what unwritten rules are hindering you?

mountains-with-clouds

I recently decided to step down from a leadership role that I have held for several years outside of work. Its a decision that I mulled over for the better part of a year until it was clear that I needed to make the change.

I took so long to come to this conclusion because I had not identified a successor for the leadership role and felt it was irresponsible of me to step down without finding one. I have been reflecting on the mental and emotional process I went through and realized that one of the key issues I was struggling with was an unwritten rule that I was following without examining whether it was still valid in my situation.

My unwritten rule needed challenging.

The unwritten rule in this case was: you cannot voluntarily step down from a position of leadership if you have not identified and trained a successor.

I have always viewed doing so as ‘dropping the ball’ and doing a dishonor to the organization I was serving.

What I realized after extensive reflection was that this rule would have been true for me three years ago, but it was not relevant in this particular situation. Three years ago, I began working on duplicating myself in leadership by mentoring other members of the organization because I realized that I would eventually have to move on. Unfortunately, each time I indentified a successor and began working with them, circumstances arose that required them to move onto another role, or limit their involvement with the organization.

In parallel with these obstacles internally in the organization, I had some major events in my life that significantly limited my capacity to lead the organization. So for the past 18 months, I have led the organization on ‘auto-pilot’ with significantly less passion than I had a few years ago.

The turning point in how I was viewing the situation was when I realized that serving on auto-pilot is just as detrimental to the organization as stepping down without identifying a successor. In addition, holding onto the role might be hindering somebody else from stepping up and taking over the leadership when the ‘vacuum’ is created on my departure.

So, holding on to the ‘letter’ of my unwritten rule was actually violating the ‘spirit’ of the rule.

Your unwritten rules are an implementation of your internal values.

I would challenge you to periodically examine some of the major rules in your life that drive your decision-making and determine whether they need to be revisited. Often, these unwritten rules exist because of your deeply held internal values, but when your values change – or expand to include other perspectives, you don’t take the time to re-examine decisions you made based on those values.

A common consequence of this problem is holding onto commitments that should be challenged for their validity in your current context, and as you pick up new commitments without altering or dropping the old ones, you become increasingly overwhelmed. Your capacity to contribute has not changed, but the nature of your contributions needs to change.

You are the ultimate arbiter of your to-do list.

Be on the lookout for situations in which you constantly use one or both of the following phrases:

  • “I have to …”
  • “I can’t …”

There are very few things that are absolutely mandatory in your life. Things like breathing, eating, sleeping – are mandatory.

Everything else is a choice.

In my experience, I tend to confuse commitments with mandatory requirements. I commit to things based on my values, and that strong attachment to the commitment that makes it feel compulsory is a consequence of how deeply held the value is that the commitment is based on.

Something as simple as putting gas in your car is a choice you can make because it is a more convenient way to travel than your other choices.

On the other end of the scale, something as critically important as providing for your children is still something that you choose to do because you value being a good parent.  If it was mandatory, then all children would be provided for adequately because nobody would have the choice to ‘underprovide’ or abandon their children.  But sadly, this is a reality of the world we live in.

In both cases, the simple and the critically important, there is still choice involved.  You don’t have to do either one of those things.

There is a freedom that comes with this realization because you can then revisit all of the commitments you currently have and challenge yourself about why you are choosing to do each of the things on the list – instead of feeling like there is nothing that is negotiable because all the things seem important.

If you are feeling overwhelmed (or underwhelmed), test each of your major commitments with a critical eye and you might surprise yourself with what you find.

I am in no way suggesting that you should drop any particular commitments in your life – if you are a parent, please keep providing for your kids – just that you take the time to reflect and challenge yourself about what unwritten rules might be hindering you.

It might be time to bend, break or simply ignore some of your rules so that you can better align your actions with your values.

experimenting with sketchnotes

I have always enjoyed taking notes.  The act of writing things down not only helps my memory but it crystallizes information and ideas for me and helps me to make connections I would not otherwise see.  I naturally gravitate to note taking that takes advantage of the visual space on the paper and I am often drawing lines to connect thoughts and drawing boxes around things to highlight them.

So, inspired by the amazing work done by one of my blogging ‘heroes’, Sacha Chua, I have decided to start learning how to do sketchnotes as my new form of note taking.  I am fascinated by the possibilities of this combination of documentation and art – and I think I can become quite good at it.

My main elements of my motivation for doing this are:

  • I think it will be a lot of fun
  • I think it is a much more accessible way to communicate a lot of information, or a complex idea succinctly therefore it will make it easier for me to share ideas with others concisely
  • I often feel like Hedley Lamarr in the clip below from ‘Blazing Saddles’

So here is the debut of my first sketchnote (not a general purpose one as its for a class I am taking on Database Concepts):

Week2_RelationalModelWithFoundationInNormalization-01

 

 

 

 

frozen in time – a piece of me that I am badly missing today

snowy-day

When somebody passes away, its like their image is frozen in time. They are no longer a physical presence in your life but you don’t lose that familiarity with their spirit. So you have experiences like hearing something that makes you think about them and you catch yourself before you dial their number to talk to them about it. Or you have holiday dinner and its just not the same because there is a gaping void in the room.

Or you miss the fact that they were always the first to comment on the cute pictures of your kids you posted. That they always seemed to call you just when you needed them.

Then sometimes you feel guilty about the aspects of their wonderful existence that you took for granted.

Or you chuckle about the many ways in which they annoyed you.

Even the annoyances were part of that shared experience you had with them – and it is no longer there.

I wish I could say that the memories of my sister who passed away two years ago are what make me strong and keep me going. But that is only true some of the time. There are other times when I am just angry about the unfairness of it all.

Until two years ago, I did not have any concept of life without Phina. I do not remember the day she came home from the hospital with my mother – as far as I can remember, she was always a steady presence in my life.

Now things are a little destabilized. I still have goals, but they are just a little less optimistic and grand than they used to be.

I still freak out when I hear somebody I care about has an ailment that even closely resembles the one that took her from us.

I still miss her – and I’m glad I do.

I know that the right thing to say is that ‘life goes on’ – and it does.

But just for today which would have been her birthday …

… I feel frozen in time.

Madiba

I remember in my second year of high school in Botswana, we had a history teacher named Mr. Wilson who was determined to help us gain an appreciation for the importance of understanding the past and its impact on the present.  He didn’t want us to just memorize the information for the purpose of passing the tests – he wanted us to care about the content and make it our own.

One of the ways in which he achieved this goal with me was a series he took us through about three historical figures: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.  With each of the figures, he took us through their background, how they rose up in leadership of a movement, the sacrifices they had to make and ultimately, how they changed the world.

I remember reflecting on how interconnected these three historical figures experiences were with each other.  Martin Luther King Jr. was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s ‘non-violent’ approach to protest and the earlier part of Mandela’s leadership applied the same principles.  Prior to his civil rights work in India, Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa where he developed many of his political views and methods fighting injustices in Mandela’s native land.

All three challenged a ‘status quo’ that at the time seemed insurmountable and ultimately triumphed, not because of their wealth or military power – but because of their strength of conviction which caused a movement of people to rise up that eventually could not be ignored.

Nelson Mandela PosterIn 1989, when we studied these figures, two of them were already dead and the one who was living was still serving an unjust lifetime imprisonment sentence. We did not even know what Nelson Mandela looked like because all the photos released of him at the time were pre-prison.

Our visual image of him was the young man in his 40s with a part in his hair that we saw on all the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ posters.  So we studied him like a ‘past’ figure because we did not know if he would ever be released.

So I remember very vividly the following year when it was announced that he would be released.  Our school came to a standstill as everybody let it sink in – that day no class really studied – we just rejoiced.

And then on the day that he was released, we spent several hours watching a television shot of a gate as we waited for him to emerge.  There were several delays and it only built the anticipation of who he would be after all these years.

Was he a frail old man and a shadow of his former self?

Had he lost his regal stature and magnetic draw because of the unmentionable horrors of imprisonment?

Would he be bitter and seek revenge on his now vanquished tormentors?

Thankfully, the answer to those questions was no, no and absolutely not.  He emerged and lived an amazing ‘second chapter’ to his life that most people could not manage in a single life.  From uniting a country that was on the brink of civil war, to bringing Africa its first World Cup, his imprint has resonated throughout the world over the past two decades.

nelson-jacketEven within my family his impact has been tremendous.  I think this post by my sister this morning gives a very good summary of the breadth of his reach.  I love the picture that she used in her post because I am so thankful that our visual image of him today is that imprint that she used when she designed the jacket – rather than the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ posters we grew up with.

 

 

letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).

figure out how to use Evernote by doing a trial run

Often when I am asked why I like Evernote so much I find it difficult to give a brief answer that really does the tool justice. I think this is because the usefulness of Evernote grows in direct proportion to how much you use it.

My usual approaches to explaining Evernote are not as effective as I would like

So if somebody has never used the tool before, short of telling them to just try it, there is no real way to give them a good frame of reference. Sometimes I try to answer the question by explaining the main features of the tool – only to be met with a glazed over look by the person. Other times, I try to explain by showing them examples of how I use the tool. But the problem with this approach is that my needs are most likely not the same as their needs and my examples may not resonate with the core problem that Evernote could solve for them. It can also be overwhelming to look at my set up because I use so many notebooks and tags.

From now on I am going to try a new approach

  • Encourage them to do a small experiment to see if Evernote is something they could use to solve a problem.The great thing about doing a trial is that it takes a small time investment and allows you to ‘kick around the tires’ without trying to become an advanced user right away
  • Point them to useful resources that can help them tweak their system until the tool is truly personalized to their needs
  • Offer myself as a resource to help them ‘hack’ their system even further if they want to

So if you have been wondering about Evernote and how to make it useful, try the following steps to get started:

  1. Create an Evernote account and install it on all your devices
  2. Create 2 notebooks: Inbox and Archive.  Do this by renaming the default notebook to ‘Inbox’ and creating a new one called ‘Archive’.
  3. Pick one thing that you are going to use Evernote for and commit to doing that for a week.

During you trial run of Evernote, if you think of other ways you could be using it, go ahead and do so. Some will be good ideas and others you will abandon.

Its not a big deal because the purpose is exposure and not mastery.

I found the following resources very helpful in thinking about how I could use Evernote to keep organized

As you read them, try and incorporate any of the tips that look like they would be helpful to you.   After your trial, post a comment on this post to let me know how it went – or to ask any questions when you need help. I enjoy coming up with creative ways to use Evernote so it wil be fun for me to research for you.

You can also send me a DM @komasworld.