Executive Coaching & Leadership Development http://www.ceoptions.com Executive Coaching & Leadership Development Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:48:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Today’s “Trinity of Extremes” Affects Us All http://www.ceoptions.com/how-todays-trinity-of-extremes-affects-us-all/ Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:47:05 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7241 Clinton Global InitiativeYes, we live in a fast paced world. Yes, we are often at tipping points of stress. Yes, we can do better.

“We are all in it together and no one wins unless we all do.” This mantra sounds good, however, for most of us it sounds naïve. Sometimes the world seems to be spinning out of control and the issues are too big and a single individual, a mere speck in the universe, is too small to make a dent in the issues.

The trinity of today’s extremes are:

  • Poverty
  • Climate
  • Violence

As I listened to the speakers at the Clinton Global initiative I was bouncing between hope, anger and depression.

Hope won.

It was the guiding force of the individuals who spoke, not just spoke, for those of us who listened. There were so many from around the world who have been working quietly, sleeves rolled up to make a dent in issues that impact all of us. There is nowhere to hide and if we look deeply, there are more who care and want to help than there are those who hinder and want to hurt.

Hope is contagious.

As I sat listening it brought back a moment some years ago when I went to Ghana to help Catherine Afeku, a graduate of our Total Leadership Connections™ Program, fulfill her dream to become a member of Parliament. It seemed an impossible dream and my husband Herb and I went to campaign with her for two weeks.

Catherine is a true #PatternPioneer.

We met her in New York at a leadership conference and invited her to participate in our program in Pennsylvania, that was starting a new four session series the following week. She was able to stay in the states and so our journey with Catherine began.

Fate has a way of helping move ideas into action; a way to help hope win.

In her town of Axim, we met with Catherine’s “Home Club” based on the theme from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” During our three hours together we talked about leadership, intention, responsibility and accountability.

One main issue in the town was about trash collection. There was none. The town was littered with plastic bottles and paper, there were no stationary receptacles and no one to remove the refuse.

“Everything costs too much money” was the hopeless answer to trash cans. This was the same answer to many of the local concerns. However, we kept the conversation going and Catherine, a GUTSY woman and force to be reckoned with kept painting the vision of what could transpire if everyone helped to make the changes together.

Not sure how some of our experiential processes would be accepted, we decided to go for the gold. We showed them the power of moving from using the word “try” to the word “do.” It sparked hope. Maybe, just maybe, they could become partners with Catherine to change old patterns.

You can do this experiment too. You need one other person to be with you. Hold your arms out in front of you. Have someone push to make your arms go down to your side. Now arms out say “I will resist you with all my might” and resist. You should be able to keep your arms in front of you.

Now say “I will try to resist you with all my might.” Notice the difference.

For starters to help hope win, make sure you eliminate the word ‘TRY” from your vocabulary. As Yoda says, “there is do or not do.”

Once The Home Club “got it” they were on fire. It’s the small changes in thinking and believing that can begin a revolution of change.

We returned to the U.S. wondering if what we had any real impact.

Result 1: one week later, armed with trash bags, the Home Club organized a weekend end town clean up and got everyone involved. The children stopped kicking their soccer balls around to help. The email we received said “the town sparkled.”

Result 2: Catherine became one of the 29 women in Parliament with 375 men. She is an advocate for health, sanitation and women’s rights. She is presently campaigning again and elections will be held in December.

I know she will win. She knows she will win.

Hope wins. Let it win for you too.

Clinton Global Initiative

Magic Moments Best When Unexpected http://www.ceoptions.com/magic-moments-best-when-unexpected/ Tue, 30 Aug 2016 18:13:11 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7096 free-vatican-city-wallpaper_020855483_177Got on the bus. Waited. Got on another bus. Waited even longer.

Had a bad feeling this paid in advance tour was going to disappoint.

And it did.


Tours to that revered site in Rome, the Vatican are expensive and seemingly necessary. Otherwise the lines can be hours long.

The Vatican is a must see in Rome. Regardless of religious background or preference there is a majesty to being in the presence of some of the most amazing art and sculpture the world has to offer. And looking up at the Blessing Window where the Pope stands and then pivoting around to observe what it must be like to look out at huge numbers of appreciative and reverent individuals is a stunning moment.

However, that is not where the memorable magic happened for me.

Let me take you on the tour with me.

We were hustled past hoards if individuals waiting in line.

“So far so good” I murmured to my husband.

Then not so good.

Our tour was distinct, we had really pretty green scarves, not so bad actually. We followed our attractive Italian guide who carried a beige umbrella as our point of reference in this sea of humanity. It was a beautiful moving feast of shapes, sizes, sounds and occasionally smells.

Basically all I could decipher as Francesca talked with the speed of a gazelle. was “Here’s a stature, there’s a tapestry, here’s a map, there’s a map, and of course Michelangelo’s name came up every so often as we headed to the Sistine Chapel.

Did you know he died as a very old man (by Renaissance times at least)? He was 89. However, no info about who he was as a man, just lots of mumbo-jumbo dates and statistics with no context.

This marathon kept becoming more intense. We were in a race. We were not in a race to win, it was a race to get as many souls into and out of the Vatican as possible. There were the kindly guards who smiled and said with determination “Keep moving.”

I began to think I was in a never ending TSA line that would not have the benefit of a plane to board at the end.

I rebelled.

I simply stopped.

I didn’t care if I lost my tour group. We had not bonded in a meaningful way other than to complain that pretty Francesca talked too fast and walked even faster. We also agree that she had little choice, those were her marching orders.

Finally, the Sistine Chapel.

The colors of the rainbow. The story of man and woman. The beauty could not be denied.

A guard smiled and pointed to the edge of a marble bench and motioned for others to move a bit as he gently pushed me down.

I sat.

The noise and the constant movement stopped, at least for just a few moments as I was imagined that determined artist on his back figuring out where to put the next dab of paint. I thought I heard him murmuring to himself.

The tour, my husband, who knows. All I knew was I was not moving out of this mystical place so fast.

And then someone said something in Italian and then the magic.

Monks, albeit recorded, monks chanting from ancient times filled the chapel.

Did you ever listen to Gregorian chanting? If not get on Amazon and find a DVD. Then set some time aside, close your eyes and listen.

This is magic.

And here I was, in the one and only Sistine Chapel sitting on a slice of marble, in a room with hundreds of my fellow humans. We all fell silent, even the children, as we sat, out of time and space, in the realm of magic and wonder. The sounds echoed up to the vaulted ceiling and came down on us like a gentle rain to weary pilgrims.

Time stopped. Finally, the chanting ceased.

The modern world reentered. The marathon was back on. I found my tour and had to accept the dirty looks of disapproval from Francesca.

All worth it.

My suggestion. Get a Gregorian chant DVD. Look up info about Michelangelo or if you love to read grab a copy of the story of this incredible man by Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy (also a film).

With your new knowledge and the amazing music, you then need to take time (I call it a radical sabbatical). Sit in silence for half hour looking at photos of this brilliant art and listen.

This is magic.

And then I heard Marc Zuckerberg was there just at the same time having an audience with the Pope. Oh, well, my time at the Vatican was still amazing.


Big Decisions, Little Decisions: Which Are More Important? http://www.ceoptions.com/big-decisions-little-decisions-which-are-more-important/ Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:57:59 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7077 This way or thatThe quality of your life, personally and professionally, is based on how you make decisions.

There is the old way and the new way: hint, the new way is actually older than the old way. The indigenous cultures all knew and still know that everything is connected. Somewhere along the way as we became “sophisticated intellectuals” and “rugged individualists” the idea of inter-connection became old-fashioned.

Take business decisions.

Most companies use a variation of the Gap Analysis. First you are supposed to look at where you are; then where you envision you want to be; and finally create a plan to get from here to there. Simple. It’s like: think, vision, execute.

However, there is a missing piece.

It’s about the invisible patterns of behavior that have a nasty habit of repeating and repeating unless a light is focused to see why decisions always end up causing the same headaches and financial issues time after time.


In making decisions you are in a better place when you think long range and ask yourself and each other more effective open ended questions that take into account not only what you decide, also how it will have impact into the future.

Take plastic for example.

There is a great scene in the classic film The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is not sure of where he wants to use his newly minted business skills. At a party one of his father’s friends pulls him aside and smugly says “plastics.” Yup, that’s it. There is money to be made with plastic. And that has proven to be true.

Except now, decades later, we are paying a vast price for the linear rather than systems thinking that was never done.


Systems thinking, the native Americans knew, meant that we are all in it together with Father Sky and Mother Earth. They taught respect for all living beings including the one-leggeds (the trees) and the four leggeds (the animals).

We went astray and are now at a critical juncture to re-learn what has been forgotten.

George Lakoff, PhD and Professor at UC Berkeley states that systems thinking is not innate, it has to be taught. What is innate is sorting, putting into separate categories of right or wrong, good or bad, like or not like, etc.

Here’s a great recent example of systems thinking: as I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio I was struck by the brilliance of the creative directors to offer a powerful visual of how all is connected, systems thinking in action.

Rather than the usual opening ceremony, like the one in London in 2012 where they went about showing how “mod” and cool they are in the UK; or the Chinese spectacular with over the top precision and perfection; the one in Brazil tackled vital issues affecting us around the world today.

In Rio you saw the living conditions in the favelas, the slums that are only five miles from the Olympic Stadium. This is not ordinary stuff of media events.

Not only was poverty front and center. So was the strangling of some of the earth’s major resources in the Amazon rain forest.

I don’t want to be doom and gloom.

However, we need to find a way OUT of the extreme weather we have all participated in creating and the seemingly endless generations of poverty and crime that abound all over this planet. Help to change the patterns that no longer work. Join us to renew the depth of systems thinking. Learn a new way.

The #PatternPioneers movement is gaining traction. It means that each one of us will commit to the way OUT: Observe, Understand and Transform our personal behavior patterns and decide to think long term about what we will leave for next generations.

Commit to one act of change each day. Just one. This will become a new pattern and as we all decide to decide differently, maybe we can save ourselves and this beautiful planet we all need to nourish.

This way or that

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? http://www.ceoptions.com/why-cant-we-all-just-get-along-2/ Wed, 03 Aug 2016 18:09:50 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7072 meeting maniaI hear this plaintive cry from executives and middle managers all the time. I hear it from superintendents to elementary school teachers for at least ten months out of the year.

Getting along is what we all want. Right? So, why does it seem almost impossible to get through even a few days without feeling that blood boiling moment of “Not THAT again!” or “Can’t they just zip it?”

I would like to boil this down to some basics for you to think about.

Relationships are hard work.

You can’t learn how to be your best you by reading something that gives you 5 quick tips for happiness.

It’s just not that simple.

Here are some ideas to think about and please, if you have questions or comments, the first ten people who respond will get a copy of my e-book, Five Leadership Lessons.

Ideas to ponder: Few things seem more different than the worlds of work and home. We talk about “work-life balance” as if work and life were chunks of matter on opposite sides of a balance scale.

Some of us take refuge at work because it’s easier than dealing with family issues. Others can’t wait to get home where they feel safe and appreciated after a day “on the battle field.”

From the standpoint of relationships, however, work and home are not so different as they seem at first blush. Work teams and families both constitute systems of relationships among individuals. There are, of course, important differences such as the one we all know and talk about, especially when we are annoyed at home. “You can’t choose your family (drat!!),” whereas you may be lucky enough to choose your work team.

Think about it this way for a minute: You can have an “ex-boss” or an “ex-direct report.” You can even have an “ex-spouse.” However, sorry to report for those of you who have parents who really bother you, you can’t have an “ex-mother” or an “ex-father.” You can only have parents you don’t see very often, or at all.

Families and work groups are structurally similar, and the day-to-day workings of these groups are pretty much the same. Our task in each area is to become more autonomous, to become more capable, to, let’s say it clearly, to become more of an adult.

Ah, what that means, to be an adult in more than just chronological age, is the challenge for everyone and it continues all the time.

We go to school and we can gain knowledge. Where and how do we grow up to learn to be wise?

I hate to be the bearer of the next sentence: it all begins with the family.

That is where you first learned how to exist in relation to others, our original organization.

If you want to get a handle on the part of your behavior you are not super aware of, take the pattern aware quiz and learn about the role you played in the family and may still be playing at work. One point when you take the quiz: It’s weighted to get underneath your analytical thinking and there may be questions you think you would not answer the way they are phrased. Just go ahead and pick the first one you would answer if you simply HAD to answer.

I promise it will give you a clear direction when you find the pattern that shows up as one that I call, sticky, that in essence has your name on it.

Like the woman who called us with a major upset that she was put in the wrong category, her top pattern was as an avoider. She was angry. When asked when she took the test her response revealed it all “I did it about 3 months ago and was just not ready to call you and complain.” BINGO!

Learn about who you are and where you need to grow beyond where you are. It takes some time, not years, just some time, to see the connection between home and work.

You will be the better for it at both places.

meeting mania

Clear the Past to Free the Future: Life Stories Spoken Out Loud Heal Wounds From Our Unresolved Racial War http://www.ceoptions.com/clear-the-past-to-free-the-future-life-stories-spoken-out-loud-heal-wounds-from-our-unresolved-racial-war/ Wed, 13 Jul 2016 15:42:30 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7017 www.huffingtonpost.comCharles sat down and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He looked at the fifteen others in the room and could not decide if he was relieved or simply embarrassed.

Finally John broke the silence by saying quietly, “We  really are all truly sorry. Thank you for your honesty and openness.”

That was it.

The moment Charles had been hoping for since he was a little kid. All he wanted was someone to say “I’m sorry.” And now he had fifteen women and men who told him they were sorry for the barbs and taunts and put downs. One by one they had looked at him and said they were sorry.

Charles had just finished telling the story of his life.

Not just his life, the lives of his ancestors. This session of his leadership program was designed to help clear the past to free the future. He had followed the instructions, something he did well. He had learned as a kid to do what was asked of him to garner praise which was like nutritious food. However, as he began to dig deeply into his heritage he found himself getting angrier and more agitated.

He wondered as he put this personal map together if it was a waste of time or really mattered. After all, so many that he talked about were dead and buried, long gone and almost forgotten. They were from different eras and until now had been names without meaning to him.

It felt like the biggest waste of time and money and what the heck did this process have to do with leadership anyway.

When he stood at the flip chart he felt naked.

He did not want to be judged. He  decided, as the only person of color in the room, to keep most of what he learned to himself. It was, he thought, none of their damned business anyway.

Keep it short and simple. No emotion. Just the basic facts and then sit down.

However, when he started, it all poured out.

There had never been a time in his life where he had discussed his slave relatives until now. It had always been better to forget, to ignore, to pretend than peel away the shame and sadness. The past, he had been taught by his mother, was over. Live now. Look to the future.

And yet, he felt haunted by fear. There was always a distant drum beat of “what if.” that cast a shadow over his life.

“What if what? ” he murmured to himself as began to discuss his Sankofa Map.  This damn map of his history made him lose sleep, become irritable.

Charles worked hard to stay in the present to tell himself that the past is over and cannot impact him. Yet, his body and emotions told him differently.

He is a VP in a great tech firm. He has a family, wife and two daughters, friends, a lovely home, vacations. He does not want for anything.

He is, by all accounts, the vision of the American Dream.

So why, when he told the story of his sixth grade teacher suggesting that he, as well as all the other dark skinned kids in the class, consider trade school and not even think about college, why now did he wince and let the anger of 33 years ago bring him to the verge of tears?

He had spent much of his life ignoring the pain of being black. He hated to hear the “Black is beautiful” bullshit, as he called it. Being black, for Charles was just one more hurdle to jump, and jump and jump.

Until now, he had never done a deep dive to see the courage and the pain, the joy and the despair, the agony and the ecstasy of those from long ago. Most of us never make our ancestors into living, breathing children, teens, adults with their own hopes and dreams. They stay amorphous ghosts. Ancestors, they die but they don’t. Always lurking in dark, mysterious corners to remind us there is work to be done.

The night before his presentation the news blared yet another mindless shooting,

Or was it?

He turned off the news. The manta was now familiar, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”

“Thank you NRA for your great marketing” he mumbled to himself. Blue people, the police killing black people, black people killing blue people, white people hiding behind the curtains in their homes hoping to “NOT SEE.” (say this fast and shudder).

He read about one smart dark-skinned man, an intellectual type who was moving to Paris because he felt his family would be safe.He thought to himself, “Fool, there’s nowhere to hide.”

He sat down after his Sankofa Map presentation and felt empty and full at the same time.

The facilitator ended the session with these words from Carl Jung:

“I became aware of the fateful links between me and me ancestors. I felt very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet  been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished.”

Charles wiped the perspiration from his forehead and said to no one and everyone “I have work to do.”

What Courage Looks Like http://www.ceoptions.com/what-courage-looks-like/ Mon, 20 Jun 2016 15:54:39 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7009 Jai Ching's Documentary PicTwice a year we do a program for leaders and emerging leaders. It is a four session program spread over five months. Each time I include clips of leaders who have and continue to make a difference in our world.

There are a few staples, like Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.

We choose from a wide array of business leaders, media, the arts, and people who I call “Giraffes” (those willing to stick their necks out to make a positive difference).

Recently I was looking for those who exemplify vast courage to tackle unpopular issues and who are not willing to back down or be bought into silence.

If you have not seen or read Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, it is worth the time to dig into this classic about speaking out when economic issues want us to stay in denial.

That brings us up to the present moment. Watching Dr. Bennett Omalu, played by Will Smith in the 2015 film, Concussion makes us realize that patterns of denial run deep and are sadly, as old as time.

Omalu, a forensic pathologist working in Pittsburgh brought CTE, a form of brain injury to the forefront. It appears to be rampant in the NFL and possibly starting when youngsters play high school and college football.

Just recently, after his death, Kathie Lee Gifford, wife of star quarterback and national hero Frank Gifford, permitted an autopsy that showed yes, Mr. Gifford had suffered from CTE.

The film, Concussion shows how the power of economics can foster the desire to avoid and deny critical issues, even if health is at risk. It shows that speaking up and standing your ground can be just as deadly as the diseases that come to light (think back to the tobacco companies and smoking).

Then I came across a woman that exemplifies true heroism. She lives in a very complex culture and I know you will find her story intriguing.

Chai Jing is a journalist living in China whose documentary, Under the Dome about pollution in her country received 300 million views in four days before it was taken down. It is still available in the United States and I want to honor the courage it takes to go against old, outdated thinking and take the risk of speaking out.

Who else would you put on the list of courage in action? That is what we need in today’s leaders all over the globe.

The Downside of Growing Your Organizational Culture http://www.ceoptions.com/the-downside-of-growing-your-organizational-culture/ Thu, 12 May 2016 14:53:09 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=7000 Eileen FischerI was sitting having a quick dinner in Manhattan with some colleagues. The place was packed and the noise level high. Just a typical 6:30 p.m. time of workplace decompressing, after one of those typical rush and get it done days.

At the table to the left we heard “No one should be forced to share as much as they do here. They think they are creating a culture of trust. It’s just a bunch of bull.”

To the right, “Why the heck can’t they just get with the program and stop complaining all the time? What a bunch of whiners.”

Another table not far where they were getting very vocal and physically flinging hands around, “They actually force us to admit failure and what we don’t like about ourselves. Nasty stuff! We just want to get our jobs done and get to our beer time.”

One of my colleagues shrugged and said “Not much has changed in all the years we have been working. Still bitch and complain and judge and attack. When will it ever change?”

Blame it on our belief systems, blame it on our parents, blame it on our culture.

Or maybe stop the blame and say, “It will stop with me” or better yet, “It will start with me.”

So, what do we stop and what do we start?

How do we create a better and more effective business setting? Is it even possible?

I open this up to a deep discussion. Social media has a powerful collective of global citizens who are bright, and as I read many of the tweets and posts, I have hope in so many individuals who are committed to helping build a better world through work.

I am going to put down a few of my ideas to start the dialogue, and would love to have you add to the rich stew we can create about what can be done differently.

I believe that now is the time for radical departures from the way we work. I am especially fascinated by the way we interact with each other.

However, we have a long way to go. Sure, we have moved to open space in many buildings and yet, the same “he did it, she did it, they did it” chant is heard around the globe.

Let’s weave a new pattern!

I think the traditional motivators of the workplace, job security, higher pay, and good benefits is not enough. There is a desire, a demand for being treated with respect, finding satisfaction with our jobs, and being connected to something that will leave a positive and lasting legacy.

Can work be both economically and emotionally rewarding?

I recently watched a video of Eileen Fisher talk about how her firm became an employee owned company. Not only does she have one of the most incredibly beautiful yet simple clothing lines on the market, she stands for so much more than money in the account.

For me a significant aspect of where we need to head concerns our problems with faulty relationship patterns, and many of those are thousands of years old.

One of my mentors, Willis Harman who was the President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences has written eloquently about how society’s definition of “normal” as part of the pattern of domination over those who, in whatever way, deviate from the norm. Still, if you are the wrong color, religion, gender, and on and on, you best keep to yourself. How do we do something radically different (not with fists and weapons)?

How do we create peace-tools, instead of pistols, for change to happen?

We can also be dominated by the type of lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. This lifestyle is, in part destroying much of our beautiful planet. What is the alternative to the materialistic mindset that is so prevalent today?

There are good and vocal individuals and groups bringing these ideas to our attention. We have social media, we have the ways and means.

Okay. What do we need to change?

What would a radical disruption look like in the places we work? How can we find a better way of creating “the daily grind” to be more “the daily delight” so we can stop the grumbling that seems to win first place in most organizations?

Let’s join together, disrupt and build together. I look forward to hearing from you.

Do You Want to Change? http://www.ceoptions.com/do-you-want-to-change/ Thu, 05 May 2016 19:44:38 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=6986 office-620822_960_720There is an old saying, “Technology changes, people don’t.”

It’s kind of depressing to think that with all the good stuff at our finger tips, we are not much different from Neanderthal man and woman.

Well, maybe we dress better.

As social beings, everything we do is interactive and contextual. And yes, technology has changed much of our behavior and much of our behavior dictates what is next in technology.

What hasn’t changed is that our interactive behaviors create different kinds of experiences, and that is where we really need to think about what kind of experience do we want to create, at home and at work.

The excellent book, “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, explores the essence of relating in the modern workplace.

Three companies are studied in depth, three windows into the world of working together where videos, and apps are used to underline workplace relationships.

Here, technology compliments human dialogue. Here, one of the big questions concerns how to create and invest in meaningful experiences and still have a focus on a positive bottom line.

In all three companies everyone is a participant, and everyone is learning.

The Industrial Revolution gave way to the Information Age many decades ago and now we are on the edge of what, a new paradigm for “people power” that makes different, and who knows, perhaps better ways of relating, to be available faster and more effectively.

If the premise of the organizations discussed in the book is the basic desire for people, (all of us) to grow and become more whole, then we are in the midst of a new and exciting research expedition.

As I read “An Everyone Culture” I had lots of thoughts of “That may be for everyone…but me!” I did have many visceral reactions, for example, in one of the companies, they had created an environment where every meeting is recorded. In that setting anyone in that organization can go to a computer and download to see what was going on.

I heard my internal-self yelling for privacy. I felt myself wanting to run and hide.

And then I took a walk and began to dissect my struggle with radical transparency.

I remembered a quote by actress Shirley MacLaine, “When wallowing in a vat of hot fudge, one yearns for a piece of celery.”

I am still questioning this type of openness in any relationship, at home or at work. The new way is to constantly adjust and adapt to change.  Without it, you’re going to be left behind.

What are your thoughts about working in a setting where being real, being authentic, includes overt and absolute truthfulness? Are truthfulness and transparency the same thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ain’t It Good to Be Alive http://www.ceoptions.com/aint-it-good-to-be-alive/ Thu, 14 Apr 2016 19:19:59 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=6842 alive0446Last weekend we trekked to Manhattan for the season premiere of ALIVE: 55+ and Kicking.

And what a day it was.

Just being in the presence of the executive producer, Vy Higginsen would have been enough. However, the day brought so much that I simply want to stand up and applaud the entire cast and the brilliance of an idea so needed in our world today.

Vi took the microphone before the start of the show and in her vivacious manner said, “The first 50 years of life are for learning, and the next 50 are for living.” And off we went on a musical holiday of song and story about, well just about all of us. It was about dreams gone astray, dreams fulfilled, happy days, hurtful days, and how to get up and get going, no matter what.

I will be interviewing Vy for my book “GUTSY BREAKTHROUGH STORIES” so here is just a snap shot of this mover and shaker. She is an award winning author, playwright, radio and TV personality. She is full of firsts: first woman on New York prime-time radio, first female executive in advertising, and founder of the Mama Foundation for the Arts in Harlem.

What is so amazing is her laugh and her warm, inclusive manner. I watched how she embraced just about everyone in the theater, before, at intermission, and after. For Vy, everyone is welcome to join her in the fun of living life fully.

Now, about “Alive” which features men and women from ages 55 to 76 singing their hearts out.

Ah, music! It does things to us that logical talking in sentences simply cannot touch. It soothes us, gives us courage, makes us remember, it is away to ease the pain of life and give us hope.

After 40 years in and out of prison, Theo Harris sings into our hearts about what it means to have a second chance, or even a third chance. He was a beacon of light after the 10:00 pm curfew in jail when there was no more talking. He would sing and give the men a chance to let the music be like a lullaby.

Deborah Bingham spoke of the shock of her son being diagnosed with cancer only to die in 2010. When she sang words to “I will always love you” it was the broken heart of a mother resonating with everyone in the room and even the men were wiping tears from their eyes.

Matthew Burke never know his parents. Let in a hallway when he was two weeks old, he was a number before he ever had a name. Always wondering about his mom, he named her Georgia and sings this song with the tenderness of a loving son.

After the show I was wondering, what if…

What if we had community shows like this all over the country. What if we all, just like these amazing men and women began to raise our voices in song to tell our stories.

What would your song be?

A Vital Missing Piece of the Workplace Puzzle http://www.ceoptions.com/a-vital-missing-piece-of-the-workplace-puzzle/ Fri, 25 Mar 2016 17:25:10 +0000 http://www.ceoptions.com/?p=6804 Puzzle PiecesSince most of us prefer information to be fast and direct, here is the missing puzzle piece right up front: what happened in our original organization, the family, goes with us to work…whether we like it or not.

When I stumbled on this counter-intuitive nugget of knowledge it changed the direction of my career to work exclusively with businesses to rethink the causes of stress related issues and interpersonal conflict.

I used to believe the common philosophy that there needed to be clear boundaries between home and work.  The “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mindset is the one to live by.


Not really. While most of the time we can maintain clear boundaries, when stress hits the hot button all hell can break loose.

Over the top stress can be a deal breaker. It impacts physical health, emotional perspectives and important relationships.

While I adhere to great stress reduction techniques, there is one area that exercise, yoga, deep breathing, massage or mindfulness could not touch.

Sadly, it held me back from promotions and workplace success. I also lost some good friends and colleagues over my behavior. Even traditional psychotherapy never gave me the answers I needed.

When I became an entrepreneur and owned a business, I was finally forced to take a deeper look into that dark part of my behavior and grab the darn puzzle piece that had been eluding me for decades.

First, the back story.

Watching my father die from a sudden heart attack when I was fourteen was, no surprise, a master game-changer. My older brother was off to college and there I was, left with a gaping hole at home including a fearful and depressed mother.

Eventually, scabs formed over the trauma and to the outside world all was now fine. Different, yet fine.

Life goes on.  I put the past behind and focused on the future. I used the present as a launching pad for what was next.

Except…the past is always part of the present and helps to determine the future. I chose to ignore the past. It was too painful.

As a young manager I was empathetic, encouraging and energetic. Yet, when someone left my team for another opportunity I judged them. I loudly predicted they would want to come back. I decided never   to talk with them again. It was not pretty.

I became a real witch.

Most of us believe that we make work decisions based on conscious deliberation. One important study found that our unconscious brains are engineering our decisions milliseconds before our conscious brains can get around to them. German brain scientist John-Dylan Hayes states “Our brains make decisions based on emotional and rational assessment that we’re not aware of; only later after the decision is actually made do we explain our decisions and actions to ourselves.”

Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we now know that our unconscious emotions occupy a different region of the brain, often exerting a more powerful influence on our preferences and actions. Daniel Siegel’s book “The Developing Mind” synthesizes information to explore the idea that interpersonal experiences impact the structure and function of the brain.

Enter Lisa.

Lisa was my assistant. She was woven from angel cloth. We worked together in tandem, the flow was amazing.

One sunny May day she wanted to talk with me and my partner (who was also my husband). The look of delight on her face made me uneasy. We exchanged pleasantries and finally she blurted out “I love working here and so it is hard for me to say I will be leaving in six weeks. You have always taught everyone to grow to their fullest potential. I was hoping that I would get enough money back from income tax to return to school and, yes, it happened.”

She waited to hear congratulations.

Instead I burst into tears and said through gulps of air “Lisa, you can’t leave.”

Lisa sat, with that deer in the headlights look, while my husband took my hand and said “Sylvia, she’s going back to school. This is all good.”

Then he “got it” and asked Lisa to leave us for a bit.

“What’s up” is all he said.

“I need her.” Was best I could muster.

It took a few powerful minutes for me to compose myself and understand what had just happened. For me, even though Lisa was giving us fair notice, news of her departure was a shock. I had not expected her to leave, well, forever.

I finally saw my tendency (we did not have the language to be pattern aware back then) to get “antsy” whenever someone in my life was ready to move on. I observed and understood that the past crisis of my father’s sudden death came to work with me, over and over.

It was the first time I had a clear understanding of how powerful patterns from childhood play out at work.

The knowledge of how family and work are intertwined fills in the missing puzzle piece, especially when there is conflict at work. Many seemingly unrelated incidents link together to form patterns that often repeat and repeat and repeat. It is the key missing component to stress related issues, conflict and poor productivity. And that brings us to today.

Adding emotional and social intelligence to leadership training helps develop a more humane culture in the data driven work world of today.  Now, it is time to include techniques for becoming pattern aware and learn to observe, understand and transform the motivations, stimuli and responses, as well as past circumstances, when there are interpersonal issues at work. This is the missing puzzle piece for more effective workplace relationships and healthy work cultures.

Puzzle Pieces