Ira Bryck, Helping Leaders Grow

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It has been a while since everyone started feeling entitled to “diagnose” a troubled person they know as “on the spectrum. It’s a bit disrespectful in so many ways, but it does make you think: who decided what the ends of the spectrum should be?

Aside from your everyday annoying person being characterized by you or me as autistic, do we not all fall somewhere on a variety of spectra?

We are all definitely on the spectrum that connects birth and death. I am glad to still be on that one, though I’m shocked how far I am from where I started.

I’ve thought a lot about where I fall on the “abundance versus scarcity” spectrum. It feels that I was born into a “scarcity mindset,” and am in a long process of trying to convert to abundance. This is not about the house I grew up in. My father once described a certain acquaintance as “a poor man with a bankbook.”

There are people who’ve lost good jobs – including in high office – because they were too far from the likeable end of the likeability spectrum. People want to drink beer with a likeable president and will vote for that opportunity. I’m always surprised to discover how many ways there are to be likeable, and also unlikeable.

Recently I was in a discussion with a few young people (a well built zoom call I attended) who happened to describe themselves as “lazy.” They were not proud of it, but felt it was a logical response to the weird place our world is in. But also, I do think they were not drawn to the things they thought would make them move along that spectrum, to “ambitious.”

We discussed if they could redefine that spectrum, so the opposite of lazy couldn’t be something other than ambitious. Maybe the opposite of lazy is curious? They were interested in being more curious, but not more ambitious. Why is it any of your business if they change their spectrum? Where is it written that ambitious is what lazy people should aspire to?

When I think about defining our spectrums, taking ownership of a way we perceive ourselves, I think this is a way to improve our self-awareness, and be able to manage ourselves. As they say, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Before you can measure it, you need to think of what it is you’re measuring.

In the assessment I like to use with clients, there are patterns I’ve seen, for instance, that someone might be high in either Authority or Expertise, as ways to influence others. It’s no ironclad rule, but often people seem to be high in one, and low in the other. For example, I’m a person who’s never told my children “because I said so!” Instead, I’d try to be informative, helping them think about things. That is me using expertise, not authority. One might see that as a spectrum of sorts, to realize that to be less authority based, try tapping into data and experience, which is to say, your expertise.

(I’ve also seen these pairs as a muscle group, where sometimes your bicep is needed, sometimes your tricep; but you always need both.)

But these spectrums are not simplistic. Recently I talked to someone whose leadership seemed to emanate from their high goodwill, communication, and reflectiveness. Those are important qualities for leaders to have, but often not what they lead with.

Another spectrum-like pair of tendencies: often when someone is very high in reflectiveness, they have trouble making decisions; they’re never finished with all the considerations. So strengths are cousins of weaknesses, and a trait has upsides and downsides. We are complex creatures, comprised of many kinds of spectrums, determining how we see “reality,” with us only partially aware of their existence or effect.

Which is why we humans are so drawn to examining ourselves. We don’t come with an instruction manual, so we can’t stop taking educated guesses at what it all means.

I’m also a fan of the psychologist Erik Erikson, one of several wise souls who sensed that life is a series of stages or choices (or spectrums?), among them Trust vs. Mistrust, Industry vs. Inferiority, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation (4 of the 8 stages). He observed and theorized that you approach each choice, in each phase, building on your previous fortunate or unfortunate results that preceded it. To fit his idea into mine, the spectrums change, as you mature and experience life.

This is all to say that we are complicated. You and I are not simple to navigate. There is no coasting, and we have a natural and urgent need to figure it out. Which is good, because even the laziest among us are hard-wired to be kind of curious.

 


Why Needles on Gauges are Better Than Idiot Lights

When I took driver ed in high school was when I first thought about cars having either needles, that showed various readings (engine temperature, fuel tank fullness, battery status) or “idiot lights” that alert you when something is very wrong (“check engine”).

Why would anyone prefer an idiot light, for their car, or for themselves?

Our personal idiot lights might read “must escape” or “the liquor is talking!” or “you’re fired,” where if we had those needle gauges, we might see where we are trending, not that we have already gone off the rails.

To be aware of our personal needles, we may realize that we’re accommodating too little or too much, or under or over communicating, or under or over reflecting on ourselves and how we are deciding too hastily or sluggishly. We can tell when people we know are not tuned up well, when their needles indicate a problem. But we may be the last to know when we are out of sorts, not being our best selves.

We admire people who are self aware. It is part of who we are as people, which is why Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

But once we are more in touch with our needles, do we rejoice or lament, or do more about it? This is where self-management comes in.

I lived most of my life with the idea that, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” Even if I knew I could be overly analytical, or talk too much, or have trouble taking the time to gain more insight and perspective, what could I possibly do about it? Would it not be phony for me to challenge myself, and take responsibility to improve, for my own sake, not to mention to benefit everyone that has to put up with my “warts and all”?

It somehow took me most of my 67 years to realize that I am allowed to be my best self. It’s not really “fake it till you make it” as much as “free to be you and me.”

There is the classic Bob Newhart sketch, where he is the impatient therapist, and tells his flawed patients to “just stop it!!!” Clearly the joke is that it ain’t that easy. But I suspect that what makes it especially difficult to be our best is that we feel we don’t have the insight to see ourselves clearly, and if we could, don’t have the permission to do much about it. But whose permission are we wanting? Our family and friends? Our therapist or boss? God?

I think all those beings, superior or ordinary, give us thumbs up to know ourselves, and be our best selves. And if we were not able to do this by ourselves, if we need a coach, a guide, a way to see those needles, a way to open the hood and tune ourselves up, I can’t think of a single person in my life who would object to me being a better me, so “Ira, please improve yourself!”

In conclusion, I am glad to be doing the work I am, of assessing and coaching, using the tool of Performance Dynamics. I have to say, I am also the beneficiary of helping others to do this work, being inspired by those who are seeing their gauges and are able to be tuned. It gives me great optimism about who we are, as homo sapiens, wise women and men.


 

There are many powers I’d love to try, but if I had a choice between super strength and being invulnerable, I think I’d take take the latter.

I’m already strong enough- and there’s rarely a reason to pick up my car.

 But to walk along an icy road, knowing I won’t break a hip? Fabulous!

At the same time, there’s that thing about “no pain, no gain.” Just as we learn to not touch a hot stove, life teaches us to play well with others, not to bet what we can’t afford to lose, and to act with fairness and transparency, because everyone knows what you’re up to, so stop it!

And yet, I have not learned in my almost 66 years how to be fully vulnerable. Butbeing not vulnerable doesn’t make me invulnerable. It still hurts, I’m just too scared and unskilled to be all I can be with others.

I’m pretty sure I’m not worse at this than the average human. I’ve consulted to many business families, and believe me, you can be successful in business and a C+ in owning your own stuff.

For many years, my New Year’s resolution was “be more laid back.” And nobody is more amazed than me that I may actually have succeeded at that. My more nuanced new resolution is to not be afraid to feel myself. To be able to do that is my new definition of invulnerable.


I just had a flashback to when I was 15, working as a soda jerk at HoJo’s in Manhasset, NY, on the Miracle Mile. I had been working in my family’s store since I was a child, and this was my first “real” job. My memory was of one waiter there, a high school age greaser, who took great pride in his work, knew the inner workings of all the systems and mechanics, and was a real inspiration for me. As they say in romcoms, he made me want to be a better person. I learned so much about work ethic from him, as well as from several waitresses who knew every conceivable hack, at my next job, at Charcoal Chef, down the street. You never know who your greatest teachers might be, and what you will learn, that wasn’t on the lesson plan.


It’s easy to dismiss holidays as meaningless or painful, and I did that for years, but I’m appreciating more how humans benefit from having rituals, so they can wish and hope, forgive and be forgiven, express gratitude, admit failures and plan for improvements.
And hell, why not overeat and buy non superfluous gifts?
If we don’t do it as a society, we may not find time to do it as individuals, so I support the conscious, collective, intentional getting a bit tipsy, proclaiming my affection, and somehow get into the head-space to allow ourselves to dream. And to make that dream come true.
Starting and running a company is a demonstration of your faith in life. Improving ourselves is part of the promise we make, when we commit to make something good, and create a support system for our employees, partners, customers and society.
As we enter 2019, I wish and hope for you the same exact thing I wish for myself: the energy, clarity, interest, perspective, and everything else too numerous to list here, so that you can make your life – not to mention: your business – all it can be.
Happy New Year!!

Ira


Our world has never been

in such a predicament,

you think, until you realize

that since the beginning, some A-hole

 

ran some country; and their drunken effects

alter your life, inflicting in ways that seem so real

You, here, now, hurt by bitter, savage, miserly

honchos, royals, brethren of old

 

Still you have good days and bad

still, you’ve made something of yourself

despite the world resisting your success

despite your own mind, another despotic force

 

You went beyond, making your home safe

you risked a reliable, plodding path

you dragged yourself to where you were needed

and jumped in (first planning, then jumping)

 

So now, from whatever your height or depth

how will you alter lives?

what does your name on the door do to help?

what business is it, of yours, to add to the good?

 

                     -Ira Bryck 12/19/18


you may have heard the one about the man whose wife thought she was a chicken

His friend asked him “why don’t you take her to a psychiatrist?”

“Because I need the eggs” said the man.

What are you laughing at?

There are, no doubt, ways that you’re denying reality, for whatever payback you think is worthwhile.

How does one see clearly, beyond the crazy delusions we all swear by?

I have been meditating (with a couple of lost years) since college, and darned if I can tell you.

But I think it’s been helpful to stay in touch with a lot of people with whom I can share experiences, and over a lifetime, learn what matters, what’s real, and even accept the helpful and harmless lies (as in Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional religion, Bokononism) that help us achieve peace of mind, and a good life.

It is endlessly helpful to me to have a community that reflects, supports, challenges, nurtures and loves me. I got that from my nuclear family, and lifelong friends, but also from communities established for a various purpose. I get that from serving on boards, participating in all kinds of blogs, groups, conversations, walk & talks on the beach, sunsets, romantic comedies, puppies and toddlers.

My father explained to me, when I was quite young, that the purpose of life (and religion, and family, and friends) was to “wipe our mirror clearer and clearer, so we can see ourselves.” And I’m relieved and glad to say, at 65 I certainly feel clearer than at 25. The rock tumbler that is life has shown me how to be a bit more relaxed, take myself a bit less seriously, be a bit more of a helpful friend, family member, co-worker, and community member.

I remember a very wise high school classmate had, as his yearbook quote “Jump right in, it’s the only way.” (one of Jean-Paul Sarte’s least despairing quotes). Van Halen said it a bit less concisely: “Ah, might as well jump, (Jump), Go ahead and jump, Might as well jump (jump), Go ahead and jump, Jump, Might as well jump, (jump), Go ahead and jump, Get it in, jump (jump), Go ahead and jump”

I hope this clarifies the benefits of living and learning. In conclusion:

I hope you feel better after taking off 2 minutes to read this

I hope it means something to you, and you will jump right in, clean your mirror and read “Cat’s Cradle” again

I hope this essay somehow intrigues you to get more involved with the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley

Please see, below, for several things you might find quite valuable.

Get in touch with me to talk philosophy, family business, or whatever you want.

thanks

Ira


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