Archive for February, 2008

A Consultant Journal – Lessons From The Field, Part Two

What is the role of a transformational consultant and coach?
We help the client to transform and improve their condition. We design a process and create an experience that helps leaders grow and realize their vision.

What is the most important competency to do this work?
I believe it is the ability to learn – learn-ability. I learn so much from the people I work with that it’s thrilling. What can be better than to be paid good money to continually learn fascinating stuff?

Here are lessons captured in the field.

1. You cannot hide behind a framework. The people show up for the session to meet you, not your brilliant framework.
2. You have to earn their respect. Never assume people’s respect is a given. If you worked with a group last year and it was successful and they liked their experience they will come and give you the benefit of showing up and being ready and open. You will then need to earn their respect all over again. They need to find a new updated reason why they are giving you their money, time and attention.
3. You earn their respect when they see that you are making an effort and that you care. You earn their trust when your efforts and care help them improve.

How do your efforts and care make a difference?
4. First, the participants see you make the effort to understand their situation and the challenges they are facing and that you care enough to try to understand and appreciate their culture and beliefs.
5. Second, they feel your efforts to come from your own personal insights, your willingness to risk trusting them with your journey, with your thought process with its struggles and discoveries. To trust the process of a transformational change in themselves, they look to see that you are ready to share your own transformation.
6. They can feel your genuine effort both when you are making the journey to understand them (item 4) and when you make the journey into yourself with the excitement and passion as though it were newly discovered (item 5).
7. What do you do if it is lunch time and you have not yet “clicked”, you have not been able to connect with the group? Find the one person you feel you can connect with and have lunch with that person. Work into a meaningful conversation with this one person. Help that person to help you connect. They will lead you to get through to the rest of the group.
8. Projection is everything and at the same time the biggest blockage you face. You project what you hope the participants will discover, how they will feel, the benefits and value they will receive. You make projections about the program and how it will unfold. And then you turn up and you must be ready to put it all aside. You show up with the “table of plenty” you have prepared but you have to be free at the point to discover the need and the way of it and be flexible enough to adjust to what is needed.
9. You must find a fresh interest and enthusiasm for this seminar for yourself. You may have talked about this subject and done this particular format 40 times but the audience is hearing it for the first time. You must be freshly interested in it yourself. If you are bored they will be bored. Your own interest in what you are discovering in the process is the life blood, the vital plasma of the engagement.
10. This meeting, this seminar, this engagement happens only once. It will never happen again. You will never be exactly in the same place, with exactly the same people at exactly the same time. It’s a once-in-the-history-of-the-galaxy event. Make it count. Make it count for you. Make it count for them.

© Aviv Shahar

Passionate Storytelling!

This story by Ben Dunlap tells of a Passionate Life that will move you to tears. It’s the power of his irresistible inspiration about courage and greatness that Dunlap communicates so evocatively. It is the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, that there is an insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn, and an irrepressible need to know and grow, and the inextinguishable drive to live each day as if it is your last.
Let’s tell such rousing stories. Let’s create more stories to be told.
© Aviv Shahar

The Culture Factor of Trust

Learning something unique from the participants who attend my seminars is the best part of the work I do. I get to see and experience the world through their eyes. In my recent seminar in Chapala, Mexico we explored the Three Pillars of Trust. This is a powerful module in which we unlock the anatomy of Trust and translate it into practical and pragmatic behavior.

Here is a learning that surfaced in our discussions.  Managers in Mexico shared with me that from their perspective, Latin America is more communal and family oriented than the United States. Therefore, it’s harder for people to trust each other. It sounds counter intuitive but here is how they explain this phenomenon. The US culture promotes independence and individualism where it is clear that each person is in what they do for their own good.  The greater the independence the more critical it is to develop trustful terms of engagement. Developing a culture of trust is in the highest self interest of the individual to be able to transact business and to enable collaboration.

The Latin American culture is not ready to support such independence. The family value structure is strong and the communal bond has great prominence. The inverse (or shadow) side of this is that people are more likely to second guess, distrust and try to manage each other. “The people in logistics try to tell the finance people how to do their job; the finance people try to tell supply chain people how to do their job; supply chain tries to tell marketing how to do their job; marketing tries to tell logistics how to do their job…” and on it goes, instead of trusting that everybody knows their job best and are doing their utmost.

Further, inefficiency, wasted time, bad service, blame and confusion are often the consistent byproducts of lack of trust. As decisions are often being challenged and have to be explained or justified, the workload for all is doubled, more obstacles are placed between deciding and taking action and it takes twice as long to arrive at the desired outcome.

What is the insight about the culture factor of trust? The higher you climb on the development spiral of society and culture the greater the independence and with it the level of trust.

What culture do you work in? Is it trusting or lacking trust? There is no greater multiplier for teamwork effectiveness and speed than a high level of trust. Building a culture of trust in your organization is the transformational key to your competitive advantage and success.

© Aviv Shahar

How To Travel Jet Lag Free And The Power Of Conditioning

Traveling can be tough, especially when your energy state and clarity of mind are vital keys to the success of your intended engagement. I just got back from Taipei, Taiwan. Several people had warned me about the jet lag I would face on the return journey. Well, I was tired for a day but had no jetlag at all. The 16 hour door to door journey on my way to Taiwan a week earlier was also great. We crossed 16 time zones From Seattle to Taipei. When I travel from Seattle to Israel it’s a 23 hour journey across 10 time zones. I have had multiple opportunities to practice my jet lag free travel system and it’s working well.  It helps me to maintain high energy and be in the “zone” for our strategy and leadership summits.

How to travel jet lag free? I will explain my “travel jet lag free” system in a series of posts. It’s based on understanding your body, your mind and your energy system. It’s simple and you can do it too. Before we get to that topic though, I have to get this thought out: airplanes, subways, buses and movie theaters are the few places where we find ourselves sitting almost on top of strangers. If you sat so close to a total stranger anywhere else it would seem improper. What’s my point? It shows how conditioned we are. It is okay to sit elbow-to-elbow, shoulder-to-shoulder with a total stranger on the plane, yet the only other circumstance in which we are so physically close to another person for so many hours is if you share the same bed.  Why are we not horrified by this thought? It is because of our social and economical conditioning. That’s right. Most of what we think of as “looks strange” or feels “perfectly normal” is a byproduct of our economical and social conditioning. In some cultures people stand very close and make physical contact as they engage in conversion. In other cultures this would be considered offensive. But regardless of the culture, when we fly we all find ourselves sitting the same distance from each other on the 737 or the 777. The better option is first class, it makes a huge difference, but even there we still are sitting very close to one another and we take it as a given. This is good, otherwise we could not fly. But what else do we take as a given that is not helpful?

In what other aspects, not productive for you do you allow cultural and economical conditioning to run the program?

© Aviv Shahar

Courage, Beauty, Transcendence

Greatness is found in embracing our limitations and then transcending them. This is what defines courage and where beauty is to be found. This amazing dance is inspirational in that it shows each of us that we have the ability to not only overcome our limitations but lift others up by our example.
© Aviv Shahar

The Lives Of Others

The best movies tell stories of transformation. Years ago I was captivated by The Last Emperor. The inner journey of a man who had been born into one reality, that of being brought up in the Forbidden City to be the next Emperor, and his gradual transformation as reality changes and he becomes a prisoner. We see him at the end of the movie as a peaceful gardener. The outer changes act as a reflection of the inner transformation. You are left wondering about the capability of the human psyche to undergo such a dramatic change and our ability to accept new paradigms.
The Grand Canyon is another movie that tells a transformational story. In the Grand Canyon it’s the special moments of extraordinary meetings of the characters between seemingly random events that are the catalysts of transformation. The movie brings to the foreground the mystery of destiny determined in a moment. One moment, one connection, one sound can change the million moments that follow it depending upon our response. You are left with a clear sense that every fork in the road, however transitory, led you in actuality to arrive at this point in time.

Last night we watched The Lives Of Others. It tells the story of the GDR (The German Democratic Republic of East Germany) before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The main character is a strict Stasi (State Security) Captain who follows the Socialist line with unwavering commitment until one day he begins to crack. The metaphoric moment in the movie when one “beam of light” enters his closed mind is symbolized in a short exchange with an innocent child. What comes through the cracks are human feelings and later, art, beauty, love and the courage to protect these things from the oppressive party. The transformation is from the forced and inhumane conscience of the party to his own true human conscience.

People are products of the systems they operate in, and yet the eternal heroic human story is the one where courage triumphs over the institution. Part of the delight of remembering movies is the feelings that run through us when we remember a particularly touching moment on the screen. In The Last Emperor, the contrast between the incredible beauty of the surroundings and the turmoil of the young man as he discovers life outside the walls of the Forbidden City puts us in his place. In The Grand Canyon, total strangers are bound by a passion for meaning to escape the alienation of life without purpose in a large and impersonal modern day city, we long with them to find something better. The Lives of Others shows one man’s triumph over an oppressive faceless system to light a fire of hope within us and we leave the theater with the knowing that transformation is not only possible it is essential.

© Aviv Shahar

Taipei Trip – A Cameo Collection

1. I meet the first EVA airline representative and she makes me smile. I board the plane and the flight attendants each welcome me with a smile, one by one. It’s my first trip across the Pacific. I decide to pay attention to the insights that turn up. I sense that the desire to delight customers has a unique expression and depth in the Chinese culture. You can find many places in the US with extraordinary customer experience and service, mostly when you are ready to pay. In the US it’s a culture of excellence. Excellence and the desire to delight may produce similar results but they get there differently and the after taste they leave is different.

2. There is nothing wrong with wishing to delight. The West has thrown this baby out with the bathwater in the name of liberation. There is something natural about the desire to delight customers, to make things as pleasing as can be. It’s natural to take pleasure in making other people happy and comfortable. But this was not part of the culture of Israel and of being raised in a Kibbutz. Part of me is still learning that it is okay to enjoy delightful service.

3. When I arrived in Taipei, my suitcase was still being held in Seattle. The TSA found something suspicious. Perhaps it’s the rice milk I carry for breakfast. It gives me an opportunity to practice what I preach. No point in getting upset. Getting angry with the airline is a total waste of time and energy. I travel heavy because I like having everything I need in hand for my seminars. In the first 24 hours in Taipei, I discover again that I can manage with little. The suitcase arrives the following morning at 9:30am when we are already in session.

4. Coming down the elevator in the Agora Garden Hotel in Taipei, the notice says “10 people; 700 KG”. We often talk about “thinking outside the box” and even “thinking anew inside the box”. It’s more important to think about what defines the box. Perspective defines the box. For a start, this elevator size in the US would be considered sufficient for three people perhaps four if they are willing to squeeze in. So how, in heaven’s sake, will 10 people get in this small elevator? Second, where in the US will you find 10 people with the average wait of 70 KG (154 lbs) or less? Our frame of reference defines our perspective and the perspective defines the box.

5. The Agora Garden Hotel is quite international. I counted more than 10 apparent nationalities including: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Swedish, German, Italian, French, Spanish and an Israeli. What do they all share in common?
a. They all have breakfast which is how I hear the languages.
b. They all want to improve their opportunities.
c. They all hope for success and for a better tomorrow for them and for their families.
We are not so very different after all.

6. I perfected the jetlag free method (I’ll write about this in the future), so I don’t have jetlag. I just wake up at 3:30am. It’s a great time to clear my mind and collect my thoughts for the strategy meeting that will begin at 8am. Working away when a large part of the city is asleep provides me an entry into the unconscious life of this place.

7. I have an extra day after the strategy summit to explore Taipei. Taipei is a place full of contradictions:
– Lots of fast movement and inside it, there is something slow
– welcoming hospitality and a sense of alienation
– ancient beauty and modern industrialism
– roughness together with softness and friendliness
– struggle and fortitude
– generosity and self preservation

8. According to the National Geographic Traveler, about 85 percent of the people living on the island of Taiwan consider themselves Taiwanese, or benshengren (“this province people”). Two million people who followed Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government to Taiwan when it evacuated from the mainland in 1949 are referred to as daluren (mainlanders). Taiwan’s indigenous minority are called yuamjhumin. The history of Taiwan is multilayered. Indigenous people lived here for centuries. The 15th century saw Chinese immigrants from the province of Fujian. In the 14th through the 16th century Japanese and Chinese pirates used Taiwan as a stronghold. The Portuguese established a trading settlement in 1590. They were followed by the Dutch in 1622 and later the Spanish. The Island continued to experience much strife and struggle as one wave of occupation followed by another. My short experience here is of an intense vortex of many influences. Like the Yin and Yang, they each appear to be gathering for a fight before they collapse into each other and mesh inside a swirling embrace.

Here are some shots from the National Palace Museum, including a large picture of the Taj Maahal.

These are shots from my room on the 11th Floor of the Agora Garden Hotel, looking at the Taipei 101 tower, the tallest building in the world.

© Aviv Shahar

A Consultant Journal – Lessons From The Field

Most of my client engagements are intensive sessions of three to four days. We create strategy summits, leadership and talent development programs and business transformation retreats. The creative component is in the unique customized experience we create to address the needs of the particular management team.

Executives often think that three or four days is asking a lot, that they don’t have the time or can’t afford to be away for so long. They think it’s too much until they are in the session and discover that the benefits and output is not just stratospherically higher and greater but that we are able to get to so much that they can never unleash and attain in the ongoing pedal-to-the-metal drive in the office.
There is nothing more exciting than a management team discovering each other in a new way inside a greater vision and purpose. They are then ready to breakthrough into territories and possibilities that were not attainable before and come up with innovative solutions that thrill them into unified action. It’s a transformational experience.

I get to see and experience it and facilitate and enable the breakthrough and the discovery. And I get to put on many hats – the consultant hat, the teacher hat, the coach hat, the transformational enabler and the trusted confidant hat and more. I don’t need to know the client’s business better than they do. That is their job. What I do is help them remove the blockage between where they are and where their greater potential waits for them.

On the Art—Science continuum what I do is probably more on the art side but the truth is that it’s both. I suppose it’s a form of mastery. What’s exciting about this work? Enabling people to discover and unleash greatness? I don’t know anything more exciting!

Read Part Two here.
© Aviv Shahar

The Art of Leading Through Coaching And How Jordan Learned to Resist the “Let Me Fix It” Reflex

Jordan is a young manager. From the start, he has been very effective in solving problems and was quickly promoted to a management position and responsibility. His approach to solving problems has always been aggressive. Show him a problem and he is all over it. Jordan takes great pride in fixing problems. When he walks into a room, Jordan enjoys hearing people say, “Mr. Fixer is back.”

For four months Jordan had nine account managers in his team and now six of them resent him. When I interviewed them they said they admire Jordan, and that he is phenomenal, but they are afraid of him and his temper. When inquiring further I discovered that there was some suppressed resentment against Jordan underneath the fear. “Jordan has a big huge blind spot” one manager on his team told me.”He micro-manages us and wants to know in detail about every deal in the works. He doesn’t trust us and it says more about his insecurity and paranoia than about his capability. He is so used to being the superstar that he reduces all of us on his team to be less than we can be. He takes the job and the pride of success away from us. My guess is, if we don’t see a change very soon half of his team is not going to be here in a couple of months.”

The art of leadership is as much about “what you don’t do” as it is about “what you do”. You’ve got to know when to resist the “fixing itch”; when to delegate and trust the other person to find the solution. It’s about learning to resist yourself. Great leaders are capable of resisting the “let me fix it” reflex. The surest and fastest way to cause resentment around you is to point out every detail of what is going wrong and then attempt to fix it for everybody. I see a relief in managers when they begin to discover the art of coaching. They realize they can use coaching strategies to help their people unleash their own talents.

Jordan experienced an epiphany in our MC class (The Manager Coach). He had always thought of himself as being firmly in control. As we practiced the coaching conversation and the tactic of stepping back from “fixing” to “open ended questions”, Jordan was surprised to discover he was not in control. His fixing habit, Mr. Fixer’s pride and self image were in charge of him. Once he realized these issues, he was ready to step back and then make a leap toward letting go of trying to control a multitude of details. He was ready to empower his team and their capabilities. There was a big smile on his face when he recognized the greater freedom and versatility that become available in asking open ended questions and in trusting the people around him to find answers. It was as if a great weight fell off his shoulders. When I visited with his team six weeks later, I was told, “Jordan is a different person. It’s as if a light was turned on.”

There is a profound change that takes place when you shift from “fixing” to “coaching”. You change your language, your focus and even your posture and energy. It’s a bit like discovering the second floor above the basement you have lived in for years. Jordan suddenly discovered the Manager Coach floor, where natural light comes through the window and there is a view that was never available in the basement.  Breaking through his own limitations, and seeing clearly the things that control him rather than what he chose and aspired for, opened his eyes to the greater light of shared experience and collaboration. It made him a stronger leader. His team was prepared to rally around his own transformation as they recognized the new opportunity. Their results quickly improved and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

© Aviv Shahar

The Lake Is Back

(My mother wrote to me that this blog is becoming too sophisticated that it’s a struggle for her to read it. My guess is that she meant she cannot feel me or my thought process in what she reads here. Mother, this post is for you!)

We are back in Real de Chapala near Guadalajara, Mexico to teach the Keys2Greatness seminar. Coming here from Seattle in February is like coming out of a dark room or a cave into the light. I love the February sun in this part of Mexico. It’s soft, warm and caressing. I begin to thaw. The speed is different here. It’s slower. People don’t seem to be worried about what the stock market will do tomorrow or the Super Tuesday’s winners.

I like to arrive a day before each seminar begins. It gives me a chance to breathe in the nature of the place and its energy and to calibrate my speed. Relaxing in the sun is so very peaceful. I look out on the lake. Last summer when we were here for a leadership program the lake was out from shore about 200 meters or 600 feet. The water level had been down for a number of years and the local talk at that time was all about an imminent ecological disaster and how it might impact the area. Today the lake is back. The water comes right to the edge of the resort’s soccer field. Seeing the return of the lake causes me to reflect on the nature of human perception and awareness.

We live in times where “today” or this week is all the mind can hold and there’s a good reason for that. The intensity of impressions, the non-stop news cycle and the dynamic shape-shifting situations of life don’t allow us to process much more than this very moment. It’s curious. The Western mind has come full circle only to find itself right smack in the middle of the Buddhist idea and teaching that NOW is all that there is; that yesterday or tomorrow are only an illusion of the mind. All you really have is this moment; and when the future is actualized it becomes the present. The Western mind is not pressed into this through emptiness or meditative clearing of itself from any thought. Rather it is forced into it as a result of the over fullness or having too much to handle. Being in the now, in this very minute then becomes not some New Age idea but the only personal management strategy that works. Worrying about the past or having anxiety about the future tires your mind, weakens your immune system and robs your energy.

Yesterday is no more, it’s gone. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Tomorrow may or may not come for you. It will be here with you or without you. So all you really have is today. The future is the moment by moment discovery of what happens now and then in the next now.

What all this has to do with the lake? Well, the lake is back. It doesn’t worry about its yesterday or its tomorrow. It is being and doing what it is and does today. For the lake there is no yesterday or tomorrow. Time is a continuum and the lake lives in the moment, inside that continuum.

Can you be fully present in the conversation you are engaged in? Can you live in the moment inside the continuum of your life and its unfolding story?


© Aviv Shahar

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