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Archives ~ June 2013 Entries

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Traffic Jams on Everest

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

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price. As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years. A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals. We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership. What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price.

As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years.

A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals.

We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership.

What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

6.24.13 0
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Negative Capability

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Wisdom Leading

What was it that made William Shakespeare the greatest writer of all time? According to the great poet John Keats, it was what Keats called "negative capability." That's the capacity to hold yourself in balance between the two poles of a situation without imposing your will in order to force a resolution. Doing so allows ambiguities to fully play out and opens everyone up to new levels of understanding. Keats described this quality as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." I devote much of my time and effort helping leaders build capabilities, yet this one is really tough. In our culture, we're not good at negative capability. We rush to judgment, facts be damned, and are eager to find solutions even if no good ones exist. Humans don't tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty well, yet it's the tension between uncertainty and resolution that makes our greatest drama, fiction and music. In organizations, negative capability empowers leaders to approach problems and conflicts without rushing to one side or the other. It lets them "slow down the game" and allow all factors in a situation to become apparent before a solution is even contemplated. Negative capability is the purview of wise, calm, and controlled. It's a quality we could all do with more of. How might building "negative capability" improve how you lead your team and yourself?

What was it that made William Shakespeare the greatest writer of all time? According to the great poet John Keats, it was what Keats called "negative capability." That's the capacity to hold yourself in balance between the two poles of a situation without imposing your will in order to force a resolution. Doing so allows ambiguities to fully play out and opens everyone up to new levels of understanding. Keats described this quality as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

I devote much of my time and effort helping leaders build capabilities, yet this one is really tough. In our culture, we're not good at negative capability. We rush to judgment, facts be damned, and are eager to find solutions even if no good ones exist. Humans don't tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty well, yet it's the tension between uncertainty and resolution that makes our greatest drama, fiction and music.

In organizations, negative capability empowers leaders to approach problems and conflicts without rushing to one side or the other. It lets them "slow down the game" and allow all factors in a situation to become apparent before a solution is even contemplated. Negative capability is the purview of wise, calm, and controlled. It's a quality we could all do with more of.

How might building "negative capability" improve how you lead your team and yourself?

6.17.13 2
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My Graduation Speech

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

Tis the season for high school and college commencement speeches, which means it's time for millions of graduating seniors to roll their eyes in boredom. Who can blame them? The typical graduation speaker is somebody the students have never heard of. He or she delivers predictable lines about "being the future" and "believing in your dreams" to people who only want to get out of their hot caps and gowns and go party. I get it. But one of these days, I'm hoping I'll be honored with a request to deliver a commencement address-perhaps even to my alma mater, UCLA. If I am, I won't talk about dreams and careers and the future. I won't bury my audience in boring clichés. I'll talk about wisdom, and these are some of the points I'll make: ? Listen twice as much as you talk. People want to tell their story. ? Accept that achieving the life you really want will be ten times harder than you can possibly imagine today. ? Go after that life anyway. ? Tools change. People don't. Integrity and character still move mountains. ? You're entitled to air, space, and freedom of speech. That's all. ? Don't worry about being famous. Strive to be respected. ? Slow down, wait, and listen. There are wonders to be found in silence. ? Be present. Don't tweet about the past or text about the future. ? Regardless of their politics, 99.9% of people want the same things you do: love, family, health, purpose, peace and prosperity. What would you say to a graduating class?

Tis the season for high school and college commencement speeches, which means it's time for millions of graduating seniors to roll their eyes in boredom. Who can blame them? The typical graduation speaker is somebody the students have never heard of. He or she delivers predictable lines about "being the future" and "believing in your dreams" to people who only want to get out of their hot caps and gowns and go party. I get it.

But one of these days, I'm hoping I'll be honored with a request to deliver a commencement address-perhaps even to my alma mater, UCLA. If I am, I won't talk about dreams and careers and the future. I won't bury my audience in boring clichés. I'll talk about wisdom, and these are some of the points I'll make:

  • Listen twice as much as you talk. People want to tell their story.
  • Accept that achieving the life you really want will be ten times harder than you can possibly imagine today.
  • Go after that life anyway.
  • Tools change. People don't. Integrity and character still move mountains.
  • You're entitled to air, space, and freedom of speech. That's all.
  • Don't worry about being famous. Strive to be respected.
  • Slow down, wait, and listen. There are wonders to be found in silence.
  • Be present. Don't tweet about the past or text about the future.
  • Regardless of their politics, 99.9% of people want the same things you do: love, family, health, purpose, peace and prosperity.

What would you say to a graduating class?

6.10.13 0
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Sometimes, commitment is its own reward

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team and concern for each other. There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters. No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary. Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action. Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30th. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team, and concern for each other.

There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters.

No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary.

Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action.

Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

6.3.13 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