logo

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

Keynote, Project Management Symposium: Leadership: Risk and Resilience

Keynote, Project Management Symposium: Leadership: Risk and Resilience

9/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Private Book Club Speaker - Annapolis, MD

Private Book Club Speaker - Annapolis, MD

10/2/2014 6:00:00 PM EDT

Yale School of Management Alumni Reunion, New Haven, CT

Yale School of Management Alumni Reunion, New Haven, CT

10/17/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Speech with Harry Hutson at Hanson Wade, NYC

Speech with Harry Hutson at Hanson Wade, NYC

10/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

Fiction? Non-Fiction? Writing in the Median

Fiction? Non-Fiction? Writing in the Median

9/1/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
yesterday

 

When I open my laptop to write fiction, I have the odd sensation that the screen is something of a mirror -- a magical looking-glass through which I step into another world. First, I see a shadowy version of myself on the screen. A few seconds later, a stronger light begins to shine, my shadow disappears, and the majogic takes over.

My first novel is set in a small town in Indiana. It's a coming-of-age story and was magical from its inception. I could invent activities, rename characters, scramble information, and even remove people. Poof. I was engulfed by the story -- it could overpower me with feelings ranging from angst to joy. All of that came about as I stared at a screen.   

When I open my laptop to write non-fiction, however, nothing like that happens. Nada. The screen is flat and I am acutely aware of the horizontal march of lines and the surrounding frame of command icons. I never giggle or feel a rush of anxiety about the next page and what it will reveal. The anxiety I feel is about the critical eye measuring the exactness of my outline, logic, and accuracy.

Fiction writing makes me feel full, powerful, and gratified. Non-fiction writing makes me flat. It does not take me through an arc of experience. Instead, it forces me to sort through a maze only to end up at a concluding, summarizing sentence. Period.

What to do? My professional life is tied up in writing non-fiction. I write about concepts such as leadership and change management. They are valuable and they matter. But the process of writing about them does not give a spring to my step.

Over time I've come up with a couple counter-punches. First, when I write non-fiction, I am unapologetic in using metaphors and telling stories. I use them to open up a vein of argument or to reinforce a point. If I can't have a delicious and gripping plot and characters, I can at least have the occasional coffee break from cold logic.

Second, I try to move beyond the usual vocabulary that I find narrow and stifling. Jargon, acronyms, four-syllable words for processes (transformation, collaboration, innovation, investigation...), and the chronic use of the verb "to be" are some of the enemies. I spend a lot of time on Google looking for good synonyms.

Third, I write first drafts for myself. In them I include overstatement, emotional words, and poetry. Sometimes I add commentary as if an elf is also at the keyboard noting the overtones -- such as irony or sarcasm. Ultimately, I edit (scrub) to find more "appropriate and acceptable" language. I believe traces of the zest remain, however, and I often find my arguments are sharper and more explicit as a result of the drafting and rewriting.

Fourth, I use interviews. As I listen and record people's responses to questions, I am startled by their richness and humanity. Even if boxed in the margins, interview quotes add a vivid reality to an argument.

I am one person, with one laptop and one screen, who produces both fiction and non-fiction. For me, writing fiction fosters sensibilities that I want to reflect as I write non-fiction. I am sure that for other writers, the relationship is different and our writing styles reflect that. Whatever our process for writing and our unique human disciplines and character, the ultimate referee of the joust is the reader.

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labor, Laboring, Labored

Labor, Laboring, Labored

8/29/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
4 days ago

Labor Day marks the end of the lolling about that summer is for. I can't say I actually did much lolling, however. I worked a lot -- wrote, spoke, consulted. My vacations were long hard car trips during which I listened to books on tape about such lightweight matters as the Middle East, 9/11, the Vietnam War, and the Great Migration. And the usual outdoor fun of gardening was weighed down by the murder I have been trying to commit of a crepe myrtle tree. No matter how I dig, saw, poison, and smother, the thing won't die.

Nope, for all the pretense of summer relaxation, I have been laboring away.  In many ways this is burden of the self-employed, especially the self-employed writer, thinker, speaker. When do you stop? How do you get your mind clock on and out? I take walks -- and think. I watch comedy political shows and find fresh phrases. We entertain and the conversation turns to the news. Yikes.

But, this is really nothing new. It's just new arrangements. I've always found work invading everything else. I think it's in my constitution. On my recent trip to the Midwest, I was reminded that I come by this honestly. My friends there don't know how NOT to work. I even attended a quilting club and every month they expect each other to present their projects and talk about the progress. Yikes again.

I like to work. It gives my days structure and my life a sense of purpose. I also like having a long vacation weekend about labor. There is something poetic about that and I could sure use the couple of days to scrub the kitchen, get ahead on blogging, pull out more sub-roots of that damn tree, write to the city about the decaying sidewalk, clean out the basement, do my finances ... 

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

 

Writer's Block? It's More About Writer's Clutter.

Writer's Block? It's More About Writer's Clutter.

8/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
5 days ago

I can't say I suffer from writer's block. I understand that is when a person sits and stares at the screen (or paper) and can't think of a thing to write. Not a problem for me! I can always come up with something to say. I once fell asleep talking ... and continued to talk, apparently.

The hard part of writing for me is integrity. Am I babbling or saying something real, genuine, and authentic? Have I peeled it back to the core or am I wandering around in the orchard?

This happens all the time, the struggle to get to the point. When I write fiction I am constantly reminding myself, "Tell the damn story." Too often, I am caressing a curlicue of description or dialogue. I have to pull myself back to the story, again and again and again and again.

Writing non-fiction is even harder. It is unbearably difficult for me to write something that is sharp and focused. I have to ward off nuances, shoo away interesting side points, and trash great alliterative phrases that seem to spring up to entertain and distract me. It's grueling work to me and it takes a lot of minute-by-minute discipline.  

However, when I do plow through the overgrowth and get the story told or the point made, it is heaven. I take great pride in creating a small bit of clarity. It gives me the energy to go at it again, clear out more clutter, and see if I can find another nugget.

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

 

Whose Networks are YOU In?

Whose Networks are YOU In?

8/27/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
6 days ago

For a couple months now, I have been happily chattering in workshops about networks. They are on my mind. In this day and age, we think a big network (as in lots of "likes" on Facebook) is the thing. The more popular you are, somehow, the better life is.

I argue that a network isn't about its size but its value -- is it useful to you, supportive?  Here's that blog, in case you missed it: Gotta Big Network, But Is It Useful? 

That said, however, we are still falling short on understanding networks. It isn't enough that your own network has a good mix of people who will be there for you when you need comfort or clarity or a celebration buddy, or a person to tell you frankly if you have spinach in your teeth or need a new job. Networks are not just about you; they are also about reciprocity.

Networks are a two way street. You have needs; so do others.

So, the question I pose to you today is about whose networks are you in. Who turns to YOU for advice or hugs? For whom will you lift a glass and cheer on? And, importantly, whom do you look at - straight in the eye - and say, "You need to know this."

Your network will be all the stronger if you are shoring up other people's worlds, too. 

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

8/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

In case you have missed it, I have been arguing that storytelling is one of the most critical capabilities of a leader. Storyteller In Chief is an adjunct title every leader should hold. We need to tell stories to engage employees, explain strategy in more human terms, interpret market events, and pull meaning out of data.

However, leaders also need to LISTEN to stories.

First, by listening to stories, a leader can find another window into the organization -- to complement the weekly reports, briefs, daily updates and so forth. Leaders are so often working in the dark, any bit of light helps.

Second, leaders need to listen to stories so as to encourage the competency of storytelling through the organization. For the leaders' stories to cascade down and around an organization requires employees to be able to retell them well. Otherwise the impact and value of the stories will get lost.

Third, communication is a two way street. If you listen to someone's story, that person is more likely to listen to yours. I have listened to a lot of leader's stories (you know -- the tedious "war stories" that the ego-types will tell) and filed them away, knowing they aren't interested in my story so why bother with theirs.

Oh, and one other thing, listening to stories helps you hone your own storytelling skills. If you pay attention you can see hints about how to time your humor, reveal your message, emphasize the moments of drama and much more. It's an art and you learn it by listening to others.

So, how many stories have you HEARD today? I hope it is close to the number that you have told.

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - I Thought

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - I Thought

8/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

Road trips are, for me, a great way to wipe out the cobwebs in my head. With a daughter now at Iowa State and a mini-high school reunion of friends from North Dakota, I set out this year along Interstate 70 (eventually 74, 35, 94, 39 and back to 70) for a good long drive and think-time.

My thoughts straighten out when the horizon is far away. When you can see the road five miles ahead, it uncramps things. I could think about the big stuff -- what am I about? who matters to me? what's dragging at me?

This is interlaced, of course, with the thoughts I have when I stop at the ferociously impersonal mega gas stations that are absolutely the same whether in Pennsylvania or Minnesota. Then I find myself in old wars about whether to eat real food or fake food.

My best thinking, however, was in upper Minnesota where the reunion was being held. We were at a cabin that sat inside a hairpin turn on the Mississippi River. In other words, you could look out the front windows and see the river and you could look out the back and see the river. Not only that, but our hosts had mown a field of grass into a labyrinth, a wonderful design for a long contemplative walk to the center (where there was a simple slate seat) and back out. Inside the hairpin turn, I walked in self-emcompassing circles. Importantly, my churning thoughts did not get further twisted or cramped, as the landscape might have suggested. They did the opposite -- they smoothed out.

How did that work? I won't unpack it too much except to say that there were no dead-ends. Just like the long highways, the twisting river and paths led me further. They took me over the horizon or around the bend. I found nothing that impeded the next mile or the next step and my thoughts could simply continue forward, never jammed.

So, I returned home from the drive with the sense of the future, the next, the open learning, discussion, and engagement ahead. The trip is, in other words, not over.

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

Rogue Waves on the Leadership Voyage

Rogue Waves on the Leadership Voyage

7/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

Harry Hutson and I have recently created a case study about leaders and crises. Having interviewed some 60 leaders about their experiences with organizational rogue waves, we have distilled some guidance and important questions for leaders to be asking themselves as they face our unpredictable world and their responsibilities in it.

A summary of the lessons for leaders includes the following. (For a full copy of the case, click here to download.)

1. A leadership role is not easy. Be advised that there are always pending crises (rogue waves), and some will most likely wash over you and your organization.

2. Readiness and emergency preparedness are necessary but not sufficient for survival. Without social support and commitment to your values, a leader is vulnerable.

3. Leaders have two jobs: to be there for others and also for yourself. There is no point in succeeding at the former while failing at the latter.

4. A leader is the chief storyteller for an organization. Yet, as the world changes, your stories must evolve, too. Tell those new stories for your sake as well as to benefit your organization.

5. Don't waste your trauma. Play a bigger game. Embrace the full impact of your rogue wave experience and make a positive difference in the world.

As co-authors, we find that these lessons are creating a wave of their own. People hear them and respond by sharing their own crises, lessons, and deepening leadership maturity. Let us know if you are interested in a workshop on this material.

For more information about Harry Hutson, click here.

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

 

Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

7/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

If innovation is so important, why do organizations do so many things traditionally? I am baffled.

Candidates are interviewed -- the same old way. Offers are extended -- in time- honored fashion. Onboarding routines are exactly that -- unchanging routines. Workspace is predictable. Employee handbooks, weekly updates, and timesheets are all out of some secret textbook that describes how things are done the world over. Same ol' same ol. It is no wonder that employees know quickly and note often that innovation is just talk.

The forms and norms of a workplace have value, of course. But, if the corporate strategy involves innovation, new thinking, creative approaches, and unorthodox solutions, there is a need to keep people jostled out of their routines and habits.

Imagination needs to be stoked by a person's surroundings. Everywhere. Put announcements on the ceiling; pipe in drumming music or bird calls; take out the chairs; expect crazy. Put Legos everywhere. Close all the curtains and shut off the lights. For a day. Fill a room with balloons. Drape ivy across doorways.

The seeds of innovation need to be sown from the beginning. Every time a new person comes on board is an opportunity to signal that the organization expects innovation.  For a new hire: 

  • Roll out a red carpet (literally)
  • Create a treasure hunt for the employee handbook.
  • Set up a speed-dating format to introduce the rest of the staff
  • Supply a personal diary to record their first impressions.

If I can think of four things in a matter of two minutes, a brainstorming group will come up with hundreds.

The habit of innovation is the goal. Turn talk into gesture and action. Make it a habit for everyone right from the get-go. 

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

7/22/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

Interviews are compressed moments to check-out a candidate. For candidates, they are a chance to be on stage, if only for an audience of one. Because the moment is limited and a lot rides on it, there is a cottage industry of interviewing tips and advice for maximizing value in the encounter. To prepare, a person needs only to click a few times online to find models for conducting a good interview, checklists for preparing for the interview, and hundreds of possible questions to use (or anticipate being asked.) 

Let me add one more idea to the list:

Interviews are too often about transmitting information that is already available in great detail on websites and in resumes. Therefore, interviews need to move past information gathering and turn into a time to learn at a deeper level. What is the candidate about beyond name, date, serial number? What is the organization about beyond the reporting structures. What is the essence of the person? the dotted line organization chart? the culture of the enterprise?

One angle turns out to be quite useful. It is to explore roles. Talking about roles takes the conversation up a level. It means sharing interpretive ideas about what was happening in a situation, not just cataloging the event. Rather than listening to a report about "I did this and then I did that," the interviewer can hear how the candidate is thinking and understanding his/her impact and influence. 

I have had great conversations that started when I asked about roles and people responded by describing themselves in those terms. 

  • "I was the problem child, asking all the annoying questions."
  • "I found myself acting as the social director, trying to get my very introverted staff to interact with each other." 
  • "At that time I became the peacemaker, running between the two factions to sort out the confusion."
  • "They wanted me to be the king, telling them what to do, but I couldn't do it that way."
  • "I was playing the journalist, searching for the facts."

 

Each of these statements invites wonderful follow-on questions:

  • Why were you doing this?
  • Did you stay in that role or find another?
  • Were others surprised or did this unfold naturally?
  • Did you like playing that sort of role?

 

Whenever we can talk at a "meta level" about roles, I find that the conversation shifts into metaphor, interpretation, and nuance. It is much richer and more revealing. And a lot more interesting.  

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

"Yes, but who stopped it?"

"Yes, but who stopped it?"

7/21/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

We have a family story about my husband's formidable Swedish grandmother, Ruth Lindberg. The tale is that whenever two of her children were fighting, she would ask what was going on.

The responses were predictable. "She started it."

"No, HE started it."

Ruth's response was not what we would expect. She did not try to figure out the right and wrong of the battle and declare a verdict. Instead, she would say, "Yes, but who is ending it?"

I imagine that her question zapped a lot of childish nonsense. She was clearly a wise mother. Her story survives four generations now. When it is retold it evokes some reflection. One uncle claims it sowed a seed that grew into his life's work as a pastor. 

Ruth's stance was provocative. I imagine the squabbling children stamping their feet and wishing for a mom who was, at that moment, a sheriff. Ruth saw it differently. This wasn't about adjudicating justice but about helping children see there was something beyond winning and losing. This wasn't about victor and vanquished. Problem solving requires something more. The virtue is not in the winning but in the shared solution.

I can't help but extrapolate this story to larger settings: organizations, communities, and our national family. I believe we would be in a very different society if we had all had a Ruth in our lives. It would have helped us recognize that constant fighting begs for ever-bigger sheriffs and, perhaps, we would benefit from seeking solutions instead. 

*********

Have a comment? Click Here and post your thought. 

**********

Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

Join Martha’s Leadership Community

Sign up to receive her newsletter and advance notice and access to her books.

Name
Email
Comments