived before it went bad!
    • A friend set up a Meal Train. That was a beautiful way to manage food without extra work.
    • Lastly, if you bring food, build into your plan a way to pick up your dishes later!
  3. Come visit.
    • If you get turned away at the door, do not take it personally. Just come.
    • People need you at these times. They do not know they need you, but they do. Maybe not at this moment, but at some point. AND they will likely not reach out or know the moment when they need you most. They are busy and barely know what they need as they have had no time for self-care!
    • Some of the best friendships are formed with the people that just show up – and do not take it personally if you are shown the door.
  4. Don”t ask what they need. They do not know.
    • As the caregiver, people keep asking me what I need. I do not know sometimes, and  it is uncomfortable to ask as I am getting so much help. Just jump in and do dishes, or mow the lawn, or weed the garden, or be a sounding board for me to vent to, or listen as I talk of all my “shoulds” and reality check with me what are legitimate things I need to do and what I can let go of.
    • Take the kids (or dog…) or caregiver on adventures. Or at least offer. Our kids have had some pretty cool adventures since the accident. And again, do not be offended if they do not go. They sometimes want to stick around and be together as a family.

Do you have anything to add? I invite YOUR perspective for a change. What have you found that worked for you in these times? We all have wisdom to share.

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The Cry of the Wild

In returning to my village of people who grew up around me like a fairy ring, I am filled with a settled knowing. I feel my feet here. My place at this table is worn and comfortable. They know who I am, or who I have been.

The work I do flourishes as if I have been let loose on a spring field of newly emerging grasses after a long winter of dirt and hay.

It was not a long winter, it was a long summer. A summer of mountain play, sleeping more nights under the stars than under a roof.

The who I am out there is more present to the building thunder clouds. More aware of the phase of the moon. More spacious mimicking the milky way. Playful like the bunny. I see more, terrain, like the hawk.

The who I am out there, in the wild, can play the role of who I am in the village, it is a well-practiced role. Yet, when I play it, fall into it and become it, I lose something – wild.

I want to cry out like a lion, taken from the wild to the zoo. Something is dying in me. Can’t you see it?

But I don’t want to scare the city dwellers and disrupt the unspoken code of conduct. The one I signed before I knew what I was doing.

The glitz of the city was so bright I could not read the words and at that point I did not care. I wanted to move away from the drawl of the country, the old ways, the unrefined quiet that filled the days.

But now I want to go back and study the contract. To see my signature on the paper – in blood. The blood of lost time, the blood of serving my people in all the ways I knew.

I stayed to belong to something I thought was better than me. I thought if I could blend into them, into that, then I would have arrived.

Yet, witnessing the loss of the wild in my own body is crushing. I no longer see the moon each night, nor the stars. The ambient light of the city brighter than the milky way. The noise of the cars louder than the crickets.

There is something so full in the sound of the crickets. Something so hollow in the sound of the cars.

But now that I am in love with myself, and know I belong the greater gift of life on the planet, I cannot sacrifice the wild in me to be in the city.  I am breaking the contract.

 

Yet, I chose and still choose this human place of settlement that has let itself go a bit. too. far.

As time passes, and I settle more into my role, my village, I meditate to feel the spaciousness of the wild. To be able to bring that space to my people is the goal.

Would I change the years that have given me my love and my offspring? No.

Would I change the place that has given me my friends and memories? No.

Well then maybe I am simply building the capacity to hold both the city and the wild. And in holding both I cannot escape the suffering and the pain of being where I am and longing to be somewhere else.

I cannot stop feeling the cries all around me of the wild dying and the people not noticing they are bleeding from signing in blood. From going too far. From building a culture that must die to one thing to belong to another.

Foundations in Building Strong Cultures

Diagnosing an Intervention – The Waterline Model

When problems arise – in an organization, family system, or community – people tend to look at an individual as the source of the challenge. They confront, question, or judge a person for their behavior, when there is usually more to the story than the person and their actions.

In 1970 edition of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Roger Harrison wrote about the Waterline Model. Harrison designed the model to assist people diagnosing where to intervene within an organizational system. Yet any, even the family system, can benefit from its structure.

In some way, every system is working to complete a task. In a family system, maybe it’s feed the kids or get them off to college. In corporate system, the task tend to be financial or product driven. In a community, the task could be the elevate the communication capabilities of all members.

Along the path, all systems run into challenges. Challenges are great way to build capacity individually and as a system, if we diagnose the right problem.

When we begin to look around for disruption to our task, we have been culturally trained to look for the individual who is causing trouble. Whether we learned this in our family system, “Who spilled the milk?” “It was Jamie.” Or in school, “Who threw that paper airplane?” “It was Chris.”

Though these people did spill the milk or throw the airplane, and we believe they are to blame, before we yell, criticize, or punish, Harrison suggests we snorkel before we deep dive.

waterline model new 2018

Balance

In any system, a certain amount of maintenance or attention to relationship is needed to balance the task. Our emotions, though greatly stifled in our current cultural paradigm, are an important part of how we feel satisfaction in the world. Emotions are often the first experience brushed aside in service of accomplishing something. “I feel confused, but we have to finish this task. I don’t want to ask again for clarity as I am afraid they will think I am dense (disruptive, annoying, and so on).”

This has mixed results. We might accomplish an outcome which is often rewarded. Yet, focusing only on task – which is tangible, logical, and gets noticed – creates a lot of water under the bridge.

In the above example, the spilled milk or the airplane, Jamie or Chris can get a consistent message that they are the problem. But who put the milk on table? Could it have been in a smaller container? And why was there time to create an airplane? The lesson might not be as engaging as we hoped. These observable behaviors give us clues that something more is at play.

Relationship mishaps, that in the moment could easily be resolved with a little interpersonal communication, intra-personal skill, and some courage to break patterns, often get pushed aside for when we have time. We miss out on relationship in service of getting things done. It is like saying, “I will sit by the fire and put my feet up when I have done _______ or have ______ number of dollars in the bank.”

Tending to purpose, relationship, and dynamics takes time, desire, and some skill. This is time that can be spent doing something we have been trained to do: accomplish a task.

Yet, when people spend time maintaining the relationship, along with accomplishing the task, the doing happens faster (after initial effort), is more satisfying (after safe and bold conversations), and produces results that leave a lasting impact on the bottom line. People are more connected and more satisfied. This weaves a web that builds strong cultures.

Dropping Below the Waterline

When things are going smoothly, we rarely recalibrate to purpose, clarify roles, or dissect group dynamics. When things go wrong, we look for the person responsible. Deep diving to the intra-personal – within one person – and scapegoating that person as the anchor of the problem. Think Jamie or Chris.

Though one person can be the problem, it is wise to check your line by returning the surface before you stay in the depths too long.

Purpose – Vision and Mission

Clarifying purpose is the place to start. If the vision and mission are clear, people all over the organization will be able to draw a line to how their work is contributing to that end. If people do not know the vision and mission, you may have people in your organization all operating under their own vision and mission and losing site of being a team and working toward a common purpose.

If there is no rememberable or recitable vision or mission, or if it is flat – has lost its motivating factor – it may be time to revitalize or renew the vision and mission. Even if the vision and mission still seems compelling, clarifying if all are on the same page is always a good place to start. It reminds us why we began this adventure and gives us firm connection from which we can swim into deeper water.

Roles and Goals

The next place to look is at roles and goals. Though this model begins at the top and moves down, it is not hierarchical. It does not have to begin with the boss. We believe leadership must happen in every role. Using the waterline model can help not only the leader of a system, but the members, diagnose where to intervene.

Roles and goals are guidelines for how this person/these people will meet the vision and mission. Occasionally, our individual vision of our role or goals differ from the organizations. At other times, people have piled tasks onto a role that make the water cloudy and prevent a person from doing what they are hired to do.

When there is a disruption in the task, and subsequently we feel confused or overworked, we revisit the division of roles in the system and how those roles help us achieve the vision and mission. We can then shift our expectations, the role and goals, or recommit.

Confusion about roles and goals is common. Things move fast these days and people need to be nimble. Confusion tells us there is a break down in communication. When we intervene at this level of the waterline, we help alleviate individual power plays and hurt feelings, get people in the role that best serves them and the organization, and efficiently tick away at the task.

Group Dynamics

If roles and goals are clear, we move onto group dynamics. These are the norms of a group. Norms of behavior are consistently practiced – implicitly or explicitly – modes of interaction between people and within an organization. They define HOW interaction happens. They are comprised of how we include others, influence, make decisions, rely on each other – or not, how we give and receive feedback, and manage conflict.

Very few systems are explicit about their group dynamics. Most organizations do not make the connection between their implicit group dynamics and individual and organizational challenges. This is where we get into murky water. Implicit norms exist in every system. Healthy norms weave a strong culture. Unhealthy norms harm culture.

Group dynamics can be hard to diagnose. They require observation and curiosity. Then the application of explicit and healthy ways of managing the common mishaps of relationships.

To create healthy norms, teaching skills and practicing them is essential. Helping people learn how to listen effectively, give and receive feedback, and manage a difficult conversation are the foundations of healthy group dynamics.

When people have the same method for moving through an anxiety producing situation, they can feel safe and settle. They know the structure, and how they are supposed to be and what to do in the situation. They know the other person has the same structure. This makes a normally unpredictable situation, more predictable. People can relax and focus on the other person. They can let go of needing to protect and defend themselves.

To establish these practice takes time and consistent effort. It is much easier and quicker to blame a person and have them be the scapegoat. When they leave the organization we find relief, but then later recognize the problems still exist. We then deep dive again, trying to find another person to blame.

Sorting out messy, implicit group dynamics and making them clear and explicit takes longer than blaming one person. Yet, it sets the foundation for a level of interaction that far outperforms other systems, making it a place people want to work as it impacts their whole life in a positive way, not only their job.

Interpersonal and Intra-personal

Sometimes an organization has done their work. They understand the balance between task and maintenance, and have explicitly or implicitly created a system that feels safe and clear. This may be because the leader is clear or there are people who have been in the organization a long time, they know the ropes and things run smoothly.

But let’s say the organization is growing or people are leaving and there is an influx of new staff. These changes may cause churn even if the water is clear above. We might have become so practiced in our actions and norms that we don’t remember to teach them to new people. We may have had staff that just “got it” and the new people are from a different generation or culture.

We must then educate and mentor all people in the ways of the organization. Once people are explicitly engaged in reciprocal learning to blend their skills, views, and culture with the organizations, tasks will likely run smoothly.

Disruptions at this level occur between two people – interpersonal – or within one person – intra-personal. Interpersonally, two people can have different skillsets. They may come from different backgrounds and we must do some translating to help them talk with each other. They could also be two people with very different personal styles like introvert/extrovert in communication or compete/avoid in conflict. These styles can be worked through with active listening, focused time together, and with the help of a third party to paraphrase when the situation gets hot.

On the intra-personal level – where we normally deep dive to, maybe our individual vision has outgrown the organizations vision. We want the system to take certain steps that it is not ready to take. We may need to revisit our employment or create something new. Or we may be having disruptions in our family life or health that is impacting our ability to participate in the way we have learned. We could lack the technical skills. Or be unaware of the impact we are having on others.

In each of these situation, we need to inquire with individuals directly using our active listening skills to understand what they might be facing. Then, we can show compassion and focus our supportive attention on helping these individuals integrate (or not) into the organization.

Conclusion

The Waterline model helps take something confusing – diagnosing a complex system – and gives us a guide to help that system become healthy and efficiently productive. Using the waterline gives us a leg up professionally. It allows us to name patterns within organizations we may feel but not know how to speak about. It helps us get out of the cycle of blame and get into a productive and long lasting cycle of connection. It provides a time-tested structure to identify challenges and take good care of people in the process.

If you need more information, guidance, or support, invite perspective. We love to get into the water, murky or not, to help you achieve your vision.

 

Being a Professional is about Presence

The other day I was listening in on a call between my client and her teacher. This teacher was my teacher too a half decade ago. I was asked to be there by my client as another ear. In the event of an interpersonal gap, I would translate what each of them said in a language they could both understand.

There were times in the conversation when one or the other was talking where I became confused. My job is to use myself as a diagnostic tool within a system. When I feel confused, I check in with myself. Did I disassociate? Is this triggering an emotion or a memory in me? Am I feeling centered and connected to my role and my purpose? Am I still confused?

There were times when I was truly confused about their points. I would then actively listen by asking clarifying questions. Draw attention to the purpose of the call. Paraphrase what one said and ask if I got that right. Helping them deepen and clarify what it was they were trying to say.

At the end of the call, we evolved the issue, finding resolution in parts and creating a deeper understanding in others.

A few days later, I received an email from my teacher. He said that I was “very professional” on the call. I was “open-hearted, direct, and helped create openings” for the client.

I was pleased with the feedback, that was my experience as well. What struck me was the word professional.

Being a professional means many things. Wikipedia says a professional is someone with standards of education and training that prepare them for a particular activity which requires a specific set of knowledge and skills necessary to perform their role.

I define professional as someone who knows themselves – where they are going and how to get there. Can generate genuine curiosity for the path of others, where they learn about themselves or their profession through the process of relationship. And who have the abilty to see the larger context at play in any situation.

On paper, I have been a professional for a long time. I learned knowledge and skills to apply to a particular activity. Yet, to be very good at my job, I had to BE-come a professional with my presence.

As a leadership coach and organizational development consultant, I help systems move toward health. Whether an internal system within an individual or a larger system of a family or organization.

All of these systems want to live in harmony with the world around it, like an untouched eco-system. Problem is sometimes even an untouched eco-system gets input from the world that a change needs to take place. Change is not usually something we enter into voluntarily, as most change creates chaos.  Because of this, we shy away. What helps is when there is someone to hold the chaos. That is my job. I am a professional chaos holder.

Holding chaos is a learned experience. Yet there are some skills, knowledge, and mindsets that make holding the chaos easier. I teach these.

We begin with an inquiry into self. Through this inquiry we find our place. Where we are starting from and where we want to go. From there we learn how to read the signals of the path and intervene with genuine curiosity. Then, we learn how to hold those view points and move toward our hoped for result.

Through these practices, we can voluntarily enter into a conversation with a system. We can take calculated risks to shift the holding pattern it is stuck in. This holding pattern can be within an individuals body or a larger system. Shifting this holding pattern allows the system to see and feel itself differently. This creates an opening to change that allows the system to move toward health.

Come learn how to BE a professional in any profession by understanding and using your presence. Invite perspective.

Foundations of Leadership Development: Part Two

Active Listening and the Interpersonal Gap

Leadership

Listening is the cornerstone skill of an influential leader. We are rarely explicitly taught HOW to listen. We may be lucky and learn effective methods from our family system, or by emulating a skilled mentor. But often, we are left to figure out how to effectively listen through trial and error. Some people learn it and others don’t. Our language and practice of listening is not common or dependable. This erodes trust.

To build strong and resilient cultures, we must explicitly teach and practice how to listen.

Leadership is a process of social influence where one person enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. This definition comes from Martin Chemers’ book An Integrative Theory of Leadership. In this definition, there is no mention of position or rank. Anyone can be a leader in any organization, family system, or group.

When we hear the word leader, our thoughts have been shaped to envision someone in charge of others or people making decisions in the spotlight.

The leader in our definition is a person who shares their opinion, perspective, and insights to help move a task along. This means that when you share your opinion at a meeting, you are being a leader. There is nothing more to it. Yet, there are ways to do it effectively. Active listening is an essential part of the foundational skillset for influential leaders who want weave strong cultures.

Listening – Actively

Our ears are always hearing. Hearing is the act of receiving and perceiving sound waves or vibrations. Listening is the act of hearing and consciously applying attention and effort to interpret what you are hearing.

Most of us listen to respond, not to understand. We do this because this is what we have been unconsciously trained to practice. Responding gets rewarded in our culture.

To respond appropriately, considerately, and collaboratively, we need to listen actively. It is the intention, effort, and attention that creates the active part of active listening.

Filters – The Way we see the World

When we are in conversation with another person we bring different backgrounds and viewpoints to a common issue. These viewpoints make up the filters through which we see the world. We cannot see the world without our filters. And we cannot see another person’s filters unless we become curious about that person.

No one is objective. Everyone’s filters are different. They are not right or wrong, they simply are.

For example, Jesse has a method of organizing where all tasks are written down and crossed of the list as completed. She is often seen working at her desk. Her conversations with others are short, direct, and task-focused. This helps her manage time and accomplish her tasks.

Penelope has a list as well. During her day, she prefers open-ended conversations with other people. She learns about them and how they work. Her conversations are inquisitive and can be lengthy. People feel they can open-up around her. Her tasks for the day regularly get reworked and reorganized depending on what she discovers while talking with others.

After reading these, I imagine you had an opinion about which person’s method is more effective than the other. This is a direct result of your filters.

Filters are created throughout our life. We push our intention and absorb impact through these filters. These filters make up our belief systems and mental models. They are shaped by the systems we live within.

Our initial shaping happens in our family system – the group of people that make up our primary caregivers and those that support them. They have in turn been shaped by their early family system and their experiences with the larger world – where they work, where they learn, what historical events were taking place in their life, where they grew up, and the implicit and explicit expectations of the communities they belong to.

This shaping forms the lens through which we interpret the world. These initial experiences define what we think possible, what action we can take, and how we take it. Because of our filters, we all have our particular ways of being in the world.

Interpersonal Gap

Throughout much of our day, our filters are bumping up against the filters of others. This can lead to snap judgments and misconceptions about a person’s intentions. This is called the interpersonal gap.

interpersonal gap

The interpersonal gap is always at play in every relationship. It happens when one person’s intention does not match the impact he or she is trying/hoping to have on another. If there are many people in the room, the interpersonal gap is happening with all of them.

When the impact does not match the intention, rifts occur that impede us from socially influencing others, accomplishing tasks, and creating a trusting culture. To become an influential leader – a culture shaper, we must believe that the interpersonal gap is happening far more than we know or desire to acknowledge.

Jesse wants people to complete tasks in a timely manner. She feels this will solve 99% of the organizations and even the world’s problems.

Penelope values people being heard and included. She feels this will solve 99% of the organizations and even the world’s problems.

When Jesse and Penelope get together to discuss a task, the interpersonal gap is at play.

The First Step

We are meaning making machines. Chris Argyris created a model called the Ladder of Inference. A common, automatic practice people reflexively use when trying to make sense of something.

A person makes a statement or observation. We select the part of what they say that triggers or has meaning to us. We then interpret what we think they were driving at with the part we selected. We make meaning of what they said through our filters. Then, draw conclusions, create beliefs, and take action. This happens in a fraction of a second. It is hard wired into our system.

ladder of inference

To interrupt this reflexive loop is uncomfortable. It means that we may not know as much as we suspected. We may have to admit there are other ways of getting things done. Or alternate systems of belief that have value. We may even feel physically unsafe or uncomfortable.

Knowing the loop is present, knowing we have filters that are different than others, and opening our listening is not easy, but if we take the following steps, it become more attainable.

The Way Forward

  1. First, listen without reacting. Not reacting may take time. I suggest meditation as a tool to interrupt your automatic responses. See this post to learn how.
  2. The second step is to slow down the conversation. This helps you understand what is important.
    • To do this you paraphrase. “What I heard you say was… to slow down I repeat back to you what you said to make sure I understood. Did I get that?”
    • You can also paraphrase when you start to lose track of where they began or what they are saying.
      • You interrupt them, “Hold on, can I make sure I understand what you are saying? This is a lot and I want to be sure I get it.”
  1. The third step is to listen. Then repeat steps one and two.
  2. Lastly, you can respond once the person replies, “Yes, that is what I mean.” Then respond slowly.

A few other tools are sharing your perception and parroting. Parroting is often used to repeat instructions that are vital to know verbatim or with small children. “You said, respond slowly.” Or “Yes, I see the train too.”

To check someone’s perception you share what you think their intention is. “I think you are trying to help me understand how to listen so I can be a more effective leader. Did I get that?”

You can also ask to be actively listened to. This is practicing curiosity and is an advanced step toward becoming an influential leader and culture shaper. “Can you play back what you thought I said? I want to make sure I am clear.” What you hear will help you understand the other person’s filters as you learn what data points they took away.

As influence is not a single act or event, but a web of connection, if we are not aware that what we are seeing or building is not the full story, our leadership may be ineffective and misplaced. Leading to the erosion of trust which undermines the strong and resilient culture we are trying to build. We want you to be able to take effective action and build strong cultures. Start by actively listening.

Invite perspective if you have any questions. These are conversations we love having.

 

Meditation

Understanding the Body and the Mind

Objective:

  • Practice focusing the attention and observing the mind and the body.

Goal:

  • To have the power to choose where and on what we place our attention by observing and understanding the sensations of the body and their impact on the mind.
  • To understand the self – our foundational thought and sensation patterns – and our triggers more intimately to be in choice over what we respond to and how we respond.
  • Ultimately, to expand our capacity and awareness of the self, others, and the world around us.

Timeline:

  • Between 5 and 20 minutes.

Tasks:

  • Observe the breath by focusing attention on the rising and falling of the chest or belly, or the more advanced version of noticing the sensation of the in and out breath on the place below the nostrils and above the upper lip.

Instructions:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where you can keep your back straight and relaxed.
  • A quite environment is preferable.
    • Many choose to meditate in the early morning before others have woken and begin to stir or at night for the same reasons.
    • Your car or your office can also work well.
  • Close your eyes.
    • This will help manage your attention from getting distracted by external stimuli.
    • It will help you focus on observing how distracting your internal world can be.
  • Notice what muscles you contract while breathing. Relax them. Notice when they become engaged. Again, relax them. You are moving toward effortless breathing.
  • You will notice your mind is “busy”. The goal is observation of the mind, not cessation of thought.
    • This is our brain at work. This is its job. You are to notice how you think, how your mind works.
    • You are to remain unattached to the thoughts. You are NOT to follow them. You will come up with some compelling and amazing ideas. DO NOT FOLLOW THEM. They will come back to you.
    • When you notice that you are thinking, label it by saying “Thinking.” Be gentle with yourself. And return to observing the sensation of the breath.
  • Stay in the practice for the entire time of your commitment.
  • If strong and overwhelming emotions arise and are destabilizing or hard to come back from, contact me or a trauma trained therapist.

Building Strong Cultures

Leaders in Every Role

Gone is the lone leader to save the day. Gone is command and control forcing, coercing, and bribing. To create the cultures that will survive in the future, we must play the long game of leadership.

We have entered a time where our baseline level of skill and conceptual abilty is high enough to understand that we need to work together: bottom-up, top-down, and sideways. We must all be leaders.

Leading from every role is not a common practice in the world today. It requires skillful groups of motivated individuals working together to navigate organizational complexities and manage their impact on the world. To create the cohesive, strong, and resilient culture of the future, we must practice this new way of leading.

Culture is hard, but not impossible, to measure. It contains three elements that when mixed in the right proportions have the desired effect.

  • Strong culture starts with a desire for something to be different than it is today. A vision of the future we long to see.
  • Then comes structure – speaking the same language. Important words that define our vision and the path forward must have a commonly understood meaning and a behavioral description of what they look like in practice.
  • Practice is really the foundation of any culture. We must be in conscious practices that lead us in the direction of our purpose.

Building culture is based on the idea that leadership – of an organization, country, or family – is a process of social influence, not a role. Anyone in any system can be a leader. Through their social influence, this person has the abilty to enlist the aid and support of others to accomplish a common task.

To socially influence other people, the leader has acquired a skillset – a way of doing. They can communicate a compelling outcome, process, and structure for engagement. Before they apply their skillset, they must have a mindset – a way of believing – that their outcome can be accomplished.

Social influence is the tool we have to change the world. Force is relic of the past. Teaching all people how to consciously lead in any and every position is the key to building strong and resilient cultures.

Desire

The first step in building a strong culture is desire. The group of people must have a longing, a compelling reason why putting effort into culture is important to them.

Trust me, with any endeavor there will be doubt along the path. The desire must be strong enough to move through the periods of doubt and stay committed. If you shift gears due to your fear, you erode any progress you have made with your culture. There will be times where you will question your efforts, the cost, and the time. You must stick to the long game for creating a strong and resilient culture.

At Opal Food and Body Wisdom, the women who lead this business have a deeply compelling reason to put effort into culture. They hold people lives in their hands. The life and death role all people in their organization plays daily reminds them of the importance of a connected structure of care. Leaders can be in every role – even the patients.

Their desire is to contribute to a world where all are able to live fully with security, freedom, attunement, and connection. This is their deeply unique reason for being a company in the world today. This gets them up each day and brings them in to do good work building people up in world that continually breaks people down.

Structure

The second step is structure. Creating a common language. A mission, vision, and values that will guide you.

Few organizations use mission, vision, and values effectively. To be effective, they must be a daily practice. Something to return to when you get confused about your success, failure, what to decide, or how to proceed. They are the foundation and the structure for your business. They must be compelling and relevant. They must ask something of all people that work for and with you. This ask must be clear, understood, and behaviorally specific: why you are here, where you are going, and how you will get there.

Green Canopy Homes takes vision, mission and values seriously. Each year since their inception in 2010, they have set aside a half-day for their whole staff to gather and recommit to the mission and vision, and create a set of values and mantras – behaviors in action – that will help them live into it.

The mission and vision change infrequently. They shifted a few times in the early years to become crisp. Recently, the mission and vision went through an overhaul to represent their changing role in the world.

Green Canopies values are created annually at the whole-staff retreat. Some values carryover from year-to-year, but what changes is the mantras – the behaviors people will exhibit when living into the values.

Green Canopy gets specific with what success looks like in practice. Take their value of authentic communication. There are four mantras that describe what I will be doing when I am living into that value. One is “have hard conversations now.” This mantra is discussed at their monthly leadership development meeting. All team members are given a practical skill to have a hard conversation now. This becomes the common language. All individuals now have permission and are encouraged to be an influential leader. It shapes everyone’s daily practices around skills that help them live into that value.

Practice

The third step is regular practice. Daily conversational practices are required to live into the values that lead to the accomplishment of the mission and vision and the fulfilment of the desire.

Conversational practices are structures that guide people through common relational challenges like giving and receiving feedback, managing conflict, seeing another’s point of view, and listening to understand. An entire organization is taught the same practices. No matter who we run into in our day-to-day work life, we all know how to give and receive feedback, it is a practice – even if we choose not to go there.

In this way people all learn to speak a common language. These known conversational daily practices become habit for people. As they do, the structures fade into the background and the communication between people rises. These practices build trust.

In any business, whatever you do, at its core, is about relationship. At Microsoft, a global Fortune 50 company, people come from many backgrounds. Though this brings an amazing cultural diversity, it ensures that most will interpret the world differently.

Everyone can communicate, but there is not a similar structure of communication, which feels like a different organizational language.

When conversational practices are explicitly taught and practiced, people learn a common language to communicate their actions, thoughts, and feelings, and interpret and speak to those of others. This creates a foundation of similar capabilities leading to productive dialogue and efficient workplace exchanges.

Though not a global company cultural practice, over our 13 years of work there, we see leaders who use these practices everyday to their advantage. They are the ones promoted and relied upon for their leadership. They are the ones making cross company connections and driving successful businesses. They are the leaders weaving the culture that strengthens the company.

Results

Over the years, we have been regularly surprised by the impact of a compelling desire, the structure of a common language, and daily practice on weaving a strong cultural fabric to withstand local and global set-backs. Anything can happen with these three ingredients.

People often remark that not only is their work life more satisfying, but their home life has gotten easier too. They have better skills in all areas of life.

This impacts everything. Through practice with their employees, their children, and all people with whom they interact, they are influencing the leaders of the future.

Opal has been a leader in their field, steadily growing since its inception and doing so consciously. Though they experience bumps regarding growth – get bigger or stay manageable? And staff challenges. They are continually in a conversation about how to create a strong culture where people feel supported, but not catered to. They handle these conversations while maintaining their desire to be healthy inside and out – balancing family, work, and community. Their strong desire to be the change they hope to see in the world fuels their success.

Green Canopy is a risk taker. They have a bold vision and innovative ideas to achieve their vision. When they run into obstacles to their success they do a hard stop. A conscious structural practice. They created S2S – Slow-down-to-Speed-up. A practice that happens when they spot challenges that have thread throughout the entire company. For as long as it takes, they shut down all operations, gather the entire staff, and use the conversational practices they have been taught – their common language – to decipher what is happening and where. This is a huge risk, but every time they come out stronger and more connected than before.

At Microsoft, they are a forerunner in global conversation. With 124,000 people employed world-wide, they are a leader in trying to create a common language to empower all to communicate effectively, efficiently, and create a global platform. Though leadership practices are not pervasive or common throughout the entire company, they are a microcosm of what it is like to change a large culture – say a country or state or political institution. Change takes time. It takes a continual, long-game commitment to practicing something new, teaching it to future generations, and weaving it into the fabric of everything you do. This provides and anchor to return to when the complexity gets overwhelming. A calm in the storm of the world. If Microsoft is trying, so can you.

Investing in the future, not only for yourself, but for the benefit of all, is not a small task. What is a company for if not to change the world? Maybe you have reached a level of success in the work you do. Are you consciously bringing everyone along? Is there a deeper longing?

We believe much more can be done. Not more time spent – more effective time spent communicating what is vital and important by understanding your longing, speaking a common language, and being in conscious practices. This will help you become the leader of the future.

Socially influence the world through your strong and resilient culture. Be the envy of others. Accomplish the common task of being a successful and conscious business working in harmony with the world around it. Your dream is possible. You just have to practice.