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How Much Is Enough?

As a sort of disclaimer I want to state that I am a believer, a huge believer. I have been an Apple fan from day one. As a matter of fact, I have never owned a Windows-operated machine. And I regularly preach the gospel of Apple to any that need digital counsel, bringing many into the fold.

But with Apple sitting on cash reserves of over $170 billion, I’ve got to ask, how much is enough?

It’s not that I don’t think they should be allowed to reap the rewards of their excellent design and production. It’s not that I think they shouldn’t be allowed to save for a rainy day (should the Apple Watch go belly up). It’s a much larger issue, a fundamental issue, I think. The issue is one of purpose—ultimate purpose.

We all know that the purpose of any corporation is to create a profit for its shareholders. Sure; this is part of the grand capitalist design. But along the way there are other, smaller, more life-affirming and significant purposes that can and should be pursued.

We’re living in a time were worker satisfaction is at an all-time low (Gallup reports about 13% of the global workforce is actively engaged in their work). I’ve never worked for Apple and so have only the anecdotal reports of people who have. But if I were someone being asked to pour my heart, soul, and labor into the next product, I would be asking myself Why? So that we can push this cash reserve over $200 billion?

There has to be a larger purpose to our professional efforts than just a financial return. Workers are crying out for this in the 21st century. A sense of growth in the human experience—not just financial but emotional and spiritual as well, a sense of balance to the professional and personal dimensions, a sense of helping others to achieve what we’ve achieved.

A quiet revolution is sweeping across our corporate world, one that’s slowly humanizing our work. Part of that revolution involves the analysis of why we do what we do, corporately. And the revolution is coming to some new conclusions, conclusions that go beyond the pursuit of profit, conclusions that lead to a healthier work environment, conclusions that consider the whole worker.

Another Look At Work-Life Balance

A lot has been written about work-life balance—justifiably. As we move farther away from the inception of the information age and deeper into the era of the ubiquitous Internet, the concept of work-life balance becomes less helpful. But was it ever?

My contention has always been that work-life balance is an unattainable metric. So let’s get beyond the idea of pitting these two things against each other. Making “my work” and “the rest of my life” compete is an example of a dualistic approach to making sense of our world.

The problem with this dualistic approach is that it makes one “good” and the other “evil.” Guess which one becomes evil? That’s so “industrial age.” We’re never going to become whole people with this concept following us around. This is what keeps us watching the clock until 5:00 pm so that we can finally get to our real lives. This is what makes us look at work as that thing we do so that we can get to the weekend.

Dualism can help us make sense of our world from time to time, but it’s not helping us here. If we’re going to extract the best from each other, we’ve got to see ourselves as one whole, integrated being. I’m one being, not a worker 40+ hours a week and a father, husband, dog lover, the rest. As a matter of fact, my life is a work!

Pitting one against the other is not helpful to our personal lives, our work lives, or to the people we connect with in both. It’s a dualistic way to live that creates anxiety and confusion.

When we look at the lives of those who have accomplished great things, we see they had something in common—they integrated their “work” with their “lives.” One sphere fed the other. One brought meaning to the other. They were living one life, accomplishing one work. Humanizing the world of 21st century work demands that we take a new approach to our thinking. Jettisoning the dualism and its effects on our perceptions of work and life is one way we can all move forward.

Resistance is Futile Integrate Now

Compartmentalization is a learned behavior. We learn early on that there are some subjects you don’t talk about in certain settings. We learn that our work life and personal life shouldn’t really mix. We learn that life is a series of plates that you spin, hoping that one doesn’t crash into the other. These compartments become domains with strong walls that resist penetration.

As we travel farther into the digital age we realize that many of these compartments overlap (quite naturally if you allow them to). Folks who borrowed from one compartment to seed another were considered “creatives.” But as time moved on and technology allowed for more fluidity between the various domains of our life, more of us began to experiment with borrowing. Physicists borrowed from jazz musicians to create new theories of how our universe was ordered. Doctors borrowed from mystics and learned that there’s a spiritual side to the healing arts. Education borrowed from gaming to teach students more rapidly and effectively.

The fluidity that we now live in is coalescing into whole-life integration. Many no longer live in the compartmentalized world of the past but rather in an integrated world. Others are feeling the futility of attempting to balance the various domains of life and are looking for a way out.

Whole-life integration is the process of allowing the various domains of life to influence each other. It is an approach to life that not only helps us unify these domains but also helps us develop a unified body, mind, and spirit so that we experience less dysfunction and dissatisfaction and more fulfillment.

As with all change, whole-life integration happens best in small doses. It can start by asking yourself some fundamental questions, such as, Which of my personal interests can influence my work? What practices do I employ at work that could facilitate a more productive home environment? What skills have I sequestered in one domain that could be of value in another?

The very act of asking these questions starts the integrative process and helps us to break down the barriers that compartmentalization erected. Developing this process can evolve into a lifestyle change that helps us get a clearer picture of who we really are and what we are about. Meditating on these types of questions produces profound changes over time, helping us to reprioritize and unify what previously may have been disparate parts of a fragmented life.

It all starts with inquiry, intra-personal inquiry—because the most significant conversations you have each day are with yourself. The conversations that most affect your actions are the ones you have inside your head. Those are the conversations that lead either to maintaining the status quo or to change. Those are the conversations that determine whether we’ll respond or react. Those are the conversations that determine how we will relate to others.

Learning to integrate the various domains of our life is not going to happen overnight. It will take time, patience, and practice. But it’s something that we’re all going to have to do if we’re going to shed old ways and come into the digital world with our sanity and productivity intact.

Those who resist this process will continue to experience the frustration of always being two steps behind, wondering why their attempts to balance the various domains keep failing.

Those who proceed in integrating domains will reap the benefits that our great technological advances have to offer.

From Fragmentation to Integration

Integration is the way ahead if you’re seeking work/life balance, because many of us right now live fragmented lives. Who taught us to live that way? Was it taught, or was it a case of creeping evolvement over time? I have a feeling it was the latter.

Back when we were all farmers we did everything together: Family members were most likely co-workers, our neighbors were our closest friends, etc. As the industrial age set in we began to separate our work life from our home life. We now had work colleagues that knew very little about our lives at home and visa versa. We went to the factory, put in our eight hours, and came home to our pensions.

Fast forward to the information age, and these two dimensions get a little blurry. Work is brought home, flex-time makes room for the parent-teacher meeting in the middle of the workday, and technology allows for a more fluid conversation with co-workers during off hours.

We’ve come full circle now, post-information age. We tend to see our work as integral to who we are as human. It’s a part of our makeup. We represent ourselves to others that way: I’m a teacher, I’m a manager, I’m a vertical surface emulsions application specialist (painter). But the old habits and strictures of the previous age still influence how we go about our life and work. Thankfully, that’s beginning to change.

Many are waking up to the realization that they live, to some extent, fragmented lives. I’m one person at work and another at home. This has been going on for decades, but the interesting thing is that it doesn’t feel right anymore to many. We want to live holistic lives, integral lives, and not fragmented lives.

Those pursuing that holistic life are finding that it brings an added measure of productivity, creativity, and peace. Companies that encourage the blending of the two major divisions of our life (work/home) are finding the same benefits accrue to the organization as a whole.

The age ahead is one of integration. Fragmenting our lives, ten years from now, will look as primitive as working 9 to 5 does today. Bringing all we are to our work will become the norm as we move farther into the 21st century. And we will reap the benefits of an integrated lifestyle, one that grows from the insight received in realms previously considered non-work-oriented—our emotional and spiritual lives.

Change: Five Steps to Personal Transformation

Change is often perceived as something that is hard to accomplish. That generalization is not too helpful. Some change is hard, some is easy. If I ask you to change the clothes you wear – that’s easy. If I ask you to stop smoking – that may seem hard. It’s important that we define change a little more specifically if we are going to make some effective adjustments in our life. Change actually happens on many different levels: the environmental level, the behavioral level, the capability level, the belief, and identity levels. Think of these levels as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, identity level. Let’s take a look at the various levels and how you might make some changes in each to shake up your routine and get you out of that rut.

Change At The Environmental Level

The first and easiest level to make changes in is the environmental level. This is the external world that you’ve created around you. Yes, you’ve created this world! The clothes you wear, what you eat, where you hang and who you hang with, are all a part of your environment. Changing your environment is crucial to getting you out of that rut. Now remember, we’re taking some simple steps here. We want the first changes to be easy but effective in moving us out of our routine.

Simple things like adding some new clothes to your wardrobe can begin to break our habitual cycles. Think about changing the colors that your routinely wear. As simple as this suggestion sounds, you’ll be amazed at the effect the color and texture of clothes has on your mental state. Our clothes and the colors we wear are one of the ways our personality expresses itself. Is there another side of you that your clothes currently don’t express? If you’re addicted to somber colors try brightening it up a bit. Go to a store and try on items that you wouldn’t normally. Notice how they make you feel when you’re wearing them. Try different materials and textures as well. Not a hat person? Try one on and see how it makes you feel.

Another environmental change you can make is to go do something that you’ve never done before, gathering some new experiences. These don’t have to be expensive trips to some exotic locale. They could be as simple as stepping into a store that you’ve never been to before, or taking a different route home. You never know what will turn up. Shaking up your routine is what we are after in changing your environment.

Finally, a third and deeper environmental change concerns with whom you spend your time. Chances are if you’re feeling stuck in a rut you are not being motivated by your current relationships. If you’re in a rut I’m willing to bet that some of your friends are feeling the same thing too. Finding some new friends can be challenging, but remember we are taking small steps here. You’re not looking to scrap all your friends, just make a few new and different acquaintances. This dovetails well with gathering some new experiences. Once you put yourself in a different environment chances are you will meet some different people. Be bold and step out. Introduce yourself first! Most of our lives we convince ourselves that we are so different from everyone around us. This puts a wall up between us, and those who could be enriching our world.

Change at the environmental level is easy and effective in moving us out of the rut and into a more fulfilling life. But changing your environment alone will not bring the fulfillment that we’re looking for. For that we have to go a bit deeper. We have to change our behavior. Environmental change coupled with behavioral change is a powerful force that can propel us into the life we want to lead. From here we’ll dig a little deeper and work at effecting change at the behavioral level, getting closer to the core of who we are.

Change At The Behavioral Level

Any time we talk about behavior we have to talk about responsibility, because we are the agents of our behavior. As soon as we begin to analyze our behavior, the idea of taking responsibility for our life and actions appears. Yes, a series of events did happen (life), but it was our response or reaction to those events that brought us to where we are today. The day you stop playing the blame game and stop looking for an invite to a pity-party (a party that becomes a prison) is the day you break out into real freedom and take control of your life. We can’t control all the events that happen in our life, but we can control our response to them and thus the outcome those events will have on our life. Responsible people realize that they are “response able.” You are in fact able to choose the response you will have to the events happening around you.

Often, when we get into a self-pity mode we start a cycle of negative thinking. We begin to make generalized negative statements about our self and about our behavior. The first thing to do is realize that you are not your behavior, and although you are responsible for your actions, you can admit that you may have made some poor choices, forgive yourself, and move on to some more positive behaviors. Take an inventory of the things you can do well and keep your mind focused on these. Stop limiting yourself by listing in your head what you “can’t” do. All of those “can’ts” are self-limiting beliefs. As a matter of fact, eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary! Set your mind free of negative thinking and you will take a large step in your progress to moving out of that rut and breaking that routine.

One of the behavioral changes you can make is to schedule some regular new events into your week that get you going in the direction you want to go. Now don’t overdo it. I’m not talking about programming every waking hour, just a few throughout the week. Plan on hitting the gym twice a week. Commit to getting your banking done during your lunch-break every Thursday. Once we get some positive routines moving in our week, our life begins to take on new structure and meaning.

Remember to think of these levels of change as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, the identity level. Let’s continue to move from the outermost level (environment) through the second level (behavior) to the third level (capability) were we deal with change regarding our capabilities or skills.

Change At The Capability Level

Capabilities or skills are the things that you can do, now. Everyone has a skillset that they have learned through training, education and experience. We often shortchange ourselves when it comes to listing the skills we have that can help us effect change in our life. Did you work in a pizza parlor? You probably took orders from customers, both face to face and on the phone, so you have customer-relations experience, as well as telephone sales experience. Were you in charge of the crew that night? Then you have managerial experience. My point, in using this simple example, is that we often don’t see all of the various skills that it took to accomplish a particular job. With that in mind there are a few exercises that we can do to help define our skills, take them to the next level, and acquire new ones.

What strengths do you have? What strengths would you like to have? Make a list for both of these categories. Jot down an action next to each one that will increase your capability in that area. If it’s a strength you already have, how can you improve it? If it’s a strength you’d like to have, how could you acquire it? What training would you need to be really good at it? You now have the beginnings of an action plan that will move you in the direction you want to go. Take the list of your current skills and rank them, with the strongest being number one. Look at the top three skills on that list. Are they things that you want to continue doing in the future? If not, rank the list of the skills that you would like to have and take a look at the top three. Would acquiring them move you in the direction you want to go? Is it possible to acquire those skills in the near future? What’s the first step that you have to take to acquire them?

Doing an honest inventory of your skills should give your spirit a boost and clarify your vision for the future. Remember, we often shortchange ourselves and don’t give ourselves credit for accomplishing what we have done in life. Quiet the “inner critic” and give yourself the credit you’re due for accomplishing what you have thus far. Chances are many of the choices you’ve made have shown some measure of courage, strength, and understanding.

Don’t let the “can’ts” that I mentioned previously get in your way at this level. Change at the capabilities level is essential to moving on in the world of work and the “can’ts” will stop you dead in your tracks, if you let them. We’ll deal with those more directly in the next concentric circle, the belief level.

Change At The Belief Level

Our belief system is what forms the world inside our head and determines how we react to the world around us. Beliefs are either empowering or disempowering. Because of this it is very important that we pay attention to the care and feeding of our beliefs. Most of our beliefs we get from others around us. Our parents, siblings, classmates, and coworkers help form our beliefs. Most importantly, we continue to modify them as time goes on.

We live in a world that is constantly trying to limit us. We are told repeatedly what we can and can’t do. Many of these limitations form beliefs in our mind about our capabilities. Society as a whole tries to get us to conform to a certain pattern and that pattern can be very limiting.

Do you ever find yourself wrapped up in some negative thought? This often generates depressive thinking. Negative thinking and self-doubt is so common. What we need are some strategies to help us out of our negative thinking and on to something a bit more positive. There are three steps we can take.

First, we need to become aware of just how deep the problem is. Many of us walk around all day long without realizing that we are constantly reciting some negative mantra in our head. These become self-limiting beliefs that dis-empower us. So, become aware of just what you are thinking during your day. Take note of the number of times and the kind of negative statements that you are making to yourself. Do you start in with it first thing in the morning? Does it only happen when you are around certain people, or doing certain things? Becoming aware of just how deep the problem is, is one third of the way toward changing this habit.

The next step is to call it what it is, a negative thought. That’s all. It has no power within itself to do anything to you. It’s whether you choose to believe it or not that’s important. Is it true? If it’s true (and it rarely is) can we do something about it so that it will no longer be true? If it’s not true, we need to take the next step.

The third step is to replace it with a corresponding, specific positive thought. Negative thoughts are usually general in nature – thoughts like, “I’m no good.” “I could never do that.” and, “I always fail at whatever I do.” Words like always, never and ever are absolutes that usually make the negative statement false.

The key in the replacement process is to make the positive statement specific. This lodges in the brain better and longer than any general statement. So instead of replacing “I’m no good,” with “I’m good,” replace it with a specific like, “I’m really good at making new friends.” As long as the positive statement is true (we don’t want to lie to ourselves) this will attach itself to our thinking much more quickly than some other generalization.

Do this with each negative thought you identify throughout your day. Write down the corresponding, specific positive thought. If you do this for a week you will end up with a list of positive affirmations about who you are and what you are capable of. Say them to yourself out loud each morning, noon, and night. Within days of this practice these statements will become part of your belief system and get you acting on the changes you want to make.

You should be realizing that change is not too hard if we have a strategy with which to work. If we start to work at changes on the outermost and easiest levels we can see progress much more quickly. With that encouragement we can then move on to the deeper levels.

Change At The Identity Level

In this last phase of our strategy we are dealing with change at a very deep level: our identity. Change at this level takes effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! We’ve seen changes take place on other levels: environment, capability, behavior, and belief. Identity is just one level deeper. Each of these levels takes us closer to our core being. There is one level deeper than our identity at which change can take place and that’s the spiritual level. But whether or not that level exists can be debated and so, is outside of the scope of this article.

Change at both the identity and spiritual levels are not just changes, they are transformations! If we are going to be transformed then we need to wrestle with some tough questions. Those questions include: Who am I? and what’s my purpose in life? Now although answering those questions may not lead us into any quick changes, they do begin to clarify our direction, and if our direction is clear then we can proceed down the road. Transformation happens as we proceed on that journey. Transformation takes action.

Realize that changing our identity is really just gaining an understanding of who we have always been from the start, and setting out on a course of action that facilitates becoming that person. Start by making a list of your character traits. List as many as you can. Then go to three people that know you well and ask them to give you a list of your character traits. Did you miss any on your own list? Did you list things that others didn’t mention? Ask yourself why. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.

There are three things that often get in the way of our expression of who we truly are. The first is our internal vision of our perfect self. This is an ideal that we would like to attain but usually don’t. This limits us by making us always feel inferior. We never live up to the ideal and so we’re always down. Realize that this process is normal and natural and give yourself a break. As long as you are diligently working on changing things in the other areas we’ve discussed, you are doing all that you can to express who you are, right now. As long as you are committed to a course of constant improvement you will move closer to this ideal. Finding flaws along the way is part of the process.

Another thing that clouds our identity is the limiting thoughts and beliefs that we hold about ourselves. We’ve dealt with this at the belief level. At this point you should have a pretty good handle on changing your thoughts and controlling your beliefs so that you are moving in a positive direction.

A third thing that clouds our true identity is dealing with feelings effectively. Life throws lots of punches at us and we don’t often bounce back into the same shape. We get deformed and often limp down the road. Search your heart for feelings that have been left unattended and seek to resolve those before moving ahead. Unresolved anger and not forgiving others can hold you back and influence your expression of who you are in a very negative way. Dealing with this facet of limitation could need the help of a trusted friend or professional counselor.

Working at transforming your identity requires time alone in reflection. Take some time each week to do this. Ask yourself, “What is my positive purpose in life?” Listen quietly and see what you hear. Write down any thoughts or images that come to mind. Are all of your efforts and actions directed at fulfilling that purpose? If not, what actions have been leading you away from your purpose? What actions have been a distraction? Work at minimizing these and you will gain clarity of purpose.

Change doesn’t have to be an impossible affair. If we approach it with a consistent strategy we can accomplish most changes on our own, and with a little help from others we can change most facets of our life to get us out of our routines and ruts. We are complex animals as human beings. But that complexity can be simplified if broken down into its component parts, analyzed and worked with consistent effort over time.

One definition of “life” is “an entity that is changing.” If we take this definition literally that means that we are by very nature always changing if we are alive. Our culture, society and peers may tell us otherwise but these opinions don’t have to be the final authority on our lives. Choosing to change today is making a choice to become alive, adapting and impacting your environment for good.

The New Rules Of Engagement

The best leaders are sensing that the old leadership model, “command and control,” dominant in the last century, isn’t cutting it these days. Employees are looking for something more from leadership than just a paycheck in this new millennium. Here are four rules that your team is asking you to play by.

1 Engage me as a whole human being.

I’m a professional and I have a particular set of skills, sure. But I’m also a father, husband, son of aging parents, homeowner, mortgage holder, and bassist for my rock band on the weekends. Get to know me, because all of these things have their effect on me, both positive and negative. It’s not always easy to shut out the rest of my life and perform at my best. I’m not a machine. I’m a whole worker, bringing all that I am to the game. Maybe my musical talent can influence our next project.

2 Inspire me to do my best work ever.

I’m assuming you’re paying me a fair wage and benefits so let’s take that one off the table. We all need more than that, though. I need to hear from you what the complete vision for this project is and why you think it’s worth doing. How are we going to do something great for the world here? Show me how my piece is vital and important. I need to be inspired.

3 Don’t let your position get in the way of our collaboration.

Okay, you have the title. You’re the lead, the boss. I get it and respect that. But don’t let it go to your head. We’re a team here. You’re more than my production monitor leaning in only when you want me to pick up the pace. We can do our best if we work together. If we work side by side, maybe some of your wisdom and expertise will rub off on me. And don’t forget to let me know when I’m doing a good job. A little praise can go a long way.

4 Be open and honest.

There is something that your position can do for me. You can have my back. If you want me to do my best work ever, be my wingman. Guard me from the politics, drama, and disingenuous posers that can slow me down. Use your power for good, and keep a healthy environment circulating among our team members. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Management: From Commanding to Collaborating

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to conduct leadership-training workshops with hundreds of middle managers across the country. It was a great experience to see and hear what was happening with corporate management on the front lines of American business.

The number one issue that came up in almost every session was compliance. At almost every workshop someone would ask, “How can I get my workers to do what I’m asking them to do?”

Leadership in American business is changing rapidly for a number of reasons. The days of “command and control” are waning; new models of management and team productivity are on the rise. This is for a number of reasons.

Someone once said that authority is like soap: The more you use it, the less you have. We are living with multiple generations of workers who have grown up with the mandate to “question authority.” It’s having its effect on corporate leadership. It’s a part of our business culture now.

Another significant reason that workers are not blindly following the chain of command is because they have ideas of their own. In the past, this wasn’t encouraged, but today with all that we’re learning about team dynamics and worker productivity, utilizing this resource has proven to be effective at increasing worker engagement and satisfaction (#WholeWorker).

But the change in leadership perception goes deeper. Twenty-first century leadership is not so much about commanding as it is about communication and collaboration. As we look back on the latter half of the twentieth century with 21st century eyes, it seems naïve to think that we believed that leader was predominately defined as the person who commanded the rest. Leadership, at its very heart, means being out front. It means going somewhere that others want to go.

There’s a measure of health coming into many project teams today. Most of that health is coming to those who realize that we’re all in this effort together, each with a significant part to play. Understanding how those parts function together helps us reap the rewards of better productivity and worker satisfaction.

 

Learning From Charlottesville

The events over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA, and our president’s response—besides the obvious and important racial issues it raises—shows how deep we are in the trough of declining emotional intelligence (EQ) today.

There’s no doubt that EQ is waning across America. The violence, lack of civility, and disregard for others is evidence of this. The question is, when will we realize that we are a people in need of help?

At the heart of EQ training is the concept of empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. That only happens when we begin to listen and step into another’s shoes and see things from their point of view. We seem to have lost this capacity.

In the business world we seem to be more concerned with profits than any other business parameter. Layoffs, downsizing, and reduced benefits are de rigueur. Walking in the shoes of the employee has gotten lost.

Back in the eighties John Naisbitt wrote in his bestselling book, Megatrends, that as technology encroached on every facet of our lives we would need to offset this trend with a more deliberate human touch. He coined the term high tech—high touch. For every advancement in technology we need to make an equally deliberate advancement in our human connections.

Not surprisingly, many companies are realizing that an emotionally healthy employee is a productive employee. Companies like Aetna, Akamai, and Concur are leading the way in bringing the whole worker into the office. Providing for the various needs of workers (physical, emotional, and even spiritual) outside of their specific job function is bringing with it a commensurate increase in worker satisfaction, engagement, and, not surprisingly, profitability.

There are ways to get the job done that can benefit all in the employer-employee relationship. Thinking profit over all else is a 20th-century modality that, I believe, will look like an ancient artifact before long. Let’s wake up, learn, and seek the help we need to grow emotionally healthy people, companies, and societies.