Susan's 2017 Year-End Message

This morning I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you that would be the most helpful in this New Year. I probably wrote several thousand words until they condensed into: Please stay awake! You may recall a central idea of Fierce conversations… Our careers, our companies, our relationships, and indeed our very lives succeed or fail, grad...
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2015 Year End: Life is curly

It’s snowing at Goat Leap, my tree house on Orcas Island. That’s where I am now, as I write to you. My dogs Dobby, Tallulah, and Hamish – two labradoodles and a Cairn terrier - and I are cozy. The fire is toasty, I’ve enjoyed my coffee with whipped cream and there’s a roast in the oven. It smells heavenly. I read somewhere, “I’m not anti-social.  I’m pro-solitude.” Amen to that! I’m in my favorite place for solitude. Each December, I think about what to share with you. I wrote in Fierce Conversations: “Life is curly. Don’t try to straighten it out.” 2015 has been a decidedly curly year and is in no danger of straightening out in 2016. So let’s talk about curls and how to navigate them. Those we welcome and those we don’t. Curls can be wonderful. An unexpected romance, a financial windfall, a promotion. For me,...
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Advice to Young Girls

While thinking about this blog, I turned to the best source for advice to young girls – other young girls who are happy and thriving - so I asked my granddaughters and the daughters of one of our leaders here at Fierce what advice they would give a freshman girl in high school. Clara, 15 : “Do not judge someone until you know them well enough, talk to as many people as possible, wear things that make you love your body and make you feel beautiful, attend as many sports games as you can, join clubs or sports, go to homecoming because there are only 4 in your life! Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers questions if you are confused, be nice to everyone.” Maizy, 17: “Be nice. To everyone. People aren’t as scary as you imagine and making someone’s day is so worth it. I would agree with...
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Declaring War on the Wrong Thing

I offer the following true story as an opportunity to practice squid eye. If you’ve read  Fierce Leadership , you know all about squid eye – the ability to spot the “tells” that indicate something is wrong, something isn’t working. If you’re good at squid eye, you are able to see what doesn’t want to be seen, what is hiding, often right under our noses. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind. “Tells” are all around us and come in many forms. Strongly held beliefs that make everyone weep, winning us nothing to write home about. Organizations that declare war on the wrong things. Even so-called “best” practices, when we consider the results they produce, can in fact, turn out to be worst practices.  I will picture you shouting Eureka! Or found the squid! Or some such celebratory exclamation when you recognize the “tell” in this story that indicates something...
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Employee Engagement: Just Do It

Employee engagement and inclusion isn't a cognitive issue. It's an emotional issue. The problem isn't out there. It's in here. We want employees to be engaged and feel included, while we ourselves are detached, distracted, disengaged, focused on our To Do lists and the stock price. We want others to bring that elusive, coveted "discretionary effort" in the door with them every day but we don't have time to engage in the kind of conversations that could enrich our relationships with them. The fact is, not having those conversations will take longer and cost more in the long term. When you disengage from the world, the world disengages too, in equal measure. It's a two-step, you and the world, you and your organization. Your employees lost interest in you because you lost interest in them. Calling them associates or partners is often window dressing. If you want high levels of...
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Legislated Optimism: A Worst “Best” Practice

Legislated optimism is the purview of the one-way leader. When optimism is legislated, meetings produce more nothing than something. Ideas die without a funeral or proper burial. Communication is primarily from the leader to everyone else. The reverse is not valued, not welcomed, because the leader and his or her inner circle of advisers know best. And the message is always upbeat . Information is presented with a coat of whitewash and abracadabra laid over it, as if leaders would have us believe they’ve sent all the Death Eaters flying. Naysayers will be sent to Azkaban. In a culture of legislated optimism, leaders know only the sound of one hand clapping . They ask questions not because they want answers, but because they want to hear how they sound asking them or because they are trying to create the illusion of inclusion. In this environment, conclusions are reached at the...
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The Practice of Courage

A martial arts sensei said, “You are always practicing something.  The question is – What are you practicing?”  Darn good question. Whether we are practicing one-upmanship or cooperation, truth telling or lying, mentoring or self-promotion, fluency in three-letter acronyms or plain speaking, anonymous feedback or face-to-face feedback, our practices have an impact on our careers, our companies, our relationships. In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, written during his year in a one-room cabin with few possessions, is this quote. “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life that is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” He was talking about the bigger house, and all the stuff we buy that ends up owning us, keeping us awake at night.  Amen to that! Let’s substitute the word “practice” for “thing.” The cost of a practice is the amount of life and,...
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Any Conversation Can: My Fierce Journey

I enjoy all things “Hobbit” and Middle Earth, even Smaug’s hoarding of the Arkenstone and Gollum’s devastation at losing the ring. The story is about friendship, adventure, courage, and treasure. Finding, stealing, retrieving treasure, at all costs. We all love the notion of finding treasure. Who hasn’t fantasized about what they’d do if they won the lottery. But treasures can be tricky. Joseph Campbell wrote that the hero’s journey is not complete once he finds the treasure – whether it is a chest of jewels or a powerful epiphany. It is not heroic to hoard the prize, my precious. The hero’s journey is completed when he has returned to civilization and found a way to share the treasure he fought so hard to gain. Or she. I am not a hero but in the fall of 2002, I offered what for me was and remains a treasure of inestimable value,...
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Human Connectivity Defined

Years ago in a Fierce newsletter I wrote: “If you want to become a great leader, gain the capacity to connect with colleagues and customers - at a deep level – or lower your aim.” Kent, a reader, asked, “What is the Fierce definition of human connectivity?” I don’t have an official definition for human connectivity, but I know it when I experience it and I imagine you do too. Certainly human connectivity occurs one wonderfully fierce conversation at a time. And we all know what a fierce conversation is, right? It’s one in which you and I come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real. You may have noticed that connection occurs most often during moments of honesty and vulnerability. There is something deep within us that responds to those who level with us, who don’t suggest our compromises for us. And it goes both...
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2014 Year End: Kaleidoscopes. Magical. Fireworks In a Tube.

Do you remember the first time you looked into a kaleidoscope as a child? What a pretty picture. And then you turned it and the magic happened, one piece shifted, an explosion of color. Complete transformation. And it’s impossible to return to the picture you saw before. The epiphany that launched Fierce occurred when I was reading Hemingway’s  The Sun Also Rises , in which a man is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” He replies, “Gradually, then suddenly.” My epiphany, having had over ten thousand hours of conversations with leaders, was that our careers, our companies, our relationships, and indeed, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time. Business is fundamentally an extended conversation -- with employees, customers and the unknown future emerging around us. What gets talked about in a company, how it gets talked about, and who gets invited to the...
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A Wish for You

As I consider 2012, and also the many conversations with the Fierce team, our clients, friends and family, and importantly with myself, here are a few suggestions for 2013: six don’ts and six do’s. First the "don'ts"... Don’t let  anyone shut you up, erase your personality, shut you down.   Don’t make up stories about people and behave as if they are true.   Don’t mistake rearranging your prejudices for thinking.   Don’t teach your children to hate.   Don’t make a list of characteristics for your ideal man or woman.   Don't dwell on what's wrong, on what you don't want in your life. Now the “do’s”… There is only one you. You have a voice. Enrich the conversation. With courage, compassion, and skill.   Before you get upset, ask people if your interpretation of an email they sent, or something they said or did is correct. Be willing...
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Say It Isn't So!

I got an email today from a friend who wrote: “In the middle of reading Fierce Leadership , I got a phone call from a good friend who was one of my colleagues at IBM in Boulder, Colorado. He shared that they are CHARGING EMPLOYEES for the use of napkins and cutlery in the site cafeteria . I am reading your words about making a deeper connection with people, and I get this information in stark contrast. At one time I was so proud of IBM, and to be part of IBM. What a long wicked way things have come.” This is hard to imagine, so I spent some time googling to see if it’s true and all I came up with was the fact that IBM has a worldwide goal of recycling 50% of all its non-hazardous waste, which is a good thing. I’d like to think that charging...
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Declaring War On The Wrong Thing

I offer the following true story as an opportunity to practice squid eye. If you’ve read  Fierce Leadership , you know all about squid eye – the ability to spot the “tells” that indicate something is wrong, something isn’t working. If you’re good at squid eye, you are able to see what doesn’t want to be seen, what is hiding, often right under our noses. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind. “Tells” are all around us and come in many forms. Strongly held beliefs that make everyone weep, winning us nothing to write home about. Organizations that declare war on the wrong things. Even so-called “best” practices, when we consider the results they produce, can in fact, turn out to be worst practices.  I will picture you shouting Eureka! Or found the squid! Or some such celebratory exclamation when you recognize the “tell” in this story that indicates something...
Continue reading

Human Connectivity Defined

In last month’s newsletter I wrote: “If you want to become a great leader, gain the capacity to connect with colleagues and customers - at a deep level – or lower your aim.”  Kent, a reader, asked, “What is the Fierce definition of human connectivity?” I don’t have an official definition for human connectivity, but I know it when I experience it and I imagine you do too. Certainly human connectivity occurs one wonderfully fierce conversation at a time. And we all know what a fierce conversation is, right? It’s one in which you and I come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real. You may have noticed that connection occurs most often during moments of honesty and vulnerability. There is something deep within us that responds to those who level with us, who don’t suggest our compromises for us. And it goes both ways. You...
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3 Tips for Writing a Best Selling Book

If I had a buck for every time I’ve advised would-be authors how to write a best selling book, I’d be, well, not rich, but quite comfortable. Here’s what I always advise. Imagine that you had the complete, avid attention of every person on this planet - for thirty seconds.  What would you say? Or if you don’t have a message for the world, who is your ideal audience and what message do you most want to convey? Remember, you only have thirty seconds. When you can crystallize a compelling message, you are ready to write. Without clarity and passion, you’ll waste precious time and energy heading down rabbit trails that will leave your readers confused, possibly bored. Important: Say it out loud. Time it. Then write it down.   You don’t need to find your voice.  You already have one - yours.  Use it. Write as if you were...
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President Obama's First 100 Days

In April of 2008, an article by Ellen McGir t in Fast Company attempted to explain the President’s appeal, particularly to young constituents. McGirt wrote, “While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together.” And that Obama... “reinforces the notion that everyone is included and that this movement is actually a conversation to which everyone is invited.” Bravo! The challenge is that when President Obama gathers around him people with competing perspectives in order to arrive at the best possible decisions for all of us, ingrained human behavior and politics as usual will get squarely in the way. If ever there was a time to transform an ineffective “culture”, this is it. I am not neutral. I believe that the President’s administration should: Engage in fierce conversations from the very beginning.   Have conversations during which those at...
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