Category Archives: Influence

Influence and Impact-Avoiding Driving Yourself Nuts

Within the past week friends have voice their frustrations, and that has always been really worrisome to me. I’ve lost friends due to the ultimate acting out on frustration that had grown into hopelessness when nobody was looking, self included. Not beating myself up, it’s just that you don’t easily forget that kind of thing. Nip this one in the bud!

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do (Ten Years After, 1971)

This is a free-flowing quick-hitter for my friends and anyone else feeling a little extra frustrated with the holidays upon us (a statistical reality!). Some is recycled from earlier posts. This is also some much-needed self-talk. My frustration level has been climbing the charts because of my inability to make progress on a long-term (years!) project that is very close to my heart—an avocation I don’t get paid for but I’m passionate about it, still intrinsically driven. The physical and emotional investments have both been significant. But you can’t eat passion, Jimmy.

“We are stardust, we are golden. We are billions-year-old-carbon”. Maybe it’s the Curse of the Aquarian generation—perpetually cause-driven, trying to somehow make a difference in the world. A starchild, modern-day Don Quixote. A good deal of frustration at not making the impact I want and need to make. Still….

You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take (Wayne Gretsky)

The shots I take and miss are disappointing, some a whole lot more than others. The rumor is that falling down and failure will make you stronger, if you get back up. Running around with skinned up knees can get really old but it doesn’t stop me from skinning up my knees over and over. Not stubborn, not stupid. I’ll take committed and persistent.

I usually won’t take a shot if there isn’t a slight chance I may score. I’ll take the long shots without false expectations—that way I’m pleasantly surprised if I do score. Even though it seems like a shutout lately, skinning knees up is a tiny thing compared to wondering “what if” when I don’t take a shot, even a long shot.

What really helped me survive is to understand the difference between influence and control. The latter is the ability to directly change someone or something, for better or for worse-your choice. You can still impact things and others just through influence, which can be a double-edged sword:

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. (Jane Goodall)

I can’t pick up boulders and heave them into the ocean, but I can drop one little pebble into the pond directly in front of me and watch the ripples travel outward. I may not even be aware of all those who feel the ripples. Some of those others may be influenced to drop their own little pebbles, and create ripples in their own little ponds. And on it goes.

I’ve mellowed out. Now I only need to drop pebbles—lots of them. I still have a crazy, destructive urge sometimes to tackle a boulder like A New Model of Human Development, 35 pages (so far) of stuff I shouldn’t even be messing with. Been spending a lot of time and energy on it, tossing pebbles in the meantime to get by. But I always go back to putting my shoulder to the boulder, feelin’ kinda older…(HEY, that rhymes! It should, it’s a song lyric). I need companion pebble-tossers to help get that job done though.

We all need someone we can lean on (Mick and the Boys)

Many versions of this old parable are out there.

An old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir.”

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “It made a difference to that one!”

Be thankful, even if you have to move a lot of big-assed rocks to find one gold nugget hiding. And go save a starfish or two, toss a few pebbles. It feels good!

My pebble for the day.


The Natural Order of Things

I’ve been on a mission to develop a working understanding of the interrelationships among and the dynamics of impact and influence; values and values-based leadership; engagement, well-being and the Greater Good. In doing so, I’ve tried to stay objective, formulating a hypothesis then setting out to refute it—trying to prove my hunch wrong.

But every path I followed ended up at the same destination, the hypothesis refused to go down in flames: organizational sustainability begins with me. For a company to achieve performance excellence and sustainable maximum results, it must invest in helping people connect with what is truly important to them personally. What drives them—not at work, but what is their life’s mission? What values influence their daily actions and help them set personal priorities?
Without people who are well-connected and personally aligned to their personal purpose and values, excellence and sustainability and all that other bottom line stuff is simply out of reach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But I’d love to see alternative views, so what do you think? The whole thing is a bit long, here’s a link to The Natural Order–the whole enchilada.

First Nation Beliefs- Personal, Organizational Relevance

(Disclaimer! This is long as it covers a lot of ground, all related. I’ll venture a guess that you’re either going to like it all, or not like it at all. Let me know what’s on your mind either way!)

But ya doesn’t has ta call me “Chief”! Even though I’m well over 6ft (OK, used to be) with green eyes and blond hair (again, used to be), I am allegedly part Native American. My last generation that would know first-hand chose not to talk about it. Back then there was a stigma assigned to those who associated with godless savages, but in spite of the silence there are early, early photos of a family reunion on the prairie, with familiar ancestor surnames written on the back. Several in attendance sported suspiciously Native-looking dress and had distinctly Native features.

Right….if they were pictures from a Halloween party, kudos to the props and makeup team.

Something about the Native American—the First Nation—beliefs system and simple but sophisticated spirituality has always gripped me. My real awakening came in the early seventies at the University of Iowa and I had a chance to study Native American Literature through the Writers’ Workshop. The professor wore buckskin-fringed desert knee boots and shortly most of the students did too. We sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle for classes. We learned the finer points of story-telling. We listened to long recordings of Native music in the pitch-black orchestra room.

We read and discussed several classics, Black Elk Speaks and Seven Arrows among them. And we explored the First Nation’s beliefs system in great depth, total immersion mode. That one-semester experience kicked my Vision Quest off in earnest.

Personal Perspective. I had twelve years of Catholic education. Result: I cannot buy into any formal, dogma-laden religion, Catholic or otherwise. Man-made interpretations and human-authored rules are behind too many wars and petty disagreements haunting us—people killing people in the name of my religion? Please. But I am highly spiritual; I live by a very strong personal beliefs system that I’ve later learned quite accidentally borrowed elements from the mainstream religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… and Native American. To me, deep down the core values and beliefs are all compatible. Human-created dogma is the trouble-making differentiator.

BUSINESS and ME, INC. IMPACTS! For my day job I study and practice human behavior as it relates to organizational and individual development. I’ve had two major “aha” moments along the way, both are substantiated by tons of studies and data:
1. We all want to leave a legacy. We need a purpose in our life, we need real and relevant meaning, a feeling that we are somehow earning our way. We need to know we are making a meaningful contribution toward the greater good. All of this just oozes higher-order spirituality. Impact and Legacy have become essentials in my vision statement.
2. Humans are social creatures (we’re pack animals!) and we are driven to connect with not only our world but with others around us. We need a sense of community, of belonging. We must be part of something important and “bigger” than me alone. The alternative: gang membership and, even worse, radicalization becomes extremely appealing to both young and older disenfranchised people who have been given nothing better to belong to or believe in. A true, full-time Lone Wolf human animal is a little bit sociopath…or a lot. Again, a higher-order level of spirituality is in play.

Both of those ‘ahas’ have sky-high relevance for organizations. Companies that tap into these two spiritual motivators are rewarded with (1) a more highly engaged workforce (major bottom-line payback!); (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice (candidates stand in line to get in) and (4) barring major marketplace meltdowns, nearly guaranteed long-term sustainability because their culture is on an absolutely solid foundation.

These two ‘ahas’ are also wildly important for individuals. They ensure longer, healthier, less stressful and more productive lives. Google Blue Zones and check out the research, studies and findings—it’s not just my opinion, it’s well-researched and well-documented.

Two-level challenge, I seriously hope you take this personally and professionally:
(1) companies and their leaders have a moral obligation to promote those two ‘aha’ points among their employees in the spirit of true servant leadership, corporate social responsibility and impacting the greater good. Those long-view organizations that do so will be rewarded with insanely better bottom line results and that other good 1-4 stuff mentioned earlier;
(2) Each of us has the potential to have a real influence on others…see “The Ripple Effect–One Pond, One Pebble”. Talk about impacting the greater good!

Back to the First People.

Bet you’re wondering how this is all connected, aren’t you? Following is a sampler of key Native American beliefs. I’ll leave it to you to establish organizational and personal relevance. It’s there. Self-discovery is the most effective learning experience there is!

Vision Quest. People on a spiritual path—their Vision Quest—know they are here for a reason but may not yet know what it is. The journey is all about finding that purpose and understanding their intimate connection with the Medicine Wheel. “We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world….The most important thing is being clear in your heart as to what you are seeking for yourself and the people of the world.”

Circle of Life, Medicine Wheel  The Native American beliefs system and spirituality is based on inter-connectedness of all forms of life and the relationship of all living things with Mother Earth in a circular / cyclical / systemic relationship. An early precursor to systems thinking: to understand the parts one must examine the whole.

The Circle of Life (from Black Elk Speaks)
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves…. “

So the circle holds a place of special importance. Human beings live, breathe and move, in a continuous cyclical pattern. Every seeker’s journey is to find their own harmonious way of traveling through and interacting with that cycle.

This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life / Medicine Wheel are based on the four directions: North, East, West and South with each having special attributes, a way of perceiving things. Those on their Vision Quest explore all four, seeking to thoroughly understand their place in the world and make their own deep connection to The Four Great Ways:

NORTH: wisdom and truth, strength and endurance.
EAST: illumination, the new dawning sky, enlightenment.
WEST: introspection, looking within. Rest, recharge, renew.
SOUTH: warmth and growth after winter is over, a new beginning.

Religion “vs” Spirituality

I’ve been part of a highly engaging online conversation on whether we would be better off without religion and had spirituality in its place. Interesting thoughts, a couple of mine follow.

I have faith, very strong faith. But I do not trust that any religion has “the” direct line to God. And I especially do not have faith that the words of the prophets, whether Jesus or Mohammed or any other you can label as such, were accurately captured, preserved in their original wording and meaning. Humans have mucked that all up by reinterpreting interpretations, sometimes twisting words and meaning for personal / political gain.

One discussion participant issued a challenge to name one good culture that did not have an organized religion governing its norms and values / beliefs system. I offered up the Native North Americans, the First Nation, as an example of a rock-solid and highly spiritual beliefs system that governed a very good people. The First Nation ran headlong into the “white man’s” greed, their need for elbow room and an arrogant, dogma-fueled obsession to tame the godless, savage beasts, saving their souls by giving them “real” religion to replace the pagan rituals.

The level of spirituality and depth of the beliefs system of the early native North and Latin Americans was incredible and flourished prior to conquistadors, colonization and attempts at conversion to Catholicism and other models of human dogma. It was an undeniable way of life, not based on any book. It was shared by an entire people regardless of tribe or location. There were wise old shamans but no prophet mouthpieces serving as middle men with the inside track on communicating with an all-powerful. No one “owned” the Word, it was commonly shared. Everyone told the stories and legends around the campfire with little difference in interpretation. Even my American Indian Lit class was blessed to share in that tradition.

They / we managed to do that because Native beliefs were / are so strong and they were / are a way of daily life, not just dogma or memorized and repeatedly recited words.

(Right turn, Clyde…) Permaculture and Reconnecting. I am an Iowan. We’re blessed with a large piece of land for being in town, living in what was once the farm house whose original family once owned all the surrounding land that was finally sub-divided into mini-suburbia. Our garden plot is where the hog lot was over 100 years ago, still very fertile ground (pig poop is powerful medicine). The past two weeks the green beans have needed picking every other day and now homegrown tomaters are coming in too. Gourmet dining, and it’s all natural. Not quite enough to get me off meat altogether, but close.

The actual growing and consumption of natural, wildly healthier fresh produce is just a small part of the permaculture system and a very small piece of the personal health and psychological benefits in doing so. The systemic / social benefits are incredible too! The greatest benefit to me is what this stands for. My Native blood drives me to fully buy into this notion of reconnecting with Mother Earth and becoming somewhat responsible stewards again.

Right now Mother Earth is crying from the pain we’ve inflicted on her soul, both physical and social. You have to wonder when she will finally give up on her children.

Two Questions for Later…
(ONE) Was the First Nation Gnostic?
Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia by Bette Stockbauer

(TWO) Where Do We Go From Here?
Decolonizing Humanity by Reconnecting with the Earth


The Ripple Effect-One Pond, One Pebble

Maybe it’s the Curse of the Aquarian generation: I’ve always been cause-driven, always trying to somehow make a huge difference in the world. A child of the universe, modern-day Don Quixote. A good deal of frustration at not making the impact I wanted and needed to.

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.
So I’ll leave it up to you.
(Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, 1970)

Twenty years ago I was fortunate enough to take part in a personal vision and values identification workshop. A lot of soul-searching left me with this: “make an impact, leave a legacy”. But I needed an adjustment for this holdover-from-the-1970’s Vision to survive. I needed a shift in strategy.

I’m a firm believer in individuals’ ability to impact the greater good, even through small actions and by impacting seemingly insignificant numbers. It’s similar to the Butterfly Effect and “pay it forward”. And it holds true for not just social media (certainly greater reach) but for daily actions and person-to-person interactions.

No one can pick up boulders and heave them into the ocean, but I can drop one little pebble into the small pond in front of me. The ripples travel outward, and I may not even be aware of those who feel the ripple. Some of those others may be influenced to drop their own little pebbles, creating ripples in their own little ponds. And on it goes.

Brings to mind an old parable, many versions of this have been around.

An old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir.”

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “It made a difference to that one!”

The privilege of influencing others is not bestowed like a position or title; it must be earned. It’s starts with me, and it requires the highest level of integrity.

What’s Your One Thing?

Dialogue between Mitch (Billy Crystal), and Cowpoke Curly (Jack Palance) from City Slickers
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

We all have that One Thing that gives our existence special meaning. Some people just haven’t taken time to look for it yet. I’ve given it plenty of thought and am certain my One Thing is to connect. It is relevant to me personally, socially and professionally and it’s driven by my vision and values as it should be.

Connecting is the essence of being human, of real relationships. I’ve experienced the impact of personally connecting, and the satisfaction that comes from helping others connect—in the classroom and in more personal one-on-one encounters, spontaneous but deeply meaningful conversations. Opportunities are everywhere.

Connecting also sets the stage for internal conflict. It can be a stressor if empathy crosses over into compassion, but how do you prevent that? A seasoned educator once told me that teaching—and life—is all about choosing your battles wisely, about being able to deal with the reality of not winning them all, and dealing with the consequences if you choose not to fight a particular battle.

Connecting with others is high-reward. But it’s also high-risk. When you are driven to connect, you set yourself up as the great problem solver and wise counselor for others. Can you accept the failures you’re bound to incur?

Broken Connection
I’ve had one particularly painful broken connection. It’s hard to share even years later. I replay it in my mind quite often, it’s a harsh reminder that I need to take time—genuine, caring time—with others.

One part of my job I get a lot of satisfaction from is to simply visit with people on the floor. I must be good to talk with because people have really opened up quite often. I allow myself to take some pride in that.

High reward = high risk.

I can get pretty swamped at work, and this was one of those days. The last couple of times I ran into him, John (not his real name) really unloaded some heavy personal issues on me. A lot was going on with him and he needed to talk. John had tons of charisma, he was well-liked and I liked him, so I listened as much as time would allow, which this time was not much. Not enough.

A couple of days later, John hit that incredibly low point where he ended his own life.

Survivor syndrome smacked me hard. Did I take enough time to listen when he desperately needed someone to talk to? Did he know that I was truly listening and that I cared deeply about him and what he was going through? Would it have made a difference if I had taken more time, if I had made it more clear to him how much I cared?

I obviously can’t get answers to those questions but that doesn’t stop me from asking them.

Today I was talking to someone who, out of the blue, poured his heart out to me in great detail about the things going on at home. I was once again in time-deprived urgent mission mode, and I was teetering on the edge of letting myself get stressed about it. But vivid images of John came rushing in. Then, other failed connections. Powerful, high-impact personal drivers all rushing in at once-that’s what drivers can do to you.

I let him talk, and talk some more. He had my absolute attention until he was damn sure good and done, to hell with my urgencies and stress level. And I’ll go back tomorrow to check in with him, and the next day too.

I pray you found peace, John.

The Bigger Stage
(Originally from December 17, 2012 triggered by the school slaughter in Newtown, CT)

One more addition to the one-is-too-many list of incredibly tragic events….can’t solve it here, can’t find a root cause. Can only reflect and grieve and let it out a little. This is a feeble personal attempt at coping with senselessness.

Things happen that can rudely point out the need for perspective. All that I’m trying to accomplish to promote values-based leadership and engagement pales in the glaring light of something like Newtown. But there is actually a connection in all of this.

What does “social engagement” look like? What does it mean to be a fully engaged member of a community, a good citizen, a good neighbor, a high contributor?

Workplace engagement hinges on up-close-and-personal work relationships. It’s not possible to be fully engaged without a high level of emotional connection to your work environment and those who share it with you. Social engagement also depends on deep personal relationships, even more than workplace engagement. But our fast-food lifestyle prohibits real relationship-building in the communities and neighborhoods where we live, sometimes even at home with our families.

What is the first thing the Newtown community did after the tragedy? They rushed together outside the school, at the fire house, at community churches. They needed to be close to each other. People need people.

What strikes me about Newtown and other senseless tragedies is that someone did not see some kind of warning sign and act. But modern social norms include staying isolated, keeping people at arms’ length, not allowing yourself to care where you don’t “need to”… not getting involved where it’s none of your business possibly because it could be emotionally, or physically, dangerous to do so. The result of all that…we’re a “society” of total strangers.

Did someone not seeing or choosing not to do something cost 26 innocent, beautiful lives in Newtown? This is so overwhelming that I simply need a little gonzo let-it-out time. I know I have a lot of good company in that one.

The news ran the 26 victims’ pictures online the next morning. I read only some of the short tributes to each. While I wanted to remember and pray for all of them, I couldn’t continue reading. I have a picture of my four young grand kids on my desktop, the oldest is the same age as many of the victims. I can’t put myself in that dark place, it’s beyond comprehension. I can’t imagine. How could someone…? But someone did, and it’s not the first time. And God help us, probably not the last.

While norms can be reinforced through laws, policy and peers you cannot effectively legislate values. What’s wrong with society? How could this happen? Was it due to a breakdown of values and norms? How could someone do this? Normal people cannot fathom the whys. But there were mental issues involved with the Newtown shooter, which pretty much takes values and norms out of the picture. “Normal” people cannot do these things.

There is still a good deal of grieving and there are still a lot of questions being asked. There were surely many Sunday sermons immediately after that addressed the Newtown tragedy and I’m sure some of those sermons will put the spotlight on eroding family and social values.

I can only hope the message from the pulpit and the politicians and activists hasn’t been cheapened into yet another platform for general politicizing about which side is more right or less wrong. Same-sex marriage, right-to-life, legalized pot, senseless slayings…they don’t belong on the same page.

“I’d love to change the world…but I don’t know what to do”. One tiny little pebble I can drop into this ocean is simply to connect with other people. Care enough to invest some of my precious personal time in others. Is it possible that something as simple as connecting could somehow keep someone from going over the edge?


I wish writing this made me feel better. But not yet. Or, maybe it’s best that we don’t get to the point of “feeling better”? Remember.

The Sheepherder

I recently visited with a group of international students for the US Education Without Borders program. The message I shared with them was heavy on philosophy, including the one pond, one pebble principle. Short version: dropping pebbles and letting the ripples travel where they may beats the heck out of trying to heave boulders into the ocean and accomplishing nothing—make a difference by influencing what you can, where you can.

When I was done the organizer, a Chinese gentleman, introduced me to a young man from Ethiopia. He took us to a conference room and told the two of us to get acquainted. What a fascinating young man-I wish I could relate all the stories he crammed into one short hour, but they would not come across the way he told them. So just a little…

Growing up, he was a sheepherder in the back country. Gone from home for a week at a time, just him and the animals, sleeping together in a cave at night for protection (“the animals ate the grass I gathered for bedding every night, and sometimes they would pee on me”…plenty of laughs!). He decided to learn as much as he could in every way he could to better himself.

He walked five miles to school where the only books were donated and you read anything you could get your hands on regardless of subject matter or level, just to be reading. He would read all night by candle light or if the moon was bright enough, sticking his foot in a bucket of cold water to help him stay awake. He religiously kept a journal to sharpen his writing skills and to track the journey that was unfolding.

He became the star student of his small rural school and found a sponsor who gave him a chance to go to the city to study in a better school. The city students bullied him, calling him a ‘stupid shepherd boy from the back country’ until he started consistently scoring at the top of the class.

He learned English with the help of a new friend who he taught his native language to in return. He eventually found his way into the Education Without Borders program.

The reason the young man shared his story was a lead-in to explain his “pebbles and pond” vision for his own life. His dream is to help others in the same situation follow the same path he has taken.

Once a sheepherder, always a sheepherder. Protect the herd first.

I’ll have no way of knowing how far the ripples from this little pebble will travel, and I don’t need to know. With his passion and his drive, I’m certain Wubetu will succeed. If I can be even a small part of his journey, I’m good with that. I plan on mentoring him in whatever way he can benefit. I’m pretty certain I will be the one getting the most out of the relationship, starting with what I hope will be a lasting friendship.