Why I Need a Tribe and Why You Might Want One Too

2014 - 07.24 - #14 tribe pic

How would you like having a group of people on your life who:

  • Share interests
  • Have similar values around respect, openness, sharing, learning, etc.
  • Cheer you when your work’s going well
  • Remind you of your greatness when things aren’t so hot
  • Point you to resources, ideas and people
  • Share parts of your dream
  • Are helpful personally and professionally
  • Help you stay current in the areas you’re passionate about?

I do – and I call them my TRIBE.

My tribe members aren’t just networking connections (I don’t like that word – but we’ll talk soon!) I want my relationship with tribe members to be whole-hearted, mutually supportive and sustainable over time.

Because my tribe is my best business asset.

Years ago, I didn’t know I needed one.

When I joined a university faculty, I gained an abundance of great colleagues. We shared (mostly) similar values around adult learning – and a save-the-world ethic around our work. We were creative, caring, and carried the zeal of missionaries! We saw almost too much of each other (I don’t miss our faculty meetings) and I took my easy network of colleagues for granted.

But as Joni Mitchell sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.”

Now as I’m navigating the creative world of solo-preneurs, I NEED a tribe. It’s no fun being out there alone, using the Internet as a place for community. I like my virtual networks, but they’re no substitute for folks I can call up, Skype with, visit when I travel, or, better yet, join for a cup of tea.

Even if you’re safely nested in an organization, you might still want a tribe, especially if your specialty, your expertise, or your passionate interests aren’t easily shared with the folks around you.

A tribe is more than a network.

The most contemporary definition of tribe I read is “a group of people, or a community with similar values or interests, a group with a common ancestor, or a common leader.”

Sometimes followers of a guru or blogging star are called a tribe. Or folks who have a similar pattern of lifestyle and buying habits. But in my tribe, it has to be more than that. I want us to know each other and be interwoven.

A tribe isn’t a club – e.g., no dues or requirements. But a tribe requires regular tending because what gives it juice are the exchanges – the ways in which members reach out and support each other.

When you look for a tribe, you want to know who you’re looking for, and I am pretty picky.

My criteria for my tribe:


In my tribe, members are open, non-judgmental and willing to share both personally and professionally. Nobody needs to wear those masks you often see at “networking events.” Folks are willing to “get real” and share the real scoop about what’s happening for them – no elevator speeches allowed!

Mutual support for our professional passions

We don’t all share the same professional interests. But I’d say everyone is interested in a new, wholehearted way of leading – and making this world better. So we respect each other’s interests and share the stories of what we’re up to. And some folks in the tribe do share my passion for organizational storytelling, improv, and performance, and that’s really cool!

My tribe members have reviewed my website, talked strategy with me, and shared resources. I’ve read their books, listened when their practices were growing and waning, and shared new business ideas with them. We’ve been raw and real together, supporting each other when things were tough, and applauding when we’ve had successes.

I think of my tribe as my safety net when I’m launching a dream.

Willingness to dig deep and ask some big questions

Most are up to making a difference, in their family, their community, their art, their work or the world. Some friends are into social justice, some business, some healing and spirituality. We’re each tackling a piece of the puzzle. We’re all searching.

We value long-term connections

My tribal friendships grow as they’re nurtured across time. I met my colleagues Liz and Margaret casually at a training more than eight years ago. But we’ve kept our connections rolling, and they’re now in the first circle I call when I need to talk a new idea out.




Bold dreams and


Who wouldn’t want that?

Next blog post, I’ll share tips for finding and building a tribe. In the meantime I would love to hear about your tribe in the comments below.


How to Get Back in the Saddle When You’ve Been Thrown Off

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle-mounting

It happens to all of us: we lose our seat and get thrown from the saddle. Maybe we get bad news about a friend, a project we wanted to do is canceled, a promotion doesn’t happen, or our kid gets in trouble.

Hitting the ground is never fun.

And sometimes we get bucked off. That really hurts. We learn that we’re losing a job, a marriage has died, a relationship is over, or our company is closing. We hit hard.

Four years ago a big black gelding bucked me to the ground, a horse that I should never have bought. I lay sprawled in the sand arena, chest heaving. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones. I hobbled home, collapsed on the coach and called my husband, spending the next two days with ice and ibuprofen while I slowly started thinking about what to do next.

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle - on groundRecently, I was bucked off again when I learned that I did not win a big contract proposal I submitted. I was thunder-struck. My clients liked my work, my proposal was first rate – and after doing the work for 22 years, I knew it better than anyone else. But sometimes life throws us a curve, and a competitor had come in with a very low-ball bid.

And there I was on my back again in some deep emotional sand.

At first I was numb. Speechless. I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Then I started asking: how do we get back in the saddle when life throws us off?

Here’s what I found can help:

1) Call someone right away who cares. That could be a good friend, partner, or spouse. You don’t want to deal with this alone, especially when you’re in shock.

2) Check for broken bones. Take a quick material assessment. Yes, you’re in emotional shock – but is there anything else you have to deal with right away (like calling your lawyer)? If not, this is probably a good time to chill.

3) Go slow. Do the next simple step that’s in front of you – like pulling up your socks. Don’t try to do much. Just keep going. (Don’t tell your agent to sell the house!)

4) Make a list of immediate pleasurable things you can do for yourself. For me it was:

  • Take a walk.
  • Buy flowers.
  • Snuggle with the cat.
  • Buy and eat a big box of blueberries (I’m a fanatic).
  • Take some photos (kept me focused outside of myself).

Avoid doing things that you’ll regret tomorrow (like eating two cartons of Haagen-Dazs) but if you do overdose – forgive yourself immediately. Life has hit you hard enough!

5) Get ready to feel whatever comes up. This is the hard part. You may feel numb and want to stay numb. But feelings will eventually come and you want to let them – maybe not at your staff meeting, but as soon as you get home.

You may feel many things – fear, sadness, numbness, depression, anger, and even joy (I did). This is where a good friend (see point #1) can help. Who likes to feel anger? (I don’t!) You’ll pay a price (like an accident?) for stuffing down difficult feelings. I’ve discovered that when I feel like my heart is breaking with gut-wrenching emotions, it’s probably just getting stronger.

6) Tell your inner circle. OK, it might feel embarrassing to share bad news, but this is a good time to practice receiving support and working your vulnerability muscle. Pick the friends who know how to be there for you. They don’t know want you to hide.

7) Reframe your experience to keep from being a victim. I told myself:

  • I submitted an excellent proposal, and did quality work until the end.
  • Losing to a low-bid was not a reflection on me.
  • After 22 years on this project, I was ready to move on.
  • New space was now available for creative projects and key endeavors.

I wasn’t being Pollyanna! I wasn’t pretending that there weren’t still financial consequences and fears to feel. I just wasn’t a victim!

8) When you’re out of shock, assess the tangible consequences. What will you need to do? Are there real risks? Stuff to handle? Changes to make? Be kind. Don’t deprive yourself or force too much analysis when your bones are still hurting.

9) Be grateful for the journey – and use what you’ve learned to deepen your story. Real heroic stories always have bumps and challenges. Failures add drama to our story and depth to our character.

When I was bucked off my horse, my confidence was creamed for a while. I hurt for months. I had to sell the gelding. But life moves us on. Now, four years later, I watch as Mariah, my sensible, personable, smaller mare walks across the field to greet me, and all I can feel is gratitude. I bet in six months, I’ll feel the same way about the lost contract!

Wishing you all the best,


Managing Creative Chaos

2014 - 07.10 - #12  - Managing Chaos

This is one of those blogs where I don’t have the answers. And believe me I’m looking for clues.

First a confession: I’m not a member of the clean desk club. Not that I’m against clean desktops – I like them a lot. I had one on Saturday, May 17th, 2013 at 9:15 pm. It was a wonderful moment.

But I look at my desk today and see an old laptop battery (what to do with that?), a HUGE stack of recycled paper (keeps building up), a video case with the DVD from my recent monologue, a stack of papers with the e-book I’m writing, a bottle of lens cleaner, a tax document I don’t want to forget, a little memento from a colleague in Santa Fe, and a pile of books that I’m reviewing… you get the drift. It takes time to figure out what to do with all that stuff.

And mostly, I always have something I want to do more than clean my desk. Sometimes it’s an urgent work project. Other times, I’d rather garden when the sun is out, or write a poem when it’s not. My desk waits patiently for me to find just the right moment (maybe the next time the power goes out) when I will step away from projects and attend to it.

I’m not touting this as a way to be!

I remember a boss who was running a start-up, and couldn’t understand how I could be Yale educated and yet tolerate chaos. Little did he know! He wanted my desktop to always look organized.

Silly man. He didn’t get that my stacks and piles were a sign that I was deeply engaged in a project.

When I was most creative, my desktop looked chaotic. The “happy-clean-desk-look” meant that I had either finished a project or really hadn’t been doing anything productive and polishing the desk was amusing. (Oh, the days of having people pay you to clean your desk!)

He kept his desk super neat – but the company tanked.

But sometimes the chaos gets to me. Have any ideas?

Here’s where I’m looking for help:

1. Understanding learning styles.

Maybe you’ll call it a cop out but it helps me to know that I’m not crazy – in fact, given my learning and personality styles, I’m pretty normal. One style-ometer that I really like is the Gregorc Learning styles instrument which tells you how you perceive and order your world. In the Gregorc system – you are either random or sequential, and either abstract or concrete. I’m abstract and random. My random side is creative but never remembers to place the same thing in the same place twice. My abstract side gives me the ability to be very intuitive and see invisible possibilities. However, sometimes I don’t see the stuff right in front of me – which is why my husband harps at me when I’m cleaning up the kitchen. “Look at what you’re doing,” he says. He doesn’t understand that I’m busy strategizing the future.

The good thing about knowing your learning style is you stop using those righteous time and self-management systems that were made for obsessive concrete-linear people.

2. Reading David Allen and his Getting Things Done website.

One big idea I took from David Allen is to WRITE THINGS DOWN. I used to keep a lot in my head – so it was as if my mind was constantly on and constantly spinning. Even my computer would complain of such treatment. By writing things down I can close some of those open-ended do-loops in my brain and start organizing things in terms of purpose and projects. David has a lot of great information on his website and blog.

Note to self: write that down!

3. Using Evernote.

Finally, I discovered a place where I can write down all my random thoughts: Evernote. I know that I’m late to the party discovering this web-based software but now I’m a zealous convert!

Evernote let’s me write notes about all the stuff that’s been floating around my mind or my desk: quotes I want to use some day, ideas, deadlines, or the synopsis of a phone call. Those slips of paper floating around my desk can get added right in. And Evernote’s so search-able.

4. Grooving with Jennifer Lee.

I’m just discovering Jennifer Lee and her uber-fun right-brain business planning. She uses color and visuals to organize and plan which seems cool although I haven’t actually done it (no time!) I’m hoping that she’ll have the right-brain approach to de-cluttering my desk.

There’s more to share but I think I’ll hold right now and listen for YOUR ideas. I’m sure you can help. Besides, my handlers tell me that my blogs shouldn’t be too long, and I have a lot of papers to file!


After the Tragedy: A circle of support

2014 - 07.01 - #11 - After the Tragedy

Last month, a crazed man opened fire at Seattle Pacific University (SPU). One student was killed, and others wounded. Had it not been for a student working as a building monitor who pepper-sprayed the shooter and wrestled him to the ground, the carnage would have been much worse.

Such shootings are horrible, senseless and tragic anywhere – but this one was doubly shocking for me because it happened in my city – just minutes from my sister’s house.

Over the days following the tragedy, we read lots of coverage in The Seattle Times – about the shooter, the deceased student, and those injured. What interested me most, though, was the Times headline I read:

“At SPU, Grief Not Despair.”

The article described the faith, calm and courage of the students. It showed pictures of students sitting together in prayer circles on the campus green. SPU professors spoke about how the students, in this Christian university, were allowing themselves to feel their deep confusion and anger, while tolerating the ambiguities of faith.

As seminary student Megan Wildhood was quoted: “We’re allowing ourselves to not really have answers, to have whatever feelings we are having. What I’m seeing most is the desire to really be together, to find each other, to look after each other. To both give and receive the love of Christ.”

The Power of the Circle

Many of the students had deep faith. But the power of the circle, as a place where grief and hopes, stories and sorrows can be shared, is not confined to the religious.

Many of us found a community of support in circles following 9 -11.

I remember sitting in a circle, the evening of 9-11, trying to understand or at least share the pain of what had happened that morning. We meditated in community and listened to each other, sharing our shock about the horrors we had heard about or seen broadcast during the day. We cried for the victims, and let our hearts break open without hoping for answers or crying for vengeance.

In the circle, we found a place where we could seek hope without denying a tragic, gritty and scarred reality.

Richard Steele, a professor at SPU, spoke about the experience at SPU: “We can experience anger, even rage, but we do not give vent to vengefulness. We can experience intense grief, but we do not lose hope. We recognize the brokenness in ourselves and therefore try to extend compassion and mercy to other people whose brokenness has been unleashed.”

The students at SPU showed a deep courage that did not retreat to quick, hateful reactions. They came together. They prayed. And they found solace in circles.

Everyday, the possibility of despair for the state of the world surrounds us.

We read reports about the dire state of climate change, the outbreak of more war in Iraq, or, unfortunately, the next crazed shooter. Standing in community, in the circle, we can find the power to stand with our hearts open and wounded.

Together, we remember our compassion, rekindle our hope, and choose grief not despair.

Quotes are from the Seattle Times Sunday, June 8, 2014.

Unleash the Creativity Within Conflict!

combat on horsebackAs I began to teach about conflict, I saw a bunch of hesitant faces with those “do we really have to deal with conflict?” expressions.

Most folks I know don’t like to deliberately face conflict. Sure, they can handle objective, professional conflict – with some detachment and calm.  But stir deep emotion into the mix and they’re running for cover. 

But without conflict, we can’t harness the fruits of collaboration and creativity. 

Think a firm full of “yes” men and women!

We need conflict for creativity because conflict is about dealing with differences – and we’ll never get to the best solutions, and real innovation, if all we encourage is sameness.

We  want to encourage some tension in our teams between competing values.

In a hospital system, that tension may be called the conflict between money and mission. In other firms, it may show up as a fight between marketing and finance.  When we get down from our emotional high horses and stop fighting, it becomes clearer that we need to honor many diverse values in order to succeed.  to see that. Chances are we need to maintain all those values –

Often a conflict in values shows up as a personality dispute. When a team calls me in with a conflict, they are usually experiencing some ugly symptoms such as communication breakdowns and differences in styles.

What’s harder to see is how underneath the personality conflict are built-in differences in values that may never go away.  These are often polarities.

Manage the tensions that will never go away

Polarities are  tensions between interlocking values that will never go away – conflicts that are embedded in a system – because you can’t have one pole without the other pole.  Think yin and yang, day and night – we can’t have one side without the other.

I watched as an agency that always applauded individual achievement revised its focus and started promoting teamwork (while forgetting that individual achievement still mattered!)  Sure enough, after a few years, the technical specialists started feeling like their work wasn’t adequately respected – and started wanting to leave – because all the rewards were going to teams.

The solution is simple – yet sometimes difficult to achieve:  Think “both-and”: asking how do we honor both?

Some polarities we all know include the tension between balancing home and work.  If we ignore either side, we’ll feel the consequences.  Or trying separating our concern with our own self interest vs. our concern for others. Emphasize one without the other and you’re in for trouble.

Think both/and:  team and individual

Going back to our team/individual example, as we’re thinking about rewards, processes, and how we use training dollars, we can add one simple question:
Team working together

“How can we maximize team performance while encouraging individual excellence?”

Voila: our thinking is enhanced when we think both/and!

(And fyi –  polarities are everywhere!)

Our stories need conflict

As a storyteller, I listen for conflict. Think how b-o-r-i-n-g it would be to read “Young entrepreneur has a dream.  Successfully raises money. Builds team. Company succeeds – now she is rich.” (Alas, this kind of simplified story keeps being told!).

Instead, I want to hear about what really happened behind the scenes – the bumps along the way, the mistakes, the failures or almost-failures – everything that gives a story texture. Great stories always include some conflict. I want to root for a heroine who learns how to work her way through conflicts on her journey.  She’s my gal – not the one for whom everything mysteriously works out!

Healthy conflict is needed in any group. How about you? What do you do to manage conflict creatively – for yourself and with others?



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