Ginny Wilson-Peters' Blog
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Marianne Williamson
I’m not sure you can say that I write a “blog” when it has been two months since the last posting. I could say it is because I’ve been busy, but that would be an excuse. The truth is that I find myself wondering if something I write will be important enough to impact people’s thinking. Yes, this is ego at play. I find myself reading other writings and listening to other speakers and thinking, “wow, they have it together.”
And then I was introduced to the video link about everyday leadership and it has inspired me beyond words. In the past two weeks, I’ve shared the video with my MBA leadership class, our QC Leadership Academy and four of my Women in Leadership groups. In all cases, the results have made for engaging conversation about “lollipop moments” and yes, a few tears.
I encourage you not just to view this video, but to do two things. First, share it with others. And second, think about someone that has created a lollipop moment for you—and tell them about it.
Okay, one more request. Please share your moments with us in the comments section.
“It’s not about the direction you take. It’s about the direction you give.” Mr Holland’s Opus
I felt better the moment I began sharing with Greg, my husband. “ Honey,” I said, “I have been consumed the past few weeks with a desire to win this upcoming leadership award.” There—it was out and I could finally discuss it with him and begin to move forward. I knew I’d been operating from a place of anger and frustration for a period of time and that wasn’t how I wanted to be.
As I said, I had been consumed with a desire to win a coveted leadership award, and I found myself thinking about it throughout the day and especially at night before I went to sleep. I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I knew it was all about my ego attachment to winning an award. One of my teachers used to talk about the “Small ego” and the “healthy ego”. The small ego is the place where we attach our worth to other people’s opinion of us. The healthy ego is where we operate from our purpose, our mission in life. My desire to win the award was definitely coming from the small ego place.
Shortly after my talk with Greg I talked through my feelings with a group of close girlfriends. Thanks to my “Z” sisters, my movement out of the small ego and back toward the healthy ego continued. Throughout the ensuing week, I found myself interacting with person after person, and group after group from a more purposeful place. And the week culminated with a powerful experience on Friday.
Friday morning I met with a group that I’d met with several times prior. I thought I had the session planned out until I got in the shower that morning. I’ve learned to trust my intuitive insights, especially ones that come in the early mornings at shower time. As I thought about the group, I clearly heard a message to do the passion exercise with them. “Really,” I thought, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to resist that one.”
But, as I said, I’ve learned to trust my intuition. So, as I met with the group, I explained the exercise. In a nutshell, I asked each member of the group of eight to take 15 minutes and write an impromptu speech about a passion of theirs. Once done, they would each stand and give their speeches to the entire group.
“What if you don’t have any passions?” said one of the participants. I responded by gently telling her that I’d never met anyone that wasn’t passionate about something—their kids, a sport, or something. She continued to put up some resistance for a period of time, and I continued to gently ask her to give it her best shot. Within about five minutes, I saw her beginning to write some notes.
After about fifteen minutes, I invited each member of the group to share their speech with the group, and I was BLOWN away. The first person to volunteer was the woman who initially said she didn’t have a passion. She talked for almost five minutes about her passion around preventing teenage pregnancy. She talked candidly about how her own experience as a teen mom had impacted her life and how important it was to her to share her experience with others. A few of us were in tears before she was even done.
Another person talked about his dream to participate in one of the Honor Flights to Washington DC to accompany our veterans in viewing the World War II memorial there. Another person talked about her desire to be a role model for her children and how that also manifested with her role as a supervisor. Story after story that was shared was heartfelt and moving.
In hearing those stories, and experiencing the growth from that session, I knew that my purpose in life has nothing to do with winning awards, but really is about finding ways to nurture and inspire others to reach for the stars. To the authors of the passion stories, I say a big thank you. And a big “thank you” to so many people that have also changed my life in so many positive ways.
Oh, and I didn’t win the coveted leadership award.
“Of all the lives he changed, the one that changed the most was his own.” Mr Holland’s Opus.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminister Fuller
In December I had the opportunity to listen to two women CEOs in one week’s time. The women struck me as very different and yet very inspiring. The first was Sister Joan Lescinski, President of St Ambrose University. Sister Joan was kind enough to sit in circle and share her experiences with our “Grow to be CEO” women’s leadership group. Exerts of Sister Joan’s conversation with our group are included on page 2 of this newsletter.
The second woman leader was Meg Whitman, CEO of E-Bay who was speaking at a local Chamber breakfast. During the course of her presentation, she shared the keys to business success. The last one discussed was “Disruptive innovation is key and has to come from within.” She talked about the fact the E-Bay was constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves in order to stay ahead of the marketplace. Given the successful growth of E-Bay in recent years, one can hardly argue that the strategy hasn’t been successful.
But Meg’s comment about disruptive innovation caught my attention for another reason as well. What about the role of disruptive innovation in personal leadership development? I found myself asking myself these questions: Where am I stuck in my own life? Where in my life do I need some disruptive innovation? ”
In his research about unleashing self-directed learning, Richard E. Boyatzis, PhD said this: “Most, if not all, sustainable behavioral change is intentional. Self-directed change is an intentional change in an aspect of who you are (i.e., the Real) or who you want to be (i.e., the Ideal), or both. Self-directed learning is self-directed change in which you are aware of the change and understand the process of change.
The (growth) process may not and often does not occur as a smooth, linear event. It occurs with a surprise. The person’s behavior may seem to be stuck for long periods of time and then a change appears quite suddenly. This is a discontinuity. A person might begin the process of self-directed learning at any point in the process, but it will often begin when the person experiences a discontinuity, the associated epiphany or a moment of awareness and a sense of urgency.” (Unleashing the Power of Self-Directed Learning, May 2001).
I’ve written and spoke many times in the past about the 360 leadership assessment I received ten years ago when I was President of Midland Press Corporation. That assessment was an example of discontinuity and disruption for me; it set me on a new path to change my leadership style and show up in the world in a more compassionate, yet results-oriented way. Ultimately it also led me to leave my position at Midland and start my own business.
My recent trip to South Africa was my most recent example of disruption. We met with a variety of women leaders and there were several times when I felt a kick in the gut to do more—or do things differently. To provide just one example, during a breakfast dialogue with women leaders at the Gordon Institute of Business, author Meg Wheatley said (summarized by me): “Seventy percent of poor and illiterate are women; 95% of the casualties of war are women. On a global level, we are not dealing with the issues of women and poverty. You have to conclude that this is a world that does not care about our children.”
Meg went on to say: “I don’t know if woman can change the world. But I don’t know anything else that might!
And so, the kick in the guts have reminded me that as women, we have everything we need already to create positive change in the world. Are we ready?
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I am always ready to learn although
I do not always like being taught.
“I clipped the hurdle.” My friend, Dr. Kim Armstrong, was telling our Women’s Leadership group about a time when she didn’t reach a goal she’d set for herself. And she began with those words; “I clipped a hurdle. But I wouldn’t have clipped the hurdle if I hadn’t been there.” Her story came at a time when many of us were glued to our televisions watching the Olympics, so we knew immediately what she was talking about.
After all, how many of us will easily forget the image of Lolo Jones, U.S. hurdler, when she was leading the race and could see victory right ahead of her? And then that fateful mistake where she clipped the ninth hurdle, and ended up finishing the race in seventh place. (I still watch and hope for a different result.)
And Kim used that analogy to drive home her point. At least Lolo made it to the Olympics. At least she made it to the finals. She worked hard to reach her dreams. So, even in the end when she wasn’t on the medal platform, at least she showed up and gave it her best. And the same was true in Kim’s story. Even though the results were not what she wanted, she knew that she gave it her best and in the end, was proud of herself for showing up.
“The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something that can be learned in no other way.”
~ Mark Twain
And consider the story of Mike Lang, CEO of Alliance Technologies in Des Moines. In 1997, at the age of 29, Mike left his job at Principal Financial Group to start a business from scratch. The business he started was Modern Solutions, an ERP consulting firm. In 1999, Mike and Modern Solutions were awarded the Midwest Small Business Champions and in 2002 Mike was a regional finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2003, Modern Solutions merged with Alliance Technologies, Inc. and Mike became President, and eventually CEO of the merged organization.
At the time Mike started Modern Solutions his wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Mike realized that if he didn’t leave when he did, that he might never have the courage to step out of his comfortable corporate position into the entrepreneurial world. When Mike told his story to our Des Moines MBA Leadership class, one of the students raised his hand and asked him, “What was your Plan B?”
Mike stopped for a moment and said he didn’t have one. “There was no Plan B. I had to succeed.” He put everything he had into being successful with the new endeavor and didn’t put any energy into the possibility that he might fail.
By the way, Mike’s overwhelming advice to the young leaders in our class was this, “Surround yourself with great people.” Mike also said, “You need to learn from your mistakes. And the key is, don’t just let it be a mistake, but look at it and learn.”
Combine these two stories and you have a powerful lesson in leadership. Go after what you want with such passion and confidence that you don’t create a Plan B. Show up for the race and give it your all. If, in the end, you find yourself clipping a hurdle along the way and not achieving your full dream, figure out how to learn from the experience and move on.
For more about the role of challenging, “crucible” life experiences, and their impact on our leadership, see the articles on pages 2 and 3.
“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”