Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Man Overboard!

May 19, 2011

“You can only ever become bored, when you no longer follow your heart.”  ~Mike Dooley

A series of ear-splitting bells split the afternoon air, followed by “Man overboard!  Drill, Drill, Drill!”  All around us the crew spring into action, shifting from whatever they were doing to pre-set roles, as gracefully as a professional dancer moving from a ballet to a Samba.  Over the next 15 minutes we witness the crew of the sailing schooner Adventuress hone their individual and collective skill to respond to emergencies.  I am moved – to tears – each time I witness the crew in action like this.  They are doing work they love, with people they respect, for the sake of things that matter deeply to them.  And I cannot help being moved, though I confess I hide behind my sunglasses and the viewfinder of my camera.

Hauling away to raise the sail.

Observing all of this, from the viewpoint of a group of civic and corporate leaders in training, we get a glimpse of something I believe we all seek: A Purpose Driven life.  In my experience, the heads and hearts of the crew are fully engaged in work they love.  Their commitment to each other, the boat, and their passengers, is one I am repeatedly inspired by.

For context, this drama unfolds aboard the floating national historic landmark – the schooner Adventuress.  This beautiful sailing ship measures over 100’ long, her rig reaches 110’ into the sky, and she carries roughly 5,500 square feet of canvas sails.  She is also nearing her 100th birthday.  It takes a crew of 12 – mostly volunteers – to sail her, and thousands of hours every winter to maintain and restore her.  Last winter alone she absorbed 5,000 volunteer hours plus roughly 10,000 paid hours by skilled shipwrights practicing their ancient craft.

The Adventuress is owned, operated, and is being lovingly restored, by the non-profit Sound Experience.  Their mission is to “educate, inspire and empower,” for the sake of a sustainable future for Puget Sound.  And the Adventuress is their platform for furthering this mission.  (www.soundexp.org)

Betsy climbs the rigging on the main mast.

Viewed through a different lens, the Adventuress is the physical manifestation of a massive pool of human energy – expressed in the form of Love, Passion, and Purpose.  Channeled into a wooden sailing vessel.  And formed into an organizational culture that fosters exceptional teamwork, models deep respect (for people, boat, and planet), and embodies purpose-driven work.  Their heart’s are in the game.  Fully.

Thank you Adventuress crew and staff.  You always dazzle and touch us!  Safe sailing!

This is our Leadership Journey, Pacific Northwest style.  To learn more check out a recent article in Seattle Business Magazine featuring this program.  (link here)

Reflection questions: If you followed your heart for the next 24 hours, what would you do differently?  Who would you be?  How would you treat those that grace your day?  What would you say YES to?  Who and what would you not take for granted?  What would you say that you haven’t been saying?  To others?  To yourself?

The combined Ascent and Adventuress Crew!

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Adventure

August 26, 2010

I have been blessed by a life full of adventure.  But what exactly is an adventure?

Dictinary.com says….

1. an exciting or very unusual experience.
2. participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.
3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
When I think of adventure, the key elements that come to mind are:
1) the outcome is unknown, and cannot be fully controlled.
2) my limits will be tested, and therefore I will better know what my real limits are and what are perceived limits.
3) I will get to know myself better.  mentally.  physically.  emotionally.
4) I will discover and know my true power and experience deep “aliveness.”
At this moment I am at the airport, about to depart on an Adventure.  A 6-day, 560 mile (20,000′ of elevation gain) bike ride across the Rocky Mountains (Missoula, MT to Lander, WY).  One of my buddies just arrived and I can just feel his aliveness and excitement.  He is almost glowing.  He was telling me a story about getting ready for our journey when he paused and said, “there was this moment where I just had to let go.  And then everything was fine.”
There you have it.  Wish us luck.
Do you have enough adventure in your life?  What would you have to risk or give up to step into something that scares and excites you?  What might you gain?
<<click on link below to download a map of our ride>>
Tour de Rockies map

What Drives YOU?

June 25, 2010

Autonomy.

Mastery.

Purpose.

According to author Daniel Pink (in his book DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us) these are the 3 factors that really drive people.  Pink’s perspective resonates with both my personal experience and my work with people.  Once we make enough money to meet our basic needs, it isn’t money that actually drives us.

Autonomy — The desire to be self directed.  We don’t want to be told what to do, we want to feel like the authors of our own lives.  We want to be challenged to bring our unique gifts to solving interesting problems.

Mastery — The urge to get better at stuff.  We get a sense of satisfaction from learning and getting good at things.

Purpose — The need to make a contribution.  At the end of the day we feel good about ourselves and our efforts if we feel like we made a real contribution to something.  Or someone.

Want to learn more?  Buy Daniel’s book or check out this really cool 11 min animated video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc (I guarantee you’ll find it worth 11 mins of your time.)

What motivates YOU?  Why do you work?  What leaves you most fulfilled at the end of the day?  How aligned is your life/work with what you care most about?

Look how much we have lost

May 18, 2010

We have just returned from leading a 10 day Leadership Journey to Ecuador (http://www.ascentinstitute.com/news/tlj.html).

Christina and John chatting in Puanchir's home (c)2010 Scott Stout

At one point during our journey we were sleeping under mosquito nets on the uneven dirt floor of the village shaman’s house, deep in the Amazonian rainforest.  In the morning, I was chatting with our Ecuadorian guide Christina when she said something that landed with a profound impact: “Look how little they have; look how much we have lost.”

Puanchir, Ishpingo village, Achuar Territory, Ecuador (c)2010 John M. McConnell

To put that statement in context: we are in the home of Puanchir, a man whose entire collection of belongings adds up to less than any one of us has brought with us for a two day visit.  He began his life as a warrior, fighting to protect his family from nearby marauding tribes.  He was present when the first missionaries arrived, bringing with them medicine, education, religion, and the radical change of moving from scattered home sites into small villages.  He went on to become the village healer, learning the traditional ways of using plants and ancient ceremonies to heal mind, body and spirit.  His village is on a dirt airstrip where light planes occasionally come and go, but he has never left the rainforest, nor seen the ocean, a town, or even a mountain.

Despite these drastic changes (all in one lifetime!) he remains fiercely committed to preserving the traditional ways, yet open to the knowledge and benefits of what the developed world offers.

Puanchir generously offered to share his home and to do a ceremonial healing for us, and he welcomed our support for his own physical ailments (he is in his 70’s but doesn’t know his exact age as there were no calendars during the first 1/2 of his life).  He has had essentially no “western” health care in his lifetime.

Puanchir does spend every single day with his family.  His life is sustainable and in harmony with his surroundings.  He works when he needs to and he naps/relaxes whenever he chooses.  He is so attuned to his body and the natural rhythms of life around him that he can sense animals and insects without seeing them.  He can hit a banana at 10 meters with the dart from a 10′ long blowgun.  He is committed to preserving the natural environment, not as an abstract idea but rather because he knows that a healthy environment is essential to a sustainable future. For everything and everyone.

He knows the legacy he is leaving for his family and village.  We witnessed him coaching the young men from the village with a balance of his fierce commitment to preserving the traditional knowledge and a patient and loving presence.  Most importantly, and despite the fact that at his age he lives with constant pain, the biggest gift that Puanchir gave us was his laughter.  We couldn’t help but join the giggling whenever he started to chuckle.  Some forms of human communication are universal and need no translation.

No one, least of all me, would suggest that we abandon our modern homes and move into thatched huts.  Yet I do long to experience and be much of what Puanchir has in his life.  Deep daily connection with family and community.  Knowing clearly his purpose in life.  Peace with who he is and who he isn’t.  Freedom from the damaging myth that we are independent — he knows we are all one.  Understanding that he already has enough.

***More posts re: our Journey to Ecuador coming soon.***

For more pictures of our journey visit: http://homepage.mac.com/jmac999/JourneyEcuador/index.html

Leadership Journey to Ecuador 2010, Ishpingo, Ecuador. (c)2010 Virginia Rhoads

Laughing While Falling

March 4, 2010

I just returned from my annual ski trip with some buddies.  We had a few days of skiing in beautiful Telluride, CO.

the boyz in Telluride

My objectives when skiing are generally to: Have fun and enjoy my friends.

When I take a closer look, however, I see that I am also trying to:

1) Look good, and…

2) Avoid falling down

When I do fall I tend to get frustrated.  I try to analyze what I did wrong, I make excuses to myself, or think “I should ski something easier so I don’t fall.”

JK having fun, falling or not!

This changed, at one point during our trip, when I took a minute to watch my friend and colleague Johnny K as he skis.  I noticed something really strange.  HE LAUGHS WHILE HE FALLS DOWN!  He is actually having fun in the midst of crashing!  Check him out in this picture…he hasn’t even finished crashing and he is looking up and laughing!  And then it struck me — this is consistent with how he lives his life.

Seeing him laugh while crashing — he really goes for it when he skis — opened up a whole new possibility for me.  First, I saw that if I wasn’t falling I wasn’t going for it.  Second, I saw that in trying to look good and not fall I was undermining my ability to ski at my best — trying NOT to do something makes me tense, tight and fearful.  Most importantly, skiing this way is less fun.

So, in the spirit of a good Johnny K head-over-heels crash, I ask you:

1) where are you taking yourself too seriously?

2) where are you trying to look good or not fail, at the expense of achieving your dreams, goals and aspirations?

3) what could you gain if you brought a focus of fun, laughter and learning to what you are doing?

Have fun…and go for it!

John M finally having fun in the midst of a wipeout.

Surrender to Destiny

February 11, 2010

Have you read the inspiring true story of Greg Mortenson’s journey from dirtbag mountaineer to builder of schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan? If you haven’t, I recommend that you give his books a read (first “Three Cups of Tea,” then read “Stones Into Schools”).

From my perspective, his story is one of being in the flow of his life, of paying attention to what emerges, and of following his heart and his instincts when opportunities presented themselves. Mind you, these “opportunities” came in form of unplanned, unwanted, and uncomfortable events.  Yet he surrenders, again and again, to what feels right, to the next thing he sees to do.  He often doesn’t know exactly where he is going, he just knows the next step.

It would be easy to say he simply let’s his destiny unfold, but I think it is more accurate to say he keeps being a fierce stand for the possibilities that his destiny has presented to him.  This process takes courage — as in the courage to know who we really are.  It takes conviction — as in being unstoppable in the face of circumstances.  It requires us to look beyond our own comfort and desires — as in true impact and deep fulfillment always come when serving others rather than our own personal preferences.

What is your destiny?  Why are you here?  What is the contribution you see that you are here to make?  How is that aligned with what you find most fulfilling?  If you surrender to the gifts you have, and the callings you feel, where will that lead you?  Are you willing to let go enough to allow this path to unfold?

Human DOING

December 10, 2009

[Post by John McConnell]

I have been going full tilt now for several months.  Really fully engaged in my work, my play, my family, my life.  It feels really good.

Yesterday I was scrambling to pull together the final details for our first newsletter, while packing for a trip to California, while attending to few client needs, while planning my holiday gift buying, while…. you get the picture.  Sound familiar?

On the one hand I love it.  I am so plugged in right now.  Generating, learning, sharing, doing, checking things off the list….  On the other hand, I think I lost the OFF switch.  As I boarded the plane I pulled out my laptop thinking “if I can just get one more thing done…”  And then I stopped.  And I FELT IT.  That state of being where I am no longer BEING, but rather stuck in the DOING mode.  I am a HUMAN DOING!

So what did I do?  I finished that one thing.  I kept pushing, even though some part of me was saying, “whoa, its time to slow down for bit.”  And I’m doing it right now.  Posting this blog as my last action before going into a 3-day training to continue my own personal and professional development.  I am choosing that.  Given what I am committed to right now it feels right to me.

That said, I know I am close to the point where I will lose the ability to CHOOSE.  I’ll be stuck in GO/GO/GO mode.  Historically I know that I’ll do that until something makes me stop.  Usually for me that involves getting hurt or sick.  So, I take a moment to breathe.  Stretch my shoulders.  Soften my eyes and brow.

Doing is so seductive.  Yet whatever I get done there will be another thing to do.  Fortunately, the training I am going into will help me slow down.  I am committed to slow down.  Do a Sudoku, take a nap, take a walk, take a bath.  Call my wife and tell her I love her.  It is time for me to bring my BEING self back to life.

How about you? Are you choosing your pace of doing or is it choosing you?  What are the unintended consequences your current pace?  How are you balancing the doing with the being?  What action or inaction might you do for a few minutes or a day to slow down, recharge, renew?  What little actions can you take in the midst of the doing?  My favorite on-the-fly techniques are: pause and take a deep breath; soften my eyes/brow; smile; think about something or someone I love; remind myself that I really do have all the time I need.

By the way, the project I was working so hard to push forward is our announcement of our new website and our latest offerings.  You can check it out here: http://www.ascentinstitute.com/news/ascent-news-2009-dec.html

We invite you to join us!

Declaration in Action

November 2, 2009

Arriving at the rock climbing gym a few days ago I found myself wondering what role fear would play in my climbing on this night.  Fear is a relevant and necessary part of climbing for all climbers.  At times it takes center stage and limits my ability to climb at my best.  Other times I am able to center myself such that the fear is simply in the background helping me stay alert to risks, neither limiting my abilities nor my enjoyment of the experience.

As I walked into the gym on this particular evening a crystal clear thought popped into my head.  “Tonight, I will climb without fear.”  This simple commitment set the stage for my evening of climbing.  At the beginning of each climb I repeated this mantra in my mind.

From this commitment I noticed that I moved more gracefully, breathed more freely, and remained relaxed in the midst of the efforting.

At one particular junction I was faced with a move that felt a little dicey.  A fall from here would be a bit scary and the holds felt tentative and difficult.  Typically at a spot like this my attention would go to my fear (“this hold doesn’t feel too good…a fall from here could be bad…I could just stop and rest on the rope…”).  Instead, the commitment “I will climb without fear” rang in my mind and I returned my attention to making the move.  Absent the hesitation and “monkey mind” that happen when I focus on my fears I moved decisively upward, easily making the move.

After I lowered off the climb both my climbing partner and I noticed that I had climbed with unusual grace and power.  The big grin on my face said it.

A simple declaration.  A powerful result.

Question: What simple declaration will call forth your best self and focus your attention on what you are committed to?  This could be a larger commitment like “I am a commitment to being an extraordinary leader.”  It could be very concrete: “I am a commitment to doubling my gross income.”  Or it could be something simple like “I am a commitment to having fun and laughing today.”

Banks Lake DWS

Deep water soloing (climbing over water), Banks Lake, WA.

Never stop learning

August 11, 2009

Learning is life.  Aliveness.  We are either learning, growing, evolving….or contracting, decaying, withering.  I’m not talking about learning a new tidbit while watching TV.  I am talking about stepping into discomfort, doing something you aren’t (yet) good, developing some new perspective or capacity.  All for the pure joy of feeling alive and thriving.  Draw a picture, learn an instrument, walk in your back yard and pay attention to the birds that live there, pick up a few words of your neighbors primary language, research something interesting on the web, learn to juggle.  It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you are learning.

When I was a kid one of my idols was Ringo Starr of the Beatles.  I wanted to play drums like I wanted to breathe.  I just had to.  For my 8th birthday my parents bought me a real snare drum.  They hired a college kid to give me lessons.  And guess what?  I discovered I have no natural sense of rhythm (something my wife will attest to when we hit the dance floor to this day!)  Learning felt painful, I wasn’t going to be the next Ringo Starr.  So I quit.  As I quit many other things that didn’t come easily or naturally.  Learning can be hard, scary, embarrassing or just plain boring at times.

But here is the thing.  All the research into brain development says that learning is critical for our health, joy, vitality, and overall well being.  Not long ago it was thought that the brain stops developing once we reach adulthood.  Now we know that simply is not true.  Our brains and bodies, our hands and our feet, they are all just longing to develop new neural pathways.  The process of learning keeps us young and vital.  And in order to learn we must develop our commitment and ability to step into the discomfort of doing something we aren’t already good at.

Learning is life.  Aliveness.  Just do it.

Questions:  What have you always wanted to learn?  What skill, language, idea or arena of knowledge have you thought would be fun or interesting?  For the sake of what would you continue to learn and grow?  How would you assess your ability to step into discomfort for the sake of learning something new?

Less BRAKING, more TRUSTING

August 5, 2009

The Tour De France, the most grueling event in sports (2241 miles ridden over 3 weeks), completed last week with an exciting finish in Paris.  The British sprinter Mark Cavendish had won some sprint stages but had never won the final sprint into Paris.  He wanted it BAD!  As they riders approached the last corner before the final straightaway Cavendish was in a virtual tie with the other top sprinters.  Coming out of that turn, however, he launched into the lead and ended up winning by 20 yards — in a race where the victor usually wins by inches.

How did he do this?

Looking at the video it becomes clear.  Cavendish did not touch his brakes as he rounded that final corner while his competitors lightly touched their brakes to maintain a feeling of safety and to hedge their bets against crashing.  This reflects a commitment to win and a willingness to live with potentially negative consequences.  By not braking he ran a higher risk of crashing and losing, not to mention possible injury.

After watching this race I went mountain biking.  As I was riding, I noticed how often I was touching my brakes as I went into corners.  Occasionally this was a necessary check on my speed, but often this was merely a way to FEEL more comfortable.  So I began to experiment.  To my amazement I found that on about 75% of the corners I was braking unnecessarily.  Better yet, this resulted in greater speed, fluidity and JOY in the experience of riding!  Paradoxically, this did not make me more scared, it made me less scared.  Why?  Because less of my focus went into focusing on my fears.  Thoughts like: “oh boy, be careful here, you might be going to fast, look out for that obstacle…”  Instead, I placed my attention on trusting my body’s ability to set up for each corner with the appropriate speed.  As a general rule, we have more wisdom, knowledge, and capacity in our body than we tend to trust.

Questions: Where do you see that you are riding the brakes in your life?  Where are you playing it safe rather than playing to win?  What result do you stand for with such conviction that you would be willing to go for it rather than hedge your bets?  What would you be doing if you believed that you couldn’t fail and/or were willing to live with a few bruises?