Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ticket to Greatness

Driving route 195 Jan and I were in a animated discussion about greatness. Specifically we were excited about our launch of greatness architects and the establishment of a new charitable foundation called the Greatness Project Fund. Greatness architects are like minded individuals who are imagining and designing ways that they or others can achieve greatness. We hope to create a world-wide movement to engage people in the dialogue about and unleashing of personal greatness. But our dialogue was interrupted by the flashing lights of the police car behind us. Yep. The officer was pulling us over.

Walking up to our car he stopped slightly behind the front door and asked for Jan's license and registration. Looking them over he told us "I pulled you over because you were going 78 in a 65 mile an hour zone. I'll be right back." But instead of walking back to his car he asked "was there some emergency that you were going so fast?" Jan replied "no, we were just having a really exciting dialogue about greatness." The office stopped and then asked "you were discussing greatness?" We replied yes and told him about greatness architects and the greatness project fund.

After a brief discussion, the officer smiled broadly and said to Jan "I'm gonna let you go today with just a warning to slow down. And, when you talk about this, tell people you met a great NJ state trooper." With that he walked back to his patrol car.

I'm not advocating using this method to get out of a ticket, but as an example of the interest so many people have in greatness. My hope is that as we move more people to talk about greatness, it will change behavior, mindsets and eventually change lives. Hopefully the dialogue is a true ticket to greatness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Out of Our Own Way

Flying to Akron, Ohio to work with a business on leadership, I'm stuck pondering why we get in our own way to greatness. Jan, my business partner, had a session with business leaders in Chicago. Despite having research to show how moving toward a positive work environment was more productive, the group argued about why they would want to recognize someone for good work or even be positive. Says a lot about the state of business these days. More importantly these leaders requested the session because things are not going well. Yet presented with well-researched methods to improve their performance as well as their employees, they steadfastly refused to change their behavior.
Rather than spend my time berating these leaders, I also have to admit that change does not come easily to me either. I have my ways of thinking and doing that I've developed over the past 52 years. And when push comes to shove I'm tempted to push and shove new ideas out of my way rather than change. So how do we get out of our own way? I think we need help. On our own we can remain steadfast in denial that anything needs to change. When there are those we trust, who we listen to, they can call us to greater things.
Call them coach, mentor, colleague, or simply friend, we need people in our lives who push us out of our own way. These are people who remind us of who we can be when we are either too blind to see the next step or too stubborn to take it. That old adage “behind every successful man, there’s a woman” is mostly true. But perhaps we can make it more inclusive to say that behind every successful person there is someone who encourages them. I’m lucky enough to have begun with one person who I trusted very much. Now I’m willing to listen to others and so my circle of “encouragers” has expanded.
Who do you listen to, talk to, share your ideas with? If you can’t name someone, get someone. It is easy to become lost in our own thoughts, behaviors, habits, and actions. We need others to push us out of our own way, to help us achieve our greatness.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hang Up The Phone

Tonight I asked Jan, my business partner and friend, "what did you learn about greatness today?" Okay, so I'm not good with small talk and tend to go right for deep conversations. But Jan had an answer for me. She told me that she had watched someone facilitate a session about stress management. This facilitator has a good reputation and it was a small group. What Jan told me was "he could have phoned it in. He is really good at facilitation and could have coasted through the session and all of the evaluations would have been fine, but he didn't. He was focused, engaging, energetic and gave it his all." She said that "watching him I became so aware that we have a choice in everything we do either to lay back and just show up, or to really do our best. Great individuals bring their best every time."

Let me offer another contrasting example. About a month ago I had the opportunity to hear a singing legend and was really excited about the opportunity. However, though acknowledged as one of "the greats", she sauntered in 90 minutes late, no apologies, sang mostly to the band and didn't engage the audience at all. I was almost glad when the concert ended. I enjoyed a dramatic contrast last week when I saw Hall and Oates in Asbury Park. Though already in the songwriters' hall of fame, they gave it there all, connected with the audience, were alive and energetic and responded to our enthusiasm with three encores. They were great. I was buzzing about their concert for days afterward. They really impacted me and that is what great people do.

Jan reinforced a key characteristic of great individuals. They don't "phone it in." They aren't partially present to those things they care about. They are fully present, engaged and enlivened by what they are doing at that moment. Well, what about the rest of us? Are we really fully present to what we do, who we love, and what we care about? Or are we just phoning it in?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Donut or Not?

Okay, I read a lot of blogs. This morning I was reading a blog dissing mindfulness meditation. The writer dismissed mindfulness essentially because it made people too calm. Interesting. She proposed that people are more "human" when they get upset and explode. Aside from an apparently negative view of humanity, there was a more important point made when the writer acknowledged that she gave up on mindfulness because it was too hard. So perhaps it was easier to debase mindfulness rather than admit she could not commit to it.

Daily we are confronted with the choice to continue with our disciplines, new habits, exercise, or whatever we've committed to. Yep, sometimes it seems easier to just give in and give up. Currently some of the closest people around me have committed to a wellness regimen. They are eating healthy and exercising. Yet, the choice is constantly in front of them. Walking into Dunkin' Donuts this morning for coffee, one of my friends whispered "Maple frosted with sprinkles," sighed and then ordered just a cup of coffee. A choice, but a choice that has repercussions.

Research indicates that discipline in one area of our life affects other areas. When we take control of something small, it manifests itself in all we do. Though I've no research to back this up, I have to also believe the opposite; when I let discipline go in one area, it affects many other disciplines.

We create artificial moments to start anew; New Year's resolutions, Lent, a new job or an opportunity. We also use life tragedies and triumphs to promise new behavior: 9/11, the miracle on the Hudson, the birth of a child, marriage or death. The key is continuing the journey toward the new life. So the next time you are confronted with the choice of forgoing a discipline, promise, or resolution ask yourself two questions: Why go backwards? Do I really want to start this all over again? It's easier to pass up the donut, or continue with the meditating.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Give Time Time

The devil was on my mind this morning and it wasn't just because I was at church. Okay, it started there. We heard the christian scripture story about Jesus going out to the desert and the devil tempting him. Interestingly, all of the temptations concern solving problems - hunger and power for example, immediately. Whether you are christian or not the story points out one of the key challenges to greatness in our society - immediacy. We want everything right now including greatness. We don't want to take the time to develop our skills, ideas, or plans. We want success and we want it immediately. We won't give time, time.

The reality is that we have to give ourselves and others a break. In 42 BC Publius Syrus said "It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity." More recently, in his new book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell offers the current research indicating that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence. The problem is that our society offers instant gratification in so many areas that we somehow want to believe ourselves capable of achieving greatness quickly. It's true that we can achieve fame almost overnight (American Idol, Survivor), or fortune instantly (MegaMillions lottery is currently at $212 million dollars), yet the reality is that greatness will not be rushed.

We need to be humble enough to allow ourselves and others to develop and mature. Setting short term goals helps; we all need to know we are succeeding. But more importantly we have to realize that we will not achieve our personal greatness overnight. Don't be tempted. Give time time.