I didn’t see that coming!

If you ride a motorcycle, you are keenly aware of the danger of rolling along in the blind spot of the car or truck in front of you. To a lesser degree, drivers of cars (or cages, as we like to call them) pay attention to blind spots as well.

Last week, on my early morning ride to work, I was reminded again of the importance of managing for other people’s blind spots. As I approached in the left lane a red, late model, sedan trolling in the right lane, the driver wandered slightly over the line at exactly the moment I entered her blind spot. I saw her drifting my way and was able to maneuver smoothly and avoid the hazard. Then, as she became aware of my rumbling, Harley Davidson presence, she looked up from her phone, twitched her shoulders, and jerked the steering wheel to the right, overcorrecting her mistake before gesturing apologetically as I passed. Her expression suggested that her adrenal glands were working well. I was, once again, keenly aware that I am responsible for managing other people’s blind spots.

As I continued the ride, I pondered my responsibility to do that in other situations. Blind spots, by definition, cannot be recognized easily. Sometimes they are structural: she could not see through the metal side posts of her car. Perhaps you work across the building, or country, from your team mate. Sometimes they are mental: she wasn’t expecting a motorcycle. Perhaps your expectations actually create blindness for you. And, sometimes, blind spots are there because of habits: she didn’t habitually look in her mirror, turn her head, signal, and only then begin to change lanes. Maybe your habits cause you to overlook early indications of opportunity or challenge. Regardless of the source of the blind spots, the results are always the same. “I didn’t even see that coming!” All of us have had this experience many times.

When riding in a group, especially one comprised of experienced riders who know one another well, shared responsibility for managing blind spots all but eliminates them. We watch each other, comment on riding ability, warn and signal when hazards approach, collectively sharpen our skills, and therefore our enjoyment, each time we ride.

My work teams are just like that. We get to know the structural, mental, and habitual blind spots of our teammates and take personal responsibility for managing their blind spots. In every high performance team I have had the joy of experiencing, this practice has made us stronger and more effective. And, it glues us together. Each time we point out and adjust for blind spots, our team grows. Incrementally, our willingness to receive candid feedback, even criticism, grows and so does our trust. We get better at our work. We win more often, and winning makes us want more of what it takes to win.

So, rather than trying to overcome my blind spots alone, I’ve learned to be a little more open to help from others on my team when they point them out to me. I’m learning to rely more on them to help manage the deficits as well. I know I have them and can change my habits and restructure my life a little to help, but I also know that some of my blind spots will continue to exist. So, I need my team to help me manage them. And, I do the same for them.

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Entering a blind spot. I’m responsible for managing the blind spot. Most of the time, the driver won’t.

Thankfully, Drifting Donna in her red sedan didn’t get angry and aggressive when she finally saw me. She didn’t lash out, embarrassed by yet another example of something large, shiny, loud, and well-lit unexpectedly entering her world. She corrected, apologized, and moved on. I want to have the same grace with my team when they honk at me about my blind spots. It’s a lesson I continually learn.

And, Drifting Donna’s left side door was dented. Leaving me wondering if she, like me, learns slowly.

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Circus of Outrage, in 5 Stages

Outrage sells.  Or, at minimum, it gets attention.

On my way through (yet another) airport recently, I heard a shrill voice rising above the din of a crowded terminal.  And, for a moment, several hundred people in proximity to the shouts paused, looked and listened. Upon identifying the source of the outrage, and her ticket agent target, the throng’s attention moved on to more pressing and personal matters.

I, however, lingered at a distance to observe as the act unfolded in five stages.

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This is not the traveler I describe, but the sentiment is captured perfectly by my friend Ashley.

The traveler passed quickly and dramatically through the various stages of Grief and Loss identified by Elisabeth Kubler Ross.   First she denied the reality that her plane left without her.  Dramatic flourish! Second, she became histrionic in her anger.  Clearly, she had practiced this level of outrage many times.  I guessed that even at the height of her display of rage, her heart rate barely climbed above normal.  Her anger and offense seemed more like a tool than a genuine reaction to injustice.

Third, she moved to bargaining, offering alternating smiles and curses (literal curses on the ticket agent’s day and career advancement opportunities) with such deftness and ease as to leave me enthralled and wishing I had popcorn.

When the reality of her options dawned, as reality has a way of doing with all of us, the traveler’s shoulders sagged, her bag dropped to the ground and she sunk into the fourth stage—depression—accompanied by full-blown dramatic pronouncements of her status as a powerless Victim.

While the traveler was fascinating and predictable, as with any good drama, it was the Alaska Airlines ticket agent who was the calm, respectful, powerful hero that captured my attention.  Lisa was a seasoned professional with 20 years of experience behind the counter and atop a jetway. Her blue-grey eyes twinkled with apparent inner joy and her smile remained genuine throughout the show.  So, when the traveler passed from depression (in about 45 seconds) to the final stage of the drama—acceptance—again, complete with a dramatic flourish, Lisa was able to gracefully move, unmanipulated, to the next tasks on her list.

When I stepped up to the counter and told Lisa how impressed I was at her abilities, she smiled broadly and said, “Well sir, I’m just a ringmaster in a circus of outrage.  It’s a show, it’s rarely real, and some of the performers are better trained than others.”    I laughed, shook her hand and headed for my gate.

But, the “circus of outrage” stuck with me.  That picture gave me a way of thinking about the use of pretended outrage and anger as a tool in our culture.  Perhaps we’ve learned how to get off the stage and use drama and pseudo-passion too well and too often.  I see it in the workplace, in the marketplace, in and on the courts.  Drama is a substitute for significance.  Ranchers don’t go to the circus.  In the absence of effectiveness, we crave the appearance of effectiveness.  Results, real results, are deeply rewarding.  They are worthy of celebration.  In their absence we are left craving drama.

Lisa, the Ringmaster in a Circus of Outrage, actually gets results.  And, I’d guess that is what keeps her engaged and delightful.  So, notice the drama, watch the Circus of Outrage, but remember that it hides a backstage of emptiness and futility.

And, pass the popcorn.

Sunday Afternoons

For years, Sunday afternoons are my time. I look forward to those few hours when my life, and the world in which it unfolds, finds a brief opportunity to pause, celebrate, plan, dream. I don’t recall exactly when it began, but the ritual has been the source of many insights, pivots and redoubled intentions.

This Sunday ritual begins with my choice of the best Scotch and cigar pairing. Then, I settle into a conscious and focused reminder of the very few things that really matter. Looking ahead at the coming week, I deliberately make time in my calendar for the most important things first. It’s a great way to end, and then begin, the week.

Then, part way through the ritual, I am joined by my son Jonathan. Together, we sip Scotch or Bourbon, create clouds of cigar smoke, recalibrate our hearts and minds, and dream. Often, after a couple of hours, we are joined by the next wave of love in the form of my daughter, grandson, daughter-in-law and more. It is always the best part of my week. The discipline of evaluation, the decisiveness of planning, the divergent dreaming all merge with a cloud of Nicaraguan tobacco smoke to drive me to success.

As I’ve shared the details of my ritual with friends, team members, and other leaders, rather than inquiring about the impact of this discipline, they invariably ask one question: What Scotch do you like?

So, here they are: my current five favorite sips paired with just the right cigar. In my humble opinion, these pairings are sublime.

Ardbeg 21 with a Florez Y Rodriquez Tamboril
Macallen 15 (Fine Oak) with a Partigas Black Label Piramide (6 x60)
Bruichladdich Octamore (any of them) with a Liga Privada from Drew Estates
Lagavulin 16 with an Obsidian Robusto
Balvenie 12 Double Oak with Drew Estates’ Kuba Kuba

Enjoy!

 

The Danger of Safety

Recently I attended the memorial service of my 85 year old father-in-law George. Held outside in severe weather, it was moving in unexpected ways. The cold wind and rain did not chill or dampen the smiles of those in attendance as they remembered his long life.

At one point the pastor, in a clumsy attempt at humor, remarked that George’s love of motorcycles was unwise and unsafe. The implied “Shame on him!” was obvious. Even though he was aware that many of the attendees were avid riders, including several of us from Rottweiler Motorcycle Company, the pastor forged on, awkwardly lecturing about the dangers of riding. I think he used the word “unsafe” six times. I couldn’t help but imagine George saying, “Aw, c’mon. I made it to 85, so I think riding is safe enough!”

This thought, along with the pastor’s extended bloviating puffery, made my thoughts wander to the overrated idea of safety. And to the nervous pursuit of security. Especially as it is used to justify one’s current habits and comfort.

When is safety essential? When is the compulsion for safety actually dangerous? When is standing still, or hiding, or retreating, or saving more dangerous than moving, advancing, spending? We know that making that decision alone is, in itself, unsafe. We know that a secure base makes for a better life. If I have a safe group of people with whom I create and build, I am grounded and perhaps the need for a risk-free life is overrated.

Safety with my teams, with my family, is essential. We know that groups of people in companies, for example, who have interpersonal safety are about 700% (yes, seven hundred percent) more productive over a ten year period than those who feel implicitly insecure and threatened.

We know that safety in groups arises from a deep sense of belonging, from highly energetic interactions, and from assurance that the group will endure over time.
(MIT Human Dynamics Labs, Sandy Pentlon).

The outcomes that arise from groups with high levels of interpersonal safety are often transformational. We also know that, while the groups provide relational safety, they do not create risk-free environments. High impact groups are safe, but they are not risk-free. In fact, safe groups take more risks than groups without internal safety. Their risks are calculated. They know the opportunities are huge, and the risks high. But, because they are welded together like families, they take the risks. Safe groups threaten the status quo. Safe groups transform cultures, markets, societies. Safe groups make much of today unsafe.

Safe groups don’t look safe. Especially to those on the outside. They look terrifying. Much like riding a 103ci motorcycle at 70 mph down the highway, these groups look dangerous. But, they are behaviorally engineered to perform. But, they all send “signals” to one another that they are safe.

Interpersonally safe groups take risks because they have specific behaviors that signal safety. These signals arise from a belief that 1.) the work is important and, 2.) it’s impossible to complete without every member of the team. These “belonging behaviors” (Coyle, 2018) that weld the family together include

1. Physical Proximity: Members are physically close together as they do their work, play, and celebrate. Their personal space is very small. Groups that are physically separated rarely achieve belongingness and safety. Virtual groups never will. Sorry for those of you who have built your work on virtual groups, but they will never be “safe” and therefore capable of taking massive, high potential risks.
2. Eye Contact: They look at each other a lot. Healthy, safe and high performing groups look at each other, especially when they are in conflict. In our assessment of groups, one of the first behaviors we notice is eye contact. Little eye contact equals an unhealthy group. It’s that simple.
3. Energy: They have high energy, especially when listening to others on the team. And, being together fosters high energy. When they are tired, they want to be together.
4. Mimicry: They imitate each other. When they see behaviors that work, they adopt them quickly. They also use mimicry as a warm, humorous way to bond with each other. And, the imitation is not perceived by the subject as a slight, but rather as a sign of love.
5. Turn-taking: In everything from taking turns speaking and listening to taking the kitchen garbage out to taking on the next difficult task, vital groups demonstrate a rhythm that balances out work over a period of time. The leader washes dishes, too.
6. Attention: Focus on details and paying attention is a hallmark behavior of groups that create safety. Subtle changes, significant moments, shifts in perspective are noted openly.
7. Body Language is inclusive, open, energetic and respectful. Body language telegraphs the message that “you are important and I want to be here.”
8. Vocal Pitch: Cues are optimistic and authentically enthusiastic. Eeyore tones are non-existent, even in the face of massive threats. Debbie-the-Downer has little influence.
9. Consistency of Emphasis: From priorities to speech patterns, the vital group begins to develop a similar emphasis. Passions rise and fall about the same things. Passions are mirrored just as behavior is mirrored.
10. Everyone Talks to Everyone: There are no communication or thematic hierarchies. No awkwardly interrupted or encoded conversations. No “out of bounds” or “none of your business” responses.

Overall, vital groups that create their own culture have high energy, admire the individual, and are committed to keeping the group together into the future. They are interpersonally safe. And, from that strong base, the adventure springs.

It occurred to me at George’s memorial service that, as long as I have safety in my groups, I can continually advance into risky arenas. In fact, that is why I’ve been able to take the leap time after time. Conversely, if my group is unsafe, I will crave pseudo-security in other, more controllable spheres. I will begin to sound like the pastor who chided us all for living so dangerously and immorally (implied, but clearly so) by riding motorcycles.

In another blog post, I will share some observations about how safety is created. But, for now, it’s worth noticing if these belonging behaviors are present in your most important groups.

And, if you have a safe and strong group, you will be able to create adventure wherever you go. In fact, you will be compelled to do so.

 

The Road Less Traveled

Although a fan of the poetic, I’m not widely read in The Poets. A slow and deliberate mental pace, a willingness to enjoy the impractical, and a high tolerance for pretension is required if one is to really enjoy most poetry. (Note the sarcasm.)

But of the eight Poets I’ve read, Robert Frost is my favorite. And, to me, The Road Not Taken is the best of the best. Pondering his choice of pathway, the Traveler writes,

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And it made all the difference.”

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A Sunday Morning Walk with My Sisters

The beginning of the poem, the Traveler writes, “long I stood,” considering his choice. That’s the beautiful thing. Those long moments when we see our choices clearly laid out, but cannot see their eventual outcome. I’m grateful for those diverging roads. Grateful when I see the invitation to pause and think about the future yet to be created. In fact, I’m drawn to those moments in my life, the lives of my family, and of my teams and companies. For much of my life, I’ve been enthralled by the less traveled road. When everyone stampedes to the left, I’m drawn to the right. When everyone sells, I think it’s time to buy. When others stay up late, I rise early.

Admittedly, the first few hundred steps (or days) along the less traveled path are lonely and bleak. I question myself, my wisdom, my courage, my sanity. Apparitions of failures rise up and impede my steps. But, even when I stumble, look back, and long for the smooth, well-traveled road, I cannot bring myself to retrace the trail back to comfort. The lure of small future adventure always wins over the inertia of current comfort. Always.

What modest choice of pathway, with grand vistas of opportunity (or failure), presented itself to you today? Consider Robert Frost’s wisdom. And, it will make all the difference.

Unexpected Gift of the Pause

Yesterday was the perfect day for a ride. The weather was as bright and inviting as my blank calendar.  So, I manufactured several errands, put on my new boots, slid on the most comfortable helmet I owned and started my motorcycle.

The last thing I do before setting out on a ride of any length is to pause, bike in neutral rumbling beneath me, check the mirrors and take a long, deep breath. Relaxed, focused, smiling, I shift into first gear, ease the clutch, twist the throttle, and I’m free.

Yesterday’s ride did not disappoint.  As always, the trip reveals as much about me as about the space between stops and towns.  And yesterday’s did not disappoint.

On a particularly beautiful stretch of narrow road, winding along the rugged shoreline of the Puget Sound, I slowed, downshifted and braked behind an early model blue Fire Explorer.  Well, I think it was blue under a decade of dirt and moss.

The driver, head barely visible, drove cautiously, brake lights illuminated, at half the speed limit.  Half. For miles. Old Explorer

I’m a big fan of passing people.  It’s a sport. I also like guessing what the driver looks like before overtaking. I think drivers should match their vehicles. It’s a thing. I’m not judging, just observing. (Okay, sometimes I judge.)

But, nothing remotely approaching a safe, or safe-ish, opportunity to pass Filthy Frank’s Ford, so I stayed behind.  For a hundred miles. Or, maybe a mile.  Time moved as slowly as he did.

And, I became impatient. Then, irritated. My jaw tightened, my gaze intensified, and my hands clenched. My full-face helmet covered my one-sided conversation. Places to go! People to see!  What is your deal? How unaware are you??

After another hundred miles (or yards), it occurred to me that this reality-enforced slow down might be a gift.  I was not actually in a hurry to be anywhere or to see anyone.  Everything in my day on this ride was optional. So, I took another deep breath, hung back another 50 feet, relaxed my grip, and noticed. I noticed the sky, the shore at low tide, the spring blossoms. I noticed the smell of fresh, salty air and of a barbecue.  Saw a father and daughter standing on a dock as the little girl waved. I enjoyed the perfect rumble of the bike beneath me.

Eventually, Filthy Frank’s Ford slowed more and turned right cautiously, ever so cautiously, down a side road. As he did, I felt vaguely grateful for the gift he imposed on me. And, I was reminded again that constraints can be good.

As his mossy Explorer disappeared, I did not feel the urge to roll the throttle and test the limits of physics again. Rather, I found myself doing what I set out to do. I simply enjoyed the ride.

Today, you may encounter slow moving people, plans or projects.  Perhaps the constraint imposed by others is a gift.  For now.

Focus on Where You Want to Be

See the obstacles. Look at them and then look past them. Prepare for corners by slowing down a little.  Look where you want to be.  Look as far ahead as you can. Accelerate through the corner. Lean in. Trust the bike.

Most riders prefer, indeed live for, corners. A winding, sloping road is always better than a flat, wide straightaway.

Roads, and rides, that demand all of my attention, all of my focus and skill, are a thing a beauty.  Inspiring. Engaging. Invigorating.

Inexperienced riders forget to slow slightly before corners. They fixate on obstacles and think, “Don’t hit the pothole. Don’t hit the pothole.”  Thump!  They hit the pothole.  Target fixation is what we call this behavior.  It’s never good. Looking at an object results in small adjustments in balaTriumph Bonnience, small changes in focus.  And, when we look at obstacles we want to avoid, this phenomenon results in bad outcomes.

Life feels like a ride. The corners are better than mind-numbing routine. Uphill, worthwhile work that demands total focus, total engagement, is worth all the effort it requires.

But, like the ride, I’ve learned to slow down before corners, see the obstacles, look at where I want to be rather than at what I need to avoid, lean in, and power through.

The ride has taught me to be clear about my goals.  And, it’s taught me to prepare for corners, glance at obstacles without fixating on them, trust and power through.

Enjoy the ride.