Guest contributions:

04.22.13  Uncommon Leadership 

04.02.15  Switch and Shift  

05.13.15  Better Practice Team Performance

05.29.15  Better Practice Team Performance

07.08.15  Switch and Shift 

07.14.15  Better Practice Team Performance

10.05.15  Switch and Shift 

Stacey's Reading List...


"Tribe of Mentors" by Timothy Ferriss

"Shortcut" by John Pollack 

"Seeing What Others Don't" by Gary Klein

"Several Short Sentences About Writing" by Verlyn Klinkenborg

"The Birkman Method - Your Personality at Work" by Sharon Birkman Fink and Stephanie Capparell

"Creative Intelligence" by Bruce Nussbaum 

"Improv Wisdom" by Patricia Ryan Madson

"Training To Imagine" by Kat Koppett

"Quiet" by Susan Cain

"Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson

"A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H. Pink

"Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman 

"Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson  

"The Leadership Pipeline" by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, James Noel  

"Life:  Selected Quotations" by Paulo Coelho 

"Deep Change" by Robert Quinn

"The Power of Full Engagement" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz  

"The Way of the Shepherd" by Dr. Kevin Leman and William Pentak  

"Developing the Leader Within You" by John Maxwell  

"Mr. Peabody's Apples" by Madonna

"Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie




blog archive

The BRAIN Initiative (part 2 of 3)

Returning to the themes I’m most often asked about during Q&A sessions (emotional intelligence, reading interests, and social media) let me expand on what I’m reading.  And more importantly, why it even matters.   

23% of Americans read zero books last year. I find that to be a shocking statistic on so many levels.  Going just one day without reading seems incomprehensible to me.  But an entire year…?  That is tragic. 

I read both for pleasure and work.  And often times those are the same books.  But to answer the “what are you reading” question, let me respond in terms of fields of study rather than book titles.  Perhaps my answer will surprise you.

For the most part, I’ve stopped reading anything in the field of management and/or leadership development.  I’ve almost entirely migrated my reading interests to the brain sciences (molecular, behavioral, cognitive).  Think neuroscience, and allied disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, and the recent explosion in the study of happiness.  I’m excited to see what we’ll learn from the BRAIN initiative* and how that knowledge will impact the way we view other related disciplines.  Science has replaced the previously held position that the brain was a static organ with the concept of neuroplasticity, revealing that the brain changes throughout life. 

Scientific terminologies aside, we may be on the verge of understanding how we ultimately think, feel, act, learn, process, and connect.  And to the degree that the brain is truly plastic, we have the potential to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  And that changes everything.   “How you’re wired” may become the basis for every other conversation. 

*  The BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) is part of a new Presidential focus aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought. Source 


Learning To "Notice" (part 1 of 3)

I do love a good Q&A session.  Well, as much as an introvert can enjoy standing in a room full of people staring at her while she tries to answer sometimes deeply personal questions.  (Every introvert reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.)  Personal probing aside, most people are simply curious about the following: 

  • How have you honed your emotional intelligence...?  
  • What are you reading…?
  • How do you handle social media…?

All great questions; all lengthy answers.  So let me tackle each question in a separate post, beginning with honing my own emotional intelligence.  

The short answer is I pay attention.  The long answer is I pay attention – all the time.  Awareness begins by paying attention, or noticing.  That which is noticed can then become intellectually processed.  And the outcome of that mental processing creates meaning. 

What I have honed is merely a habit of paying attention to the inputs (trigger points) that are available to each of us all the time.  My model of thinking is what, so what, now what. 

A simple story to illustrate how that model is applied to self-awareness. 

Trigger point:  Years ago on a family white water adventure, I fell out of my canoe just prior to entering a section of rapids.  I had been scared that my skills would prove to be inadequate, and was sure I would capsize.  Which I promptly did.   

Applying awareness to the trigger point:  The what is the rafting experience.  This is the event that triggered my insight.  The so what is what I thought about that event. My lack of confidence and the storyline that I played out in my head resulted in me falling out of the canoe.  The now what is the learning that creates meaning for a more universal application.  My belief about what I’m doing – my mental storyline – impacts what I actually do.  The question I now ask myself more often is how is my internal dialogue helping or hurting me, given the situation at hand.   

For me, the what, so what, now what model is an effective way to process so much of what I “notice”.  I might also add that the model creates a level of neutrality by replacing feelings of judgment with a mindset of curiosity.  Win-win. 

Trust me when I say sometimes my brain hurts from all this hyper-vigilance.  Growing ones level of awareness is not for the weak willed.  I applaud anyone who chooses to devote the time and intention to developing greater emotional intelligence.  It is a worthy pursuit and the payoff is enormous.  


15 Quotes That Matter

Originally published as Guest Commentary in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal (May 11, 2015)

Quotes matter.  We post them on our refrigerators using assorted sized magnets, we carry them on thinly laminated cards in our wallets, we tattoo them on our bodies in forever ink.  They are used as mantras during times of uncertainty and are passed down labeled as teachable moments to the next generation.  Quotes are like true north on a compass - they matter.     

So in the same spirit of a previous article that I wrote titled 15 things I’ve learned since I was in my 20’s, I’d like to share 15 quotes that matter. 

Understand who you are, get comfortable with it, and get on down the road. (Larry Duff) You are enough.  Period.  Now go take the path less traveled. 

All humans face the same issues, just in varying magnitudes and in different sequencing. (John M. Lewis)  We are all far more alike than we are different.

You have 3 choices when bad things happen to you:  you can let them destroy you, you can let them define you, or you can let them develop you.  (unknown) Development is the only choice that moves you forward. 

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. (Albert Einstein)   There are tangibles and intangibles in life.  The scoreboard is far more complicated than a simple tally of wins and losses.

We all have stand-down moments that require us to stand-up…to stand-up in the center of ourselves, and know who we are. (Oprah Winfrey)  Will we all act with courage when the time comes…? 

People don’t change until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of changing.  (Gary Gore)  Or said differently, we don’t change until we’ve hurt enough or learned enough.      

Teaching is merely showing that something is possible.  Learning is making something possible for yourself. (Paulo Coelho) Go and sit at the feet of the greatest teachers.  And then tell me what you have learned.

You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.  (From the film “The Bucket List”)  In a world full of constant comparisons, it seems as though we’re all just trying to measure up.  In reality, where we place our yardstick matters a great deal. 

Judgment is the cause of my distress, not the situation itself.  (Oliver Burkeman) There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  By replacing judgment with curiosity, my thinking changes.    

Even when no one else knows, you know.  And you have to answer for that. (Retired Lt. Col Consuelo Castillo Kickbush)  All humans came equipped with an inner voice for a reason.  Learn to listen. 

If we concentrated on the really important things in life, there would be a shortage of fishing poles.  (Doug Larson) Dad was right about that.  And he was right about a lot of other things, too.

Save the earth…it’s the only planet that has chocolate.  (unknown) Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate.  In candy-bars, milk shakes, or straight from the syrup container. Chocolate matters!  And so does a sense of humor. 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there. (Rumi) The gray areas will always present the hardest conversations to reconcile.  And yet within the shades of gray, we seem to find perspectives we can all agree on.

It doesn’t matter what others do.  It matters what I do.  (Stacey Mason) I am responsible for my actions.  And I am equally responsible for my inactions. 

It’s hard growing up fitting in – it’s even harder standing out.  (unknown) Perhaps there will always be the constant internal struggle for both popularity and singularity.    


7 Ways Improvisation Will Enhance Your Leadership

Original publication at Switch and Shift (April 02, 2015)


Nearly 10 years ago a pivotal book by author Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) suggested that forces in the world economy would shift society from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking as the dominant thought pattern. In retrospect, that is precisely where we’ve landed today.  Think about the relevance of storytelling, our desire for product design, a resurgent demand for all things handcrafted, or how individuals are searching for greater meaning in their lives.  It’s all foreshadowed in this book.  Summed up nicely in two great sentences:  “Meaning is the new money.  The MFA is the new MBA.”   

No longer are the arts being undervalued; quite the opposite.  They are being sought out and leveraged.  The merging of art forms (right-brain) with business thinking (left-brain) is driving some unique development propositions.

Case in point – the merging of leadership competencies with Applied Improvisation (AI)*.  The art of improv capitalizes on the creative process to help “reframe” how leaders interpret - and therefore leverage - their personal style. 

The benefits of improv are far ranging, with the following merely a small sampling of how business leaders are embracing this platform of right-brain thinking. 

Improv helps you to: 

1.  Find your unique voice.  It’s the perfect place to practice being who you’re not, so you can figure out who you are.  You have permission to try on a plethora of personas in a safe setting.  I guarantee you will gravitate toward who you are, or who you’re meant to be.  Maybe your gift is sarcasm, or you radiate pure happiness  – find out where you add value and do more of that.  

2.  Create executive presence.  Being confident and comfortable on the business stage takes deliberate practice.  Executive presence is as much about finding your voice as it is about how you use it.   It’s about how you engage with others, how you invoke emotion, how you show authenticity.

3.  Share compelling stories.  Storytelling is a nuanced art.  It’s the packaged content of voice and executive presence.  And it is quite possibly the center of the human experience.  That is why organizations all over the world look to storytelling as the most promising tool for sustaining organizational culture.  

4. Increase divergent problem solving skills.  As the scene develops, and you have no idea what you will do next, you become much better at divergent problem solving (when there are multiple right answers).  Often times in business we get stuck looking for the one answer, when in fact there are several best answers. 

5.  Drive creativity and innovation.   Innovation does best in environments where ideas simply flow.  There are moments of absolute brilliance that you stumble upon while you’re busy making theater out of thin air.  Embrace serendipity.  

6.  Understand exposure to risk.  You basically have a free pass to mess up and nobody will care; it just doesn’t matter.  The pressure is removed if we don’t feel we can fail.  Error is endlessly diversified. 

7.  Maintain a sense of humor.  The world is fast paced, business is complex, and life is serious.  It can be overwhelming. Maintaining a sense of humor tends to put all things in perspective. 

It is often said that leadership is part science and part art.  It’s never really just about “what” you do, because it’s influenced greatly by “how” you do it.  Style really does matter.  Intentional effort applied to competencies (science) will undoubtedly serve a leader well.  The differentiation, though, is how the leader chooses to demonstrate his or her mastered skills (art).

I believe the improv platform skillfully merges art with business and creates an avenue for us to challenge how we think about things – and that begins a whole new dimension of thinking.  

* AI is the use of principles, tools, practices, skills and mindsets of improvisational theater in non-theatrical settings…that may result in personal development, team development, creativity and innovation, and/or meaningful change.  


The Power of Reframing


The inability to move forward – to get unstuck – is usually tied to how we see the problem.  Essentially, the way we see the problem is the problem.  For this scenario, let’s say “the problem” is something akin to a major client presentation that went poorly, a muddled conversation with a key executive, a technology rollout that had a few bugs, the relocation that fell through at the last minute, or maybe a less than flattering 360 feedback session.  

The trouble usually begins with the backstory.  This backstory, the mental recapping of the event, is flawed in some way:  not enough data points, wrong assumptions, inaccurate conclusions, and excessive rumination to the point of tainted thinking.  And let’s be honest, WE are our story.  Maybe not the story of the actual events themselves, but certainly the story we tell ourselves about the role we played in those events.  To rewrite the story in our heads is not an attempt to change the facts, but rather to see those facts from a different point of view.  Perspective, wisdom, enlightenment – you get there by recalibrating your thoughts. 

Getting unstuck – moving forward – involves reconsidering it from a different perspective, and usually with far more kindness than we afforded ourselves initially.  This different perspective can be gained by reframing the conversations you normally have with yourself.  I’d like to offer up three questions that you might take into consideration during this self-talk, and then one powerful reframing word. 

Rather than focusing on what went wrong, try asking what went right…?  Humans have a strong tendency towards a correction of errors methodology – to discover what went wrong so as to fix it for next time.  That thinking leaves little room for processing what went right.  There is a high probability that at least a few things in your backstory went brilliantly well.  It’s worth mentioning that nothing is ALL wrong; even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Instead of swirling in an emotional abyss, take a step towards logical processing and ponder what did I learn…?  This question releases some of the emotional energy and begins to engage the brain through logic.  Now when faced with a similar situation in the future, you’ve gained the intellectual perspective needed to rescript your behavior.  Funny thing is, life has a way of repeating itself.  The moral of the story is - take the lesson, leave the angst.  

Flip the conventional thinking about strengths and weaknesses and ask what if…?  What if in the retelling of your storyline your (perceived) greatest weakness is viewed as your greatest strength…?  I know a young man who is often distraught because he is overly emotional; he can and often times does openly cry when confronted with trying situations.  He feels this is a personal weakness.  What if the ability to feel that emphatic is his greatest strength (a gift really) and he is merely sitting in the wrong seat on the wrong bus…?  The ability to reframe how we see our truest selves may allow for us to entirely reimagine our lives. 

And as for that one powerful reframing word: Yet.  And it belongs in an equally powerful sentence:  it hasn’t happened, yet.  (It being the eloquent conversational-style when interacting with executives, the pending relocation, the mastering of that next skill.)  I love that I’m learning to play the piano, although I haven’t mastered it – yet.  Yet gives us hope.  Yet provides the possibility of it occurring at some point in the future because yet is a place we haven’t arrived at…yet. Yet creates space, sets an intention, and positions us for mindfulness.  And mindfulness creates the best conversations you will ever have with yourself (when stuck or otherwise).

Being stuck certainly isn’t fun.  But it can be temporary.  You always have the option of rewriting your storyline with a broader perspective by reframing your thoughts.  Reflecting on what went right, what did I learn, and what if can be of tremendous help.  And I imagine there are many more questions you could be asking yourself, you just haven’t discovered them - yet

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