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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
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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
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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
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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 didnít begin until the 18th century. But the billion-dollar Valentine industry? Thatís 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 usójust for a momentóto step outside the rush and hustle of our lives and remember whatís 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 donít have any, create some. After all, every ritual was created by someone. How are you expressing your appreciation to those whoíve 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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Secrets of Snow

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables

It never snows (and rarely rains) here in Southern California, but many of you are dealing with the snowy aftermath of the infamous Polar Vortex. One of the great curiosities of snow - beyond its amazing ability to turn grown adults into eight-year-olds - is its ability to camouflage the ugly and inconvenient. How often have you headed into winter's first serious snow with piles of fallen leaves still unraked from autumn? And how often have you blessed the snow for hiding those leaves from view...that is, until the snow melted and you were faced with the same unsightly piles of brown litter that you'd hoped would magically vanish? It's an apt metaphor for our enthusiasm for covering up deep, fundamental troubles in a team or organization with an attractive window dressing. Rather than address the problem, we camouflage it with a new hire, a revised mission statement, or the latest update of Salesforce. But eventually the snow melts and the problem is still there. Wouldn't it be better to brave the cold and rake up the leaves in the first place? What are you hoping will vanish under a layer of snow?

It never snows (and rarely rains) here in Southern California, but many of you are dealing with the snowy aftermath of the infamous Polar Vortex. One of the great curiosities of snow - beyond its amazing ability to turn grown adults into eight-year-olds - is its ability to camouflage the ugly and inconvenient.

How often have you headed into winter's first serious snow with piles of fallen leaves still unraked from autumn? And how often have you blessed the snow for hiding those leaves from view...that is, until the snow melted and you were faced with the same unsightly piles of brown litter that you'd hoped would magically vanish?

It's an apt metaphor for our enthusiasm for covering up deep, fundamental troubles in a team or organization with an attractive window dressing. Rather than address the problem, we camouflage it with a new hire, a revised mission statement, or the latest update of Salesforce. But eventually the snow melts and the problem is still there. Wouldn't it be better to brave the cold and rake up the leaves in the first place?

What are you hoping will vanish under a layer of snow?

1.27.14 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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Rebooting Your Operating System

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

About Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor says: "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Silly? Not so much. Research says that most of us feel the same way about ourselves. Work by psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia suggests that we tend to believe that we are much better looking than we actually are. Beliefs are powerful, reality-shifting things. Think about your mind as a four-layered mechanism. On the top, most visible, are your choices-your imperatives to action. Below that are thoughts, your analytical processes. Below that are your emotions, which drive your thoughts more often than you might like to admit. Below emotions, running invisibly like the code of a computer operating system, are your unconscious beliefs. Beliefs are frequently ingrained from early life, and they're the foundation for all manner of automatic assumptions. From your religious faith to your racial consciousness to your belief in people's trustworthiness, beliefs are always running in the background, shaping every response, emotion, thought and action. Wisdom comes when we question our beliefs-when we acknowledge that while they might represent truth for us, they don't necessarily represent truth for everyone. Thoughtlessly applying closely held beliefs to everyone can alienate; applying gentle self-skepticism to those beliefs can make us more compassionate and open to the experiences and beliefs of others. Have you skeptically questioned your own beliefs? What did you discover?

About Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor says: "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Silly? Not so much. Research says that most of us feel the same way about ourselves. Work by psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia suggests that we tend to believe that we are much better looking than we actually are.

Beliefs are powerful, reality-shifting things. Think about your mind as a four-layered mechanism. On the top, most visible, are your choices-your imperatives to action. Below that are thoughts, your analytical processes. Below that are your emotions, which drive your thoughts more often than you might like to admit. Below emotions, running invisibly like the code of a computer operating system, are your unconscious beliefs.

Beliefs are frequently ingrained from early life, and they're the foundation for all manner of automatic assumptions. From your religious faith to your racial consciousness to your belief in people's trustworthiness, beliefs are always running in the background, shaping every response, emotion, thought and action.

Wisdom comes when we question our beliefs-when we acknowledge that while they might represent truth for us, they don't necessarily represent truth for everyone. Thoughtlessly applying closely held beliefs to everyone can alienate; applying gentle self-skepticism to those beliefs can make us more compassionate and open to the experiences and beliefs of others.

Have you skeptically questioned your own beliefs? What did you discover?

1.13.14 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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12:00:01

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables, Wisdom Leading

In a couple of days, we'll all be counting down the seconds to the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Odds are you'll be doing the same, standing in a ballroom or somebody's living room with a favorite beverage in your hand. You'll shout and kiss someone close to you (hopefully, someone you know) and confetti will shoot into the air. But will you be present in that moment of transition? You probably won't. Most of us aren't. We're already thinking about going back to work, the resolutions that we'll break, and all the things we're planning to do in the coming year. But what if you were present for that tick of the clock from midnight to 12:00:01 on January 1? What would that mean? Well, there's nothing inherently special about the date; it's a square on the calendar. Nothing magical happens at the point of transition from old year to new. The good news: the new year means exactly what you want it to mean. If you're fully present at that moment, you get to decide what you're transitioning out of and into. That's worth raising a glass to. What will the first second of 2014 mean to you?

In a couple of days, we'll all be counting down the seconds to the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Odds are you'll be doing the same, standing in a ballroom or somebody's living room with a favorite beverage in your hand. You'll shout and kiss someone close to you (hopefully, someone you know) and confetti will shoot into the air.

But will you be present in that moment of transition?

You probably won't. Most of us aren't. We're already thinking about going back to work, the resolutions that we'll break, and all the things we're planning to do in the coming year. But what if you were present for that tick of the clock from midnight to 12:00:01 on January 1? What would that mean?

Well, there's nothing inherently special about the date; it's a square on the calendar. Nothing magical happens at the point of transition from old year to new. The good news: the new year means exactly what you want it to mean. If you're fully present at that moment, you get to decide what you're transitioning out of and into.

That's worth raising a glass to.

What will the first second of 2014 mean to you?

12.30.13 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