Disney or Pixar? Believing and Investing in You . . . (r) Career

Photo by  Ross Findon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Chasing Past Success . . . Leads to Failure

Do you want to be Disney or Pixar? (Yes, I know that Pixar is, now, once again, Disney. But hang on and you’ll I think you’ll see my point.) What am I implying in this comparison? Simply, that everyone makes a choice to either let the “industry” or the “dream” determine their professional path. There was a time where my view of these two companies was like this:

Disney was, in my view, playing it safe. They tightly controlled access to their products (still do), not allowing them to be readily available, and using “new” releases of their content to resell their most successful products, or they remake the popular products (over and over) to create new revenues—and for a time, created little new and interesting products. From a business viewpoint, leveraging their past successes was working—to some degree. But they seemed unaware of the losses they were experiencing through this operational stagnation—the “opportunity costs” of not growing and not capturing new markets. They were stagnant.These costs were exposed when employees left and created Pixar.

Pixar, comprised of employees who left Disney, on the other hand, believed in telling a great new story. They believed that creating a strong story and allowing their team the creative freedom to design the telling of that story would be compelling to their customers. The leaders wanted to create a more dynamic, supportive, team that would engage in finding new stories worth telling. They left Disney because of the constraints on their vision or creating a new process and new products. They found a new niche that exploded with customers for their products—and Disney, eventually, recognizing their missed opportunity—eventual bought them and brought them back into their company.

Fear. The longer I have been a professional, the more I recognize fear as being a primary roadblock for people in many areas of life. From the “narcissist” who will not admit to making mistakes, doesn’t apologize, and who dominates conversations to avoid feeling vulnerable or out of control to the “codependent” who will not stand up for their own best interests, accommodates to everyone else’s wishes and who may enable destructive behavior around them—fear is often one of the causal factors of this behavior.

I have no doubt that there was fear at Disney. What if we go to the expense of creating a new product and it fails? Better to “play it safe” with what we know works. Too often, leaders cling to the successes of the past and forget that the successes came from forging new paths. Disney, once the vanguard of something new, let the past—their own history within their industry—determine their orientation for the future. In a sense, the industry standard was now defining Disney. Not Pixar. Pixar wanted to reshape the industry. They wanted to return to a time when new stories, well told, and creative presentation would become the standard.

Fear and Change

In this blog, we’ve written about fear regularly, we’ve focused on the problems of management by fear. We’ve talked about the lies that people tell themselves to protect themselves and avoid unwanted fears, We’ve detailed the problems expressed by ego, trust, mistakes, or control. Finally, we talked about fear in transitions in family businesses. Fear is a powerful enemy. For many it promotes the prey mentality . . . “don’t move and maybe you’ll survive” . . . for other’s it promotes action . . . “keep moving or you might become lunch.” The best approach to fear is to recognize it but not let it “drive the bus.” Analyzing when it is an indicator of real threats or when it is just a conditioned response.

Professionals are no different than the leadership at Disney. The average professional is content to let the profession shape their practice. Right now, the losses due to “opportunity costs” are not particularly painful. Professionals can make a good living. Many over the course of their career dream about changes they would like to see in their professional practices (like no weekend or evening work, less paperwork, providingnmore educational groups, going entirely private pay, or offering a new type of service) but lack an understanding of the steps to reach their goals, do not have the proper supports, or are fearful of the perceived risks.

At one time in my career I joined a group of professionals whose goal was to support the work of private practitioners. I didn’t attend long. Why? Because, in my estimation, the group primarily focused on the fears the group members had of making a transition into private pay. I heard a lot of support for members but few “solutions” or guidance on how to get to a private pay model. Frankly, if I would have lived in that community it might have been worth while to continue but I decided the value wa not worth a commitment of half a day to attend (travel, meeting, and return trip). Hopefully, those who stayed got something they needed out of it.

Most professionals, in my experience, “go it alone” or with the support of a small set of colleagues, the support of a practice they join, or a mentor. They are limited by the experience, vision, and yes, even fears, of their circle of supporters. Many would benefit from getting outside their parochial environs and find support from coaches that have successfully traversed the path they want to take. Few will.

Approaching . . . cautiously . . . Changes to your practice

Taking risks by investing in one’s own career is often taken tentatively, if at all, by most professionals. They fearfully stop working weekends or cut back on their evenings. They drop an insurance provider with poor fees. The average practicianer will also, of course, attend trainings that they can see will directly help them in their career—a new technique (EMDR training), method of service delivery (Neurofeedback), or product (coaching)— but exploring the cutting edge of practice, new modalities of practice and the changing landscape of engaging professional services are paths chosen rarely, and only by the few.

So, as an example, the enterprising few have created on-line venues for providing counseling and coaching on-line (see, for example, PSYPACT). An increasing number fo professionals over time follow these explorers by joining and providing the services once the framework has been created. More, perhaps most, may take a “watch and wait” stance to see how new approaches “shake out” in the industry. Still others, wary of the ethical challenges, professional licensing limitations, and potential legal risks will not—unless compelled—engage in any way this new frontier of practice and may even question the motives, ethics, and professionalism of those who do. Yet, at it’s very core, it is a change, either good or bad, that is happening and that is unlikely to be stopped, in my opinion, unless it is addressed through regulation on a national level.

No, a professional should never practice in a way they deem to be unethical, of dubious benefit to clients, or out of their scope of expertise. But . . . that doesn’t mean that professionals have to limit themselves to the constraints of the past either. The profession has always changed and grown. From it’s roots in neurology, to the application of psychological principles in industry, to the application to artificial intelligence, the field will continue to evolve. Professional vision and the opportunities they cease will lead the movement. Will you be in your career? Part of the vanguard, scouting out new territory? Perhaps, preferring the safety of journeying among peers positioning yourself firmly in the group? Or, perhaps, the trailing the pack and holding on to the past territory?

This week, I got an email from a professional who is taking part in our Leading Edge Coaching**. We had to delay our meeting but she noted that she has a new contract and couldn’t wait to tell me about it. Good for her! She is courageously moving toward her preferred future and finding that it is possible.

**Leading Edge Coaching (LEC) is our process to provide specially-tailored coaching to a limited number of professionals who want to add contracting and consulting to their “toolbox” of services. Coaching is a monthly one-on-one with Bryan G. Miller, Ph.D.—with most of the work carried out between coaching sessions to keep the cost minimal. The goal of LEC is to help professionals to get their first contract within 6-9 months or expand their current contracts. Space is limited to protect the quality of the service. For further information or to request a spot in our 2020—or beyond—coaching cohort contact us. We promise that there will never be any pressure and all services are provided on an unconditional money back guarantee.



A little free help . . .

Andrew delivering his TEDx talk.

Andrew delivering his TEDx talk.

Trouble getting your courage up to launch your next step in your career? Well, here is a little free help . . .

Andrew, a co-collaborator with HSC and the creator of a number of successful Kickstarter campaigns and paper and electronic games is doing free, one-hour, Self-Sabotage Sundays. Andrew does an amazing job of helping getting through the “psychological barriers” to moving forward as a creative person and self-employed individual.

So, need a little push? Join Andrew and I am sure you will find, as I do in our collaborative meetings, that his knowledge, encouragement, and energy will send you on your way thinking of how you can take the next step and not wrestling with the fear and doubt, remaining paralyzed with in-action.

Here’s that link again: Join Sabotage Sundays.



Benefits Discovered through Consulting

Why not “just do therapy?” It’s a question I used to get asked by graduate students working on degrees in mental health and who took my class on consulting.. “I have a low boredom threshold!” was my snappy repartee to this question. A more serious answer, however, is buried within that tongue-in-cheek response. While my students were a quiver with eagerness to begin their chosen career, I had been doing therapy for years and, although 25+ years in, I still love what I do in my private practice—it’s not the only thing I love to do; nor, do I want to simply do the same thing for the remained of my professional life. “Wash, rinse, and repeat” can be a dull rut. Eventually, those same students saw the benefits and their enthusiasm led me to publish my first book about our methods in 2011.

So, I think it is always a good thing to seek to grow and if that is in refining and mastering one specific area of expertise, fine. But it also can be moving on to master—of if not master in terms of being “better than anyone else”— or deliver quality products and services in new areas, developing new skills, and continue to learn.

For example, I have an acquaintance who takes the “master approach” to fine woodworking . . . and his work is exquisite. I commented to a friend about how my craftmanship was nowhere like his, and the friend responded, “Yes, but at least you get things done.” Fair point. He will build a few beautiful things. I will build lots of good things. With six children, one still home, and expecting our ninth grandchild, while working full time, maybe it is a trade-off that is necessary in my case—unlike my friend who is an “empty nester.”

Professionals who are happy doing their one thing, steadily improving on it over time, perfecting their craft . . . I am genuinely happy for you . . . and sometimes wonder if I should be more like you. But I’m not and, frankly, being that narrowly focused for years to my personality type would feel like—harkening back to the old westerns of the past— being buried up to your neck in the desert and left behind.

So, for those of us who value “getting things done” more than creating the flawless product and who want to continue to grow . . . even venturing into new areas . . . here is . . .

A list of experiences I have enjoyed about getting “beyond the couch” of therapy and into the world of consulting.

  • Touring the Research & Development area of an international corporation. In the very first consulting work I was involved in, we worked with an international agricultural manufacturing company. This family-owned business is an industry leader and had 9 plants in the home location. As part of our tour, they showed us what they were working on for the future—it was like getting a peak behind the curtain at what Elon Mush was doing with Tesla.

  • Learning about the needs of national utilities and how increase demand for power has led to sagging power lines Not being naturally “mechanically minded” and with limited education about engineering and physics (despite being a science major) We got to learn about the problems utilities face that are caused by increased demands for power (more current through the lines makes them sag.) and the very creative ways of offering solutions to avoid expensive interruptions of service and replacement.

  • The progress made in cancer research and targeting of cancer-types with new medications. Learning about in-house research and the newer approaches to cancer treatment was an interesting side-benefit of one consulting gig.

  • Lean Manufacturing, Just-in-Time stock management, and Kaizan. Again, our first gig with the agricultural firm intruduced us to some of the modern (at that time) approaches to inventory and manufacturing and how they were pragmatically implemented in a large organization.

  • Different approaches to staffing, training, and supporting clergy working with local churches. Having worked with ecclesiastical organizations from many different traditions has been interesting in learning how they very in their approaches to their work with congregations, proving leadership and support, and deal with issues.

  • Programs for supporting the provision of nutritious meals in government-supervised day care-senior services, etc. The work we have done with a number of non-profits, quasi-governmental bodies, or government programs has introduced us to the services and challenges of providing those services in venues operating on limited budgets and significant bureaucratic demands.

  • Grant-funding for services in schools and non-profit organizations. I don’t consider myself a “grant-writer” still I have written, and received funding, for many grants. This process introduced us to the work of foundations, the methods they follow to try and address community-wide issues, and the challenges of “soft money” and creating sustainable projects through collaborative efforts.

  • Narrative-based assessment of potential executive leadership hires. Hiring professionals and top leadership is always a challenge. Finding the right talent and someone whose performance mirrors their vitae/resume and interviewing skills is a demanding endeavor. While HSC does not specialize in this process, we have, due to our deep involvement with organizations been asked to sit in and help with this process in a few cases. Bringing our specialty . . . understanding people . . . to complement the organization’s business and technical skills has been rewarding.

  • Team Training for Skill Building. Most leaders recognize the need for on-going training and skill building in their leadership. Too often that training is through ad-hoc external trainings chosen by the employees for their own idiosyncratic reasons (it is interesting, close to home, makes them more marketable) or provided in-house often by managers too busy with running the organization to devote significant time to develop the training to polished product. Wresting with the problem of leaders and employees needing to develop real skills has led us to develop, test, and implement trainings based on real skill development not just information and lecture. (This has been one area, training, where refining and repeating the trainings has led us to develop that master artisan approach by the way.)

Well, I hope that give the reader a little taste of the “side benefits” of becoming a consultant. Taking your knowledge and skills “on the road” allows you to help more people, can be refreshing work and a break from the heavy clinical focus for many professionals, and can increase your own potential for growing and learning about new industries, processes, and cultural changes operating all around you.

Other HSC Resources

Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.

Lessons Learned Around the World: People-centered leadership,A. Keith Miller, Major, U.S. Airforce (Retired)

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Private Practice Contracting: A path away from insurance dependency.



Family Business . . . and . . . the DIY Problem

I love the concept of Do-It-Yourself or "DIY." After all, I come from the midwest. Farm country. The frontier. Pioneers. I know, first-hand, the value of challenging yourself, learning new skills, finding out just exactly what you can do on your own. As a family, we have cut our own DIY path in many ways--homeschooling our children, starting a business, running an acreage (we both grew up "in the city") and home-remodeling. It has been a great journey and I personally continue to "tilt" toward this framework.


There are things I will not do. The accounting and taxes for my business. Legal filings. Retirement planning. Social media marketing. Graphic design. Plumbing. Why? Will get to that in a minute . . . 

Family Business owners are, in many ways, the very best of DIYers. If they were not comfortable with their own abilities--they would work for somebody else. Often they tend to like being in charge and are comfortable with looking to themselves to find answers. The successful ones have done this well. They are predisposed to "go it on their own" and take on tasks willingly.


Here’s my fall DIY. Building a second “greenhouse” more properly called a “high tunnel or hoop house.” BTW: This time, I did pay a pro to bring a Bob Cat and Auger to drill the holes.

Too often, however, Family Business owner's tendency to default to a DIY mode can become a "blind spot" that prevents them from seeing the times when an "outsider" would be an efficient and beneficial resource. 

Indications that you shouldn't DIY:

  • if family unity is, or will be, compromised

  • if figuring out how to deal with the issues will result in a poor outcome

  • if the outcome you seek is more important than preserving your time and money

  • if the situation is complex

  • if you need to be personally involved in the process (rather than focused on managing it)

  • if there are already signs of risk to the family or the business

So why don't I always go the DIY route? Simply because the outcomes are too important! Take for example, a few years ago I relied on an expert, and it is the reason that I am writing this blog post.

In short, I reached outside of my own DIY box. I purchased a book* on consulting with The Family Business (always trying to continue my own education!) The author, Janna Hoiberg, included information that was new and intriguing to me. It prompted me to ask myself a number of questions. I decided to send Janna an email asking for more information. She graciously replied, and the result was an offer to talk by phone. The phone call was very helpful. It answered a number of questions I had been considering for some time. Janna's experience and expertise provided, in a few minutes, what it might have taken me several months or years to learn on my own. 

So, step out of the DIY box . . . and leap forward!


*The Family Business: How to Be in Business with People You Love  . . . Without Hating Them



Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.

The cover of our eBook . . . .

Engaging Cover Mini copy.png

Here is a list of few things I’ve learned being in leadership positions for more than 25 years . . . how many do you agree with? How many have you experienced? Are their others that should be added to the list?

  • While there are lots of successful business models, business gets done through the effort of people.

  • Managers typically lose more sleep over people issues than they do business decisions.

  • Problems that persist in human systems are rarely simple, obvious, or subject to a quick fix. The easy fixes never become persistent issues.

  • Leaders fail to deal with “difficult employees” for a number of reasons but the biggest one is fear . . . in the leader themselves.

  • There are many successful business plans but success is determined by the action of people on the team.

  • People’s behaviors are, to a large degree, conditioned by their past experiences and only recognizing this and sustained focused practice create real changes.

  • The leader’s most difficult employee is likely to be one that differs the most from the leader in personality . . . and thus the one with the most potential to add balance to the team.

  • Leaders who are quick to see termination as the answer to problems will create teams with systemic problems of trust, loyalty, honesty, etc.

  • Leaders who will not address a toxic employee will demotivate and erode their team’s efforts.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading “difficult” people is an eBook we wrote to help managers and leaders. It can be downloaded for free (we do ask for your email), or, if you prefer, you can support our work and buy it on Gumroad.



Simply . . . Like Jobs. Steve Jobs . . . and Redesigning Apple

Apple logo: Wikipedia

Apple logo: Wikipedia

Simplification . . . Yes, KISS** is still good advice!

In his book, Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Henry Cloud tells the story of Steve Jobs, who—having returned to Apple as CEO, brought clarity to the struggling organization—eventually driving success by eliminating 70% of their models and products. How did he do this? By having a clear vision of what Apple was and was not. Jobs, while sitting in a product strategy session, shouted, “Stop! This is Crazy!” and going to the whiteboard, drew a four-cell chart. “Here’s what we need,” he said—then he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro” across the top of the two columns and followed this by labeling the rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” “Their job,” he said, “was to make four great products, one for each quadrant.

Simple. Elegant. Apple. Great at what it does. Different.

Often times in business we over-think ourselves. We move, naturally, toward more complexity—believing that “more is better,” that complexity or more choices creates more value, right? But experts remind us that focus, clarity, and quality are often driven by parsimony . . . simplicity if you will . . . and may be more important than complexity. (Think of your T.V. remote. Do you really want more options?)

How about your business? Have you driven your strategic planning to parsimony? Have you achieved Job’s level of clarity? If you quizzed your board, employees, vendors, customers, would they all describe what you do in the same terms? Are you clear what and whom you are and what you are not?

One Example

At HSC, we have focused on developing this clarity and created four core products—one for each market segment and product level. This clarification of our vision has driven us to focus on continual development of these products and prevented being “distracted” by pouring energy into new ancillary products that take the focus off what we do best.

For example, a recent conversation with a business owner lead to the discussion of an “opportunity” to develop a product to help private pilots deal with the anxiety of flying—particularly the additive stresses of landing. An interesting, and tempting, thought given our background in mental health, mindfulness, and training. Should we do it? Should we invest energy in developing expertise in this “problem” and create a training to meet this need? Well, focusing on our core model helps get to an answer . . . does it focus on our customers? Not clearly. Is it a service we offer? No. So, unless we change our strategic plan, this is not an opportunity that we would pursue.

Maybe it will help you to do the same.

Like Steve Job’s example, we divided our table into two segments: our market segments and our product lines. Here’s a representation of our model for comparison:

Keynote slide on our four core products.

Keynote slide on our four core products.

Notice that we have two primary markets: Organizations (including family business) and Professionals. We also have two distinct product lines: Services and Training. Our four core products then are located in the yellow cells. cross-referenced by these four variables.

What issues are each of our core products focused on improving"?


Human Systems Consulting: There are many ways to implement a successful business plan. In almost all cases, the plans depend on people to carry them out. Our core consulting service is designed to help resolve issues related to the human element. Challenges with culture, motivation, conflict, performance . . . all the human variables that interfere with high functioning.

Team Player Skill Development: People behave as they have been conditioned to behave. Reach out your hand toward someone raised in the USA and they, involuntarily and instinctively, extend their hand toward yours. But that rationale “act” of shaking hands is not universal—it is a conditioned response. villagers in asian countries may not respond in the same way. Employees need training that does not simply “tell them” how to do something different they need to practice. Our training is to start the process of practicing new, functional behaviors that create good team functioning.


Leading Edge* Coaching: Professionals want new ways to practice and pay their bills. But most are “locked into” a health care model dependent on insurance reimbursement. We help professionals develop private practice contracts and to develop a consulting practice through personalized coaching sessions. our coaching process is designed to help identify opportunities, understand how to apply their skills and knowledge to contracting, create marketing plans, develop their fee structure and generally support professionals developing private practice contracts and consulting work.

IMPACT Model*: For professionals ready to jump into contracting and consulting, provide and introduction to the contracting/consultation process we have developed over 20 plus years, to give them a road map on how to work with organizations. We have trained professionals on our marketing/consulting model in national conferences, on-line trainings, and in person workshops.

Well, that’s it. Our four products, one in each quadrant to serve organizations and professionals.

Special note: Interested parties can check our availability for training/services by contacting us. Please note that due to demand, we typically schedule trainings a year in advance. Other services are on a first come, first served basis, and subject to the availability of a consultant at that time.

**KISS acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”



Why won't they let go? Fear in the Family Business

The term “death-trap” comes to mind when I see this . . . but maybe that’s just me. Photo by  Priscilla Du Preez  on  Unsplash

The term “death-trap” comes to mind when I see this . . . but maybe that’s just me. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A Personal Confession

Rollercoasters evoke fear for me. There, I admitted it. It's not that the action of the rollercoaster—speed, erupt changes in direction or height—cause me fear, they don’t, it's the notion that these mechanical wonders . . . are mechanically complex machines . . . and complex machines . . . break.

Having admitted my fear, now, maybe, you will understand why the idea of “having a good time,” in my world, does not involve strapping myself to one of these mechanical devices; indeed, it would take just the right motivation (force?) to get me to risk of becoming a passenger. You may also, having realized the basis of my fear, be able to reason with me that my fear is irrational, and perhaps even in a way that gets me to reconsider my fear. After all, I do fly on airplanes. Oh, and yes, I have ridden rollercoasters in the past.

But, in the future? Probably not. For me a rollercoaster ride it is a waste of time and money. There is no “up-side” for me. I don’t get a thrill from riding. There is no “fun.” I’m long past the age of doing something I don’t like just to prove to others—or myself—that I’m not afraid. The motivator is going to have to be pretty good to get me to change.

Fear . . . and Holding on

If you got me on a rollercoaster and you were an astute observer, you might notice my discomfort. Nervous conversation, keen observation of the attendant locking the bar . . . subtle clues to my fear. Fear makes us want to “hold on” to what ever object seems to promise to save us from the feared outcome. A child will clutch to the seat or the safety bar or the parent,. an adult may simply hold on nonchalantly as possible but give away their fear when they “stiffen” with anxiety as the car moves over the course.

This fear and the natural tendency to “hold on”, reminds me of struggles I see in leadership transitions and particularly in Family Businesses—where the senior generation is holding on to the business and the younger generation is anxious to take over the controls.

So let's talk about the pertinent question from the younger generation's point of view . . . 

Why won't they let go?  

Ever had to "take the keys away" from an aging parent? Not so easy. For my family it was prompted by a few minor “accidents” over the course of one year followed by our local mechanic telling us that he intervened when one of my parents left the vehicle “in gear” and “bouncing against the concrete barrier” at a local store. He opened the car door, stepped on the brake, and put the car in “park.” Obviously, it was time.

So, why won't they give those keys up? Especially given all the alternatives for transportation? Family members reassure them that they will be taken wherever they want to go. There are offers to pay for assistance. Uber, Lyft, and other services are readily available in some cases. Still, they don’t want to hand over the keys.

Once the transition is accomplished—voluntarily or not—the senior often complains, repeatedly, about the inconvenience of not having their independent transportation and may have to be reminded about the reasons the keys were handed over . . . repeatedly. But, too often this difficult transition is made even more difficult because we think this should be a simple transition based on a logical analysis of the risks, right? Well, for many, it’s not.

Photo by  Laura Gariglio  on  Unsplash

It's a funny thing about humans . . . “Keys aren't just keys.” Those keys represent much more. The senior may see them as “my independence, my freedom, my way of not feeling like a burden to others, my way of helping” . . . there are deep emotional ties that make what seems like a simple exchange, become a complex path to navigate. John Gottman, a researcher at the University of Washington, coined the phrase “dreams within conflict” to describe how, at the root of conflict, there often is a dream that is being unrealized or threatened. Not realizing the threat to that dream makes the senior’s resistance irrational—and invites unfavorable judgements of “stubbornness, controlling, emotional, etc.”

For my mom, as an example, I think that giving up the keys meant that she would worry about being a “burden” to others—anathema to her self-sacrificing consideration of others—in depending on them for rides.

Turning over a business

Why won't the parent’s let go?  After more than two decades working intimately with families, I can sum it up in a word: Fear. (Leaders of all stripes are, too often, Managing by Fear . . . and family firms are no different. In fact, “close-systems”—such as family business where there are more emotional ties—are more likely to be affected by management by fear at critical points during their development!)

What fear? Fear that . . . 

  • the change/transition will make things worse

  • the transition will place a burden on their children

  • their own value and self-worth will be lost

  • spending more time with intimate relationships will make life more difficult

  • the business itself will struggle or fail

  • their departure as a leader will, some how, harm the family

  • fear that leaving will expose some personal weaknesses

One of the barriers to moving beyond this transition point, is that people are not very insightful about what is motivating their family member’s actions. The aging parent may think, "They are making too big a deal about this!" or "They just want my car!" . . . and their defensiveness, often becomes the excuse to redirect themselves from their own fear. The children do the same. “They won’t ever let go!” or “They want to keep control!” hides fears of not being trusted, anxieties about performance, and other issues. But back to the parents . . .

Find the Dream . . . and Address the Fear

Tied to each of these “fears” is a dream. The senior’s dreams that the change will not make things worse for the family, the employees, or the business. That there will still be a valuable role that the parent can occupy within the family or children’s lives. That family relationships will improve or at least not be damaged in the transition. That the business will continue to grow and succeed.

Helping the parent with the transition includes a couple of important steps.

First, they may need help in recognizing and stating their underlying dreams—taking care to both acknowledge the ones tied to the business role and not neglecting dreams that are not connected to the business**—and recognizing that there may be inherent conflicts within the dreams. For example, the senior may want to travel more, have less stress or responsibility and at the same time want to be present to make sure the burden on the younger generation is not too great to handle.

Second, they may need a well-defined process of addressing the fears and supporting movement toward making risk/reward decisions . . . normalizing and challenging the fears—that can help them get “unstuck” and make the transition move forward.

This is not an easy process. Often, it takes time, careful persistence to address the issues. Trust building (yes, even between parents and children!) and the slow process of addressing, and lowering, fears so that changes can proceed naturally. At times, families simply can’t, won’t, or will want to decrease the risks of a negative outcome by engaging an outside entity to guide the process.

However it gets approached, trying to force someone to get past their fears (i.e.: Fear Factor style) is fraught with risks. There is no doubt that it can make things change, if successful, but too often it will heighten fears, create more resistance, and worst of all, create a traumatic event that may harm the relationships necessary to make a transition good for everyone.

**Often the younger generation will over emphasize the dreams not tied to the business as a means to leverage change. This often backfires. The senior sees this as the younger generation trying to “force them out” or manipulate because the dreams and fears tied to the business are minimized instead of being addressed.

Available eBooks:

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.



Blog post . . . leads to sharing . . . surprising an old friend . . . and training!

Photo by  Web Hosting  on  Unsplash

Photo by Web Hosting on Unsplash

Opportunities . . . to Help . . . sometimes Come from “Strange”. . . or Rather . . . “Stranger” Places

Serendipity. I think that’s what it’s called.

It is always interesting to see how opportunities to help organizations present themselves. Often it is through a direct contact with a leader. But not always . . . sometimes it is through a blog post, and the action of a “stranger” . . . a reader, you have never met, who happens to be connected to someone in your circle . . . as it did this past summer.

Rekindling Friendship

Recently, I was sitting at a mexican restaurant in Missouri, catching up with some high school/college friends. Later, they showed me the recent damage from a tornado and flooding in their town, and I got to be in their home and meet their son. It was a great reunion of old friendship . . . and brought about through the pages of this blog. I’ll explain in a minute . . .

In my years of posting content, I regularly check the analytics to see what readers are interested in reading and how the readers “behave” when they come to the website. Many visitors click on links “About Us” and “Contact Us,” and/or download content, like our free ebooks, but only a minority actually reach out with a comment, question, or inquiry. Most, I suspect, prefer to sit back, glean what they can from the posts and that is good enough—which is fine and one of the reasons to continue posting so that people can benefit from our journey. Thus analytics, in leu of personal contact, becomes the indicator of what you, the reader, want for content in our posting. I admire those confident readers with the courage to reach out— connecting with “thought leaders” or those who have traveled “the road” before them—and I can tell you that the times that I personally have reached out to experts in areas I am interested in, I have universally “walked away” from those contacts feeling encouraged and enlightened. I personally need to do it more. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but for those who reach out to us I want the experience to be just as helpful and inspiring.

But back to the opportunity raised through the blog post . . .

A Reader, a Coworker . . . and my Friend

So, the friend, the one that I had supper with in Missouri, has been a regular follower of our blog. He has commented at times, sent me notes through LinkedIn or Facebook, and we have stayed loosely connected through the “grapevine” of our mutual contacts, as well as occasional times we were in the same place at the same time.

None the less, I was surprised when this friend, “old friend,” contacted me asking about the possibility of HSC doing some training for the Bureau.. I use the descriptor of “old” because the most significant time we had spent together was over 30 years ago (we had gone to camp together, then junior college, and college, before our paths parting ways).

The most interesting thing to me about this opportunity was—here is where the serendipity is involved—my friend was not the one recommending HSC and promoting us to do the training! One would expect that it was a person contact, like my friend, who might recommend your services as a provider. But, although I guess our personal relationship played some role, he was not the original “spark” that lit the fire.

Serendipity . . . or . . . operating in Reverse

As my friend tells it, he received an email from his boss with one of our posts attached. The post, called “Mistakes . . . Vulnerability . . . and Developing a Good Product,” was sent to the entire division. My friend, contacted his boss and said, “How did you get this? I know the author.” It turns out that a different manager, who was also a reader of our blog had sent the blog post to the boss, suggesting it be sent out to all the employees, which included my friend, and the boss did exactly that—sent it out, prompting the inquiry from my friend. Operating in “reverse” from how opportunities usually develop.

Is this replicable? Probably not. At least not to the degree that an organizations needs to fill it’s “pipeline” of work. But it highlights one very important principle: Do things because you value helping others—not simply because it is good marketing, sales, or produces a billable hour. Recently, I had this conversation with a professional in Atlanta that I am coaching. I reminded her that it is best to focus on helping not getting a signed contract. Why? Well, first of all, you can’t make someone buy something they don’t really want. Secondly, if you are only in it to make money for yourself, then it is likely that you will be frustrated and the client will have a barrier (you) to getting help even if they really want and need it.

Case in point: I once was on a committee to purchase a electronic records system for four agencies. One vendor, had flown into Omaha for a follow up to his original presentation— essentially making the “first cut” and entering “round two",” must have gotten frustrated at not having “sold” us in the first round. During the second presentation he began to complain about having to return a second time—talking about the pressure he was feeling, the hardships of coming back for the second presentation, how his wife didn’t like it, it took him away from his family, etc. This was so off-putting—even to a room of sympathetic therapists—that his product, which going into the presentation was our number two choice, became immediately a “no go.” The sale—ultimately worth over $1 million—was lost . . . because his behavior made is seem that it was about the sale not about helping us get the right fit for our four organizations.

You need to trust that your efforts to help will “come back to you” in expanding the scope of your value and ultimately will lead to work with organizations! This “give it away first” is a common theme in the on-line entrepreneurial world today. But, to me it is just good practice . . . help when and where you can and don’t focus on selling. Trust that if you provide value then opportunities will come.

The Training

A note about training. I love doing training. If done well, it lowers the bar, for employees to learn. It avoids the natural defenses and poor coping skills displayed in trying to intervene in a more direct way. It invites experimenting and play. Yes, ultimately, to make real changes you have work to do, but a good training can often open the door to the willingness to approach the harder work in a positive and healthy way.

For those readers interested in the training details . . . it was delivered in a six hour-workshop format on site. Our training focus is on promoting the actual practice of good teamwork—and this workshop was no different. This is important! Teams need practice. Few teams are significantly impacted by a lecture on teamwork. (see post: Training Should be like Music Lessons)

Attendees engaged in practicing teamwork through attempting tasks such as defusing “bombs” through heightening their communication skills and strengthening their interactional processes. This entertaining process avoids long lectures about what good teamwork is in favor of training the actual skills—much like practicing the piano or guitar—so that teams have an awareness of what it takes to be a productive part of a team and have practiced the skills.

We have done this training several times and in different market segments—with non-profits, groups of professionals, for profits, and this time, would be with a government department. Each team is unique and each group brings different levels of preparedness. All teams, however, benefit from revisiting and training on the skills of effective team work.

Often, problems encountered in teams are due to normal—or abnormal—human actions or behavior but intervening, successfully, in these human systems is complex. What one team members sees as an attempt to help is seen as interference or undermining. Defenses get put up. Blame is passed around. Team members try to decipher who is right/wrong and to whom they owe loyalty. It can become quite a destructive mess—and often all for good reasons of loyalty, protecting, problem solving, etc.

Trainings . . . the HSC way!

To make an impact, HSC training are designed to focus on three things.

  • Building on sound research. Bryan, the founder of HSC,, has a background in research and trainings are developed with sound methodology and processes.

  • Refining skills in an interactive setting. A team is only as good as the collective team member’s skills.

  • Deep understanding of human systems. Simply because a system is more than the sum of it’s parts. Placing all the components of a iPhone in a box doesn’t result in an iPhone.

What effects do our trainings have on work teams? The trainings . . .

  1. Raise awareness of the skills needed for high team performance

  2. Identify barriers to skill acquisition and achievement.

  3. Promote a strengths-based approach to growth

Sometimes our training is part of an overall consulting project (See what we do: Organizational Behavioral Consulting). But at other times it is a stand-alone activity to bolster the functioning of a team.

The greatest value however comes in the providers of the training. A couple of years ago we did part of one of our trainings for a leadership conference. Afterwards, a consultant, who works in the insurance industry, mentioned that they would like to learn to do the training we did that day. I told her that I would be happy to share our resources and support her learning to deliver the training, but what I could not duplicate was the experience of having trainers who have been in leadership positions for 20+ years and who have very advanced training and experience in human systems. This is after all where the real value lies . . . in being able to apply it to real teams.

The very thing that she found most valuable—how the presenters engaged the trainees—was likely to be the exact part missing if the training were replicated. She understood. We shared the resources and she made it a goal of using HSC, and our training, in her future work where needed.

HSC’s limited availability for stand-alone trainings means that we are currently scheduling for next year. Interested parties can check for availability by contacting us.



Fences . . . Make Good Employee Relations.

Wikipedia Fence

Wikipedia Fence

New Manager . . . and a conundrum

Ever had an employee whose motivation--and their subsequent behavior left you . . . puzzled? Have you struggled to find ways to communicate with them, encourage them, even motivate hem to succeed?  Ever given up on an employee?  At some level, most people who perform well enough to be given the responsibility of leadership expect other employees to act like they do—seek out and perform in a responsible way. When those people do not respond in this way, it can cause confusion for the new leader.

I remember an employee I supervised when I was a young manager.  This employee perplexed me.  They were, after all, a professional, with a degree, a license, years of schooling and extensive experience. In my “armchair assessment,” I believed that they were competent in their work and, on a human level, I liked them personally. But one thing persistently was a problem with this employee. They simply could not complete their paperwork. Now this, I realize, is not an uncommon problem in health care.  In fact, I had already experienced professionals who had trouble getting their paperwork done.

I had experienced already, in my short career, employees that had been put on “improvement plans,” given warnings, or their paperwork addressed through continuous quality improvement programs. Most managers, I believe, have at least one employee they have to consistently monitor and remind about their paperwork in my profession. (Perhaps this problem is exacerbated in the helping professions where "doing paperwork" is often viewed as taking away time from "helping people.") But in this particular employee’s case, even compared to other helping professionals, it was extreme.

I sort of thought I understood what the problem was.  The paperwork that was completed, upon inspection, was done to an extreme level of detail. Where my "average" professional would give me a treatment plan with three goals each having two or three objectives each.  This professional's plans had 8-12 goals with as many as 20 objectives under each one! I would have been overwhelmed, dreaded starting such a big task, and probably lagged behind and I surmised that this individual needed some external "motivation" to help them get caught up.  My method, of course, would be to encourage, communicate, and partner with the professional to get this accomplished.

I made efforts to try and communicate and reinforce elements that could fix the problem.  We reviewed the treatment planning process and I emphasized you should have no more than 3 goals with 2-3 objectives. I tracked and reported to each and every professional what paperwork they had outstanding and when it was due. I personally met with this tardy professional and discussed the need to get the paperwork caught up. When this did not fix the problem, I mandated no more than 3 goals and 9 objectives. Nothing worked. the paperwork was not getting completed, I felt stuck.

Of course, not all managers focus on the same things. As a manager, my natural tendency is to try and create "emotional ties and warm connections" in my work groups; the focus of this style is on building consensus, providing support, and valuing openness.  It is what William Schutz (creator of the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation Instrument or the FIRO-B) called "Affection" which he contrasted with a managerial need to express "control" or "inclusion."  Since my attempts at creating a consensual response to "getting caught up" was not working, I had to look to other ways of expressing this managerial need.

Relationships and Leading

Before telling you how developing fences or boundaries helped in this situation, I want to draw a connection to the type of leadership that might benefit the most from this construct. 

Developing strong fences, and defending those fences, is, I think, an element of expressing control. In Schutz’s definition control is not “being controlling” in the sense of bullying, dominating, or playing psychological games. Healthy control is about efficiency, stability, sustainability, predictability, and good outcomes. I leader high in wanting to express control—a good practice detailed manager—will be hands on in creating systems, procedures, and will shepard the on-going activities to keep them on track. Not my preferred managerial style. Being low in Expressed Control, I want employees to be professional—show up, do the job, and have the freedom to make the job their own—these are valuesI like to “express” in working with employees. To be clear, the best employees, to me, are those that respect boundaries without being told and but strong effort into what is best for the team. But, as leaders we need to grow or become ineffective, and this was a moment where"control was now a factor that I found myself in need of deploying—or I would let this one employee’s behavior hinder the team as a whole.

BTW: Knowing a leader's preferences and identifying what they "want" and would "like to express" as a manager (with a tool like the Firo-B) helps identify common challenges this style of leader will experience.  For leaders whose managerial orientation leads them away from a "control" stance to foster an environment of inclusion and/or affection, maintaining good boundaries--fences if you will--and seeing those fences as a beneficial tool and not simply an uncomfortable or even harmful behavior is a challenge.  But, even the most affiliative manager, if he has the courage to face it, will recognize the need for control at times.

Setting Boundaries

Ultimately, this delimma led me to a follow up meeting with the professional. The purpose of the meeting being to set a boundary (establish a fence) on the paperwork issue.  I started by stating the problem (paperwork was not timely), then we established a clear target (completing the oldest treatment plan), added a timeframe (on my desk by Friday at 5 pm) and the resources to accomplish it (you can delegate or ignore other duties as needed to complete this task this one time).

The result? . . . no treatment plan on my desk by the deadline.

What I did get was a message promising to get it done ASAP.  Not good enough.  The end result was another uncomfortable second meeting.  I clarified what we had talked about the week before, asked for an explanation of why the target was not met, explained the delimma I was facing (not doing my job if I ignored this problem), and asked for input.  The professional, after this was all laid out simply said, "I'm not sure I can do this job."  My response?  A sad (remember I think in affiliative and collaborative terms) confirmation, "I'm not sure you can either." I pointed out that we were now at a point where I would have to continue take formal action ("writing up" a formal poor performance plan) and if he could not bring his performance into line with the expectations . . . that it could result in eventual termination.  

The professional chose to resign.

The fences or boundary setting succeeded (in terms of resolving the issue) where my earlier approaches had failed.  Yes, I felt bad. In my “dream world” as a young manager, I thought I would always be able to motivate, encourage and support people to success.  In the real world, it turned out that it was not all up to me. The hardest "shift" in thinking for me was to see how these fences were actually helpful to people—unidentified problems are likely to be ignored and persist. Allowing someone’s poor performance to create resentment for them among their team members and not honestly challenging the employee is, at best dishonest, and at worst, something that is anathema to most people . . “just tell me the truth” is a common value for most people.

If you are struggling with this idea of setting boundaries and the need for control, ask yourself, "How would this have ended, if I continued to simply try to encourage and motivate this employee?"  There were many possibilities, many of which were unpleasant for one or many members of the team. The team itself could continue to become increasingly angry at the underperforming peer . . . and the supervisor. Team members could “escape” the situation and resign. The employee and/or the supervisor could face potential firing for incompetence. The agency, due to the incomplete documentation and effective controls, could lose it’s accreditation due to poor performance on audits. Community funding for the program could dry up—especially if the accreditation was lost. Maybe others as well?

Boundaries and protecting people?

How did this boundary setting protect people? Several ways, including:

  • the professional avoided being fired (they resigned)

  • my role as the supervisor was not placed at risk

  • the team, who were aware of the deficiencies of their colleague, saw that the organization was serious about timeliness being an important aspect of providing our services to clients

  • the professional was able to negotiate the terms of his leaving (although completing the paperwork was a condition that had to be met)

  • the paperwork did get completed (they brought last batch in when picking up final paycheck)

  • the company was protected from liability issues, losing accreditation, funding or facing fraudulent billing accusations

  • the client was "best served" by the files containing all the necessary information for treatment, referral, or historical record purposes

Leaders need to step up and set appropriate boundaries. This also means that the leader, at times, will need to “be the boundary” or enforce the need for the fence being in place. It is a great irony that those who need to have boundaries set are the very people that do not get the need for the boundaries in many cases. Think of it like this, you don’t need a fence with a good neighbor; you need a fence with a neighbor who does not naturally respect their own, and your, boundaries. Remember, employees lie to themselves. People with boundary problems often shift the focus of the problem to something outside of themselves—thus perpetuating the problem unless stopped by something outside themselves.

New managers, especially those who want to express their leadership through terms of affection rather than control, are particularly at risk for trying to continue the tried-and-failed approaches to motivate employees that are underperforming . . . and there by, exacerbating the negative impacts on their team. Like a football team that needs to “establish the run” so they can open up the playbook and get their passing game into high gear, these leaders need to see setting and enforcing boundaries as tools that allow for, and preserve the ability to maintain, healthy relationships within their team. Only then, can the team function to it’s fullest capacity.

A P.S. for Family Business, Non-Profits, and Ecclesiatistical Bodies

This need to develop good "fences" is especially tricky when the organization or business has an emotional component beyond a typical business venture . . . partnerships, ecclesiastical bodies, non-profit service organizations, and family businesses struggle on other levels that a "typical" business venture does not. In these circumstances there is a critical need for help from professionals who understand human systems.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.



Team Training Needs to be like Music Lessons

My humble set up. Love my Taylor guitar and the discipline of practice and working toward mastery.

My humble set up. Love my Taylor guitar and the discipline of practice and working toward mastery.

Team Training as Music Lessons

If you really want your team training to make a difference . . . fashion them after music lessons . . . not school.

Remember music lessons? You go, have a 30 minute “lesson,” get your assignment, and go home to practice, hopefully daily, some exercise, technique or mastering a piece of music. Similar, but critically different, than the experience of school—at least as I experienced it—where much of the time the focus was on imparting information—through a lecture for example—where the goal was to master content and demonstrate that through regurgitating it on a test. (BTW: I realize that modern didactic approaches are trying to address this singular approach . . . through recognizing different learning styles and more comprehensive teaching processes . . . but let’s allow the simple duality for the same of drawing, what I think is, an important distinction.)

Two Distinct Approaches

Think about the differences in these two approaches . . .

Music Lessons Classroom

Focus is on skill acquisition. Focus on imparting information.

Short, repetitive instruction and daily practice. Lectures, homework and testing.

Narrow focus: scale, song, technique. Broad focus: history, terminology, theory

Emphasis on practice. Emphasis on teaching.

Outcome: improved skills. Outcome: content mastery.

Moving from “School” to “Lessons”

To often, team training is modeled more on a “school” platform instead of a “music lesson” style. I worked for a time for an organization that had an internal “university” for training. Once a month, the managers would get together for training and typically it was some form of “telling us” about something that would help us do our jobs. At best, it was a way to get a break from the daily grind, conduct business during breaks with our colleagues, and impart some . . . some . . . useful information. Many saw it as a “requirement” and generally a waste of time. Did we walk away with new skills? Rarely.

Supervisors and managers are in their positions precisely because they have skills. But that does not mean they have reached mastery. Like a musician or artisan, the skill building process is on-going because every new situation requires the application of skills in a new way. Just like each piece of music is different and the student has to learn how to apply their talent to performing that particular composition.

Practice . . . and Mastery . . . and Superior Performance

Yo-Yo Ma, the world renown cellist, said, “The goal of practicing is to achieve a freedom of the mind that enables one to physically do whatever they want to do. Careful practicing eventually allows one the freedom to be spontaneous, to react onstage to the moment.” I also heard this virtuoso in a live interview once comment that if he missed a day of practice, he would notice. If he missed two days, his teacher would notice. If he missed three days, the audience would notice.

Yo-Yo Ma, Wikipedia

Yo-Yo Ma, Wikipedia

How many leaders dedicate themselves to continuous skill development? How many organizations allow for, or prioritize skill development, as a goal for leaders? In my experience, not many.

Two stand out in my experience. One provided their “point person” to take several weeks each summer for continuous training. Another limited the role of their leader to one primary task in order to have them continue to develop a high degree of skill in that task. In both cases, the results were spectacular. Those two leaders excelled in their roles and it was clear why. The organizational support for their practicing and mastering their talks was remarkable.

Organizations have come to understand the need. They provide coaches, they allow time for continuing education, they promote leadership development. But few, really have a clear focus on creating a “music lesson” mentality and a consistent focus on specific skill development. The well-documented decline in interpersonal skills in the age of social media and virtual relationships among younger cohorts of leaders makes this need an urgent focus for the future of leadership in organizations.

Buy Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading “difficult” people here, or get it for free by joining our email list!



Things You Don't Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

The more you think you know, the less you are inclined to listen and learn.
— Bryan G. Miller

Things You Don’t Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

Things I Know I Don’t Know

There’s a lot I don’t really understand. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that but I think in our complex world it is true for everyone. Take geysers for example. I can listen to an explanation (which I did several times at recent “Ranger talks” at Yellowstone National Park and understand the basic principles of geyser “mechanics” . . . but really understand it? No, not really. But then again, even the Rangers note that the experts have trouble predicting most geyser activity and not understanding some elements of the phenomenon . . . so I feel—slightly—better.

Side note: In 1973, my maternal grandmother, from Valdosta, Georgia, traveled to Nebraska and accompanied us to Yellowstone for vacation. Since then, I have returned to the National Park twice, with the last time being this summer. Yellowstone, if you have not visited, is a world-class attraction. Visitors come from all over the globe, in fact this last time I heard more languages and dialects in two days there then I have experienced in any other single place—even while traveling Europe. Being around people—just like your own family—who have markedly different cultural expectations for personal space, social mannerisms, communication patterns, among others, makes for an interesting study of the effects of your own culture and your own personal assumptions. But, that’s another post, now back to things I don’t understand . . .

Managers are Tasked with Understanding People—Do they really get it?

There are also other things, more understandable, that I don’t really fully comprehend. For example . . . protecting yourself from a bear attack. Yellowstone literature, signage, and it’s staff were replete with information . . .

If you spot a bear, keep 100 yards away; If closer, back away, slowly. Don’t run! If the bear approaches, use your bear spray. If the bear charges, fight back. If the bear stocks you, play dead—but only if the bear is a grizzly never play dead with a black bear. (Oh, BTW not all grizzly’s a tawny colored and not all black bears are black!). If the bear continues to approach you, fight back. And this last one gave me pause . . . If the bear attacks you in your tent, fight back. What? No backing away slowly? Really fight back? What other option is there? Probably didn’t help my sarcastic attitude that we were sleeping in a tent and I didn’t like the implication.

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

In Nebraska, almost no one—except perhaps in the far northwest corner—thinks about or would ever own bear spray. We in this state also are woefully lax in thinking about hurricane preparedness, forest fire prevention, or building for earth quakes. Most of us colluding identify a “circle hook” or have ever seen the halibut it is designed to catch. Yet each and every one of these things is critical somewhere to someone.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.

in my opinion, as an “aside,” this one good reason to encourage travel—and a reason I promote it for my children—becoming aware of what you don’t know including the predispositions that your local culture has hard wired into your own way of thinking and behaving. Why do we stand 3-6 feet away from others? Talk in financial terms about the choice of having children? ”We can’t afford it right now.” Or expect ourselves and others to ask if we are working “hard enough” rather than working “too much?” Culture.

But People are Different!

But, “People are people!” right? Well, if we mean that their are basic commonalities among all humans . . . basic needs like eating, companionship, etc. Then, sure, People are people. But people are shaped by their experiences, the age in which they live, and a host of other things that make each one unique—just like each geyser or bear “encounter” is unique. In a way, every person is a culture of One. Things shared and not shared with others.

But what is “culture?” I would suggest that it is the product of real experiences at specific times and places in history that develop patterns of thought, behavior, and customs. Functional or dysfunctional on a larger world stage . . . it has come about due to something real.

We happened to stop by my brother-in-law/sister-in-law’s home in another part of Wyoming on our way back home. While there, they collected the memory cards from their “trail cams” on their property and we reviewed its content . . . it included pictures of a couple mountain lions, a black bear, and a moose among others. They have had a black bear on there deck and found muddy paw marks on their sliding glass door downstairs. They talked about monitoring lighting storms and finding, reporting, and helping extinguish a first fire. Living with these threats, having lived only in the midwest and south, is also something I don’t understand.

Case in point, I have never felt the need to either a) buy bear spray or b) own a hand gun. However, I know from residents of Wyoming that these are often common items carried on trips in the wilderness. I get it. A story i saw on our return from Yellowstone about a “good samaritan” that saved a family from a wolf attack in Canada by kicking the wolf drives the point home. Is “kicking” a viable defense? The next day, there was this story about a hunter getting attacked by a Mountain Lion not far from where we traveled. He drove off the mountain lion with a pocket knife but lamented that if he had brought his pistol he could have shot it in the air and perhaps avoided harming the lion. In both cases, these people were lucky. The wolf gave up and the mountain lion retreated.

(Speaking of broadening your view, listening, and understanding . . . I know some people will take offense at my mention of a gun—even though the hunter thought the gun could have prevented the attack and eventual destruction of the mountain lion. This, I think illustrates the point. Too often, we don’t want to listen. No, I don’t have a need for bear spray or a “pistol” in Nebraska—but I don’t face wolves or mountain lions! Listening doesn’t mean agreeing—perhaps there are other ways to avoid these encounters—but it does mean “wanting to understand” and not just pre-judge other’s views based on your own preconceptions. Something quite the opposite to our current political climate. Judging other’s actions based on your own presuppositions is easy. Understanding another’s experience and viewpoint—before passing judgement—requires work.)

Things They Don’t Know

On our last night in the park, we were down on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and as we came back up to the road, a family with Mother, Father and two children—possibly middle eastern from their accent—met my son, “Did you see the coyote cross the road?” the Father asked. “No. I didn’t,” my son answered—probably wondering what the big deal was (we have coyotes in Nebraska). I followed. The Father inquired, again, of me, “Did you see the coyote"?” “No, I didn’t.” I replied. “Well, I didn’t have that” . . . he said, pointing to the bear spray on my belt . . . “so I picked up some rocks,” he stated, showing me the items in his hands. I suddenly realized that I had never thought of coyotes as a threat. Certainly not one needing the protection of bear spray or rocks!

Back home in Nebraska, we go out on late winter nights to listen to the lovely sounds of the coyotes and their new litters. We don’t take anything for “protection” and we don’t feel any risk. If you spot a coyote, they tend to “skitter away” . . . and their diminutive and normally ragged appearance is hardly threatening.

I didn’t try to explain all this to my new found “friend” at Yellowstone. In reply to his bravado—in picking up the rocks to face this unexpected threat—and bravely continuing on their path to the lake with his family, I simply said, “It’s probably a good idea.” I figured this to be true—for the family’s peace of mind even if not necessary for protection from the canid. But, perhaps his “coyote” was our “wolf?” So I did remind myself how the bear spray worked once again.

Leaders and Things they Don’t Know

The best Leaders have a good grasp on what they know, their own presuppositions due to their own experiences, and a desire to understand other’s experiences in an effort to lead the team or organization to it’s optimal performance. This is one reason that any effort on a leader’s part to better understand themselves is a good exercise! Because for the leader, their actions, their behavior and choices are the key tool of managing others.

Leaders need to remember that employee’s lie—mostly to themselves—and leaders also are at risk of believing lies about their own roles. Managing the “difficult people” is key to a manager’s success. Deciding if the employee has value or is not a right fit is a difficult, but necessary function for leaders.

The problem is . . . all these decisions are commingled with the leader’s own personality, experiences, and coping strategies. For example, one leader, who had very good insight, stated that their organization was struggling because they were trying to integrate a new team into an old one and the old team mates had all been picked for the same basic personality types—aggressive, rationale, fast decision makers—the new team had different strengths and the two groups were struggling to mesh. This leader understood that the strengths they are developed in the old group were now a barrier to integrating new team members. But many leaders could have fallen to the temptation to blame the new employees for failing to join this productive team. She didn’t, and the result was a better, more well-rounded, and even more productive team.

Often this journey to understanding can begin through an honest evaluation of who it is that the leader does not understand—those employees that most frustrate the leader. Or, another way of saying it is, “Who pushes your buttons?” This attempt at understanding is not a pass for weakness, managing by fear, or to enable the continuing of any unproductive behavior; instead, it is to help the leader determine what motivates this particular employee, analyze their relative strengths and weaknesses, determine if they can support continued growth in that employee . . . and if that employee can be a productive part of the organizational culture.

As a leader, here are some things I struggle to understand or traits that “push my buttons:” Employees or people who . . .

  • are not self-motivated

  • fearful avoidance that results in self-fulfilling failures

  • any behavior that seems disrespectful of others

  • acting in a dominant way and interpersonal tasks as a win-loss

  • lying and “selling” their integrity to rather than admitting a weakness or failure

What are your “hot buttons? How do these “issues” invite you to prejudge team members that may be different? Have you taken the time to understand their viewpoint before making a judgement about their motivation, commitment, or value to the team? Can you set aside your fear, temporarily, in order to listen and inform your decisions so as to minimize impulsive actions and steer a steady and predictable course to success.

No, this doesn’t mean to be slow to act, procrastinate on dealing with issues, or any extremes (that are just as destructive to a team), it simply means taking a moment to check your own assumptions, engage with the employee, listen well, re-check your assumptions, and then, act.

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Old and New . . . A leadership story of attribution errors.

John? Is that you? Photo by  Jenny Hill  on  Unsplash

John? Is that you? Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Are leaders born or made?

Old Guard and New Vanguard

“Newbie,” John thought as he rounded the track and watched Tyler animatedly talk to one after another runner about his “love” of being a runner. He noted Tyler’s Salmon “Ultra Pro” blue and red shoes, neon-green Fitbit, Rockay running socks, Smart Wool running gloves, and matching headband.John looked down at his own clothes . . . dependable Nike shoes, almost five years old, a no-name line of shorts, tee-shirt, and stocking cap. He’d bet that his whole wardrobe, bought at a “big-box store,” maybe with the shoes excepted, cost less than the price Tyler forked over to Smart Wool.

Tyler barely gave John a thought. Oh, John was always there, this 50-somethingish road-ghoul, finishing his morning run with a few final laps and warm-down on the track. John looked, to Tyler, like a burned-out, uninviting, “road warrior” who wasn’t likely to be a source of encouragement or inspiration—simply someone doing what he did, for some unknown, but internally-motivated reason—without a sense of the great synergy of involvement in a broader running community.

Tyler, a 30-ish millennial, who came to running as a pastime last year, could draw a crowd. His animated excitement—whether talking about his observations on running shoes, the latest on Runblogger, or heart rate variability—was palpable and infectious. Other’s attempting to re-engage with a more active life-style or to develop a love of running loved to come along side and listen.

If pushed, John might admit that he held some distain for Tyler. He might have, in his less charitable moments, thought, “We’ll see how long he lasts.” Tyler conversely may also, if his psyche were plumbed, acknowledge that John, to him, was the embodiment of what he did not want his running to become—one more joyless chore he did because it was “good for him.”

Leaders—Old and New

Too often, this is the picture of leadership—where generational differences turn into “attribution errors;” ie; “John is burned out and no longer has a passion for running!” (Really? How will you look after decades of running?), or “Tyler is a flash in the pan, and not serious!” (Were you not excited when you first started?)

I got to watch this play out annually when I was growing up. As the son of the Academic Vice President of a small college (enrollment of 500) I watched wave after wave of new students come to college, young leaders emerge, and the annual tug-of-war—sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in a noisy visible crash—between the generations play out. I also saw, behind the scenes, the dedicated service of the staff, faculty, and leadership as they sought to guide, harness, and lead these energized and idealistic youth into success—with patience and understanding of the “youngster’s needs to find their own way.” At times it wasn’t pretty.

One student, whose passion at the time was an electric guitar—and today, is a retired grandpa—told me about how my Dad was called out of bed at 3 in the morning due to neighbors complaining about the loud rock music blaring from on campus. My father, all 6’3” probably bristling from head to toe—strode into a performance hall, unplugged the speakers, and announced, “Now, do want to clear out this equipment, or do you want me to confiscate it?” The student admits this led to a “dust up” with my Dad, (which he lost and eventually, decided it was prudent to dismantle the equipment himself). I remember the tears in this grandpa’s eyes when, upon my Dad’s death, he commented that it was my Dad, among others, who taught him, how to be a man of integrity. (BTW- Dad was the source of the greatest leadership act I ever witnessed--doing nothing!)

This week, I was back “home” where I grew up. A guy stopped me, introduced himself, and asked who I was. I told him. “Your father and your brother Kirk changed my life,” he told me. Your Dad’s class and your brother’s example as my Resident Assistant in the dorm showed me something I hadn’t experienced before—caring and strength.” I know. Both of them, my Dad and my brother, would not compromise on two things--caring for the person and following their principles. At least where young men were concerned, they knew how to see beyond the behavior and see the person, in context, and with an understanding of what was needed at that time . . . an encouraging word or a kick in the amp.

Lesson for Old or New (Don’t manage by fear or control!)

Maybe somebody has said what I am writing below, or something similar, somewhere . . . but I couldn’t find it on-line. So here is my shot at a “truism” about what happens too often between the old and new leaders (someone should make into a profound and pithy quote).

“We blame those we cannot understand, attributing to them motivations we create, and judging those motivations insufficient, incorrect, or morally deficient; thus, invalidating their right to choose and proclaiming our right to judge.” ~ Bryan Miller

It take great courage, strength, and wisdom to lead when others think you are headed in the wrong direction. It is when the “heat is on” or a crisis manifests itself that leaders are most severely judged—for good or bad. The disagreements may be the result of something as simple as a difference in age, philosophy, learning history, or other factors—like how loud music should be played at 3 am. Creating respect comes through the strength of presenting a caring and principled approach that will, in the long-run, garner the support and the following leaders need to “grow up” new leaders who can maximize their human systems to reach organizational or team goals.

Additional resources:

Lessons Learned Around the World: People-centered leadership. A. Keith Miller, Major, USAF (Ret.)

Engage Your Team: A framework for leading “difficult” people. Bryan G. Miller, Ph.D.

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