Portrait of Leadership

Last Monday I sat expectantly in my first watercolor portrait class.  I’ve painted before but somewhere inside me a little voice was telling  me it was pretty audacious to think I could paint people’s faces.

Nonetheless, I was confident in my instructor.  Her studio was lined with amazing portraits of people of many nationalities, ages and expressions.  If she could teach others, perhaps she could teach me.

As the lesson progressed I realized that not only was she talking about painting but also her insights were applicable to my passion, leadership.

Here are a few observations on leadership from my watercolor portrait class.

Painting and leadership are more about “seeing” that doing.  In painting you need to see the outline or contour.  In leadership we call this the big picture.  One way to draw the contour of your subject is to draw a continuous line all the way around the subject.   It takes great physical discipline to keep your eye on the outline all the way around the subject.  Leaders require great discipline to keep connecting the dots of the big picture and communicating the big picture to people who may not see the whole.

The other perspective you need in painting is to see the shapes within the outline.  The painter trains her eye to see each shadow as it’s own entity.  It helps to squint, walk across the room or turn the subject upside down and draw it without the benefit of the “left-side” of the brain interpreting what you are seeing.  Leaders need to be able to see the big picture but they also need to see the distinctions inside the work at hand.  What are shapes of the parts that make up the whole?   What are the relationships of shapes or parts that don’t touch, but taken together create something bigger?

Once the contour and internal shapes are established the artist must establish the hues and value.  Hue is the color itself.  Is this the right blue?  Is this the right project?  Are we on the right course?  Do we have the right market strategy? Next is value, which is the intensity of the color.  Artist can create beautiful pieces just my focusing on value (monochromatic painting.) Leaders can bring out the best in their organizations by knowing what needs more value and what gets less.  It is the contract and balance that creates the art…that creates the business.

Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, says that for people to thrive in the future of business one “must understand the connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines.  They must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new. And they must become adept at analogy – at seeing one thing in terms of another.”  He made this observation will learning to paint a self-portrait.

Lastly, as an artist it is always wise to chose a subject you love because you’ll be working with it for some time; likewise for leaders.  Choose those projects that capture your heart as well as your mind because you are apt to spend a great deal of your life staring at the subject.

My first portrait was a black and white portrait of one of my favorite subjects in the whole world…my grandson.   I hope you have as much fun on your next endeavor as I had painting Oliver.


In His Image

Theo Jansen is a kinetic sculptor who creates new forms of life called Strandbeests.  His creatures live on the beeches of Holland and someday he hopes they will be self-sustaining.  Watch this fascinating clip:

Theo Jansen's Strandbeests - Wallace & Gromit's World of Invention Episode 1 Preview - BBC One
Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests – Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention Episode 1 Preview – BBC One

Theo says that in the process of creating his Strandbeest he “discovered all the problems the real Creator must have had creating the world.”  Whether Theo knows it or not, he is simply being who God created him to be.  We are all born to be creators.

In the story of creation, God says that he created man in his image.  All we know about God in the first chapter of Genesis is that he is a creator.  God said, “let there be light” and it was.  When he created us in his image, He gave us the same power to create something simply through declaration.

When I say you are a creator, I’m not talking about the creativity associated with artistic gifts.  You don’t need to draw a shapely line or compose an aria. Creating in this sense means to build, create or call into being something though the power of your words.

When you declare something the words come first, then the “world” follows. We use declarations to create a new context.  Think about when an official at a wedding says, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” everything changes because of the spoken words.  There are legal, physical, financial and emotional ramifications with that one simple declaration.

Matthew Budd, the author of You Are What You Say, says “A declaration is an utterance in which someone with authority to do so brings something into being that wasn’t there before.”

Sometimes declarations are a simple as saying ” I’m sorry” or as complicated as declaring a new vision for an organization.  What do you need to declare today about yourself, your work or your circumstances?

I hope, like Theo Jansen, you create beautiful and elegant creatures to populate your beeches.  I hope you bring forth a new world of possibilities, a new way of seeing things, a new playing field in which to play.

Here’s to your success,


What good are fuzzy goals?

I just discovered a concept that explains my whole life. Now that’s saying something!

I’ve always considered myself to be goal oriented and I think I have achieved most of my goals. But when I measure my goal setting skills against what the experts say, I always come up short. My goals are rarely written down. Seldom do I write out a specific time line nor do I break each goal down into measurable steps. These are the very skills I teach in my workshops, so why haven’t I applied them to my own life?

Somewhere inside me I wanted to leave room for the hand of God to direct my path. You may call it fate or taking a leap of faith, but I wanted to leave some of what happened to me, open to the possibilities that came my way.

I recently read a book, by David Gray, Sunni Brown and James Mancanufo, called Gamestorming. They gave my approach to life a name…fuzzy goals. And having fuzzy goals is a good thing!

A fuzzy goal is one “that motivates the general direction of the work, without blinding the team to opportunities along the journey.” Cambridge researchers including Alan Blackwell and colleagues pioneered the concept. A fuzzy goal is the balance between focus and serendipity. They straddle the space between two seemingly contradictory criteria. Fuzzy goals give direction without squelching intuition.

Fuzzy goals are emotional, sensory and progressive.

Emotional: It is the passion around the subject that creates energy. People, teams, organizations need to have a compelling reason to do what they are asked to do. It’s about your personal passion. Often I tell people that their mission in life lays at the intersection of their passion and the world needs around them.

Sensory: Fuzzy goals need to be made as tangible as possible. Using pictures, illustrations, mental images or visualization, help to make hold fuzzy goals concrete.

Progressive: Fuzzy goals allow for and are based on constant forward motion. The pursuit of fuzzy goals is a learning process, sometimes called “successive approximation”. Did you know that most space shuttle flights are on course only 2% of the time? The other 98% is course correction. Fuzzy goals are adjusted as you learn and grow.

So perhaps my life has not been a neatly defined timeline of planned accomplishments like some would suggest. But if I hadn’t been open to the life detours along the way I never would have been a psychotherapist, managed radios stations, consulted organizations from entrepreneurial businesses to the federal government, taught second grade to college level students, written three books and learned to coach executives.

Sometimes I wasn’t sure where my next adventure or “paycheck” was going to come from but to quote Alan, “Voyages of discovery involve greater risks and more failure along the way than other endeavors. But the rewards are worth it.”

I am so glad I finally found a name for my life process. I have been pursuing fuzzy goals all along. I wish for you some fuzziness and some unexpected accomplishments along the way.

Here’s to your success,

Linda K Sommer, MBA, SPHR, ACC
Success Savvy LLC

This is your brain on coaching

If you are as old as I am, you will remember the public service campaign “This is your brain on drugs.” The graphic to illustrate the infamous line was a fried egg in a skillet.  Obviously the message was that drugs mess up your brain.

Recently I came across some research in The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations* that says coaching, like leadership or executive coaching, is good for your brain.

This is your brain on coaching…

“Studies of the brain during a coaching session show increased brain activity and that the brain “lights up” during coaching insights and “aha’s”. The best way to bring about insights is to help people become more aware, pay attention to and reflect on issues, thinking more deeply for themselves. In fact, the very act of discovering an idea ourselves packs an energy punch, an emotional buzz that solidifies insight and learning.

Coaching is often about change, and change requires focus. Neuroscientists are finding that focused attention systematically re-wires the physical brain. Coaching helps people remain focused on the change they are trying to achieve. There is power in focus.

Coaching makes our brains grow. Stimulating environments lead to more nervous system (brain) connections and higher levels of functioning. In addition, active participation creates the stimulation necessary for learning. Neuroscientists are finding that effective coaching, including a stimulating conversational environment and active participation, leads to better brain functioning.

Where we put our attention creates new neural connections, and it happens more quickly than commonly believed. For example, if we put our attention on solutions rather than problems, we actually create solutions. Alternatively, drilling down and focusing our attention on problems results in deepening those problems in our thinking.

Moment to moment, our choices change the functioning of our brain, which then impacts the way we see the world and interact with it. Coaching helps in evaluating and reflecting on our various mental maps and creating “super-maps” that result in more deliberate, intentional actions and choices.

Studies show that during reflection we engage a part of our brain used for making links across the whole brain. Reflection causes us to think in an unusual way, tapping into more intelligence than the three to five pieces of information we can hold in our working memory or cognitive, logical prefrontal cortical center. Not only do we use more of our intelligence and our whole brain, the very act of reflection releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical messenger that increases relaxation and eases pain. So when we reflect, as we do in coaching, we think bigger and more broadly, and actually feel good as a result!”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  To be more focused, happier, creative and intelligent. I can’t really promise all that but I am ramping up my leadership coaching practice and would love for you to visit my new website www.lindaksommer.com.

Here’s to your success,


Linda K Sommer, MBA
Success Savvy LLC

Intentional or curious in 2011?

It was a snowy January 1st afternoon.  With a nice cup of coffee in hand, my husband and I sat down to discuss our goals for 2011.  This has been our habit over the last several years and one I look forward to at the end of the busy holiday season. We each write down what we want in the areas of Faith, Family, Finance, Fitness, and Business.  We also review last year’s goals, celebrate the wins and incorporate the unfinished business into next year’s goals.

It has been a few weeks now and something is nagging me about our plans for 2011.  I think that like many people we were too goal oriented.  Is that possible?

Being “too” goal focused is possible if all of your goals are to be “intentional” about something.  Please understand that being intentional is one of my favorite concepts and I use it when I coach leaders.  But can too much of a good thing be detrimental? What occurred to me was that we had not included any activities or “goals” that allowed us to be curious in 2011.

Here is a model that might just bring balance to those of us who are “too” goal oriented.  I believe we need to allow ourselves to move freely around the boxes and have goals that require us to be focused, to create, to rest and to explore.  And yes you can have a goal to rest.  It fact most of us should incorporate some into our life plans.

Being FOCUSED, which most of us have down, is usually centered on key business or financial targets, or fitness and health goals.  It’s important to measure your progress and accomplishments.  Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.

CREATING means to reframe a current problem or solve a problem that’s not on your regular list of responsibilities.  Creating often comes when we combine spheres of knowledge.  What areas of expertise do you have that you can combine to make a new product, discipline, idea or project?

EXPLORING can include learning a new physical skill or sport like juggling or watercolor painting.  You could look outside your field by taking a course that is totally unrelated to your career.  You could also explore inside yourself by keeping a journal or getting a coach.

Lastly we need to plan to REST.  Read a novel, play with the grandkids, walk on the beach or hike in the mountains.  Pray, mediate and be still.

Upon reflection, my husband and I have revised our 2011 goals to create a balance between being intentional and being curious.  And if I had a wish for you in 2011 it would be to find that balance for yourself.

Here’s to your success,


Linda K sommer, MBA

Staying Grounded in a Wiki World

Every Thanksgiving for the past few years, my husband and I have vacationed in Kona, Hawaii, (a great place to reflect on your blessings!)  Each year our plans included a brief stay-over at the Honolulu airport that requires a short bus ride, from one side of the airport to the other, to make our connection home.

In past visits, I hadn’t paid much attention to the name of the bus.  It’s the Wiki Wiki.  That’s Hawaiian for “quick, quick” or very quick.  It was the WikiLeaks story that made me notice the Wiki Wiki signs.

In 1995, a man named Ward Cunningham also noticed the signs at the Honolulu airport and adopted “wiki wiki” as the name for his new invention.  He was working on a computer collaboration tool that allowed people to work concurrently on a project.  It was so fast, compared to previous ways of collaboration, that he called it a “wiki”.  Probably the most famous wiki, until WikiLeaks hit the front page, is Wikipedia.

This new “wiki world” is fast.  The WikiLeaks recent dump of confidential documents really has me thinking.  It raises all kinds of ethical conundrums.  Where is the line between what the public needs to know and the right of individual privacy?  When is it OK to tell something confidential?  Are the WikiLeaks guys luminaries or lunatics?

I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning about now.  However in a “wiki wiki” world, I think there are several things that you can do to stay grounded.

The first thing is to know your bottom line.  Establish a list of rock solid, not negotiable, values that you use to measure your own actions and the actions of others.  When you sort through the laundry list of possible values, you realize that not everything is relative.  There are absolutes and you need to know what they are.

The second thing is to remember “there is no such thing as a secret.”  I had a pastor who used to preach about this several times a year, but apparently he didn’t listen.  His ministry came crashing down when his personal secrets were revealed.  Everything you do has the potential to be made public…very public!  Make sure that what you say, do, and write conforms to the set a values you have defined for yourself.

When you live a values-centered, transparent life, I believe you can withstand the whirlwind around you.  As the world’s ability to share information continues to accelerate, living an open and honest life may be your only salvation. 

As Bette Davis said in the movie All About Eve… “Fast your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

 Here’s to your success,

Linda K Sommer, MBA

It’s people, stupid!

Bill Clinton won the 1992 election (George H W Bush vs. William Clinton) with the James Carville designed slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”   Clinton toppled the popular president, who had won the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War, by reminding people that we were headed for a recession.

More than once this election season I have heard a reporter or a news commentator used the 1992 slogan and analogy. Even heard a few candidates utter the words.

So the other day when I was being interviewed for the role of a leadership development consultant, I decided to use my own version of Bill Clinton’s now famous line.  When the young HR professional ask me how important I thought leadership development was to a company’s mission I said, “It’s the people, stupid!”

My interviewer was younger than I thought, so I had to back track and explain the Clinton-era reference to him and therefore my brilliant remark lost a lot in the translation.   Even though I didn’t wow my young friend, I maintain “It’s the people, stupid!”

Companies no longer rely in the mass production model of the 20th century.  In the last era of business it was about producing things and people were as interchangeable as the parts they made.

But the more we move away from an economy based on things to an economy based on thoughts, the more we will rely on the uniqueness and creativity of people. 

What is and will be required is a new kind of thinking for the workplace.  Yes, there are still jobs that are process oriented and require metrics and measurements.  But increasingly, right brain-thinking and intuition are what will solve tomorrow’s problems. 

Daniel Pink says in DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the next generation worker will be more motivated by intrinsic rewards than extrinsic rewards such as pay, benefits and status.  And new motivation system, Motivation 3.0, will focus on:

  • The desire to be self-directed (to decide what , how, where and when we work)
  • The desire to master what we do (get better and better at our using our gifts)
  • The desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves (search of meaning and purpose)

Some companies are even going so far as to create ROWEs (results-only work environments) where employees can come and go as they please, as long as you get the job done. 

When you take away all of the management activities around measuring and monitoring, quality control and direction setting, you are left with simply motivating the right group of people to get the job done.   New leadership and management skills will be required to unleash such a self-directed workforce, hence my answer as to the important of leadership develop to a company’s mission…it’s the people, stupid.

Let me know if you are working in a situation that has autonomy, mastery and purpose built into the job.  I would love to hear  your experiences.

Here’s to your success,

Linda K  Sommer