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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
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Groundhog Day

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

Yesterday was dedicated to a rodent who can supposedly see his shadow, so it's an opportune time to talk about our devotion to routine. I'm sure you know the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again until he stops being a self-absorbed, misanthropic jerk. The movie is only partially a fantasy. In many ways, each of us repeats the same day over and over. How often do you go through the same routine-get up, clean up, have breakfast, get dressed, check email, commute to work-without a thought about what you're doing or why? Are you mentally present as that routine plays out, or are you just robotically going through a series of rote tasks? Think about how often we all exhibit that same mindless, repetitive behavior in our organizations. Consider your recurring meetings. Do you ever question the need for each of them, or do you just go? What would happen if you stepped out of the routine and asked of each one, "Is this meeting really necessary?" More importantly, what would happen if you stepped back from your routine several times each day and asked hard questions: "Is this activity productive?", "How can we do this better?", "Is this really the highest and best use of my talents?" Groundhog Day was fiction. Your work isn't. If you find yourself repeating the same day again and again, maybe it's time to stop and look around. Maybe you'll see your shadow. Take a moment and step away from your routine. What opportunities do you now see?

Yesterday was dedicated to a rodent who can supposedly see his shadow, so it's an opportune time to talk about our devotion to routine. I'm sure you know the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again until he stops being a self-absorbed, misanthropic jerk.

The movie is only partially a fantasy. In many ways, each of us repeats the same day over and over. How often do you go through the same routine-get up, clean up, have breakfast, get dressed, check email, commute to work-without a thought about what you're doing or why? Are you mentally present as that routine plays out, or are you just robotically going through a series of rote tasks?

Think about how often we all exhibit that same mindless, repetitive behavior in our organizations. Consider your recurring meetings. Do you ever question the need for each of them, or do you just go? What would happen if you stepped out of the routine and asked of each one, "Is this meeting really necessary?" More importantly, what would happen if you stepped back from your routine several times each day and asked hard questions: "Is this activity productive?", "How can we do this better?", "Is this really the highest and best use of my talents?"

Groundhog Day was fiction. Your work isn't. If you find yourself repeating the same day again and again, maybe it's time to stop and look around. Maybe you'll see your shadow.

Take a moment and step away from your routine. What opportunities do you now see?

2.3.14 0
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Nelson Mandela's Mercedes

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

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela. One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE. Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked. It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles? What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela.

One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE.

Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked.

It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles?

What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

1.20.14 0
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Pope Francis and the Shock of Heartfelt Change

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

You may have noticed that the new pope, Francis I, has been saying some "radical" things: the rich should help the poor, money isn't the answer to one's personal value, and so on. It's the same stuff religious leaders have been saying for thousands of years. But it's gotten some of today's world movers and shakers in a tizzy. Some of the rich and powerful, including the CEO of one of the world's largest retailers, have stated that unless Francis dials back his populist comments, they'll stop giving to charity. What is it about someone else having a genuine change of heart that throws us for such a loop? An unfortunate byproduct of today's world is our comfort with cynical, manipulative shifts in thinking and speech - think about how often we hear the "PR backpedal." Those don't seem to challenge us. But when someone we respect has a genuine change of heart that leads to a change in behavior-adopting or abandoning a religion, voting for the other party-we react with fear and anger. Genuine shifts in thinking hold up the mirror to our own beliefs and behavior, and we're afraid that we might not like what we see. Instead of lashing out or fleeing, wouldn't it be better to use those reversals as opportunities to examine our own deeply held attitudes and biases? How do you react to changes of heart in others? What do your reactions reveal about you?

You may have noticed that the new pope, Francis I, has been saying some "radical" things: the rich should help the poor, money isn't the answer to one's personal value, and so on. It's the same stuff religious leaders have been saying for thousands of years. But it's gotten some of today's world movers and shakers in a tizzy.

Some of the rich and powerful, including the CEO of one of the world's largest retailers, have stated that unless Francis dials back his populist comments, they'll stop giving to charity. What is it about someone else having a genuine change of heart that throws us for such a loop?

An unfortunate byproduct of today's world is our comfort with cynical, manipulative shifts in thinking and speech - think about how often we hear the "PR backpedal." Those don't seem to challenge us. But when someone we respect has a genuine change of heart that leads to a change in behavior-adopting or abandoning a religion, voting for the other party-we react with fear and anger.

Genuine shifts in thinking hold up the mirror to our own beliefs and behavior, and we're afraid that we might not like what we see. Instead of lashing out or fleeing, wouldn't it be better to use those reversals as opportunities to examine our own deeply held attitudes and biases?

How do you react to changes of heart in others? What do your reactions reveal about you?

1.6.14 0
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Legacy

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

A world figure passed this week, giving us a rare glance into the incredible power of a man's actions driven by the purest of his conviction. Nelson Mandela's life is a towering story of determination, compassion, and reconciliation. Far from sainthood, 91 world leaders traveled great distances to honor a man with feet of clay, saint and sinner, lover and fighter. He was a man committed to removing the shackles of bondage from his people, doing whatever that took and paying a steep price. He was also a man who's jailer was his pallbearer, whose message and life of forgiveness will be a model for generations to come. Mandela's legacy? Reconciliation. If you distilled your legacy to one word, what's the word you will be remembered for?

A world figure passed this week, giving us a rare glance into the incredible power of a man's actions driven by the purest of his conviction.

Nelson Mandela's life is a towering story of determination, compassion, and reconciliation. Far from sainthood, 91 world leaders traveled great distances to honor a man with feet of clay, saint and sinner, lover and fighter. He was a man committed to removing the shackles of bondage from his people, doing whatever that took and paying a steep price. He was also a man who's jailer was his pallbearer, whose message and life of forgiveness will be a model for generations to come.

Mandela's legacy? Reconciliation.

If you distilled your legacy to one word, what's the word you will be remembered for?

12.16.13 0
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A Day That Will Live in Infamy

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

Two days ago, millions of Americans commemorated the anniversary of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the U.S. into World War II. Millions more stop to remember the September 11 attacks, and smaller remembrances of historic events take place year-round. Why? Why do we commemorate past events so passionately? Is it artificial patriotism or wallowing in drama, or are we satisfying some fundamental need? I think we're assuaging a hunger for perspective, something that's sorely needed in many organizations. Most commemorative actions have some common elements: a reflective pause, silent gratitude, and a meditation on how far we've come. In other words, we stop for a moment and take in the big picture. We lift our eyes from the desk, computer screen, textbook or road and for a moment, see the larger narrative that's playing out around us-that we're part of. Story and narrative are integral parts of any organization, including a country. Commemorative days or celebrations remind us that we are all part of that story...and that we all play a part in shaping what happens next. For people in a busy organization, that can be a powerful reminder of the impact of their actions and the common bond they share. What are the commemorations that hold the greatest meaning for you?

Two days ago, millions of Americans commemorated the anniversary of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the U.S. into World War II. Millions more stop to remember the September 11 attacks, and smaller remembrances of historic events take place year-round. Why? Why do we commemorate past events so passionately? Is it artificial patriotism or wallowing in drama, or are we satisfying some fundamental need?

I think we're assuaging a hunger for perspective, something that's sorely needed in many organizations. Most commemorative actions have some common elements: a reflective pause, silent gratitude, and a meditation on how far we've come. In other words, we stop for a moment and take in the big picture. We lift our eyes from the desk, computer screen, textbook or road and for a moment, see the larger narrative that's playing out around us-that we're part of.

Story and narrative are integral parts of any organization, including a country. Commemorative days or celebrations remind us that we are all part of that story...and that we all play a part in shaping what happens next. For people in a busy organization, that can be a powerful reminder of the impact of their actions and the common bond they share.

What are the commemorations that hold the greatest meaning for you?

12.9.13 0
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Sacrificing for something they will never see

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

Memorial Day is an important and somber time, a commemoration of the people who have died in the service of this country-a gift whose value cannot be overstated. One of the most poignant aspects of the holiday is this: the men and women who gave their lives overseas in war put themselves into harm's way knowing that there was a chance they would never live to benefit from their defense of liberty. The countless soldiers who fought in World War II did so while aware there was a decent chance they would not be able to enjoy a world without Hitler. Yet they fought for the freedom of others. Today's leaders can learn much from that selflessness. When making leadership decisions for their organizations, the job of the leader is to do what benefits the led-helps them perform and makes them better team members and people. In my experience, breakthrough results often come when a leader shows the wisdom to sacrifice his own views or needs in favor of the greater good. As a leader, what are you sacrificing to make your team better?

Memorial Day is an important and somber time, a commemoration of the people who have died in the service of this country-a gift whose value cannot be overstated.

One of the most poignant aspects of the holiday is this: the men and women who gave their lives overseas in war put themselves into harm's way knowing that there was a chance they would never live to benefit from their defense of liberty. The countless soldiers who fought in World War II did so while aware there was a decent chance they would not be able to enjoy a world without Hitler. Yet they fought for the freedom of others.

Today's leaders can learn much from that selflessness. When making leadership decisions for their organizations, the job of the leader is to do what benefits the led-helps them perform and makes them better team members and people. In my experience, breakthrough results often come when a leader shows the wisdom to sacrifice his own views or needs in favor of the greater good.

As a leader, what are you sacrificing to make your team better?

5.27.13 0
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We have met our ally, and he is us

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

The famous line from the Pogo comic strip goes, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." The above variation seems apt only a few days after the terrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. This awful event has left many people shaken and angered. But where they see fear, I see cause for hope. Terrorism is unique among the tactics of war in that it doesn't seek to destroy the enemy directly. Instead, it seeks to sow fear, panic, paranoia and hysteria in its victims and make them destroy themselves. In a terrorist's mind, a perfect attack would lead to riots, arrests of suspicious individuals, economic collapse and the breakdown of civil society. That's not what happened after Boston. If you watch the footage, dozens of people ran toward the explosion-toward harm-to help those caught in the blast. Runners who had just run 26 miles ran two more to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. All over the city, people rushed to get back to their lives even as they sent leads to authorities and showed support for the victims. That's the opposite of panic and hysterical violence. That's courage, reason, restraint and love at work. Part of wisdom lies in knowing that we have the capacity to be both our own worst enemies and best allies-and to be aware of the times when we're on the verge of letting fear take over. In our organizations as well as our communities, we can react to adverse events either with panic and rage or with calm and compassion. Which we choose determines much about whether we succeed or fail. Is your organization more prone to panic or positive action?

The famous line from the Pogo comic strip goes, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." The above variation seems apt only a few days after the terrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. This awful event has left many people shaken and angered. But where they see fear, I see cause for hope.

Terrorism is unique among the tactics of war in that it doesn't seek to destroy the enemy directly. Instead, it seeks to sow fear, panic, paranoia and hysteria in its victims and make them destroy themselves. In a terrorist's mind, a perfect attack would lead to riots, arrests of suspicious individuals, economic collapse and the breakdown of civil society.

That's not what happened after Boston. If you watch the footage, dozens of people ran toward the explosion-toward harm-to help those caught in the blast. Runners who had just run 26 miles ran two more to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. All over the city, people rushed to get back to their lives even as they sent leads to authorities and showed support for the victims. That's the opposite of panic and hysterical violence. That's courage, reason, restraint and love at work.

Part of wisdom lies in knowing that we have the capacity to be both our own worst enemies and best allies-and to be aware of the times when we're on the verge of letting fear take over. In our organizations as well as our communities, we can react to adverse events either with panic and rage or with calm and compassion. Which we choose determines much about whether we succeed or fail.

Is your organization more prone to panic or positive action?

4.22.13 0
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And the Oscar Goes To...

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

Last Sunday we engaged in that classically American ritual, the Academy Awards. Of the many endlessly interesting things about the Oscars, one stands out to me: the change in the phrase spoken by presenters before opening that fateful envelope.

For decades, the presenters would say, "And the winner is..." before the big reveal. But some years ago, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that the phrase implied that everyone who didn't take home a statuette was a loser. That's why presenters now say, "And the Oscar goes to..."

We're dealing with adults, not kindergarteners. Why should this matter? In my upcoming new book, I spend a great deal of time discussing the redefinition of the concept of "winning" as it applies to team performance. The same question applies to the Oscars. Is the winner just the person who receives an award or reaches the highest sales figure?

To me, anyone who, through his or her performance, fulfills his or her full potential in a way that also inspires others is a winner. It might sound like I'm rewarding just showing up, but I'm not. I'm simply suggesting that excellence does not always result in a trophy or a banquet, but that doesn't make it less excellent.

What's the definition of winning in your organization?

3.4.13 0
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We Hold These Things to be Self-Evident

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

This week, the story dominating the news here in Southern California is a dreadful one: a rogue ex-LAPD officer on a deadly vendetta against his former law enforcement colleagues. His ongoing tale got me thinking about the unspoken assumptions we all make about one another. For example, in the case of the fraternity of peace officers to which this deranged, violent individual once belonged, the unspoken, self-evident truth has always been, "We have each other's backs." That's why it's so shocking and terrifying when a cop turns against his own: it makes that assumed, reassuring truth out to be a lie. That's also why I think creating an environment that nurtures wisdom includes creating a safe space where unspoken assumptions can be expressed and confirmed...or contradicted. There are unspoken assumptions running through all our lives. We assume that our spouses are faithful, our teachers noble, our doctors dedicated and our public servants ethical. Allowing such assumed truths to go unquestioned might seem like an act of trust, but in reality we can set ourselves up for brutal wake-up calls when people fail to uphold the standards we've set for them-as human beings often do. The result is a cynicism that corrodes trust. I believe that it is far better for an organization to encourage its people to examine the truths they hold dear, even if the result is that some of those assumptions are discarded. Uncomfortable truths are better than reassuring myths. What unspoken assumptions can be found in your organization?

This week, the story dominating the news here in Southern California is a dreadful one: a rogue ex-LAPD officer on a deadly vendetta against his former law enforcement colleagues. His ongoing tale got me thinking about the unspoken assumptions we all make about one another.

For example, in the case of the fraternity of peace officers to which this deranged, violent individual once belonged, the unspoken, self-evident truth has always been, "We have each other's backs." That's why it's so shocking and terrifying when a cop turns against his own: it makes that assumed, reassuring truth out to be a lie. That's also why I think creating an environment that nurtures wisdom includes creating a safe space where unspoken assumptions can be expressed and confirmed...or contradicted.

There are unspoken assumptions running through all our lives. We assume that our spouses are faithful, our teachers noble, our doctors dedicated and our public servants ethical. Allowing such assumed truths to go unquestioned might seem like an act of trust, but in reality we can set ourselves up for brutal wake-up calls when people fail to uphold the standards we've set for them-as human beings often do. The result is a cynicism that corrodes trust.

I believe that it is far better for an organization to encourage its people to examine the truths they hold dear, even if the result is that some of those assumptions are discarded. Uncomfortable truths are better than reassuring myths.

What unspoken assumptions can be found in your organization?

2.11.13 0
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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