Lovely Rant by Introvert in Extraverted ‘Dominant Culture’

For once, I’d like to link to somebody else’s blog post:
To a lovely rant by an introverted scientist in an extraversion-oriented culture, where mainly ‘Americans and Dutch’ are simply too loud for that person. Interesting: The observation about ‘more extraverted cultures’ like the American one, in which many introverts – and have I ever heard that before – feel obliged to ‘fake it’ in order to somehow fit in and be as ‘loud and superficial’ as the others, ‘try to behave like they are’ extraverted like the supposed majority around them. (Side note: I confess to having an extraverted preference, but when holding a course in the US a few years ago, coming from Europe, course participants considered me an introvert and even called me out on that – as for what they were used to in terms of levels of ‘entertainment’ also in class, I was simply not loud enough to rise to that expectation! Or to say it differently: Looking at it culturally, an American introvert might still come across as ‘louder’ than e.g. a Finnish extrovert …)

Also look at the comments underneath the blog by people ‘feeling the same pain’ – perhaps us extroverts should/could make a bit more of an effort to notice people with an introverted preference and respect their needs for less noise, smaller groups and meaningful conversation, including the occasional pause for thinking.

Enjoy this post, especially if you have an introverted preference yourself!


Are you a ‘highly sensitive person‘? A little note to you

These days, there is a lot of talk about empathy – and indeed, for quite a few people it would be good to learn and develop their empathetic abilities more. Projects that focus on practicing empathy already with first-graders in school, whose brains still develop, are certainly good and useful. One example here is Roots of Empathy.

However, there is a flip side to that coin that we rarely – basically: never – hear about, and that is: too much empathy. Empathy to the degree that one literally ‘feels’ other people too much or even only other people, but no longer properly one’s own needs.

This can be an issue in helping professions, it can be an issue in coaching and consulting, and it can be an issue in our personal lives. It can go to the point of self-sacrifice.

The medical basis for empathy lies in the number of mirror neurons one is equipped with. Mirror neurons help us with the ability to imagine things/contexts. And yes indeed, some people have difficulty imagining things. They literally ‘lack imagination’, find it stressful to even attempt to imagine things/concepts. They prefer observation of what is, what they can see, hear, touch. Fair enough. Also much needed, especially in hands-on professions.

Some other people though are so richly equipped with mirror neurons that they imagine things too well – they hear somebody talking about a tooth ache and literally feel that tooth ache themselves. They read about somebody fainting from pain or illness and almost faint themselves. They tend to say: “I feel other people too much” or “I’m just a highly sensitive person”.

I have had to learn the hard way that it is indeed much less ‘poetic’ than that: It is simply so that there is too much ability to imagine things. To anticipate: “What would it be like?” In full complexity. You are not actually ‘feeling’ the other person’s pain or emotion or anger. You are just too good at imagining/anticipating things.

So sometimes, it helps to step back, look inside yourself and ask: “So what do I actually feel? And what do I actually want and need right now?” And to stop thinking about that person or that situation that triggers the imagination/anticipation. Literally take your mind off it – let go of anticipation. Switch and return to yourself.

For people with ‘too much empathy’ that can be a necessary exercise. It doesn’t mean that you will lose your compassion. It’s simply about consciously developing ‘good enough’ boundaries, turning away a little instead of turning towards. We’re supposed to be connected – and sometimes it’s okay and even healthy to be a bit separate. Try and find your own good ‘middle ground’.


‘The value of ignorance’ – or who do I trust?

A contact of mine shared a link to this article about that new person being in charge of national education in that big country across the pond ‘teaching the value of ignorance‘.

That title really made me think – first of all about: What is a value? Still not exactly sure how to define it for myself. Certainly a way of looking at things, a deeply-held conviction, something that is very important to someone, a ‘positive attachment’?


I’ve actually heard it from one or the other person here in Germany: ‘I am *proud* to be ignorant.’ Confusing for me. You see, I am hopeless at physics and chemistry and IT (and math, accordingly) – while other people are passionate about those and eagerly pursue the topics (I admire them).

But that does not make me *proud* of being ignorant in those fields. Rather, it makes me humble. Yes, I also avoid the topics instead of attempting to educate myself further, although maybe I should – because I lack interest and find it difficult. Perhaps, if I had an interest, I would find it less difficult? But I am glad other people understand this stuff, and am happy to trust them with it. Otherwise, a lot of things just would not work, like for example housing, transportation, health care, and my laptop, only for starters. And I depend very much on all of those to work; also, I have had *mostly good experiences* with them. ‘Science can be trusted’ – to an extent.

In analogy now: If I was to find politics and/or multiculturalism and/or globalization and/or complexity and/or uncertainty too difficult – plus was not interested in them (can’t blame you, with my own lack of interest in physics, chemistry, IT, math – perhaps you’re more gifted than I in those) – would I also want to call myself ‘proud to be ignorant’ and call ignorance my ‘value’? Would I have a need to be self-protective in that way, otherwise feeling over-extended in front of the challenge? Because I’d have to push and force myself to get interested in, deal with and understand stuff that I don’t have a deep passion for … which I would find stressful, as is human nature?

Would I then rather trust people who I assume know this stuff better? If I had made good experiences with how they took care of these issues on my behalf?

But what if my experiences were bad?? Repeatedly? Would I say: “Who the heck around here can I still trust with this stuff that I don’t understand? Who can take care of it?” If I don’t have sufficient understanding of the subject matter, who am I to know how to choose the right people to take care of politics, multiculturalism, globalization, complexity and uncertainty on my behalf?

If you asked me to choose one surgeon over the other, one person in charge of iCloud security over another, one engineer building bridges or tunnels over another – how would I go about that? I would not have informed criteria regarding their professional competencies, and they could tell/’sell’ me pretty much whatever they wanted – I’d probably go with who I happen to know, who my friends recommended, or who I spontaneously liked better, just in terms of chemistry …

Does this make sense? And do you see my point?

Happy to discuss …

The Times They Are A-Changin’*

The organizational theorist Ralph Stacey speaks about ‚bounded instability‘ – a very useful notion, I find. We need certain scaffoldings, holding structures – and a certain level of flexibility and freedom to move within those structures. Every once in a while, also the structures need adjustment.

Now, if there is too much structure, holding us too rigidly, then we are speaking of an ‘overstructured system’– and that eventually needs some deconstruction.

In turn, when there is too little structure and too much instability, we speak of an ‘understructured system’ – and sometimes it is helpful to re-introduce a little structure to avoid chaos.

In the ‘good old days’ of around the 1950s, there were more rigid structures in place than nowadays – and many of us rebelled. Nowadays, there are a lot of freedoms – too many for some of us, who feel as if, with so many of the old ‘certainties’ lacking, we’re getting lost …

The tricky thing is that not all humans are the same – evolution has created us so that we have different traits and preferences, competencies and skills, so that we can help each other out, and the whole range needed is covered. That makes for some people thriving on change, loving it when things are shaken up, enjoying the freedom to have many choices. It makes just as well for people who prefer caution, steadiness, and a sense of safety and security provided by tradition, experience and routine.

So, we all need some of all of the above – only, some of us lean more towards the ‘instability’ part of ‘bounded instability’ – others more towards the ‘bounded’ part.

The reason: If we love change, we happen to be, by nature, very open to outside stimuli – so we need a lot of them. Too much ‘bounded stability’ is boring for us, for lack of stimuli.

If we prefer tradition, experience, holding structures and routine, we are, by nature, less open to outside stimuli – so if we get a lot of them, that is rather stressful and unsettling. We prefer setting clear boundaries to let less stimuli in, so we can still have our internal structure and order and feel safe and secure.

So – two different ways of thriving and flourishing. Each one necessary, so we can all be complementary.

The challenge now is that we currently happen to be living in unsettling times, where there are very few certainties, where old structures are increasingly abolished, where new structures, especially of work, often appear precarious. All that change feels threatening to some … they miss the apparent order and ‘safety’ of the ‘good old days’.

Plus there is this notion of ‘post-modern relativism’ – promoting that there is no absolute truth, only differences in perception. That does *not* extend to saying ‘the sun is shining’ when it’s actually raining. It does not extend either to saying ‘you can cross the road now’ when a car is approaching at full speed. It does extend to political opinions or to personal preferences, though. In that area, there is not necessarily an ‘either … or’, but an ‘and’. As explained, for example, change itself can be both stimulating *and* threatening – depending from which perspective you look at it. Even temperature can be perceived differently: To Finnish people, 25 C is really warm – to people from the Philippines, 25 C might feel rather cool … It is like looking at this well-known drawing: Can you see both the old *and* the young woman? (I have added this as a YouTube video, so you can indeed see both and don’t need to feel frustrated.)

However, as all that is confusing, some people might be tempted to say ‘If everything is up for grabs in terms of interpretation, why can’t I then say that MY little world is exactly the way that I see it and that I want it to be? And I’m just going to MAKE it be that way!’

Some people feel absolutely over-extended with all the change going on, with all the uncertainties encroaching, with all the cultural interpretations suddenly possible … So now they have taken to saying very determinedly: ‘This is it. The buck stops here. I set my boundaries very clearly, and I want everything to go back to the old ways that felt safe for ME because I knew my way around them’. It is a kind of helpless protest …

Think about it: How long can you yourself ‘sit with uncertainty’? For an hour? A day? A week? A month? A year? Uncertainty about the state of your health, your income, your employment, your children’s future? Think about how much stress it causes you to not know about the state of your health for a month, about the future of your employment for 6 months. Does that cause you sleepless nights? What if you’re forced to ‘sit with uncertainty’ for … years? What will your helpless, stressed-out fear eventually turn into? Depression? Or rage?

Nevertheless – ‘alternative facts’ as a form of defiance might provide a temporary sense of relief against uncertainty, insecurity, all those relativist perspectives out there, and no one apparently knowing the ‘exact right way’ into the future. In the long run, though, that kind of defiance is not going to work …

Increasingly, we are all asked to co-create the future, in collaborative stewardship. Some might not like giving up the control to which they feel entitled by class, income or sense of ‘natural leadership’. Some others might not like assuming personal responsibility, as they would rather like to just ‘follow’ and have some kind of ‘leader’ do the thinking for them and ‘show them the way’ (and that better be THE ‘right’ way!).

Responsibly co-creating our future, though, in collaborative stewardship, while allowing lots of perspective changes as we map out our collective way forward, with the greatest level of freedom, safety and prosperity for *everyone* – it’s the only way ahead.

Questions that remain are: How can we best train ourselves for that?
And: How can those of us who thrive on change and lots of choices help ‘ease the pain’ of those of us who prefer the tradition and routine of our old known ways, who would like to follow a given path rather than engage in co-creation, and who experience stress and ‘social pain’ from all that change, uncertainty, and manifold ways of looking at things?


*The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a Bob Dylan song. You can find the lyrics here:

Watch short film / Kurzfilm ansehen: 21st Century Learning – Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert

The international education activist and creative consultant Patrick Newell lobbies for 21st Century model schooling. He generously gave the German rights for his film ’21st Century Learning’ to Education Y, the social profit organization I currently support part-time. Education Y made a short version of the film (15 min.), adapting it with some added German content. My partner and I had the honor to provide translation from English to German: Education Y – 21st Century Learning

A powerful message in there that I personally took with me: We need to accept that we can no longer necessarily impose our own meaning-making on children, but that we need to allow them their own meaning-making – even if that leads to perspective change for us.

Der internationale Bildungsaktivist Patrick Newell setzt sich für modellhaftes Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert ein. Er hat die deutschen Rechte für seinen Bildungsfilm ‘Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert’ Education Y überlassen, dem Sozialprofit-Unternehmen, das ich derzeit in Teilzeit unterstütze. Education Y hat eine Kurzversion des Films erstellt, adaptiert mit zusätzlichen deutschen Inhalten. Mein Partner und ich durften die Übersetzung vom Englischen ins Deutsche beitragen: Education Y – Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert

Eine starke Botschaft des Films, die ich für mich selbst mitgenommen habe: Wir müssen akzeptieren, dass wir nicht länger unbedingt unsere eigene Deutung der Dinge den Kindern aufoktroyieren können – sondern dass wir ihnen ihre eigene Sinnfindung und Deutung der Dinge erlauben müssen, auch wenn das für uns Perspektivwechsel bedeutet.

‘Uni-Abschlüsse braucht kein Mensch – sie sagen nichts über späteren Berufserfolg!’

(Dear Readers, for once a blog post in German, as this concerns particularly German society:)

‚Uniabschlüsse braucht kein Mensch – laut Ernst & Young sagt der Studienabschluss nichts über späteren Erfolg im Beruf’ – dies ist ein schöner kleiner Artikel, den ich als ‚mutige selbst Betroffene ohne lückenlose Bildungskette‘ gern weiter verbreite, denn gerade die deutsche Gesellschaft braucht meiner Ansicht nach hier noch dringend eine offenere Haltung und ein weit weniger restriktives Handeln.

Daher hier exemplarisch mein eigener, eben nicht ‘lückenloser’ Bildungshintergrund in Korrelation zum beruflichen Erfolg – ich weiss, es gibt ‘un-geoutet’ viele wie mich, und es wäre schön, wenn wir den ‘lückenlosen Mythos‘ etwas aufbrechen könnten:

– Ich war auf der Realschule – und es war eine gute Realschule -, da das nahegelegene Gymnasium damals hauptsächlich für ständigen, langfristigen Lehrerausfall ‚berühmt’ war. Habe dann danach die gymnasiale Oberstufe gemacht.
– Im Anschluss ans Abitur die Banklehre – ich finde bis heute, dass mein Kurs im 10-Finger-Blindschreiben sowie die Kenntnisse aus der kaufmännischen Ausbildung mir eigentlich jahrelang am Besten mein Einkommen gesichert haben.
Das BWL-Studium, das Mitte der 80er Jahre ja fast ‘zum guten Ton’ gehörte, habe ich nach zwei Semestern beim Jura-Repetitor in der überfüllten Uni-Mensa in Köln trotz recht guter Noten – abgebrochen …
Politikwissenschaft in Kanada musste ich dann trotz guter Noten (BA Honors, GPA 3.86, Dean’s List) und guter Motivation wegen schwerer verschleppter Hepatitis abbrechen, und 15 Jahre lang konnte ich aufgrund längerfristiger kognitiver Schädigung als Folgeerscheinung der Hepatitis keine Fachbücher lesen
Nokia (aber eben ein finnisches Unternehmen) hat mich 1997 im großen Telekommunikationsaufschwung trotzdem eingestellt (ich sage ja gern, „In Großunternehmen fallen kurze Aufmerksamkeitsspannen gar nicht auf …“), und ich habe mich da in acht Jahren, sowohl in Deutschland als auch in globaler Rolle in Helsinki, fünf Stufen höherarbeiten und mein Gehalt verdreifachen können
– Zum Master-Studium in England (Organisational Change Consulting) hat man mich zeitgleich zu meinem 40. Geburtstag auch ohne vollendeten Bachelor zugelassen, allein auf Grund von sowohl Berufs- als auch Lebenserfahrung
– Die textlich schwierigsten Bücher konnte ich auch dort nicht lesen – die hat man mir dann halt komprimiert mündlich erklärt … Abschließen konnte ich zur Überraschung meines Prüfungs-Profs trotzdem (zwar knapp, aber immerhin) nicht nur mit ‚Pass‘ oder ‚Merit‘, sondern mit Auszeichnung!
Im Ausland gibt es keine Zeugnisse, die sind dort einfach nicht üblich, also habe ich aus meinen Auslandsjahren in Kanada, Finnland und England gar keine ‚lückenlose Beweiskette‘, die ja in Deutschland immer noch viel zu wichtig ist
– Und mein Lebenslauf ist nicht geradlinig, aber ich war trotzdem, auch finanziell, sehr erfolgreich, sowohl als Angestellte bei Nokia als auch als selbständige Unternehmensberaterin später (die 100 Tage Beraterbudget für 2008 zum Thema ‚Strategie und Umsetzung von Corporate Responsibility‘ bei einem großen deutschen Energieunternehmen habe ich bekommen, nicht ein großes deutsches Beratungsunternehmen, das auch mit im Rennen war …)
– Mittlerweile (oder vielleicht auch nur derzeit) bin ich zu 50% körperlich schwerbehindert – auch so ein Tabu in der Arbeitswelt -, aber mein Kopf ist weiterhin fähig, auch wenn der Körper nicht mehr so kann, und mit flexiblem Teilzeit-Arbeitsmodell kann ich weiterhin gut beitragen – vor allem, da mir mein Krankwerden nebenbei die Zeit zu mehr Fortbildung als je zuvor gegeben hat, so dass ich (hoffentlich) wert- und wirkungsvoller als zuvor beitragen kann. Aber es brauchte den buddY E.V. in Düsseldorf als aufgeklärten Arbeitgeber, der für Chancengleichheit steht, um mir diese Möglichkeit zu geben …!

Ich selbst bin also sehr dafür, a) von lückenlosen Lebensläufen (und vor allem diesem Damokles-Schwert ‚Ohne lückenlosen Lebenslauf ist man nichts wert …‘) wegzukommen und 
b) im 21. Jahrhundert endlich auch die Chancen*gleichheit* von informellem und/oder selbstorganisiertem Lernen anzuerkennen – auch ohne dass irgendeine deutsche Institution ihren offiziellen Kontrollstempel daraufgesetzt hat.
Und der Wert von berufsbegleitenden Fortbildungen gegenüber dem, was man ursprünglich einmal gelernt hat, sollte auch nicht länger unterschätzt werden. Es ist eben heutzutage *keine* lückenlose Bildungskette!
Ein kleines Praxisbeispiel: Ja, der hochkompetente Personalvorstand des angesehenen Pharma-Unternehmens Janssen Cilag, durch dessen Arbeit das Unternehmen ganz oben unter den ‚besten Arbeitgebern Deutschlands‘ rangiert, hat studiert … Theologie

Also – hin zu: ‚Wozu ist die Person fähig?‘ (auch eine Form der Selbstwirksamkeit) statt ‚Wer darf pauschal und u.U. aus der Ferne aburteilen, was eine Person auf Grund von vorhandenen oder nicht vorhandenen gewissen Abschlüssen kann oder nicht?‘ (eine, wie ich finde, unangemessene bildungsbehördliche Fremdbestimmung/Fernkontrolle, durch die der Gesellschaft viel zu viele Talente und Fähigkeiten verloren gehen).

Auch in Personalabteilungen ist es noch viel zu häufig so, dass da Azubis oder Assistentinnen Bewerbungen von potentiellen Führungskräften nach Standardkriterien von vornherein aussortieren dürfen, wenn nur die kleinste Irregularität im Lebenslauf auftaucht – so dass die Personalverantwortlichen selbst diese Bewerbungen nicht einmal zu sehen bekommen (was man auf Nachfrage dort erfährt – z.B.: Eine Frau, die ihre zwei Masterabschlüsse, in Biochemie und IT, beide mit 1,0 abgeschlossen hat, im Gesundheitsmanagement eine Abteilung mit 40 Mitarbeitern geleitet hat und fließend Englisch und Russisch spricht, wurde so aussortiert.)

Im Gegenzug ist es erfrischend zu sehen, wenn ein ehemaliger Hauptschüler ohne zehnte Klasse, ‚nur’ mit mit Ach und Krach bestandener Handwerkerlehre und ein paar Jahren als Zeitsoldat bei der Bundeswehr, mittlerweile allein auf Grund sowohl seiner Verkaufs- als auch seiner Führungsfähigkeiten als Regionalleiter Vertrieb für digitale Konvergenzprodukte im B-2-B-Bereich 20 Mitarbeiter hat und über 10.000 Euro im Monat verdient – ‚reingerutscht’ allerdings nicht über eine offizielle Bewerbungsausschreibung, in der er sicher keine Chance gehabt hätte (und es überrascht vermutlich auch nicht, dass die Einstellung zwar hier in Deutschland, aber eben bei einem amerikanischen Konzern erfolgte …).

Dies sind wenige, mir persönlich bekannte Ausnahmebeispiele – es gibt jedoch sicherlich viele mehr. Wir bräuchten mehr öffentliche Kenntnis davon! Liebe Leser, welche Beispiele kennen Sie?

Wir brauchen in unserer deutschen Gesellschaft allgemein weniger Angst (das andere Wort für Kontrolle) und mehr Vertrauen und Offenheit (eine Sozialkompetenz) gegenüber den Fähigkeiten von Späteinsteigern, Quereinsteigern, Wiedereinsteigern nach Elternzeit, Autodidakten, Weitergebildeten, Menschen aus dem Ausland, etc. – deren (unser!) Lernen, inklusive Kompetenz, Kreativität und Innovationsfähigkeit, kommt nicht mehr eindimensional vom Dorflehrer vorn am Pult (und in einem deutschen Ort) als einziger kontrollierter/kontrollierbarer Quelle!!

Auch in Bezug auf Bildung hat Deutschland meiner Ansicht nach eine strafende Verbotskultur (“Du darfst das nicht”) und Ausschluss-Kultur (“Du gehörst nicht dazu”) – und würde dringend eine wertschätzende Kultur des Erlaubens und Ermöglichens sowie der Inklusion auch auf diesen subtileren Ebenen brauchen … auch ‘krumme’, lückenhafte Lebensläufe ‘ganz normal’ zuzulassen gehört meiner Ansicht nach zur Inklusion … Und ich merke gerade, wie ich auch da von meiner Kanada-Erfahrung geprägt bin, wo all das, wie ich meine, gesellschaftlich recht selbstverständlich ist.

Es gibt übrigens auch hier ein wirtschaftliches ‘Bottom Line’-Argument: Wenn wir kulturell zu änstlich-kontrollierend restriktiv darin sind, wen wir chancenhaft zu Macht, Status und Geld zulassen (denn auch darum geht es ja, seien wir ehrlich …), dann stehen wir der dringend benötigten volkswirtschaftlichen Entwicklung leider nur im Wege …

Für die einzelne, fähige Person ist ein erlaubendes Zulassen gleichzeitig endlich die Chance, sich aus einem sogenannten übermächtigen gesellschaftlichen ‚Über-Ich’ (Freud) oder ‚Erwartungs-Ich’ (Kuhl) zu lösen und mit eigenem ‚starkem Ich’ (Freud) oder ‚realem Selbst’ (Kuhl) frei von Scham- oder Defizitsgefühlen über eventuell nicht entsprochenen gesellschaftlichen ‚Kontrollkriterien’ sinn-, wert- und wirkungsvoll beizutragen.

Does this make sense? Hollywood producer campaigns to find cure for daughters’ rare disease

Please forgive me for, for once, not dedicating a blog post to Corporate Responsibility, consulting, coaching, or leadership training – but instead to a topic that has affected me personally.

In order to read on, you will first have to click this link to get the story (and perhaps also watch the video there).

Screen shot 2015-06-23 at 13.17.59

This is a very tricky ethical dilemma – a matter of ‘triage’? Should medical research money only be spent if it can save the greatest number of lives? Formally unethical, but practically unavoidable?

Nobody who has not gone through it themselves can fully understand these parents’ agony and pain. I have, and I feel with them 100% (18 years later, I can speak and write about it).

These parents, the Grays in Hollywood, are in a privileged position – they may actually succeed in raising the millions they want through their celebrity friends and those friends’ social media power (crowdfunding – “just give $1 each”).

However, even with raising millions ‘yesterday’, there is no guarantee a cure will be found (another ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’ case would be quite a miracle) – and even less of a chance that it will be found in time to still save these girls’ lives.

But I understand – I also fought until the last day, calling experts around the world, at Johns Hopkins, etc. As a parent, eventually giving up all wishful thinking and really accepting reality – accepting that there is nothing you can do other than letting your child die – is incredibly hard, letting go is hard, in your mind rationally wanting to agree to the doctors turning off the life support, but emotionally just not managing is hard, finally watching your child die is hard, and you have to find a meaningful way to say goodbye that you can remember forever (how many parents of children dying of cancer had to go through it?).

With this Batten disease, they say that children die between the ages of 6 and 12. With a lot of similar very rare illnesses that also start with first blindness, then seizures, then loss of motor skills, children already die during the first 12 months of their lives (as in the case of my son, Mathieu). There are countless of these very rare diseases … we are not even aware of that. But then always just extremely few children are affected, e.g. 1 in 1,000,000 or 1 in 10,000,000 births …

You don’t know at first – these children appear normal, beautiful, healthy. One young paediatrician said to me: “Well, you hear about it during your studies, but very rarely do you actually get to see one of these children …” And one professor, an eminent expert for these illnesses, said to me at the time: “Don’t even wish for your child to survive … this illness is too cruel.” So even if these parents found a ‘cure’ – at what stage in their daughters’ degeneration would it intervene? *If* they survive – then *how*? But of course, for the parents’ souls, *anything* would be better than for their daughters to die … All of these are heart- and mindbreakingly hard questions to ask and consider …

 Screen shot 2015-06-22 at 12.31.02

If your children were born healthy, please DO realize how incredibly blessed you are …! These cases you never see tend to be locked away behind hospital walls … I’m just glad that there is a tiny bit of support for parents like the Grays, parents of children with very rare, genetic inherited diseases, from organizations like for example CLIMB in the UK, or ‘achse’ in Germany. And that there are children’s hospices. At least that. At least support.

If you believe in prayer, then pray for these parents, Kristen and Gordon, to hang in there, and pray for these little girls, Charlotte and Gwenyth, not to suffer too much … it is extremely cruel on all four of them.

I’m still not sure though whether donating money is the answer …

This is a great, big life dilemma of the kind of which, as we are young, we may not even realize they exist, or hope they pass us by, and as we grow older, they may gradually catch up with us – enter our lives, or the lives of people we know – and we learn ‘the hard way’, i.e. by experience, that a) no, we are not special, we don’t get spared and b) sometimes all we can do is exactly that: experience, notice, suffer through it, endure, accept, mourn – but say in the end: It is as it is. Life. “Always wonderful and hard – simultaneously“, as the German filmmaker Doris Dörrie once worded it so fittingly when asked about how she went on after the untimely death of her first husband, father to their then-young daughter, from cancer.

Does such experience necessarily make any of us a better person? With everything I have experienced in my own life, and it wasn’t easy, I still don’t know … I guess it just makes us people who have experienced more of ‘full catastrophe living‘, as mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat Zinn calls it …

Hopefully it can make us a bit wiser and a bit more compassionate towards others, rather than bitter and closed-up? And perhaps, in the end, “no longer judging” the ‘it is as it is’, as my mentor Dr. Albert Zandvort described the learning from his own life experience, plus becoming a bit wiser and a bit more compassionate – perhaps that’s what being around here on earth really is all about?

The Real Self, the Other, and the Community – Are You Connected?

What early experiential learning can be good for …:
In the year 2000, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia launched their global Community Involvement program, at the time called ‘Make a Connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’. On the Nokia side, I had the privilege to operationally run this program and contribute to growing it to individual programs in more than 20 countries, directly having impacted more than 200,000 young people by the time I left six years later.

What did young program participants learn? The program worked in three concentric circles, from the inside out:

Screen shot 2015-04-25 at 10.47.03

– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence’ – being in touch with yourself, understanding yourself and your needs, being capable of managing your own emotions, especially as a teenager

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘social intelligence’ – having good and meaningful relationships with your family, your friends, people around you (rather than being in potential conflict and/or isolation)

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ was essentially about being a citizen – being part of and contributing to a community, also through volunteering, youth activism, social projects, social entrepreneurship.

I left Nokia at the end of 2005, and a wonderful colleague from Italy took over my role. Now, almost 10 years after I left, 15 years after we started, I have gained true appreciation for the meaningful depth of the concept IYF suggested we launch together at the time. Through my work as a consultant, coach and leadership trainer, and most recently through a research and book project, I have come to appreciate in myself these three concentric circles – and have noticed how, while the program for teenagers went from the inside out, over the past 10 years I personally have moved deeply from the outside in:

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ – those were my early years as an activist, being a member of Amnesty International, ‘doing the door to door’ for Greenpeace, working at the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice. Those were also my Nokia years, growing the Make a Connection program. Those were even the years of writing and publishing with my then-client Nick Lakin our book ‘Corporate Community Involvement’.

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ – those were my years after leaving Nokia, studying to become a change consultant. My mentor Jane Linklater, who had already guided IYF and Nokia in our cross-sector collaboration, strongly recommended a book to me at the time, ‘Intimacy and Solitude‘ by Stephanie Dowrick, which taught me good awareness of how to be an ‘appropriate other’, really learning how to see and understand other people as individuals in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and offer them good mutuality in our relationships. (Making that a topic in my Master’s thesis, I also connected it to companies/organizations and their stakeholder relations.) I’ll forever be grateful to Jane for this and many other things.

– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ – while I had always assumed that I had that, it only really happened on a much deeper level over the last few years, amongst others through being introduced to some of the complex work of Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl, a small part of which is a distinction between a person’s ‘expectation I’ and ‘real self’. The ‘expectation I’ is what might correspond to Freud’s ‘Über-Ich’ – a subconscious introjection of what other people and society want(ed) from us. Facets like ‘be strong’, ‘be fast’, ‘hurry up’, ‘try hard’, etc. Internalized drivers that can actually drive us too hard. (Based on insights from neuroscience, Kuhl actually connects it to left-brain activity.) In contrast, there is the ‘real self’ (accordingly situated in right-brain activity) to be discovered – and sometimes (most times?), that takes time (out), deep inner reflection, some grappling, some sitting with discomfort, some real inner ‘going through transition’. Yet it is a journey that is deeply worth it, finally finding out about aspects like ‘who is my real self?’, ‘what does my real self actually feel?’, ‘what is it that my real self wants?’, ‘what does my real self want to say no to?’. This is a journey that is not necessarily wedded to so-called ‘external success’ – it is not about status, power, money. It is about essence, it is about meaning, it is about being.

So there you go – years later, I find that the theme of ‘Make a connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’ was so wisely chosen. It is a concept that I want to re-introduce into my own coaching and relational leadership training work, supporting people in getting in touch with their real selves, learning good inter-subjectivity and mutuality as ‘adequate others’ and relational leaders, and making a contribution as citizens, individually through voting, activism, volunteering, mentoring, and possibly pro bono work, and in their organizations through what used to be called ‘corporate responsibility’, and is by many nowadays called ‘organization sustainability‘.

How do I lead? An evolving relational credo …

The other night, in a dream, someone put me on the spot, asking me provocatively: ’Can you take over here and lead?’ The dream sequence prompted me to think about what the person meant and what was required – and it prompted me to ask myself: How do I lead? Just to become more aware of it for myself.

Once I had started scribbling things down, I looked on the Internet whether other people did what I had just done. I found quite a few people, also e.g. head teachers, who had written up their leadership credos and had made them public, for colleagues and direct reports to see – inviting those colleagues and reports to always hold them to their own standards and give them feedback if they ’slipped’. I thought that was quite a neat idea. So, not copying their content – I still wanted that to be entirely my own, so did not read what they wrote – I do want to ’join that club’ and attempt to put something online. Here’s where I currently stand – to be revised and updated on an ongoing basis …:

THE FOUNDATION for my leadership approach are my values. I have condensed and summarized my most important ones, those that you cannot take away from me, to be:

  • Autonomy and integrity –
    the most important basis for me, and to define me as a person, both values go hand in hand. I need full autonomy over my destiny like I need air to breathe, and I know I need honesty – I offer it myself and need it from others. Lying does not work for me, neither does deceit. I simply don’t like hidden agendas. Mutual commitment (another important value, see below) is to me not possible without mutual integrity.
  • Communication and understanding –
    trying to truly understand others, really seeing them, in their unique ways of seeing and experiencing the world, and with their resulting needs and convictions. Also on a mutual basis – hopefully being seen and understood.
  • Mutuality, loyalty and support –
    good mutuality really creates the balance that is needed in any relationship, be it between people, organizations, or groups in society – and it means a lot to me. Such good mutuality, to me, has to include loyalty (which probably links in with my need for integrity mentioned above). And on that basis of mutuality and loyalty, being there for each other for appropriate support, in a motivating, encouraging, helpful way.

Then, a big BUILDING BLOCK for my approach is my understanding of power: I am not in the least interested in power over anybody – I believe in power with each other. (In my understanding, if you want power over others, good mutuality cannot work.)

In terms of the leadership notion itself: While I am personally fully with Peter Block, who promotes the more radical notion of ‘stewardship, an even more self-responsible and democratic approach, here I will go with ‘leadership’ as the notion that is still more commonly in use.

So where it comes to the activity, on the basis of my values and my understanding of power, I lead by

  • being authentic – offering up who I believe myself to be at this point in my own evolving; what you see is what you get. No hidden agenda.
  • being deeply interested in people, their drivers and motivations, and their personal and professional transformational development. I lead by listening actively and getting to know people. I lead by respecting, honoring and valuing people for who they are. I lead on a basis of familiarity and trust with each other.
  • good contracting between us, clarifying underlying mutual assumptions as much as possible.

I lead:

  • with a deep awareness that culture is co-created, and that each one of us contributes simply by ’showing up’, and by how we show up.
  • from behind, being supportive, and my door is always open.
  • in a circle, in a flat hierarchy and a participatory approach, co-creating both strategy and implementation. I want us to achieve great things together and ’change the game’ – also through good ’thinking together’, also with external ’best minds’.
  • by being fine with some of my reports being more knowledgeable than I on certain areas of expertise.
  • being all for it when people want to get ahead and thrive – I will, if needed, only caution them occasionally not to overwork themselves. But I will not react well to people who only do the very minimum they can get away with, leaving their workplace on the minute. I need people on my team who are self-motivated and self-managing – which does not mean that they cannot consult me on my opinion and/or advice at any time.
  • encouraging everybody to pay good attention to taking good and loving care of ourselves, with healthy, balanced lives that include sufficient sleep, rest, relaxation and leisure, healthy food and some exercise, and quality time with family and friends – as well as coaching or also therapy in as much as they can be helpful for personal evolution and inner transformation
  • aiming to offer constructive feedback as needed, and equally wanting to receive that myself.
  • learning from everybody, aware that we all learn from each other.

In that very spirit, I invite every reader of this post – if you have made it this far – to engage in conversation and feedback with me on what I have written above – thank you

Sustainability, leadership, empathy, mindfulness – what have they all got to do with each other?

I have tried to really condense my thinking on this into a few short sentences. So here you go:

Sustainability must include sustainable leadership – and that means ethical, participatory leadership. Lead in a circle, consider the concerns of stakeholders and allow/hear/consider/think with their voices, starting with your employees.

We must accompany managers on their way to becoming leaders, not leave them alone with that, but offer them relevant learning. Too many managers are left alone in their transition from management to leadership, where suddenly they are no longer just responsible for themselves, but for furthering and developing people in a team.

Sustainable leadership is about inter-subjectivity and empathy – also towards employees, communities, the environment, and future generations.

The challenge is ignorance – people who keep playing the wrong game, the game of endless material growth and ego-centrism only.

What is inter-subjectivity? Really *seeing* other individuals, as subjects in themselves, with rights, needs and emotions – not as objects for you to treat any way you please, or to consider mere extensions of yourself. Or even worse, as objects to exploit.

That inter-subjectivity perception takes empathy – and empathy is an ability that in most people (except those with certain personality disorders) can be increased through awareness raising, learning and practice.

So here is our challenge as leadership trainers and coaches – help leaders with their levels of empathy, help them with their ability to see others rightfully as subjects in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and expand from there to help them understand the concept of sustainable leadership – acting in the best interest of all stakeholders concerned, long-term.

We must also help leaders especially with weighing the pressures of having to produce and present short-term profit with realizing and protecting long-term strategic interests. Example: If you ‘take the profit and run’, that might work for a few years – but what does it take to do and invest differently if you want your business to be around for 20 years or longer?

In the end, whether as an individual or an organization, what really matters in today’s world is that you yourself act and behave like an ‘adequate other’ towards the people around you/your stakeholders. And that attitude and behavior requires good mindfulness.