November 20, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
As leaders we need to know, in any situation, what is needed and what is not needed. We have also been taught that anger is to be avoided, that it’s destructive and egotistical to vent our anger at people when things go wrong. But what if anger is actually what a particular situation needs? What if things are so stuck in a counterproductive state that they can be dislodged and moved forward only by the sharpness of loosing patience with them? Read more…
October 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
Here’s a simple practice for shifting your attitude, on the spot, whenever you need to.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even just a bit preoccupied and distracted, pay attention to how you walk. If you’re walking down the hall, or along the street, or through the parking garage, slow down. You will lose a few seconds getting to your destination, maybe even a minute. So what? Walk at a moderate pace, relax your shoulders, look up. Let your breathing fall in rhythm with your pace. It’s not Monty Python’s Ministry of Funny Walks. It’s simply enjoying the movement of your limbs, and your movement through space.
It’s simple, but when we’re feeling encumbered by too many things to be able to bring our personal best to the moment, deliberate walking can have a remarkably unencumbering effect. Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, get up and walk around the floor once.
Your mind may be distractable, but your body is not. Let the physical sensations of walking unencumber you.
For many people, walking is a good way to relax and think, and that’s great. But this practice is different. It’s not about thinking so much as it is about sensing, using your physical senses to clear your head. It’s a practice of bringing yourself to a more spacious, expansive attitude first, so you then can bring that spacious expansiveness to whatever you need to think about, and to whatever you need to do next.
Throughout the day, you can bring a sense of relaxed and spacious doing to simple things, even to getting yourself from one place to another. And out of many simple things, bigger simple things arise, like a spacious, unencumbered attitude toward the challenges of your day.
September 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
Good work is a deeply personal thing. People who are engaged with their work just on a following orders level don’t develop the depth of personal commitment that brings out their personal best. One way to engage others to do their personal best at work is to focus on creating the conditions at work that support their personal growth, on their own personal terms.
The reason leadership is about creating the conditions for people’s personal growth is that we can’t do anything directly to make people grow. Marge Simpson, on The Simpsons TV show, is famous for saying, “People who say you can’t change people are just quitters.” But anyone who has tried to get a teenager to appreciate authority, or tried to get a politician to take a long-term view, knows that we can’t change a person’s outlook by telling them to change their outlook, any more than we can stand over a plant and say “Grow!” We can only take an indirect route by offering soil, water and sunlight. Then we have to let the plant do its own growing.
I experienced the power of the indirect route Read more…
August 27, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
What does it take for your business to be a great place to work? Progress Magazine recently published a list of the Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada, and the leaders of the workplaces on that list have figured this question out, each in their own way. And it’s exactly the each-in-their-own-way part that is the key to leading an award-winning workplace.
There’s no formula for being a great place to work, no 5 Easy Steps. There are however two principles we see reflected in businesses that boast low turnover, few sick days, high internal promotion, few grievances and high individual initiative; all good measures of a workplace’s health.
The first principle is, work is personal. We often say, “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business,” but really we want people to take their work personally, to feel that their work is worth their personal best. Getting people to bring their personal best to work is the holy grail of leadership. If we want to lead people to bring their personal best to work, we have to get personal. Read more…
July 31, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
This summer, I broke my left heel bone. This is something you never want to do.
It happened at the Nova Scotia Sea School’s building in Lunenburg, one of those grand old wooden buildings on the wharves. Not much has changed in these buildings since the days of salt cod. We’ve added a staircase but the old ladder connecting the floors is still there, and we often still use it as a shortcut to get downstairs where the toilets are.
The Sea School moved into that building in 1996, and I’ve been going up and down that ladder all these years since. But this time I fell off it, and I have no idea why. My foot didn’t slip. I have no memory of losing my balance. Suddenly I just wasn’t on the ladder, and I fell 6 feet and landed standing with all my weight crashing onto my left heel. And that was that.
Now I don’t see ghosts, but some of the Sea School staff have seen ghosts in that building, and other people in Lunenburg say, “Oh, yes, there’s ghosts in that building for sure.” So some people were thinking, maybe I was pushed. Read more…
July 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
When the Nova Scotia Sea School builds one of our expedition boats, we get the wood from Windhorse Farm, an eco-forestry woodlot in New Germany, Nova Scotia, that’s been producing a steady supply of lumber for more than 150 years. Its owners this generation, Jim and Margaret Drescher, have run the business on the premise that their true product is the forest itself. Lumber is a byproduct. Because they and the generations before them have viewed the forest as the product, there is now, after continuous lumber production that has supported several local families for 150 years, more potential lumber growing in the trees of the forest than there was when the first tree was cut. The true source of wealth is not the lumber, it’s the forest.
The true source of wealth in an organization is not its products, but people’s ability to produce those products. Of course, right? But we can see this idea in much more personal terms. Organizational strength is the byproduct of personal strength. It’s not enough Read more…
June 28, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
A famous English scholar of Asian studies visiting Japan managed to get himself invited to attend a traditional tea ceremony conducted by one of the greatest living tea masters. The scholar considered himself an expert on the history of the tea traditions, and viewed attending the ceremony as an element of his research.
The guest at a tea ceremony is expected to follow certain ceremonial protocols, which the scholar knew well and executed flawlessly. He was very pleased knowing he was doing everything right. When the master began to pour out the tea, he filled the scholar’s cup with great care, and kept on filling it, until it overflowed onto the table and then onto the floor. The scholar cried out, “Stop! Can’t you see the cup is full? There’s no room for more tea.” The master kept pouring, and replied, “Yes, like your mind, so full you can receive nothing.”
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from being in positions of leadership over the years is how to proceed on the basis that I don’t know. This approach has opened innumerable doors for me that a need for knowing would have kept closed. I have found this to be true of my work with Read more…
May 9, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
“The bad leader is hated and feared.
The good leader is loved and praised.
The great leader, when their work is done,
The people say, “We did this ourselves.”“
I too aspire to be the leader that Lao Tzu describes, to make my leadership not about me. But generous leadership, selfless leadership, is hard to give. I crave love and praise as much as the next guy. And I often find that in the pressure of the moment, in the rush to get things done or under the weight of my responsibility, I fall back into the small, fearful, controlling view of making it all about me. But when I succeed in leading generously, the results always exceed my expectations.
January 24, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
We usually accept that teaching others can be a generous thing to do. Being willing to learn from others can also be generous, and a powerful way to engage the best in them.
What do your people know that you don’t? Have you made an effort to find out? Have you created a culture in which people expect to learn from each other up and across the organizational chart as well as down?
It may feel a bit unsettling to encourage people under you to show that they know more than you do, but people are always going to know things you don’t know. None of us are omniscient. An excellent way to engage people is to ask them to teach something, and then make the effort to actually learn it and make use of it.
Curiosity practice – If you are not naturally inclined to seek out what you can learn from your team members, you can start with safe territory. For instance, Read more…
January 16, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
I owe my sailing career to Mary Jane. My first job on a sailing ship was as Chief Mate, second in command. First job? And I was Mate? What sense does that make? I think I managed to get hired as Chief Mate because they were short for crew that year and I already had a captain’s license. Never mind that it was the lowest grade motorboat license you could get, limited to lakes and harbours, or that I had not yet used it professionally, or even set foot on a large sailing ship before. I had a license, so I was Chief Mate.
But my ignorance was mortifying, and the captain was appalled that I had been hired. The rest of the crew consisted of two college kids who didn’t know up, an amateur naval historian who thought he knew everything, a revolving lineup of cooks aspiring to be sailors, none of whom lasted very long, and Mary Jane, age 54, who had retired early from her job to fulfill her dream of going to sea. Read more…