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A Loyal Pain

LoyaltyThere's been a lot in the news recently about our current president's authoritarian command desire for loyalty. But given everything else that's been in the news recently about him, this one is just another log on the fire. It has, however, started me thinking about the topic of loyalty, especially in comparison to other levels of commitment.

As an independent contractor, I have the choice whether I contract directly with a client or whether I subcontract through another firm. Currently, I am subcontracting through a great firm named Paragon IT Professionals, and I have no qualms about touting the relationship. This morning when I arrived at my client site, I was greeted with a small gift in conjunction with their 20th anniversary in business. The account reps, the recruiters, and the office staff go out of their way to engage the consultants individually and collectively. In turn, we provide great service to our clients. In other words, Paragon has EARNED my loyalty as a consultant.

I was reflecting on other firms through whom I've contracted who operated closer to the current POTUS as far as making loyalty a requirement. They didn't want to go through the steps of earning it, and often times masked the lack of day-to-day engagement with grander yet less frequent gestures, which by the end just came off as disingenuous. Most now have gone out of business or have been devoured by other consulting firms. A childhood teacher always used to spout the adage, "Nobody is completely worthless; they can always serve as a bad example." And that's what these firms and their agents have become to me... prime examples of what not to do. And as a result of their actions, my loyalty looked something more like hesitant compliance.

My friend and mentor, Steve Farber, lives and breathes the phrase, "Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do." This one sentence is both extremely simple yet dizzyingly complex. I try daily to integrate it as a key aspect in how I operate in many of my roles from project manager to college instructor, from friend to dad. I do what I love: I accomplish things (projects, solutions, relationships, learning). There's another part to that phrase which many seem to forget: I do what I love IN THE SERVICE OF PEOPLE. Call it servant leadership or just being a vulnerable human, but if we aren't putting ourselves out there to serve, what good is it? Finally, those people whom we serve love what we do. That's not about seeking kudos or praise; it's about finding the sweet spot in life. It's about the reciprocity that they appreciate what I bring to the table while I'm serving them. I've brought my best to people who have no appreciation for project management or for good instruction, and my efforts become mere acts which fall into the category of "no good deed goes unpunished."

What about you? To whom are you loyal? Why? Who is loyal to you? Have you commanded it or earned it?

Project: Gratitude

Thanksgiving_prayerHappy Thanksgiving from Carpe Factum!

Looking back over my life, I'm reminded of many blessings, things that have shaped me, challenged me, and defined me. Sure, there are the obvious ones: My home, my family, my career.

There are more subtle points - events, opportunities, people - which played a role in my life. I may not have realized it at the time (and generally didn't), but looking back, they served a key role. Here are just a few:

Paper Route - from ages 11 through 15, I carried the Des Moines Tribune (the now defunct afternoon sister paper to the Des Moines Register). I had an average of 40 customers who expected their papers promptly, placed exactly where they wanted it. By the time I was a teenager, I had the basics of customer service and customer facing down. I learned self-discipline and responsibility. I learned to appreciate what was going on in the world (watching headlines change throughout the entire Iran Hostage crisis).

Family on the Farm - both of my mom's siblings (and their families) farmed. From birth, I was exposed to livestock and crops, to dirt and creekbeds. I listened to family discussions about market prices and government programs. I was able to experience sights and sounds and smells to instill an appreciation for nature. It's served me well in seeing the systems in the world around me and exactly how much everyting is connected.

Healthy Drama - I was a bit of a theater geek in high school and college. I got to learn from some awesome coaches and teachers about acting, creating a character, setting a mood, and appreciating really amazing writing. These opportunities shaped me as a teacher, an author, a creative, an office politics consultant, a project manager, and a dad. Always let your imagination come out to play.

Sunday School - I have pretty fond memories of my childhood church and what it represented back then. Learning Bible stories from different teachers, framing my values system, singing songs... it broke down the mysteries of religion and provided me with a framework for how I view the world. As I grew, I was able to add on to those building blocks, to interpret scripture in light of its original context and how its timelessness applies to an ever-changing world today. I'll be forever grateful to those faithful ladies and gentlemen who took the time to teach Bible stories to us kids.

Dogs - What can I say about Sam, Casey, Zorro, and now Fergus? Their love, their humor, and their needs taught me the basics and the complexities of taking care of other living beings. I observed their ability to listen. I saw them communicate without words. I viewed what excited them, what scared them, and what motivated them. Seeing the world through a dog's eyes is inspirational and honest.

So this Thanksgiving, I'll enjoy the trappings and trimmings of family and food. But I will have an eye on the past and its many blessings. Enjoy the holiday!

Why This Matters

FarberMy Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter tribes have seen me promoting Steve Farber's Leadership Intensive coming to Des Moines next week. But I have to admit, with limited space, I'm not sure I've done justice to exactly why YOUO as a professional should care enough to pay attention to the even, let alone register for it.

So I thought I'd share a synopsis of my journey with Steve:

I was first introduced to Steve's work back in 2004 when his first book, The Radical Leap came out. It was a time when I was devouing every business fable I could find, as I was working on authoring two such books and was at various stages in the writing process. Being a B-college instructor, I've also run across TONS of literature on the topic of leadership. Most of which was a heaping, steaming pile of common sense with a huge yawn on the side. The very word had been watered down. I had seen numerous people who had referred to themselves as leaders perform very poorly, and quite frankly, I was becoming skeptical and cynical that a real leader could exist. As for me, I was at one of those stalled moments in my career, and because my wife had chosen to take a sabbatical from work, I opted for a "safe route" in for a boring client on a contract project that was considerably less than inspiring, subcontracting for a firm which sapped my energy daily.

Any description I could provide for the impact Steve's book had on my outlook of leadership and on my personal introspection wouldn't do justice to what I actually felt and experienced. But that was just the point: until reading Steve's simple yet impactful LEAP (Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof), I really hadn't FELT nor EXPERIENCED anything from leadership literature. They were nice theories and words on pages. But they didn't DO anything to motivate or move me.

The extreme leader's mantra, "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do," forced me to examine how I was running my career and my life. I knew I loved project management and helping companies get to the finish line, but often it was a job performed for people who more often than not, resentfully viewed project management as a necessary evil. I had, however, been on a couple of projects where my clients saw the value I brought to the table and expressed their appreciation for what I did and how I did it. BINGO! The entire formula was there! Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do. And I started being more selective about the clients with whom I would work. I listened differently during the interview process and began to turn down clients whom I knew would not love what I did. The right kinds of clients began appearing, almost magically.

While this was happening, the vast expansion of social media allowed me to meet Steve. First via blogging, then emails, then phone conversations, and finally in person at the inaugural SOBCon in 2007. About that time, Drake University had asked me to ramp up a new class called Leadership and Human Capital Development as a master's level elective. I used Steve's books, Radical Leap and Radical Edge (the sequel), as cornerstones to the class. I really wanted this class to be different for the students. I wanted them to experience what I had experienced a few years prior. But I was prepared for what really occurred.

Radical_Leap_ReenergizedI found students who were HUNGRY for real leadership, not just from their leaders, but from themselves. (Keep in mind, my students are mostly non-traditional students; professionals such as yourselves who work in offices and have families and goals and passions). Steve's challenge to use leadership to change the world resonated with them in ways I could never imagined. Over a third of the 100 students I had that first year made major life changing decisions within a few months of having taken the class. Many switched employers or careers. A couple of them went on to pursue their doctorate degrees. One of them challenged an abusive boss after years of putting up with crap. One accepted an overseas assignment with her company. Another uproooted herself and moved to another city after years of "playing it safe" (her story is still very special to me... the only student presentation to ever earn a standing ovation from her peers). The stories still keep coming in years after that class; Steve Farber's work changes lives and inspires people to change the world. Period.

As for me? I'm still an evangelist of Steve's work. I've been blessed with people who have helped me see past the gray cubicle walls into the world that could be. I love hearing my colleagues' and students' stories about changing the world (at least their small corner of it). This past year, I've been reminded how short and fragile life is. I've lost friends unexpectedly and had others journey through the gauntlet of cancer. In light of all these events, my daughter and I were talking about death a few weeks ago and she asked me what I'd do if I only had a few weeks to live. My answer surprised her. I told her I'd be ready, even at my age. Thanks to Steve's work, I've already accomplished a lot to change the world. I've made a difference in the lives of others. I've coached. I've inspired. I've introduced. I've taught. I've challenged. I've parented. I've authored. I've spoken. But the bottom line is this: I've loved. And I've done so for those who appreciate that love.

So what about you? You're sitting in a cubicle or an office. You're doing a job. It's mid-morning on hump day. You're already starting to think about the weekend. You're looking at your task list and your projects. You're checking in. You're calling. You're meeting. Do you want to exist? Or do you want to EXPERIENCE and FEEL something again? Or have you given that up as unrealistic, so you're content to spend over 2000 hours a year feeling nothing?

I wouldn't be much of an "evangelist" without an altar call, now, would I? There are two events coming up here in Des Moines. Next week, Steve Farber is here in the flesh for his 1.5 day leadership intensive. I can promise it will be a life-changing and world-changing experience. You can even get a 20% discount on this event by using JOHNSON (all caps) in the discount code. The second event is a one-day Extreme Leadership event at Drake. I will be facilitating that myself, but Steve's presence will be felt.

My motivation for sharing this is simple. People are either motivated by love or by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of losing a job they hate. Fear of not making a difference. This is your chance to change that fear into love. I've lived on both sides of the motivation spectrum. I'll take love any day. 

Lessons From Vacation: Passion

It's amazing what a few days away can do to clear one's mind. A little time in Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by some time in Wyoming and South Dakota were just what the doctor ordered.

Mount_RushmoreOf course, I like to start at the end of the trip, and the last full day was spent in the Black Hills, enjoying Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Both of these monuments astound me, not by their magnitude and beauty, but by the effort undertaken to appreciate their creation. Gutzon Borglum led the effort to create Mount Rushmore, an effort which took over a decade. Recruited from the Rushmore crew by the Lakota, Korczak Kiolkowski worked on the Crazy Horse monument for decades until his death in the 1982, and it is now carried on by his children and grandchildren (all without Federal funding, I should add).

What fascinates me about both projects is the passion of the workers. The topic of professional love has been at the front of my thinking of late. Most of the time, our projects are measured by weeks or months, for others, projects may last a few years, but many of us in the profession are time boxed because our executives are anxious to get things done and move on to something else.

Crazy_HorseAt the Rushmore Monument, there was a sign in the museum talking about the workers, who were mostly miners or lumberjacks from the area. The bottom of the description read:

For some the work was just a job, but for others it became a special calling.

"More and more we sensed that we were creating a truly great thing, and after a while all of us old hands became truly dedicated to it," Red Anderson, Mount Rushmore Carver.

There was plenty of time to become an "old hand" as the project stretched from 1927 to 1941. As for Crazy Horse, the first rock was dynamited in 1948, and the project is still underway. During the introductory video, we learned that project is measured in "tons (of rock) and decades" rather than the weeks and months and deliverables by which we measure current projects.

So what are YOU doing to instill passion in your project teams, especially when the project seems to drag on "forever"? On my last project, we tried to build in appreciation for the installation team spending several weeks on the road. They were the real heroes of the project, traveling to numerous locations across almost a dozen states. But they also knew WHY the project was important. They saw the importance of the end result. And it was that belief which drove them to success. Very similar to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, the best way to build passion for a project is to provide the workers at all levels a view of the future and what it means.

I See Posers

As a consultant, it's not hard to find posers in the workplace.

"What's a poser?" you ask. Fair question. The term itself can be ambiguous.

At it's core, a poser is an individual who doesn't walk the talk. He wears the title of leader but doesn't actually lead. She holds a lot of meetings but never accomplishes much. He has the expensive Italian suit on the outside but inside is barely out of diapers. She uses a lot of buzzwords, but her voice drowns out her message.

You know who I'm talking about. We call them fakes, frauds, charlatans, imposters, quacks, pretenders, cheaters.

The next logical question is how do we combat the posers when we uncover them? It takes leadership. True leadership. Extreme leadership.

Radical_Leap_ReenergizedI've talked about Extreme Leadership before. Steve Farber, who coined the term, is the undisputed master Extreme Leadership. I've blogged about his books before. Over the years, I've had the privilege of getting to know him fairly well. And he's the real deal.

So what makes Extreme Leadership different from generic, run-of-the-mill leadership? Well, technically nothing. Except that we've watered down the term leadership so it has all the strength of non-brand Kool-Aid. Think about it. How many people do you know who claim to be leaders, but their view of leadership is scaring their "followers" into compliance?

And that's the core difference between posers and leaders: fear vs. love. Farber's Extreme Leader Mantra is "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." That one phrase completely reshaped my view of who I am and what I do. As a project manager, I'm no longer afraid to turn down client work for certain organizations in town. Why? Because they are so entrenched in fear, there's no room to love what they do, let alone what other people do.

Also, the Extreme Leader

  • Cultivates Love
  • Generates Energy
  • Inspires Audacity
  • Provides Proof

Each of these would take multiple blog posts to explain, but in many respects, they don't need explanation (or at least they shouldn't).

I want you to try some exercises for me over the next couple of days:

  1. Read the headlines of the newspaper, cover to cover. Look for stories where posers are generating news out of fear. Think about how an Extreme Leader could turn the situation around.
  2. Read the emails in your own inbox. How many of those emails are being driven by love vs. fear? How would an Extreme Leader respond to those emails?
  3. Think about YOUR daily interactions with friends, colleagues, and family. How often do YOU operate out of a base of fear instead of love? Are YOU the poser? (Wow, that's a tough one. The WORST poser is the one we see in the mirror.)

If the way things currently operate fatigue you, maybe it's time to take up Extreme Leadership. I'm leading a full-day workshop at Drake University next Friday. Space is very limited, but there are still spots left. Click here for more information and registration.

Hope to see you there!

My Hero(es)

3d Earth Globe“A leader’s greatest obligation is to make possible an environment … where people can aspire to change the world.” - Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of HP

One question I field frequently - both individually and often in QA sessions with students or other audiences - is "Who are your heroes?" I need to apologize to past audiences as I've dodged the question notoriously, giving very weak answers. But that question keeps haunting me, not so much from audiences nowadays, but from the recesses of my own brain. So much so that I decided it was time to really sit down and define who some of my heroes are.

  • Amy is one of my heroes. When her uninsured friend, John, needed surgery in the face of cancer, Amy rallied her friends, his friends, and an entire network to raise over $100,000 in just 37 days.
  • Kevin and Shelley are my heroes. Ignoring logic and common sense, they followed their faith-filled hearts to adopt a little girl from half-way around the world. This little girl had a congenital heart condition, but not only did that not deter them. It only made them more determined to give this girl a loving home.
  • Rod is a hero. When his wife, Michelle, was diagnosed with cancer, Rod used his amazing data skills to track her numbers all the way through her treatment, keeping his wicked sense of humor intact the entire journey. He stayed by her side until her battle was finished. While the love story didn't have the happy ending for which he and his family and friends hoped, his unwaivering dedication inspired many.
  • Speaking of cancer warriors, Sarah is a hero. I met her through Twitter during my mom's cancer battle (amazing whom you can meet with the hashtag #cancersucks). She has championed her son's battle with cancer, while inspiring others through her blog and other charitable acts for the community.
  • Janet is another hero. A freak motorcycle accident forced a leg amputation last year. Now, if I thought Janet was one tough lady before the accident, she raised the bar freakishly high with her determination, independence and positive attitude through her amazing rehabilitation.
  • Ever think of creating a global not-for-profit WHEN YOU WERE IN 8TH GRADE??? That's what makes Jessica a hero. When she's not dedicating her time to children from other countries (or in her own community), she's willing to trek to another state to speak (dynamically) to other kids for a day about their own global impacts.

These are just a few. Most of them probably had no idea I felt this way about them (shame on me for not being more vocal before now). None of them have ever been hoisted on their team's shoulders to receive a championship trophy. They've never walked the red carpet to deliver an acceptance speech. Papparazzi have never chased them for a tabloid exclusive. They don't fly or wear capes.

Why then, are they heroes? Simple. They changed the world. Maybe not the "big W" in all cases but in changing their own world (small w), they invited us to watch their challenges, to observe their journey, to share their victories, and to learn from their setbacks. And their actions, their attitudes, and their accomplishments created a ripple effect. Those of us in the periphery caught a glimpse of greatness. Each of these people would argue with me that they only did what needed to be done. I'm sure one or two, when they read this, will scold me for putting them on a pedestal. (There's really not one tall enough or grand enough for their accomplishments, in my opinion.)

In light of all the talk of the Boston police's heroic actions from last week (law enforcement is always a default setting on my hero meter, by the way), I think it's important for us to think about it today: who are your real heroes? And why? Are they changing the world? Are you?

Two Four Six Hate

"I may not have the capacity to love everyone, but I do have the capacity to act as if I do and run my business accordingly..." -Agnes Golden (character in The Radical Leap Re-Energized)

For once, I really wasn't trying to be difficult or contrarian. Really. But nonetheless, I caught the workshop leader off-guard.

I just recently became certified in Steve Farber's Extreme Leadership Institute. So now I am able to deliver his content to my clients, and it's a very exciting prospect. I've been a huge fan for years. But more on that to come in a near-future blog post. While we were going through the certification process, we were spending a great amount of time talking about the first cornerstone of Farber's tenets: Love (the 'L' in LEAP). The love thing is important. It's in the Extreme Leader's Credo: "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." It permeates everything an extreme leader is about.

So when I brought up the topic of hate, it sort of shocked our facilitator. But then I explained myself a little. The extreme leader isn't out to specifically make somebody else hate them. We want to love our work, love our coworkers, love our customers, love our projects. But in the process of cultivating love and acting audaciously as we pursue the OS!M, one can't help but have hate as a natural by-product.

2012-11-Creating-Passionate-UsersHuh? Love produces hate? Absolutely. A few years ago, I used Kathy Sierra's branding graphic to talk about personal branding as it applied to gender in the work place, but her model applies universally. If we're going to love, and if we're going to seek to be passionately loved by others, then "hate" will be a natural consequence from the people who not only don't "love what you do"; they're dead-set against it. But the key point is: they've noticed you and what you're doing. You registered with them. You got their attention by being an extreme leader.

But here's where some people break-down in their attempts to be extreme leaders; they aren't comfortable being hated. They want to be liked. By everybody. So they don't act audaciously. They don't prove themselves. And they cop out on love for a mild form of "like" that has all the energetic impact of warm milk.

But in listening to the stories shared by other workshop attendees over the two-day period, and especially hearing the inspiring story from Simon Billsberry, formerly of Kineticom, it became evident that an extreme leader can't love passionately WITHOUT allowing hate to be a natural by-product, either expressing hate for the non-leadership behaviors and values, or inspiring hate from others who don't embrace extreme leader values and behaviors.

I've experienced it more than once on a client site. I bring my own unique (ahem) brand of project management to the table, but I do so to get results and jar my clients from their old habits. But in so doing, I've turned off more traditionally-minded champions of the status quo... some of whom I've won over, but some of whom end up passionately hating my approach... and sometimes me personally. And I've learned to be OK with it. Why? Because there are others who love the results and accomplishment I bring to the table. And then I get to do what I love in the service of those who love what I do... in spite of those who hate what I do.

In your quest to be loved, are you comfortable being hated? I hope so.

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