How Good is Your Word?
How Good is Your Word?
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
This is the first agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements: (one of my all-time favourites, and one I revisit at least once every year, in case you’re interested).
This agreement sounds simple enough, I know. In a nutshell, it feels a little like Barbara Coloroso’s “say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do.” It’s certainly got that sort of quality about it on the surface. When you go a little deeper, however, impeccability of word is about so much more than that.
It’s about understanding that words are powerful.
Words can create or destroy. Words must be treated with respect, especially in your relationships.
Think about it. Your relationships form the frame of your life to a large extent. The people you associate with go a long way to defining who you are and how you’re perceived. In light of this, you want to ensure that these people know what you’re about, that they experience you the way you want to be experienced, and a big way in which you’re experienced is through the words you use with one another.
Ruiz likens words to seeds, saying that as such, words can grow in ways that go beyond what our intention might be. This is why IMPECCABILITY of word becomes essential. When words are simply thrown about, without thought being given to how that word is landing, or the context in which it’s being planted, it’s too easy to overlook what might grow as a result. For example, if you play a team sport, and you poke fun at a team-mate, suggesting that he or she is the weak link on the team (think of some version of “you can’t catch a ball to save your life – just kidding!”) there’s a way that that statement as a whole leaves a mark. ALL of the words land, and which ones grow depends in large measure on the soil in which they’re landing, so to speak. If you’re talking to someone whose self-esteem is in any way low, the “just kidding” will not have that much weight, certainly not enough to override the first part of the statement.
This does not mean that you have to sugarcoat things
Impeccability is about honesty married with an understanding of the power of language. When you speak, when you write, when you convey words, you leave an impression. Being impeccable with your word is about understanding this impact, and using words to create the impact you truly want, not the impact gets created by chance. Creating the impact you want, also means paying attention; you must notice how your words land, and tweak accordingly.
Bottom-line: Ruiz’s first agreement is about conscious, deliberate, intentional use of language. Words are powerful and must be used with reverence. Tossing words about without consideration of the consequence isn’t acceptable, not if you want to nourish and nurture your relationships. No matter who you’re with, be impeccable with your word.
You’ve Totally Screwed Up; Now What?
Leaders are people too.
Leaders are not gods or demi-gods. Leaders are not exempt from human foibles of any sort; which means, leaders make mistakes from time to time.
Sometimes, leaders make huge mistakes. Errors in judgment, offensive remarks, displays of extreme emotion, actions or decisions that result in detrimental consequences – any and all of these can be made by leaders as much as they can be made by anyone else. And, when mistakes are made by leaders, they are often more glaring and subject to more scrutinty than when they’re made by others.
What’s a leader to do?
I ask this question because one of the unspoken truths when it comes to leadership is that we actually hope that our leaders will not make mistakes. Even though we understand that leaders are people too, even though we realize that all people make mistakes, leaders are held to a higher standard. And the degree to which your leadership is visible to others, the more your mistakes are subject to scrutiny. And ridicule. And, sometimes, condemnation.
So, I ask again, what’s a leader to do?
Simply put, accept responsibility. This is where too many leaders fail. Why? Because of fear.
Mistakes, generally speaking, result in some sort of undesirable outcome. Nobody likes an undesirable outcome. We’re afraid of them. As a result what many of us do in the face of errors is we defend, deflect, or otherwise distance ourselves from mistakes. We try to make it seem like the mistake didn’t happen or, if it did, it wasn’t as detrimental as others might think, or that it really wasn’t our fault.
Defending, deflecting and distancing are not helpful actions when you’ve screwed up.
In the face of a mistake, no matter how grave, you must accept responsibility. In other words, you have to suck it up, buttercup, and push through the icky feelings that may arise as part of the accountability process. When you do this you can come out on the other side having learned from your error and able to move on.
So, how do you accept responsibility? How do you be accountable?
- Take a breath. Anything is more manageable when you’re conscious of your breath.
- Name your mistake, in as public a forum as necessary. Gauge this by taking stock of who is impacted by your mistake. The people who are impacted or will be impacted, those are the folks to whom you are accountable.
- Acknowledge that there may well be fallout – and accept it for what it is. This is perhaps the hardest part. Trying to avoid the fallout, or pretend it couldn’t possibly happen to you, doesn’t serve anyone.
- Make amends. Sincerely apologize, fix what you’ve broken, do the time that’s appropriate.
- Learn from your mistake; make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. One of the things to remember when it comes to mistakes is this; the first time, it’s a mistake. After that, it’s a choice.
Bottom-line: Leadership does not preclude you from making mistakes; neither does it preclude you from taking responsibility. Leadership in any form requires you to own your mistakes. If you don’t, rest assured, your mistakes will come back to haunt you. And the fallout at that point, is likely to be greater than what it would have been in the moment.
A Truth that You are NOT Going to Like!
You are dispensable.
The world will survive without you.
No matter what you’re dealing with, the sun will go on rising and setting.
All three of these sentences are pointing to the same truth: namely, that there is a bigger, grander scheme at play, one that doesn’t actually REQUIRE you in the way that you believe you are required.
You are dispensable. And you are replaceable.
No matter your title, no matter your position within an organization, no matter your role within a system, that same system will find a way to function in your absence. And you’ve GOT to find a way to work within this truth.
In my leadership coaching work– and indeed, simply in the world around me – I regularly witness individuals acting as if they’re indispensable. Inevitably this takes the form of burning the candle at both ends, always being within arm’s reach of their phone, never allowing themselves space to be away from one thing or another. Why? Because they’re operating within a frame that says “I am needed to deal with this, to solve this problem, to help my team.”
Well, I call bullshit. (Sorry, the language feels necessary). And here’s why.
While it might seem that you are the go-to person for advice, for solutions, for answers, this is only because
- a) you’re around and
- b) you’ve allowed this to happen.
Rest assured, if you were to be elsewhere, problems would still get solved, and answers would still be found. The solutions might not be the ones you’d envision. That doesn’t mean they’re not valid, however.
I’m sharing this because I see too many folks burning themselves out, unnecessarily. It’s lovely to feel valued; and it’s lovelier to feel present, engaged, and fulfilled. If you’re depleting yourself in any way because of some distorted belief that your world needs you, then your world is going to implode sooner rather than later. And such destruction is avoidable.
So, it’s time to start implementing some boundaries, enforcing them, and understanding that any indispensability you might have lies not in you being around all the time and doing everything, but rather in you being healthy, rested, and encouraging those around you to be self-reliant. Leadership (in all its forms) is about having those around you reach their potential, rather than doing everything for them.
What sorts of boundaries can you draw?
Here are 5 to get you started:
- Turn your smartphone off, and put it AWAY (like, out of your bedroom) at the end of the day. (for those of you who say that you need it for the alarm clock feature, go buy yourself a separate alarm clock — $5, is all you need.)
- Leave your work at work. If you work from home, close your office door and do not enter it until the next work day.
- Use an autoresponder to let clients/colleagues know when you are out of the office and when you plan to return. Trust me, they can wait. Better yet, implement and enforce a 24-hour rule: essentially, let folks know that you will respond to messages within 24 hours (or whatever time frame works for you) and then stick to it.
- Implement an emergency plan that doesn’t require you to be involved. Have a trusted associate who can deal with true emergencies in your absence.
- When you’re on vacation, turn your email OFF. Be on vacation.
Bottom-line: I know, these boundaries feel challenging to draw, especially if you’ve been making yourself available to anyone and everyone at anytime. Challenging, however, is not impossible. And if you don’t draw them, you will burn out and discover first-hand just how dispensable you are. Because in the words of Abby Lee Miller, “everyone’s replaceable.”
What’s Your Intention?
Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. Rephrased, the essence of Ford’s brilliance is that your ultimate success is rooted in whether or not you believe you’ll achieve it. Moreover – and this is the core wisdom that I want you to glean this week – your degree of success has everything to do with intention; and the power of intention applies to everything. Let me explain.
Anyone who’s ever travelled with me knows this much: things tend to flow pretty easily when I travel. Not necessarily perfectly, but easily. When dealing with border crossings and customs personnel, we usually get through with ease, even if there are long line ups to contend with. Parking spots? Those are easily found. Waiting for luggage? Never a hassle. Flight times, arrivals and departures? Always smooth and sometimes we even arrive at our destination early.
Many years ago, as I witnessed the harried frenzy of so many people in travel-mode, I made up my mind that travelling would just be something I enjoyed. I set the intention that travel would be an enjoyable experience in my life, something I would treasure and savour with companions whenever possible, no matter the destination. What I know is that there is no point in getting riled over stuff that is ultimately out of my control. Sometimes flights get delayed, especially if weather is a problem. My standing and yelling at a ticket agent is not going to change that. So, I find a way to make the best of the situation – and I’ve always been successful at this. This is the power of intention.
I’m talking specifically about travel in this article, because I know that many of you are in travel mode, or anticipating being in travel mode. The summer holidays tend to encourage travel for many. That being said, the power of intention applies to all experiences. As leaders, you can set intentions around project outcomes, around meeting success, around daily practices, around team function. Whatever you are feeling challenged by, taking the time to set an intention can be of value in ensuring success. Why? Because the nature of intention is such that it precipitates specific action. And the specific action you take, will lead to your desired outcome.
Bottom-line: intentions can be a pretty good marker for how any experience will actually turn out. Intentions are different from hopes and wishes –intentions are more solid, more anchored, more likely to be made manifest. So hold the intention of what you actually want. Then, do what you need to do to help facilitate it becoming reality. The only gap between intention and reality is time and corresponding action. So set your intention, do what needs to be done, and give it time to come true. Because, I assure you, it will.
Meaningful Ways to Mark a Milestone
Today marks an important milestone in our family. Our daughter, Olivia, is graduating grade 8. As I contemplate that fact, I feel my mind fill with questions: how did time pass so fast? How is she not still in kindergarten? What’s next on her path? How will we remember this day? How will we celebrate?
I do understand that grade 8 graduation is one of many milestones that have been achieved to date and, perhaps more importantly, one of many that lie ahead on her life’s journey. But that doesn’t minimize the significance of the milestone that’s here in front of us, today. I say this because too often, we trivialize the significance of milestones, expecting that there are “bigger ones to come”.
While bigger milestones might, in fact, lie ahead, there’s something to be said for taking the time, investing the energy, and pausing for a moment to mark THIS moment.
Understand: not every milestone requires a party or otherwise lavish celebration. All milestones do, however, merit some form of demarcation. Here are some simple, meaningful ideas for marking milestones in your life:
- Sit down with a journal and write down what this milestone means for you. How are you feeling? What are you proud of? What are you savouring?
- Gather a few trusted folks around you, and share your thoughts with them. Celebrate each other.
- Give yourself time to consider what you’ve invested to make it this far; what did you overcome? What did you learn? How have you grown?
- Ask yourself what inspirational quote captures the essence of this moment for you: create a visual reminder of that quote and post it somewhere prominent.
- Create an album or scrapbook that highlights your journey up to this moment.
There are a myriad of ways to mark a milestone. Too often, we limit our ideas to those that are celebratory in nature. Celebrations are wonderful; and, the ideas I’ve shared are a little less celebratory in nature. Why? Because I believe that there’s something more meaningful about in savouring, soaking in, and truly anchoring the experience.
Bottom-line: the achievement of any milestone merits the marking of that milestone. Go ahead and throw yourself a party. And, taking some time to mark the achievement meaningfully can really enrich the experience.
The ONE CRITICAL ELEMENT That Makes Change Happen
Last week, sadly, there was yet another mass shooting in the USA. For those who don’t know, the shooting happened at a club in Orlando, Florida, 50 people were killed and many others wounded. The shooting is being described as rooted in hate, based on the fact that it was a gay club and the shooter Islamic, with known intolerance for homosexuals.
In the wake of this event, once again, much is being said about the need for change. A fabulous video featuring many well known celebrities is going viral, noting that it’s time to demand a plan to deal with such violence. If you haven’t seen it, you can check out the link here:
In short, people all over are saying that it’s time for this sort of violence to stop, and that a plan must be made in order to facilitate this change.
To which I say: it’s not enough. A plan is a start, and nothing more.
Change cannot happen with a mere plan. A plan, when it comes right down to it, is nothing more than ideas on a page – at least, I hope they’re on a page because if they’re not written down somewhere, then it’s not even a plan, it’s just an idea.
In order for a plan to lead to change, there is one critical element that needs to come into play. This is true regardless of the merit of the plan. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the plan is mediocre, good or great. Without this element, the plan cannot – and will not – create change in and of itself.
The critical element is ACTION.
Until and unless action takes place, a plan will simply remain as that: a plan. And that’s not enough.
When I look at the world around us, and I see that these same sorts of events keep taking place, and I see individuals clamoring for change, and demanding a plan, I’m inspired by the realization that there are a lot of people committed to having things be different, better, safer. And yet, that commitment doesn’t seem to be enough to change things. If it were enough, these events wouldn’t be happening anymore.
So, what gets in the way? What’s present in the gap between a PLAN and corresponding ACTION? My best guess is that it’s fear: there’s a fear of hurting people’s feelings, of creating more angst, o getting it wrong.
I totally understand it; at the same time, the truth that’s staring us in the face is that without action, nothing changes. So it’s time to look fear in the face, take a breath, take a risk,, and take action, even if we get it wrong. If we get it wrong, we can course-correct. If we don’t take an action of any sort, however, then we remain stuck.
So, let’s extrapolate, shall we? Let’s apply this theory to your own world, to your family, to your business, to your organization. What thing do you want to see change? What plan have you created to kickstart that change? And more importantly, what ACTION have you taken – or will you take – to make that change reality?
Bottom-line: without action, a plan will not be effective. You can plan and coordinate and consider until you are blue in the face, but until you take some concrete action, nothing will actually change. Planning and action go hand in hand. Go ahead, make your plans. And, take action. It’s the only way to make a difference.
How Are You Changing the World?
So, over the course of my life, one of the things I’ve learned is that whether we intend to or not, each of us impacts the world around us. We all make an impression. We all change the world.
Not a single one of us can exist without making an impact, however small or great, however significant.
By virtue of being on the planet, we change the planet; we change our world.
Now, some of us do this in a grand way. It’s easy to see the difference and the impact that some people have. For most of us, the impact is less noticeable. And it’s still there.
I share this today, because I believe we all have an obligation – and an opportunity – to get just a little bit more deliberate in terms of the impact we’re having. We need to give more thought to the difference we’re making, and why we’re making it, and how.
A while ago, I read a quote – and for the life of me I can’t remember where it was or who said it. But it resonated, powerfully. Basically, the author suggested that instead of asking young folks what they want to be when they grow up, we are better off asking what problem they would like to solve. For me, this equates to the question of what difference do you want to make.
When was the last time you considered your impact? When did you last give thought to how you show up, and the difference you make on the world around you? I’ll bet it’s been a while. And I think it merits some thought.
Understand, the difference you make doesn’t have to be huge. And it doesn’t have to be onerous. It just has to be your contribution to the world. There’s something about getting really conscious and deliberate about the impact you’re having.
Bottom-line: you’re going to impact the world around you, whether you intend to or not. So get deliberate about it. And consciously choose how YOU will make the world a better place.
What to Do When Your World Comes to an End
I got the opportunity to witness the world come to an end for someone this week, and his corresponding reaction. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t pretty.
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about the devastating loss of a loved one; nor am I talking about a unexpected (or even expected) terminal diagnosis; I’m not even talking about a failure of some sort on this individual’s behalf.
Quite simply, his cell phone stopped working.
All of a sudden he was without the ability to text his people (colleagues, friends, family); he couldn’t make a quick and easy call; he couldn’t check his emails or online calendar; he couldn’t check social media to stay connected to world events; in short, he couldn’t do all the things that he was used to doing in any given moment of any given day.
He. Was. Freaking. Out.
Heart palpitations began; breathing was labored; he couldn’t figure out what the next day was going to look like (let alone the rest of the week) as his calendar and appointments were all on that device.
And it got me thinking; what the heck has our world come to?
Because here’s what I know for sure: his reaction wasn’t all that unique. I’ve actually witnessed similar reactions – and heard about others – from all people from all walks of life. Business executives; teenagers; parents; travelers; clients; colleagues; family.
It’s a little concerning, to tell the truth. Because in a world where cell phones are becoming so mainstream, they are bound to glitch out at the very least, if not conk out completely, from time to time.
So, what are our coping strategies? What can we be doing, how can we prepare ourselves, for the inevitable “end of the world” feeling?
Well, having been there myself on more than one occasion, I’ve got a thought or two. And, in my experience, they serve well. So let me share:
- For goodness sake, BREATHE. Hyperventilating and panicking helps no one, least of all yourself.
- Find some PERSPECTIVE. While it may feel like your world has come to a crashing halt, rest assured that it hasn’t. Worst case scenario, you’ll miss some vital communication – and, the world will keep spinning on its axis and life will go on.
- REACH OUT to your people through other means. Borrow a friend’s phone, hop on your computer, make your way to an internet café, or (can you even imagine it) use a land line to let the important folks in your life no what’s going on.
- EVALUATE the severity. Don’t assume that your phone is completely dead. It might be; or maybe the screen is just glitch; or maybe your phone needs a new battery. Or maybe you need a new phone.
- KNOW that there is a solution. It may not be quite what you were expecting or wanting in this moment, but there is a way forward.
- USE THE OPPORTUNITY to savour a tech-free moment or two. This is actually the perfect scenario in which you can discern exactly how dependent you are on your phone, AND what alternative ways exist for you to do what you thought could only be done with that handheld device.
Bottom-line: while the sky may not be falling in your world, rest assured there will be a time when your phone – or whatever other electronic gadget you rely on – breaks down. And Murphy’s Law pretty much guarantees that it will NOT be convenient, no matter when that occurs. That being said, it is not the end of the world, even though it might seem like it. Remember, this too shall pass. And in the meantime, you can use the time to do things that maybe you otherwise wouldn’t have had the time to do (like take a day off and go to the beach).
Taking a Stand? Or Digging in Your Heels?
As a leadership coach, I am privileged to bear witness as my clients discover the things for which they will take a stand. I then get to watch as they shift, grow and evolve into that space where they can take that stand, whatever it may be, with courage, conviction and in total alignment with who they are. It’s an awesome experience, for sure.
As a leader in my own right – one who’s at the helm of my own company as well as various organizations and groups – I find myself in situations where I too am challenged to take a stand. Sometimes I am asked to defend decisions or explain policy; sometimes it’s imperative for me to put a stop to a course of actions that misaligns with core values; sometimes I am required to create a container of sorts, in which difficult, messy conversations can happen in service of a bigger agenda. Each of these scenarios is, in one way or another, a version of taking a stand.
Over the past few weeks, as I have worked with the concept of taking a stand, I have been struck by the difference between “taking a stand” and “digging in heels”. I realize that for some people, these seem like similar concepts. And yet, my experience tells me that these are very different energetically. Moreover, the difference is profound in terms of the outcomes to be generated.
When you take a stand, you root yourself in a clear, solid understanding of what is at stake. From this place, you can engage in dialogue, ask questions as necessary, explore and stand in curiousity, all while being firmly anchored in whatever it is that you hold as truth. There’s a spaciousness and movement that’s possible when you take a stand. It’s a solid stance, without being rigid.
When you dig your heels in, however, rigidity and inflexibility are present in abundance. Perhaps counter-intuitively, you actually weaken your position, and close yourself off to possibility. When you dig your heels in – no matter the cause – you’re not actually anchored solidly. Instead, you’re brittle and easily “breakable” as it were.
Why do I make this distinction?
Because taking a stand over digging in your heels can mean the difference between moving forward or getting stuck. When you take a stand, you’re opening yourself up to a commitment. When you dig in your heels, you’re closing yourself off from any progress.
Bottom-line: being a leader of any sort – a parent, a teacher, a CEO, a coach, a manager (the list could go on forever) will require you to take a stand at some point. When that time comes, knowing the difference between taking a stand and digging in your heels will be vital. Taking a stand, in the truest sense of that expression, will always allow for growth and forward movement. Digging in your heels? That’s a sure-fire recipe for getting stuck.
So, You Say You Want to Change…
Growth. Evolution. Change.
On some level, as human beings we all know that these are inevitable – and indeed necessary – to the human experience. We understand that in order to become all that we’re meant to become, in order to reach our full potential (whatever that might be) change is part of the equation.
Theoretically, we all talk about embracing change and we purport to do so in service of the vision we hold for ourselves.
Practically, however, most of us navigate change while kicking and screaming at best, or by being dragged forcibly through the process at worst.
Goodness, humans can be a strange breed in this way.
You see, there is a gap (obviously) between the theory of change and the practice of change. There is an essential process that is necessary to the experience of change, and it is this process that we collectively, move often than not, resist.
What’s the process? The process of “doing things differently”. In other words, even though we SAY that we want to change and grow and evolve – even though we claim to understand the merits of change and growth and evolution – what we DON’T want, is to actually DO anything differently. 4
How counter-productive is that?
Einstein said it best when he said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The fact of the matter is, if you truly want things to be different – if you want to experience change to any degree, then you’ve got to be willing to DO things differently. Period.
The challenge is that, while we might understand this intellectually, we are creatures of habit. We really do get used to doing things a certain way and so, even though we want different results, we resist changing our patters in order to achieve those results.
Talk about making things difficult for yourself!
So, how can you navigate change with more grace? How can you do what needs to be done, to experience the change (whatever it is) that you want?
- Get clear on WHY you want to experience change in the first place. Understanding your rationale for having things be different can go a long way to helping facilitate change, when your habits run up against your desire.
- Enlist the support of others in your process. Have conversations about what you’re striving for and how you’re planning on achieving your stated outcome.
- Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for “slip ups” – but don’t allow yourself to keep slipping up, either.
- Give yourself time; change always takes time.
- Keep track of progress; notice subtle shifts and corresponding outcomes.
- Celebrate small changes, as you make your way toward the bigger picture.
Bottom-line: if you truly want to grow – you’ve got to embrace change. And when you truly embrace change, it means that you’re committing to a new way of being, of doing, of showing up. Lean into the newness; embrace it, don’t resist. And allow yourself to experience the joy of becoming something more than you are right now.