Oh Sh*T! What Now?

I have been giving lots of thought and effort to defining what is my skill set, my niche. Basically, I keep coming back to what may be my signature strength – dealing with Oh Sh*T! What now? Oh Sh*T! What Now?

Let me start by saying, I wish there were softer more positive words that I could use. However, the truth is that’s what comes out of my mouth, or what I hear loudly in my head is. “Oh Sh*T! How did I get here and what do I do now?”

Let me take you back to one of my signature Oh Sh*t! Moments.

I was in my twenties. I was fighting cancer. I was fully engaged in being positive, fighting the good fight and doing whatever was needed to handle a fairly aggressive treatment protocol. At nine months in, I had just finished my cancer treatment scorecard of testing, and I felt confident that I was going to beat cancer and get on with my life.

So imagine my surprised when I walked into my doctor’s office and got my grade: F.

Now, of course, that is not how she delivered the news. Cancer report cards are not actually graded. But her words in some ways landed harder.

“The treatments aren’t working.”

“The Cancer is advancing.”

“We don’t have another option.”

“You probably have six months to live.”

Oh Sh*T! How did I get here, and what the hell do I do now!?!

I was stunned. I was silent.

I believe I mumbled something and left.

On my way out I saw a flyer: Life Death and Transitions with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Without really thinking too much about what I was doing, I took a copy and walked out.

That moment was a turning point in my life. Apparently, there was no Hail Mary play to call that was going to get me out of this game alive.

I looked at that flyer.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross – I had no idea who she was.
Life, Death & Transitions – these were not subject matters to which I had given much thought.

Still, I needed something. So I wrote.

“Apparently I’m dying and fairly soon. I don’t really know how to deal with that. I don’t have any money. I have no real clue who you are, but I picked up your flyer and wanted to see if there was any chance that I could come to your workshop.

Thanks for considering,

I stuck that little note with my phone number in the mail. (Yes – well before email.)

That was my first conscious experience of what I call opting in, or facing an Oh Sh*T! moment and diving in head first.

Sure, I could have opted out. Gotten angry and blamed. Given up. Or simply walked on down that path of least resistance – doing my little life the same way until I died.

No, writing that letter was different.

My journey sped up after that.

She said, “Come.”

Kubler-Ross presented me with a challenge. She basically sat me down and said, “You and I are not really that different. Someone just told you when you were going to die. Now you are focusing on dying or not dying and that is not living!”

“Living is turning towards whatever life is presenting you and diving into it, being curious – not just fighting cancer – but living life. Face whatever there is to face, throw yourself in and swim.”

Okay, those last words are some of my own words added to her message over the years. But she launched me on a path, a path that has became my motto:

  • Choose to be living
  • Choose to be curious
  • Fearlessly, or fearfully, face whatever is in right front of you
  • Do not step away from chaos, conflict and uncertainty -step in – that mix brings magic and miracles.

So the journey didn’t end in six months. It wasn’t easy.

My doctors were not thrilled when I started talking to faith healers, alternative medicine folks and considering that maybe my tumors had stories that needed to be told.

No, my doctors thought I was crazy.

But I actually wanted them, as well as anyone else that had a potential game play, on my team.

So I faced the crazy, the questions, the chaos of doing a little bit of everything, throwing myself into that chaos and conflict while staying curious.

  • What might this cancer be saying if it could talk?
  • What might I not be saying? Feeling? Thinking? Wanting?

I’m not saying this path was, or is, always graceful. No, there were some very difficult periods. I discovered over and over just how stubborn, defended and resistant I can be.

But I kept coming back to that choice point – am I in? – Or am I out? Choose!

I learned to listen. I learned to speak up. I learned the incredible value in differences and the possibility that comes from making space for the new. Also the magic and miracles that happen when people work together on a common problem and care deeply about each other and the outcome.

Now many, many years later, I have taken that learning and applied it to challenges facing leaders everyday. My work, with my partner CrisMarie Campbell, evolves around helping leaders, teams and organizations face their “Oh Sh*T! How did we get here?” moments.

Our leaders need this today more than ever. We need this today. We are living in a huge, “Oh Sh*T! How did we get here?” moment. We need to step up our game and quit fighting and blaming.

Opt in – sure it may get ugly, but if we can stay curious and interested in all the possibilities, especially the ones far a field from our own, I do believe we might discover something totally new and magical.

Really, that’s the only viable option left if we are going to keep living – anything else is just dying. It’s time to turn towards “Oh Sh*T! What Now” and Opt In.

Rumble Strips & Other Distractions!

The weather outside is gorgeous!!  Sunny, clear AND COLD.  The temperature this morning was 8 degrees, that’s Fahrenheit for any of you Canadian readers.

Rumble Strip
Yikes! Going Off the Road!

I actually love days like this.  I get a fire going in the wood stove, and sit close enough to stay warm and still be able to see the mountains out the window.  My desire is to write.  Hmm, but I find myself instead checking Facebook, reading blog post or doing just anything to avoid writing for any extended period.  What is that about? Really?

I actually caught myself investigating new tablet/PCs online just now.  For sure a rumble strip! In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “rumble strip” it’s those bumps on the road or side of the road that cause audible vibration so a driver knows when they are veering into dangerous territory – or as Martha Beck says – a metaphor for being off track in terms of getting to my north star.

Well, a new tablet/PC is beyond off track. I am bushwhacking at this point in terms of my north star.

Is it really that hard for me to stay focused on my goal?  I have logged more than enough time on my laptop(s). (Okay so the PC shopping is not a new rumble strip!)  I have the word count.  I have the stories.  I have support.  So what gives?  Why is this writing so hard for me?

This may simply be another rumble strip. Is it really worth hours of investigation to identify my fears or my action blocks and the underlying root cause?  Most likely the cause is a bad childhood or fears of failure or dyslexia – as you can tell I have already taken this path of deeper awareness – more than once!!  So forget it!  I refuse to travel down that path today.  No.  I am writing damn it – even if it is a crazy blog post about my inabilities and failure to write my book.

The best part of my writing today is getting to use “rumble strips” in a blog post.  I love that metaphor – Thanks Martha!  Now, if I could just use that audible vibration to get me back into writing my book.

Feel free to share your rumble strips and maybe more importantly how you get yourself back on track!!  I can use your comments as a distraction from my writing – awesome!

Vulnerabilty: Key to Business Success


This is a reprint of an article I wrote for:  406 Woman Business P.18

Vulnerability: A Woman’s Natural Strength & Key to Business Success

“Look I’ll say it. I made a mistake. I should have picked up the phone and told you we had a serious problem, but I didn’t. Even as the problem got worse, I just kept my team focused on solving it and never reached out. Now I see how that decision set up the conflict you guys are in now.” Josey was one of the newer members of the senior leadership team and had recently moved into quality assurance. In her first six months there had been three major product quality issues.

“Can you say why you didn’t give us a head’s up?” Tom was VP of Sales and the quality issues and low inventory had resulted in his team missing their bonuses.

“Honestly, I wanted to save face. I was fearful of telling you about the problem, getting an ear full and not yet having a solution.” Again, Josey was frank and transparent.

“Well I guess it is true, we do often fire back when we hear there’s a problem. Look Josey, I appreciate your candid answer. I think we played into the problem as well because we knew there were some inventory issues and we didn’t stop selling or check in.” Tom was not one who usually acknowledged any mistakes.

This all came after a half day of team building and training on the importance of vulnerability-based leadership as a path for getting to healthy conflict, clarity and commitment. Everyone said at the end of the day how powerful the interaction had been, primarily due to Josey setting an example. Oddly though, when it came time to talk about what would be communicated out to the larger organization about the off-site, this is what happened.

“No way am I letting my team know we had any trust issues and, personally, I don’t like using the word “vulnerable” – that is just going to get people concerned.” Tom was clear that vulnerability wasn’t going to be a circulated value.

“I think our people need to know what we talked about. How else are they going to get the okay that acknowledging a mistake an important step.” Josey was the first to counter Tom’s position.

Sue, the conservative voice of the legal department agreed with Tom. “Our people don’t need to think we are having any issues,” Sue added, “Sure we want honest communication but I think our issues stay in this room only.”

It was a bit shocking to hear these same folks that had, moments ago, said how important the frank, open honest communication had been. Now they wanted to put on the armor and padding of confidentiality to make sure no one saw any weakness. Shocking … but not uncommon.

A Definition of Vulnerability
There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance vulnerability. Author Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, is giving vulnerability lots of frontline press, and it is becoming a bit of a buzzword. So what does it mean to be vulnerable? Well first let’s go to the dictionary and pull the standard definition.

Vulnerability: “To expose oneself to danger, to be revealed.” Not really a great drawing card when you put it like that. Why would anyone be willing expose themselves to danger?

For a long time business has been about strategy and out-playing the competitors. That version of business encourages, holding your cards tight and looking good. There is not much room for revealing or exposing yourself to danger.

Having made a living sitting in boardrooms and executive conference rooms listening to leaders and teams define and clarify their business strategy, I have wrestled with the effectiveness of all the secrecy, importance and politics that often takes place among a group of smart, passionate people supposedly on the same team. The word – vulnerable, if talked about, will often be taken off the communication plan that cascades out to the rest of the organization, as demonstrated in the meeting above. Instead, the messaging usually implies that there was some sort of team huddle where everyone fought the good fight, and produced outcomes that are supercharged new or a refreshed vision and mission. Not much revealed or exposed to danger there.

I once heard a wonderful woman speaker at a women-owned business conference. Her opening line has always stayed with me, she said, “If eleven women were sitting in a room designing something to do, they would have never come up with football.” Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good competitive game, even football, but football is sort of the ultimate example in lacking vulnerability. Pretty much every inch of those guys is covered in protective padding, and oddly, many of the worse type of injuries still occur. There is some truth to the story that all that protection and gear can, and often does, get used to hit harder. I often wonder if there were as many head injuries in football before helmets came along. Often, too much armoring or protection simply invites more problems and attacks.

So What is Vulnerability?
What does it mean to revel oneself or expose oneself to danger? Simply put – it means acknowledging what is really going on. When Josey spoke up and acknowledged her decision to keep the problem quiet, she exposed herself and her team to potential danger. She also opened a door for more open, transparent communication. Acknowledging can be as simple as saying, we/I made a mistake, we’re sorry, we believe we are the best and want you to choose us.

A Women’s Natural Strength
I believe vulnerability-based leadership is quite natural for women. As women we are often told to toughen up if we want to be in business; don’t wear your heart on your sleeve; and please don’t bring emotions or empathy into the business equation. But really, that is what business needs – open and honest conversation between people. Not padding, not protective gear, not the ability to dodge hard hits. Empathy, or walking in someone else’s shoes can go a very, very long way towards creating new ideas and possibilities. And really, football players are some of the most emotional beings out there, it’s just all covered up in pads and helmets.

Emotions are the true potential energy of people. It’s emotions that drive us to action, not dreaming. A great dream will only become a major movement and possibility if it is embodied with emotion. That combination is vital and if you want people to come along with you, a dose of vulnerability will go a very long way in getting to the real issues.

Josey made it possible for some honest conversation and led to an acknowledgement on Tom’s part about how his team can fire back and may contribute to the problem. This was a huge step forward for the leadership team. Sadly it may not roll out yet to the broader organization without a bit more vulnerability in modeling to the rest of the organization that acknowledging mistakes can lead to healthier teams.

We learned later that Josey continued to influence her peers when another quality issue came up. This time she spoke up early and Tom was able to let the sales team in on the problem. Together they arrived at a solution that had no negative impact on the customers or the bonuses. Tom still isn’t fond of using the word vulnerability but he does communicate out the importance of exposing and acknowledging the potential issues faster as the best path for creative solutions.

What You Can Do: Use Your Feminine Strength
So step into your next team meeting or planning session and, instead of holding your cards, try revealing what you really think, feel and want. Be interested in discovering how others respond. Use what may be a more natural feminine strength. You might be in for a big surprise. Play without pads and helmets, but if you do, be sure to let the rest of your company know what really happened in the boardroom. Try a little dose of vulnerability – maybe you are exposing yourself to danger, but you may also be giving yourself the best chance to see what is really out there and respond accordingly.