The Art of Resistance.  A lesson in Adaptation.

Anytime I am mentally preparing to paint, or write a blog such as this one, I will first stall by doing any to all of the following things.

Make coffee. Make breakfast. Clean up after breakfast. Flip through my phone.  Rearrange the dishwasher after my wife has loaded it. Flip through a cookbook to see what I want for dinner.  Text a friend.  Text the same friend again, to encourage a response. Several days later, I am finally ready.

There is this book, by Steven Pressfield, called, “The War of Art. Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”.  Every once in awhile, when i am feeling this resistance creatively, I will reread this book. There are thoughts surrounding resistance that everyone can learn from, especially when it comes to making changes within your organization.

Resistance’s Greatest Hits. In no specific order, Pressfield refers to this list of activities which frequently elicit resistance.

·      The pursuit of any creative calling in writing, painting, music, film, any creative art form

·      Launching of an entrepreneurial venture

·      A diet or health regimen whose aim is to tighten abdominals

·      A program of spiritual, wellness advancement designed to curtail an unhealthy behavior or addiction

·      Education

·      An endeavor designed to help others

·      An act that entails a commitment of the heart; marriage, children, managing a difficult relationship

·      Taking a stand in the face of diversity

Any act that rejects gratification in exchange for long term growth. 

As an organizational consultant, I help the client manage resistance all of the time. I love talking about my favorite project in which an organization in NYC, successfully managed its resistance. They saw the potential for growth and managed the resistance, growing pains and all. I also remember the ones that were so resistant to change, that they saw the change consultant as the enemy.

Pressfield reminds us that the Dalai Lama once said, “The enemy is a very good teacher.” Twice I have tried to explain this lesson to the company’s security guard, as he escorted me out the building. Change is hard for everyone.  Some organizations push through and some don’t.

This is why I am frequently saying that self-awareness is one of your most important business skills.
See my last blog, Self-Awareness May Be Your Best Business Strategy

An individual’s reaction to change and adaptation is as important as the change itself. If you are managing a community of people, then just like the oxygen masks on airplanes, you must take care of yourself first.  Then, you can help others.  You can help yourself by doing many things like reading books on the subject, or even seeking a coach to help you with your self-awareness and resistance.  I help people with this matters all of the time.  You can help your team by listening and recognizing their need for support.  All change, positive and negative, requires an individual’s adaptation from the present state to the desired state.  Communicate effectively, frequently, and be open for feedback.  I will never forget one senior leader saying to me, “We don’t care how are employees feel about this change. We are paying them to be on-board. If they are resistant, they can work somewhere else. We are doing it.” And people cannot believe that the global level of employee engagement was recently Gallup poll reported to be only 13%?

When I first start with an organization, I will conduct a change readiness assessment. The assessment is not measuring whether a company should make a change or wait.  The assessment is measuring the “readiness for change”,  present resistance levels , and a history with resistance.  What activities will need to occur to hold the employee’s hand through the process which will lead to employee engagement and sustainability.  Adapting to change is about loss, uncertainty, and resistance. Delivering a successful change strategy, must entail supporting an individual's struggle with change, and this begins with managing your own coping skills and resistance.


self-awareness may be your best business strategy. EFT Tapping for increased emotional intelligence, awareness, and better leadership.

Individuals in leadership roles often hold the difficult task of navigating through ever-changing waters, constant process and regulation changes, tight budgets, and managers clashing with your ideas. On top of all of this, your boss still needs you to come out with a strong financial outcome. Then, you have the rest of your life to manage. No problem. It is important to remember that all of this is seen through your eyes. Yes, you may be discussing challenges with others but ultimately, your view is through your lens. Therefore, your self-awareness, your reaction to people and events, is extremely important.

How self-aware are you?

individual coaching from a practitioner with a doctorate in clinical psychology (10 years), organizational consultant (14 years – domestic & global), and EFT-trained therapist comes in help support and help refuel your journey.

There are many coaches, and practitioners out there.  You see them all over the network that is social.  However, it is important to select someone that had an advanced degree in psychology, understands your type of business pressure, and can work with you quickly. It is my unique goal to get my clients back to feeling good as quickly as possible. It does not help you to meet with a coach or psychologist for weeks or even months on end, in the hopes that you will eventually feel better or progress. You need some with quick availability and support when its needed and then on your way to continue your work.

In most cases, I am available within a very short window of time.

I have had clients and non-client fellow employees come to me with an urgent need.  They were having a panic attack. I worked with them on the fly and had them ready for that stressful meeting coming up. Sometimes, there is something going on at home that prohibits them from delivering the perfect presentation.  I helped this person lower their anxiety, he delivered a killer speech, and went home to manage his next challenge. His challenge at home was significant. Many people would have called in sick, but he showed up and delivered.

What got him primed for his difficult day, Tapping. If you are not familiar with EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, it is frequently referred to as psychological acupuncture. However, with EFT you are tapping with your fingers, no pins!  EFT opens up the opportunity for working on lots of things clinically, that frankly just talking cannot obtain, or if so, not very quickly. In this person’s case, their anxiety was real and present. Daniel Gilbert, one of my favorite Harvard psychologists and writers said, “The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real…”.  EFT has the ability to disengage the danger button. I know this feels like we are under attack, but we are not.  This event is important but you are not being chased by a bear. EFT tells the Amygdala in your brain that even though you have this problem, you will get through it, and you will be okay.

This is just one extreme example, but EFT is excellent for raising one’s self-awareness, self-esteem, managing a difficult relationship with your boss. It is also a chance to just sit in the corner between rounds, reset yourself, so that you can go back out there with the highest awareness and lead.

Contact me for an informal and free consultation.

The Benefit of Knowing Nothing. A Lesson for Business Leaders and Consultants

Change starts with you.

As business leaders and consultants, we frequently expect employees to change and adapt to new ways of working, regardless of their comfort level. For many people, change is very hard, there is anxiety, fear, and work can become very uncomfortable. The expectation to adapt can be nerve-wracking. I have experienced near-retirement employees consider leaving an organization over learning something new and adapting. Do you think change might be uncomfortable for this person? If we expect others to change and adapt, then we also need to know what that experience feels like. As a business leader, are you truly listening to where your employees, or are you driving results void of their experience?

When I am working as an organizational change consultant, and a company plans a significant transformation, it is my job to help employees adapt from where they are today, to a newly designed future state. The employee is expected to adapt to a completely new set of behaviors, rules, communication, and sometimes even changes in culture. Business leaders and consultants cannot expect others to easily adapt, if the leads cannot deal with uncertainty and learn to adapt themselves.

How can we learn to sit with uncertainty and adapt?

Much like playing golf, or playing the guitar, if you don’t practice, your skills will decline. Well, the same is true with adapting to change. The more we practice adapting, the more comfortably we will sit with uncertainty. How can we keep our skills sharp? I think I have played golf four times in my life. This would be uncomfortable for me, no question about it. I have two guitars, and I do not play very often. When I do, playing is humbling.

I recently spent a month in Tetouan, Morocco. A small town just south of Tangier. The population is nearly 500,000 people. I was there to attend an artist residency. If you are curious, you can view my paintings at I had the unique opportunity to work and learn from artists from all over the world, as well as Morocco. If you have spent some time in a country as culturally different as this one, then perhaps you know this feeling. Traveling to a rare new place, with the risk of culture shock is a great lesson in sitting with uncertainty.

My first lesson in adaptation, on this trip, began right away.

I flew from D.C. to Casablanca on an overnight flight. When I arrived, I discovered that my ride was cancelled. My new driver, who I had never met, was a retired commander in the Moroccan military. We would be driving three hours to Marrakech. The next day we would drive another 7 hours to Tetouan. He only spoke only Moroccan Arabic and French. I only spoke French, which is a joke because my French is terrible. Well, my French is good enough to be polite. Anyway, it was the only common language to for us to work with. English and Arabic were wasted on each other. We spent 36 hours together, driving and sharing meals with a huge language barrier and absolutely nothing in common. He seemed about my age. When we had lunch in Marrakech, and I decided to share photos of my family. His face lit up. He shared photos of his family. We had something in common. Additionally, it is also pretty easy to express a mutual appreciation for red meat and beer. We were connecting and eventually managed communicate effectively. At the end of our journey, we were friends.

Once I arrived in Tetouan, I felt an immediate assault of the senses. My artist friend, from Australia, called it the Moroccan Stampede. I walked through the tightly wound medina with no sense of north. The sights, sounds, and smells are in itself a culture shock. There is an old poem about Tetouan that still holds true today. Loosely translated, it describes the air as poison, the water bloody (in the streets, not from the faucet), and its health could make you sick. And it did! One person in our group ended up in the hospital and went home early. Another was too overwhelmed to stay. Others had to lie down at random moments because it was all too much to push on as if it was just another day, or just another trip to a comfortable city.

While my description may not inspire you to bring the family over the winter holidays, the air was also filled with mystique, and echoes of the sounds of the call to prayer. Most importantly, there was lots of space for gaining personal insight and reflection. It is no wonder that each day, I needed to retreat to my Riad, Hotel El Reducto, to rest from this cultural assault. This daily rest allowed me to learn, adapt, and be ready to proceed to the next day’s life lesson.

The dumbest person in a new city

One who arrives in a new town without understanding the language, the culture, the rules, the geography, the food, and the way of life of the people, is to be the dumbest person in a new city. And what a great place to be! When you are the dumbest person in a new city, you have the rare opportunity to learn to start where you are and adapt. Start where you are. A great lesson in any difficult situation. Anywhere is perfect.

Perhaps a trip such as this should be a requirement for any business leader expecting others to change, adapt, and share their story. People and their stories change the way we relate and go about the world. If you have had an experience like this which has shaped your work, please share with us.

Motivation versus Engagement. What is the best approach to a healthy & productive team?

I recently read an article titled, “13 things the smartest leaders say to motivate their employees”.  Then I read it a second time. Something was bothering me about this article.  I disagreed.  If these leaders are so smart, why does (Gallup) poll data show employee engagement at 13%?

We all know that there are many good things leaders say to motivate a team.

“Thank you.”

“Good job.”

“My door is always open.”

“I value your opinion.”

Or perhaps, the manager is dangling a carrot. If the employee’s performance is excellent, maybe just maybe, the employees request will be fulfilled next year.

Leaders will say that it takes a lot to motivate a team. True. And, many of us know that it only takes moments to un-motivate someone. Good and bad results can be accomplished through a leader’s words and behavior.

Here is an argument against motivating employees, and in favor of employee engagement.  Motivation is defined as the reason or reasons one has for behaving a particular way. However, Engagement is defined as an emotional commitment.

Let’s say that a leader has an open position in his or her team and wants to hire. A job description is written, salary is budgeted and approved. The leader interviews, once, twice, narrows down a decision.  Maybe the leader thought that the candidate looked like he was wearing his father’s suit. But, he was the most experienced and overall the best choice. The potential employee accepts the terms of the position and they agree to move forward. The employer has accepted the employee’s references. The employee has accepted the terms, responsibilities, and the money. Now shouldn’t this new employee be self-motivated to deliver?

Yes. One theory suggests that employees do not really want to work and are only there for the money. Maybe. Therefore, motivation would be necessary to maximize productivity. Others believe that employees want to be passionate about work and excel. However, if an environment of empowerment and self-motivation is created, then a change-oriented team has developed.  In the book, “The Change Masters” ( Rosabeth Moss Kanter), she says that if people go to work for pay, and also find a sense of community, then they have done so because they are working in an environment of mutual respect with participation across the organization. Therefore, working and supporting this healthy environment IS the motivation, not a dangling carrot.

Leaders meet with their teams to motivate.  A leader commonly provides the same motivation tactics and comments to the team. It’s the fair and level-setting thing to do, right? Well, the team is comprised of individuals with different backgrounds, upbringings, and education. They will not all respond to the same motivation tactics. The dangling carrot is exhausting and addictive for the employer and employee.  Annual performance reviews are too little and too late. Employees need consistent feedback through-out the year. It is better for the team’s business to send and receive feedback on a regular basis. This also lets the leaders know how they are doing.  Again, once a year employee feedback on their manager’s performance is too little and too late.

A healthy culture is now described as one in which the leader and team work together towards a common purpose. The healthiest reward system is one of self-motivation, consistent communication, free-flowing information, early involvement and feedback on a new or even a delayed project. When feedback runs in both directions, in a fluid manner, trust and culture develop and strengthen. Engagement!

On my own projects, one of the first things I will facilitate is a change readiness assessment.  I will interview senior leadership and impacted managers to capture a present-day snapshot of an organization’s health. I will collect data on culture, communication, and employee engagement. So many times, I have heard employees say that their feedback wasn’t solicited. Employees will say that they were not heard before a project began, even though their engagement will later be critical to the success of a project.  There is a frustration from employees when feedback is not gathered in a timely manner. Frequently, it is only after a project has started that employees will hear about a significant change, or even worse, may only have been communicated a week before the project launch. I might hear, “Do you mean, I am supposed to adopt this new way of working one week from now? I am only hearing about this now?  What difference does it make how I feel about it now”?  Once, a company’s program manager said to me, “We are paying our employees to be engaged, we don’t care how they feel about it”. Wow, now there is a motivation technique.

For senior leaders that are more interested in the group’s financial performance than a healthy culture, the same still applies.  An engaged business unit will out-perform other teams, in revenue and profit. Because, the team is engaged and self-motivated.  Teams that place an unhealthy pressure or motivation on employees, maybe through a manager’s poor behavior,  will ultimately fail as a successful business unit. The other problem with this sort of negative motivation tactic is that it does not give the employee a chance to think outside the limits of their role. And as Kanter suggests, it is only a matter of time until constrained employees become viewed as a lesser breed. How engaged will they feel now? Ultimately, when the organization needs to change and adapt, which is inevitable, the employees will not be ready.

How a leader communicates to the team is critical. But, self-motivation and engagement can occur not by pushing motivation, but rather through an open environment of feedback, transparency, purpose, cooperation, and innovation. Employee engagement is startling low.  Perhaps it is time to move away from employee motivation tactics.

This is me after losing a bet with my client. I had to wear this to happy hour. But we worked as one team.

This is me after losing a bet with my client. I had to wear this to happy hour. But we worked as one team.

My Interview with Dietician Nutritionist Aaron Flores, RDN. Adapting and Changing from the Inside out.

Aaron Flores is a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) in Calabasas, California. He specializes in Intuitive Easting, and focuses on change behaviors that lead to improved health.  As you know, I am all about change and adaptation.

Dr. Mark Lesser:  Hi Aaron. The last time we saw each other, we were both in different careers. We were working in Century City for an educational dotcom with deep pockets.

AF: Hi, Mark. Yes, that’s true. Now we’ve each moved on to bigger and better things. It was fun work, and loved all of the perks. But, it was not the career for me. Apparently, not for you either.

ML:  And as it turns out, we were both in school getting new graduate degrees. I was getting my doctorate in clinical psychology and you were getting a degree in Family Consumer Sciences. But before we go there… Where did you grow up? I think LA...

AF: I grew up in Los Angeles... I was born in Mexico City… came to LA when I was 2.  I’ve lived in LA, almost all my life… except for 4-5 years. I was in Boulder Colorado in my early 20’s. 

ML: My town… I’ve been here a year now.

AF:  Yes! I know! My years in Boulder were my first attempt at college life.  Let’s just say it didn’t go so well.  I loved that city. But when I was done with school, I decided it would be best to return to LA. That’s when I started working in the dotcom world.

ML:  So, how did you come to change your career?

AF: I came to change careers after a lot of personal work. I was examining why I was so unhappy in technology and gaming. I read the book, “What Color Is My Parachute?”. That was really helpful. I also went to see a career coach who helped me formulate a lot of my thoughts into very specific areas. I was a college dropout and had a very negative experience with school.  So… the thought of going back to school in my 30’s was really scary. 

ML: Wow. I totally commend you for that, amazing! Talk about adapting to life.

AF: Once I was able to process that fear, I realized that nutrition was really going to be a good fit for me.  What drew me to the field was that I had been dealing with my own issues with food.  I had lost a lot of weight in my late 20’s. I thought I’d love to focus on helping others lose weight in my nutrition career.  What I later realized is that I was not just dieting, but exhibiting eating disorder behaviors to help me maintain my weight loss. 

ML: How has your own experiences impacted your interest in working in Intuitive Eating. First, what is Intuitive Eating?

AF: Intuitive Eating (Written by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole) is a big part of my current career as a dietitian. Basically, intuitive eating is a non-diet, weight neutral approach towards helping people improve their relationship with food and they’re body. I would recommend this book to anyone who is stuck in a world of dieting and looking to make peace with food.

I was still stuck in my diet mentality and working very hard to maintain the weight I had lost in my 20’s, with little success. No matter how hard I tried, I was regaining lost weight.  When I read Intuitive Eating and realized that I was not failing, but that my body was acting just as it should be. 

The fact is, there is a very good reason nearly 95% of people end up regaining weight.   Our bodies are not designed to lose weight. 

Our body has built-in mechanisms to regulate weight loss.  Our bodies want to be in a set range of weights and when we try to override that. Our bodies rebel against us and that was exactly what was happening to me. I started my own Intuitive eating journey and started to give up dieting.  It was a difficult process for sure but I’m much happier today with my body than I’ve ever been.  I do more positive self-care habits now than I’ve ever done.  I do those behaviors just because I enjoy them, and not to change the number on the scale. 

ML: Interesting.  Sometimes clients will actually make a cognitive shift more readily by stopping the very thing designed, supposedly, to help diminish certain behaviors. You once interned at the VA Hospital in Los Angeles.  How did this experience impact your work, and were you able to see cognitive or behavioral shifts in your clients?

 AF: My experience at the VA was amazing and so helpful to my career. I learned that changing simple habits had little to do with motivation and a lot to do with looking at the external factors. There are external factors, in our lives, that prevent us from making changes. The veterans, coming to me, were there to either lose weight or change some part of their dietary habits.  We would talk about making the changes they wanted. Later,  they’d come back and feel like a failure when they “slipped up”.  Not only were they struggling with their weight, or other nutrition-related health issues, but they were also struggling with other psychological factors (trauma, PTSD, and depression). Understanding the complexity of making changes to our eating habits really allowed me to look at someone’s health from just one angle… I learned to take a step back and treat the person as a whole.

ML: So now you are in a private practice.  Who are your primary clients? What types of struggles do you see?

 AF: The clients who come to me are typically struggling with chronic dieting and/or eating disorders. I specialize in Binge Eating Disorder which is an eating disorder that is becoming more and more understood over the past 5 years. My clients have typically also been struggling with body image issues and come to me because I’m offering a little bit of a different approach towards healing their relationship with food. Because my work often overlaps with other issues, I encourage almost my clients to be in some sort of therapy in conjunction with my sessions.  I treat adults and adolescents, men and women and conduct face-to-face and virtual sessions. 

ML: I want to talk about change and adaptation. Is it safe to assume that many struggle with diets because they are working from the outside-in and not inside-out?

 AF: That is a great question.  I have not really thought about it in those terms per se, but yes I think that might be correct. Most people who are constantly in pursuit of weight loss, diets and the thin ideal, are doing so because they are given a message by our society that being in a larger body is bad.  We see larger bodies as unattractive and less desirable.  We also, equate body size with health.  The folks who are constantly dieting are usually finding some displeasure with their body and struggling with stigma that comes with being in a larger body. 

As I think about it more, that “outside-in” analogy makes sense.  Outside is the societal pressure to “fit in” and the judgement of bodies that we all seem to have.  Inside-out then for me is learning to accept our genetic blue print.

 Accept that despite our best efforts, we cannot really control our body size. Even though we might not be able to control our size, we can control our health.  Inside-out thinking is about doing self-care habits for yourself every day because we deserve it.  We deserve to nourish our body, we deserve to eat satisfying food, we deserve to be loved, we deserve to move our bodies in fun ways, we deserve restful sleep and we deserve bias free healthcare. 

ML: In your blog, “Being my own beloved”, you mention transformative experiences… a similar experience a like to see in my own work and with clients.  Tell me more about this?

 AF: As a part of my podcast, Dietitians Unplugged, we interviewed Vivienne McMaster who runs an online program, Be Your Own Beloved.  It’s a 30-day online class that helps people make peace with seeing themselves in pictures.  She sends you a daily prompt via email and asks you to take a selfie based on the days prompt.  Some prompts focus on lighting, some focus on your shadows, some focus on hands and feet and some are about getting up close and personal with the camera.  What’s so cool about the class is how she fosters an air of curiosity around the act of taking pictures.  For many of use, we have so much judgement about each picture we see of us and by changing the mindset to that of curiosity instead of judgement is where the transformation comes from.  I was able to really be open-minded to seeing myself in pictures.  What I found is that the more pictures I took, the easier the process. I’d take 60 or more pictures and I was easily able to find one out of 60 that I liked.   I’d recommend this program to anyone who is struggling with body image issues. 

ML: Before we go, where can people find you?  

AF: People can go to All of my info and social networking info is there too.

Aaron Flores, RDN

Aaron Flores, RDN

My Interview with Hugh McGill. What it takes to drive cultural change in an organization.

Hugh McGill is an Organizational Change Consultant with certifications in Lean Six Sigma, and Emotional Intelligence. Hugh has a deep dive understanding in employee engagement and culture adaptation.  I met Hugh this past year on a project, and we haven’t shut up since, talking about our passion for change.

Dr. Mark Lesser: Hi, Hugh. Even though you are a Patriots fan and you are still listening to Pink Floyd, I enjoy our talks.  It led me to really want to sit down and talk about your work.

Hugh McGill:  Yes – still stuck in the world of classic rock. The Patriots, I support because when I came to this country in 1980, I came to Massachusetts. They were the local team. They were not very competitive and TV was blacked out locally. I lived near the stadium and would go up there on Sunday mornings to get great seats. “Taste great” and “Less filling” were the two main chants that rang out through the stadium. They moved from a team that few people cared about, to a team about which most people involved in watching American football have a strong feeling.    

ML: Taste great, Less Filling, I forgot about that! Okay it’s been two minutes and we’ve already dated ourselves. First, where did you grow up? 

HM: I was raised in the UK… born in India… my parents returned to England in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I am told, we watched the parade from some flat along the route.  “Where did I grow up?” is a very interesting question… I lived a sheltered life in England. I went to boarding school.

ML: Did you wear a cape and play Cricket or was it more of an Oliver Twist thing? 

HM: Definitely not Oliver Twist. My parents were comfortably off so I was pretty protected in my upbringing. Took a lot for granted. I think I grew up when I went traveling in Europe for about six months, hitchhiking through Yugoslavia. I was living on beaches on the Greek Islands and ending up in Israel, where I lived for 14 months.

ML: What an incredible way to start your adult life.

HM: I got out of England, meeting and working with people from all over the world…this was in the early 70s.  A time when people were exploring. I really began to recognize the diversity that existed in this world. I realized that, my perspective of the world was right for me. It was great learning and I think it is when I grew up… taking a more global perspective on life… how we interact and create partnerships. I learned how important it is to hear new perspectives.

ML: I am thinking that this, somehow, impacted your career. How did you come to do organizational work?  I know that was a big leap in questioning.

HM: Yes! I started my career in manufacturing. Herbs and spices, bottling. I was promoted to Supervisor.  But, on my first week in charge, I had my entire production team, walk off the job.

ML: Wow, that’s amazing! What happened?

HM:  I was being too arrogant and coming across as if I knew everything. I was being disrespectful to their wisdom. They were not happy about it. Great learning experience. I really established strong thinking for me about the front-line employee. The people that do the work every day.

When I came to the US in 1980, I found supervisory work in the liquor industry in Boston. We were bottling private label brands in New England. But, it was very inefficient and lasted about a year. I found new work with two companies as a supervisor and went to school to complete an Associate’s Degree in Business and a Master’s Degree in Management.  In 1994, after graduating from Cambridge College, I had the opportunity to move my career from manufacturing to organizational development.

My master’s degree focused on how organizations work, how leaders lead and how teams function. We focused on Emotional Intelligence, change management, personal development and my thesis focused on leadership within less hierarchical organizations. How do people get engaged in their work? How do you create organizations which have climates of inclusion, respect for diversity, recognition of collaborative behaviors and results created by the human capital? That has been my mission since then.

ML: You have extensive work in organizational change and cultural development. Why is this work frequently so difficult to sell… not only to the client, but to fellow consultants on your own team? By “sell”, of course I mean getting those around you to embrace the work?

HM:  Fear! Creating organizations of inclusion, employee engagement and leadership. Organizations should focus on coaching and collaborating with employees to support their growth. This takes a lot of work and it is a long-term commitment. Organizations might not see immediate bottom-line results. To many leaders, these are “soft-skills”. This is a red flag!

It takes a commitment from the top and I mean the TOP! Many of the clients that I work with are senior leaders. They see this work as important, but they are not prepared to make the argument for culture change. It is a hard sell. The work that I have done over the past few years has been comprehensive culture change, which might include honest customer feedback. Allowing customers to be represented.

ML:  Last year, you wrote an article called “Recognizing Skills and Building Confidence”. Can you tell us about this experience and how this group “adapted” in order to survive and ended up stronger as a result?

HM:  This article was written as a result of a lot of work within this company to create a culture of continuous improvement. I was working at a site that was closing. A senior operator came to me soon after we had all signed our exit documents. She asked me if I remembered coming to the site late one night. This was a few years ago. Yes, I remembered it. She was an experienced person who had real difficulty working with her other team members. She did not listen. She did not respect what the team had to say and took a disruptive stance. We talked about the value she could add to the team, teaching could she do, and what partnerships could she create with the other teams?

As we drank together, she thanked me for the intervention. She said that it made a difference. She took ownership for her role and her behavior…certainly made changes. Two years later, when they were looking for somebody to step into an incoming role, there was no hesitation that she was a good fit.

The organization shifted to a process centric organization. It increased its performance by defining the processes, aligning the organization around those processes, and created a value-add environment. There was a commitment from the top of the organization for managers to become leaders. “Every interaction counts,” was the key phrase around coaching and teaching. We created a space for employee development, consistent messaging reinforced by visible leadership. The results were recognized and celebrated. The LinkedIn posting “Front-Line Engagement and Organizational Success” talks more about this.     

ML:   In my own practice, assessing and analyzing change readiness is first and foremost.  Was this group ready for change, even though they may not have known that they almost lost their job?

HM: The whole conversation was about change. A change in the way we were going to function.  

·      How were we were going to lead the organization?

·      How were teams were going to work? 

·      How were we going to talk with each other?

There was a purpose to our journey. It was a committed journey that was going to take some time. Leaders were held accountable and needed to support the change. The culture shift had prepared them to have confidence about the new business model. They were willing to go for it. The people were not aware of the power this change was going to give them. This allowed them to move forward when it was time. I sent a message to somebody to congratulate him on a promotion he received after a short time with a new company. His response, “It’s all about the trainings you gave us. I appreciate all the help and opportunities you gave me.”  

ML:   We spend a lot of time getting others to overcome limited beliefs, destructive thoughts, resistance. What do you do to stay adaptive?

HM: It is the voices in our heads that impact the choices we make. These choices impact the actions that we take. My own voice has to ensure that I remain curious and that I am not stuck in thinking that I am right. I learned this when I was traveling in the 70s… meeting many different people. I learned that in the organizations and communities in which I have been involved. My children remind me and I must be mindful of that.

ML:   We all do.  Hugh, thank you for being my first interview and chatting with me.



Trapped! What to do when your shrink, grandfather, or ATM card cannot get you out.

One evening, when I was a kid, I accidentally locked myself in my grandparent’s bathroom.  I think I recall them telling me not to lock it. I was pretty young, maybe three, so privacy was at the utmost importance. I locked the door. I heard my grandfather trying several times to breakdown the door. He started from down the hall. He seemed to be running forever, why hasn’t he reached the door yet? Finally, he connected his shoulder with the door. It was an old, well-built house, the door was solid oak. The door won. I do not think it is too tough to breakdown a door, these days.  I haven’t tried.

My grandmother called the police. I don’t know what she said. Suddenly, the street was filled with police cars and fire trucks. The neighbors were out in full.  The Chicago street was filled with flashing lights. “Pretty! I wonder what’s going on out there?” I am not sure I understood the connection between the event outside and my own situation.  I thought, If I wasn’t locked in this bathroom, I could go outside and find out.  A few firemen were now outside the door. They asked me to stand in the bathtub as they broke down the door.

Since then, I have also been locked in a rabbi’s basement. He told my parents that he was not letting me out until I learned my Torah portion for my Bar Mitzvah. I have also been trapped in elevators, and office stairwells. Yes, the emergency stairwell was locked.  Another time, I was trapped in an ATM in New York City at night.  The exit button at a bank wouldn’t unlock the door, and the call button wasn’t operating.  I had to pass my ATM card to a stranger through the door and hope that he would let me out.  He did, even though I had to convince him that just because he’s never used an ATM is no reason not to help me. Once my dog locked me OUT of my car, with the engine running, at a Blockbuster at 1am. But, that story is for another time.

These stories are fun to tell. But for many people, being trapped in small spaces is a real crisis. Often classified as an anxiety disorder, as many as 5% of the US population experience claustrophobic symptoms such as rapid heart rate, tightness feeling in the chest, constricted breathing, trembling, dizziness, and more. Even twenty minutes in a MRI machine has been known to trigger panic attacks (13% in the US). For many, this experience has become the onset of their struggles with anxiety. Have you experienced one of these? It’s like sitting in a toothpaste tube for twenty minutes.

Many people reach out for a variety of solutions including psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, sensitivity training, and pharmaceuticals (Benzodiazepines). Many of these solutions can help. And of course, one should always discuss this with their doctor. But many people have been turning to EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), or tapping, as a highly effective alternative or complimentary solution. When we are experiencing a panic attack, our fight, flight, freeze response is triggered.  Our adrenaline rises, our brain thinks we are under attack!  I really wanted out of that MRI machine. Then, I was going to escape into the parking lot in my green medical gown! The EFT technique, however, can lower our cortisol levels when we are anxious. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure which is now used in medical centers, hospitals, executive coaching, and even in sports. EFT is actually a technique that can be used anywhere. Practitioners frequently teach their clients how to tap on their own, when they really need it. I’ve never been trapped in an airplane bathroom, but with my track record, it is bound to come up.

Thank you for trying to bust down the bathroom door.

Thank you for trying to bust down the bathroom door.

Failure v. Failure. The Roles We Play.

A therapist-friend says, “Maybe you are afraid of being judged for the work and you don’t really want to finish your writing.”

Very few know that I have been writing or attempting to write for quite some time. Very few know that I have done some writing, because I hardly ever finish.  I have a great idea. I start. I research. I write.  Then half way through I get stuck. Maybe this is the wrong format for this idea, I tell myself. It is not a book… it’s a play… no maybe it’s a movie. I rework it and start all over again.

I thought about “failure” and its meaning. Or, what does failure mean to me?  I was asked, “Is failure the result of sharing my work and discovering that others do not like it?”

“No,” I said. “As an artist, I have been painting, exhibiting, sharing my work for 25 years now.”  I have already worked through that vulnerability. I paint for me, and hope that others like it. Failure for me is not finishing a project. This is much like not finishing a painting, which almost never happens. I, eventually see my way out of the presenting problem and finish.”

The truth is, in terms of “roles”, I see myself as an artist first.  An artist attempting to write, not an artist and writer. “Artist” is a label that I would use to describe myself. Friends and family describe me as an artist as well. That’s not bad, I worked for this role.

We also are given roles by others. Some roles given to us are not so good. Can you relate to any of these?

“You are not smart enough.”

“You are not attractive enough.”

“That’s not for you, do this instead.”

Or my personal favorite, “You are not an athlete.”  Yeah no kidding. When you throw a basketball at the net, and it returns squarely in your face, knocking you on your ass, you don’t need someone telling you this.

Our bosses, peers, friends, family all tell us things. In my family, the kids were told who was the smart one, the pretty one, and the one that tried hard.  In case you were wondering, I was the one that tried hard. And, I think we are all pretty cute, and smart. These role titles, or “writings on the wall” as they are sometimes called, can be limited to all of our possibilities.

There is a 1981 New York Times article, by Glen Collins, that discusses the roles we play. Dr. Humphrey Osmond spent 40 years studying and treating individuals struggling with schizophrenia. He also coined the phrase, “Psychedelic.” Ooh, trippy. He found that Schizophrenic patients do not take on roles. In fact, schizophrenia “deprives” individuals of roles. Osmond said roles are how we relate to one another. Yet, he also noted that people should not be oppressed by roles.

It makes me wonder if being happy, or not happy, is also a role. So, what if we suddenly didn’t know or remember our roles? Who would we be without this identity?  Could we be anyone we wanted to be?

In therapeutic or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) sessions, clients might tap on specific meridian points and say, “Who am I without this role?  Who am I without this problem?” These limiting beliefs can be realized, processed, and accepted through EFT. Nick Ortner’s New York Times, bestselling book, “The Tapping Solution”, discussed this very topic. “What IS the downside of changing?” There can be all kinds of risks associated with success and change.  Are you aware that you are living in the safe zone?  It is an uncomfortable place to sit, but that is where the personal benefits are sitting, waiting to be utilized… or written about! That last one was for me.


Hey, trees are people too !

The death of my grandfather marked the end of my childhood. When I was a kid, I used to spend some Friday nights with my maternal grandparents. One of the highlights of staying over was breakfast with my Grandpa Joe. My grandfather was a tall, robust man, born near Kiev Russia in 1899, was chased out by the cassocks, took a boat across the Atlantic at the age of five, and somehow ended up in Skokie, Illinois. Since he came by boat, he passed through Ellis Island not the airport.

It was an old diner with a corner seat at the counter, which made me feel extremely high above the ground.  My grandfather would lift me up onto this seat, it was like taking an elevator high above the ground. Hey, I was three feet tall. My grandfather was a tailor, poet, a sportsman, and an artist. We would sit. I would get the pancakes. He would drink coffee.  We would take a walk while he smoked his Benson & Hedges cigarette.  These were memorable moments and no one was discussing second-hand smoke then, so relax. He was a source of safety, security, and acceptance. I was 12 when he died. I had always marked this event as the end of my childhood. It was a sobering moment. Can you have a sobering moment at 12?  I think so.  I never really understood why this was a life changing moment until later. I realized that he was a tree.

What do I mean by calling my grandfather a tree?  The fact that I remember him sitting in his chair by the window with a view of a large tree, writing a poem or two. Might have something to do with it, but not so. I could say that he was like a rock. People use this phrase all of the time. He or she was the rock in the family. I am suddenly reminded of that 1984 Peaches and Herb song, “Solid. Solid as a Rock”. But a rock is not a living entity.  A rock doesn’t grow change or adapt.  I’m sure some scientist would disagree and tell me how rocks do change, but I am making a point here.

Unlike a rock, a tree grows, learns, adapts, offers nourishment, security, safety, and gives back to its environment.  A healthy tree stands strong in the wind, storms, endures four seasons, withstands injury, cold weather, kids carving their names in the trunk. Trees tend to live long lives unless extreme situations are introduced. A tree can provide hundreds of years of protection to people, animals, insects, and other plants and trees. We even have a book, “The Giving Tree,” of which there are many interpretations. The tree could be the giver in a relationship, who never expects anything in return. Or maybe the book is about the relationships between mother earth and ourselves. Either way, a tree can be seen as a “secure base”. When it is no longer there it can be very upsetting for people and animals. Have you ever felt something when the neighborhood tree is cut down?  There is a real sense of loss, standing there without the protection it provided from the sun’s rays. One feels vulnerable, and hot.

Years ago, I was working on my doctorate in clinical psychology.  It was during this time, that I discovered the world-famous psychiatrist, John Bowlby.  John Bowlby was the father of the “Attachment Theory”.   If you do not know what attachment theory is, just ask a baby sitter of a one year old, when mom and dad go out for dinner. It’s not pretty.

In Bowlby’s book “A Secure Base”, John describes sensitive care-giving as a foundation for psychological health, and the continuation of important attachments throughout one’s life.  He argued and supported the powerful role of adversity, emotional deprivation, un-mourned bereavement, rejection, neglect, and abuse as the origin of psychopathology.

Over the years, Bowlby insisted that mothers, fathers, or primary caregivers mattered when it came to providing a secure base.  This is a significant argument… that security of attachment is an interpersonal foundation, and not simply a matter of the child’s inborn temperament. So perhaps a tree is an individual that creates a secure base for a child in their life. This can be a parent, grandparent, teacher, even a neighbor. Bowlby argued that it was not just the mother’s responsibility or sole ability, to contribute to a child’s emotional foundation.  A father’s contribution is crucial to secure, stable, balanced, self-sufficient dispositions in adulthood. I have tried to be a tree with my own daughter, who is now an adult child, and I hope she will do the same. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, any closely approximate caregiver needs to be sensitive, available, active in listening, encouraging, and the capacity to sustain positive affect in their children.

Likewise, parents who provide an insecure attachment to their children, insecure themselves and/or insecure in parenting, are likely to see their kids exhibit signs of personality difficulties. Secure attachment is necessary for emotional survival, coping, and one’s ability to adapt to life’s events and challenges.

More on this later.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

My wife says that I wrote The Law of Diminishing Returns. I remember hearing about this in college. Wiki says it as the decrease in the marginal or incremental output of a production process. In everyday life, it is often described as how it feels when you eat your favorite ice cream. The first bite of rocky road is amazing. So is the second. But by the time you are almost finished, the enjoyment level is much lower than the first bite. Your enjoyment level decreases as you eat more and more. So, if I know that the end of an ice cream is not as good as the start, why finish it? I know how it’s going to turn out and I can save a few calories. Besides, by the end, the ice cream is all over the place and I am cleaning it up with those little tiny napkins.

My wife has her own economy with cravings. If we have two black and white cookies, and I give her half of mine, it does not mean that she will share half of hers… or any at all, for that matter.

The reason she says that I wrote the law of diminishing returns is that I am constantly seeking out or craving very specific things… certain foods, restaurants, vacations, or even a new city to live in. She is not all together wrong. My friends and family have stopped writing down my address. I don’t really care since no one writes down anything anymore anyway.

One thing I know is that our frontal lobe, the newer addition to our brain… well, comparatively new as it’s been awhile now… our frontal lobe loves to imagine the future, and future cravings. Whatever we are craving, its usually better in our minds, then the real deal. Except for coffee, that is usually as good as I imagine it.

Coffee and pizza are a significant craving for me, pretty much all of the time... I would say on a scale of 1-10, it’s a 10. When I was a kid not only did I crave pizza… don’t most kids... I also ate it really quickly.  There were five people in my family, and there was some sort of pizza race-thing going on.  How many pieces was I going to get and how many can I claim as mine in the future… which was like 10 minutes later. There were a limited number of slices, I better eat quickly. Fine for a kid I suppose, except I still eat pizza like it’s my last meal.

Do I love pizza that much or am I trying to calm an emotion or anxiety… maybe both? Either way, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique - A holistic, meridian-based tool for addressing our problems) is a great way to reduce the craving or the emotion behind the craving. If you are like me and are at a 10 when it comes to cravings, then tapping is a good place to start.  I might use the phrase, “Even though I am really craving pizza, I deeply and completely accept myself,” for a few rounds to calm things down and lower this number. Maybe now it’s a 4, maybe an 8… doesn’t matter much initially… keep trying.  If you feel that there is an underlying issue like anxiety, then try to be a specific as possible with your phrase, “Even though I crave pizza when I am feeling anxious, I deeply and completely accept myself.” If I can get that craving down to a manageable level, at least then  I have a choice.  I might still have a slice of pizza… maybe I will even share it with my wife.