Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Passion and The Ball of Light by Denis Smith

Passion is the first principle that underpins the OTM Plan for Personal Success® Program. Several years ago Denis Smith held a high pressure sales job, was drinking too much and suffering from depression.

His life lacked passion despite all the trimmings of a successful sales career.

Fortunately he knew 'something' was missing from his life and he went on a search to discover his passion. He quickly found photography and realised that he was somewhat of a natural with the camera. Upon uploading his photos to sites he discovered that his 'good' photos were the same as everyone else's. But he didn't want to be the same as everyone else.

So his evolving passion took him on a journey of discovery where he came across the concept of 'light drawings' through photography. With passion comes innovation and he decided to 'play' with the concept, creating surreal 'Ball of Light' images in his photographs.

Today Denis has turned his passion into a business. More importantly he is living a life full of positivity and energy. View this short video to learn more about Denis' story.

Personally I feel energised when I hear about stories such as Denis' and I thank my good friend Andrew Scott (an amateur photographer himself and a personal friend of Denis') for recently sharing the story with me.

How present is passion in your life?

Learn about the OTM Plan for Personal Success® Program here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Life Lessons From Doctor Martin Luther King

The video of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a Dream" speech marked a turning point for the civil rights movement in the USA. It is very difficult for many of us to comprehend the debilitating effects of racism on the scale that it was being practised in many places throughout the USA up until and including the 1960s. It is also very difficult for many of us to comprehend the risks that Martin Luther King Jr was taking in speaking up and speaking out about the inequality that existed at the time. Unfortunately he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his courage - he was assassinated at his hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th 1968 (if you ever have the opportunity to visit Memphis, please take the time to visit the Civil Rights Museum which was created at the site of the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated - it is quite a moving experience) but his efforts did not go unrewarded.

While the USA still has a long way to go for "equality to truly reign free", the fact that the country has matured enough that a man of African parentage could become the President is a wonderful sign, something that I am confident Martin Luther King Jr would have celebrated if he were alive today.

The reality for many of us is that we are unlikely to have to lead or face such life threatening changes. We may, however, have to "stand up to be counted" sometimes with the spectre of personal risk hanging over our actions. One of Martin Luther King Jr's many quotes was, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." Sometimes when we least expect it we may find ourselves thrust into a situation where if we are silent we will protect ourselves and our own patch, while if we were to speak up we may place our 'safety' at some risk.

As an example back in 2004 a young graduate employee of one of Australia's large financial institutions was going about his work. Suddenly he discovered some activities that at first appeared unethical, and then after a little more research appeared downright illegal. He didn't go to work that day looking to discover these breaches within the bank, he was just going about the usual aspects of his job. When he recalled the story to me he said,

"At first I was the only person who knew what I had found. A thought went through my mind that maybe I could just pretend that I hadn't uncovered the illegal behaviour. This was huge and even though I didn't have any legal training I was pretty sure that some people would be going to jail if I opened my mouth. I also suspected that my actions would lead to significant scrutiny of myself. For a brief period I seriously thought about letting it go. I thought that someone else would eventually find the same things that I had discovered and they could be the one to blow the whistle. Even though the person next to me in our open office was not working in the same area as myself, I broadly shared the story without giving away any specific details, just to see what he said. At first he didn't say anything, and as it was the end of the day, he turned off his computer, picked up his bag, grabbed his jacket and walked toward the door. Just before exiting he stopped, turned and said, 'Go home and look into the mirror, then you'll know what to do'. As soon as he had finished saying those words I knew that I had to speak up. I had to be true to myself and do the right thing for the organisation."

This young man eventually spent three days in the witness stand as several of the institutions employees had been charged with various (and serious) offences. The defence lawyers tried to discredit him over those three days and made a number of slanderous comments about him (all of which they withdrew - but nonetheless they were all said publicly). Each of the accused were found guilty and went to prison and the institution used the event as a catalyst to overhaul its culture. As a footnote to this story, the institution concerned has probably performed the best out of all of Australia's financial institutions throughout the global economic downturn and I suspect that their change in culture since 2004 has significantly contributed to their stability over recent times. I don't think that the young man who blew the whistle knew that there would eventually be such a positive ripple effect from his actions. Often this is the case when true courage is shown. The event and experience is initially very hard and painful, while the long term outcome is usually very positive and powerful.

This story highlights that each of us, one day, may have to 'stand up to be counted'. Maybe a fellow employee has been falsely accused of an error when it was our doing; maybe a senior manager is behaving badly within the workplace and their behaviour is not being addressed. You never know, it could be a whole range of issues. The challenge is, what do you think that you would do? Would you be more like the many who remain silent, or would you stand up to be counted? Have any of you 'stood up' before and if so, what happened?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Art of Skilful Questions

Effective communication often consists of the ability to slow down your mind so that you can listen to what is being communicated to you. Note that I have said, "Communicated to you" rather than, "...said to you." In oral communication, the words we actually say are only a fraction of what we are communicating. For those of you who have English as your second language you would understand this concept very easily. While developing your competency at speaking English, the words that you use are often only a fraction of what you are trying to convey in your mind (where you use are using your first language to speak to yourself). Our body language tries to compensate for us in that it communicates for us while we speak. The challenge that we have is that our body language and our words aren't always in agreement!

It is for this reason that the art of asking good questions is so important. When you are truly listening you are more able to hear what is not being said, and better able to listen to what the body language may be telling you. Good listeners know that anything they believe that they heard, or did not hear but was said "between the lines" is just an assumption...until it is confirmed or otherwise by the person they were listening to. Rather than believing that their assumptions are always accurate, good listeners ask questions. The questions that they ask are designed to help them to develop their understanding. Good listeners, through the use of artful questions, can also help other people to better understand what they are trying to say as well. Wise people and mentors have known this for thousands of years, which is why the good ones are both good listeners and skilful questioners.

Read the attached article by Michael Marquardt. His suggestions for developing the art of becoming a good questioner are exceptional. You may like to contribute to the discussion on this topic as well and share your experiences; both of having been asked great questions and your own experience of using them yourself.

Marquardt - The Power of Great Questions.pdf

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Understanding the relationship between leadership and values

Many great questions have been asked in the various leadership development programs that I have been facilitating recently. One of those questions was, "Why have personal or organisational values?" On a personal level, living a life that is consistent with our personal values is one of the ways to live a happier life compared with someone who does not live such a consistent life. This is irrespective of material wealth.

Life has a habit of creating difficult situations through which we must navigate and the path that we choose to take can be guided by our values. If, however, you don't know what your personal values are, then it is very difficult to choose a path that is aligned with them. Some might suggest that it is easier to not have values. I'm yet to experience a value-less person. By this I mean that everyone has values; their behaviours indicate what they are. The issue is whether or not the person knows what values they are portraying. It is easy to preach a certain range of values; the challenge can be living them.

Ultimately a simple metaphor can help with this idea of values. Irrespective of your role in life, at the end of each day when you are home and look at yourself in the mirror, are you proud of the person staring back at you? In 1934 the editor of the New York Post (a monthly magazine at the time) was sent a letter by an 18 year old male. His letter contained a single question, "Why be honest?". The editor thought that it was such a great question that he published it the next month and asked the readers to send in their replies. He promised to publish the best response.

The following poem was adjudged the best response. While written in 1934 I think the essence of the poem has significant value to this day. Many of you may not have heard of the word 'pelf'. It means, "money or wealth, esp. when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means." In other words it is when you acquire wealth no matter the cost to others.

Dale Winbrow, the poem's author, was not a poet. He simply penned this poem in response to the 18 years old's question. If you would like to learn more about Dale Wimbrow visit http://www.theguyintheglass.com/gig.htm. This is my favourite poem and has been since I was introduced to it in 1996.

The Guy in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,

And the world makes you King for a day,

Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that guy has to say.



For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,

Who judgement upon you must pass.

The feller whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the guy staring back from the glass.



He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,

For he's with you clear up to the end,

And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If the guy in the glass is your friend.



You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,

And think you're a wonderful guy,

But the man in the glass says you're only a bum

If you can't look him straight in the eye.



You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But your final reward will be heartaches and tears

If you've cheated the guy in the glass.


Ultimately living a life in which we behave in a way that is consistent with our values across all our various life roles provides us the best chance to be happy when we look at the person staring back at us in the mirror. It is possible to be lauded as a great person but not be happy. This can be because, at the end of the day when we are alone and looking at ourselves in the mirror we may be aware that we have not been true to our values or ourselves in the way that we have behaved during the day.

So what does this have to do with leadership. Michelle Hunt (Dream Makers) suggests that formal leadership roles carry a great weight of responsibility because they involve a serious meddling in other people's lives. When we hold positions of leadership within any organisation whether it be for profit, not for profit or government based, our decisions can have a direct impact on many people's lives. Performing our roles in the context of our personal values becomes critical for both personal happiness and organisational performance. If we are working full time, we spend too much time at work to behave in a way that is not consistent with our values to think that there would not be a negative effect on the rest of our lives. (You can find out more about Michelle Hunt by visiting http://www.dreammakers.org/)

A business reality, particularly in difficult economic times may involve reducing staff numbers. A question worth asking before taking such action is, "Have we truly exhausted all other options?".

Another consideration is, "Did we have the foresight to prepare for more difficult times when times were good?".

If we still have to make staff redundant, our values, and in this case our organisational values can guide the way we go about performing this process. As our values are an element of our vision, should we decide to ignore our values in the way we would perform such a task we guarantee, in my view, in ensuring that our vision will NOT be achieved. Is that a price that we are willing to pay for the sake (usually) of saving a few dollars and maintaining our dignity (and the dignity of those being made redundant) when such a decision is made?
While your experience may be such that not many organisations are true to their values, I suggest that this is NOT an excuse for you to do the same. You are not monkeys, so you do not have to do, "Monkey see, monkey do".

Taking action in alignment with organisational vales can take courage. A few years ago The Herald Sun Sunday Newspaper in Melbourne published front page headlines and alleged photographs of prospective Queensland parliamentarian Pauline Hanson one week before the Queensland State election. The photographs were of a sexual nature and were reported to have been from an earlier time in Pauline's life. The authenticity of the photographs was immediately questioned.

A week later after public outrage about the photographs and evidence that clearly indicated that the photographs were not Pauline Hanson the Newspaper published a public apology (interestingly buried on page 68!). While a noble act, the behaviour of the paper cannot be undone.

To me the values of the paper's editors were obvious. Sell papers at any cost. I wonder whether that was the true value set of the editor? This is one of the reason's that organisational values are so critical. Without them organisations are at risk of behaving in ways that can taint the brand of the organisation and reduce trust in the organisation by its customers.

If your organisation has a set of values and you have a leadership role within that organisation, then it is your duty to be able to explain how you have used the values in your decision making processes. It is through sharing real stories and examples that staff within the organisation develop their understanding of the values in action. In this way the values help create the results that you desire. So, if your organisation is about making money (which, by the way, has nothing inherently wrong with it) it can do so while also having a clear set of organisational values.

In the case of the newspaper, imagine if it held the value of integrity. If such a value were alive and well in the way that decisions were made at the paper, then the photographs and the article would have never been published in the first place. The paper would have had systems in place (systems that had been created to support their values) to ensure that the appropriate checks on the story had taken place before it was published.

You may be in a situation where your organisation has values but you can't see how they are lived. You may even hold the view that 'those at the top' are hypocrites. Maybe they are. Your challenge is this. If you actually believe in your organisation's values, is your behaviour aligned to them? Are you able to explain your decisions in the context of your organisation’s values? Too many people say something like, "Well the leaders don't live by the values, so why should I?

Why would anyone base their own poor behaviour on someone-else's poor behaviour?.

There is no doubt that living your values can be challenging. Doing so within an organisational context can be even more challenging. However it can be done.

The only person who will know how you are performing in the context of living your values is you. So, when you look in the mirror at the end of each day, what does that person have to say back to you?