Giving Thanks + 1

Nov 26, 2014

The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why – Mark Twain.

purposeIt’s the traditional time of giving thanks and feeling gratitude here in the United States, and for me gratitude means being aware of my privileges and the responsibilities that come with them.

That’s what Twain’s quote says to me: it’s a privilege to have an incarnation so do something with it. And that something starts with knowing your purpose.

I sometimes think of it like this: at the end of my life, I have to return this body with interest. The interest is what I’ve done to stretch myself, to enrich others, and to enrich the world along the way.

I think what gets in the way most is the feeling that we are not enough, we don’t have enough to give; we don’t feel our privileges as much as we feel our lack. And this is the reason people give for not stepping into their leadership, eldership or power:  “I’m not there yet. I’m not old enough, big enough, or smart enough.”

I fall prey to that too. I think, I’m not there yet. I don’t know enough. How can I possibly do something I’ve never done before?

So, I ask myself:

  • What do I want to do with my time here on earth?
  • What will I regret not having done?
  • What talent or skill am I under-valuing?

So if you’re waiting for the day when you’ll a) know more, b) be ready, c) be better, why not consider that either that day has already come, or even better, the day will never come.

We’re never ready for the next step that life puts in front of us. And I think it’s because we’re meant to learn. It’s what humans are meant to do, and do best. We don’t contribute our gifts because we’re experts, we contribute our gift because we’re learners.



primerThe older I get the more I realize that many of the things I found insurmountable when I was younger changed when I wasn’t looking. In my early twenties I struggled with intense jealousy. It was crazy. If two of my friends even just talked on the phone I would feel insanely left out. And I hated being alone, to the point where the thought of having to be alone for extended period of times sent me into a panic. I spent 99% of my energy working on those two things.  They felt permanent and overwhelming, and seemed to define me. I look back on them now and not only are they gone, but I don’t even remember when they left. It’s as if, one day, they just packed their bags and left. (more…)

still learningI was talking my client, Larry, the other day, who was struggling with how to communicate with his manager. No matter how hard he tried, he always felt that he and his boss were out of step. And according to Larry, it was because of his boss’ abrupt style. In the next breadth, Larry mentioned a colleague that everyone had difficulty with. “Sure,” Larry said, “He’s a bit testy  a times, but he has such good ideas, and brings a lot to the table. You just have to figure out how to approach him.”

I looked at Larry, and waited for him to see what I just saw.

But he didn’t. So I asked him, “Why do you have so much patience with your colleague, able to accommodate his personality but when it comes to your boss, you have so much less patience with her? Basically, aren’t these the same They each have their idiosyncrasies, yet bring a lot to the table?

Larry looked at me and fell silent. I could tell he wanted to argue, and that this would be the argument: But Jill is my boss. (more…)

discoverHint: it’s not a skill

I was talking to my friend Shakil over at Anima leadership the other day, about the book he’s working on, Deep Diversity: Overcoming the Unconscious Power of Bias, Tribes and Emotions (forthcoming, Between The Lines Press, Toronto). We were discussing the value of conflict resolution skills for diversity work.

What’s the one skill that helps you the most, I asked him, and myself the same.

It’s a hard question, try it for yourself.

Not because nothing came to mind, but everything that came to mind turned out to be an attitude, not a skill.

So, the one conflict skill you’ll ever need is an attitude -the attitude that conflict is healthy. Or that conflict is an opportunity to grow. Or that conflict is the first step to transformation, community, or change. Shakil said for him, it’s an attitude that you can’t break anything. Whatever it is, the best skill is some attitude towards conflict that fortifies you, gets you past your fear, edges, shame, and anxiety.

But I wanted a skill, too. Being as obsessed as I am these days with specific and learnable behaviors, I wondered if it were possible to make attitude change into a behavior, into a skill. And then I had this thought:

When you have to have a tough conversation with someone, there are only two things you have to do:

  1. Learn something new about the other person
  2. Learn something new about yourself

The beauty of that is what it does to your awareness. It focuses your attention on something bigger than “who did what” and “right and wrong” of the conflict. That bigger thing is learning, which means you’re not just in a reactive and fearful state, but also tracking, thinking, and giving yourself space to step back and detach. But at the same time, it puts your focus on yourself and on the other, so you are not just detached, but also in the immediate present. Pretty nifty, I thought.

Try it out. Or better yet, what’s your one conflict skill you can’t do without?

Leading Out Loud

Oct 7, 2014


Find out who you are and do it on purpose

As I turned on the radio, on my way home from the airport yesterday, having just arrived back from Toronto, I was delighted to catch the last 5 minutes of Radio Q, and hear those words from Tracey Davis, daughter of Sammy Davis, Jr. Nice transition, I thought. Not only did it bridge Toronto and Portland (Radio Q on CBC is hosted by one of my favorite Torontonians, Jian Ghomeshi), but hearing Tracey’s comment in Jian’s interview connected directly to what the group and I worked on all weekend — excavating and using our strengths and gifts, especially those we may disregard, often buried in a painful past.

It turns out, finding out who you are is not so easy, but living it on purpose, is even harder. And as a leader, it’s even harder still.

I was having dinner with a friend the other day and she told me what someone else had said about me. It wasn’t particularly nice, in fact, it was mean. But it was also wrong.

I felt hurt and angry. But there’s nothing to do. Because you can’t control what someone thinks about you. Sure, we can do a lot to influence perceptions, but at the end of the day, if you have any kind of public presence, people will criticize you, compete with you, disapprove of your actions, and tell you how to do it better.

It’s a good reason not to be public, not to speak up, and definitely not to lead. But that would be a terrible loss. (more…)

Raising your voice

Sep 18, 2014

Kirsten Gillebrand, D-Senator from New York, caused a stir earlier this year when she published her memoirs, Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World. In it, she described in detail, including specific comments made by members of Congress, the sexist culture of the U.S. Senate.

I saw her speak yesterday, on Charlie Rose, and it reminded me of my friend, Vassiliki Katrivanou, who is currently a Member of Parliament in the Greek government in the Syriza party. To celebrate #TBT, here is the post I wrote about Vassiliki last year, about her experiences with power, soft vs. hard power, sexism, and her way of navigating those dynamics.

The most important power you have is the one that’s not yours

Vassiliki KIt’s a remarkable story. A good friend of mine – practically overnight and without planning to do so – became a Member of the Greek Parliament. Some of you readers may know Vassiliki Katrivanou. A Process Work trainer, facilitator and filmmaker, who worked internationally, Vassiliki was living in her native Athens after almost a decade living abroad. She arrived back in Greece just in time for Greece’s biggest crisis since the end of the civil war in 1949.

Greece is in the middle of a crisis of enormous proportions: a political, financial, social, and as Vassiliki adds, constitutional crisis. People are living on the edge: 30% unemployment, 50% of youth unemployed, and no sign of development or a way out of the crisis in sight. And, as history has shown, in the midst of desperate times, ideologies like fascism become attractive. A new neo-Nazi party, the Golden Dawn has emerged, and is now the third largest party in Greece. (more…)

Grit_Web1Every idea I ever had was brilliant. Until I started working on it.

This has been a year of developing and launching projects, and it’s taught me something profound about creativity.

Until an idea sees the light of day, it’s perfect. There is nothing more successful than an unborn dream. As long as it hasn’t yet been exposed to the harsh light of day, to the laws of gravity, and to the comparisons and critiques that await it, it’s flawless. (more…)

Michael Brown imageFifty years ago the images of Birmingham police officers using police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights protesters electrified the country and helped turn the tide in the civil rights movement. I can only hope that the images of police in armored tanks and cameo pants, with high powered assault machine guns in Ferguson, Missouri, will have the same effect.

As much as I’d like that to be the case, I’m less hopeful. Because the difference is this: Birmingham was a civil rights march. What happened in Ferguson is an everyday reality for the majority of African Americans and other racialized minorities in this country. (more…)

Looking at the challenges facing our planet today, there’s one thing they all have in common: they are deeply complex problems that require complex solutions. None of them can be solved in isolation. Whether we’re looking at war or water crises, food shortages or climate change, there is not one solution, but solutions—plural. And to get to these solutions, we need interdisciplinary collaboration — input from all the stakeholders, experts, and parties involved. But how do we get those parties to actually work together, especially when they all have diverse viewpoints, understandings and methods for solving the problem? In this video I talk about collaboration, teamwork, and the tyrants on our teams we have to watch out for (hint: the worst tyrants aren’t any of the people).

big and smallIn an ABC news interview on June 9th, Hilary Clinton said her family left the White House in 2001 “dead broke.” With that comment, she set off a firestorm of criticism and national dialogue on privilege and wealth. For me it has less to do with Hilary as a possible presidential candidate, but a lot to do with privilege and power. It seems that no matter how great our privilege, no matter how high our status, or how lucky we may be, feelings of pain and hardship can easily trump any feeling of privilege.

Hilary and Bill left the White House, perhaps not exactly broke, but broken – exhausted, humiliated in the public eye, their marriage under assault after years of accusations, civil suits and a lengthy impeachment process for Bill’s sexual misconduct. That would be hardship for any spouse, but having to endure it all in the public eye, I can easily imagine how emotionally broke and exhausted she must have felt.   (more…)

Page 1 of 171234567...15...Last »