Sage Gary R. Coulton: Leaders “wisdomise” themselves and others

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/03/21/leaders-wisdomise-themselves-and-others/

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.

The Serenity Prayer

We all value wisdom, don’t you? Who is the wisest person you know? What is it about them that exudes wisdom? How old are they?

Has anyone ever told you, “you’re wise” or “you have wisdom”? When asked to explain people say, “you help me to clear a path”, “you make me see things more clearly”.

What exactly is your particular kind of wisdom and what is it good for? Can wisdom be measured and categorised? Does it come in different flavours depending upon how we came to be wise? To misquote Shakespeare, do some people achieve wisdom or do some have wisdom thrust upon them?

Have you noticed that in the English language wisdom is a noun? It is a quality, not a process and yet this quality depends entirely on the process of life; noticing and understanding what happens around and within you. Wisdom is gaining insight, experience, knowledge and good judgement. Yet there is no verb relating to wisdom. You cannot “do” wisdom. I think this is a shame. The Chinese seem closer to the truth as they have a single symbol in Kanji representing wisdom. Their definition is more flexible and includes intellect, knowledge and reason and it can also mean resourcefulness or wit. When added to another symbol it can also mean knowledge, sagacity, sense, and intelligence.

The Chinese consider that being wise is to exist, to know, to think, to reason, to sense, to be sagacious, to gain experience, to feel, and to be resourceful. We all do these things to some extent or another so what’s special about wisdom? As Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens”. Do you spend more time asking questions and listening or do you tend towards telling people what you know, think and feel?

At what point can we claim wisdom for ourselves? How about we stop thinking about wisdom as the destination and we see it more as the road we travel. Make wisdom into a collective verb for all those life processes that make us wise. I know it’s clumsy but in want of a better word you are “wisdomising” yourself with every new experience and insight.

If you forget about trying to become wise and concentrate instead on the processes that lead to wisdom; one day someone will tell you just how wise you really are. The final prize you should really seek is to show others how they too can “wisdomise” themselves.

Your Actions Today

  • Compare how many questions you ask with how many instructions you give.
  • When answering questions how much of your wisdom do you engage in answering as compared with the effort you make to reveal the wisdom of your questioner?
  • Are you adding to your knowledge or your wisdom or both today?
  • During and at the end of today make notes on what you observed and felt.
  • Complete your Daily Report Sheet.

Recommended reading

The Leadership Wisdom of Solomon: 28 Essential Strategies for Leading with Integrity – Pat Williams & Jim Denney

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/03/14/leader-know-thyself/

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“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Aristotle

As we grow and struggle to understand the world around us we concentrate less on seeking to understand ourselves and focus on external issues. We each create inaccurate internal narratives defining who we are? How can anyone be a leader and hope to understand what convinces people to follow if they’ve no idea of who they are themselves?

Superficial descriptions based on what we do are inadequate definitions of self. It’s the synthesis of your core values, how you think, how you express your emotions and how you value yourself that really matter. People who undervalue themselves struggle to understand their inner world and never appreciate anyone else’s can’t lead authentically or effectively.

Insight is not simply about finding your weaknesses and curing them. It is about recognising, nurturing and affirming all those wonderful human qualities you were born with; love, trust, honesty, inquisitiveness, wonder, passion, excitement etc. The events in our lives and the people that influence us collude unconsciously and sometimes posthumously to reduce, suppress and ignore these values. Even the most hardened people have not lost these fundamental qualities; they have simply buried them. Be reassured you rediscover them by application of focussed attention and raised awareness.

Unwanted mental chatter distracts our attention; as does fear of “discovering skeletons in the closet”. We choose to focus on external problems and avoid the real interference; ourselves and our behaviours. As with all difficult jobs the best way forward is start small by observing.

Personal judgement is irrational, counterproductive, drives anxiety and colours our decisions. Self-judgement on behalf of an imaginary critic is corrosive and has to be avoided. The challenge is to know when you are being self-critical and discern non-judgementally if it is accurate or just an expression of your internal narrative. I invite you to be curious, notice how you perceive yourself. How do you respond to different situations? Ponder on what might be the basis of your actions and how they affect you. Most all avoid judgement. By all means observe, discern, describe, explain but don’t judge.

To know yourself from your lightest space to darkest recess is wisdom. It is who you are. This is the rock on which you stand and from which you lead with security and courage.

Your Actions Today

  • Try to describe yourself in less than twenty words. What kind of adjectives do you use; do they describe abilities or qualities or both?
  • During and at the end of today make notes on what you observed about your internal dialogue and how it felt at the time.
  • Complete your Daily Report Sheet.

Recommended reading

A leader’s legacy – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/03/19/are-you-prepared-to-suffer-to-succeed/

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Are you prepared to suffer to succeed?

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The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering

Ben Okri

Followers do not follow because of what you do for you; they follow because of what you do for them.

By definition leaders serve those who they lead. This means experiencing their experiences; feeling their needs and living their suffering. To achieve your goals and fulfil your aspirations they need to reach and fulfil theirs. As the task is huge, their success is more important than yours. If you attend to this your leadership will be remembered long after you are gone.

Long-term your leadership will not be measured by the metrics you generated nor the profits you made. It will be by the legacy you leave; perpetuating the achievement of everyone you led. This will mean sacrifice and suffering. Consider Olympic athletes who push their minds and bodies through prodigious suffering and sacrifice for a gold medal. They know that without this sacrifice they cannot possibly succeed. If you crave the plaudits and the money but are not prepared to suffer somewhat along the way you’re in the wrong business. So, why do you have to suffer? What’s in it for you and how can you mitigate the suffering along the way? Follow the example of the athlete. It will be worth it. They even enjoy the journey.

Nothing is achieved by one person. Thousands work together simply to deliver your morning latte. Therefore any measure of your success is entirely dependent on the combined efforts of many others. The biggest achievements happen when everyone has latitude to add their own innovation and effort. If you get in the trenches with them and seek to understand and share their needs, problems and suffering they will you follow through hard times. In fact you may have a hard time keeping up with them.

Recent research confirms that adopting positive thinking, altruism and practical support for others fuels motivation, enhances performance and underpins achievement. Even adopting random acts of kindness on a regular basis can do this. If that is true the “leader servant’s” suffering can be re-framed as a privilege bringing huge and long lasting personal rewards.

Your Actions Today

  • Do you see yourself at the top or bottom of the pyramid?
  • How does your perception of leadership alter if you see yourself supporting?
  • Notice how you feel when you suffer? Is it your pain or your follower’s pain?
  • If you’re driven to fulfil your client’s needs to relieve their pain to ensure your success how might sensing and addressing your follower’s needs and pains do the same thing?
  • During and at the end of today make notes on what you observed and felt.

Recommended reading

A leader’s legacy – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/02/23/fate-loves-the-fearless-a-leader/

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Fate loves the fearless leader

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“Really it comes down to your philosophy. Do you want to play it safe and be good or do you want to take a chance and be great”

Jimmy Johnson – American Football coach

What’s your biggest fear? Is it fear of what others will say? Is it fear of not knowing the answer to everything or is it uncertainty? For many it’s fear of failure. It means you tend to play safe and set small but easily achievable goals. Follow this path and you will never find an awesome purpose.

Fear at the top encourages fear of failure at all levels in an organisation and results in a culture of “aspiring to mediocrity”. In this uncertain and competitive world this is a recipe for slow decay and eventual oblivion; you are better than that! As the legendary tennis player Billie Jean King said, “Failure is feedback”.

To be fearless is not to be a stupid risk taker inviting destruction. It’s more about recognising, accepting and reframing things that trigger your fear. You can redirect your energy toward more creative and productive activities aligned with your awesome purpose.

The drive to be perfect creates fear. No-one is perfect and that’s just fine. To know and accept your imperfections is empowering. Perfectionism justifies procrastination. You begin to think, “How can you finalise something without it being perfect?” This is the fear of criticism and judgement at work. Step away from judgement. Fear will recede. You can move on.

Fear prevents you from taking informed risks but risk underpins all new ideas. If you don’t risk you live in the past which of course you have no power to change. You will be overtaken. Risk is fine as long as it’s planned risk.

Fear is real but the source of the fear is often fake. Look for the real source of your fears and apprehension. Whether it’s false or real, re-frame it, think, plan, move on and act. It’s how you respond when you’re scared that really matters.

Your Actions Today

  • Be curious and notice what scares you. Score each experience between 1 and 10.
  • Is this a legitimate fear? If yes, what triggered it?
  • Is this a false fear coming from a bedrock limiting assumption? If yes what is the assumption and what is a “positive opposite” you can use to re-frame?
  • In each situation notice your action and the effect it has on you.
  • How can you reframe your fears to be more effective in setting and achieving more ambitious goals?
  • During and at the end of today make notes on what you observed and felt.

Recommended reading

Attitude is Everything: Change Your Attitude…and You Change Your Life! – Jeff Keller

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/02/13/your-living-leadership-legacy/

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Your living leadership legacy

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“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”.

Harvey S Firestone – founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company

Several years ago shortly before he died my father Harry Coulton asked me what has turned out to be both the most difficult but also the most liberating question of my life. “Who do you want to turn up to your own funeral?” I didn’t understand at the time but I do now. I suspect we all want to be remembered as a good person who achieved great things. What then do we need to do during our lives to leave this positive impression?

In former years the great business leaders invested their fortunes in altruistic ventures such as the provision of libraries (Carnegie) or by housing for the poor (Peabody). The British Victorian philanthropists Titus Salt and the Cadbury family built entire communities (Saltaire and Bourneville) for their workers. They built houses, schools, art galleries, educational centres and concert halls. In this way they sought not only to exploit their work but also to enhance the social situation and moral fibre of others less fortunate than themselves. This was an investment in bricks and mortar and in people. It was a physical and human legacy.

During your working life as a leader you will enrich yourself more or less in two main ways. First, you may acquire wealth and like the Victorian philanthropists you may give to charitable ventures. Second, you will also accrue unique experience in your field. You could simply teach people the facts of what you know but more importantly you could invest everything that you are and have learnt in them; creating the leaders of tomorrow. You could lead with the sole purpose of supporting people to become better at your business than you are. To be able to do this without considering your own tangible gain is the highest calling for a leader. Committing to supporting growth and empowerment of others will be your human legacy that will last long after you leave. Your overall effect will be far greater than you can achieve alone and it is these people who will realise your vision and move on to create new ones of their own. That is the reason they will attend your funeral.

Your  Actions Today

  • Be curious about your interactions with your direct reports, peers and leaders.
  • Do you give people opportunity to learn from you and their own experiments?
  • Do you delegate appropriately and reassure people that as long as they learn from results, it is OK?
  • How many people can do things more ably now because of your mentorship?
  • Can they perform better than you in some areas?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how much did you invest in them rather than you?
  • During and at the end of today make notes on what you observed and felt.

Recommended reading

A Leader’s Legacy – James M Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2013/01/11/overcoming-the-change-paradox-harnessing-your-adaptive-intelligence/

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Overcoming The Change Paradox: Harnessing your Adaptive Intelligence

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It‘s an inescapable fact that our world is changing ever more rapidly. How then can we best prepare for change?

Along with our IQ and EQ we also have Adaptive Intelligence and by turning up the volume control on our Adaptive Intelligence we can enhance our AQ. Adaptive Intelligence is our innate ability to create and adapt to change. As with all living things humans are genetically hardwired to adapt to their surroundings. Not only do we have to adapt to our physical environment but we also have the challenge of adapting to the blindingly rapid social world around us. Our AQ is the force that allows us to harness our creativity to cause and respond to change. Why then do so many of us claim not to like change? We live constantly in a Change Paradox. I wondered, “If humans are so well equipped biologically to handle change, where does our fear of change come from?”

After direct threat to our life the most disconcerting source of fear is the unknown. What’s more unknown and scary than the unknowable future? After all, we can only influence our fate by acting now, in the moment, moment by moment. But if someone changes the rules of the game we may not know how to act appropriately. Even if we do our past experience might not be relevant anymore and end up causing more trouble than good.

I’ve been thinking about our fear of change and its causes. I’m getting a handle on it and want to share my thoughts with you. Of course, I appreciate this is a very personal issue and will be different for everyone. Nevertheless, I invite you to be curious and fascinated about your particular response to change. Consider the intensity and flavour of any apprehension or joy you experience. To work effectively this kind of reflection has to be done without judgement of you or anyone else.

I suspect that fear of uncertainty springs from a lack of insight into our core values and the foundation that this awareness could give us. These are our absolutely non-negotiable, unwavering values underpinning our being. Now I’m not saying that people who fear change have no core values that would be stupid and uncaring. What I am proposing though, is that they might not have consciously considered and identified their core values before and how this might link to their fear of change. At this point it is important to discern between values we believe that society expects of us and our real personal core values; ones we will never flinch from applying in our lives.

If my suspicions are correct most of us haven’t identified our core values. We go through life buffeted by random events and people and react in terms of our likes or dislikes. We don’t live intentionally. We don’t consider often enough if the things we do or say align with our core values – (e.g. continue a relationship, take that job or buy that gas guzzling car). To make sense of our lives we tend to cling to external structures and frameworks in an attempt to define ourselves. From this we go on to apportion relative status and self-worth. For example, how do you answer if someone at a party were to ask you, “and what do you do?” I bet you answer with, “I am a (chose your job title)”. We never answer “I am someone who adapts easily to new situations”. We never say “I am someone who believes that love, truth and authenticity are the most important things in life”. What then is the consequence of ill-defined core values and identification of self with our job roles?

If we become defined by our job title and are unsure of our core value foundations, any externally imposed change, whether benign or challenging, creates a perceived threat to our personal identity. The fundamental problem lies in being defined by what we do and the history of how we came to do it. Without understanding the core values which truly define us we have no solid foundation upon which to view each new life event.

There is something very practical and rewarding you can do.

My invitation is for you take time to invest heavily in yourself. Put aside quality time (can be spread out over months if needed), find a really conducive place for reflection and most of all give yourself permission to look at what you really believe in and why. They might be the values your parents lived by or they may not. The crucial thing is to be honest. If a value is one you don’t really hold then reject it. To retain unreal values only cheats yourself (remember no-one will ever know your values except by observing the way you live by them). I found that after much reflection I only have three core values that truly matter; to love, to trust and to live authentically. Lots of others qualify and spring from them but these are my non-negotiables. “So what does that mean for me?” you might ask and please do.

My point is this. The kind of uncertainty that created my fear of the unknown has disappeared. That is not to say I have a crystal ball and can foresee my future but I know I can look at any opportunity or challenge from an unwavering belief I will adapt to it positively. I can do this now because I stand on the unbreakable foundations of my core beliefs. My relationships are stronger, my self-belief is firmer and my achievement is greater because of this insight. I have turned up the volume on my AQ!

I wish this freeing insight and its benefits for you.

So the Change Paradox is very simple to untangle – To adapt we need the foundation of clear and conscious non-negotiable unchanging core values.

The remarkable thing about this is that it applies not only to individuals but also to companies, governments, even religions. When fundamental non-negotiable core values are clearly understood and accepted by everyone, meaningful change can occur. Our core values are the lens through which new situations are viewed, evaluated and acted on. Fear and conflict occurs when people or organisations think it expedient to modify their avowed values or they chose not to live according them.

My call to action is for you to take time to identify your core values and measure everything that happens to you according to them. This will bring you peace, joy, fulfilment and success in whatever you chose to do.

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http://coultonsconjectures.com/2011/04/20/timing-and-leadership/

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Timing and Leadership

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When is the right time to step forwards and lead? In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio says, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Any and all of these things may be true at any one time for a aspiring leader. Sometimes we are placed in a position where we have little choice but to rise to the occasion, such as in trying to rescue our loved ones from a burning building. We might also be promoted to lead a team and although the bosses have confidence in us we are full of doubt and misgiving. More often though leaders seek the position consciously.

Sometimes one be born in a position that gives more opportunity to achieve our full potential. Without resorting to stories of silver spoons and royalty we need only to think of our socially, educationally and financially disadvantaged brethren and the mountain they must climb to achieve their potential. Nevertheless, the rise of leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko in the South Africa of apartheid shows what talented and committed people can do.

I guess greatness depends on one’s personal definition and the context in which we find ourselves. It is an easy knee jerk reflex in some societies to think of greatness only in terms of as the collection of wealth and possessions by the dint of one’s personal efforts. That is a true and valid expression of performance in a particular social context but is it not also true that greatness can be claimed by the widow in Africa who lost her husband to AIDS is raising four children in poverty and has started a micro business? The perceived “wealth” is merely relative to the context but to me the principles of leadership and greatness are exactly the same in both cases.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Malvolio’s statement is “Be not afraid to achieve greatness –“. It is the rare person indeed that carries no voice of insecurity in their heads. This is that doubting voice, some call it the “saboteur”, that is loud and juvenile and demands to be heard at all of the worst moments; just when you most need your mature measured voice. Do you recognise it? Welcome to the human race! I can tell you that you are much more normal than you thought. I am a great fan of Timothy Gallwey’s “Inner Game” where he brings together the strands of many pieces of psychological research and very practical experience into a very simple and powerful concept. He once said to me that the doubter (Self 1 as he calls it) is a bit like a cheap computer with little processing power and very loud speakers. It can only process simple things and then shouts in your head. It is the voice of your emotions and fears. Self 2 on the other hand is a mega-powerful computer (maybe today’s cloud) that has massive processing capacity and its full potential is never exploited because it has the tiniest of speakers and is usually shouted down by Self 1. In order to release your potential, in this case for leadership, you simply have to find things to keep Self 1 busy and engaged. You cannot shut them out or shout them down as just like a child they just get louder and whinier! Like any new behaviour this is hard to do at first but with practice you can get Self 1 to be quieter and happy. The simplest mundane tasks such as just getting Self 1 to notice things that you would not normally concentrate on is effective. For me this was to refine my listening skills to the point where I can be engaged with someone fully in conversation but not have to say a thing for minutes on end. As my wife and friends will testify this is a change of almost miraculous dimensions! So, as fear and trepidation come from Self 1, if you can quieten those fears it gives you full rein to concentrate on the job at hand and most importantly your dreams!

So, let’s say you are no longer afraid of getting out there, you find yourself in an interesting situation where you believe that you can contribute as a leader, what next? Paraphrasing Shakespeare, John W Gardner said, “Some people have greatness thrust upon them. Very few have excellence thrust upon them“. This is a very interesting thought because until we are in a position where our leadership is required of us we do not necessarily have the skills required to achieve our desired excellence and the rewards that may bring. Of course the worst scenario for us is that we do not have the insight and awareness to know that we do not have the skills. It sounds a bit like Donald Rumsfeld but its true we often do not know what we don’t know until we know it.

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