WISDOM LEADING: The Conversation

Weekly Wisdoms Blog

Climbing Trees

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks. But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing. When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it. Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks.

But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing.

When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it.

Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

4.14.14 0
Comments

How Should a Leader Dance?

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

If you haven't seen him already, Google "Matt Harding dancing." You won't be able to stop smiling. In 2008, Harding became famous for traveling around the world and doing a goofy dance in front of important landmarks in cities from Lima to Lagos. Word got out and hundreds of people started showing up when Harding arrived in their town, so later videos often show him dancing with huge, joyous crowds. It's silly and utterly wonderful. It's also a vivid commentary on leadership styles. As leaders, we're deeply conscious of how we come across to others. Often, we think that being a leader means being Very Serious. Ponderous, even. Certainly, we can't be silly, lighthearted or have fun, right? Right? Matt Harding's example proves that idea to be wrong. His dance is dorky and his grin is awkward, yet his delight is palpable, and that's what draws hundreds and thousands of strangers to dance with him on camera. He proves that being serious, severe or stoic doesn't make a leader more likely to draw followers; inspiring people does. Whether you inspire them with your passion, your sense of humor, your empathy or your ideas, it doesn't matter. The point is, one size does not fit all. As long as you're not afraid to be authentic and honest, you can be a leader. How do you dance and how do your people respond?

If you haven't seen him already, Google "Matt Harding dancing." You won't be able to stop smiling. In 2008, Harding became famous for traveling around the world and doing a goofy dance in front of important landmarks in cities from Lima to Lagos. Word got out and hundreds of people started showing up when Harding arrived in their town, so later videos often show him dancing with huge, joyous crowds. It's silly and utterly wonderful. It's also a vivid commentary on leadership styles.

As leaders, we're deeply conscious of how we come across to others. Often, we think that being a leader means being Very Serious. Ponderous, even. Certainly, we can't be silly, lighthearted or have fun, right? Right?

Matt Harding's example proves that idea to be wrong. His dance is dorky and his grin is awkward, yet his delight is palpable, and that's what draws hundreds and thousands of strangers to dance with him on camera. He proves that being serious, severe or stoic doesn't make a leader more likely to draw followers; inspiring people does. Whether you inspire them with your passion, your sense of humor, your empathy or your ideas, it doesn't matter. The point is, one size does not fit all. As long as you're not afraid to be authentic and honest, you can be a leader.

How do you dance and how do your people respond?

4.8.14 0
Comments

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

Recently, we had an earthquake here in Southern California. Here, that's normally not a big deal. They happen all the time and we become pretty blasé about them. In fact, it's a source of native pride that while visitors dive under tables, lifelong Angelenos take in the shaking, shrug, and start speculating as to the magnitude of the temblor. This last one was a bit different, however. A 5.1 quake based in the small town of La Habra, it lasted for 30 seconds - an eternity by earthquake standards. It did some damage. It shook people - as well as their dishes, pictures, chimneys and gas lines - up a bit. Overall, the damage was minor and there were few injuries. But it reminded me about the topic of complacency, and how easy it is to become complacent over many parts of our lives. We who live in Southern California live atop a web of seismic faults that could rupture at any time, causing a devastating quake. Somehow, most of us have let ourselves become complacent about that. Of course, it's unwise to live in terror of such an unlikely event. But when a quake happens, we often act shocked, like such a thing has no right to happen. How dare the ground do that? Complacency blunts our ability to prepare, both mentally and physically, for what could happen. Since preparation for the unlikely is a crucial aspect of leadership, so is avoiding complacent, blasé, indifferent attitudes toward possible hazards. How can we be ready and vigilant without being anxious and fearful? Where could one more conversation about, or plan to address possible scenarios, free you to be more powerfully present? How are you preparing yourself, and your team for the next "quake"?

Recently, we had an earthquake here in Southern California. Here, that's normally not a big deal. They happen all the time and we become pretty blasé about them. In fact, it's a source of native pride that while visitors dive under tables, lifelong Angelenos take in the shaking, shrug, and start speculating as to the magnitude of the temblor. This last one was a bit different, however. A 5.1 quake based in the small town of La Habra, it lasted for 30 seconds - an eternity by earthquake standards. It did some damage. It shook people - as well as their dishes, pictures, chimneys and gas lines - up a bit.

Overall, the damage was minor and there were few injuries. But it reminded me about the topic of complacency, and how easy it is to become complacent over many parts of our lives. We who live in Southern California live atop a web of seismic faults that could rupture at any time, causing a devastating quake. Somehow, most of us have let ourselves become complacent about that. Of course, it's unwise to live in terror of such an unlikely event. But when a quake happens, we often act shocked, like such a thing has no right to happen. How dare the ground do that?

Complacency blunts our ability to prepare, both mentally and physically, for what could happen. Since preparation for the unlikely is a crucial aspect of leadership, so is avoiding complacent, blasé, indifferent attitudes toward possible hazards. How can we be ready and vigilant without being anxious and fearful? Where could one more conversation about, or plan to address possible scenarios, free you to be more powerfully present?

How are you preparing yourself, and your team for the next "quake"?

3.31.14 0
Comments

Brackets or Possibilities?

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The last soldier has fallen. The last perfect NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament bracket-at least, the last to enter Warren Buffett's contest that offered one billion dollars to anyone who could pick every March Madness winner-went belly-up yesterday when Syracuse lost to Dayton. It's not really a big deal; the odds of having a flawless bracket are, according to Harvard mathematicians, about 9.2 quintillion to one (that's 9.2 followed by eighteen zeros). You have a better chance of winning Powerball six weeks in a row.

What's more interesting is the question of whether or not the NCAA Tournament is more or less enjoyable when we have a vested interest. On one hand, being invested in something makes us pay closer attention to details and outcomes. On the other, it's precisely the possibility of a college like Dayton beating powerhouse Syracuse that makes March Madness so thrilling. The games aren't played on bracket charts, and a top seed guarantees nothing. You've got to go out and put the ball through the hoop.

In our organizations, we're confronted with the same question: how do we balance predictability and control with the potential for exciting surprises? More to the point, how do we, as leaders, keep letting our assumptions about anyone's abilities limit their potential to do great things? Dayton was a number eleven seed; odds makers gave them little chance against Syracuse. But they won. We owe it to our people and ourselves to keep searching for that delicate balance between safe structure and unpredictable possibility that can produce a Cinderella story.

Who in your organization has Cinderella potential?

3.24.14 0
Comments

Catch Me If You Can

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

The 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can" is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars' worth of checks out of people while posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and prosecuting attorney. It's an incredibly cinematic, American cowboy story, immortalized in not just a movie, but also in a book and Broadway musical. I believe this story is alluring because it's a chance for us to observe someone clearly pretending he's something he's not. It's callous and gutsy. Who does that? Short answer - we all do. As alluring as it may be to think Frank's behavior is rare, pretense is actually a part of the daily behavior of every one of us. While seldom as overt as Frank, nonetheless we often pretend we're okay when we're not, or fake confidence through a task or situation when we're not feeling it. Pretense is exhausting and it often leaves damage in its wake. It's a house of cards built by the coward in each of us. How much braver it is to own up to our weaknesses, our fears and our shortcomings-to be as human as the people who follow and trust us? Maybe, just maybe, they'll respect us more for admitting that we're just muddling through, trying to figure things out as we go, trying hard to be the best people we can be. Where does your pretense show up? What is it costing you in your relationships?

The 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can" is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars' worth of checks out of people while posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and prosecuting attorney. It's an incredibly cinematic, American cowboy story, immortalized in not just a movie, but also in a book and Broadway musical.

I believe this story is alluring because it's a chance for us to observe someone clearly pretending he's something he's not. It's callous and gutsy. Who does that?

Short answer - we all do. As alluring as it may be to think Frank's behavior is rare, pretense is actually a part of the daily behavior of every one of us. While seldom as overt as Frank, nonetheless we often pretend we're okay when we're not, or fake confidence through a task or situation when we're not feeling it.

Pretense is exhausting and it often leaves damage in its wake. It's a house of cards built by the coward in each of us. How much braver it is to own up to our weaknesses, our fears and our shortcomings-to be as human as the people who follow and trust us? Maybe, just maybe, they'll respect us more for admitting that we're just muddling through, trying to figure things out as we go, trying hard to be the best people we can be.

Where does your pretense show up? What is it costing you in your relationships?

3.17.14 0
Comments

The Two-Buck Chuck Problem

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Wisdom Leading

Back in 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted an experiment at the University of Bordeaux. He got 54 oenology (the science of wine) students in a room and had them taste two red wines. One, he told them, was a cheap table wine. The other, he told them, was very expensive. The students described the expensive wine as "complex and rounded" while calling the cheap wine swill. The wine in both bottles was the same cheap wine. So, did the students lie? Not really. Brain scans of wine tasters have shown that the expectation of tasting something exquisite can change how the brain's sensory circuits respond to taste. In other words, expectations can fool us. But I also think that many of the students were exhibiting a natural human need to be part of the elite. Nobody wanted to be the one to say that the cheap wine in the expensive bottle tasted like mouthwash; to do so would mean division from the group. What if nobody else agreed? It was more rewarding to insist, along with everyone else, that this particular emperor was wearing fine robes instead of rags. We're all guilty of pretending to like something that we don't in order to be part of the cool crowd. I can't imagine that everyone who raved about Trader Joe's famous "Two-Buck Chuck" (a $2.99 bottle of Charles Shaw cabernet that became a national bestseller a few years back) actually liked it. But while wine tasting is innocuous, conforming to the masses actually has consequences in a company. Quality can suffer, bad strategies can be enacted, laws can be broken. It seems to me that as leaders, we're charged with creating environments where speaking up, standing out, disagreeing, shouting that the emperor is in the buff, is not only safe but rewarded. I don't know about you, but I'll drink to that idea. Where are your people free to dissent and speak their truth? Where aren't they?

Back in 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted an experiment at the University of Bordeaux. He got 54 oenology (the science of wine) students in a room and had them taste two red wines. One, he told them, was a cheap table wine. The other, he told them, was very expensive. The students described the expensive wine as "complex and rounded" while calling the cheap wine swill.

The wine in both bottles was the same cheap wine.

So, did the students lie? Not really. Brain scans of wine tasters have shown that the expectation of tasting something exquisite can change how the brain's sensory circuits respond to taste. In other words, expectations can fool us. But I also think that many of the students were exhibiting a natural human need to be part of the elite. Nobody wanted to be the one to say that the cheap wine in the expensive bottle tasted like mouthwash; to do so would mean division from the group. What if nobody else agreed? It was more rewarding to insist, along with everyone else, that this particular emperor was wearing fine robes instead of rags.

We're all guilty of pretending to like something that we don't in order to be part of the cool crowd. I can't imagine that everyone who raved about Trader Joe's famous "Two-Buck Chuck" (a $2.99 bottle of Charles Shaw cabernet that became a national bestseller a few years back) actually liked it. But while wine tasting is innocuous, conforming to the masses actually has consequences in a company. Quality can suffer, bad strategies can be enacted, laws can be broken.

It seems to me that as leaders, we're charged with creating environments where speaking up, standing out, disagreeing, shouting that the emperor is in the buff, is not only safe but rewarded. I don't know about you, but I'll drink to that idea.

Where are your people free to dissent and speak their truth? Where aren't they?

3.10.14 1
Comments

Beard Transplants

Dr. Foster Mobley // Wisdom Leading

You read the headline correctly. In case you didn't see the story going around the interweb, smooth-cheeked young men in cities like New York and San Francisco have been getting hair transplanted from other parts of their bodies onto their chins. The goal, it seems, is to emulate hipster culture in which the beard plays a central role. I have no idea if such surgery makes a guy crave flannels and Pabst Blue Ribbon. What I do know is that it perfectly captures our belief that by adopting the outer trappings of who we'd like to be, we somehow transform internally as well. The $100,000 midlife crisis hot rod, the breast enlargement, the ankle tattoo... they're all part of this fragile hope that outward change will trigger instant inward change. I see it all the time in leaders at all levels. Their beard transplants are subtler: new titles, new suits, new offices, new branding, new themes. But they reflect the same faulty thinking: the new trappings mean I'm a new person. A leader. But titles, degrees and corner suites don't make you a leader any more than a Harley makes you a Hell's Angel. If the inner transformation hasn't happened, you're just wrapping the same old package in a different way. Why do we feel the need to do this? Is it because real, inward change is challenging and potentially painful? How can we encourage a diminished emphasis on appearances and work to develop the true qualities of leading: wisdom, presence, clarity and humility? What's been your equivalent of a beard transplant? How has that served your leadership, your life?

You read the headline correctly. In case you didn't see the story going around the interweb, smooth-cheeked young men in cities like New York and San Francisco have been getting hair transplanted from other parts of their bodies onto their chins. The goal, it seems, is to emulate hipster culture in which the beard plays a central role.

I have no idea if such surgery makes a guy crave flannels and Pabst Blue Ribbon. What I do know is that it perfectly captures our belief that by adopting the outer trappings of who we'd like to be, we somehow transform internally as well. The $100,000 midlife crisis hot rod, the breast enlargement, the ankle tattoo... they're all part of this fragile hope that outward change will trigger instant inward change.

I see it all the time in leaders at all levels. Their beard transplants are subtler: new titles, new suits, new offices, new branding, new themes. But they reflect the same faulty thinking: the new trappings mean I'm a new person. A leader. But titles, degrees and corner suites don't make you a leader any more than a Harley makes you a Hell's Angel. If the inner transformation hasn't happened, you're just wrapping the same old package in a different way.

Why do we feel the need to do this? Is it because real, inward change is challenging and potentially painful? How can we encourage a diminished emphasis on appearances and work to develop the true qualities of leading: wisdom, presence, clarity and humility?

What's been your equivalent of a beard transplant? How has that served your leadership, your life?

3.3.14 0
Comments

Papering Over a Rotting Wall

Dr. Foster Mobley // Wisdom Leading

Writer and director Jane Wagner has said, "Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool." I understand what she's saying: that sometimes, pretending we're better or stronger than we might actually be can help us get through tough times. But in general, self-delusion - going by the gentler name pretense - is a dangerous, often destructive force, particularly within organizations. I'm going to spend the next few Weekly Wisdoms exploring the faces of pretense. Pretense is literally the act of pretending, of willfully ignoring uncomfortable reality in favor of comfortable illusion. The trouble with pretense is that our uncomfortable realities - failures, shortcomings, fears - need our attention in order to improve. They need to be held up to the light, and pretense hides them from the light. Like papering over a rotting wall, holding on to comforting illusions about who we are and what we're capable of simply prevents us from taking positive action, allowing us to ignore fatal flaws until things collapse around us. Organizations cannot function based on pretense, in part because everybody's flaws quickly become apparent to everyone else, no matter how hard each of us tries to conceal them. Everyone knows which member of the team has a problem with confrontation, which is terrified of risks, and which feels inadequate due to her lack of higher education. It's the leader's job to create a safe space where pretense isn't necessary and where owning up to our shortcomings becomes not frightening but empowering. What pretense are you maintaining? How does it impact your team?

Writer and director Jane Wagner has said, "Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool." I understand what she's saying: that sometimes, pretending we're better or stronger than we might actually be can help us get through tough times. But in general, self-delusion - going by the gentler name pretense - is a dangerous, often destructive force, particularly within organizations. I'm going to spend the next few Weekly Wisdoms exploring the faces of pretense.

Pretense is literally the act of pretending, of willfully ignoring uncomfortable reality in favor of comfortable illusion. The trouble with pretense is that our uncomfortable realities - failures, shortcomings, fears - need our attention in order to improve. They need to be held up to the light, and pretense hides them from the light. Like papering over a rotting wall, holding on to comforting illusions about who we are and what we're capable of simply prevents us from taking positive action, allowing us to ignore fatal flaws until things collapse around us.

Organizations cannot function based on pretense, in part because everybody's flaws quickly become apparent to everyone else, no matter how hard each of us tries to conceal them. Everyone knows which member of the team has a problem with confrontation, which is terrified of risks, and which feels inadequate due to her lack of higher education. It's the leader's job to create a safe space where pretense isn't necessary and where owning up to our shortcomings becomes not frightening but empowering.

What pretense are you maintaining? How does it impact your team?

2.24.14 0
Comments

Without Vision, The People Perish

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

On this President's Day, I leave it to you to debate the wisdom of commemorating mediocrities like Millard Fillmore and Chester A. Arthur. While some media outlets have chosen to use this day to present their lists of the worst U.S. presidents, I'd like to spend our few minutes together discussing what made our best presidents great. I'm talking about vision. Most people use the word without a clear idea of its meaning. Vision is a concept of a future that not only does not exist but is unlikely ever to exist; it's seeing something that 99 percent of people are literally unable to imagine. Jefferson had a vision of a nation built around the consent of the people, an idea that no other nation had embraced to that point. Lincoln had a vision of a union that remained united despite the fierce desire of part of that nation to break away. Kennedy had a vision of man walking on the moon, something that even most engineers thought was impossible. The power of vision is that it stirs the heart and fires the passions; people may disagree with your vision and even think it's madness, but they won't remain neutral about it. Expressing a bold vision for the future can spark debate and argument that in turn generate new ideas -new visions- that unite teams, organizations and even countries. What's your vision for yourself, your team and your organization? What future can you see that might seem impossible today?

On this President's Day, I leave it to you to debate the wisdom of commemorating mediocrities like Millard Fillmore and Chester A. Arthur. While some media outlets have chosen to use this day to present their lists of the worst U.S. presidents, I'd like to spend our few minutes together discussing what made our best presidents great. I'm talking about vision.

 Most people use the word without a clear idea of its meaning. Vision is a concept of a future that not only does not exist but is unlikely ever to exist; it's seeing something that 99 percent of people are literally unable to imagine. Jefferson had a vision of a nation built around the consent of the people, an idea that no other nation had embraced to that point. Lincoln had a vision of a union that remained united despite the fierce desire of part of that nation to break away. Kennedy had a vision of man walking on the moon, something that even most engineers thought was impossible.

The power of vision is that it stirs the heart and fires the passions; people may disagree with your vision and even think it's madness, but they won't remain neutral about it. Expressing a bold vision for the future can spark debate and argument that in turn generate new ideas -new visions- that unite teams, organizations and even countries.

What's your vision for yourself, your team and your organization? What future can you see that might seem impossible today?

2.17.14 0
Comments

Valentine's Day: A Manufactured Holiday With Real Meaning

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

The origins of the Feast of St. Valentine as a romantic holiday are obscure. We know that there was no romance associated with St. Valentine until Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules, and that the practice of sending paper cards to loved ones didn’t begin until the 18th century. But the billion-dollar Valentine industry? That’s a modern invention. Does it really matter? We often attach greater meaning to customs that come about organically than we do to those that are deliberately manufactured, but should we? Is an expression of love or appreciation less meaningful because someone invented and commercialized it? We deliberately create rituals for a purpose: to lend meaning to our lives and to get us—just for a moment—to step outside the rush and hustle of our lives and remember what’s most important. What rituals do you follow in your organization? What small celebrations do you have in place to remind yourself and those working with you to value and recognize one another? If you don’t have any, create some. After all, every ritual was created by someone. How are you expressing your appreciation to those who’ve made a difference for you?

The origins of the Feast of St. Valentine as a romantic holiday are obscure. We know that there was no romance associated with St. Valentine until Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules, and that the practice of sending paper cards to loved ones didn’t begin until the 18th century. But the billion-dollar Valentine industry? That’s a modern invention.

Does it really matter? We often attach greater meaning to customs that come about organically than we do to those that are deliberately manufactured, but should we? Is an expression of love or appreciation less meaningful because someone invented and commercialized it? We deliberately create rituals for a purpose: to lend meaning to our lives and to get us—just for a moment—to step outside the rush and hustle of our lives and remember what’s most important.

What rituals do you follow in your organization? What small celebrations do you have in place to remind yourself and those working with you to value and recognize one another? If you don’t have any, create some. After all, every ritual was created by someone.

How are you expressing your appreciation to those who’ve made a difference for you?

2.10.14 0
Comments

Search The Blog

Recent Posts

Climbing TreesHow Should a Leader Dance?Shake, Rattle and RollBrackets or Possibilities?Catch Me If You Can

Categories

BusinessEducationHistoryQuotablesSportsWisdom Leading

Archives

April 2014March 2014February 2014January 2014December 2013November 2013October 2013September 2013August 2013July 2013June 2013May 2013April 2013March 2013February 2013January 2013December 2012November 2012October 2012September 2012August 2012July 2012June 2012May 2012April 2012March 2012February 2012January 2012December 2011November 2011October 2011
Return to Blog
Dr. Foster Mobley Blog RSS Feed
 

Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams