75 Surprising Truths On Thriving In Today’s Workplace

In an era where information travels and technology spreads almost instantaneously, success requires that we look inside ourselves for solutions to our work-related problems. Morris Shechtman, author of Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier offers the following pithy insights on change, growth, conflict and thriving in the 21st century workplace:

1. Teamwork Is A Result Of Conflict And Confrontation, Not Consensus And Agreement

2. Feedback Is Constructive When Its Goal Is To Give People Information That Helps Them Learn, Grow, And Change

3. In The Absence Of Feedback, People Will Always Assume The Worst

4. Leadership Can Be Defined As An Exercise In Continual Disappointment

5. Great Risk Goes With Great Opportunity—You Can’t Have The One Without The Other

6. Uncertainty Requires You To Identify Your Values

7. Nothing Will Lower Your Credibility Faster Than Avoiding Conflict

8. You’ll Never Maximize Your Opportunities Unless You’re Willing To Put Everything At Risk

9. Clarity Creates Advocates And Enemies

10. There Are Only Two Types Of Professionals: Trusted Advisors And Vendors. The Former Determines The Fate Of The Latter

11. If You Can’t Set Boundaries, You’ll Get Commoditized

12. Challenge Is A Test Of Your Ability To Engage And Invest In A Relationship

13. People Want Reciprocity And Responsiveness More Than Answers

14. All Change Is Loss—It Doesn’t Matter Whether It’s “Good” Change Or “Bad” Change

15. Your People Are Your Greatest Asset And Your Greatest Risk

16. Information Inevitably Creates More Conflict

17. Leadership Is A Perpetual Exercise In Managing Conflict

18. Sustainable Organizations Have Charismatic Cultures, Not Charismatic Leaders

19. Any Relationship Worth Having Is Worth Leaving

20. Desperation Always Creates Abuse And Abandonment

21. The Easier You Are To Read, The Better You’re Able To Lead

22. Don’t Expect People To Grow Without Feedback

23. Feedback Is Truly The Gift That Keeps Giving

24. The Quality Of Your Life Will Be Determined More By How You Say Good-Bye, Than By How You Say Hello

25. Risking Early Has The Greatest Likelihood Of Creating Quick Credibility

26. Time Spent Together Is One Of The Poorest Indicators Of Intimacy Achieved

27. Intimacy Is Impossible To Achieve Without A Commitment To Engage In Self-Disclosure And Conflict

28. The Two Key Skills In Life Are The Ability To Make Decisions And The Ability To Build Relationships. Everything Else Is A Distant Second

29. If You’re Not Judgmental, You Don’t Really Care

30. Unconditional Acceptance Is Simply A Slick Form Of Abandonment

31. Goals Are Where You’re Going. Values Are How You’re Going To Get There

32. We lead Our Lives Based On One Of Two Theories: The Theory Of Plenty, Or The Theory Of Scarcity. We Learn One Of These Well Before We’re Five

33. The Theory Of Plenty Allows You To Be Selective, Focused, And Collaborative

34. The Theory Of Scarcity Traps You In Desperation, Fragmentation, And Isolation

35. Affluent People View Relationships As An Investment In Life; Rich People View Relationships As A Drain On Their Resources

36. No Emotion Will Enhance Your Success More Than Anger

37. Anger Is The Outward Manifestation Of Disappointment. Disappointment Is The Gap Between What You Have And What You Want

38. Harnessing Your Anger Gives You The Ability To Act In Your Own Behalf

39. Mediocrity Is The Choice To Live With Disappointment

40. All Relationships, At Some Point, Are Disappointing

41. Disappointment Is The Catalyst For The Next Stage Of Growth

42. All Business Is Personal

43. There Are No Business Problems—There Are Only Personal Issues Which Get Manifested At Work

44. People Don’t Suddenly Forget How To Do Their Jobs. Undealt With Personal Issues Cost People Their Jobs

45. Caretaking People Breeds The Need For Revenge

46. The Best Leaders Have The Most Uncompromising Values And Beliefs

47. Mediocrity Is A Buffer Against Loss

48. Relationships Don’t Have Problems, People Do

49. Addictions Are A Replacement For Conflict

50. Successful People Use Feedback Immediately

51. People Don’t Resist Change, they Resist Loss

52. Personal Growth Is The Key To Retention

53. One-Way Relationships Disable The Recipient

54. Loyalty Should Be Based On Mutual Growth

55. Professionals Don’t Compromise Their Recommendations

56. The Most Difficult Risk To Take Is To Overcome Your History

57. If They Aren’t Causing Your Problems, Then The Only One Left Is You

58. If You Want To Change, Then You’ll Have To Do Things That Scare You

59. Growth Isn’t About More; It’s About New

60. The Pain And Discomfort Of Change Are Nothing Compared To The Alternative

61. In A Survival Organization, Disappointment Is Cataclysmic; In A Growth Organization, Disappointment Is A New Beginning

62. In Today’s World, If You Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Get Less Than You’ve Always Gotten

63. It’s Comforting To Believe That Success Is Just Something That Happens To The Lucky Few. If We Believe This, Then We Don’t Have To Deal With The Painful Realities Of Why We’re Not Among Them

64. We Gravitate Toward Leaders Who Possess An Emotional Core That Doesn’t Vary

65. Many People Make The Mistake Of Equating Caring With Comfort

66. In Relationships, We Get Just What We Bargained For. We Choose Partners Or Colleagues Who Reinforce Our Familiars And Then We Mistake That Comfortable Feeling Of The Familiar; For Intimacy Or A Productive Work Relationship

67. When We Reach Adulthood, We Lose The Right To Keep Waiting For Someone To Change Our Life

68. What Stops People In Their Careers Is Not That They’ve Gone As Far As They Can Go, But That They’ve Gone As Far As Their Familiars Will Allow

69. Any Organization With The Goal Of Never Letting Anyone Down Is Doomed To Failure

70. Speaking The Unspoken Truth—Making The Covert Overt—Can Be Liberating

71. The Familiar Causes Us To Misperceive A Comfortable Job As A Growth-Oriented One: It Makes Us Mistake A Terrific Opportunity As “Wrong For Us” Because It Makes Us Uncomfortable

72. Personal Transformations Produce Extraordinary Influence And Attraction

73. It Is Empowering To Give People The Dignity Of Their Struggles

74. You Don’t Always Get Your Way, But You Always Get Your Say

75. If You Can’t Grieve, You Can’t Grow

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

Your Employees And Your Bottom Line: Getting The Most Return

It’s more important than ever to get maximum return from your employees. Change-management expert Morris Shechtman tells you how . . .
and it has little to do with increasing salaries.

They say that time is money. And while that old adage still rings true, in today’s business environment it might be more accurate to say that people are money, or rather, that the time and resources put into recruiting and training your employees takes money. And don’t forget that there is a direct correlation between employee productivity and your organization’s bottom line. So how do you get the best return possible on the investment you make in your workforce?

According to Morris Shechtman, change management expert and author of the new book, Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier (Facts on Demand Press, 2003, ISBN: 1-889150-38-X, $19.95), you need to focus on internal issues and develop the workforce you have. Just because the current state of the economy means that more people are looking for work doesn’t mean that they are the right people for your company. Instead of viewing employees as expendable, Shechtman insists that you should be deliberately creating an environment where they can thrive.

“Employee retention is still a very big issue,” says Shechtman. “It always will be, regardless of the state of the economy. After all, the key to long-term growth and productivity is a workforce that’s familiar with your company and in sync with your business goals. Your workplace should excite and motivate your employees, so they’ll want to stay around. And that means creating an environment that challenges people and helps them grow not just as employees, but as people,” he adds.

“Most employees if given the choice between a nominal raise and a great work environment, will choose the latter. After all, so much of our lives are spent at our jobs. And making the job site an emotionally challenging and motivating environment is key to retention and productivity.”

This theme—fostering what Shechtman refers to as “self-information”—is thoroughly explored in Fifth Wave Leadership. It essentially means that people want their jobs to teach them about themselves, to provide valuable information that not only makes them more marketable in today’s marketplace, but that also helps them become better spouses, better friends, better people.

So how do you foster a growth-oriented workplace? Shechtman offers the following insights and tips:

• Forget monetary incentives: focus on relationships. Fat salaries and bonuses, more vacation time, and other such perks will not increase employee loyalty. All they do is create a bigger sense of entitlement. They tend to tie people to your company in the same manner that one trains a dog to stay in the yard—until that is, the company across the street offers a bigger, juicier bone. But creating a culture in which better relationships are valued gives employees a more profound and rewarding reason to come to work every day. Only through relationships can people change and grow . . . and personal growth is a requirement for survival in our increasingly complex world.

• Help your employees find their familiars. What is a familiar? Simply put, it’s a feeling state we return to again and again. It is an emotional pattern that holds tremendous power over our choices, our relationships and our careers. Rooted in our families and our upbringing, the familiar is a feeling that we unconsciously reproduce, sometimes to our benefit, but often to our detriment. 

For instance, the eldest child of a large family might have grown up having to subrogate her needs for the needs of the younger children. Perhaps she was told she was selfish for asking for things for herself. It is no mystery that as an adult she is frustrated at work and has trouble communicating her needs to her boss. Her familiar—the feeling that she doesn’t really deserve to ask for anything—is reproduced in her work environment, where she is unable to assert herself. 

You can help your employees tremendously by learning about familiars and encouraging your employees to identify—and subsequently diminish—their own. 

• Question employees relentlessly. A big part of creating a growth-oriented workplace is to constantly question your employees. “Did you notice what you did there?” “Why do you think you said that?” “I noticed that when your position was challenged in the meeting, you didn’t defend it—why do you think you backed down?” Creating a “question culture” will help employees ferret out their familiars. It will raise performance expectations throughout the company. It will train employees to think carefully about how they do their jobs and ensure that they have sound reasons for every decision they make. 

• Encourage conflict and confrontation. Yes, you read that right. The purpose of the workplace is not to make everyone happy—it is to grow people to their maximum potential. As Shechtman writes: “The enormous popularity of consensus decision-making/negotiation, participatory management, and self-directed work teams is a sign of the times that is validating our unhealthy quest for comfort above all.” 
Conflict and confrontation are rarely pleasant, but they are the very definition of teamwork. They are also necessary to growth relationships. 

• Provide honest, caring feedback. You should constantly tell your employees how they are coming across, or how they are doing. It goes without saying that sometimes this feedback will be negative in nature. Honest feedback can be painful for both parties, but it is the backbone of a growth organization. A relationship without honest feedback is what Shechtman calls a “mutual toleration society.” He maintains that unconditional acceptance—in both personal and professional relationships—is a form of abandonment, robbing the other party of the most important catalysts for growth and change. (Hence the reason the feedback is labeled “caring.”) 

• Practice the art of self-disclosure. Of course, feedback cuts both ways. You want your employees to provide it to you as well. One way to do so is through self-disclosure. If you want to turn a stagnant employee relationship into a growth-oriented one—or start a new relationship out on the right foot—share your feelings first. This is a big risk because you don’t know how the other person will respond; you must be prepared to deal with any type of reaction you receive. But it’s a risk worth taking because you can learn a lot from your employees. Self-disclose often and you teach by example the kind of relationships you expect to flourish in your company.

• Form an accountability group. Many people fear receiving or giving feedback; they don’t want to show others a weakness or make someone else uncomfortable. Put them in the right setting, however, and they may be willing to provide others with clear and compelling feedback. Accountability groups are one way to foster such feedback. In these groups, people give and receive feedback, create action plans based on that feedback, and hold group members accountable for implementing their plans. 

“I have found accountability groups to be amazingly effective in helping clients overcome their debilitating work and personal problems,” says Shechtman, who writes at length about these groups in his book. “Done correctly, they really can lead individuals and organizations to transform themselves from the inside out.” 

It’s worth adding that the actions detailed above are almost certain to increase your company’s productivity. After all, people who are personally and professionally fulfilled are better employees. This alone is enough reason to foster a growth-oriented workplace, especially given our current economy. But the big reason has more to do with tomorrow than today.

“Creating a work environment rich with opportunities for self-discovery is an investment in the future of your company,” Shechtman concludes. “It’s seldom an easy journey, but it’s one you must undertake if you want to attract and retain talented employees. Begin it now, and when the economy rebounds, your employees won’t leave you for greener pastures. Why would they? Your company will be meeting needs far more important and compelling than a biweekly paycheck.”

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

July 2010

A part of this newsletter is about unexpected experiences.  One of those occurred this past Saturday, when Arleah and I took a boat trip up the Flathead River with our friends, Deb and Jere Newell.  The Newells live on Flathead Lake and asked us to join them in exploring the river, which connects Glacier National Park with the lake.  They had not been up the river this year and we had never seen it from a boat, in all the years we have lived in Montana.
     
Deb had briefly mentioned something about the “cars” on the river, but it didn’t mean much at the time, so we didn’t pay much attention to it.  As we made our way up the river, we were primarily paying attention to the homes along its banks, and an occasional log feature created by nature.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we came upon our first sighting of the “cars.”  Placed along the bank of the river was a montage of rusted out cars from past decades.  Most looked like they were from the 40’s and 50’s.  They were stripped of anything useful or valuable, although a few had shiny chrome bumpers glistening in the sunlight, and one had the insulation from the roof hanging down like a torn shroud.
What struck us was that these cars were not simply abandoned and strewn around the ground like a mini junkyard.  They had been purposefully placed along the bank, most of them half in and half out of the water, hugging the shoreline and each other.  Occasionally, there was one positioned on top of the others, like a painter would do who couldn’t resist that last brushstroke that would complete the picture.
As we pulled in close to one of these “installations,” (there were a few along the river), Deb pointed out a number of cars that had completely slipped into the water and were lying on their sides.  They were eerily visible thru the crystal clear water of the river, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the presence of a kind of shrine. 
I know that it may sound strange, but I felt like I had come upon a cemetery and these cars were strange and story-filled grave markers.  One of the cars sitting on top of the others was a big, bulbous Hudson.  We had one of those when I was a child; and my father was so very proud of it.  I think that his practice had finally taken hold, and that Hudson was a message to the world – this first generation American had made it.
As I scanned the row of half-submerged cars and peered down at the sunken hulks, I couldn’t help but think of how many family picnics were launched from those cars; how many trips to grandma and grandpa were taken; and how many children were conceived in those back seats.  Maybe I’m just getting old, but I hope that no government agency or environmentalist hauls those memories away.
Business Tips
“Snap Judgments:  The Virtues of Telling the Truth”
I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago at the Salt Lake City airport (where I’m a de facto resident).  I was sitting in Delta’s Crown Room, in between flights, when I couldn’t help but overhear a cell phone conversation taking place a few feet from me. (I’ve given up feeling like I’m eavesdropping, or feeling embarrassed for people.  Cell phones have removed all shame from telephonic communication.  I’m just glad we haven’t figured out how to do colonoscopies over the phone.)  The fellow I found myself listening to, was quite agitated.  And the theme of his agitation revolved around being discouraged and prevented from dealing with people he worked with, in a direct, open, and honest manner.  At one point, he literally said – “If I can’t tell people the truth, then I can’t get my job done.”  There were a number of variations of this theme, and it was obvious that someone on the other end of the conversation was discouraging him from being straight with people, and encouraging him to be more “tactful” (i.e. dishonest).  He was quite frustrated and was getting more and more distressed.  I don’t know how things turned out, since I had to leave and catch my connecting flight.
This fellow’s dilemma was particularly meaningful for me, since I had just left a consulting engagement in which I was asked to assess and give feedback to three relatively new sales professionals.  I had done this, initially, after meeting with them for a few minutes.  I told the first individual that she struck me immediately as arrogant, distant, and uninterested in anyone other than herself.  I told the second person that she radiated distress and that she had a painfully polite smile that never modulated its shape.
And I told the third person, that he had an ingratiating, professional persona, almost charming, but unreal and artificial.  At first blush (no pun intended), the two women did not take the feedback well.  The young man said he was fine with the feedback, but I had no doubt that if I had told him that he was slated for the gas chamber within the hour, he would have considered it an interesting experience.
I take no pleasure in telling people things that upset them.  I do it for two reasons.  First, I care about people and their growth and development.  Second, I have a life-long commitment to the truth.  Most discussions about the truth revolve around grand and glorious corporate mission statements, or pious recitations of eternal clichés.  Few of them connect the truth with feedback to people about who they are and how they impact others. 
For over thirty years, I have heard, ad infinitum (and often ad nauseam) about talented people who never reach their potential; about difficult people who no one wants to work with; or about cynical, unhappy people who love to sully silver clouds with black linings.  At this point in my life, I’ve grown tired of the whining and complaining about people who don’t change.  If you want people to change (and I firmly believe that people can change), then tell the truth – the truth about who they are, and how they impact other people.  If you’re not willing to do this, then stop whining and hold your peace.
I will occasionally have clients question the validity of my initial feedback, on the grounds that it’s simply a first impression, and may not be an accurate picture of who a person “really is.”  My response is that they may be absolutely right, but the point they’re making is irrelevant.  You’ve heard the phrase – “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Nothing could be truer in our time.  We live in a culture of instantaneity. Twenty-four hour news, email dialogues, overnight stardom.  Who you “really are,” better be apparent to people right away.  Otherwise, the defenses you’ve developed to deal with the world you’ve grown up with, will carry the day.  And those defenses will define you.
The young lady that I gave the feedback to about her arrogance and distancing personae, is actually quite talented and interesting.  After spending some time with her; her humor, articulateness, and warmth create a very different and attractive impression.  (Her unattractive defenses cover her fears and anxiety about being accepted for who she believes she is.)  Unfortunately, most prospects she encounters will be quickly put off by her initial behavior and not experience her engaging side.
The research on connecting quickly with people, is quite sobering and startling.  I have always been intuitively aware of how quickly the process of connecting (or disconnecting) happens, but I recently came across a statistic (courtesy of my friend and colleague, Keith Ferrazzi), that is amazing – “The first eight seconds is the length of time the average human can concentrate on something and not lose focus.”  The study goes on to make the point, that if you effectively connect in these initial eight seconds, you have only an additional 110 seconds to make your case (and your impact).  If you have no idea of how you impact people in those first 118 seconds, you are in for a long, painful and puzzling struggle.
One more point.  Don’t overreact to other people’s overreaction to your feedback.  When you tell people the truth about who they are and how they impact you, they will almost always have a strong reaction.  If they don’t, they have real problems.  When they have their reaction, ask questions about it:  “How do you feel about the feedback I just gave you?”  “Do you feel like it’s accurate?”  “If so, what parts strike you as accurate?”  “If not, what parts strike you as inaccurate?” Don’t try to make people feel better about what you just told them!  It’s the worst, most counter-productive thing you can do.  It removes the fundamental catalyst for change. If you worry about hurting people’s feelings, I have a question for you:  “Would you rather someone have a bad day, or a bad life?”  Think about it.
Political and Cultural Observations
“The Politics of Identity:  Obama’s Racial Ambivalence”  
In all the commentary and discussions about the Obama presidency, I am struck by how little of it talks about Obama, the person, and in particular, Obama’s mixed race background.  He is, in fact, not America’s first black president.  He is America’s first mixed race president.  On the psychological plane, this is no insignificant fact.
    
Personal identity is a complex phenomenon. It is a complicated, often confusing mix of biology, family history, cultural imperatives, psychological gifts and wounds, and core values.  It poses a continual challenge to our attempts to arrive at any kind of clarity – to be able to answer one of life’s fundamental questions:  “Who am I, and what do I believe?”
I have had the privilege of working with a number of very powerful, influential, and impactful individuals in the private sector, as well as in the public arena.  One of the most important things I’ve learned, working with these people, is that huge, colossally important decisions they’ve made, have been driven either by their crystal clear clarity about who they are, or their massive confusion about their identity.  In the best case scenario, these individuals recognize all the varied forces that shaped them; consciously put them aside; draw on their deeply held core values; and do what they know is the right thing.  In the worst case scenarios, other individuals unconsciously and impulsively make profoundly impactful decisions based on being triggered by unresolved issues from their past.
Let me give you some examples.  Bill Clinton is obviously a bright, talented and shrewd politician.  Too bright and too shrewd to intentionally and consciously decide to engage in the numerous boneheaded and self-destructive gambits he got caught in.  If you only had a room temperature I.Q., you wouldn’t decide to have oral sex with a young intern, in the oval office.  So what’s going on here?  Clinton’s childhood is widely known and much written about.  He grew up without a stable male figure; a lonely and unhappy mother; and with demands on him to play a role, as a child, that he was not (and should not have been) capable of playing.  The upshot of this was the evolution of an identity focused around feeling disappointed in, and being habitually disappointing.  This was so ingrained in him, that you could mark your calendar, with great certainty, every six months with the expectation that Clinton would be in the midst of another personal disaster.  He had, seemingly, no control over his propensity to be disappointing.  It dominated his identity.
George Bush’s identity was also dominated by early childhood damage, but with a different permutation than Clinton’s.  Bush grew up in the shadow of indecisiveness and unpredictability from a male figure.  (This probably played a role in his early problems with alcohol.)  Consequently, when he took a position, that was it, for life.  What, in some respects was a strength – his apparent decisiveness – was a critical weakness.  He struggled mightily to re-evaluate decisions, and it was next to impossible for him to admit a mistake and apologize.  His issues with his father and his compensatory rigidity all came together in his decision to invade Iraq.  I have no doubt that the driving force in this decision had more to do with his father’s strategic blunders, than with the national security of the United States.  In essence, he invaded the wrong country.  Sadam Hussein was undoubtedly a madman and a murderous psychopath.  But in terms of global insecurity and national defense, he paled in comparison to the mullahs and lunatics running Iran.
Let’s look at examples of identity being shaped by core values.  In the mid-90’s I had the opportunity to lecture in South Africa at an international conference put on by YPO (the Young Presidents Organization).  What was particularly extraordinary about the conference was the attendance of both Nelson Mandela and F. W. deKlerk, the seventh and last president of apartheid-era South Africa.  The transition to black rule was just beginning, and people at the conference were expecting a firebrand talk from Mandela, and a speech full of mea culpas from deKlerk.  Neither happened. Mandela surprised everyone by not referencing his years of imprisonment and his hatred of apartheid.  He addressed his remarks to his black brothers and sisters and challenged them with an unexpected message.  He said, paraphrasing him – “Don’t expect this [political transition] to be easy, and don’t expect things to be handed to you.  Nobody is going to give you what you’ve been missing, and you’re going to have to work for it.”  The audience was surprised and a bit stunned.
deKlerk’s talk was one of the most forthright and courageous political addresses I have ever witnessed.  He got right to the point.  Apartheid was evil, immoral, and beyond any justification.  And then he galvanized the audience (I paraphrase):  “My followers despise what I am doing [handing over power and calling for elections allowing blacks to vote].  We have one of the most powerful military machines in the world and we could crush any opposition and stay in power perpetually.  But it would be the wrong thing to do.  Ending apartheid is the right thing to do.”  (deKlerk was, at this time under 24hour protection from serious and constant death threats.)
Both Mandela and deKlerk put aside compelling forces from their past, and both came from their core values.  We rarely see this in contemporary politics, business or civic life.  I often say, in my work, that courage is the decision to overcome one’s history.
Barack Obama is very confused about his identity.  And this confusion comes across in his bouncing back and forth in his decision making.  He wants to close Gitmo and extend a hand of friendship to the Muslim world; and he fully supports the pulverizing drone bombing along the Pakistani border.  He wants accountability for educators and opportunity for minority students, and he fails to utter a peep, when the first thing the House does, under his presidency, is kill the voucher program for charter schools in D.C. (populated almost exclusively by poor black students).  There are many more examples involving immigration, fiscal policy, the justice department and on and on.  A lot of people attribute this ambivalence to political pandering and manipulation.  Some of it, is undoubtedly due to those choices. But most of it, I believe comes from his identity confusion.
Being part white and part black is an extraordinary burden.  I have worked with many individuals, as a clinician and a business consultant, who share that burden.  Anywhere they turn, there is loss.  Trying to please both communities is impossible.  If there is any kind of resolution to this dilemma, it lies, from my experience, in the courageous act of articulating a core value system that pleases no one, fully, but creates respect across the board.  A commitment to this, is, in my opinion, the only hope we have of creating anything close to bipartisanship on a political level, and true dialogue in our civic life.
Personal Notes
“Inspiring Heroes:  My Visit to M.D. Anderson”  
Before I talk about my time at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (as a consultant, not a patient), I wanted to make a few comments about a visit with my mother.
Last night Arleah and I went to a family barbecue at my mother’s nursing home.  It is always a sad experience, but last night was especially poignant.  I found myself running the emotional gamut from deep grief to a kind of dark humor.  The best way to convey the experience is thru some random bullet points:
I guess its nature’s irony that I would find myself sitting at a table helping my mother eat.  Here’s a woman who was a professional dancer, appeared in three motion pictures, was a manager at a flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store, who can’t put condiments on her hamburger, without help.
There was a woman across the room, who I thought was looking at me.  She had deep blue, almost black eyes, and pure white hair.  I smiled at her, to acknowledge the eye contact, but got no response at all.  I then realized that she was not looking at me, or anyone else.  She was not even staring off into space.  She was in some private place, all by herself.
There was a woman at the table next to us, who had been served a bowl of soup (or something liquid), instead of the barbeque fare.  She made attempt after attempt to get some in her mouth, but never succeeded. It all ended up in her lap.  I thought, somewhat perversely, that John Cleese and the Monty Python Group would have a field day here.  They could do a senior citizen version of “A Fish Called Wanda.”
At the same table, two residents were locked in a super slow motion battle to unhook their wheelchairs that had gotten fused together when they both tried to leave the dining room at the same time.  There was no upset; no angst; no show of emotion at all.  It was another Monty Python moment.
There was a country western band playing throughout the evening.  Their average age was probably about 80.  They were absolutely terrific.  The fiddle player and the harmonica player were awesome.  And the woman playing the keyboard and singing had an unbelievable voice.  If you closed your eyes and forgot where you were, you would swear that Patsy Kline was in the room.  One gentleman resident, undoubtedly hard of hearing, pulled his wheelchair within inches of the band and lapsed into a kind of catatonic state.  They were absolutely unphased and kept on playing.
Amidst this profound sadness, the staff was flitting around like hummingbirds.  Bringing people things, wiping chins, cleaning tables; seemingly oblivious to the quiet suffering all around them.  We have gotten to know many of the staff, and they care deeply about the residents, and do an amazing job of taking care of them, and truly meeting their needs.  But they have to protect themselves, emotionally; from the stillness, the depression, and the absence of engagement. 
Lastly, the great grandchildren running around was a welcome and stark contrast to the helplessness pervading the room.  They were full of themselves, giggling and shouting, without a care in the world.  They were taking everything for granted, and thank goodness for them.  Life is precious.
And now, for my visit to Anderson.  Last week I spent three days at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  I had been invited there to deliver a lecture to about 80 of their professional staff that had previously taken part in a number of leadership development programs; and to meet in small groups and one-on-one, with key leaders in the organization.  I received the invitation because of a relationship that had developed with a Neuro-Oncologist who had read one of my books (“Fifth Wave Leadership”), and had been deeply impacted by it.
I had heard about M.D. Anderson for years, and knew it as one of the most prominent and perhaps, preeminent cancer research and treatment centers in the world.  And I have been to a number of research/treatment centers as a professional and thru Arleah’s experience with cancer.  So, I assumed it would be very much like I had seen before.  But I was wrong.
Anderson is of a scope and magnitude that is hard to describe.  It is a mini-city of building after building; research centers, treatment facilities, hotels, restaurants, conference facilities.  It employs nearly 20,000 people (about 3,000 credentialed health care professionals); serves around 75,000 patients a year; and has a budget of nearly three billion dollars.  It is a branch of the University of Texas, and the physicians and doctorate level staff have faculty appointments.  There are 43 distinct departments that all share the mission of wiping out cancer.  What is even more amazing is that Anderson is just one part of the Texas Medical Center, a complex of medical facilities unlike anything else on the planet, employing nearly 80,000 people.
As impressive as this all is, the size, scope, breadth and depth of Anderson, was not what inspired and impacted me the most.  It was the people I met and got to know.  There were two, in particular: Janis Apted, Associate Vice President of Faculty Development, and Dr. Morry Groves, the Neuro-Oncologist who read my book and introduced me to M.D. Anderson.
Janis plays a vital role in making sure that the faculty continues to grow, personally and professionally.  In addition, she has a strong and clear commitment to minimizing the dysfunction inherent in an institution of that size and complexity; particularly one employing a few thousand super-intellectual, narrowly focused specialists.  To say that they work in silos would be the understatement of the century.  You can image the challenge of leading, managing, and developing that population.  You’ve heard of the phrase – “Herding cats.”  This would be better described as herding grizzly bears.
Janis is perceptive, persistent, courageous, and a straight shooter.  She is not easily dissuaded from her mission, and her commitment to make Anderson the best it can possibly be.  She could easily back off, take a low profile posture, and create and sponsor the usual pre-digested, mind-numbing training that passes, in most institutions, for professional development.  She has chosen not to, and for that, she has my respect and admiration.
Morry Groves is a fascinating individual.  Besides the fact that we share the same first name and both went to graduate school twice (he is an attorney and a physician), he has an out-of-the-box commitment to knowing himself better, and to be a better person in his home life, and in his work with his patients.  He does extraordinary work; he is clearly embraced by his patients; he is respected by his colleagues; and he has not one iota of pretense or arrogance about him.  In addition, he is remarkably trusting of himself and others, and is wide open to feedback about who he is, and how he impacts others.
The high point of my time at Anderson (and the inspiring part of the visit), came during the last afternoon I was there.  Morry had mentioned, in earlier conversations, that if I were interested, he would love to have me come to “clinic” with him.  “Clinic” is when he sees patients, primarily to track their treatment and update them on their status and progress (or lack of such).  He is accompanied, usually, by a resident, or a nurse practitioner, or both.  He reiterated his invitation to join him, and added that he would appreciate feedback on how he related and worked with his patients.
We began that afternoon by going thru the medical history of the four patients we were going to meet with.  (Morry is a specialist in brain tumors.)  I got a crash course in brain cancer and a complete overview of each patient’s diagnosis, treatment history, and prognosis.  And even though I have the requisite credentials, clinical background, and experience with issues of confidentiality, I felt honored by being included as a member of the team working with these patients.  I also got a brief history of the research done on these tumors, and the progress made in prolonging the life of those afflicted.  The gains made don’t, at first blush, seem very great.  But if you’re fighting for your life, another couple of months is a long time.
I was nervous and anxious preparing to meet with the four patients scheduled that afternoon.  In my fifteen years of clinical practice, I had dealt with the death of a few of the people I had worked with; and I certainly had experienced gut-wrenching suffering.  But I had never worked every day with people who were almost certain to die while I was helping them.  That’s the world Morry and his colleagues live in.
The interaction that penetrated to my core, occurred when we met with the third of the four patients.  She had been a teacher; had led a very active lifestyle; and was now, for all intents and purposes, confined to a wheelchair.  Her tumor had wreaked havoc with the left side of her body, and it was not responding to the treatment regimen.  She was accompanied in the consultation room by her daughter (who was taking notes on a laptop), and her husband, who looked drained and exhausted. 
The moment Morry, myself, and a resident entered the room and sat down (after some brief introductions), she began talking about her lack of control over her left side, her inability to walk, and her fears of having a painful death.  She asked Morry some questions about how things were looking, but answered them herself.  She knew it was bad; she knew it was going to kill her; and she knew she didn’t have a lot of time left.  It was gut-wrenching.  No one knew what to say.
Something clicked for me.  I asked her if I could ask her some questions.  She nodded.  I asked her what upset her the most, and she answered that she was so frustrated by not being able to control her own body.  I then asked her to identify the strongest feeling she was having from a list of five – mad, sad, glad, hurt, and afraid.  I no sooner had the words out of my mouth, then she blurted out – “mad,” and broke down into uncontrollable sobbing.  Her grief exploded like a volcano.  Her daughter followed immediately, as did the resident.  The tension in the room dissipated completely, and there was a palpable look of relief in her face.  Life-threatening illness is an incomprehensible loss, and requires constant and explosive grieving – a grieving that frightens everyone.
From that point on, I pretty much took over the consultation (once a therapist, always a therapist).  I talked with the three of them about her need to grieve daily and to create a list of at least ten people who could sit with her and let her grieve (grieving is exhausting for everyone, including the listener).  The consultation ended on as good a note as was possible, and Morry reviewed her meds and made some adjustments.
The impact point came for me, as we were walking back to the staff room.  Morry thanked me for my help and turned to me and said – “We miss 90% of what’s going on with our patients.”  At that point, a strange feeling came over me.  What I felt was – I had just changed people’s lives in a way I had never experienced before.  Perhaps this is what some call a spiritual or religious experience.  Whatever it was, it has changed me.
There is a lot of talk these days about heroes.  Last week, I met many of them.  The clinicians and researchers fighting cancer, and the patients fighting for their lives, are my heroes.
Morrie

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A Place To Grow: What Motivates Today’s Employees

It’s more important than ever to keep your workforce happy. Change-management expert Morris Shechtman tells you how . . . and it has little to do with money.

Right now, making your workplace attractive to employees is probably the last thing on your mind. If there’s any positive to our weak economy, it’s that dozens (if not hundreds) of job candidates are lined up outside your door. So if one of your employees wants to leave, let him. There are plenty of people ready and willing to take his place. Worrying about what motivates and inspires your employees should be the least of your concerns. Right?

Absolutely wrong, says change-management consultant Morris Shechtman, author of the new book Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier (Facts on Demand Press, 2003, ISBN: 1-889150-38-X, $19.95). He contends that quantity does not equal quality. The fact that plenty of people are looking for work doesn’t mean they are the right people for your company. That’s why it’s imperative not to view your employees as expendable—in fact, you should be deliberately creating an environment where they can thrive.

“Employee retention is still a very big issue,” says Shechtman. “It always will be, regardless of the state of the economy. After all, the key to long-term growth and productivity is a workforce that’s familiar with your company and in sync with your business goals. Your workplace should excite and motivate your employees, so they’ll want to stay around. And that means creating an environment that challenges people and helps them grow not just as employees, but as people.”

This theme—fostering what Shechtman refers to as “self-information—is thoroughly explored in Fifth Wave Leadership. It essentially means that people want their jobs to teach them about themselves, to provide valuable information that not only makes them more marketable in today’s marketplace, but that also helps them become better spouses, better friends, better people. 

So how do you foster a growth-oriented workplace? Shechtman offers the following insights and tips:

• Forget monetary incentives: focus on relationships. Fat salaries and bonuses, more vacation time, and other such perks will not increase employee loyalty. They tend to tie people to your company in the same manner that one trains a dog to stay in the yard—until that is, the company across the street offers a bigger, juicier bone. But creating a culture in which better relationships are valued gives employees a more profound and rewarding reason to come to work every day. Only through relationships can people change and grow . . . and personal growth is a requirement for survival in our increasingly complex world.

• Help your employees find their familiars. What is a familiar? Simply put, it’s a feeling state we return to again and again. It is an emotional pattern that holds tremendous power over our choices, our relationships and our careers. Rooted in our families and our upbringing, the familiar is a feeling that we unconsciously reproduce, sometimes to our benefit, but often to our detriment. 

For instance, the eldest child of a large family might have grown up having to subrogate her needs for the needs of the younger children. Perhaps she was told she was selfish for asking for things for herself. It is no mystery that as an adult she is frustrated at work and has trouble communicating her needs to her boss. Her familiar—the feeling that she doesn’t really deserve to ask for anything—is reproduced in her work environment, where she is unable to assert herself. 

You can help your employees tremendously by learning about familiars and encouraging your employees to identify—and subsequently diminish—their own. 

• Question employees relentlessly. A big part of creating a growth-oriented workplace is to constantly question your employees. “Did you notice what you did there?” “Why do you think you said that?” “I noticed that when your position was challenged in the meeting, you didn’t defend it—why do you think you backed down?” Creating a “question culture” will help employees ferret out their familiars. It will raise performance expectations throughout the company. It will train employees to think carefully about how they do their jobs and ensure that they have sound reasons for every decision they make. 

• Encourage conflict and confrontation. Yes, you read that right. The purpose of the workplace is not to make everyone happy, although many companies try to achieve that goal. As Shechtman writes: “The enormous popularity of consensus decision-making/negotiation, participatory management, and self-directed work teams is a sign of the times that is validating our unhealthy quest for comfort above all.” 

Conflict and confrontation are rarely pleasant, but they are the very definition of teamwork. They are also necessary to growth relationships. Let your employees know that you expect them to speak up not when they disagree on a work-related issue, but also to call them on negative behaviors and attitudes. Which brings us to our next point . . . 

• Provide honest, caring feedback. You should constantly tell your employees how they are coming across, or how they are doing. It goes without saying that sometimes this feedback will be negative in nature. Honest feedback can be painful for both parties, but it is the backbone of a growth relationship. A relationship without honest feedback is what Shechtman calls a “mutual toleration society.” He maintains that unconditional acceptance—in both personal and professional relationships—is a form of abandonment, robbing the other party of the most important catalysts for growth and change. (Hence the reason the feedback is labeled “caring.”) 

• Practice the art of self-disclosure. Of course, feedback cuts both ways. You want your employees to provide it to you as well. One way to do so is through self-disclosure. If you want to turn a stagnant employee relationship into a growth-oriented one—or start a new relationship out on the right foot—share your feelings first. This is a big risk because you don’t know how the other person will respond; you must be prepared to deal with any type of reaction you receive. But it’s a risk worth taking because you can learn a lot from your employees. Self-disclose often and you teach by example the kind of relationships you expect to flourish in your company.

• Form an accountability group. Many people fear receiving or giving feedback; they don’t want to show others a weakness or make someone else uncomfortable. Put them in the right setting, however, and they may be willing to provide others with clear and compelling feedback. Accountability groups are one way to foster such feedback. In these groups, people give and receive feedback, create action plans based on that feedback, and hold group members accountable for implementing their plans. 

“I have found accountability groups to be amazingly effective in helping clients overcome their debilitating work and personal problems,” says Shechtman, who writes at length about these groups in his book. “Done correctly, they really can lead individuals and organizations to transform themselves from the inside out.” 

It’s worth adding that the actions detailed above are almost certain to increase your company’s productivity. After all, people who are personally and professionally fulfilled are better employees. This alone is enough reason to foster a growth-oriented workplace, especially given our current economy. But the big reason has more to do with tomorrow than today.

“Creating a work environment rich with opportunities for self-discovery is an investment in the future of your company,” Shechtman concludes. “It’s seldom an easy journey, but it’s one you must undertake if you want to attract and retain talented employees. Begin it now, and when the economy rebounds, your employees won’t leave you for greener pastures. Why would they? Your company will be meeting needs far more important and compelling than a biweekly paycheck.”

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

June 2010

The response to the “Personal” section of the last newsletter has been very interesting.  Most of it has been along the lines of identifying with many of my feelings connected with growing older.  A few reactions, though, both through emails and in person, have had an angry edge to them; almost resentful.  The resentment seems to be around a feeling of disappointment in me.  With all my insight, training, and experience, how could I get so bummed out about aging?  As one person put it – “I expected more from you.”  To which I responded – “I have the same feelings you do, and the same struggles.  I just may be more aware of them.”  (I’m not sure, at times whether that’s a gift or a curse.)  We all have the same feelings.  That’s what makes relationships possible.
Talking about the same feelings, I recently got an email from a fellow in Romania that really touched and impacted me.  We met a few years ago, at a YPO University (a worldwide learning event for company owners and presidents) in Banff, Canada.  He had attended a workshop that Arleah and I had put on and he waited afterwards to talk with us.  He has been instrumental in bringing capitalism and a free market economy to Romania, after the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime and the fall of communism.  When we met him, he had already founded around fifty companies, and was well on his way toward a hundred.  We had an immediate connection with him, and he absolutely won us over when he said that he never hires MBA’s because they’re “arrogant, pretentious, and feel the world owes them a living.”
The gist of his email was that the last three years have been catastrophic for him, and that things aren’t looking much better, even now.  He has had to lay off 40% of his workforce, and has struggled to keep himself and his companies afloat.  He has felt like a failure, and has questioned his decision to try and bring a market economy to his country.  I could feel the gut-wrenching soul searching in his words (he has an enviable command of English).  He has concluded, after wrestling with himself, that he made the right decision, and will press on.
What was uncanny and riveting about his email, was his choice of words to express his feelings.  Across cultural, language and socioeconomic barriers, they were, verbatim, identical to those that have infused many conversations that Arleah and I have had, and interactions we have had with many friends and clients.  Despair, discouragement, and renewal are universal.  I have always known that, but it was somehow reassuring to see it in his words.
Business Tips
“Anti-Customer Service:  Plumbing the Depths”
Until a few days ago, I thought that we had reached the absolute nadir of customer service in our culture.  But I was wrong.  There were two encounters that changed my mind – both occurred at the Minneapolis airport.
The first took place at one of the Delta Crown Rooms.  I walked up to the reception desk to present my credentials and encountered a staff member who was sullen-faced and on the phone.  Notice that I didn’t say “I was greeted by a staff member.”  She said absolutely nothing; looked at me with total disdain; and kept talking on the phone.  There was no “hello,” no “I’ll be with you in a minute,” nor “can my associate help you.”  Nothing.
I waited a few moments, while we stared at each other, and then asked her if she was going to say anything.  She snapped at me- “I thought I said hello;” to which I replied- “I don’t think so.”  (If she did, she must have said it in a frequency that only dogs could hear.)  All this time she remained on the phone.  It goes without saying that things went downhill from there.  I should point out that this person was not a post-pubescent twenty-something that I regularly deal with in the “hospitality” industry.  I’m not great at ages, but she was definitely pushing fifty.
After this encounter, we went over to a line of about five people, at the service desk.  There was one person behind the counter actually helping a customer, and two other staff members doing whatever they could, not to help anyone.  For a minute there, I had a flashback to my days in Chicago, watching fourteen guys on a fifteen man road construction crew, watching the one guy who was working.
What I was struck by, in this experience, was the powerful and unequivocal non-verbal communication of the personnel in the club.  The message was intense and unmistakable- “I’m very unhappy working here; I don’t like my employer; you’re interrupting my sulking; and you ought to be paying attention to my feelings, not vice versa.”  I got the message.
The second instance occurred when we boarded our flight.  As we got on the plane, our heads were snapped back by the stench in the air.  It smelled like a barnyard.  Much worse than typical airplane B.O.  People were getting on the plane with handkerchiefs plastered to their noses.  I talked to a flight attendant, who agreed that the smell was awful, but said that there was nothing she could do about it.  She suggested that I go on the internet and send an email to customer relations.  I told her that I’ve been there, done that, and that I always get the same response.  “Thank you for your concern; you’re a very valued customer; we have no intention of doing anything about your complaint; and please don’t bother us in the future.”   (The latter two sentiments expressed in the most saccharin and convoluted spin, worthy of a politician caught groping one of his staff members.)  The response of the flight attendant was illuminating- “You’re lucky, we don’t get that much.”
I’m very much aware that the lives of airline personnel (as well as millions of other workers) have been turned upside down, as a result of the economic meltdown.  Work ain’t what it used to be, and it’s never going back to what it was.  But given the sullen, passive-aggressive behavior of many employees, it’s obvious that company leadership has done little or nothing to deal with the feelings generated by the losses created by mergers, right-sizing, and the meltdown, in general.  These people are in deep grief, and they are stuck.  And the customers (and the companies) are paying the price.
Good customer service has very little to do with smile training, script memorization, or “mirroring” customers’ communication styles.  Personally, I find those things insulting and patronizing.  Anyone with a room temperature I.Q. knows that a smile is better than a frown; that spontaneity beats a stilted “shtick;” and that people don’t like being manipulated.
Good customer service presupposes the ability to have the full range of your feelings, in an appropriate context and venue, which prevents you from dumping them on people who have nothing to do with their genesis.  This is not the same as telling employees to “suck it up” and leave their baggage at home.  All that does is create more hostility that leaks indirectly into every customer interaction and provokes people even more.
If you want employees to deal well with the public, then provide a vehicle, at work, for the full expression of their feelings – especially the ugly unpleasant ones.  The research is clear.  If you deal with employee unhappiness by really listening to how they feel, and by not trying to shut them down, nor defend your decisions, you’ll get a workforce that will deal with each other and the public, more effectively and more positively.  If, on the other hand, you ignore their feelings and give them no venue for expressing them, and instead, just work on fixing their practical complaints, you’ll facilitate a workforce that is just as nasty as before, and becomes better at finding new things to complain about.  (BP and the Obama administration may want to think about getting Gulf Coast residents together, in their communities, and actually listen to their feelings, instead of trying to avoid them, or give them one lame promise after another, that they’ll fix the leak.)
Arleah has a saying in her work – “You don’t always get your way; but you always get your say.”  If business leaders followed this more often, we might see a dramatic improvement in customer service.
Political and Cultural Observations
Domestic Protectionism:  Unions, Licensing, and Mediocrity”  
The Obama administration’s pandering to unions represents much more than the payback of a political debt.  It has an insidious and subterranean intent that goes way beyond the elections of this year and 2012.  Its ultimate purpose is to further infantilize the workforce; create a broader and deeper dependency on government intervention in personal and private interactions; and guarantee the continued growth of the Federal bureaucracy.
Unions undoubtedly served a purpose in my grandmother’s generation; and possibly in my parents’ time.  My grandmother came to this country as a frightened teenager; severely traumatized by the terror and persecution she was fleeing.  She had no marketable skills, extremely limited information and expectations, and no ability to leverage her labor with an employer.  She worked long hours in a sweatshop – six, sometimes seven days a week – and she clearly needed an advocate.
The position of the contemporary worker is hardly comparable.  He is armed with much information and high expectations; he has marketable skills; and he has no trouble advocating for what he feels he deserves.  The only similarity between the early union movement and the present one is the latter’s commitment to promulgating the mythology of the abused and helpless worker.
In many ways, the contemporary union movement has taken on the characteristics of a governmental body – in particular, those of the Federal government.  Its overriding goal is to stay in power, increase its reach, and convince as many people as possible that they are incapable of taking care of themselves.  At its heart of hearts, the union movement caters to a mindset of victimization, low self-esteem, and an unbridled envy of individual and corporate success.  In our time, it has become the primary cultivator and insurer of mediocrity throughout the culture; it fiercely resists competition amongst workers; and it is clearly committed to a battle to the death over performance-based promotion and compensation for professionals, paraprofessionals, and skilled workers.  The unions have taken the lead in battling school choice and voucher programs in innumerable states, and their entrenched commitment to intimidation, coercion, and outright thuggery is unabated.  (Talk to anyone who markets their goods or services at trade shows about setting up their booths.  They are charged obscene fees to have union members do what they are perfectly capable of doing themselves.  If you as much as try to screw in a light bulb, you expose yourself to physical intimidation.)
In an irony of ironies, the union movement has become as exploitive, insensitive, and vicious as the industrial giants it took on, at its inception.  But worst of all, it has become the prime mover in undercutting and sabotaging the principle and core value of individual responsibility in our society.
The licensing of professionals and skilled workers is nothing more than unionization in better clothes.  If the public has ever been sold a bill of goods, this is it.  There is not one shred of evidence that licensing protects consumers from incompetence, fraud, manipulation, or outright evil.  Does anyone seriously believe that licensing has kept drug addicted surgeons from leaving instruments in patients’ bodies?  Or psychotherapists from sleeping with their clients and calling it “treatment”?  Or credentialed financial advisors from swindling every last penny from the rich and poor alike?  (Does the name Bernie Madoff ring a bell?)
All licensing does is protect mediocre practitioners from competition, and produce and reward lazy consumers, who are under the delusion that their best interests are protected by a test and a certificate.  I have never seen a licensing exam, in any field, that can tell me if a practitioner is a decent human being; cares about people; is not arrogant and condescending; and empowers clients to take charge of their own lives.
Early in my psychotherapy career, I was on the staff of a private psychiatric hospital.  My mentor there was a psychiatrist who had studied under Dr. Thomas Szasz, the founder of “radical psychiatry”.  When a patient we were working with wanted to be treated with medication, my mentor would hand them the PDR (the “Physicians Desk Reference” that describes almost all drugs, their action, and their side effects); recommend the class of drugs that might be of help; and tell them to pick the one that they thought would work for them, and had the least onerous side effects.  If they questioned this advice, he would say to them – “You may have some psychological problems, but you aren’t stupid.”  He was not a popular member of the medical staff.
Both unionization and licensing are undermining of the basic tenets that created and sustained our society, often through excruciatingly difficult times.  They have given, and continue to give, people permission to abdicate responsibility for their lives.  The most amazing thing to me, about the economic debacles involving the Enrons and the Bernie Madoffs of the world, was that no one asked any questions or challenged anyone in charge.  No one demanded to know what was going on, and why it was happening that way.  No one, in essence, took care of themselves, because they believed that someone else would take care of them.
If you have wondered about what phenomena like the Tea Party movement are about, this is it.  It is an often poorly articulated protest against, and revulsion with, the political and ideological assault against personal responsibility and individual accountability.  I am convinced that the battle has not been lost.  In fact, I think it’s just begun.
Personal Notes
“The Immigration Mess:  Caught in the Middle”  
I have fairly closely followed the immigration debate, including the uproar about the legislation passed by the State of Arizona.  But I was certainly not anticipating an involvement in it, or the necessity of having to take a practical position on one of its ramifications.
About three or four months ago, I accepted an invitation to do a keynote presentation at the annual meeting of the directors and CEO’s of the country’s YWCA’s (in October of this year).  The conference was to be held in Scottsdale, Arizona.  A few weeks ago, I received an email informing me that the conference site had been moved to Washington, D.C.  At first, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the information; and then it struck me.  They’re boycotting Arizona because of the new law.  I was furious.  And I have rescinded my acceptance to speak at the conference.  It is not because I have some principled objection to boycotts.  What I do have is a revulsion against hypocrites and ignoramuses.
Whenever I ask opponents of the Arizona law what they object to (if they’ve read it, which most have not), they pinpoint their objection to racial profiling and their adamant belief that the law was passed, primarily, to single out and hassle Hispanics.  When I point out that the statute expressly prohibits profiling and mandates that no one can capriciously be stopped, harassed, or compelled to produce the appropriate papers, simply because they may look Hispanic, they almost always respond that that may, in fact, be the case, but that you cannot trust law enforcement personnel to obey the law and not single out Hispanics.  (I also point out that if you put the Federal statute side by side with the Arizona law, you might be surprised to find that the Federal law is wide open to abuse, and allows for little or no cause for stopping people and demanding they validate their presence in the country.)  What I find truly unbelievable is the rank hypocrisy involved in profiling cops.  It is, in the eyes of opponents to the Arizona law, completely reprehensible to assume that anyone looking Hispanic is probably here illegally, and warrants detention and interrogation.  But it is fully permissible to assume that law enforcement officers will abuse and break the law, simply because of who they are and what they do.  How racist and bigoted can you get?
Closely connected to this gross hypocrisy is the uninformed and criminally stupid condemnation of the United States immigration laws and policies; amongst the mildest and most lax of any on earth.  This is most outrageous when compared with the Mexican government’s immigration laws.  (It takes enormous chutzpah for the Mexican president to come to the U.S. and lecture us on immigration, when his policies are amongst the most brutal and repressive.)  Take a look at these:
1.       There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools.
2.      All ballots will be in this nation’s language
3.      All government business will be conducted in our language.
4.      Non-residents will not have the right to vote no matter how long they are here.
5.      Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers.  No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, or government assistance programs.  Any burden will be deported.
6.       Foreigners can invest in this country, but it must be an amount at least equal to 40,000 times the minimal wage.
7.      If foreigners come here and buy land, their options will be restricted.  Certain parcels including waterfront property are reserved for citizens naturally born into this country.
8.      Foreigners may have no protests; no demonstrations; no waving of a foreign flag; no political organizing; no bad-mouthing of our president or his policies.  These will lead to deportation.
9.      If you do come to this country illegally, you will be actively hunted and when caught, sent to jail until your deportation can be arranged.  All assets will be taken from you.
If we applied Mexican immigration policies to our own country, we’d totally clean out Hollywood, most of southern California, and a significant portion of the American southwest.
I am not opposed to immigration at all.  Exactly a hundred years ago my grandparents immigrated to the United States.  Without that courageous decision, I would not have had the extraordinary opportunities and blessings I have experienced as an American.  People are surprised when I tell them that a day doesn’t go by without my feeling grateful to this country and to the people who made it possible for me to have been born here.  I often think of what life would have been like to have been born a Russian, Jewish peasant, unable to find work; uneducated; and scorned by the society I was born into.
I am very ambivalent about what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants living here now.  I was raised by immigrants, and I know deeply what that drive is like to have a better life, especially for your children.  I don’t think it’s possible or morally defensible to deport eleven or twelve million people, the majority of which have no ill will toward this country.  But neither do I believe in open borders and the chaos and danger tyrannizing our southern border.  I think the only viable solution to our immigration problem is a dichotomous mix of extreme toughness vis–à-vis closing our borders, a sane and logical guest worker program, and an acceptance of those already here who contribute to the society with their productive labor.
The key for me, in terms of a sane immigration policy, is assimilation.  An unassimilated population is doomed to economic and cultural marginality.  And the absolute prerequisite for this assimilation is the learning of English.  The language of a culture carries its core values, and we are no different.  If we want to survive and flourish in the future, and do right by our newer immigrants, we will insist that they speak our language and make it a requirement for becoming an American.  To do any less is a disservice to this country and a cruelty to our immigrants.
Morrie

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Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized

Recognizing The Blockers That Hold You Back

Why is it so difficult to leave our old, unhealthy familiars behind and simply exchange them for new and empowering ones? After all, you’ve hit that “eureka!” point and now can recognize how you recreate emotional patterns from childhood and understand how these patterns impact your business and your career. So why isn’t anything changing? It is because replacing those old familiars is difficult as long as you are held hostage by blockers.

Most people, if asked to identify the blockers that are holding them back, will offer a laundry list of elements outside their immediate control: lack of education, the need to find a new employer, problems with crazy bosses, etc. In reality, these challenges that seem outside your control are not responsible for your discontent. These are false blockers. The real blockers that impact most people are contrast places and symbols.

“Contrast Places”

At first, it can be a bit difficult to recognize a contrast place. Put simply, you are in a contrast place when you receive a positive payoff for behavior in the present that you received a negative payoff for in the past.

Here is an example:

‘A CEO recognizes that his overreactions and verbal tongue-lashings of employees are counterproductive. But he seems incapable of changing his behavior. As a child his successes were met with severe criticism for what he didn’t do, rather than praise and acknowledgement for what he did do. Now, as an incredibly successful CEO, he often receives kudos for his achievements. But when this happens, he sometimes reacts by alienating and offending those who compliment him on his success. It’s better to leave a trail of offended and angry employees than to face the fact that even though his employees appreciate him, his parents never did.’

“Symbols”

Symbols can be seen as emotional clones from our past. They are people in our lives today who elicit the same feelings as people who were important to us growing up. Typically, CEOs and other strong leaders are symbols for demanding, intrusive parents.

For example:

‘A young executive feels that her goals have been set unrealistically high, and she needs to talk to her boss about resetting these goals. The young executive is reticent to ask her boss to set more realistic goals because her boss is a symbol for her father. If she were to ask her father to rethink these goals, he would have responded, “You contracted for these goals. Do it! No more discussion!” She expects her boss to leave her feeling as diminished and worthless as she felt as a child.’

Blockers can stymie anyone. The first step is becoming aware of their existence, and distinguishing real blockers – contrast places and symbols – from false blockers. The second step is to clear them out of the way with some of the essential tools of the Internal Frontier Process. In our next issue of “Fifth Wave eNewsletter,” we will explore the tools to removing the blockers that hold you back from reaching your potential.

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

May 2010

A number of you have let me know that you forward the newsletter to friends, relatives, and colleagues, on a fairly regular basis. If you’d like them to get the newsletter directly, just let me know, and we’ll get them on the distribution list.

An interesting power struggle is shaping up that is getting little coverage in the mass media. We’re all aware of the Obama administration’s unrelenting push toward greater and greater statism, and the enhancement of the government’s role in our personal and work lives. What’s not so obvious, but is of equal or greater import, is the initiative, on the part of the political intelligentsia, to replace the “Founder’s Constitution,” with a “21st Century Constitution.” The fundamental shift being attempted here, is to replace the function of the Constitution as a protection against the intrusion and overreaching of the Federal government into individual and state matters, with a new document that empowers the government to create a whole new raft of “rights,” guaranteed by this new Constitution. This is what underpins all the discussions we hear about that refer to “social justice,” “expanded opportunities,” “redistribution of wealth,” and other euphemisms for greater “rights.” On the surface, this has much popular appeal. What is rarely, if ever explored, is the reality that every new “right” comes at the expense of some group or entity that loses part or the whole of what they once had. The Founding Fathers were acutely aware of this trade-off, having experienced this appropriation and re-distribution in their own lives. Whenever I hear people talk about something being a “right,” I think of phrases like- “There’s no free lunch,” and “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Watch for discussions about making the Constitution “relevant” to our times. It’s always code for the re-making of this document into a new and expanded charter of entitlements.

Business Tips
Old Dogs; New Tricks: The Struggles of Veteran Salespeople
The economic meltdown and global orgy of debt, has had a number of unforeseen ramifications and consequences. It certainly has brought about a massive re-ordering of priorities for millions and millions of people in both their personal and work lives, and a similar re-prioritization in hundreds of thousands of businesses.
One of the most striking realities it has brought to the forefront of innumerable companies and industries, is the shocking lack of key skills on the part of veteran salespeople. To put it in a nutshell, what we are seeing, in industry after industry, is that experienced and long-tenured salespeople don’t know how to close a sale or get referrals from former or current customers. And what further complicates this, is that their level of embarrassment over these deficiencies, keeps them from seeking help and counsel, to remedy the problem.

The behavioral explanation for this malaise is not that complicated. For many years now, salespeople have been functioning as order-takers for willing and able consumers, flush with discretionary income and an almost insatiable appetite for acquisitiveness. This was true for product sellers and service providers alike. When the economic collapse began, in 2007, there was an almost palpable panic in every type of salesforce imaginable. I saw a lot of blaming, accusing, and rationalizing; followed by withdrawal, hiding out, and almost paralysis; ultimately resulting in much denial and depression. People simply didn’t know what was wrong, nor what they could do. They couldn’t figure out how to change things, primarily because the problem was not one of technique or strategy. What was lacking was an interpersonal skill.

At the heart of closing a sale, as well as obtaining referrals, is the ability and, more importantly, the willingness, to generate, engage in, and manage conflict. Without a commitment to participate in conflict, the salesperson simply becomes a “friendly visitor;” often very good at generating interest and conversation, but very poor at getting customers to part with their money. They may occasionally make a sale, often because the customer wants to alleviate their own pain at seeing the salesperson struggle so much to ask for the business. Or the sale may take place because the customer is willing to do almost anything to get the salesperson to stop talking at them, and just get rid of them. Unfortunately, many of these sales produce a high maintenance, high aggravation client, or one who cancels the purchase within a short period of time.

To fully understand the role played by conflict, in inhibiting veteran salespeople, we need to define some terms. Conflict is the behavior we see when people are expressing the emotion of Anger (an equally misunderstood term). And Anger is simply the expression of disappointment in a person or situation. The disappointment comes from an unhappiness with the gap between what we have and what we would like to have. Any time this gap exists, between what is, and what could be, there will be Anger. Where there is disappointment; there will be Anger; where there is Anger, there will be Conflict. This is extremely important to understand! Highlight it; write it down; put it on your refrigerator or your desk or your computer. Disappointment is good. Anger is good. Conflict is good. All three are necessary for growth. They are a vote of confidence in a person’s capacity to be better and do better. Without them, we know that expectations are low, caring is gone, and abandonment has occurred.
So, an Angry/Conflict statement would be – “This is the third meeting that we’ve had over this contract. I’m really disappointed that you still haven’t signed it.”

Conflict is often confused with Hostility, one of the two most frequently utilized behaviors to avoid Conflict. Both Hostility and Passivity are deflections and distractions from directly expressing disappointment. Hostility is a universal accusation, from which there is no redemption. So, a Hostile statement would be – “Every time I put you in front of a customer, you blow it.” There’s not much the person can do to change things, if everything they do is wrong.

Passivity is a blanket denial of one’s needs and a dishonest approval of the status quo. So, a Passive statement would be – “It’s fine with me if we keep meeting about this; I’m in no hurry to get this done.” And we can be assured that nothing will ever get done, and nothing will ever change for either party.

Very few of us grew up with healthy models of Conflict. Almost everyone alive today grew up witnessing Hostility and/or Passivity. This isn’t because we grew up with bad or inept people. On the contrary, we grew up with people who were trying to do their best by us, and were busting their butts making sure their families thrived and survived. There was no time, and little opportunity (or tolerance) for dealing with disappointments and unhappy feelings. The latter are luxuries of affluence. So, expressing disappointment is pretty scary stuff; and very uncomfortable to do. It’s a lot easier for us to get Hostile, or to withdraw into Passivity.

This, then, is what veteran salespeople are up against. Add to this cultural and psychological history, an information-loaded and very challenging consumer, and you have a prescription for stagnation. All the technique in the world isn’t going to budge this one iota. As soon as the possibility of Conflict rears its head, the salesperson is immediately shot back to the very earliest times in their life, when disappointment was unacceptable and impermissible. Another key point: All Conflict-Avoidance is about the past. It is about danger and survivability, from the perspective of a child, not that of an adult. The worst thing that can happen to an adult salesperson, if they choose to engage in Conflict, is that the customer dislikes them, and they lose the sale (which they don’t have to begin with).

So, how do we help these salespeople get through this challenge? We need to give the adult salesperson the courage to take on the freaked-out five year old running their business life. We do this by making it more uncomfortable and painful to avoid Conflict, than to take the risk of engaging in it. For example, we have the salesperson identify the customer relationship that has gone on the longest without a closing of the sale. And then we give them the following assignment: In the next thirty days (or other reasonable time frame), you will close the sale or unequivocally end your relationship with that customer. If you fail to do either one, there will be a significant negative consequence (monetary, write-up, access to support, or dismissal). We are not doing this because we think there’s going to be some magical transformation and an immediate sale. We are doing this for one simple, but powerful reason: To show the salesperson that they can engage in Conflict, and live to tell the tale. In other words, to reassure the five year old, that life, in fact, will go on.

One last point. Courage does not come out of thin air, or from some mystical place deep inside of people. It comes from caring relationships. Relationships with people who care enough to challenge people to go one step beyond where they believe they can go. I learned a long time ago, that great leaders are great because they believe more in their people, than their people believe in themselves.

Political and Cultural Observations
Terrorism and Orthodoxies: Understanding the Enemy  
It is becoming increasingly clear that many, if not most, people in our country, don’t get what Islamo-Facist Terrorism is about. From the embarrassing spectacle of our Attorney General’s inability to form the phrase “Muslim Fanatics” to the mass media’s creation of a soap opera around the Times Square would-be bomber, it’s apparent that those in power and those running the media are engaged in either willful ignorance or a frightening cowardice.

The widespread Jihad against Western Culture is financed by, organized by, driven by, and celebrated by, Muslims – in particular, by Orthodox Muslims. None of the obscene, horrific attacks against innocent civilians, to my knowledge, have been carried out by Quakers or Swedes. It is important, no essential, that we acknowledge this, openly talk about it, and cut through the bizarre political correctness that tries to deflect responsibility and ownership. Contemporary Islam is in the death grip of the Orthodox community, and there is little evidence that any forces are mustering, either religious or political, to loosen or overthrow this stranglehold. Even the super-apologetic New York Times, pointed out, a few years ago, that Islam is the only remaining world religion, that has not undergone a major reformation. What other world religion tolerates the targeting of individuals for assassination, for what they’ve written or said? It still amazes me when I see TV interview after interview, with women from Islamic countries, who are under 24/7 protection, after writing and speaking about the treatment of their peers in the countries of their birth.

What exacerbates this situation even more, is the rank hypocrisy of the political establishment and the politically correct mass media. What do you think would happen if a Catholic bishop, a noted Baptist official, and a respected Jewish rabbi, issued a statement proclaiming that non-believers in a Judeo-Christian faith were infidels, and were worthy of being slaughtered, like cattle? Barack Obama would be in front of a teleprompter in under an hour, calling the statement unacceptable and stupid; Attorney General Holder would characterize it as ill-advised and possibly discriminatory; the Huffington Post would go more nuts than usual; and MSNBC would declare a national emergency. The statement would be withdrawn within hours, followed by an orgy of apologies and self-flagellation.

A few years ago, if you remember, Muslim cabdrivers serving the Minneapolis airport, demanded foot-washing facilities, to meet the requirements of their religion. Instead of an outcry against this outrageousness, their request was eventually granted. What I find most telling about this situation, is the temper tantrum and threat of litigation, on the part of civil libertarians, every time they discover a crèche or a tablet inscribed with the ten commandments, on public property. I guess that separation of church and state only goes so far.

The saddest thing about the absurd lengths that this political correctness has gone to, as applied to the Muslim community, is the implicit put-down and depreciation of its members. Every time we accord special treatment to a group, and go out of our way to ignore their destructive behavior, we are making a de facto judgment of their inferiority. If they weren’t inferior, we’d hold them to the same standards and values that the rest of us live by.

So besides being disappointing, infuriating, and deeply troubling, what’s the problem with Islam being in the death grip of its most Orthodox members? The problem lies in the very nature of Othodoxies.

An Orthodoxy is a belief system that cannot be questioned. Its primary and overriding purpose is to control its followers and limit their choices – ideally, to one. At the heart of every Orthodoxy is a fear- of life and death proportions – of choice. And the reason for this fear is simple, but powerful. If you tolerate, let alone encourage choice, one of those choices could be to leave the Orthodoxy. From the perspective of the Orthodoxy, this is a death sentence. This is why the rhetoric of crazy clerics and committed terrorists, is so infused with the language of martyrdom and death.

Orthodoxies evolved for two reasons. The first, was to explain the inexplicable: To give adherents a rationale for the sometimes frightening and occasionally terrifying events that they experienced. In this sense, Orthodoxies were the pre-age of enlightenment’s science.

The second, and more important reason, was to guarantee the integrity of the tribe, clan, or subculture. To make sure, in other words, that the bonds within the group would always be there to insure the survival of each individual. As more and more information infused western cultures, more and more choices were available to people. And as people exercised those choices and often left the groups they grew up with (or became less dependent upon them), the very Orthodoxy that had provided security, safety, and opportunity, was diluted, contaminated, and threatened with destruction.

I was born into a ghetto on Chicago’s west side, peopled with a mix of Orthodox and Conservative Jews. Culturally, it was a closed system. Until I was seven or eight years old, I knew no one very well other than Jews. My grandparents work, support system, and social network were totally linked to other Jews. Without those linkages, we would not have survived. Likewise, my father’s practice would never have seen the light of day, without a connection to the Jewish community. But as the Jewish community migrated to different parts of the city (and eventually to the suburbs), the ghetto became less geographical and more virtual. My father’s practice became more “diverse” and my parents’ support system and social network broadened, if ever so slightly. In my generation, the dilution was profound. Every one of my siblings (including me), married non-Jews, and ceased any affiliation with the formal religion or religious observance and practice. My children’s generation has little or no ties to the culture, let alone to the religion. I still have memories of my grandparents’ customs and rituals. My children have none. The Orthodoxy I grew up with is gone. (The core values are very much intact, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

This is what the Muslim Orthodoxy fears and why the West is so hated. Western cultures work to assimilate diverse populations into a values-homogenous whole, built around individual responsibility and choices. This inherently marginalizes Orthodoxies and undercuts their influence and impact. And nowhere is this done as clearly and thoroughly, as in America. This is why we are so hated and reviled. And this is why Islamo-Fascism is a life or death issue for them and us.
I have lost my patience with philosophical discussions of where to have terrorist trials and whether or not homicidal maniacs merit constitutional protection. We are at war with psychopathic murderers, who are obsessed with spilling our blood. What is it going to take to convince politicians and intellectual apologists that this war has nothing to do with “infidel troops” in Muslim land, or the Palestinian situation, or “capitalist excess?” This is about exterminating the West and its freedom to choose. That’s it. Simple and brutal.

There is nothing new, or even recent about this war. I have written before about my experience in the early 1960’s as a student at a radicalized university in England. Quite by accident, I found myself living in a dorm at Leeds University, with Chinese Communists, South American revolutionaries, and Muslim fundamentalists from a number of Middle Eastern countries. I was clearly in the minority – there were five Americans in my dorm.

Even though every night at dinner quickly evolved into “attack the American,” I became friendly with and close to a number of the Muslim students. We talked endlessly about our backgrounds and our respective cultures; we traveled together on school vacations; and I got to know many of their families who visited them during the year. When it was time for us to leave Leeds, and return to our home countries, we got together to say our goodbyes. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but something I said angered one fellow, and he looked me right in the eye, and said – “If I was told to, I would slit your throat.” I was stunned, and so shocked and bewildered, that I didn’t know how to react. I asked him if he was kidding, since I couldn’t believe he was serious. He made it clear that this wasn’t a joke. I then regained enough composure to ask him how he could say that to me, given the relationship we had built over the past year. He looked right at me again and said-
“You’re an American, and a Jew; that’s enough for me.” I shall never forget that day.

So, given the ferocity and psychotic-like intensity of this assault, what do we need to do to protect ourselves and significantly diminish this unparalleled threat to the very existence of our culture? Three things must be done:

1. The Obama administration needs to stop talking around reality, declare an all-out war against Jihadists, abroad and especially here; and actually start using the “M” word. Among other things, it is nothing short of obscene that we tolerate Imams in the United States, inciting violence, and permit foreign countries (often our “allies”) to fund so-called “schools” that spew forth hate and teach children to despise our culture and view us as sub-human. If skinheads and American Nazis tried to set up schools that were funded by foreign interests, and taught white Anglo-Saxon supremacy, and called for the extermination of Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, homosexuals and other “undesirables,” they’d be shut down in under a day.

2. The mass media in this country needs to come out of its journalistic closet and start holding American Muslim leadership accountable for renouncing the edicts and fatwahs of crazy clerics calling for a critic’s assassination, or some family’s “honor killing,” or the attempts of Muslim student groups to intimidate speakers who challenge their orthodox views. There’s only one question that needs to be asked of these leaders – “Do you unequivocally renounce your fellow Muslim’s statement or behavior? Yes or no?”

3. The current administration in Washington, needs to get beyond this pointless pretext of closing Gitmo. There needs to be a place to keep irreparable lunatics, and even the people around Obama have figured it out. (I guess at this point, they need to come up with a way to save face, given the fact that no one in our country wants committed killers down the road from them.) It’s still hard to believe that the fabrication about Gitmo creating new terrorists had any credibility for as long as it did. There was no Gitmo in the 1970’s, 80’s, or 90’s, when these madmen were blowing up people all over the world. I learned a long time ago, through a variety of experiences, that there are people so destroyed inside themselves, that they can only see themselves destroying others. These people can never be allowed to see the light of day. I often think of the quote attributed to Howard Bloom –
“Almost all great civilizations have succumbed to barbarians, primarily because of their inability to understand them.”

I am very disappointed in the Muslim community in our country. They have shown a reprehensible cowardice in not rejecting, totally, and not keeping the spotlight of disdain on the worst amongst them. Courage is the commitment and risk embodied in calling out your own. The famous quote from Father Martin Niemoller, in the National Holocaust Museum, says it all:

“First they came for the socialists, and I said nothing because I was not a socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I said nothing because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I said nothing because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak.”

Personal Notes
Getting Old Sucks: Existentialism and Nihilism vs. Hope and Optimism  
When I first read Sartre, Nietzsche, and their band of merry-makers (as an undergraduate in the Neolithic Period), I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. I may as well have been reading the phone book. My only “existential dilemma” was trying to stay awake when I went to the main library to study. I have always had trouble sleeping at night, in a regular bed, but I could nod off, like a toddler, and get some powerful REM rest at that library. Now that I’m in my late 60’s, I have a new understanding of existentialism and nihilism. (Why we try to teach these philosophies to 20 year olds, has always puzzled me.)

I did pretty well all through my 50’s. I kept up my breakneck schedule, traveling somewhere in the world almost every week; lecturing, doing workshops, and facilitating some very intense small group meetings. I thrived on the variety of places, clients, and challenges, and the intensity fed something in me that satisfied my need for impact. Looking back on those days, I’m often amazed by how I did it. I’m a one million miler on United, and a three million miler on Delta. (You know when you’ve flown a lot, when the airline sends you a very nice piece of Hartman luggage.)

Somewhere around turning 62, I hit a wall. It’s like I woke up one day, and couldn’t figure out how I got to be in my 60’s. It may sound weird, but what it felt like was – one day I was forty something, and the next day, I was in my sixties. And I seemed to have no clue as to how I got there. I’m quite aware that this makes no sense, whatsoever, but that’s how I felt.

I also, at this point, realized that I had made no plans for getting old. (I also got real tired of people telling me that 60 wasn’t old at all, and that I was still a “young man.” Forty may be young – sixty is not.) As smart as I am, I was completely dumbfounded by what I was experiencing. I had never thought about slowing down; about wanting things to be more convenient; about making less money; and most of all, about not living in our house, in the future. The latter was crushing. As I’ve written before, our home (and property) in Montana, is not simply our “dream” house. It is the fulfillment of our vision for our life, and the instrument for achieving our personal and professional mission – to change the world, one person at a time.

As a result of hitting this wall, and facing these realizations, I went into an unannounced retirement for over a period of two years. I did some work, but didn’t seek out much new business. I was in deep grief over the decision to put the house up for sale. It made perfect sense to downsize, relieve ourselves of the rather staggering financial burden, and rid ourselves of the responsibility of managing a large piece of property. Unfortunately, that didn’t make it feel any better.

For a period of time, I got stuck in depression. To say that it felt awful, would be the understatement of my life. For the first time in my life, I asked myself some very disturbing questions. Like – “Why am I doing all this?” and “What do all these achievements mean?” I also questioned the value that I brought to the relationships I was in, both personal and professional. At one point in this self-dialogue, I heard myself saying – “None of this really matters, because I’m going to end up dead anyway.” That certainly got my attention. It was a new, shocking, and sobering thought. That lead to the realization and the articulation of something that I knew was there, but had not wanted to face: I was in the last part of my life, and the delusion that I would go on forever was coming to a crashing end.

I’m still not at the point where that realization doesn’t pull me up short, and tend to bring me down; albeit for shorter and shorter periods of time. My friends who have a religious connection and belief system have talked to me about the solace that it brings them, and I appreciate their concern and their words. I’ve tried, at various times in my life, to embrace the tradition I was brought up with, as well as some others. But it just doesn’t work for me. There’s something in my background or my DNA that makes it impossible for me to grasp the idea of prayer or the concept of a personal God. I’d have to meet the man, to move in that direction.

Two things have helped me move through my existential crisis. The first, not surprisingly, has been Arleah’s insight that, as she so eloquently puts it – “You can’t live in a dream forever.” She realized, long before me, that it was time for us to move on; practically, philosophically, and emotionally. We need a new dream. Its time (probably overdue) to say goodbye to the old dream. Our vision and mission remains the same – we are still committed to changing the world, one person at a time. What we need now, and what we’re working away at, is some new ways of doing it.

The other thing that has been very helpful, particularly this past year or so, has been the unbelievable amount of communications from people I’ve worked with over the past years, as to the impact of our work together. I don’t think a week goes by, these days, when I don’t get an email or a phone call thanking for me what I’ve done to change someone’s life for the better. Some of this feedback comes from people I worked with twenty or twenty-five years ago. I’m always deeply touched.

I was talking recently with a former client and then colleague, who off-handedly referred to me as his mentor. When I got off the call, I was aware that the term somewhat surprised me. I have not, in my work or other relationships, thought of myself in those terms. I’ve always known that I make an impact on people, but I never would have phrase it that way.

All this great feedback has made me aware that I have created, unbeknownst to me, a legacy. I have heard other people talk about their legacy, but have never before applied it to me, or my work. It feels good, and I think it will help get me through my Nietzschian moments.

Morrie

Tell us what you think – click here to send us an e-mail with your feedback.
morrie@fifthwaveleadership.com

Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized

May 2009

I seem to be coming across great quotes these days. This one was provided by a good friend and colleague – Tony Burnham – probably the best labor lawyer in the country. Tony and his partner – Leslie Gray – have provided invaluable HR/legal consultation to a number of my clients. Tony is also the author of a great book on getting one’s act together, called Employed for Life. The quote superbly captures the thrust of our current administration in Washington – “A Government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Now, for the newsletter:

Business Tips
What Is A Good, Profitable Relationship?
One thing this recession has unequivocally driven home for businesspeople is the penultimate importance of relationships in building and maintaining viable businesses. Unfortunately, though, not many people have offered very specific definitions of what constitutes a good, profitable and growing relationship. For me, that relationship has five characteristics. It is, or it has the following:
  1. Judgmental
  2. Conditional
  3. High Expectations
  4. Reciprocal
  5. Renewing
Judgments give people the information they need in order to grow. They allow people to put their values and beliefs up against a measuring standard and make conscious, informed choices; perhaps for the first time in their lives. We owe others our convictions of what we believe is right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. We not only have the right to be judgmental, we have the obligation. Not doing so is a form of moral, ethical, and interpersonal abandonment. Others can accept our judgments, reject them wholly, or incorporate aspects that feel right. In any case, they must ask themselves what they believe, and why they believe it.

All good relationships are conditional. Conditions set the limits, boundaries, and values that create respect, integrity, and self-esteem for all parties to a relationship. Unconditional acceptance creates the platform for abuse, neglect, and manipulation. If anything and everything you do is acceptable, then both you and I have little value. Business relationships (and personal relationships) often fail because of the lack of clearly articulated conditions, which inevitably lead to the tolerance of corrosive and destructive behaviors.

High expectations are a vote of confidence in people’s ability to continually get better and be better people. We only have high expectations for those who we believe have the capacity to not only achieve more, but to feel better about themselves. High expectations create high performance and high self-esteem. You get what you expect. For years, people have asked me what the difference is between great companies and average companies. Great companies expect more – and they get it.

All good relationships meet the needs of both parties. This is the perfect confluence of individual selfishness meeting individual selfishness. Though politically incorrect and somewhat counterintuitive, reciprocity is the highest distillation of self-interest. In fact, reciprocity is impossible without self-interest. I cannot get my needs met if I refuse to meet yours. That’s why infants are so draining and adult narcissists are so repulsive.

A great relationship ought to be energizing. It should be magnetic, attractive, and re-charging. Its purpose and intent must be clear and direct and there should be no doubt or ambiguity about the agendas of the parties involved. Indirectness, hinting, and circuitousness are draining. The worst thing businesspeople do is to put up with and even indulge draining relationships. It rewards mediocrity, wastes inordinate amounts of time, and erodes profitability. Practice putting up your hand and asking, “What is this conversation about and what do you need?”

Political and Cultural Observations
Values and A New Politics  
In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the growing disenchantment with both the Left and the Right in the American political scene. I also discussed the sense I had that we may be ready for a new political constituency based on a true understanding of core values, as opposed to the clichéd, hobby horse issues that dominate our current political blathering.

In the first place, no one on the current political spectrum would recognize a value if it fell on them. A value is a belief system about how the world ought to be and ought to operate. It lays out the kind of world one wants to live in and work toward creating. And it has the following five characteristics:

  1. It is always black or white – there is no gray, middle ground. You can’t be somewhat honest or have partial integrity.
  2. It must lead to a decision between two or more alternatives. A value demands that a choice be made – no equivocation is acceptable.
  3. It is personally neutral. It is irrelevant who is involved – values apply equally to everyone.
  4. It is situationally neutral. Situations never determine value decisions.
  5. It is unambiguous and incapable of further definition. Anyone looking at a particular value statement can readily understand it and should have no questions about what it means.
Values are very different from goals. Goals are where you’re going. Values are how you’re going to get there. And values always trump goals. I’m interested in where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. But I’m much more interested in how you’re going to get there. How we’re going to get somewhere determines our quality of life much more than where we’re going. All brutal, inhuman, tyrannical regimes in the history of the human race have been crystal clear in their goals (often beneficent, charitable, and generous in tone); and all have been scurrilous and ruthless in the articulation of their values.

A brief example of the critical difference between goals and values. World peace is an admirable goal. We could achieve it in a fairly short period of time by militarily subjugating all the most lunatic regimes and factions in the world, including, probably, the use of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, we could achieve it by having all first world countries abdicate democracy and voluntarily submit to the rule of autocratic orthodoxy. In either case, we could have world peace, but at what price? (What really irritates me about causeniks is their self-righteous snobbery. They act like there are millions and millions of people who are opposed to world peace, feeding the poor, or other noble ventures; and that they are the caring few. What chutzpa!) You can readily extrapolate from the world peace example to other lofty issues – global warming, abortion, gay rights, poverty, etc. The question is always the same; and it’s not – “Can we solve this problem?” It is – “At what price to our values?”

I believe we can build a strong and vital political force around four fundamental values:

  1. Individual Responsibility – This concerns how you answer to yourself, and assumes that you are ready to look at your role in all the situations you find yourself in. This is a no victims zone.
  2. Accountability – This concerns how you answer to others; and require others to answer to you. Making and keeping commitments is at the heart of this value. This is a no excuses zone.
  3. Continual Growth – This concerns how one chooses between self-learning and comfort. Learning about oneself often involves discomfort and pain and the conscious choice to experience it, in order to grow. The choice of comfort is the road to mediocrity. This is the courageous zone.
  4. Direct and Honest Communication – This concerns how one chooses to participate in relationships. It is about the commitment to tell others (and have others tell you) what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. This is the challenging zone.
I’m convinced that these four values can mediate us through all the troubling and difficult questions and dilemmas of our time. These values are tough to live by, but they offer us the opportunity to participate in a dialogue that can bring us together, as opposed to dividing us further. For example, look at the burning question of our time – “Who caused the recession and what’s the way out?” Answer – “We all did; by violating the core value of individual responsibility.” With very few exceptions, across the socio-economic board, we bought, spent, and indulged ourselves like drunken conventioneers. What’s the way out? To not be rescued from the pain of our individual irresponsibility and to learn something from it. All the rescuing will do, is simply reward us for violating a set of values that can sustain us through any changes and dislocations coming our way. I see signs throughout the culture that we’re ready and up to the task of living by a coherent and sustainable set of values.
Personal Notes
Bringing Mom Home – The Bitter and the Sweet  
Two months ago we moved my mother from an assisted living facility in Florida to a skilled nursing facility in Montana, twenty minutes from our home. Her physical and mental condition were deteriorating and it was getting increasingly difficult to manage her care at a 2500 mile distance.

When people ask me how she’s doing (she’s almost 90), I never quite know how to answer. Her physical care is much better; some of her medical issues have stabilized, and her memory loss, at times, seems less severe. On that level, she is clearly doing better.

On another, quite different level, things are in turmoil and in a painful transition. I have not lived this close to my mother, nor seen her this often, in close to fifty years. The contrasts (and the similarities, in certain things) are stark and sad. At various times, earlier in her life, she has been a classically trained ballerina, a teacher, a chorus line dancer in three Hollywood World War II era movies (starring Donald O’Connor, who hit on her regularly), a manager at Saks Fifth Avenue, and a homemaker.

She was a kick-ass lady in everything she did. She ran our household like Mayor Daley (without the patronage) and she always knew where we were. If we weren’t home on time, she tracked us down and came to get us. She admitted few mistakes – she was in her early 80’s when she shared with me and Arleah that it was a mistake to have let her mother live with us, after she had been widowed early in life.

She spends her days now in a wheelchair or occasionally a walker, in a hospital-like room. She has five pictures on her walls – three of myself, my brother, and my sister as young children; a painting (by her cousin) of a medieval rabbi; and a collage of photographs of our family celebrating our parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. She reads quite a bit and the TV is almost always on.

Arleah sees her almost daily (she has been unbelievably giving to her) and usually brings my mother’s dog with. I see her two to three times a week. The visits are painful and draining. Twenty minutes seems like an eternity. She will often, in the middle of a visit, pick up a magazine and start reading it. She is always ready for us to leave.

Like many women of her generation, she felt she had no right to talk about her (or anyone else’s) feelings. So she lived a life of constant activity – we called her the “white tornado.” When we ask her now how she’s feeling about the facility, the move, or her life, she looks either puzzled or irritated. The most she says is that, “I never thought I’d end up this way.”

As Arleah says, “Your mother is gone.” I have many memories, and hopefully, she does too.

Morrie

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What Type Of Professional Are You?

As we discussed in the last issue of Fifth Wave eNewsletter, in order to prosper in the Fifth Wave, professionals and executives are going to have to examine the feelings that are triggered by situations in the workplace to become aware of their familiars. These are the emotional patterns that are rooted in our families that may be keeping us from meeting our professional potential. As we reproduce these familiars, we often assume certain prototypical roles in the workplace. Becoming stuck in one of these roles adds to work dissatisfaction and thwarts any efforts to change. 

The following are four typical roles that emanate from recreating our familiars:

“The Fixer”
Sometimes called “troubleshooters,” fixers are likely to be amiable “people persons” who are given the really tough assignments that nobody else wants. They may be asked to do the impossible – manage the truly difficult client or work with a particularly problematic manager. Because they will readily jump to the challenge and rarely say “no,” fixers are often plagued with feelings of resentment for having to clean up other people’s messes. These feelings are based in their familiars. Chances are pretty good that fixers played a similar role in their families of origin. Perhaps the fixer was always trying to be exceptionally good to make up for a deadbeat Dad or a sibling who was always in trouble. After all, if they can meet unreasonable expectations, then maybe Dad or the underachieving brother won’t look so bad. Unless they identify the familiars and take affirmative steps to replace them, fixers will end up in a career holding pattern, always feeling that they try and try and get no reward for their efforts. 

“The Avoider”
Avoiders have difficulty confronting others, especially employees or coworkers. They develop rationales and excuses for why what was promised wasn’t delivered and believe themselves to be responsible for the happiness of others. Avoiders can’t tolerate hurting someone’s feelings. Often small business owners or entrepreneurs, avoiders may take huge financial risks, such as mortgaging their house to finance a business endeavor, but won’t take the emotional risk of confronting a lazy clerk – even if it costs them their business. It is likely that the avoider grew up in a family where obvious problems were treated like state secrets. Uncle Herman was an addictive gambler; cousin Ralphie was a bit slow on the uptake; but if the avoider pointed out the obvious, he was made to feel bad about himself. The avoider recreates this familiar in his professional life and the result is often self-sabotage. 

“The Bully”
The bully’s behavior is easy to identify. Bullies surround themselves with people who are going to fall short so they have an outlet for their tirades and tantrums. It is easy to think that the bully probably came from an abusive home environment, but just the opposite is likely to be true. Often bullies come from affluent indulgent families where they were never encouraged to share any meaningful feelings and never learned to connect with others in a meaningful way. Their familiar is rooted in abandonment, disappointment and isolation, and bullies will recreate this familiar in the workplace. They will push people to their limit and ultimately the people they bully will quit, thereby abandoning and disappointing them.

“The Schmoozer”
Schmoozers create the illusion of relationships, but their aversion to risk-taking means they never really establish any meaningful connections. They keep relationships on a superficial level to avoid the risk of being hurt. A shmoozer will always tell you that things are great, even if something awful has happened. Typically, schmoozers grew up with a depressed person in their family. It is likely that they were criticized or ridiculed when things did not go perfectly. If they admit that things are not really so great, if they share with others feelings of sadness or anxiety, they risk losing the familiar of feeling like a long-suffering victim. They end up right back with that depressed person in their family who wouldn’t let them have a moment of happiness. In the workplace, schmoozers recreate this familiar. They hold back seeking help when they need it or confronting legitimate job complaints and end up being chastised, fired, or quitting out of frustration. 

While no one fits every aspect of one of the prototypes to a “T,” chances are you fall more closely within the aspects of one than another. Once you identify your type, don’t stop there. It is essential that you explore your internal frontier by identifying the feelings and past experiences that produce the behavior. In the coming months we will examine ways to remove blockers that hold us back and strategies to render those old familiars powerless.

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

April 2010

It would be an understatement to say that this newsletter is coming at a very interesting and momentous time in our history. The passing and signing of the new HealthCare bill signals a watershed mark in the evolution of our society. Whether this is a good mark or a bad mark is being hotly debated, and I continue to be intrigued by the framing of the debate in terms of “morality” versus “economics.” I don’t know anyone who thinks that some people in our country ought to have no access to health insurance (or health care), or ought to go bankrupt because they get sick. Nor do I know anyone who can say with absolute certainty that we can afford this bill, or, on the contrary, that it will take us down financially. I think the key underlying issue that this bill has brought to the forefront, is the question of what kind of culture do we want to live in, in terms of risk, innovation, and growth. Have we reached our tolerance limit for risk? Are we ready to pass the mantle of innovation to another culture? Have we had enough growth, and do we now want to embrace comfort as a societal goal? I’ll address these issues in this newsletter.
Business Tips
Fathers and Leaders: The Power of Emotional Connections
In some recent work with a corporate client, I had one of those painfully obvious “duh” moments. It had become clear, through working with the senior management team, as well as a key group of middle managers, that the COO was a very difficult person to work with, and that most of his colleagues and subordinates chose to minimize their interactions with him, or to avoid dealing with him, if at all possible. There were a slew of complaints about him, but they essentially revolved around two major issues: Whenever an idea, project, or report was presented to him, it was met with a surgical, unemotional, and completely impersonal rebuttal and dismissal. It was given no credence, whatsoever, and instead of being critiqued, it was eviscerated, in the manner of a verbal autopsy. In addition, everyone who interacted with him, left feeling like they had just been in combat and had lost the battle. Many also felt personally discounted, diminished, and depreciated.
In attempting to deal with this situation, we pulled together a meeting involving the COO and a number of his direct reports. All of the direct reports had had a history of difficult, unpleasant, and unproductive interactions with the COO, over periods of time ranging from a few years to over ten years. All of them, at different times, had given him feedback about how difficult he could be to deal with, and a couple had engaged in quite spirited conflict with him, on a few occasions. But until this meeting, no one had shared with him directly, how personally impacted, in a negative way, they were, and how much they felt assaulted and attacked.
To everyone’s surprise, including the COO, he was shocked and profoundly shaken by the feedback. He was certainly aware that he could be “argumentative,” and that he was not the easiest person in the world to work with; but he was really taken aback by how hurtful his behavior was, and, at the same time, how unintentional it was. By the end of the meeting he was clearly sobered by the feedback, but completely clueless about where his behavior was coming from.
Things became a lot clearer in our one-on-one meeting, following the group session. After some discussion about the feedback from his colleagues and his reaction to it, he told me that this had been a particularly stressful year for him. When I asked him why, he said that his father had died earlier in the year, and that he was really impacted by his father’s passing; and that this surprised him. I asked him why he was surprised, and he told me that he had never had a good relationship with his father, and that he had been a very unhappy person, impossible to please, and emotionally distant. He added that he had grown up feeling like he never wanted to be like his father, nor did he want to treat people like he had been treated. I then asked him if he was aware that he was acting exactly like his father. He looked puzzled, then turned beet red, and said that he had never thought about that. He had a lot of feelings in his eyes, and it was clear that he had made a significant connection. We spent the rest of our time together talking about the life his father had lived, and how sad many of his choices had been.
So what can we learn from this?
Every single leader I have worked with – man or woman – had either an emotionally unavailable father; a father who was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled in his own life; or a father who was never satisfied with the achievements of his children. Many leaders had all three.
The death of our fathers, is the death of what could have been. It solidifies a process of hoping that somewhere, with somebody, our needs for closeness, validation, and an emotional connection, will come true.
We cannot “break the chain” and change, in ourselves, the destructive behavior we grew up with (including what we missed), by doing the opposite. Trying to do the opposite, in fact, guarantees a replication of the past. It’s like trying to be there for everything your kids do, because no one was there for what you did. Your kids know it isn’t for them, and you never get the appreciation you’re looking for, because it isn’t about the present. Grieving what we lost is the only way to leave sad feelings and experiences behind, and to truly begin anew.
My time with the COO was the beginning of a grieving process. It is a reiterative process; a review and articulation of feelings long buried, but profoundly impactful. He will now be able to do this again (and again), and with each reiteration, he will dilute the power of his past and live more in his present.
As an interesting update; within a week after our encounter, a number of his colleagues reported that they had interactions with him that were not only pleasant, but also productive. He actually listened, gave them helpful feedback, and everyone learned something. Miracles may not happen, but change does occur.
Political and Cultural Observations
What’s Behind ObamaCare?  
As I indicated in my introduction to this newsletter, I think the underlying issue that the passage of the HealthCare bill has brought to the forefront is the question of what kind of culture do we want to live in. Specifically around the issues of risk, innovation and growth.
An important point here: All cultures are trade-offs. When societies declare (consciously or unconsciously) what’s most important to them, they also, implicitly accept both the good and the bad that comes with those choices. There is no free lunch, nor is there a utopian society.
Example: If we say that we value individual choice and responsibility (politically translated into personal freedom), then we have to live with bad choices, as well as good ones. In other words, there can be no preemptive intervention with people because we think they may behave badly. That means that one of the prices of freedom is regular instances of people doing awful things to each other, or to themselves. A lot of people don’t understand this (along with most of the mass media), and go through the same ritual of angst and blaming every time some disturbed soul commits a heinous act. They rail about our inability to predict aberrant behavior and to protect the rest of us from dangerous lunatics. We could stop 99% of this behavior if we were willing to give up our personal freedom, and turn our country into a fascist police state. The old East Germany and the old Soviet Union were some of the safest places on earth. People lived in constant fear of being accused of harboring thoughts and intentions that the State thought subversive.
This country was built by risktakers. They ventured everything, including at times, their very lives, to carve out a culture that has met the needs of the vast majority of its citizens, at a level unparalleled in the history of the species. And this achievement came at a price. Some people who took risks failed. Some people who took no risks lost everything. Until fairly recently, we have implicitly accepted this trade-off. Whether or not we talk about it much, it is clearly understood, for example, that jobs are created by people who take the risk of starting a business and making sure that it stays viable. There would not be one job in America were it not for the men and women who put everything on the line to create enterprises that produced goods or provided services. (Or generated tax revenues that supported the public sector.) And these risktakers are at the heart of our nation’s creativity and innovation, as well as its primary driver of individual and societal growth.
There is no doubt in my mind, that Obama and the people around him, at best, want to minimize the role played by risktakers and maximize the guarantees provided by government. At worst, they seem, at times, to be launching a full scale assault on the very people (entrepreneurs, small business owners, mid-size business leaders) that feed the pipeline of job creation. The philosophical bent of those surrounding Obama is unmistakable – 93% of his advisors have only public sector experience. The next closest administrations were those of Kennedy and Johnson, at between 50 and 60%.
So, what evidence do we have of this negative predilection toward risktakers? Three specifics have always struck me:

1. The very first act of the Obama administration was to kill the voucher program for poor families who had chosen to send their children to non-traditional, non-public schools in the District of Columbia, which has, arguably, the worst public schools in the country. This was done, clearly, to assuage the teachers union, which sees these schools (and the school choice movement) as a threat to their guaranteed jobs and their low-risk view of life. The irony of this cut was that its impact was felt entirely by minority (almost exclusively Black) families.

2. The staggering burden of new taxes instituted by this administration will fall predominantly on the shoulders of small, independent business people (sole proprietors, partnerships, LLC’s, etc.) who run “pass thru” operations. These men and women create 85% of the jobs in America, and have razor thin margins in their businesses. Additional dollars of taxation put them in the position of keeping a tight lid on their overhead, which translates into no new hiring, or even worse, laying people off. These folks are the real risktakers in our society; not the “barons of industry” that the media is always carping about.

3. Obama’s sticky alliance with the union movement is not accidental. The mission of the unions is to maximize guarantees and minimize risk, which is the antithesis of what built this country. The pioneers of every epoch were not looking for guarantees; they were seeking opportunities. America’s creativity and ingenuity are driven by risktakers, not bureaucrats. I learned an indelible lesson living in western Europe and spending much time in Scandinavia. The higher you raise the floor, the lower you bring down the ceiling. And the ultimate physics of this dynamic is inescapable and fatal. The culture dies of suffocation.

I am not opposed to reforming the healthcare/health insurance system in our country (and I know no one who is). What bothers me is the sledge hammer approach and the unstated agenda of further removing risk from the culture and substituting guarantees. We need to remember that there was not one peep from unions, government regulators, the media, nor the public at large, when Wall Street “wheeler-dealers” were raking in the profits and filling the coffers of union pension funds; when Fannie and Freddie were underwriting loans that could never be serviced; and when financial advisors were helping private citizens stuff their pockets with cash. I have never had much respect for selective outrage, particularly when it comes from politicians.

I have heard much these days about how we are to judge what a “good society” is. Most of it says something to the effect that the good and noble society is defined by how it takes care of its “less fortunate” citizens. I couldn’t disagree more. From my perspective, the good and noble society is distinguished by how it supports, incentivizes, and rewards its most successful citizens. Without these risktaking and courageous people there would be no resources whatsoever, to help anyone with anything. The greatest threat to our culture, at this point, is not external. It is the continual discouragement and demonization of those amongst us who have done the best. Class warfare and hostility, generated by envy, has destroyed many societies. I fervently hope we can move beyond it.

Personal Notes
My Father and the Racetrack: Old Feelings Never Die  
A few weeks ago, Arleah and I were in L.A. spending some time with our son, our daughter-in-law, and our granddaughter. They had discovered a unique place to have breakfast – Santa Anita racetrack – and we all decided to go there one morning. Santa Anita is one of those classical places, rich in history, and replete with memories for those who have even a sparse connection with thoroughbred racing. The breakfast is held in the pavilion-like area right up against the railing of the track, and the timing of it coincides with the working out of the horses. You’re literally thirty to forty feet away from some of the most beautiful animals in the world. They are truly magnificent creatures. And nothing on earth moves with their grace, elegance, and raw power.
As we entered the area where we were to have our breakfast, I stopped for a moment to take in the full panorama of the track, the infield area, and the horses in various stages of being worked. It was a beautiful spectacle. I was really enjoying it, when all of a sudden, I was hit with a wave of grief. My eyes teared up and a deep sense of sadness swept thru me, replacing the joy of the previous moment. It really took me by surprise, and for a few moments I had no idea what was going on. Then a picture of my father flashed into my head, and things became clearer.
When I was growing up, there were two things that my father and I did together. We went to Chicago Bear’s football games and we went to the racetrack, in suburban Chicago. These were the only places where I saw my father feel anything.
At the Bear’s games we would sit quietly, most of the time, freezing our asses off, until an exciting play occurred and/or the Bears scored. When this happened, my father would shoot out of his seat, screaming at the top of his lungs, and pounding anyone around him on the back (as I got older, it was often me). As soon as the play was over, he was back in his seat, looking intently at the field. When I was real young, these outbursts were a little scary. As I got older, I anticipated them, and saw them as part of the game experience.
At the racetrack, the experience was somewhat similar. As the horses rounded the final turn and headed down the stretch, toward the finish line, he was up on his feet, screaming his lungs out. It was like he was instantaneously transported to another world. And, again, as soon as the race was over, he was back in his seat, studying the racing form, preparing for the next race.
The racetrack culture was one of the most unique societies I had ever been exposed to (or have since experienced). It was a weird amalgam of upper middle class professionals (it was said that if you needed a doctor or a dentist, in Chicago, on a Wednesday or a Saturday, you’d best be prepared to go out to the racetrack); and gambling addicts and racetrack touts. The touts were men who spent their whole lives at tracks throughout the country, hanging around the stables, talking with trainers, handlers, and jockeys, and making their living giving tips to well-heeled bettors. If the tips paid off, they got “tipped” with a portion of the winnings; sometimes quite handsomely. My father knew the most well-known tout, a Persian immigrant named “Charlie Potatoes” (no one knew his real name). He took great pride in the fact that he never owned an overcoat, nor ever worked a day in his life at a regular job. One day, toward the end of the season in Chicago, he had a spectacularly successful day, and since he was headed south anyway, he took a cab from Chicago to Miami (I believe he said that it cost $10,000). I have very fond memories of those times. They may have been the beginnings of my lifelong interest in interesting people and unique subcultures.
My father was a kind and gentle man. Everyone said, about him, that he was the easiest going person they knew. His patients worshipped the ground he walked on, and I don’t believe that there was a person on this planet that disliked him. He never got angry at anyone or anything. He put up with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) living with them, from the day they were married, till the day she died. I think my mother secretly wished that he would have given her an ultimatum that it was either him or my grandmother.
My father gave me a hug and kissed me at my Bar Mitzvah. It was the only time in my life. On his deathbed, when I told him I loved him, he couldn’t reciprocate. After I left the room, he told Arleah that he loved me.
Years ago, I stopped feeling angry at him. I’m just sad. My father was embarrassed by feelings, especially with men. I have struggled with that my whole life, and I imagine that I always will. I grieve this regularly, and it frees me up, to do so.

Morrie

N.B. This newsletter is labeled “April” because I got behind, again, and considered the last newsletter to be “February/March.” I will try to get on schedule again, but there are no guarantees. As you may have deduced by now, I struggle with getting these out. I very much like the end product, but I hate the process, and still can’t figure out why.

Morrie

Tell us what you think – click here to send us an e-mail with your feedback.
morrie@fifthwaveleadership.com

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