Saturday, February 26, 2011

Emergency Leadership

As with anything, the topic of leadership can be split and subdivided any any number of ways, but if we look at the multitude of environments which catalyze leaders, there are basically two types of leadership. The first, is emergency leadership, and the second is—drum roll please!—non-emergency leadership.

Emergency leadership is whenever a person stands up in the face of disaster and says, "Let's do this." I use the word "disaster" loosely here because the most obvious examples—in news media and fiction, say—are disasters. Whenever there is an earthquake, a flood, a fire, a plane crash, a train crash, a terrorist bomb, etc, certain people stand up and say, "Let's roll!" However, less public examples include late bills, traffic jams, broken copy machines, and marital spats.

Emergency leadership so often takes center stage in media because, for one, leadership of any kind is rare, and two, fixing a disaster looks so heroic. Tales of heroism have long been an important mainstay to the storytelling tradition. Stories of disaster and the brave men and women who led the people out of the darkness are as easy to relate for the teller as they are to envision by the listener. And they pass along portable lessons which are inspirational and valuable in less obvious crises.

The trouble with focusing solely on emergencies, as mainstream media tends to do, is that it teaches to—and therefore re-enforces—a reactionary paradigm. Many, if not most, emergencies are the result of too little proactive leadership—or non-emergency leadership. As Stephen Covey says in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," most people focus on tasks that are "urgent"—whether or not they are important.

Proactive leadership is preventative maintenance. Many of the tasks performed are not heroic or glamorous, even though they are important.

In their quest for success, many ambitious people fall short of their potential because they seek the recognition that comes with heroically putting out fires. While putting out fires is certainly important, fires (even figurative ones) cause permanent damage which stunts growth long-term. Fires also take more time and energy to put out than sparks, and so reactionary leaders tend to waste valuable resources needed to prevent fires in the first place.

Despite popular opinion, the problem is not caused solely by "greedy hotrods." Many people simply lack the mental ability to recognize tasks that are important, but not urgent. It's not that they are stupid, just unlearned. Abstract concepts start with concrete examples, which is why stories of emergency leadership is so pervasive. It is important to grab a hold of an example, such as Jack Shepherd, from my favorite TV show, LOST.

Being a doctor, he reacted to the plane crash with the use of his expertise, and gained the position of leader, even though he didn't want it. However, his reactionary style continued long after the crash, when the survivors had settled into a sort of lifestyle—or "normalcy." Jack goes on to orchestrate acts of defiance against the other people on the Island who presented themselves as a threat.

Though he eventually learns to bide his time, he never really learns to be proactive. Interestingly, it is Sawyer, the "bad boy" of the survivors' camp who goes on to learn about being proactive. In a memorable scene, he tells Jack about Winston Churchill, who he says "read a book every night, even during the Blitz." His point is not far from Covey's 7th Habit, "Sharpening the Saw." Or in other words, preparing for the unknown.

Once you understand the principles behind the first type of leadership, it is important to dig deeper in order to get better at preventing the disasters that are within your area of influence. Once the disaster is over, the war brought to peace, and the fires put out, it is imperative to understand what went wrong so we can change our habits before they lead to another disaster. In so doing, we save a lot of time, energy, and even lives.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Big Comfortable Tree

Personal development media is about pushing your limits and expanding your capacity and abilities. By identifying weak points and blind spots, then learning to work with or around them, we maximize our potential for success in whatever area of life we choose to focus. Inherently, this process requires that you "get out of your comfort zone." In other words, it is impossible to grow if you seek comfort over growth.

However, when dealing with people outside oneself, it is very important to be likeable. Fundamental to likeability is being comfortable to be around. If you're uncomfortable with yourself, it shows. Worse, it has a tendency to make other people uncomfortable, too. When this happens too often, you destroy your ability to be likeable.

So the first question you should ask yourself about success (after "what is success to me?") is "how do I remain comfortable outside my comfort zone?" Fortunately, there is a difference between the internal comfort that makes you easy to like, and the external discomfort you have to endure in order to expand your capacity. The only challenge remains in learning to identify that difference.

Internal comfort comes from understanding yourself, then channelling your strengths. Learning which projects to tackle—and which to ignore—based upon your own personal passions and weaknesses is empowering. When you start to make headway with this process, you will naturally increase your self-confidence. When you increase your self-confidence, you become more comfortable with yourself—and more comfortable to be around.

Once you understand your unique State of FITness (or FITstate), you will be better able to manage the frustration created by pushing your external comfort zone. As I have illustrated before, a FITstate is the naturally defined balance of relevant elements, which are combined in harmony to enable the highest climb with the most stability. Like a healthy tree, the higher the reach, the broader its expanse can be—based upon the given nature of that particular tree. The broader the expanse of "branches" fed by strong "roots", the greater the possibilities for a fulfilling life.

Like a tree, our expanse of possibilities is stunted by an insufficient root system or poor soil, as well as by the available space in the canopy. However, unlike the tree, we can change our root situation, and in doing so, fairly negotiate for more canopy space and resources by which to fuel that new potential growth. This process is inherently painful because we naturally draw the boundaries of our comfort zones at the point where we decide the pain is "unbearable." Roots are not easy to replant, nor is it easy to push new branches into unexplored territory.

However, when something you passionately want requires actions that are outside of your comfort zone (your existing expanse in the canopy), the pain can become more bearable. This is because things you are passionate about carry their own reward in the journey. You are more willing to fail—a necessity for learning—along a path to what you feel is a worthy goal, than you are along a path to something you are lukewarm about.

Once you know what you're passionate about, you will know what to invest your time in. You never "spend" time on your passions, you "invest" time in your passions. If you are truly passionate about something, then even the failures are blessings, because you are interested enough in the project to find the lesson in the failure and try again. This perspective eliminates much of the frustration that comes from falling short of a goal on a path you're simply lukewarm about. When you avoid frustration, you remain comfortable with yourself. When you avoid external discomfort (pushing limits), you become frustrated and uncomfortable with yourself.

So how about it? Would you like to be a big, comfortable tree?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Celebrate You

Whenever a greeting card holiday rolls around, I can't help but write posts about the frivolity of industries based on them. This time, I think I'll switch it up a bit. Valentine's Day might mean a burst of candy sales and restaurant reservations, but because it is a minor holiday, much of this is actually done out of love.

In contrast with Christmas, which I believe is driven by family obligation more than genuine love, Valentine's Day is easily ignored by those not in the spirit. Sure, you run into the candy displays, and your kids have their parties, but it's rare when someone is pushed into a Valentine's Day party who doesn't want to go. No, people largely choose to celebrate the day when they feel they have something to celebrate.

Which brings me to my topic: Why are there so many people who don't have anything to celebrate?

I've been happily married for five years, but I remember hating Valentine's Day. I wanted someone to spend the day with, but lacked prospects. The traditionally male role of finding a mate weighed heavily on me, and the day had a way of rubbing it in.

Being a man and an introvert, I struggled with performing the tasks of my "duty." I wasted enormous amounts of energy on planning, rather than doing. Here's the part where I'm supposed to offer the advice to just do it, and if you're an extrovert, that's exactly what you should do (man or woman).

However, if you are an introvert, the advice is somewhat different. It is not in your nature to do the asking. By the same token, it is also not in the nature of your ideal mate to be asked. If an introvert forces himself into a dominant role for the purpose of winning a mate, he will only win a mate that compliments that role. Going forward, he will be forced to maintain a counterfeit role, or abandon the relationship.

While there are aspects of the human heart that coincide with gender, personality traits are not sex-linked. This confusion is caused by the media's tendency to typecast the sexes through over-simplification of the human condition. Consequently, there are many of us that end up feeling like misfits or freaks, when we are actually perfectly healthy individuals.

Love is finding common ground, often between complete opposites. If you're comfortable with who you are, and you know what you stand for in life, then you'll "magically" attract people that compliment you—including, but not limited to, a traditional romantic relationship.

The reason so many people feel lost on Valentine's Day is because they don't understand themselves. It's okay if you're not suave, if you're just not. In relationships, your level of discomfort speaks louder than any gimmick used to make you seem better.

Jamie Klueck

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Truth About TRUTH

When speaking about the concept of truth, it is important for an audience to understand what that word refers to. In my mind, there are two distinct concepts embedded in that word.

The first is somewhat adequately defined as "facts." The truth (lowercase "t") is a collection of general information about something real and quantifiable. Science seeks the "truth" about or universe through objective, empirical study. It collects and chronicles present and past instances of real events in support of a general theory of the parts' connection to each other.

The Truth (capital "T"), however, is not to be confused with his general theory, which is—after all—only a theory. The Truth is maddening to logicians and intellectuals because, by its nature, it can never be completely known or captured at any instance. It appears fluid because it has a broad application. In reality, it exists as unshakeably as the laws of physics.

Of course, religions claim exclusive ownership of Truth. Also, in many cases, nations or peoples claim this ownership. Even organizations (from legitimate to criminal) claim this ownership before their constituents. Indeed (and ironically), much blood has been and continues to be shed over the ownership of Truth. Yet Truth is bigger than religion, government, and the marketplace, the first informing the others. No man gets to decide what "Truth" is, only what "truth" is.

Throughout human civilization, those in power have sought to do a number of things using the Truth as a means to an end. Some seek to enlighten by attempting to expose the Truth, but the masses habitually remain focused only on what they can see. Others seek to control the masses by propagating a singular view of the Truth. No matter how monstrous or angelic the plan, the goal is nearly always to make the world a better place. The question is, better for whom?

There are two poles to the use of Truth as a catalyst for a better world. The first entails Truth being taught through a broad discussion, as with the Liberal Arts. People study the greatest ideas from all of human history in order to seek for themselves the best understanding of Truth. The other entails a scholar or "expert" building his own understanding (faulty or true) into a singular edifice for the masses.

The result is that only those willing to dive into the Liberal Arts ever acquire true perspective. Everyone else is encouraged to take the expert's word for it. However, the expert is not you, does not share your problems or passions, and ultimately cannot help you like you can when you have perspective. And so, people make do, and fail. Instead of making the difficult dive into the Arts, they latch onto a truth—that is, a prepackaged way of being—that most resembles their current lifestyle.

It's not that people don't believe in Truth, it's that they don't want to believe. Truth is obvious when it is simply laid out, but it may suggest the need for a change in lifestyle for many people. Since this can be painful, and since suffering is not in keeping with a better world, those with the means tend to deliver "solutions" to ease the suffering.

As with physical training, there are ways to work up to the heavy material. However, no fitness coach would be worth his salt if he helped you avoid "the burn"! And no FITness coach would be either if he let get by on half-baked ideas!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Only the Good Die Young

I've recently been watching (and studying) several cancelled television shows. For the purpose of this post, I don't need to go into which ones, but suffice it to say that they carry strong ratings in online forums and databases. The question is: why do these highly regarded first and second seasons not warrant further development?

I think they do. Now, I know that I lack a full understanding of what happened in each case, and it is the purpose of this post to discuss the general reasons that these shows (or any worthy ventures) fail. In fact, to say they "fail" might be a misnomer—in some cases, they're killed.

Like a lot of mainstream media, broadcast and basic cable are largely funded by ads. Whenever ratings take a dip, someone loses money. I don't know if there is a standard for whose responsibility it is to lose said money, but there really are only two choices. Either, the network loses money if the advertisers pay for results (less eyeballs = less advertising), or the advertisers lose money if they pay for time (less eyeballs = less value per dollar).

Either way, a show with falling ratings represents a liability, rather than an asset. Therefore, the same rules that govern any investment govern television production as well. Network executives, whose job it is to grow the bottom line, are in a hurry to cut liabilities—often at the first sign of difficulty.

However, in any business venture, this behavior is short-sighted and destructive. Long-term assets create stability for an enterprise, however, they are not easily identified by short-term market response. Often, assets of long-term value either start out with little success or enjoy a good reception but then suffer a dip when the bubble created by marketing hype bursts.

This is because stories—those of unique people, products, and services or those of an artistic nature—are about more than easily quantifiable facts. Facts are easy to put together, but what makes a story compelling is how and why a certain combination of facts is important. No one becomes loyal to a list of bullet-points.

The only way to identify long-term assets is to consider the potential of a project, not just what currently exists. If the fan base (or customer base) is small for the first two years, that's not a sign that it's a failure, but a sign that more explanation is required. By that, of course, I don't mean more bullet points, but more depth.

It seems to me that any story which acquires even a small loyal fan base, has the potential to be valuable. In fact, this should be the clue to executives that the project needs to be promoted, rather than cancelled. It may not be a short term moneymaker, but building on existing loyalty with existing projects would save the company "startup" costs.

Traditional ratings don't measure (or don't care about) loyalty, just overall numbers. It may be that the number of overall viewers tends to indicate loyalty, but this sort of numbers view is too remote to accurately measure loyalty in all cases. For this reason, this system is hostile to art, which is unpredictable.

Because art is about breaking new ground, it is in art that value created. This is important not just for a media company's stability, but also to society as a whole. Unfortunately, art cannot be rushed, and too many people are afraid of losing their jobs over a bad call on risky artistic programming.

It's just too bad they don't realize that slow growth is never risky.

Jamie Klueck

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It Could Not Have Been Different

I saw a license plate today that read, "IF ONLY". It echoed some of the familiarly haunting thoughts that had been running through my head this morning. We all have things in our past that we wish had gone differently. Some things are painful failures, but others are joyous milestones that have lost their luster. Commitments we made in a time of naivete, can begin to feel like shackles as time wears on. We can become preoccupied with imagining how life would be now if these things were different.

But the truth is that life could not have been different. Everyone makes choices at a moment in time based upon the information they have at that time. Generally, the information is insufficient to make an truly informed decision. The fact that experience comes from making poorly informed decisions is one of life's many counterintuitive aspects. It is for this reason, that we could not have changed the past.

"If I knew then what I know now."

At any point in the past, we could not have acted differently without different information. However, different information is not inherently a change maker either. When a lifetime (however young the person) is spent building a library of experience, a brief introduction to life-changing information is bound to be insufficient to make an impact. Regardless of how truthful the information is, or how completely the recipient accepts it as truth, the momentum of conflicting past information will tend to overtake it.

Our brains are built to form habits. Our conscious minds are limited, and so we differ certain regularly accessed data stores and repeated actions to our subconscious mind. The subconscious acts as an autopilot, running our routines in the background so that we can be conscious of more important decisions. Unfortunately, the subconscious tends to be overzealous—or we tend to be lazy with our conscious minds. Either way, we form some habits of thought and action that are counterproductive, then we re-enforce them through repetition.

Consequently, it is more difficult to "teach an old dog new tricks" than it is to teach a younger one. That being said, when applied to humans, this adage judges "old" by how long it has been since the last time one's habits have been deeply examined. By identifying problem areas in our habitual minds, we can begin the process of re-educating ourselves to think, then act, differently. This takes time, and is a bit like turning a battleship.

All we can do about the past is to learn from it. By rooting out the causes behind our regrets, we can begin to change the course going forward. The more we learn from media sources about the human condition, the better equipped we are to self-examine and to change what we find. And, of course, you have to take responsibility for the problems that you caused. Running from your faults is the surest way to make more regrets.

No matter how much better it seems that life would be now without that "ball-and-chain" from your past, consider the truth of your ideal. Given your mindset, if things had gone differently, would you have made different decisions? Or would you have chased another woman if your wife had snubbed you? If you hadn't sworn at your boss that day, would you have sworn at him the next? You might wish you hadn't decided to have a child or hadn't had that decision made for you (by fate, et al). Just consider how many times you had missed committing yourself before your thoughts led to actions which led to the consequences (desirable or not).

Likely, it could not have been different. Even if you travelled back in time to warn yourself, the odds are that your habitual mind and the surrounding circumstances would have lead you to the same place. The only way to change your future results—to avoid the regrets and "if onlys"—is through continuous, applied self-examination enabled by a mentor and a varied diet of media sources. It may take time to turn the battleship, but the future CAN be different.