Steve & Me

I have found myself reading various articles about Steve Jobs since his death. Right now I am working my way through a biography written by Walter Isaacson. Why am I so interested? Because Steve Jobs seemed to be someone who was the best and the worst of humanity, a visionary and a jerk, rich and minimalistic, extremely emotional (breaking into tears) and cold. The book is long but interesting. I appreciate Isaacson’s effort to give a realistic, honest history of Steve Jobs – not perfect, not nasty – just a recipe of the many sides of this man who few can argue had a significant impact on our culture.

I have admired Steve Jobs because, well, I love my ipad and iphone. I appreciate Apple ads and like what seems to be the simple, yet artistic nature of all that Apple offers. I get now that it isn’t all the doing of Steve Jobs. Honestly, it seems as though the best of the engineering and anesthetic nature of Apple products was the result of others like Steve Woznick and Jonathan Ive. Still it is very clear without Jobs, Apple would not be the Apple it is today.

I have friends and colleagues who hate the guy because of his narcissistic style and mean, tyrant-like leadership. I guess I would argue that at least with Steve Jobs you knew where you stood. He may have had two faces (or more) but it seems as a leader everyone saw all of the options – the good, bad and ugly. I don’t think that is the norm. Most of us try to hide the ugly. Even though it might be less attractive, I admire the straightness and integrity of someone who is simply out there.

I have my own issues around the narcissism. I struggle with relationships where I judge someone to be so involved with themselves that others don’t exist. However, I am also very aware of my own narcissistic tendencies. I can indeed assume at times the world revolves around me.

I am also aware that a healthy does of narcissism makes for a great story-teller and leader. Of course, I want the positive qualities and would prefer to disconnect from the less attractive aspects.

Well, that is not so easy. I guess that is what I am appreciating about exploring Steve Jobs. As a public figure, he remained quite private. As a leader he was quite self-absorbed. As a creative wizard, he left behind friends. He was so human. May be that is what is so appealing to me. Here is a man he was for some was a hero, for some a jerk but willingly left us with a story that reveals the man behind the hero. It may not be pretty, or nice – but it does seem real.

I have a lot of Steve Jobs in me, minus the billions, the public persona and the great products. I am creative and a jerk. I can be loyal and mean. I cry and at times I appear uncaring and cool. I am human. I hope I can be as okay with myself as Steve Jobs seemed to be. He asked that his biography reflect only what was shared – that whatever his friends, his enemies and his family had to say, not be censured. That, I believe, is courageous and real. As a result some of my admiration has been wiped away. I see more of the man less of the hero. Yet in the end I like that. I myself prefer being human to being a hero. I believe it is a much harder path to follow and definitely a road worth traveling.

Why Write a Book?

When I look back on the many lists I have made about things I want to do with my life, one thing has been a constant. I have wanted to write a book. What’s equally interesting about this constant is that I have really done very little to make that happen. Yes, I have taken writing classes, written tons of short pieces and started this blog. But nothing as committed to completing the goal as I have been to other things that would show up on my list, like a bike tour in Europe or moving to Montana, getting my Diploma in Counseling at The Haven or starting our own company, Thrive!. These I put on the list, saw them and did them. Some taking more discipline than others.

So I decided to hire a coach. CrisMarie had the name of someone who was known for coaching writers so I decided to set up a chat. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect but what I thought would be an easy call turned into something else entirely.

It isn’t that this writing coach said anything too harsh. She simply wanted to know why I wanted to write a book, and as I rattled off the many things that seemed like good reasons, she kept pointing out that my responses seemed to have more to do with what others wanted than what I wanted.

At one point on the call I started down the path of sharing that I wanted to write my story. The journey I had been on through cancer and through dealing with my history which was filled with stories that never could be confirmed as fiction or non-fiction. She was relentless in trying to re-focusing me on the question of “why write a book?” and “who is audience?”. I found myself and tears and quite fragmented by the end of the call.

So I wonder what is it about writing a book that remains untouched on my list of lifetime goals and causes such fragmentation with simple questions like why do you want to write? and who are you writing for?.

As I told the coach, there is some part of me that simply wants to say “I did it. I started and I finished.” I have a history of believing I am not very good at that. I tried making that I worthwhile reason for why on the call by sharing my childhood experience of having an unfinished box of craft projects that haunted me. The coach didn’t fall for that. She pointed out that that still wasn’t about my reason now for writing and would not likely carry me through the mess and hard work of completing a book.

She wanted to know why, if I enjoyed blogging, didn’t I do more and make that a path for my writing. I had shared that I loved blogging but was not as disciplined as I wanted to me. Again, I tried using the ADD, distraction excuse, but I was not going to get off that easy. So instead, I dug deeper and that is how I found myself talking about my history. Dealing with cancer and my memories from my childhood. The story came out quite scrambled in my opinion. At some point, I shared my fears of getting lost again in the past and the compelling possibility of wholeness I imagined might come from successfully accomplishing the task.

Indeed, I believe the chat did help me focus and find my reasons for wanting to write. I also think I understand why blogging fits my style more than writing a book. Blogging let’s me come up for air and step into my present. A book would be a path I imagine having to take alone. That terrifies me. What if I go back there and get lost?

It’s funny, my past is what makes me a great counselor and coach. In listening and being present with someone who is courageously stepping into their own mess, I am quite competent and able to hold a space for them. I am able to easily stay on solid ground with whatever comes up or gets thrown my way. I can use my own journey to keep the faith that even in the blackest moments there will be a path. I trust my ability without doubt to stay present for the traveler even when the traveler doubts themselves.

Yet I am terrified of my ability to hold that same faith and solidity for myself. I have equated the hard, long road of writing a book about my life as a path to holding that space for me, and I have been unwilling to commit as fully to that task as I have to other more relational goals.

Maybe that is okay. Maybe knowing why I want to write will ignite my will, and I will go forward. For now this blog is my first pass at taking a step.

May even become a way to take the journey without being so alone.

The coach did say she wasn’t really interested in simply being an accountability coach. She believed I could find other ways to create the structure I needed and a way to stay accountable. Maybe she was right.

Learning to Lead from a Horse

So what do horses know about leadership. Well, it seems quite a lot. Recently I attended a weekend workshop at a ranch in Phoenix led by Koelle Simpson and Diane Hunter. The program was called Leading from the Inside Out. I am a big believer in the idea that I have to work on me before I can possibly be effective in influencing others. I am also a believer in the idea that to effectively work on me I need feedback; direct information about how I am impacting my world. What I didn’t realize was just how much louder, clearer and honest a big horse or horses can be in providing that mirror.

The workshop was just two days. We had many interactions with the horses. Koelle had us jump right into the first experience with very little direction. We were simply asked to step into the Round House (paneled, small coral) with a horse and establish trust and leadership. I volunteered to go first primarily because there wasn’t anyone else jumping up and I thought “go for it!”. Of course I had not yet seen the horse that entered the Round House ahead of me. As I was just about to head in, I heard the sounds of a very lively, large animal bolting around the space. I must admit at that point I wanted to bolt myself. I had all sorts of stories running through my mind about this wild animal on the other side of the door. Interestingly, I wasn’t thinking much about my own level of anxiety and just how that might be contributing to the craziness in the ring.

I entered. Though will confess not alone. We had been offered the option to take one of the leaders in with us. Koelle was right there at the door when I was wavering. From a leadership perspective I had some fears that I might be showing sights of weakness but I decided for once it was okay to ask for help. Once inside the horse continued to bolt around, at times coming closer than I wanted into my space. Koelle, simply stayed close by and her calm presence slowly and without words, became a bit of a beacon for both me and the horse. That is really all I clearly remember about my first pass with one of the horses.

We had two more opportunities to enter the Round House with a horse. Each time with a bit more information about how to read the signals the horse was giving and also with some background on just how horses work. As herd animals, they are looking for a leader. In nature, that leader is a mare. (now that came as a surprise to me). It seems the mare is the one who is best tuned into the greater environment, meaning herself, the herd and everything around. She is generally pretty calm and gives subtle signals that allow the entire herd to pick up the clues without a panic. Obviously I was not coming into the Round House with anything close to that level of inner calm or providing subtle clues of my discomfort. Pretty much everything was LOUD.

However, by my third trip into the round house, I was beginning to get the message. First, get in touch with me and from there be clear about my message without big, loud gestures or effort. My last interaction with one of the horses was awesome. I found ways of leading the stallion around the ring at various speeds, turning him with ease. But the best part was when I dropped the usual activities and invited him to move with me. At one point I was skipping and he was following without any fear of my ‘bigger gestures’. Needless to say, he wasn’t skipping but he had no problem keeping up. Interesting though how in that moment it wasn’t so much about him following as it was about me simply being me.

I know I am sort of a high energy, easily distracted type of leader. I often work really hard to tone myself down or stay focused. The horses taught me the value in being me. I discovered it wasn’t my high energy that was a problem it was my high anxiety, resulting from my inner fear of being too much. If I was simply high energy the horse was fine – thus the skipping and at one point running together around the ring. I also learned that one of the greatest gifts of the mare is that she too is easily “distracted”. She is tracking everything and that gift allows her to discover problems early, chart new paths and find what seem to be hidden options. May be distraction isn’t so bad after all.

In the end I came away from the weekend wishing more leaders had a chance to learn from horses. There is such an honest, simple way in which these big, powerful animals communicate what is working and what is not. We have the same potential but so often our words become our primary message and we stop really owning all the non-verbal messages that are being broadcast louder than the words on the surface.

There was much more that happened in the two days. I highly recommend anyone who leads people and is curious about discovering more about what messages they may be broadcasting to consider taking Leading from the Inside Out with Koelle and Diane Continue reading Learning to Lead from a Horse